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EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Annual Meeting 2013


Product Owner Julie Rudder (Northwestern University) presented a poster at the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Annual Meeting held in Denver, Colorado, from February 4-6.  You can view the poster here via the Avalon Media System Slideshare accountWhen Julie returned from Denver, I asked her a few questions about her trip.


Can you talk a bit about the focus of this year's ELI Annual?

It was structured like many other conferences: centered around themes of teaching and learning are keynote speakers, multiple tracks with presentations, poster sessions, interactive sessions. This year's themes included emerging technology, future modeling, and academic transformation; mobile learning; methods for evaluating technology-based instructional innovations; online and blended teaching and learning; e-textbooks; and learning analytics.


Did you leave the conference with any new ideas about Avalon?

There was a lot of interest in Avalon that came from folks who did not work in libraries but in units that dealt with streaming media - lots of folks were interested in clip making and playlists.  People were asking how Avalon was different from other systems out there. Many wanted to know how Avalon would work with other types of systems they already have at their universities, confirming some of our own thoughts about the kind of interoperability the system should have. I also had some conversations about structural metadata - the term was confusing and a little too library for this crowd but the concept made sense and people seemed excited about its function.


What was your favorite part of the trip?

I was able to hear an update on a research project I've been following. The talk was called "Student Use of Digital Resources: Implications for Learning and Technology Support," given by a team of researchers from the University of Central Florida, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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Sprint 20 - February 22, 2013 Demo Recording


This week the team focused on adding the last of bit of new functionality before R1. Avalon will now be able to work with Red5 and Adobe Streaming Servers. More work was completed to make Avalon pleasing to the eye. Next we'll be turning our attention to user testing, preparing for installations at other institutions and smoothing out any bumps the team comes across along the way. Things are really cooking now! 


Click here to watch the full recording of the demo.

  • High Quality Look of Avalon UI (VoV 1111) - (0:00:00) - Brendan
  • Avalon Red5 System on Mobile (VoV 967) -- (0:05:03) - Michael
  • Secured Streaming for iOS devices (VOV 1109) - (0:05:49) - Michael
  • Generic Installation for Avalon (VoV 1113) - (0:13:38) - Adam
  • NU Installation Documentation (VoV 1118) - (0:16:26) - Michael
  • Black Background on Engage Player (VoV 1124) - (0:20:27) - Phuong
  • System Testing and Debugging (VoV 1115) - (0:21:18) - Team

You can see the demos for past Sprints here or learn more about our development process here.

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Get to Know the Avalon Team: Andrea Zielke


In our new series "Get to Know the Avalon Team," we'll be providing a closer look at the individuals who are working each day to develop the Avalon Media System.

Andrea Zielke


Andrea Zielke is one of the Project Assistants for the Avalon Media System. She assists with planning and organization for Avalon in addition to providing support for Northwestern University's Library Technology Division.


Can you talk a bit about your role in the project?

I am a Project Assistant for Avalon so I help with the day to day logistics of setting up meetings, keeping track of upcoming conferences, organizing the team through various method like Basecamp, the wiki, JIRA, listservs, chatrooms and Google docs.  The rest of my day, I assist the Library Technology Division in much the same manner.  Right now I am filling in as Scrum Master so I spend quite a bit of time tracking down folks and asking them what they are working on.


What is a typical work week like for you?

With Agile, you never know what your day or week is going to look like.  Some days will be meetings, meetings and more meetings.  Other days involve user testing of Avalon, working on presentations/proposals or planning the logistics for a face-to-face meeting. Every other Friday is a day I like to affectionately call Demo Day.  Demo day is always the same: a 3.5 hour sprint planning session followed by an editing session to get the demo published for anyone interested in Avalon’s progress. 


What apps/software/gadgets can't you live without? 

With Avalon, I could not do my job without Microsoft Lync.  A quick chat is just less disruptive and usually quicker than waiting for an email response.  Since we are all working in different locations within the same building and at different universities, this makes it seem like we are all on the same team, working at the same time. 


In my daily life, everything is better with a beat so I am always streaming music from any and all Pandora, Spotify or Grooveshark.  I like to document the daily lives of my cats, Ziggy Smalls and Magnus, on Instagram – my followers are few but loyal.  As an avid moviegoer, I try not to remember the time before smartphones when you had to sit through Mr. Moviefone to find out a movie’s time and location.  I love my Flixster app; it has freed me from calling theaters and newspapers!


When you’re not working, what can you be found doing?

