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CHI Grad Fellow Post



April 13, 2018

My Adventures in Troubleshooting (and the Importance of Good Technical Writing)

April 13, 2018 | By | No Comments

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned during this CHI project is how necessary various forums on HTML and CSS are to a person’s progress on a project. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had to rely entirely on the Twine Cookbook and googling random questions online to try to understand what I need to change. Programs like Code Academy  are useful is developing a basic understanding of how to understand and use html, css, and javascript. But, in the end I’ve spent way more time perusing the cookbook and reading forums online for specific solutions for the problems I’m having. For this reason, I’ve also learned the importance of good technical writing. Which, PS, turns out a lot programmers aren’t the greatest at that.

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April 6, 2018

Presenting “Mapping Consumers” at a World History conference

April 6, 2018 | By | No Comments

Two weeks ago, I went to Northeastern University’s 10th annual Graduate World History conference. My paper was largely based on the sources that I draw on for my CHI project. This was my first time showing my site to the public, and the deadline for the conference presentation was a great motivation to get my site up and mostly functional. This is what my site looks like currently:

Mapping consumers home page

One of the things that was helpful about presenting this to an audience of strangers was learning which parts of my site are self-explanatory, and which need more context. I found myself having to explain the colourful marker clusters, which is a feature built into the Bootleaf template that I’m using. When there are more than a certain number of markers in a certain area at a certain zoom level, it will create a coloured cluster representing this group of markers. However, I realized while presenting that these clusters somewhat obscure the argument I want to make with this map — that testimonial-writers in the black press were from rural places all across the South African countryside.

Based on this experience, I’ve now changed the zoom level at which the marker-cluster feature works. I’ve turned off the marker-cluster feature at a lower zoom level, so now as you zoom in, you’re able to see the spread of testimonial-writers across the map. Like so:

Markers showing testimonial writers in the Eastern Cape region

Another positive take-away from this conference was that because it was a World History conference, I was able to think in new ways about how my local South African project is contextualized in global history. My paper made the argument that testimonials show how local South Africans responded to global marketing campaigns (in particular the well-funded campaign for tea consumption put on by the Tea Market Expansion Bureau).



March 31, 2018

Visualizing the Past: Maps and Photography

March 31, 2018 | By | No Comments

With the technical issues of my project mostly resolved, the remaining elements to complete are the core of the web site: the information on the venues and their connection to the remaking of the Tokyo cityscape. To restate my original goal, I am seeking to explore two interconnected aspects of the 1964 Tokyo Games. The first is the cultural legacy of the Olympics in Tokyo and the second is the impact of the Games on the urban landscape. For this post, I will concentrate on the latter, the urban transformation of Tokyo.

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March 30, 2018

Mapping Movement

March 30, 2018 | By | No Comments

The most rewarding aspect of my project has been working on my map since it has been the most challenging. I opted to use leaflet.js to build my map, which shows how many migrants each region in Russia sent to Moscow in various years between 1970 and 2000.

I first used leaflet.js during one of our development challenges last semester, and I found it a bit confusing at first. The leaflet.js website has a tutorial, but it was unclear where to place the information for the JavaScript and CSS sheets with the other information from the bootstrap that we used. If we failed to properly place this information, the map would not run. Once we figured out where to place and how to properly label this information, the map showed up.

One of the major issues I faced was not inherently technical but dealt with the best way to integrate my dissertation research into the map. Soviet authorities sometimes changed how they recorded statistical information. Every year through 1985, the Moscow Committee for Statistics (Moskomstat) recorded the place of origin by region (oblast) for migrants who arrived in Moscow from other locations within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR). For Soviet citizens from one of the other 14 republics, only the republic, and not a specific region within the republic, was noted. Approximately every 5 years, Moskomstat recorded that nationality of all arrivals, which complicated my understanding of who these migrants were. Although the number of migrants from other Soviet republics began to rise throughout the 1980s, migrants remained primarily ethnic Russian, meaning that Russians were leaving other locations in the Soviet Union for the RSFSR.

Political reforms during perestroika and the breakup of the Soviet Union also changed statistical recordings. During perestroika, Moskomstat often simply recorded various types of internal migration: intra-region, inter-region, and inter-republic without specifying places of origin. In the post-Soviet period, the Northwestern Region separated into the Northwestern and Northern Regions, and across the Russian Federation, several regions changed their names. On my map, I have pop-ups for each small region surrounding Moscow (other areas in the Central Region), each large region across the RSFSR, and each republic of the former Soviet Union. I am currently deciding if I should include any other additional information in my popups. My next goal is to find an appropriate Soviet-era map, printed in English. The current map tiles that I am using through leaflet.js use local languages, which might make the maps difficult for my English-reading audience.

