I have spent the majority of the second half of the summer troubleshooting the Spout and NDI plugins for Unreal Engine. Recently, I have been using Unreal Engine to send video from Axis Studio (the Perception Neuron 3 software) into a projection software called Isadora. With help from my point of contact Matthew Butler, I learned that the Spout and NDI plugin was not compatible with the version of Unreal Engine that I was using. I then had to familiarize myself with a previous version of Unreal Engine, reinstall the Perception Neuron plugin, relearn how to send Axis Studio data into Unreal Engine 4.27, and then send video out of UE via NDI. I experimented with NDI by using both live and recorded avatars simultaneously. I learned that the program crashes unless I add a second avatar later in the connection process. I have also spent the past week trying to connect two live avatars into Axis Studio using two separate Perception Neuron 3 motion capture bodysuits. I am happy to report that today I successfully connected two avatars simultaneously into Axis Studio by using different channels on the receivers!
I also learned how to connect a camera to my avatar’s head in the Unity software. This enabled me to output a first-person perspective of the avatar into Isadora. In doing so, I was able to experiment with virtual climbing through a first-person perspective. So far, I have keyed out the Unity background and replaced it with images of indoor climbing walls.
I have also spent a lot of time moving and constructing a tread wall and tension wall. My goal is to paint these green so that I can easily gather green screen video footage that isolates a climbing body from any rock background. With this footage, I plan to study the climbing movement and sequences. My goal is to use the motion capture body suits on these green screen walls, and to create virtual interactive performances with the wall. This fellowship has given me the time to develop the digital skills needed to pursue digital projects on these walls.
The remainder of my time in this fellowship will be spent on learning the OptiTrack motion capture software. Once I am familiar with the camera system of OptiTrack, I can then repeat the data flow and share it into Unreal/Unity and Isadora.
“But we were growing up and it was necessary to learn, or so my dad told us after he sent Abel to inspect the gully up to the dam—the water from the garden spout had dwindled, perhaps because of a collapsed bank or some rotten branch blocking the stream—only for Abel to return while we were helping beat beans in the yard and announce, with his hoe on his shoulder, that he’d found Balão, news that made us drop our sticks and run to him and ask why he hadn’t brought our horse with him and whether Balão was far away or nearby. Abel responded that the only way he could have brought Balão was if he dragged him since our horse was dead. The two of us were struck dumb. I didn’t know if we cried or cursed Abel, judging him somehow guilty, not for Balão’s death, but for the malice of finding him dead.”
The above passage is from a short story by the 20th century Brazilian writer José J. Veiga and serves hopefully as an example of the choices a translator faces and what I am trying to illustrate through my summer Digital Publishing Fellowship.
A bit of context on the passage: This is from a story titled “A Invernada do Sossego” (roughly “The Long Winter of Quiet”) by the Brazilian author José J. Veiga, the same writer I brought in for our first round. The above passage occurs near the outset of Veiga’s story. The narrator and his brother Benício are children growing up on their family’s ranch in Goaias, a mostly rural, agrarian state in the center of Brazil. Their favorite horse Balão has gone missing and this is the moment where they find out his fate.
What makes José J. Veiga the author challenging to translate is the amount of regionalized and anachronistic language he uses, language particular to agrarian settings, actions, and tools that I am unfamiliar with. (I assume many contemporary readers would be less familiar with these as well, this book having been published in 1959.) Thus, I find myself continually attending to how to render the expressions, idioms, and vernacular networks in Veiga’s work, without exotifying them or overly smoothing them over so that they read as familiar to a contemporary readership. My approach to these phrases also determines how much the translation chooses to rationalize, clarify, or expand upon what might be unclear in the original.
Where is the unusual or jargony language in this passage? When Abel returns with his news, the two brothers are described as helping “bater feijão.” This translates literally into “beating beans.” What does that mean? According to YouTube, “bater feijão” refers to separating beans from bean pods by thwacking them with sticks; in the videos I’ve watched, men move in a rhythmic circle around the pile of beans. While doing so, they sing as a way to mark time for their thwacks. In my first translation, I translated “bater feijão” as threshing beans, since it gives the sense of separating bean from pod and provides an easier gloss. In a later version, I kept the more literal but unusual sounding “beating beans.” I did this in part to hew closer to the vernacular and in part to give a more accurate sense of the action—both the hitting of beans with a literal stick and the indication of a rhythm or tempo in “beat.” I also wanted to give a sense of the brothers’ connection in this passage (even though the narrator’s brother Benício is not mentioned by name here). The story’s plot hinges on the narrator believing what his brother believes—that is, the two of them are in sync and this synchronicity seems in part due to the closeness with which they co-exist on their family’s farm. In this case, a verb that stresses that rhythmic link—i.e. “beat”—seems valuable. However, you could argue that the verb’s strangeness overwhelms the reader’s intuition of the action described and understanding of the brothers’ closeness. Yet “beating beans” also can’t help but sound euphemistic and might lead to unwanted associations or connotations.
