Twitter War of 1812!

(This Post is a class requirement for History 9832b Interactive Exhibit Design)

The class in 9832b IED has been fiendishly brainstorming to come up with unique ideas for this semester’s class projects.  Combining History and Technology for Public engagement, isn’t as easy as it seems.

As discussed in previous blogs, I’m particularly interested in this year’s War of 1812 celebrations.  In particular, the desire to get the general public interested in participating, even if they can’t make it down to Niagara-on-the-Lake or the various sites around Ontario or Quebec that were pivotal to the defeat of the US forces.  Virtual and physical interaction is the key and helps to engage all to participate.

In talking with Bill on Monday, he had mentioned about doing a Twitter fed Arduino display that would shoot confetti or ping pong balls every time someone would Twitter their support for one team or another.  That drove us into a quick brainstorming session, which really consisted of me saying “can I do this” or “is this possible” and Bill saying “sure”.  So here is my idea for the 9832b IED class project.

I proudly present the “War of 1812” Twitter War!

In a nutshell, I’m going to make a physical display, similar to the attraction signs you find in those old time circuses or side shows.  The display will have a “Canadian” side and an “American” side, with full graphic representations of historically accurate American and British soldiers, a historic looking map in the middle with LED red and/or blue lights of all of the major 1812 battles and a face plate done up in 1800’s style scrolls entitled the “War of 1812” Twitter War!.  I’ll leave an open space at the top of the face plate just in case we can find a sponsor for a really super-duper, massively large scale version, to sit in NOTL (Niagara-on-the-Lake) this summer.

As people “Tweet in” for their support of Canadian or American troops, a little  flag will rise above the silhouetted hats of the two solider icons on the front of the board.  The side with the most “Tweets” will drive the flag up the flag pole and win the battle!  Bill suggested I make a little confetti canon to indicate who has won the battle visually.  The winning side will light up an LED in their colour (red or blue) on the historic map of 1812 battles in North America and the whole system will reset itself for the next battle!

In addition to the physical nature of the “Tweet Battle”, I was also thinking about having an LCD screen to read off the Twitter messages that come in during the battle.  Now, the fun part of this is that we would commandeer the Twitter messages and rewrite them in old English and have their response be from historical figures from the War of 1812.  So if someone tweeted; “@noname: I’m for the Canadian’s”, our system would rewrite it to say “@Brock: Those American’s will not prevail!”.  Don’t ask me “how” yet, but that’s the angle I’m fishing for!

For those who don’t have Twitter, we’ll rig up a interactive website to accept message input, which will then send the Twitter message to our interactive display.  Once that elusive “sponsor” is found for our massively large version in NOTL, we can rig a web cam towards the board so participants can see their “votes” in action.

We’ll send a challenge to Stephen Colbert, so our American cousins will enjoy this tongue-in-cheek second chance to beat the Canadians!

For now though, I’ll make a small scale version to test if this hair-brain idea works!

Immediate challenges include:

a) Getting Twitter to activate an Arduino.

b) Having Arduino to run a flag up a flagpole.  The triggering shouldn’t be a problem, but how do we mechanically get the flag to rise up?

c) Commandeering the Twitter responses and redisplaying in “old English”.  There must be someone out there doing this?

d) Making a confetti cannon and then having it reload after every battle!

e) Doing a website to allow non-Twitter users to participate.

I’m completely open to suggestions and hope this would be an engaging project for all to participate in, no matter what they contribute to the process.

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