Slightly Better than Brain Dead

This post was inevitable, but I can’t say I was ready for it. In exactly one week, I will be leaving for Spain on a two-month dissertation research trip. In relation to this blog, this means that my time in the Praxis Program has all but come to a close. As such, this seems like the best time to mercilessly cram my scattered experiences into a box marked “conclusion” and hope it doesn’t explode before I can tell the police that “I was in Barcelona at the time.”

I had a moment after the winter break to reflect on how bizarre the Fall semester had been for me. Between my Scholar’s Lab fellowship, the Praxis Program, and my time just 20 vertical feet below the Scholar’s Lab conference room at IATH, my mind was kidnapped by digital humanities. I can think of no semester where I was tossed out of my wheelhouse on such a regular basis.

When I returned to my rotating office at Alderman Library after an equally bizarre, warm winter in Fargo, ND my previous schedule resumed… but everything felt different. Two hulking objects loomed out of the fog: Spain and Prism. Predictably, Spain got raucous at night and gave me heartburn thinking about it. Fortunately, I could still join in on the practical attack on Prism with my fellow Praxis-ers during the day while Spain was taking a siesta. Our meetings were held in the same place each Tuesday, but in the second semester, It felt more like a boardroom than a classroom. For everyone in the program, a lot of the intellectual debates that stymied earlier meetings were dropped in favor of getting something done.

Real due-dates meant real design and programming assignments. Of course those dates had a slightly different effect on me because I knew I would be gone by Feb. 29th, and I would miss a lot of the process leading up to the release of Prism. Nonetheless, I immediately decided that I needed to at least put one foot back in my wheelhouse if I was going to leave some tangible imprint on Prism. I therefore devoted the last three weeks to creating detailed “full color” wire-frames of Prism’s website using Adobe Illustrator.

Like with the logo, I had some missteps and experiments along the way that I would not repeat in the future. At one point – in an ill-conceived attempt to heed the many notes about the site’s color scheme – I dove head-first into “design by committee” by asking the group to offer color-scheme samples. On a related note, Brooke recently reminded me of a saying that my Dad is fond of: “A camel is a horse designed by committee.” At the suggestion of several of the SLab staff, I happily chucked the idea and simply presented a triadic color scheme that had sufficient tonal contrast for the different highlighters, yet would not cause us to imagine a poor kid’s box of crayons.

Like most design processes, the five pages I presented to the group yesterday would change a good bit if I had more time. I am reasonably happy with the header, and I believe the rotating backgrounds will be distinctive, but I would love to spend some more time working on the site’s buttons and text boxes. I’d also love to help Lindsay and the others on the design team transform the static illustrator file into a functional page in HTML and CSS.

These reservations are true for the entire process. I am disappointed not to be able to see how the data will be visualized while I am gone, and I would have liked to see first hand how Ruby, Rails, CSS, HTML, Coffeescript, and YML fit together. I never even got a chance to sneak some Hungarian erotic poetry after the “en” in Alex’s YML file just to see what he would do with it. Oh well.

It is probably better this way because I think Spain is waking from its siesta. I’m still juggling several responsibilities right now, but I feel like one my four tennis balls has been replaced with an anvil stamped “Hecho en España.” Prism is in good hands, and I think my brain is beginning to show 505 errors anyway. As two members of Prism graciously tweeted yesterday, while trying to explain a visualization idea I had, I confidently uttered the phrase “That word will be the size of Yellow!” I think it is time for me to re-introduce both hemispheres of my brain to each other and focus on Spain. Finally, as some of you were around to hear, I am leaving on a high note – yesterday Bethany referred to my “size of yellow” idea as the “slightly less brain-dead” of three possible options! You hear that? Ba-BAM!

– Incidentally, I am going to try to blog as I travel to 20 different fortresses, monasteries and medieval towns from Catalonia to Extremadura during March and April. The extremely humble URL is here:

Ed was a 2011-12 Scholars' Lab Fellow and Praxis Fellow, and is a PhD candidate in the McIntire Department of Art.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>