In Defeat, There Is Victory!

'In his 1914 painting A Hundred Years Peace, artist Amedee Forestier illustrates the signing of the Treaty of Ghent between Great Britain and the US, 24 December 1814 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-115678).'

In my mad rush to try and get this project to work, I completely lost sight of Bill Turkel’s initial comment when I and my fellow History 9832b Interactive Exhibit Design classmates first started; “it’s okay to fail”.  I think as students we’re subconsciously ingrained to think that success is only measured in the completion of an assigned task or the delivery of an end product rather than the path of discovery itself.  While preparing for another sleepless night, I arrived at the sobering realization that the project was definitely a lot grander than expected and I might have to scale back on my plans to have it work.

Taking stock of the original project concept, I had an epiphany. The project was all about exposure, buy-in and public engagement.  My first blog entry Twitter War of 1812! immediately generated challenges from both sides of the border by rival 1812 reenactor/history groups. @Navy1812Bicentennial immediately retweeted the blog post and I picked up Samuel Woodsworth@_thewar1812 and Maryland Milestones @ATHeritageArea as Twitter and Blog followers.  Another local 1812 supporter @BrianPMacLean joined as I’m writing this and it was great to get an inquiry from the folks over at Historica – Dominion about the proposed project and when we’re rolling it out.  From this varied sample of supporters, the objective was a success.

As I hunkered down in my foolish attempt to decipher the myriad of Arduino, Processing and Twitter hacks that litter the internet, I picked up support from Processing guru Marcus Nowotny who’s Tweet Balloon was really the key example to use.  I really thank Marcus, through a couple of wonderfully supportive emails about coming to the realization that what I was proposing was indeed a bigger kettle of fish than I had anticipated.  I’m regretful that I hadn’t found his example sooner in the semester.   Additional thanks has to go out to Nicholas Stedman for allowing me to participate in his Twitter to Processing class at Ryerson, which helped to get me over the hump in terms of having Arduino’s LED respond to a Tweet.  My car-pooling partner Namir (@Namir) who bounced various solutions back and forth to get this thing working, jumped in when things became too confusing.  Finally, many thanks to my 15 year creative business partner Romelle Espiritu for jumping in last minute with a stylized visual based on my original creative prototype.

Although I never really got the project to work, I did however get Arduino to blink on a per Tweet basis as demonstrated in the blog post Twitter to Ardunio Hack!.  Admittedly this has been one of the most frustrating, challenging and ultimately rewarding classes I’ve taken in my 20+ years of post-secondary education.  There were times in which nothing worked and I had to reevaluate the way I actually learn.  The project did force me to understand it from a “teachable moment”, something  as an educator I sometimes overlook when conducting my own classes.  Bill was supportive when needed and broad enough at other times to allow for student discovery.

Overall I’m satisfied with how the project engaged public, professional and peers alike.  As someone who has taught, developed curriculum and has been professionally engaged in Digital Media for over 20 years, the course has also redefined what “media” is and how the public can be engaged with it.  As a graduate student firmly entrenched in cultural resource management, these types of projects, whether failures or successes, enable us to connect at a different level with the public.  To engage them interactively, without constantly relying on expensive virtual simulators or displays.  Bringing the tactile and other senses to life when sometimes a static display cannot convey the depth of the subject matter or discovery.

In closing, the path to discovery has really been the success.  Now that this project has come to an end academically, I hope to engage a team to make it a reality professionally!  After all, what other way can we challenge our Southernly neighbours in a lively debate on the only War they lost : )

1812 Twitter War Pre-planning!

(This Post is a class requirement for History 9832b Interactive Exhibit Design)

This week I started to pre-plan for the scale model I intend to build for our final project in 9832b.  Although I spent a good part of my career drawing, I opted to do a mock-up with found images on the internet and a little Illustrator.  I find from a creative perspective, doing something like this art-board helps to rapidly prototype the types of images I would want to use and defines placement and even construction issues.

One of the immediate issues is what type of base is needed to keep this rather tall and somewhat heaving looking object upright.  Additionally, where do the flag poles go and how do we hide the mechanical aspects of the raising the flag?  Also, how do we remotely trigger the Arduino?  By a laptop or a WiFi module and where do I put it?  So many questions!

