New digs.

This month I started a new position as the Associate Director and Oral Historian for the Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society at the Hagley Museum and Library. I’m eager to continue the public and oral history work I began with Under Connecticut Skies, to have a chance to utilize my curatorial and digital media skills, and to work with the amazing people and collections here at Hagley. It’s also a delight to come each day to the stunning nineteenth-century industrial landscape that is the lower Brandywine. Come see our amazing machine shop if you’re in Wilmington!


OWOT, day 7.

I’m headed home after an amazing week at One Week | One Tool, exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. I want to publicly thank everyone who was involved in this great event: Brett Bobley, Jennifer Serventi, and the Office of Digital Humanities at the National Endowment for the Humanities; Tom Scheinfeldt, Sheila Brennan, Mark Sample, Patrick Murray-John, Sharon Leon, Sean Takats, Jeny Martinez, and all the folks at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason; Dan Cohen at the Digital Public Library of America; Amanda, Amy, Brian, Eli, Jack, Meghan, Mia, Ray, Rebecca, Scott East, and Scott West of the great OWOT 2.0 team; our unofficial mascots J. K. Rowling, Schom Teinfeldt, mustaches, monocles, and the Hippo; and, of course Alex, Alyssa, and Janet, wherever they may be.

A longer blog post about this whole wacky and wonderful experience is coming soon, but I need to catch up on my sleep first.

The OWOT + CHNM team after launch.
The OWOT + CHNM team after launch, getting their first glimpse of sunlight in hours. Photo by Sharon Leon.

OWOT, day 5.

Another long day here at One Week | One Tool, but a productive one, despite several moments of frustration for both the outreach and the dev/design teams. As usual, our fearless project managers and team leaders have been working to keep things running smoothly, and everyone has been doing a great job of making sure that the challenges and difficulties we encounter don’t become major upsets. There were times today when the mood was discouraged, but everyone has seemed to remain optimistic on the whole. When the dev folks worked out some kinks this evening, there was a collective cheer. We’re working hard, we’ve got a lot left to do, but our tasks seem doable on the whole.

We were joined today by a representative from our illustrious funders, the National Endowment for the Humanities, who took the time to sit down with us, ask us about the process, and observe us as we went about our work. It was nice to have the chance to step back and think about, well, how did we learn about this crazy program in the first place? And why did we apply? It was also good to think about how we’re feeling about it in the final stretch, as our deadline for launch draws ever nearer.

One of the things I was thinking about today was the ways in which OWOT is both even better than and completely different from what I imagined. I had hoped to recapture that feeling of camaraderie that I felt in college when working on crazy engineering projects, or in graduate school when going on Place-Based Workshops with the Center for Culture, History, and Environment — and that has definitely happened. I feel a part of a community of people who are different from me but who share my interest in harmonizing their humanistic and their technical sides, in thinking about the two endeavors not as separate parts of themselves or their work but as integral, codependent entities. This is at least as exciting as I had imagined it would be.

Of course, as with all team projects operating in a small time window, not everyone gets the opportunity to learn each and every thing they hoped they’d come away with. I’d been hoping to get a bit more of my geek on and acquire some new abilities in coding or scripting, but there is a large contingent of people here who have compiled things other than LaTeX documents more recently than 2001, which makes me far better suited to writing press releases and web site copy, conceiving content categories and site hierarchy, and offering feedback on design work. It’s been good to get back to my old web roots, and to learn a bit more about what I’ve missed out on since I had my last web job a few years back.

I’ve had several conversations with other team members about this phenomenon of expectation-vs-reality, and while many people are having a similar experience, no one seems to resent it: our energy is so focused on the tool and the process that there’s not much time to worry about what we don’t have time to learn. I expect that, once all this is over and we’ve had a few days to reflect on our experiences, we’ll be better able to perceive all the things we learned by osmosis, simply by being a part of the team and working toward a common goal. I’ve been doing my best to ask questions (when there are moments to do so) about things that I haven’t encountered before, and I’ve already gleaned a great deal from those opportunities.

I will say I got to do one thing that I was hoping I would this week: sign up for GitHub and have the chance to play around with it a bit. I’m just working in HTML, but it still feels good.

