Tag Archives: Technology

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Info Visualization Workshop

It was standing room only in Micki’s info viz workshop on Thursday. In order to make the demo more interesting, she used a dataset about the class attendees. We all entered our names, school, department & year in a shared online doc which became the basis for parts of the demo. We saw how to take text and clean it up for entry into Excel using a text edit tool, Text Wrangler. Tabs! Tabs are the answer. Data separated by tabs will go into individual cells in Excel, making it easier to manipulate once in there. Tabs>commas, apparently.

Once the data was in Excel, we saw some basic functions like using the data filter function, making a pivot table, an area graph and a stacked area graph.

After Excel we moved on to Gephi. Unfortunately none of the participants could get Gephi on our computers, so we just watched Micki do a demo. Using our class participant data, she showed us the steps to get the data in and how to do some basic things to get a good looking visualization, and how to play around with different algorithms and options. This was a pretty small dataset with few connections, so to illustrate some of the more complex things Gephi can do, Micki showed us examples from her own work. For me, this was the best part. I think Liam linked to it earlier, but I highly recommend you look at the force-directed graphs section on Quantifying Kissinger.

Stephen brought up the ‘so what?’ factor with regard to Lev Manovich’s visualizations. I thought Micki’s provided a good counterpoint to that, as she explained how certain visualizations made patterns or connections clear—things that might not have been revealed in another type of analysis.

Overall this was a very informative and useful workshop. It gave me courage to go home and play with my data in Gephi in ways that I didn’t feel able to before, and I hope it encouraged others to get started on their own projects.

 

Hacking+Yacking

I started off Week 2’s readings with the belief that I belonged to the ‘hacking’ group. It has always seemed to me that actions speak more eloquently than words do; if something existed, that, validated its presence, there was no need to probe further. There was also social conditioning – probing was considered the prerogative of the affluent or the premise of the indolent; only those who had no need to labor (manually or mentally) were free to theorize. Then, while reading Tim Sherratt’s ‘It’s All About the Stuff: Collections, Interfaces, Power, and People’, I found myself agreeing that every act(creating/building/hacking), in fact, the very structure (physical, social, material, etc.) of our lives is instigated by the questions asked by those before us and with us. Probing questions and their motivations, theorizing in general, seems essential for interacting with information and shaping knowledge.

To develop from Geoffrey Rockwell’s contention that DH is a craft, if DH as a craft is a way of doing/bringing our ideas to life, then theory pertaining to DH is the thought that arises post production. It is the formal assimilation of ‘knowing’ into a body of knowledge for later use. Thus DH projects are the knowledge base from which theory springs. When a large body of projects come into existence, invariably, theorizing begins; I believe DH has reached a stage where the knowledge base is large enough to support strong theorizing. Once a discipline reaches such a stage, the ‘yacking’ and ‘hacking’ begin to coexist and feed each other. Each will become strong enough to question the other and even perhaps proclaim independence of the other.

The ‘hacking vs yacking’ debate continues to exist because of the separation of academe from ‘industry’, where technology workers ‘craft’ projects into existence away from the academic spotlight. When scholars make ‘commercial/industry-driven’ projects their objects of exposition, they do so in the company of and for the consideration of their peers, quite oblivious of the ‘craftspeople’. Self-initiated scholarly projects are just as insular, carried out as they are with graduate students and ‘alt-ac’ staff. In my opinion, the values of DH (openness, collaboration, diversity, collegiality and experimentation), will serve it best when not limited to the field but rather extended to the ‘external’ world as well. Scholarship which collaborates with ‘craftspeople’ in the quest for knowledge advancement is an ideal Digital Humanities can aspire to. In this sense, I would like to see more of ‘hacking + yacking’.

Living History

I read with avid interest Susan Hockey’s piece, “The History of Digital Humanities”. It turns out that this history closely parallels the arc of my life. By sheer coincidence, I was born in the year that Father Busa began work on his “index verborum” and I finished school about the time the concordance was first published in 1974. Like James Mason (https://dhpraxis14.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2014/08/29/digital-humanities-instilling-optimism-in-academia/) , I got my degree in English and could not do anything with it.

Finally, in 1978, I fell into a job as a mainframe computer operator. I had fun driving that big old machine, working with punch cards and huge reel-to-reel data tapes. My career led me to programming and then project management. Just as Hockey describes the advance of technology in the humanities, I lived through a similar evolution in the corporate IT world. The “invention” of word processing, the arrival of personal computers, the breakthrough of GUI (graphical user interface) and of course the history shaking impact of the Internet. I remember sending my first email. I remember working remotely on text-based terminal that operated over a telephone line at 300 bytes per second (it had no CRT; the I/O took place on spool of paper).

What is intriguing to me is that the tension between technologists and users of technology that seem to be taking place in the Digital Humanities is not a new phenomena. Techies have always been more interested in the tools than what can be done with them. I believe that Humanities has only lately been grappling with these issues because the technology is finally mature enough to deliver real value. It was much simpler to create systems that keep track of debits and credits, than to open up insights into the complex subjects that concern humanists. What seems to me to be unique to academia is the ongoing argument over the definition of Digital Humanities. Wouldn’t it be easier to simply do the work rather than agonize over what to label it?

Time will tell if this MALS program will lead me into a new way to study literature and theatre again or if it will open up a new arena for me leverage my technology career. Perhaps it will do both.