Julia DeCook


March 29, 2018

Networked Society’s Celebrity Networks

March 29, 2018 | By | No Comments

I have had to tone down some of my initial goals for what I thought my network would be, but am still going to endeavor to make a semi-interactive network and a website to house information for people who are interested in viewing the affiliations that extreme right celebrities have.

However, considering the role that the Internet has had in the resurgence of populist fascism in the U.S. and beyond, I felt that paying special attention to “celebrities” with significant online presences might be an interesting way to visualize these connections. Although the term “network society” was coined in the early 90s, the origins of it are from before that in terms of how society would eventually be connected by wired communications. Famously, Castell’s work The Rise of the Network Society laid down the foundations of how he envisioned society would eventually function: it is not that networks merely exist within our societies, but rather are the very basic foundations of them. Although of course, I’m not saying that the Internet is to blame for the rise of extreme right-wing politics, it did play a part in the accessibility of the ideology to millions of people.

In that regard, how do we envision networks of Internet celebrities within the networked society? What conditions led to their rise, and how might these conditions also lead to their downfalls? These aren’t necessarily questions that I’m grappling with since my project will be mostly descriptive and for visualization purposes, but are ones that can be dealt with later in academic work. In terms of downfall, we have seen how although the affordances of the networked society have been great, they have also been detrimental: websites are being shut down, subreddits are being removed, and Twitter accounts are being banned. But this brings about another age-old issue in terms of how digital space is governed and regulated, which are things that will constantly be debated as technology outpaces the policies that control them. This project, although not necessarily intended to, has really helped me think about the power of platforms, infrastructures, and their roles in shaping and inhibiting social movements – which is the basis of my dissertation, stay tuned for more.

Theoretical musings aside, I’m following a tutorial on how to make my network graph because a lot of network mapping software does not easily allow for the creation of event-affiliation or bipartite networks. However, software like R that requires a lot of manual coding do allow for the creation of these visualizations. Although seemingly very descriptive, event-affiliation and bipartite graphs can be helpful in determining who belongs to some organizations, thus increasing their likelihood of encountering people who otherwise may be disconnected. I’m making slow progress on the graph because it is in d3.js, but there is an R tutorial that may help me move along faster. Either way, I’m grateful for the experience because instead of pointing and clicking, I’m actually managing to teach myself the foundational code of what makes up these networks. Foundations of foundations, we’ve gone meta.

Tutorials for the curious:
How to Make an Interactive Network Visualization
Network Analysis and Visualization with R and igraph



March 29, 2018

Charts, Graphs, and Coding, Oh my!

March 29, 2018 | By | No Comments

For my remaining blogs, I plan to address the different technological elements on my website. First up are the graphs that I have created using AM Charts, a website that allows you to build JavaScript charts, graphs, and maps. For my website, I built graphs that show for Moscow: births and deaths, natural and migration-related population growth, total population growth, and changing nationality and place of origin.

AM Charts provides a very user-friendly system that provides you with multiple options for building your charts and graphs. First, you can download free versions of AM Chart’s products. The website advertises that, “The only limitation of the free version is that a small link to this web site will be displayed in the top left corner of your charts.” The download comes with over 80 sample charts that you can view and examine the code. The graphs range from simple bar graphs to complex bar and line graph combos with interactive elements that explain data points. The download also comes with a brief tutorial and various JavaScript and CSS sheets. The second option for using AM Charts is paying for it, which I cannot comment on, except to say that if the creators are correct, it should be similar to what I have described.

I have also used the third option: the online chart editor. This option requires you to create a free account with AM Charts. The online chart editor provides you with several dozen templates to work with. After selecting your template, you may either upload a CSV file with your data or input it manually. I found it somewhat difficult at times to adjust the legend and axis labels, but I discovered that there are multiple ways to address these issues. The chart builder allows you to select and alter options through an input interface, but you can also access the code to edit your chart there. Once your chart is complete, you can use an embedded link to present it on your website. AM Charts will save your graphs that you built while logged in to your free account.

