Author Archives: James Mason

Lab Journal #1 – James Mason

The first day of class was much more exciting than I thought it would be. Sort of like The Hunger Games, but with more desks…. I’ve never actually seen/read The Hunger Games–did they have desks? Well then, I guess it was more like the Tri-Wizard tournament, they TOTALLY had desks:

Each competing school is allowed one Champion to represent them during the Tournament. Students wishing to participate write their names and the school they attend on a piece of parchment, and enter it into the Goblet of Fire. The Goblet is an impartial judge, and selects what it considers to be the best student from each school. At the appointed time, the Goblet ejects the names, making each selected student the official Champion for their school. Each selected Champion is then bound by a magical contract to see the Tournament through to the end.” –Thanks Harry Potter Wiki.

Sure, there are some differences, but let’s roll with it. We write our name on the parchment and cast it into the flames… those flames being the will of our peers. This isn’t exactly how I thought the process would go; I figured we’d come in on day one and the projects would already be selected for us by the teachers… less dirty, but less fun as well.

As for my project, I am still on the fence about pitching it, and it being so close to the eleventh hour means that I might shelve it for the time being. A few others have expressed interest in seeing it come to fruition, and I think that it would also be a good “refuge” project for those who are afraid of serious coding and development. Not only that, but as many skillset posts have suggested, we have a group very strong in outreach. Those truly looking for a challenge in that regard might have found one…. if I were pitching it.

Let’s suppose for a moment I were to pitch it. Not only is the project itself a work of DH, but it would create new opportunities to develop additional DH projects. Every podcast, curated via CUNYCast or not, is an object of Digital Humanities, specifically they are as Matthew Kirschenbaum puts it, born-digital objects. While this seems a mundane classification, that they are born digital allows them to be manipulated in ways that true-material artifacts cannot be. That said, I notice the aim of many projects proposed seems to be taking these true-material artifacts and digitizing them, such they might be as malleable as born-digital objects already are. In that regard, working with born-digital media skips several steps, and allows us to instead focus on different ways of making these artifacts even more useful and more malleable. I’m not the only one who thinks this, as I’ve already heard several great ideas from other students, such as Min’s desire for interactivity via podcasting and Julia’s ideas of creating a way to automatically tack on intro and outros without editing the audio feed. Already two awesome ideas in the FIRST WEEK…

…you know, if I were pitching it.



#skillset – James Mason (@mamesjason)

Willingness and interest in learning: I think that as students, we all pretty much have this. That said, I spent a good portion of my Winter break learning Python. As such, I am willing to take on roles that I am unfamiliar with, and step outside my comfort zone (like the soon-to-be dreaded developer role). Aside from Python, I went to most of the workshops last semester, and followed up study on several languages. Aside from Python, I am interested in R and Ruby, but have not looked into them as deeply thus far. I learned basic coding in high school in C++ (let’s just use C++, right??) and HTML via tending to my Neopets back to 2002. Better times.

I like to write and communicate: My Bachelors is in English. I write every day and I enjoy doing it. However, I also love speaking–even public speaking! As such, I think that the Outreach Coordinator is a solid fit for me. In my own project proposal, I realized that the OC is going to be a large undertaking, and I am sure the same rings true for many of the projects we intend to work on. That said, I have a great deal of confidence in all of you and your projects. I believe that we are capable of succeeding, and I would like to share this conclusion with the world such that they might help us achieve our goals.

I believe in simplicity: I do not believe in spending four syllables where one would suffice. I prefer to speak and write in the simplest terms as possible. Does this make me a good designer? My style is minimalist, as can be seen from the website I tend to (where I post & host my podcast). I mostly work in templates, and know very little CSS. I am familiar with Adobe Photoshop, but that’s pretty much it. I would love to work with someone who knows more about design programs.

Strong memory and time management: My primary goal in my own project was to ensure that I could achieve my base goals by the end of the semester. I think it’s very exciting that many of you have theory-crafted projects that will take a considerable amount of time and effort. If I undertake the role of project manager I want to ensure that by the end of the semester, we have something to show for all of our efforts. This might mean cutting and streamlining the project down to a very “alpha” state. I am more than willing to create timelines and deadlines to make this happen.

In summation: I love working with people. I have great respect for the people in this class, and regardless of which project and role I end up doing, I will be happy. I am ready and willing to jump into any position, but I want to work on a project that has a lot of bleed between roles, such that I can learn a little of this and a little of that.