If not working, I am usually tooling around Chicago trying to find the best eggroll joint around.  As a transplant from Wisconsin, I have stopped comparing Chicago to my home state and instead make frequent trips to the north for beer, cheese, frozen custard and family.  Other than that, I am just an amateur cat photographer that likes to go to movies on a whim! 

Opencast 2013 Unconference


Project Director Jon Dunn (Indiana University) and Programmer/Analyst Adam Hallett (Northwestern University) attended the Opencast Unconference held at the University of California-San Diego from January 30-February 1. Opencast is the creator of Matterhorn and one of the Avalon Media System's technology partners. While at the Unconference, Jon and Adam gave a presentation on Avalon (embedded below--for a larger version click here). 



When they returned to the Midwest, I asked Jon a few questions about the Unconference and Opencast Matterhorn. 


How does Avalon use Matterhorn?


Avalon uses Matterhorn in two main ways: Matterhorn’s media processing workflow capabilities are used to transcode master audio and video files into streaming deliverables, and Avalon’s web audio/video player is based on Matterhorn’s Engage player.


What was the goal of the Unconference? 


The goal of the Unconference was to bring together people involved in the development, operation, and use of Opencast Matterhorn to share information about their projects and experiences and to discuss future plans for Matterhorn and the broader Opencast community. In addition, several vendors were present to discuss their Matterhorn-related products and services. A web site was set up through which attendees could propose and vote on presentation ideas, and an initial agenda was constructed based on this voting. However, the schedule was flexible enough to be adjusted “on the fly” during the Unconference, in order to make sure enough time was allotted to important topics.


What sort of feedback did you get about Avalon?


There was a great deal of positive feedback on our presentation and a lot of interest in Avalon, both from potential implementers as well as from Matterhorn developers, who encouraged us to continue to work with the community to enhance Matterhorn to better serve needs beyond lecture capture.


Did you leave with any insights or ideas?


I came away from the Unconference with a new appreciation for the power of the combination of Avalon and Opencast Matterhorn to support a wide range of video content management needs across research, teaching, and learning.


What was your favorite part of the trip?


Beyond the conference presentation and discussions, my favorite part of the trip was just being able to enjoy the UCSD campus and sunny San Diego!


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Sprint 19 - February 8, 2013 Demo Recording


This week the Avalon team focused on cleaning up the system in preparation for our upcoming release (R1). Catalogers will appreciate the included tooltips in the Resource Description Form. We have added a list of media formats (codecs and wrappers) that may be supported by R1. Brendan Quinn from Northwestern's Digital Collections Department has joined the team to help shine up the look and feel of Avalon, so you'll be able to see some of the improvements he made during the demo as well.


Click here to watch the full recording of the demo.

  • Media Formats Supported for R1 (VoV 965) - (0:00:00) -Stefan
  • Secured streaming for Red5 (Desktop) (VoV 904) - (0:02:48) - Michael
  • Avalon Red5 System on Mobile (VoV 967) - (0:05:21) Chris
  • NU Test System (VoV 964) - (0:08:04) - Michael
  • Shiny Improved Avalon (VoV 1039) - (00:11:31) -Brendan
  • Instructions for Descriptive Metadata (VoV 1008) - (00:13:44) - Julie H
  • Update on User Testing & Bug Documenting (VoV 1042) - (00:18:49) Team
  • Review of Sprint Stories – Team led by Andrea (0:21:02)

You can see the demos for past Sprints here or learn more about our development process here.

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Get to Know the Avalon Team: Julie Hardesty


In our new series "Get to Know the Avalon Team," we'll be providing a closer look at the individuals who are working each day to develop the Avalon Media System.

Julie Hardesty


Julie is the Metadata Analyst/Librarian for the Digital Library Program at Indiana University where she manages metadata creation and use for digital library services and projects.


Can you talk a bit about your role in the project?

I am a Metadata Specialist on the Avalon project.  I work with metadata folks on the project at Northwestern University to develop descriptive, structural, and technical metadata specifications for Avalon.  Some of this information will be captured automatically based on the video and audio files that are uploaded, but some metadata, like descriptive, will be brought in from either batch loads of records (like an extract from a library catalog) or manually entered through Avalon's content management web application.  I'm helping to construct that workflow as well.

What is a typical work week like for you?

I work on a variety of projects, including Avalon, so each week tends to have a slightly different focus - a new set of problems to solve, meetings to conduct or attend, and technical work to complete.  But mostly meetings, email, and then metadata/programming work when I get a chance.

What apps/software/gadgets can't you live without?