The graphs that I have created have helped me understand my research data better. On my website, I have three line graphs that depict population growth in Moscow. The first shows births and deaths on the same graph. Until 1984, births and deaths rose together, which did not radically alter Moscow’s population. In 1989, deaths surpassed births and continued to do so throughout the 1990s. My second line graph illustrates population growth related to migration and live births on the same plane. Migration consistently played a larger role in contributing to population growth, but tended to mimic the patterns of natural births. In 1989, deaths surpassed births while migration did not contribute to Moscow’s population decline until 1992. Migration to Moscow dropped sharply, but rebounded before birthrates did, contributing to population growth. The last graph shows Moscow’s overall population growth.

My current dilemma is how to use graphs when methods of recording data changed. In the Soviet period, place of origin and nationality were not necessarily the same thing. For example, an Armenian could have lived in Azerbaijan before moving to Moscow. Soviet statistic takers in Moscow recorded place of origin for all migrants annually, and nationality every several years. Statistics in the post-Soviet period tend to only record place of origin, which obscures information and poses a challenge in creating graphs.





March 6, 2018

Project update: refining my map

March 6, 2018 | By | No Comments

In the past month, after several weeks of despairing tinkering, I finally got the features in my GeoJSON files to appear as points on my map. I now feel much more comfortable playing around with Javascript to see what my map can do. Currently my map looks like this:

Now that the basics of the map are there — markers for each testimonial advertisement in a newspaper, clusters for concentrated areas of markers, and a sidebar with click-able information — I want to add more complexity to the map to represent more information about testimonials and the history of consumer culture in South Africa. One of the things I’m interested in is highlighting differences between urban and rural writers of testimonials. Since I haven’t been able to find an appropriate historical map of South Africa from the time period, Ethan Watrall gave me the idea to create different-coloured markers for urban or rural locations. Now, I’m working on this task, using population information from the 1936 census. My goal is to represent urban or rural status using different coloured markers, with different shapes representing the different newspapers that the information comes from.

Adding this additional complexity to my map will force me to consider exactly how to define “urban” and “rural”. One metric I’m considering is whether or not a town is listed in the 1920 census list of “towns and villages possessing some form of urban local government.” But this is perhaps a problematic category, as the structures of “urban local government” might have been granted differently depending on the racial make-up of a locale. In that case, my best option may be to pick a certain number that I consider to represent the border between urban and rural, and simply trust that the 1936 census gives a fairly accurate population count.

Cody M


March 2, 2018

Pokémon GO and Narrative

March 2, 2018 | By | No Comments

Pokémon GO was, and is, one of the most interesting examples of gaming culture in the last two years. Many players and critics have commented on how fad-ish the game was: it became instantly and massively popular upon its release, but the number of active players quickly fell off after a few months. The game brought people together from around the world to capture Pokémon; it got folks outside and exploring; it allowed players to interact with the world around them in unexpected and emergent ways; and it got people to invest a great deal of time and money in its augmented reality.

It’s Pokémon GO’s augmented reality that makes the game so effective, and it’s the limitations of that augmented reality that made the game have relatively little staying power. By providing the ability to catch Pokémon in the world around players, the game seemed to finally deliver on a fantasy many fans of the franchise had had for a long time: living in and experiencing the world of Pokémon. Yet the augmented reality of the game could not really deliver on that promise. Players grew tired of catching what seemed like their millionth Rattata, and augmented reality’s reliance on the actual world meant players constantly bumped into the real limitations that come with our world. These limitations ranged from the legal (trespassing on private property) to the ethical (catching Pokémon at the Holocaust Museum) to the simple physical (crossing a large region takes a lot longer in the actual world than it does in digital game worlds). Perhaps the best example of these limitations was the disastrous Pokémon GO Fest, held to celebrate the game’s first anniversary in Grant Park in Chicago. Constant network difficulties and game glitches made the game completely unplayable at the event, and Niantic (the company that made the game) had to issue refunds and rewards to frustrated and angry players.

What I think Pokémon GO demonstrates quite well, however, is how we construct and perceive realities, and the significant role that narrative plays in those processes. Narrative is much more than a static, pre-determined series of events; games like Pokémon GO suggest it is a lived, embodied process that unfolds in the moment to moment experiencing of a game. As we move around and experience augmented reality with Pokémon GO, we are constructing narratives that shape our perceptions and understandings of ourselves and the world around us. Pokémon GO’s augmented reality coheres and functions because of the confluence of these narrative processes that it contains: first, the narrative of Pokémon that developers write into the game; second, the narratives players generate as they play and experience the game; and third, the narratives that emerge when players come together in groups (such as the narrative of Pokémon GO Fest as a disaster).

