I’ve found myself thinking quite a bit about collaborative documents and wikis recently. I wrote a bit a few months ago about my new love for GitHub and while I’d heard of people throwing out the idea of collaborative writing using GitHub I hadn’t seen that actually done too well (or much at all really) in practice. After all, at it’s core, GitHub is a versioning system with a focus on software development with a bit of project management/bug tracking thrown in. Could one shoehorn the idea of collaborative writing into the platform? Sure. And I found at least a few examples of how that could work. - Read More -
It’s always amazed me how certain technologies just seem to advance by leaps and bounds over the course of a year or two. I get to see this especially with technologies surrounding our makerspace where new products seem to appear on Kickstarter and tempt my wallet practically daily. I’ve been thinking a lot about 3D scanning lately in light of a proposed project by Jeff McClurken to have a group of students archive artifacts from the Monroe Museum in town as digital models and then reproduce them on the web as an exhibit (and perhaps 3D print some as well). It’s one of those projects that I immediately wanted to say “Yes! I don’t care how yet, but yes!”. I couldn’t be more excited to figure it all out. I’m no stranger to 3D scanning, in fact a model of myself that was scanned in over a year ago using the Xbox Kinect is on the Thingiverse (and happens to have over 3,000 views and 123 downloads, crazy). At the time I was using ReconstructMe which was a command line tool to do the construction and then a series of several programs to clean up the model for printing (closing holes and giving it a flat base mostly).
Recently I came across Skanect as a newer option for 3D scanning using our trusty Kinect. The free version was very limited (basically gave you full access to the program but no ability to export to anything) but the paid version wasn’t terribly expensive at $129 and after playing with the software a bit I can tell you it’s well worth it. The interface makes it dead simple to scan in objects and get visual feedback on how the scan is going. It does a great job of ignoring background items and focusing on the object or item that’s in the focal point of the camera. It also has some excellent post-processing tools built right in including the option to create a watertight model and crop the bottom to a flat surface. It can even do full colorization, something our 3D printers can’t take advantage of but that’s very useful for displaying these models on the web.
We’ve also purchased a Makerbot Digitizer which should arrive in a few weeks. While the Kinect works well for larger items, it lacks the resolution necessary for smaller artifacts. The Digitizer works better in this regard by using lasers to read depth information. It has a turntable and Makerbot seems to have done a really excellent job of making it as simple as putting an object on, hitting a button, and getting a model that you can upload to the web or print immediately. While it’s great for small objects, the volume area is limited to a 8″ diameter so I imagine that could get limiting on the kinds of items we can scan in. It also does not read in color information that I am aware of. But it will also make models watertight and give them a flat base (as you’d expect from a company that began it’s focus as a 3D printer manufacturer). I think the combination of the Kinect and the Digitzer are going to give us the best of both worlds to scan in a variety of artifacts.
There is one other option out there that I haven’t had a ton of luck with but I suspect that has as much to do with not getting the method exactly right rather than a limitation of the software. Autodesk has a cloud-based utility called 123D Catch that it appears they’re modifying and improving to be a new piece of software called Recap. The software works by having you take a ton of images from all angles of the item and then uploading them to the site where Autodesk servers crunch them into a model. As I mentioned my results have been less than stellar but it looks like Recap has a lot more options for helping the process along with manual stitching. The reason I have hope for this process is an artist by the name of Cosmo Wenman is using this software right now to scan in artifacts at the Skulpturhalle Basel and the results are downright stunning. Between the level of detail he’s getting and the excellent paint job he’s doing with custom patina paints the replicas look absolutely incredible. I think this process depends a lot on high-quality images (think DSLR with a great lens and lighting control) and lots of them. The process might prove too variable to be of use for this class, but who knows. Need to play around a bit more.
So a few days ago Andy turned me on to Evernote. It’s not my first time using it, I’ve tried several times in the past to find a workflow that made sense, but this time I had a problem in search of a tool. Specifically I’ve tried several bookmarking solutions and never really stuck with any of them so the idea of using Evernote as both a bookmarking tool in addition to note taking, archival information, and anything else was appealing. Plus the tools that interface with Evernote have gotten damn good in the past few years to where you can grab full pages from websites and archive them locally in your account. To that end I figured I’d start blogging a weekly summary of items that I’ve found around the web, similar to what Tom Woodward has been doing. - Read More -
Martha Burtis and I have had a burst of energy in the past week developing on some ideas surrounding the Domain of One’s Own project and I wanted to start to get some of it out there. It’s amazing how one idea can lead to a discovery which can ignite a fire of development. I have so much to share about how far we’ve come in the past week at building a community around this project and there’s still much more that feels possible based on the work we’ve done. I’m sure Martha will be writing a few posts of her own regarding some of it and I have no doubt that what we’re doing is setting the stage for Domain of One’s Own as a completely rethought learning platform for the web.
I’ve written a few posts about the nuts and bolts framework of building the Domain of One’s Own environment. At it’s roots it’s a LAMP web hosting environment running cPanel. One of the more powerful features for us has been the move to using Installatron which is an automated software installation plugin (if the names Simple Scripts or Fantastico are familiar to you imagine that but much nicer) that provides our faculty and students with a simple installer for a variety of open source software. We can monitor much of what gets installed and by whom on the server but in many ways this is a black box that requires a login as an admin to get at. Drawing more detailed analytics about how our users are taking advantage of the platform have been much more difficult and ultimately we wanted to find ways to expose the activity happening amongst our community in better ways. I’m really excited to start sharing with you some of the things we’ve done towards that end. - Read More -
Some of my worst memories of poorly-designed online courses bring me back to the awful discussion boards of the standard LMS. The instructor, in a feeble attempt at building community with the tools they had, would ask you to go in and introduce yourself, which meant you had to pretend to be interacting with everyone else in there and care that they like Indian food and hot yoga. Later we’d be asked to respond to articles with our thoughts in a new thread, maybe even comment on others. Everything was extremely linear, the editing tools offered little beyond the ability to style some of the text, and if you were a part of a large class, the threads quickly become overwhelming and as a student you just picked something near the top of the pile rather than attempt to wade deeper into the mess. Open source forum software was often only a small step up from that experience. The ability to subscribe to threads, better layouts, and plugin architecture of software like PhpBB and Vanilla Forums is certainly welcome, but ultimately it still felt like we were stuck in the 90s and hadn’t really rethought what a “discussion board” could actually be. This weekend I got a chance to setup Discourse and play with it, and I’m convinced we might finally have an answer to that. - Read More -