Tomorrow’s outreach work will be focused on user testing, press materials and publicity, and the final push to launch. Stay tuned — only one more day to go!

OWOT, day 4.

I can hardly believe that we’ve already blown through Wednesday here at One Week | One Tool. The development/design team has a working prototype, the group was finally able to come up with and settle on a name, we on the outreach team are hammering out textual content as well as publicity strategy, and our intrepid design guru is hard at work on a logo and visual identity. Tomorrow the testing begins, in the presence of our generous sponsors from the National Endowment for the Humanities. There’s still a lot left to do, but we’re going strong.

Things I learned today:

  • In graduate school, they don’t teach you how to write a press release.
  • Adobe apparently has some majorly cool web tools relating to fonts and colors out there that would have made my former life as a web designer so much easier. Goodbye, web-safe-color-palette-with-hex-codes mousepad! Seriously, I think I still have that somewhere.
  • Being on the OWOT team means that, for at least one week, you have no life, to the extent that a “reserved for Alex” sign on the restaurant table for two next to you means that you will spend at least a half an hour of your group dinner speculating about Alex, his date, why the twentysomething guy all gussied up in suit and tie who you assume is Alex shows up with not one but two ladies, one of whom is dressed up and the other of whom is wearing a college logo t-shirt and athletic shorts, and what, actually, is going on between these three people whose relationships you can’t quite make out, before you realize, on the drive back to the hotel, that Alex might have been a girl.
  • There are several good donut shops within driving distance of my home in Connecticut.
  • Not only can cats paint, but some people paint cats. Why, we don’t quite know.
  • There are not just two, but three books about cats and aesthetics.
  • There is no end to the discussions this group can have about facial hair.
  • If you want to spend any time out of doors or exercising when you’re in the middle of a big work push, you absolutely have to do it first thing in the morning.

And so, to bed with me!

Why paint cats?  Why did the cats paint in the first place?
Why, indeed?

OWOT, day 3.

Today was the longest day so far here at One Week | One Tool: narrowing the field of possible tools by discussing feasibility (with given skills and within time constraints), our commitment as individuals and a group to the different ideas we floated, the communities of users we could envision for the tools, and more. It took all morning to narrow things down to a short list; then we broke for lunch and returned to whittle things down to two contenders. A long runoff process eventually brought us down to one.

We spent the rest of the afternoon dividing ourselves into teams (project management, development/design, and outreach), and then breaking up into smaller groups to devise our work plans. We kept working through dinner, and tomorrow’s an early morning to get right back to it.

I’m tired, and I have to reserve my energy for what will almost certainly be even longer and more intense days ahead, so that’s all for now. What are we building? You’ll have to wait and see.

OWOT, day 2.

Today at One Week | One Tool we’ve been laboring on our first big task: figuring out what tool we’re actually going to build.

We had our big brainstorming session this afternoon, and are now opening up the floor for feedback. We’ve set up a site where you can vote on the potential tools we’ve come up with, as well as to comment on our ideas. Voting closes at 10 a.m. eastern time tomorrow, Tuesday 30 July 2013, when we’ll begin to narrow the field.

Tomorrow: the real work begins.

One week, one tool.

Today I packed my things, moved out of my DC apartment, and headed out to George Mason University for One Week | One Tool, a self-billed digital humanities barn raising organized by the Center for History and New Media, in which a group of twelve intrepid souls from different backgrounds will conceive, design, and prototype a tool that will be both useful and used by our audience. This will involve thoughtful guidance, wild brainstorming, teamwork and project management, lots of hard work, plenty of caffeine, and presumably a fair bit of sleep deprivation. Sound like a reality T.V. show? Someone’s already made that joke.

Sound more like being back in college? Mystery Hunt? (Hopefully nowhere near as smelly.) Or maybe turning a car into a boat in less than a month? Yeah, I thought that, too.

If you happen to be one of those people who believe that @ signs are not for reference types in your bibtex database, you can follow all of the action on Twitter, where it is noted by #owot.

Tom Scheinfeldt presides over introductions on the first night of OWOT 21013.
Tom Scheinfeldt presides over introductions on the first night of OWOT 2013.

I’m looking forward very much to building something. Let’s go!