Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category

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Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

My digital storytelling project is now live. I’ll have a more in-depth blog about it and my process soon.

Navigating Google Maps

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

Let me begin by saying I have not looked up instructions or tips on how to create a Google Map, so like many tutorials on my blog, there may be map-making techniques that make more sense than what I detail below. I just jumped in, and with a little trial and error, this is my process and my in-progress results.

After logging into your Google account, go to Google Maps and click on My Maps in the left corner. You’ll be able to create a title and description for your project. For now, I titled mine Digital Storytelling and left the description blank. This will change when I think of a fitting title and description. I checked unlisted for now because it’s not complete. I’ll embed it on my project site over the weekend once it is finished.

Initially, I was zooming in on the map with my cursor and dropping placemarks on locations. Then I realized adding a blue placemark is as easy as typing the location in the map search bar above the map, clicking on the red placemark, and selecting “Save to my Maps.”

Once I added my locations, I wanted to experiment with the information displayed with each locality. I clicked on my maps, returned to my Digital Storytelling project map and saw something very familiar…

A rich text editor similar to WordPress’ Visual editor! It’s very easy to add and format text and embed images, which seem to be the two major Google Map characteristics.

When adding a picture, it asks for the URL to an image. Unless I missed a tool, Google Maps doesn’t let you upload an image from your desktop. I added images related to my project to my wp-admin Media Library and used the resulting file URL.

The result:

Locations on a Google Map may also be accompanied with text:

I’m using Google Maps because although it’s built off of information that’s relayed in my articles, I think it offers audiences another interesting, interactive way to explore the story digitally. I reference the locations the Swopes have lived and/or served in my articles, and I think to also see these places reflected on a map and be able to read brief anecdotes or see images from the larger story as part of that map offers a compelling perspective that compliments the longer pieces of my project.

Early Mechanics of a Digital Story

Monday, October 18th, 2010

After Jim Groom briefly mentioned our multi-week digital storytelling assignment during the first night of class, I spent my 20 minute drive home brainstorming a very rough plan for my project. We’d each just shared 30 second stories about how we spent our summer, and although I can’t remember the exact quote, a comment Groom made in response to my brief story inspired my large idea. I told the class I spent my summer as an intern with a nonprofit that provides support and entertainment services to U.S. military personnel. Groom made a remark regarding the stories people choose to share and withhold concerning their experiences with war, and his observation got me thinking about the angles from which I saw the media covering the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Upon arriving at my house, I grabbed the first sheets of paper I could find and sat at my table to transfer my thoughts from my head to a notepad-who would I talk with? What was my goal? How would we (the reporter and the source) tell these stories? These points became much more coherent when I wrote my project proposal. I also sketched a quick outline, at right, of how I envisioned the appearance of the story on the web: a magazine theme, with subject headings at the top of the page and a featured posts slideshow linking to different content: a text story, an audio slideshow, perhaps a video.

In the weeks leading up to our proposal due date, I began amassing all off my resources in one corner of my desk, at left. My background research about the wars-news articles, maps, images-went into a binder. I posted my original project notes, penned on the obnoxious celebratory stationary, on a bulletin board with other related memos. The lime post it note, “Subdomain” includes five points I’ve been considering for the website: Name, Theme, Stories, Audio and Images. While I’m still brainstorming names and browsing through magazine style themes (I’ll be blogging separately about these topics), I have been thinking about the story’s presentation.

Text, audio and images are three methods of storytelling I am certain I want to use, tools I think will have a significant impact in different ways on the audience of readers, listeners and viewers. My source, (I know that term is rather impersonal; I’ll be doing an introductory post about her soon) is not only willing to share anecdotes about her experiences with a family member deployed to Afghanistan, she’s also a very engaging, open, storyteller.

I’m a fan of “slice of life” feature articles, stories that depict exactly that: “slices,” or moments, of a person’s life, often in relation to a larger trend or idea. I’ll also be writing reconstruction pieces, documenting her family’s previous experiences with military life and deployments through writing. These are moments I didn’t observe, but can learn about by asking questions and looking at pictures, among other methods.

After being introduced to Audacity this semester, I’d like to incorporate audio into this project, most likely as one or two audio slideshows. The New York Times has some of my favorite examples of audio slideshows in their “One in 8 Million-New York Characters in Sound and Images” collection. As I mentioned before, I’m discovering how a story has the potential to become much more powerful and interesting when the element of the subject’s voice is part of the presentation. It creates a relationship between the subject and the audience that reading words on a page might not necessarily do to the same extent.

As I mentioned above, I’ll be blogging about the initial stages of my subdomain (name and theme) and introducing my source in a post later this week and into early next week.

Art and the Digital Environment: Apropos Literary Journal

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

Run by a group of seniors in the Department of English, Linguistics and Communication at the University of Mary Washington, Apropos Literary Journal is accepting submissions.

Our mission is to show art and a digital environment are not mutually exclusive, but can converse and elevate one another. We welcome submissions of, but not limited to, poetry, prose, fine art, multimedia, performing art, digital art, tattoo, cartoon, and crafts.