Regardless of our tentative successes and failures, I am very interested in seeing what happens.  Maybe it’ll all turn into one big romantic comedy and Steve can break it down for us shot-by-shot.

Data is Beautiful and Finding Datasets.

Hello all,

It seems like a lot of interesting data projects are well under way and many of them look great! For those who are undecided on what to research, or what could even be considered research, I wanted to point out an extremely popular sub-reddit called /r/DataIsBeautiful.

Here is an example of an image that might be found:


Even more interesting than the visuals might be the discussion in the comments as people attempt to dissect the data. One commenter on this image hypothesizes:
“The PhD data is more of a representation of academia life than anything. That’s why the salary is so low for 25-29 (people are just graduating at this point), and why the salary shoots up after 35 when the assistant professors get tenure.” –Link to comment.

For those unfamiliar with Reddit, the numbers on the side represent the popularity of the post, with the highest numbers indicating a more popular topic/comment. If you are looking for the most popular posts ever, you can go here  to see the most popular pieces ever submitted (be sure to change the time period to “all time”).

The reason I thought I’d post this is because you can really have a set of data about anything, even very specific things. One post mentioned the size of chickens, and how big they’ve been recently. Here’s another that’s sort of interesting:

Tweets retrieved during World Cup, USA vs Germany

For those still lost on where to acquire datasets, I went to /r/datasets and found a couple of interesting links including a custom Google Search for Datasets as well as Quandl. Some datasets found on Quandl can be integrated directly into popular programs such as Matlab, Python, R, Stata, and so on. Also, there is a Microsoft Excel plugin if that’s your jam. For those more on the technical side, Quandl also offers an API.

Anyway, hopefully some of this will be inspiring and/or useful to those who are still unsure about where to go. Let me know!

There’s a lot of money in Twitter archives. Also, a Data-Driven Look at #gamergate


gamergate 2

On September 3rd, #gamergate was the top trending tag on Twitter. This is an impressive feat for several reasons:

1) It was Beyonce’s birthday. #happybirthdaybeyonce was only the SECOND most popular tag.

2) It was in no way related to mainstream media.

3) It’s not a fun hashtag.

The tag #gamergate refers to a discussion happening between game developers, journalists, and enthusiasts following a series of events Erik Kahn concisely explains in GamerGate: A Closer Look At The Controversy Sweeping Video Games.

To state it briefly, ex-boyfriend of game developer Zoe Quinn wrote a blog post claiming Zoe had slept with members of the press for positive coverage on her new game, Depression Quest. Following this, Zoe gets doxxed, (that is, her public information is released online maliciously), and she begins getting harassed. If it were typical harassment, that would be awful, but she receives several death threats, so it’s even worse. Several members of the gaming community stood up to defend Zoe, and bad things begin to happen to them as well. Phil Fish, developer of indie darling, Fez, and owner of Polytron has his Twitter account hacked and the Polytron website is taken over by hackers. This leads to Fish deleting his Twitter account and declaring that he no longer wishes to be associated with the games industry, or its fans. Dan Golding explains in his piece “The End of Gamers“:

Campaigns of personal harassment aimed at game developers are nothing new. They are dismayingly common among those who happen to be women, or not white straight men, and doubly so if they also happen to make the sort of game that in any way challenge the status quo, even if that challenge is only made through their very existence. The viciousness and ferocity with which this campaign occurred, however, was shocking, and certainly out of the ordinary. This was something more than routine misogyny (and in games, it often is routine, shockingly). It was an ugly spectacle that should haunt and shame those involved for the rest of their lives.

Several other publications chimed in, including Kotaku, Gamasutra, and Polygon. Later that week, Host of gaming vlog, Feminist Frequency posts a piece titled Women as Background Decoration. The threats she receives following this are so direct she is forced from her home.

Despite the large number of publications cited so far, a large bulk of the discussion unfolded on Twitter under the #gamergate hashtag. I have compiled a public archive of several thousand tweets using the tag #gamergate using TAGS here:

Public Archive (Please be patient, it’s a large doc!)

TAGS Explorer: A Visual Representation of the Twitter Conversation (please wait for it to load!) 

The conversation was happening so quickly, every time TAGS retrieved Tweets from Twitter, it would freeze and become inaccessible for hours as it compiled the archive. That said, these tweets were collected over the course of two weeks, often hundreds at time, between September 1st and September 10th. Weeks later, and #GamerGate is still receiving roughly 100 tweets per minute. I have met the limit on the size of my archive, but if anyone is well-versed in google docs and spreadsheets, I would love some assistance moving tweets into a new sheet so that I can continue compiling tweets. Please contact me ASAP.



