An Interview with Myself

Bowing to the demands of my own powerful curiosity, I have agreed to a give an exclusive interview to myself. My publicist disagrees with my decision, but I believe I have a strong connection with myself and I think I can be trusted to report my answers fairly.

tat3.jpgQ: Hello Erica. I’m glad you agreed to this interview. You have been pretty reticent with the press lately. What’s been going on?

A: There have been major changes in my life this year. I haven’t felt it was appropriate or respectful to write about them here.

Things have settled down a bit recently. I’m no longer engaged, and I’m living in rural Ithaca near some friendly horses and sheep.

Q: Wow. Do you want to talk about what happened?

A: No. Thank you.

Q: I hear you are moving to the Bay Area in the next few months?

A: I’ve been looking at the Bay Area and NYC as possible places to relocate. After visiting last week, I decided to move to San Francisco.

San Francisco is one of the geekiest, friendliest places I’ve ever been. The city is beautiful, I’ve got good friends, there are interesting projects, and I’ll be among my fellow dorks.

I’m really looking forward to learning the city, starting a new job, volunteering at 826 Valencia, and being immersed in the calm, weird, sunny West Coast atmosphere. Come visit. Bring chocolate babka.

Q: Where are you going to work?

A: An excellent question. I’ve interviewed at a few places where I would like to work. I will know more by next week. Stay tuned.

Q: Don’t you like Ithaca?

A: I love Ithaca and I adore my job at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which is why I’ve been here for four years.

However, that translates to about 40 years in Internet Time. It’s time for me to start a new project. I might return to Ithaca someday, once I’ve made my fortune. I’d like to live on a big farm with dogs, books, a wood stove, and all my friends.

Q: Ok. That covers the big topics. What else is going on?

A: I’m having the best year of my life. This weekend I swam in a waterfall, watched a turtle lay eggs, drove a sports car really fast, petted dogs, helped a friend find tractor parts, drank local beer, picked flowers, was charged by a deer, and met one of the first US African refugee coordinators who was working in Botswana in 1965.

Q: Well, thanks again for letting me interview you, Erica.

A: I’m welcome. Thank me.

Yahoo! Games picks up video game based on Macauly Library sounds

snapshot.pngNYC game developers Large Animal Games have created a downloadable PC video game based on bird sounds and expertise provided by the Macaulay Library at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology.

Which is where I work.

The game is called Snapshot Adventures. It was recently was acquired by Yahoo! games, which is a great for both the Lab and for environmental education, since part of the money it earns will directly fund our ecology work.

picture-3.png You can play it for free here.

Animal Recordings. Dotcom.

Eat my educational interactives baby! The Cornell University Lab of Ornithology project I designed won second place in Science magazine’s 2006 Visualization Challenge.

Plus, we were on the front page of Der Spiegel last week, so Germans love us!

What does this mean for you? It means you can now go online and visit the world’s largest collection of animal sounds and video. Listen to animal recordings and watch videos for free. Explore the crazy world of animal behavior.

Right now you can use Realplayer to listen to sounds, or you can download our plugin that lets you watch and manipulate spectrograms in real-time. Which has never been done before, incidentally.

So, to summarize, alligators, elk, robins, and whales, all online and free. Good? Go nuts. Version two should be out in a few months.

Reading

Hemingway’s short story collection The Snows of Kilimanjaro

Various dumpster-dived magazines

A guide to bird icon mapping on the Macaulay Library taxonomy tree

Bust Magazine

The DVD liner notes to Veronica Mars season one

Poster design specs for the WWDC conference

Salon.com’s article on electronic voting machines

My library helps Harry Potter!

screenshot of Cornell homepage with Macaulay library featured
Take that Voldemort! Several articles have come out in the Cornell press recently about the Macaulay Library’s huge collection of animal sounds. One of the ways we stay afloat is by licensing our sounds to movie studios. Recently, this has included helping give a voice to Buckbeak the Hippogriff in the Harry Potter movies.

Also, today we are being featured on the Cornell homepage. This is all in buildup to the release of our massive, monumental, absolutely nifty, online collection that will make all of our sounds and videos available for free Real Soon Nowtm. Just you wait. You’ll see.