Well, I can live without any of them really, but I can't do my work without Oxygen.  Sounds dramatic, doesn't it?  It's just a souped up XML editor.  I consider myself pretty basic when it comes to technology needs, but I do make heavy use of the iBook and Kindle apps for reading, Netflix for media, and for sanity.  And I'm pretty well hooked into the Mac world of things (iPhone, iPad, and laptop).

When you’re not working, what can you be found doing?

I bicycle a lot.  I also enjoy cooking, baking, eating, and drinking, but not necessarily in that order.  I've been known to organize outings (aka, happy hours) and parties because mostly, I like to hang out with my friends.

Sprint 18 - January 25, 2013 Demo Recording


The Avalon Media System is looking like a real system this week!  The focus of this sprint was to improve the look and feel of Avalon; to that end, lots of progress was made toward refining the overall user interface. Work on the Item Access and Group Management pages was especially fruitful.


If you want to see some of the changes made to Avalon, please watch the recording of our demoComments are always welcome! 

  • Improved Look and UX of Avalon (VoV 941 & VoV 1004) - Chris (0:00:00)

    • Dropbox Searching - (0:04:59)

    • Improved Resource Description Page - (0:06:15)

    • Access Control by Item (VoV 586 & VoV 587) -  (0:14:43)

    • Multiple Derivatives for Audio (VoV 966) - (0:21:24)

    • Manage Groups Page Improvements - (0:28:41)

    • Player Improvements - (0:36:56)

  • Update on NU Test System (VoV 964) - (0:41:42) - Michael

  • Review of Sprint Stories – Team led by Steve (0:39:55)

You can see the demos for past Sprints here or learn more about our development process here.


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Sprint 17 - January 11, 2013 Demo Recording


During our last Sprint, the Avalon team was very successful in continuing to add functionality to the system. Some of the highlights of the Sprint are that users have the ability to upload full length films and can now choose the playback bitrate for videos. Collection information can now be associated with an item from the web interface as well as during batch uploads.


To find out more about the additional stories that were completed, you can watch the entire demo recording here.

  • Video Encoding Profiles (VoV 669) - Stefan (0:00:00)
  • Automated Batch Upload Notifications (VoV 906) - Adam (0:16:07)
  • Added "Collection" Facet (VoV 934) - Michael K (0:18:49)
  • Batch Upload Metadata (VoV 903)- Michael K (0:19:46)
  • User Chooses Bitrate for Playback  (VoV 943) - Phuong (0:28:52)
  • Full Length Film Upload (VoV 778) - Phuong (0:35:19)
  • Batch Uploading Large Videos (VoV 802) - Phuong (0:38:42)
  • Review of Sprint Stories – Team led by Steve (0:39:55)

You can see the demos for past Sprints here or learn more about our development process here.

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Association of Moving Image Archivists 2012 Conference


The following post was written by Stefan Elnabli, Audiovisual Media Specialist for the Avalon Media System, on his experience at the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) conference from December 4-7, 2012.


There are many types of chicken that I like. In fact, at the top of my list has to be the fried hard variety of Harold's Chicken Shack, BOTH sauces please (my guilty Midwestern pleasure). But there is one chicken that I do not abide: the Chicken Little. As you may have heard, Earth was supposed to be at the brink of a major cataclysmic event on December 21, 2012, to have taken place in conjunction with a galactic alignment of apocalyptic proportions. This apocalypse, the Chicken Little said, would have ended human civilization as we know it. As a skeptic, with reasonable mitigations, the cries of the Chicken Little could not have been more clucking laughable. But around this time, as I prepared to represent Northwestern University Library and Avalon Media System at the 22nd Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) conference in Seattle, I began contemplating a different type of end-of-life scenario that seemed more realistic given the practical limitations of the audiovisual preservation field: the loss of our moving image heritage in the face of growing collections and limited resources. But rest assured, gentle reader, the reality is not that bleak. If it wasn't for the community of archivists and librarians to remind me of this at AMIA 2012, I might have found myself half-heartedly playing the part of a self-loathing Chicken Little on his way to being devoured by the fox!


My AMIA conference experience in The Emerald City began with a fast paced workshop on FFmpeg, an open software solution for analyzing, transcoding, processing, and filtering audiovisual data. As an aside to all of you who are not familiar with Avalon Media System, Avalon is built upon three major open source technologies: Fedora, Opencast Matterhorn, and Hydra. In adopting this modular approach, the Avalon team leverages existing open-source technologies to support open connectivity and make it easier for future contributors and users to add or remove parts based on their needs. Avalon utilizes Opencast Matterhorn's processing workflow, of which FFmpeg is a central component. Through the practice of scripting FFmpeg commands, learning the power of its multitudinous options set, and hacking through syntax to alter mandelbrot test patterns, workshop attendees got an in depth crash course into this rich program for creating and manipulating digital audio and video.