•Related hashtag, #notyourshield, appears 1021 times throughout the 4000 tweets archived. #notyourshield is a tag that is supposed to be used by under-represented members of the gaming community, namely women, minorities, and LGBT, who claim that primary video game media outlets discuss the representation poorly, and often in place of the real issues (such as collusion between game developers and press).

•”SJW” appears 375 times throughout 4000 tweets archived. SJW is short for “Social Justice Warrior” a pejorative term for those who defend the rights of under-represented groups online.

•”Journal” (for journalism and journalist) appears 517 times.

• “fem” appears 350 times.

•”Destiny” appears 140 times. Around the time these tweets were compiled, Destiny was on the verge of being released. Many tweets using this tag expressed that the release of Destiny would not slow the discussion circulating around #gamergate. This ended up being true.

•”Quinn” appears 365 times.

•”Phil Fish” appears 45 times.

•”Polygon” appears 475 times. This is the name of a publication that is outspoken against the doxxing of Zoey Quinn, and has many well known and respected female writers on staff. At one point, many were Tweeting that Polygon was banning users on their discussion boards speaking out against Anita Sarkeesian.

•”Kotaku” appears 291 times. Zoe Quinn was implicated for having relations with a writer who worked for this publication.

• 85% of posters identify as male.

•58% of posters are from the US.

• 68.1% of posts are made from a Desktop computer. 14.2% from an iPhone, 10.9% from Android devices.

•64.6% of posts are re-tweets. 12.5% are replies. 23% are original posts

Issues with Archiving:

Using a data tool, I discovered that as of this post over 775,000 tweets have been tagged with #GamerGate. If my 4000 tweets seemed like a large set of data, I am sorry to disappoint. I found a service called HashTracking that would retrieve the full history for me, but it would cost 2.00$ for every 1,000 tweets… so… more money than I have. Another service, Keyhole, offers a real-time view of the hashtag over several social media platforms at once. They also offer historical archives, beginning at 49$. I am currently waiting on them to send me a quote on the cost of my 775k tweet archive. If it’s not over 200$, I will probably suck it up and pay… but I won’t like it.

That said, KEYHOLE IS AMAZING. If you did not click the link to Keyhole above CLICK THIS NOW. Unfortunately, they only offer a 3-day trial; an actual account starts at 130$/mo. You might notice the link I’ve provided dates between August 30th and September 2nd. Because of this, their keyword spread is much different than mine, with the top related tag being #justgamingjournothings.

The biggest problem with archiving this set of tweets is that it’s such a large, unwieldy, and lively set of data. For three weeks it’s been twisting, turning, busy, and relevant. Clearly others have also had difficulty retrieving and dissecting data from Twitter, which is why services like Keyhole and Hashtracking exist, and charge such high rates. Furthermore, as the #gamergate discussion has been going on for roughly three weeks now, looking at a 4000 tweet snapshot of data may not be good enough. In fact, looking at any dataset smaller than the whole thing might not be good enough. My goal is to capture, compile, and dissect the whole event, and because it has taken weeks to unfold, to capture anything smaller than its absolute form would be an injustice… but who has 1500$ to pay for a set of tweets? A big business maybe, not me. Sure, one could work within the limitations of Google Docs, constantly moving the data into new spreadsheets whenever the need arises… but from August 30th and September 2nd, 100,000 tweets were posted. A spreadsheet fills up in 4000, meaning that in 3 days, you would need to edit your script 20 times to take into account new archives, and there’s no doubt that some data would fall between the cracks considering the archival tool would freeze for hours sometimes when updating, therefore archiving a set of  data this large using free, easy to use tools would be more than just a full-time job, it would be impossible. 

What’s Next?

There are certainly more things that I want to try out with TAGS. I could certainly see how it would be useful to track a smaller conversation, such as our class tag, #dhpraxis14 . I DO plan to find a way to access the entire archive of tweets for #gamergate, as I believe that it might be of some significance later on.

While I do not think this is the place to post my full opinions on the subject, I agree with Dan Golding, who states that the term “gamer” and the connotations behind it are dying. Jesper Juul alludes as early as 2010 in Casual Revolution  (which Steven Jones referenced in ch. 1 of his book, which we read this week), whether they be on a mobile devices or on Facebook, that everyone plays games now. We don’t need a word for “gamer” in the same way that we do not need a word for one who reads books or watches films. Creating this kind of terminology has the possibility to create lines of division between those who “do” and those who “do not”. Either way… don’t we need a pristine, complete archive of that? Should I pass around a donation jar?

