Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Invited Talk on Augmented Notes

On Friday, I had the honor of giving a talk, called "From the Parlor to the Laptop: Victorian Lyrics and Digital Tools," at Columbia University about Songs of the Victorians and Augmented Notes.  Alex Gil, the Digital Scholarship Coordinator there and fellow Praxis Program alum, invited me as part of Studio@Butler's digital humanities speaker series.  I really enjoyed the format of the afternoon:  first, I delivered my talk and we had a question and answer session, and then, after a short break, we reconvened for a workshop in which I walked the participants through making their own website with Augmented Notes.

In my talk, I first explained the purpose and rationale behind building Songs of the Victorians, demonstrated the how archive and analysis pages work, and explained the design principles that governed the project.  Then, I shifted to a discussion of Augmented Notes.  I explained that I wanted to help other scholars build sites like Songs of the Victorians without needing the programming experience that I had to develop.  I demonstrated how I took my initial project and built a generalized, public humanities tool to help further scholarship and pedagogy.  I also gave a brief demo of the tool, which I showed off in more depth in the workshop.  The tool has changed slightly since I last wrote about it on this blog, so here is the new order of the steps:

1. Users upload three things to make an archive page: ogg and mp3 audio files (an ogg is necessary because firefox can't play mp3 files) and pages of the score. Users can optionally upload an MEI file.
2. The site then takes users to a page where they click and drag to draw boxes around each measures (they can also edit the sizes and order of these boxes); these boxes are what highlights each measure in time with the music.
Box Drawing Page: Boxes are red as they are being drawn (through clicking and dragging) and grey once they have been created.  Users can edit the boxes by changing their size and order and also delete them.

3. The site then takes users to a page to set the time data:  they hit the "save" button at the exact second each measure ends to record that time.  The site brings together the measure and time information, which enables each measure of the song to be highlighted in time with the music.

Time Edit: Users click on the "save" button at the exact end of every measure, which records that time in the open boxes at the right.  
4. Users then click "Download zip" to download a zip file with the html, css, and javascript files necessary for a complete archive page, which they can then style themselves. A sample resulting html file is below:

I was very grateful for all the fascinating suggestions and feedback I received in the question and answer period.  Some people suggested that I should consider altering the box-drawing tool to let users draw any shape they want:  this would let users circle individual notes and entire phrases.  At some point, I would love to add this functionality, although I will not have time to build it until next fall, because I am currently teaching, finishing my dissertation, and going on the job market.  I was also pleased to hear that some people are planning to use my tool for the classroom, especially in music appreciation or introductory music classes to help beginning music students follow along.

If you have any comments on the new features in Augmented Notes or ideas for future features, please do let me know! I'd love to hear your feedback!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Rails Girls: A Programming Space for Women

On Saturday, I was one of a number of coaches for Rails Girls at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.  This wonderful event is designed to help teach women the basics of Ruby and Ruby on Rails, and to ultimately help them build an application.  It was an excellent experience:  I was so impressed with how quickly all the attendees picked up the basics of the command line, programming, and web development.  

For those of you who would like to see exactly what we covered, we first went through much of Ruby in 100 Minutes and then jumped right in with building a Ruby on Rails address book application that lets users input their name, twitter info, picture, bio, and address, and then plots the address on a map.  Students who wanted a further challenge then followed instructions to put their app online using Heroku.  For example, Elizabeth Hopwood, one of the attendees I worked with, put her excellent app online and populated it with "Downtown Abbey" characters. 

I'm so grateful to Jeri Wieringa and Celeste Sharpe for organizing this event.  I'm thrilled to have been part of something that helps teach women how to code and that can actually help change the programming culture:  on numerous occasions at conferences, I've had people insist that I couldn't have created my two digital projects and that, as a woman, I must be taking credit for the programming work of a man.  Programs like Rails Girls can help change those horrible perceptions, by helping women feel welcomed into coding and into a supportive programming community and by publicly claiming programming spaces for women.  

I look forward to hearing of future Rails Girls events, and I hope to volunteer as a coach for other similar nearby programs in the future.