Assuaging the Chicken Little's audiovisual doomsday fear, this year's conference was stacked with inspiring sessions reminding us that good work is being done throughout the field to improve audiovisual preservation and access. After kicking off the opening plenary with an uplifting presentation on audiovisual disaster recovery in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, there were some notable highlights over the course of the conference. Co-presented by AMIA's Diversity Committee and the Independent Media Committee, a "community archiving workshop" was led wherein attendees paired with Seattle's Three Dollar Bill Cinema to process, inspect, and catalog its audiovisual collections. Later, a session entitled "Archiving and Preserving Digital Cinema Packages" sparked a lively discussion of the increasing presence of DCPs with encrypted content in archives, a digital packaging standard that will inevitably find its way into many archives' collections. In a session entitled "Getting Your Footage Online Now," three smaller archives in the Chicago area presented their strategies to navigating the complex world of online digital access to archival video collections.


The topic of digital access to archival video collections is important to the Avalon Media System team. Partnering with Jon Dunn, our Project Director, and Julie Hardesty, one of our Metadata Specialists, I set up shop in a corner of the vendor cafe to present an Avalon poster, distribute handouts, and give attendees an opportunity to test-run the system at a designated laptop. The response from AMIA attendees was overwhelmingly positive and we had the pleasure of interacting with representatives from such diverse institutions as Hampshire College, The New Zealand Film Archive, and the United Nations Audiovisual Archive. This was the first time that we were able to connect with librarians and archivists as they were demoing the system live, and we found a consistent thread in their lines of inquiry. In general, the majority of questions had to do with digital repository integration and the system’s flexibility in customizing encoding profiles for audio and video assets. We’re happy to say that Avalon Media System supports both of these things.


Leaving the conference, I did not have the wild-eyed energy of the Chicken Little, but that of an invigorated audiovisual archivist inspired by the work of his colleagues and their willingness to share their work with the community at large, even if it revealed limitations our profession sometimes faces. Moreover, the opportunity to engage directly with the AMIA community about Avalon Media System was a pleasure in and of itself. Now that we know the end of the world was false hysteria and that the fox's appetite is satisfied, the Avalon team will see you at many conferences to come!

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2012 Hydra Developers Congress


From December 3-5, the Avalon Media System developers were at the University of California-San Diego for the Hydra Developers Congress, or "Hackathon." The Hackathon consisted of approximately 20 developers from institutions around the country, mainly universities but also MediaShelf and the Boston Public LibraryMichael B. Klein and Adam Hallett (Northwestern University) and Chris Colvard and Phuong Dinh (Indiana University) represented the Avalon Media System. Project Director Jon Dunn (Indiana University) also attended, though he took part in the Strategic Planning Meeting and not the Hackathon. 


When the developers returned, I asked them a few questions about their trip.


How does Avalon use Hydra?


"It's a framework that Avalon developers are building on to create the Avalon Media System. The main interface is a Ruby application built pretty much entirely using Hydra." -Phuong


What was the goal of the Hydra Hackathon?


"Hydra partner meetings are quarterly gatherings for developers and managers to come together and solve a problem or chart a trajectory. This time around, developers wanted more developer-only time. The Hackathon was totally separate--developers coding (and talking when necessary) and managers discussing in another area." -Chris


What was the agenda like?


"The call for agenda items was posted beforehand. When we arrived, certain things on the list--bugs, new features to be added, discussions--were chosen and we broke up into groups by topic. After that, it was totally freeform." -Adam


Was anything Avalon-related discussed?


"Whether, when, and how to package Avalon's core functionality as a reusable gem for other Hydra heads (see Sufia, developed from PSU's ScholarSphere, for an example of another gem-ified Hydra application)." -Michael


"Things that we are doing in Avalon that might be pulled into the Hydra-head core."-Phuong


Did you leave with any new insights or ideas?


"We discussed the future of defined XML terminologies using nom-xml instead of OM. I'm particularly interested in the nom-xml work, as well as the work being done to build a Rubygem ecosystem around Hydra with a lot of plug-in functionality as opposed to application-based silos." - Michael


What was your favorite part of the trip?


"It was great to connect with the Hydra community. People are enthusiastic and knowledgeable, so it's exciting to learn from them." -Phuong


"Collaborating with other developers to work on the Hydra tutorial." -Adam


"I most enjoyed spending time away from Avalon to dig into the internals of Hydra. I was able to get problems that we had run into fixed." -Chris

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