Ultimately, I chose to go with the more rationalized though perhaps inaccurate “threshing beans,” which is where the idea for my summer project comes in. What if there were a way to present the reader with the context and significance of a certain phrase without slowing down the reader’s experience? What if readers themselves could have some agency in the way they choose to proceed with the passage—whether they opt for “beating” or “threshing”—in a way that mirrors some of the decision-making process that the translator encounters? Could that provide a more immersive or educational reading experience, or would it prove excessively mediated and tedious? These are the questions I’m still trying to figure out.
I have enjoyed the weekly meetings for this fellowship. We talked about digital scholarship and the labor involved. The weekly meetings are helpful in holding us accountable and offer a space for us to talk about our progress, how we are feeling, and the issues we have encountered in our projects. I really enjoyed the recent meeting where one guest talked about the politics of digital scholarship and the pros and cons of using social media as a scholar. Academia Twitter has received a lot of attention. Many junior scholars and graduate students have used Twitter to build their public profiles and establish networks. On the other hand, institutions have used Twitter to surveil their current and potential employees. People on the lower academia ladder, such as untenured faculty, adjunct and graduate students are especially vulnerable to the consequences of this surveillance. I have heard from many junior scholars and grad students that they try to refrain from expressing their criticism of the university and/or views that the institution may deem “too radical” before they receive tenure. This phenomenon is dangerous to academic freedom and activism in today’s political climate. It is ironic that the University of Iowa has informed us – faculty and graduate students – that we cannot interfere with our students’ views on their personal social media accounts when their peers bring it to our attention, even when they are discriminatory against a specific racial and ethnic group, potentially putting students of color in danger, while universities have the power to pressure and censor us. It is also interesting that Twitter could be a great platform to build connections as well as to ruin one. We talked about how sometimes Twitter is not an ideal space for nuanced and in-depth discussions and miscommunication often happens. The guest shared their experience that online bullying and trolling can happen with a random tweet or heated debate.
I have been working on writing the code using scrapy API and experimenting with python, and it is surprisingly going well. Of course, I have encountered many roadblocks – bugs, crashes, and deadlocks, but the successful results from each step are very rewarding to see. It is also nice to have the support and resources going through the process. I plan to continue to sharpen and practice my coding skills to build a feminist digital archive for my dissertation.
As I begin to reflect on my fellowship experience, I would like to pick up where I left off. Since my last post, I worked with folks to test the tasks and workflow of the crowdsourcing component added to Hobo Archive. These tasks ask people to upload pictures of their resources and describe the resource in detail. The general consensus from folks testing the workflow is that technology is hard but communication is key. As I have been working one-on-one with members from the hoboing community, I recognized that technology is not accessible for everyone. Communicating directly with people and trying to alleviate the technical barriers to the workflow has led to simple, effective solutions so far that seem really engage people with their contributions to the archive. I learned to ask simple, key questions, like what is the resource and what do you want people to know about it. This is an example of the many methods of problem-solving I’ve encountered this summer. It is proving to be helpful for improving the quality of metadata in transforming materials into useful and searchable sources of information. Although, I would like to see the community embrace more of the technical aspects of the collection process…eventually. Even though testing the workflow took more time than expected, I am grateful for this uphill battle because it allowed me to better understand people’s technical skills and their preferred languages so I can create an online experience that works for everyone. Sometimes it is best to start with the simplest questions for problem-solving: what’s working and what is not working?
The biggest challenge that I faced this summer is time. I realized that testing workflows and achieving high levels of audience engagement with the site will take more time than I initially expected. What I learned from working directly with the community is that I am not only battling my time, but other people’s time as well. Although it can be challenging, I took the time to think about my need to approach this project with more patience and flexibility. Although this project is important to my research, it is not a priority for everyone. And, while I’m interested in this work, the nature of crowdsourcing projects do not always attract others to participate with the same level of engagement. I may have been overly optimistic about gathering feedback within an eight-week timeframe, but I am happy with the design of the workflow so far. Looking ahead, I plan to spread the word about Hobo Archive at the Hobo Convention in Britt next month. I will continue conducting oral history interviews and invite people to contribute to the site. The work continues.
Thank you to everyone at the Studio and the summer fellows for a memorable fellowship experience!