Pokémon GO reveals how narrative is one of the primary processes we use to understand and navigate the world. Narrative helps construct our senses of ourselves and the things we experience, including augmented reality. It does so by bringing our different determined, personal, and collective narratives together to form a unique reality. Psychologist Jerome Bruner gets at this when he discusses narrative as a system that actively constructs and organizes consciousness and the perception of reality (Bruner, 2000). Games have pointed us in this direction for a long time, but we have yet to fully appreciate the breadth and power of narrative processes in our play.

By doing so with games such as Pokémon GO, we can better understand our current (augmented) realities, and further use narrative to build new and potentially transformative ones. The narratives of Pokémon GO are our stories, and they have a lot to tell us about ourselves and what we can do and imagine.

Note: This blog is a short preview of my book chapter for an upcoming collection, tentatively titled Not Just Play: Essays on Motivations and Impacts of Pokemon GO, edited by Jamie Henthorn, Andrew Kulak, Kristopher Purzycki, and Stephanie Vie. Keep an eye out for the full collection, and read more about these ideas there!

Julia DeCook


March 1, 2018

Ideological Celebrities and Connective Action

March 1, 2018 | By | No Comments

After having a few conversations with my dissertation chair about my dissertation topic, it made me start thinking about my own CHI project trying to map out the celebrities of the far right and how they are ideologically connected. The idea of connective and collective action rests upon something simple, yet incredibly difficult to maintain: the idea of an “us” for there to be a motivation for a fight against a “them”. Indeed, Tajfel’s social identity theory introduced us to the idea of the in-group and out-group in the 1970s, but I think it goes far beyond reducing it to an in and an out. There also must exist connective tissue, for the muscles to adhere to the bones, and together they all move together. In political ideologies and movements, the connective tissue are the celebrities of the movement, the celebrities, the easily identifiable figures upon which a common identity is built.

These celebrities are instrumental in proselytizing the ideology and are easy to find on social networking services as well as other forms of social media like YouTube and others. With their status and platform visibility, they rally people around a common narrative that they then are constantly spreading across different groups that may otherwise be disconnected, except for the common ideological basis that brought them all to the same celebrity. As such, these celebrities are strategic in the content that they produce and the appearances they make – like other politicians, there is a method to their madness, and what is notable about the far right is their savviness in using digital technologies to form coalitions – although dispersed – that are not only built on the same political beliefs but also political figures that symbolize them.

Thus, it is not that people like Richard Spencer or Alex Jones themselves are the threats, but rather what they represent. They are merely poster children for a movement, an easily targeted rally point, and they are not necessarily “leaders” but merely the public faces of a larger political movement. Looking at the list of celebrities I’ve compiled so far, some are universally appealing to far-right groups whereas others are more divisive, thus demonstrating that not even the celebrities themselves are necessarily accepted across certain boundaries. Although the network I am building does not necessarily identify central figures and other measures of networks, it is still going to be an interesting visualization of how these movements are converging upon central figures within them. They are merely the human face to a larger subculture, and placing responsibility upon one person to be the “face” of an organization is not a new concept. The ways in which they are conducting this old practice of “representation” however is particularly compelling, and articles examining the prevalence of young conservatives (The Kids Are Far Right) point out the ease of which they achieve fame. This then begs the question – are there so many celebrities in this movement because they truly believe in it, or rather are they people who longed to be famous and decided to go the route of political extremist because of the attention they knew they’d receive?

Are they just exploiting a media landscape that privileges outrage?

Grumpy Cat is cute but also angry

In order to explore some of these larger questions, I’ve been going through and trying to give attribute values to my network nodes (the celebrities) by gender, age, and other dimensions to help better visualize differentiating aspects between far-right celebrities. Although I initially didn’t think that this project would connect to larger work that I am engaging in, it has really helped to illuminate the ideas of collective action around media figures – a creation of a “us” for a certain subset of people, and the celebrities then rally the “us” around a “them”.



February 16, 2018

Project Plan Overview

February 16, 2018 | By | No Comments

For my CHI fellowship project, I hope to use the theoretical framework I have created in my previous project to begin considering how queer modes of making act as a form of world-making. In particular, I want to focus on the ways in which queer communities make “things” in order to make their worlds (more bearable). Often, in rhetoric and composition, we are understandably preoccupied with composing practices that follow linear logical progression, and thus linear alphabetic text is privileged as the primary mode for rhetorical creation. However, I wonder how might a preoccupation with lines of text—to linear logic in particular—leave out queer thinkers who see the world differently? In what ways does telling those thinkers that they are “wrong” through a constant focus on neat arguments leading to finite conclusions lead them to lose hope?

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