The Kiosks

Although they look like an early version of Star Wars’ R2D2, each kiosk used for Overtown: Inside/Out is powered by a 2006 or 2007 era “Core Duo” or “Core 2 Duo” Mac Mini computer equipped with a web cam. Each kiosk also has a monitor modified with a touch sensitive layer that allows users to interact with the devices without a keyboard or mouse. Although I purchased, installed and programmed the Mac Minis, the kiosks themselves are designed and manufactured by Pearlson Development Corporation, a company based in Miami. 

Devising a workflow that would cause the kiosks to play videos on demand and then, as each video is launched, immediately begin recording the viewers themselves via the kiosk web cam was rather complex. Because the venues did not have reliable wireless Internet access, all content and programming had to be self-contained in each unit. The list below provides links to hardware and software manufacturers and consultants that are essential to this workflow.

  • Apple QuickTime 7
  • – QuickTime 7 plays all the the original videos on the kiosks and simultaneously records the comments videos. As with many other serious producers of video and multimedia, I prefer QuickTime 7 to the newer QuickTime X. (One reason is that with the “Pro” add-on, Quicktime 7 becomes a great little video and audio editing tool.) Though QuickTime X ships with current Mac operating systems, QuickTime 7 can be downloaded here.

  • Apple’s AppleScript and Automator
  • – University of Miami Assistant Professor of Visual Journalism Kim Grinfeder suggested using AppleScript and the Finder rather than HTML and a browser to program the workflow. With the generous assistance of Mac consultant Christian Boyce of Christian Boyce and Associates, I was able to write an AppleScript application that would initiate the following sequence of actions each time a user touched the screen to launch one of the original videos:

        1. Tell Quicktime 7 to start recording the user via the web cam;
        2. Tell Quicktime 7 to start playing the user’s chosen video and play that video full screen;
        3. Keep Quicktime 7 playing in full screen mode and recording the user even if the user touches the screen before the video ends;
        4. Tell Quicktime 7, as soon as the user’s chosen video ends, to stop recording the user via the web cam;
        5. Tell Quicktime 7 to save the just-recorded video of the user and rename it based on the name of the video the user just watched and the current date and time. For example, if a user watches and/or comments on “The Eye of Overtown” on May 15, 2011, at 12:35pm, the “comment video” would be renamed “eye.Comment.110515 12-35.”

    Thus, when a user touches a screen icon, they are not just launching a video, they are launching an application, created with Applescript and Automator, that not only plays the video but also automatically launches the chain of events described above. For those of you interested in the Applescript code, I will provide a downloadable copy here soon.

  • Adobe Photoshop
  • – Used to pull stills from the original videos for use as thumbnails on the kiosks’ home screens.

  • AppZapper
  • – I wanted to strip the Mac Minis of virtually every piece of software that wasn’t used by the “play/record video” workflow. This great little piece of shareware includes a way cool zapping sound that makes trashing an application and its associated library files fun. Just don’t get carried away or you’ll end up with a very expensive doorstop that was once a Mac.

  • Carbon Copy Cloner
  • – Among other things, this incredibly powerful yet easy to use software makes an exact copy, a clone, of all or part of a hard drive. I programmed and customized one Mac Mini, then cloned its hard drive onto three others, resulting in four identically functioning kiosks.

  • DragThing
  • – Along with Applescript and Automator, DragThing is the single most important piece of software used by the kiosks. DragThing works like Mac’s Dock, but it’s about a million times more functional and customizable. DragThing does far too many cool things to list them all here, but it enabled me to place the original videos’ icons in a specific order on a specific place on the kiosks’ home screens and to manage those icons in a user-friendly fashion.

  • Drobo
  • – Even though no Drobo product is actually installed on any of the kiosks, I have to give the company a shout out here because their data storage devices are absolutely essential to all of my work. There are two groups of computer users – those who have had a catastrophic failure resulting in the loss of data and those who are going to have such a failure. Therefore, redundant backup of your data is a no-brainer. Drobo’s “Small Box, Big Storage” solution is golden, and along with Roxio’s Retrospect (see below), it let’s me sleep at night.

  • Img2icns
  • – Let’s you take any standard .JPG, .TIFF, or .PNG file and convert it into the .ICNS file type, which your Mac can use as an application’s icon. I used Img2icns to create the icons on the kiosks’ home screens that, when touched by a user, launch the Automator/Applescript application described above. Cool.

  • Retrospect
  • – Like Drobo, the kiosks don’t use Roxio Retrospect themselves, but along with the redundant storage provided by my Drobos, Retrospect’s incremental, automated backup system makes a crippling loss of data more unlikely, allowing me to sleep at night. I like sleep.