Just this week we read and talked about feelings of being obsolete. While the inherent purpose was to discuss the evolution of technology and digital spaces, I gravitated to my own person concern and woe. I instantly responded with the moment that my then high school freshmen sat in my introduction to journalism class and had no idea what several of my pop culture references were or meant — such as my very consistent retort: Oh my lanta.
I’m a pop culture junkie. Like it is something I pride myself on.
But in those initial moments of that hot August, just as the academic year was in its infancy, I came to the conclusion that how I interacted and engaged grew to be more middle-aged or geriatric for the budding baby journalists that sat before me. I began to venture into the obsolete.
To me, one of the most critical takeaways from the work I’m doing for this fellowship is that technology may become obsolete but the skills I’m gaining won’t. I started this experience concerned about the ethics of big data and having to challenge myself to be more okay with the idea that big data doesn’t mean big issues. Rather, I’ve found that it provides a different perspective. I learned the basics of R to work with this large dataset, but the foundations I gained can help me make data analysis, cleaning, and organizing easier regardless of the dataset size or method.
I learned to ask questions about process, not outcome. With Nikki’s guidance and support, I’ve been able to grasp how digital tools can help shift my time and attention, thus improving my productivity. My proclivity for organization also improved with new opportunities to use technology to enhance my database building, coding, and thinking. I even had a wink and a nod suggestion that if what I’m doing doesn’t work out I could have a future in the information sciences.
But most importantly, I’m not obsolete. What I do and have done has the power to help others, which inherently means I won’t ever be obsolete. That should be my goal—to use what I’ve learned not to bow down to the technology gods but to make a difference in the communities I hope my research can serve. If anything, I certainly am walking away from this experience knowing that I’m far more capable than I originally gave myself credit and that’s a difference-maker in itself.
This summer, I am focusing on creating an archive of a movement that has shaped the latter half of the 20th century into the 21st when it comes to contemporary regional culture’s music, culture, and landscape. The Great Migration was a period of great peril and risks for African American families in the South. Living in a Post-reconstruction Jim Crow South, many families found means to migrate to the West Coast, East Coast, Northeast, and Midwest regions of America, where those perils were less violent but still present. Documenting this critical period has been of great interest as I reflect on my family history and how vital migration is in developing African American populations in what would soon be called Black Metropolises in the mid-1900s. The importance of such documentation and personal history builds on this collective story of intimate Black life and its relationship with the collective Black experience as diverse and distinct. Regionally, African Americans from Chicago are ultimately from various states in the South if you travel back a couple of generations. However, a collective of Chicagoan culture developed through the combination of multiple customs, values, and music from the South to form a regional base that is ingrained into the city’s roots. I want to explore these trends, so I decided to start with music.
Music is essential to my life as an artist and music lover. My research started with documenting the Blues as an African American genre rooted in the deep South and traveled northern through Mississippi into Tennessee, St. Louis, and Chicago. The blues tradition goes hand in hand with the Great Migration as its early indications of the movement. Important Blues stars like BB King, Muddy Waters, and Albert King shared roots in the Mississippi Delta Blues but branched out to their respective regions to create a distinct version of Blues that spoke with that region. My research starts with the Blues because of the Genre’s brutal honesty as it examines African American life at its most vulnerable state at one of its most vulnerable times. So far, my data has tracked the artists’ birthplace, discovery region, and death place. Despite their commitment to the blues tradition, their trajectory and way of life left these artists in poverty or Los Angeles to record their biggest hits. This layer of my Arc GIS map will tell the story of the Great Migration’s Music: an archive lost in its novelty.
Recently, in one of the distractions that consume negligible but not insignificant parts of my day, I was reading a Twitter thread about what’s the best way to “tell someone to f— off in a work email.” The responses were numerous and ranged in levels of passive aggression and snark—“I am sorry we have not reached an understanding”; “Please see my emails from these dates that reference the matter…” One user suggested simply signing the email “Best,” since everyone knows that such a clipped, short reply means the same as telling someone to go kick rocks. Nearly all the suggested replies were euphemistic, even somehow the one that was just a GIF of Gordon Ramsay cursing out an unseen reality show contestant; such is the nature of the work email.