The submission deadline is November 1, 2010, and the inaugural issue will be launched by the end of the semester.

The blog posts and Daily Shoot exercises have revealed many talents in the Digital Storytelling class, and I encourage my classmates to consider submitting unpublished work for publication in Apropos.

You can connect with the journal on Facebook and Twitter, too!

Project Proposal

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Wordle created using text from CNN'S Afghanistan Crossroads Blog

Study the front-page headlines or skim the World section of a newspaper and several words are likely inked on the day’s edition: Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, troops, convoy, military.

Perform a Google News search using the term “Afghanistan” and several of the 26,900 obtainable headlines link to hard news stories offering information on current events in the Middle East: US military deaths in Afghanistan at 1207. NATO sees Afghan city of Heart ready for transition.

The ongoing war in Afghanistan and recently (combat) concluded war in Iraq has dominated mainstream news coverage for nearly a decade.

Many of the news stories I’ve read or viewed thrive around politics or operational details about the wars’ progression.

My digital story aims to shift away from this trend by writing “slice of life” and “reconstruction” feature stories depicting people’s current and past “day to day” experiences with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Fredericksburg area’s proximity to Quantico Marine Corps Base, Fort Belvoir, Naval Support Facility Dahlgren and Fort A.P. Hill situate the region as an “armed forces melting pot,” and I am intrigued by how two large-scale wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been felt locally by people in and from the Fredericksburg region.

To begin with, I plan to speak with one source, learn about her experiences as someone with a family member deployed to Afghanistan, and share her story in installments through writing, audio, images and video.

As the semester progresses, I hope to consider incorporating additional sources if they are willing to participate. I predict my digital story will primarily entail writing slice of life and reconstruction feature stories and shooting images, audio and video related to my topic.

Ideally, I would like to create a subdomain on my website and build/showcase my project separately there. I envision this separately because I think part of a digital story, especially journalistic in nature, is in its full presentation. I want to use a separate WordPress theme, layout and plugins specifically to enhance and reflect my project content/theme. I would still use my subdomain to blog about my process of creating/building the “separate” site, writing and using different tools to tell a story (similar to my past posts/tutorials, from journalistic writing techniques to a “technical” standpoint).

The Write Stuff

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

Daily Shoot: Make a photograph that shows an interpretation of your favorite indulgence or guilty pleasure.

My job involves a lot of note-taking, note-making and highlighting, so I have a sick amount of pens, pencils and highlighters. They’re everywhere-in cups on my desk, in every pocket of my purse and bookbag, tossed in a drawer in my nightstand…I love writing, so it makes sense that I love a good writing utensil. When I’m interviewing someone and rapidly trying to catch every word they say and make sure it transfers correctly from their lips to my notepad, I can’t have the led of a pencil snapping or the ink of a pen drying up.

I learn what works by trial and error: see the blue pen with the eraser in the polka dot cup? Those aren’t very friendly; they don’t glide across the page as well as a Sharpie pen. The neon green mechanical pencil next to it is just as bad. I think I bought a pack of this type of pencil at a dollar store and they lived up to their (cheap) price. The led snaps with the smallest amount of pressure.

I have my favorite brands, but I always seem to be looking for the next best tool of the trade…

Adventures with Lightbox 2

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Tonight, I decided to tackle how photos are displayed on my blog. I did not like the way clicking on an image led to another page on my site, where visitors had to click on the image again to view a larger version of the photo.

I discovered Lightbox 2 after doing some extensive Google searches for the best WordPress image plugins. Once again, this might be the “long” way (I’ll expand more on this below), but here’s the short version of how my very time-consuming process with installing it on my site went:

First, here is why I think I might have gone the “long” route with this plugin. I searched for Lightbox and activated it through the Plugins link on my blog. However, I didn’t know how to get it working at this point, so I resorted to following the directions on the WordPress page, which tells users to download the zipped plugin, load it to the file manager, and then activate the plugin. When I opened my file manager, a Lightbox 2 file already existed. I still uploaded the zipped file. So, perhaps searching for the plugin through your blog and activating it will let you skip the cPanel/File Manager steps? Either way, here’s how my process went:

Locate Lightbox 2 in the plugin directory at and click “Download Version 2.9.2.”

Locate the Lightbox-2 file on your computer.

Unless it is already saved there, move the Lightbox file to your desktop. Right click it and select “Compress lightbox-2″ into a zip file.

Login to cPanel and click File Manager.

When the File Manager Directory Selection box appears, select Web Root (public_html/www) and click Go.

Once in your File Manager:

Expand public.html.

Expand blog.

Expand wp-content.

Expand plugins.

Make sure the box at the top of the screen says /public_html/blog/wp-content/plugins.

Click Upload and load your Lightbox zip file. Return to your blog and Activate the plugin (*this is where I’m wondering if you can immediately do this upon installing it through your blog and avoid cPanel/File Manager).