Digital Humanities: Instilling Optimism in Academia

House of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski. Text no longer moves in one direction.

House of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski. Text no longer moves in one direction.

“I consider this mutability of language a wise precaution of Providence for the benefit of the world at large, and of authors in particular. To reason from analogy, we daily behold the varied and beautiful tribes of vegetables springing up, flourishing, adorning the fields for a short time, and then fading into dust, to make way for their successors. Were not this the case, the fecundity of nature would be a grievance instead of a blessing. The earth would groan with rank and excessive vegetation, and its surface become a tangled wilderness”

-Washington Irving, “The Mutability of Literature”

Studying Digital Humanities is something I never knew I wanted. Years after beginning my undergraduate career I cursed myself for choosing an English degree. Sure, I loved reading and discussing literature, but aside from pursuing a life in academia , what real-world purpose did it serve that I could parse the connection between the sarin gas attacks in the Japan subways in 1995 and Murakami’s depiction of time in A Wild Sheep’s Chase? Sure, I have a handful of sonnets memorized, and while they might be fun to recite in front of girls, they most likely won’t get any potential employers in bed with me. I had so many interests growing up! Why did I choose the one that—based on my limited knowledge of the job market—seemed so fruitless? In my free time I studied digital rights management, so why didn’t I change my major to law? When I was 13 I learned HTML while playing Neopets, so why didn’t I change my major to Computer Science? After writing a research paper on digital media, consumer convenience, and the future of software models, why didn’t I go for business? Finally, why did it take me so long to find out that Digital Humanities was a thing?

After finishing my undergraduate English degree (get this… you’ll never believe it…) I applied for a doctoral degree in English. Unbelievable, right? Despite my utter pessimism about the efficacy of studying text, I decided to study text some more. I believed that I would either end up a professor of English, or quit academia and get a job working in new media and digital software, parallel, yet distant paths. One day I would stray too far in one direction and the other path would be forever obfuscated, lost in a sea of software or perhaps a forest of leaves. Before hearing back from graduate schools, I filled my time by recording a weekly podcast about video game sub-cultures. A friend and I bought recording equipment, learned audio editing, studied distribution methods via RSS feeds, built a website, and wrote a list of topics that would last us over a year. We got together every week, and recording the show became a labor of love. Not only did I get to speak passionately about a topic I was enthusiastic about, but I became a participant in active conversations regarding e-sports in America, online streaming, and the efficacy of new business models for digital software. I worked for hours every week drafting show notes, learning history, and gathering opinions from experts to discuss and refute. This solidified that reading and writing text could not be my sole future. When I was contacted by a representative from the Graduate Center, it was to tell me that I was not accepted to a doctoral program, but also that I should consider a Masters track for Digital Humanities, as it seemed better aligned with my interests and work. I wasn’t upset, just intrigued. After reading up on DH, I realized I wasn’t just interested, I was already a participant. In fact, many people with my interests were already unknowingly participating in Digital Humanities.

Not only did Digital Humanities as a concept renew my interest in academia, it renewed my interest and optimism in English and Literature as a viable track of study. While text continues to be an important facet of humanism, there are many alternative media formats, such as films and games, that can speak on similar subject matter, albeit, without the seniority. Digital Humanities not only grants us a space to re-examine texts in digital formats and tools, but creates a bridge through which English might become a more multi-faceted, interdisciplinary track. After all, being able to read and write at the highest academic levels seems attractive when you consider just how much you’re reading and writing through social media platforms.

I believe that Digital Humanities has the ability to alter the approaches and pedagogy of not just English, but any discipline held back by the trappings of academia. Lisa Spiro states in her essay, “This Is Why We Fight” that “emphasis on specialization and professional authority clashes with the collaborative, crowdsourced approaches of the digital humanities”, and I believe this to be the definitive attraction to DH: it truly encourages an iterative, interdisciplinary approach, whereas many tracks and individuals intentionally alienate themselves in an attempt to gain absolute authority over their ideas. How does that better the medium? How can one learn and innovate if they shut themselves out from all that is available to teach?

There’s so much more to say, but this is already far too long. I have so many questions and so many ideas, all I can say for certain is I’m optimistic about the future.