The thread made me think of my own situation, not only because I myself sign my emails “Best,” but because of my project this summer with the Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio: I am attempting to create a website that will track or illustrate the decisions a translator faces when translating a text from its source language to its target language. In many ways, these decisions are what we face a myriad of times each day, even while operating within a supposedly single language. We live within multiple discourses, toggle and translate between different audiences and registers. Telling someone to “f— off” over email vs. a friend over text vs. a stranger on Twitter will engender different replies; even here, over a blog post, I am choosing to substitute hyphens for the letters u, c, and k and that too is a type of translation. While we may think we’re operating within a single language, each language is of course made of languages—it is a plural, shifting thing, both private and public. My aim for my summer project is to show how the translator(s)—often seen as an invisible, ancillary figure—has their own biases, histories, and predilections that affect a text and determine the transformation within its language. In doing so, I hope to encourage a more sustained investigation on the part of both readers and translators into how these subjectivities inform the delivery of a text. My hope as well is to encourage an understanding that while translations are necessarily pliable—i.e. that there is no one objectively accurate rendering of a text—that pliancy still depends on an accurate understanding of the nuances and subtleties of the source language. I can easily imagine a translation misreading “f— off” as “f— you,” yet the difference between adverb and direct object there is marked. The former is an assertion or defense of one’s own boundaries and limits; the latter is more liable to read as a personal attack. It’s important to me that a translation document not just its choices, but how those choices are informed through context and interpretation.
I’m excited to keep working on this project as the course continues—even though this summer has flown by!—and to consider the ways a digital setting can contribute to and sharpen an understanding of the choices referred to above.
In August 2021, I moved into a small house about a mile south of the University of Iowa, and shortly thereafter began a daily bike commute from home to school and back again. I’m always interested in the million choices that go into the design of a place, and how this built environment affects our lived experiences of being here — and affects different communities differently. I’m interested in ways human constructions orient towards or away from groups of people, encourage or suppress certain relationships and actions — in other words, how values are built into building. There’s a very special and fleeting period when you’re still unfamiliar with a place and learning how to move within its alien landscape that you can be especially sensitive to how it feels, at least on your own body at that time.
It was toward the end of this period of newness, when perception is heightened but not to say refined or precise, that I realized one of the very nondescript late-70s red brick buildings I passed by twice a day, in a zone I thought was already university campus, was actually the county jail. It really struck me that it had not struck me. It struck me that it did not want to be noticed, to be legible. When I started mentioning it to new colleagues and friends, I found it had gone largely unseen (or unknown) by many. It doesn’t feel like an accident.
This has led me down a path of researching carceral architecture and design, in thinking about how we share space with carceral structures. What do centers of detention want the non-detained public to know about them? What do they want to signal, what do they want to hide? What omissions are built into their buildings? How has this changed, and what does this tell us about the very purpose of incarceration? I find myself especially considering how this architecture of illegibility at the Johnson County Jail feels linked to an unquestioning acceptance of the prison system at large. It is hard to interrogate what you can’t see. The Johnson County Jail feels worthy of this investigation both because it happens to be the neighborhood site of detention for all of us at the university, and because it is not particularly exceptional.
I’m approaching this research as a filmmaker, which for me means to prioritize the experiential (sensory, corporeal) as a way of knowing. I’m interested in what close-looking, slow-looking, new-looking can emanate, especially from structures that seem to ask us to not look at all. While I began this project by looking directly at the jail with a camera and collecting new footage, increasingly I am incorporating visual archival records (with thanks to the University of Iowa digital collections, the State Historical Society, and Johnson County) as a way of questioning the apparent unchanging permanence of carceral structures.
I have a few threads I’m puzzling out: So far, I have been exploring outsider-ness to the building, but what about the experience of being inside? What decisions are made about the interior layout, how does this live out on the bodies of inmates and staff? Could I tour the jail, conduct interviews, get sound recordings? Secondly, I have been contending with the website of the jail an aspect of its public-facing structure, where with little effort anyone can view the faces of the people being held within the jail at that very moment. It is a jarring bit of visuality that feels invasive and dehumanizing, but simultaneously viscerally reminds one that people are living inside that nondescript building. Racial and gender inequalities are made readily apparent. Is there a way to address what these photos reveal without perpetuating their violence? Finally, I have been approaching this project as a linear video, but I have begun to question if there might be other ways to share time-based work that make it further public and accessible.