At this point, I got confused. I didn’t know how to get the plugin to overlay images on the same page, so I turned to Google. I found a lot of forums that mentioned CSS and HTML, so I switched from Visual to HTML in an earlier post and began to play around. This was a mistake, because I ended up with this (so glad WordPress lets you switch back to an earlier revision!):

I restored that page to an earlier draft and ditched it to experiment on a different post. On a whim, I clicked “Link to Image,” saved my new draft, and clicked on my test image to discover…Lightbox was working!

I went through each of my posts and selected “Link to Image” for each photograph. Now, instead of being transferred to another page to see a larger image, the screen darkens to display a highlighted image:

Of course, the feature isn’t without its flukes. Here’s what happened when I was double-checking each photo to make sure it was Lightbox activated.

A simple page refresh erased my panic:

Lastly, be sure to visit your Lightbox 2 settings page and check “Shrink large images to fit smaller screens” so the images don’t take up your whole screen!

This took me a long time to figure out, but I think it is actually very simple. If one of the forums I visited about installing the plugin had simply instructed bloggers to upload an image and select “Link to Image,” this process would have been much faster. I like this feature, so the time was well worth it!

More Time with cPanel and WordPress

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

I spent more time exploring what is possible with cPanel and WordPress plugins this morning. Here is a run down of what I discovered:


Change Style

cPanel gives you the option to customize the appearance of your account. There are twelve styles to select from, including a bright blue-sky theme and beach background. I chose this seasonal fall theme:

RV Skin Changer

I would stay away from this! I switched to rvskin to see how the appearance of cPanel looked and discovered it was just an outdated version of x3. I returned to the RV Skin Changer page to switch back to x3, but the x3 option was gone!

I logged out of cPanel and tried to log back in to see if that made any difference, only I got an error message instead. It told me I couldn’t be logged back in and to contact my web host. Instead, I went to my history and was able to get back to my cPanel by clicking on a history item. I returned to the Skin Changer page, and x3 still hadn’t reappeared. This is where I learned, as Jim Groom said in class, that Google is my friend.

I typed “The server was not able to find the document (./frontend/rvskin/index.html) you requested” into Google and found a forum where someone posted about the same problem. A responder said to contact the web host or to quickly copy the URL after switching themes and replace the “old” theme (rvskin) with the “new” theme in the URL.



I picked horde as my webmail application and established as my e-mail address. Hours later, I received my first piece of junk mail! The system is not attractive, which is partially why I immediately set my new account to forward any mail to my Gmail account.

Analog Stats

Like Google Analytics, which I mentioned in my previous post about themes and plugins, Analog gives site owners data about their visitors.

This is one way they present information:

Here is a version from Google. It is depicting different data, which is okay since I’m just focusing on appearance:

Any guesses why I would rather use Google Analytics to study my site’s traffic? It looks so much better and is more user friendly. With Analog, users have to scroll up and down a single page, while Google breaks off information into categories with their own pages. It’s easier to navigate and explore. It might be interesting to compare the two sets of statistics, though.


Yet Another Related Posts Plugin

When I tried to install the plugin, I got this dreaded message:

Please move the YARPP template files into your theme to complete installation. Simply move the sample template files (currently in wp-content/plugins/yet-another-related-posts-plugin/yarpp-templates/) to the /home/mediameg/public_html/blog/wp-content/themes/whitehouse directory.

I frustratingly clicked around WordPress for a few minutes and thought about abandoning the plugin before remembering how Groom showed us in class how to upload a theme through cPanel and started to explore there.

Here’s how I finially got the plugin to work through cPanel

(This might be the “long” way. I haven’t tried it yet, but perhaps you can click “Move” at the top of the screen and simply type the path you wish to move and where you want the files moved):

Click File Manager

When the File Manager Directory Selection box appears, select Web Root (public_html/www) and click Go.

Expand public.html

Expand blog

Expand wp-content

Expand plugins

Check the files you need to move, in this case everything located in wp-content/plugins/yet-another-related-posts-plugin/yarpp-templates/:

Click move at the top of the screen.

In the move box, type the location to where you want your files moved (in this case, /home/mediameg/public_html/blog/wp-content/themes/whitehouse).



While I don’t like how they typically look on a site, I often use tag clouds to find posts on a select topic when I visit a website. So, WP-Cumulus is a good compromise for me. The plugin displays tags in a 3D rotating sphere, something I’ve never seen before. Still not my favorite plugin, but it is kind of cool!

Redirecting-A Quick Tutorial

Friday, September 10th, 2010

Until yesterday, when I typed my domain into my browser’s address bar, this is what I saw:

Now when I type or, I’m automatically redirected to my blog.

It is very easy to redirect your domain to your blog subdomain. Here’s how if you use Cast Iron Coding as a web host:

1.Login to cPanel.
2.Scroll down to the “Domains” box and click Redirects.

3. Select your domain name from the drop down menu. Leave the box next to it blank.

4. Type the URL of your blog after “redirects to –>” Be sure to include http://!

5. After “www redirection,” select “Redirect with or without www.”

6. Click Add.

I didn’t know how to do this until I began playing around in cPanel. In case anyone else in the class was wondering how to activate this option, I hope this post helps!