My next task is to start researching how Twitter can trigger Ardunio. Once and if I can master that task, I’ll take a swing at having Arduino drive a mechanical pulley.  Keep tune because I’m heading into the rabbit hole!


Twitter War of 1812!

(This Post is a class requirement for History 9832b Interactive Exhibit Design)

The class in 9832b IED has been fiendishly brainstorming to come up with unique ideas for this semester’s class projects.  Combining History and Technology for Public engagement, isn’t as easy as it seems.

As discussed in previous blogs, I’m particularly interested in this year’s War of 1812 celebrations.  In particular, the desire to get the general public interested in participating, even if they can’t make it down to Niagara-on-the-Lake or the various sites around Ontario or Quebec that were pivotal to the defeat of the US forces.  Virtual and physical interaction is the key and helps to engage all to participate.

In talking with Bill on Monday, he had mentioned about doing a Twitter fed Arduino display that would shoot confetti or ping pong balls every time someone would Twitter their support for one team or another.  That drove us into a quick brainstorming session, which really consisted of me saying “can I do this” or “is this possible” and Bill saying “sure”.  So here is my idea for the 9832b IED class project.

I proudly present the “War of 1812” Twitter War!

In a nutshell, I’m going to make a physical display, similar to the attraction signs you find in those old time circuses or side shows.  The display will have a “Canadian” side and an “American” side, with full graphic representations of historically accurate American and British soldiers, a historic looking map in the middle with LED red and/or blue lights of all of the major 1812 battles and a face plate done up in 1800’s style scrolls entitled the “War of 1812” Twitter War!.  I’ll leave an open space at the top of the face plate just in case we can find a sponsor for a really super-duper, massively large scale version, to sit in NOTL (Niagara-on-the-Lake) this summer.

As people “Tweet in” for their support of Canadian or American troops, a little  flag will rise above the silhouetted hats of the two solider icons on the front of the board.  The side with the most “Tweets” will drive the flag up the flag pole and win the battle!  Bill suggested I make a little confetti canon to indicate who has won the battle visually.  The winning side will light up an LED in their colour (red or blue) on the historic map of 1812 battles in North America and the whole system will reset itself for the next battle!

In addition to the physical nature of the “Tweet Battle”, I was also thinking about having an LCD screen to read off the Twitter messages that come in during the battle.  Now, the fun part of this is that we would commandeer the Twitter messages and rewrite them in old English and have their response be from historical figures from the War of 1812.  So if someone tweeted; “@noname: I’m for the Canadian’s”, our system would rewrite it to say “@Brock: Those American’s will not prevail!”.  Don’t ask me “how” yet, but that’s the angle I’m fishing for!

For those who don’t have Twitter, we’ll rig up a interactive website to accept message input, which will then send the Twitter message to our interactive display.  Once that elusive “sponsor” is found for our massively large version in NOTL, we can rig a web cam towards the board so participants can see their “votes” in action.

We’ll send a challenge to Stephen Colbert, so our American cousins will enjoy this tongue-in-cheek second chance to beat the Canadians!

For now though, I’ll make a small scale version to test if this hair-brain idea works!

Immediate challenges include:

a) Getting Twitter to activate an Arduino.

b) Having Arduino to run a flag up a flagpole.  The triggering shouldn’t be a problem, but how do we mechanically get the flag to rise up?

c) Commandeering the Twitter responses and redisplaying in “old English”.  There must be someone out there doing this?

d) Making a confetti cannon and then having it reload after every battle!

e) Doing a website to allow non-Twitter users to participate.

I’m completely open to suggestions and hope this would be an engaging project for all to participate in, no matter what they contribute to the process.


My first real blog is about “Gramps”.  He recently passed away at the ripe old age of 90, just a week after his birthday.  Like many of the men and women of that era and specifically like those who experienced the war first hand, he was very circumspect about his time and it took many late night drinks and discussions to glean any sense of what it all meant to him.

After his death and the eventual shorting of one’s accumulated life, this picture showed up.  Nobody in the family had ever seen it, but it clearly demonstrates that Gramps was also someone other than the guy who curled, watched hockey or served thousands over the years as a post-war pharmacist.