Buckbeak saying Meyow!In other news, it’s snowing here and I’ve got a two-foot high stack of receipts representing three different currencies to sort through from our Euro-trip. We also have that penguin movie sitting in a Netflix envelope at home. And I made matzohball soup last night using this recipe.

Liveblogging Fundamentos Web 2005: Part Two

One of the big questions I have about web design for accessibility is, how can I design for one audience without isolating another? Obviously, there are basic things I can do to make our web applications more accessible, by including alt tags, skiplinks, and labeling form fields. But our users have a higher level of disabilities than most due to the nature of our content (birding is of wide interest to the blind and our users are often older, and therefore more likely to have disabilities) and I want to make sure our site is as useful to as many people as possible.

The problem is, if I take steps to make the site accessible to one group, say our partially-sighted users (hi dad), by increasing the text size and contrast, I risk not serving users with cognitive disabilities who respond better to an interface in which only the important elements are emphasized using contrast and the text is not large and overwhelming. Similar arguments apply to designing for young users, who are also one of our main user groups.

The terrible reality is, some solutions can help people with certain disabilities, but exclude others. This puts organizations in a position where they must, often not consciously, choose only certain disabilities to address, such as the charismatic blind man with a dog, and ignore users with different and perhaps competing needs.

I can see why the process of creating web accessibility guidelines is so difficult. The perspectives involved are broad and often divergent. This isn’t like web standards, where you can just close your tags and call it good. Real people will be discriminated against if you screw up. The responsibility is sobering.

At the Macaulay Library, we are proud to provide spectrograms of our bird sounds that are accessible to the hearing-impaired. However, the software to view the spectrograms requires a multimedia plug-in that is annoying to blind users.

What should I do? Do I assume blind users aren’t interested in these spectrograms, and design an interface using Flash and other inaccessible technologies? What if a blind user wants to show a spectrogram, which is a valuable educational tool, to a sighted friend or their child? Even worse, it isn’t possible to even generate spectrograms without using QuickTime and Flash, so the choice has been made for me. Without even making a choice, I’ve created some happy deaf people, and some pissed off blind people. Can I provide an alternative way for the blind to use this feature? Nope. The technology prevents it. Can I provide a larger version of the spectrogram tool for users with manual mobility problems? I could, but it would hold back the entire project while I designed it and no one would be able to use it.

These are dark choices, my friends, and they are often made under pressure of time and money. I’m glad to have the opportunity this week to spend time thinking about them. Thanks to work for sending me here.

New Site!

It all started at the South x Southwest conference this spring. I sat behind a fellow who had written a piece of weblog software called WordPress. The very mention of WordPress made the open-source and webstandards geeks at the conference go all gushy, so I figured it had to be pretty good software. Well. I installed it for a project at work and my heart went pitterpat. Great interface, tons of plugins, complete control over templates, open source, and a slick layout converted me.

Blogger has been good to me, but I’d like to experiment with this software. I’ll keep my old weblog up so your links will work (you will always be able to click on archives 2003-2005 in the right column to get to the ancient stuff), but this change of venue means you’ll have to update your RSS and bookmarks. I’m going to start writing about the books and media I’m consuming, in addition to the usual collection of rants, antecdotes, gloating about my cool job, and library related things.

Soon, I’m going to start writing about some of the nifty things we’re coming out with at my workplace, The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I’ve been able to watch and help build an insanely complex audio-video digital library over the last year, and I think there might be some stuff of interest to you guys from what we’ve learned in the process. We’re doing a big launch at the end of the summer, so I can show you the payoff then.

Thanks again to everyone who has posted and helped this site out along the way. Grouchy librarian kisses to all of you.

Conference

I’m liveblogging from the WDIL web conference, conveniently held where I work. I got shanghaied into this. I just wanted to meet the Wikipedia guy, but somehow I ended up going to the entire thing.

I’m no huge fan of conferences, as a rule. Usually the signal-to-noise ratio is insanely low, and I’ve got the attention span of a gnat when it comes to listening to ill-prepared speakers. Mercifully, coworker Rafe loaned me the office laptop, which is running Ubuntu, a very cool flavor of Linux, so I’ll be talking to you guys all day.