I’ve spent more time than I ever could have imagined thinking about Kmart this past year. Ever since a friend sent me a YouTube clip of a man reading the last announcement at a Kmart store (‘the store will be closing, forever, in 5 minutes…’) and I scrolled through the video’s thousands of elegiac comments, I’ve been following that initial instinctual pang of salience, trying to put my finger on exactly why the phenomenon of Kmart melancholy is interesting to me—and maybe could be, to others, too. Early on, I read YouTube comments and clicked through to commenters’ accounts, discovered people making videos of their Kmart collections, their rooms full of Kmart posters and signs and baskets; I discovered all these guys recording videos of closing and abandoned Kmarts, walking their radically few viewers through every minute detail of a particular store, its history, its end. I went on Facebook and joined the ‘Crazy about Kmart…’ fan group. The central question I was following seemed to be: how exactly could anyone love something as banal as Kmart? I wanted to understand. I had little interest in the store itself; Kmart was a stand-in for any seemingly unlovable cultural entity, any outsized unrequited libidinal attachment—a metaphor. I started interviewing Kmart fans, including Eric, the creator of a fully-functional 1:1 virtual reality Kmart in the popular online community VRChat. Kmart was a vector/vessel for nostalgia. It wasn’t a metaphor anymore. Certain kinds of people get so attached to Kmart precisely because it is endangered, right? I thought about the last day one might spend in a foreign city, when the nearness of departure sharpens everything to a fine point. There was a short essay by Freud I had read in college called ‘On Transience’ in which Freud describes a walk through the countryside with Rilke. The two thinkers discuss what it means to counter melancholy in the face of life’s transience and flux. This would be my way in. The essay would be about time. I rewrote it from scratch. I read biographies of Freud and Rilke. I read and read and wrote. Kmart was about abiding the passage of time, about a certain kind of relationship to the past, about being time-bound, time-vexed, time-hurt. Ha. I read some book called The Philosophy of Time, copy + pasting dozens of paragraphs from the book into various documents. But surely the Kmart thing was really about unrequited love? The essay would surely be at least 100 pages. I searched ‘Kmart’ on JSTOR, twice. My ‘research’ folder blossomed. 300 pages. And then I saw Meta’s Super Bowl ad, in which the metaverse’s “futuristic,” “cutting-edge technology” was blatantly marketed to the American public as a nostalgic escape from the scary, ever-changing present. The cognate to VR Kmart was obvious. I pitched The Drift. They were interested. I would rewrite the essay to be an argument against nostalgia—or something—from a psychoanalytic perspective, with an eye to how Big Tech caters to conservative regression. “I think we have a lot more of this coming –retreating into a futuristic past–as more and more supposedly stable coordinates are thrown into jeopardy,” I wrote. I didn’t know what I was talking about, one bit. And then I applied to the Digital Studio. I forgot to write The Drift back. The project would be about virtual reality. I would research the history of VR as a vehicle for memory, for memorialization. Wasn’t there a Titanic VR experience? Kmart, the Titanic, same idea. I would focus on Eric’s virtual reality Kmart, figure out how it works, why he made it. I researched, I searched, I clicked around, I read. I sat in front of the open ‘research’ folder on my computer and thought But okay isn’t this about middle-class nostalgia really, isn’t this about saying goodbye to the banal amidst larger crises? Kmart is about climate change, about grief and mourning. Death? No—what it is now is this: taking the digital scholarship I have unwittingly and semi-wittingly done—the interviews, the video recordings of VR Kmart, the images and images and videos and notes and files and folders and pitches and quotes and drafts and drafts and drafts of this slippery multifaceted strange and boring thing—and turning it all into something real, something beyond my head, beyond my iCloud drive, beyond all these otherwise real things. I have beautiful blurred memories of all this writing, all this digital scholarship, all these instances of Kmart—but now I suppose it’s time to finally get started.
My summer research uses motion capture and green screen to explore the choreographies of rock climbing. I am interested in how route design influences a climber’s interpretation and experience of a rock wall. This summer research is an opportunity for me to gain the technical skills needed to create a live performance installation that explores rock climbing and dance through motion capture and projection design. My goal is to apply this research to a fall 2022 performance installation with a greenscreen bouldering wall.
So far this summer, I have recorded motion capture data of climbers ascending the 50-foot rock wall on campus. I have also experimented with a greenscreen body suit at a local bouldering crag. I have learned how to send data from the Perception Neuron 3 body suit into the Unreal Engine. From there, I have experimented with sending the Unreal video into Isadora via Spout and NDI. I entered the fellowship with a basic understanding of this workflow through Unity. However, through this fellowship, I am learning that Unreal Engine may be more compatible with my future research goals. I solidified this Unreal workflow with both recorded and live data. I also created an digital manual of this Unreal workflow for future students to use. Additionally, I have explored using two PN3 suits simultaneously to capture data of multiple climbers.
Next, I plan to learn the OptiTrack Motion Capture System. Learning this system will provide insight to even more possibilities of motion capture design. I am setting up a greenscreen climbing wall with this system to capture and record data of bouldering sequences. My goal is to then compile this footage for projections and video designs through After Effects.
While most of this research will be applied to projects in the 2022-2023 academic year, I plan to map footage of these experiments onto small rocks at the end of this summer. Since my project uses many different programs and forms of motion capture, this installation will help me realize the ways in which I can apply my research to future performances and art installations.