Research notes taken on subjects around multimedia, electronic texts, and computer games.
Updated: 2 hours 5 min ago
The Maker community is getting around to important philosophical kits. See the Existential Emergency Phone.
Thanks to Guy for this.
Jen Jenson organized a great panel on Women and Games with Grace gtz, Anita Sarkeesian, Cecily Carver, and Brenda Baily Gershkovitch.
They also serve who only stand and waite.
Beloved mother, wife and friend Cynthia (Cinny) Ide Rockwell passed away on Sunday, April 28th, 2013 at home in Rome, Italy. Born in 1936 in Hollywood Hospital she went to The Putney School in Vermont where she met her future husband and then to Cornell University. She and Peter Barstow Rockwell were married in 1958 in New London Connecticut. In 1961 she, Peter and her two year-old son Geoffrey went to Italy for what was going to be a 6-month stay and never left, moving from Liguria to Rome in 1962 where they lived in series of apartments before settling in Monteverde.
In 1974 Cinny started working part-time for the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) in Rome going permanent in 1980. Over the years she was responsible for introducing the first word-processor to ICCROM and setting up the publications unit with Mónica García Robles. Together they produced newsletters, conference proceedings, training materials and books in multiple languages. While she retired in 1997 she continued as a consultant for ICCROM for another three years. Working for ICCROM she developed a specialization in translating works about restoration including Cesare Brandi’s important Theory of Restoration, published by Nardini Editore in 2005. Her last major work for ICCROM was a co-edited volume Protecting Cultural Heritage in Times of Conflict which gathered contributions from the “International Course on First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Conflict.”
In her free time Cinny was an avid and competitive bridge player training her children and husband to make up a foursome. She loved large difficult jigsaw puzzles, solitaire and tetrus on the computer, reading mysteries and playing Scott Joplin on the piano. All her life she collected stamps taking advantage of the international correspondence of family and ICCROM. With her family she traveled the world, for many years in a green VW camping bus. In her last couple of years she traveled around the world to Japan, to Dublin, to San Francisco and to her grandaughter’s college graduation in Philadelphia.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
Cinny passed away peacefully at some point during an afternoon nap in her favorite chair where she would entertain friends. This was after a short game with cancer which she lost gracefully knowing she had had a rich life. In the long nights before passing she was consoled by reciting Psalm 23, and Milton’s sonnet “On His Blindness”. When she passed she was 76 years old and is survived by her husband Peter; children Geoffrey, Thomas, John and Mary; and grandchildren Peter, Alethea, Mateo and Lucia.
On May 2nd a funeral was held for Cinny at St. Paul’s Within the Walls officiated by Rev. Austin Rios and attended by her many friends. She will be interned at the Cimitero Acattolico di Roma as Keats apparently needs an editor and Gramsci needs a translator.
The life she shared among us will never die, even though her body is no more.
And that is why we cry out Alleluia today. (from the homily of Rev. Rios)
See also the ICCROM Obituary
Ofer showed me a interactive visualization of the collaboration around a Wikipedia article. The visualization shows the edits (deletions/insertions) over time in different ways. It allows one to study distributed collaborations (or lack thereof) around things like a Wikipedia article. The ideas can be applied to visualizing any collaboration for which you have data (as often happens when the collaboration happens through digital tools that record activity.)
His hypothesis is that theories about how site-specific teams collaboration don’t apply to distributed teams. Office teams have been studied, but there isn’t a lot of research on how voluntary and distributed teams work.
Ryan sent me a link to World Development Indicators – Google Public Data Explorer. This is a great visual data explorer with lots of data already available. It looks like the Gapminder Trendanalyzer, which Google bought in 2007. (Gapminder is now focused on keeping statistical data up-to-date and producing related media.) In Google Public Data you can search for datasets and then play with the type of visualization and so on. I’m struck by how this model of weaving datasets and tools together works so simply with the tools adapting to the datasets. I wonder if we could do something like this for texts?
Gapminder’s Hans Rosling has a TED talk on Stats that reshape your worldview that is worth watching where he talks about preconceptions we have about the world. He is really good at showing how much things have changed so that preconceptions true in the 1960s are not longer valid.
As Megan Garber explains in Dataviz, democratized: Google opens Public Data Explorer, one of the things Google has done is to now allow us to upload our data too, so this ceases to be such a passive interpretation tool. The trick is the Dataset Publishing Language that lets uploaders describe their data so the Public Data Explorer can present it properly.
Looking at the Wunder web site I came across this interesting history of Apple tablet designs, Apple: Their Tablet Computer History. We forget that the iPad is their second foray into tablet computing. The first was the Newton MessagePad, of which I had two. As much as I wanted to like the Newton, it was really too big (for a pocket) and didn’t do anything important to make lugging it around worth while. When the PalmPilot came out I switched because it could do the useful things of the Newton (calendar, address book) while fitting in a pocket.
What is interesting about the Apple tablet history is how many designs they went through of which only a few surfaced into products.
Wundr has an Epub authoring tool, Playwrite for publishing attractive works to tablets. Unlike Apple’s iBooks Author, Playwrite authors to an open standard, which is good.
Today I went to a meeting about Canadian Institute For Advanced Knowledge (CIFAR) in the hopes that they might have programs in the humanities. They do and they don’t.
One new initiative they have that is open to humanists is their global call for ideas. The call is open to anyone:
Do you have a question with the potential to change the world?
A number of their programs like Successful Societies, Social Interactions, Identity & Well-Being, and Institutions, Organizations & Growth seem to have humanists and social scientists involved, even if they aren’t issues central to the humanities.
In recognition of the absence of humanities programs they started a Humanities Initiative in 2009. Alas, it hasn’t yet developed any programs we could participate in. Here is some history:
In their 2009-2010 Annual Performance Report they state:
CIFAR organized a discussion with senior humanities researchers drawn from institutions across North America in May 2009 about the role CIFAR could play in supporting advanced research in the humanities. The meeting participants recommended the creation of an ad hoc Steering Committee that would undertake the process of identifying in detail how CIFAR should approach and support advanced humanities research. This Steering Committee met in December 2009, and following a telephone conference in April 2010 recommended that the Institute proceed with several pilot projects in the next year. Work on refining these projects and identifying task force members was underway by June 2010.
In a 2010, Final Report CIFAR Performance Audit and Evaluation, the evaluators note:
CIFAR’s Strategic Plan notes that the growth of its programs in the social sciences and humanities has not kept pace with growth in the natural sciences. CIFAR is, consequently, examining how its research model might be adapted to research in these disciplines with a specific focus in this five-year period on the humanities.
It is now 2013 and it seems the steering group recommended two pilot projects, neither of which seem to have done more than meet.
Pekka Sinervo, who presented here, suggested that it is hard to find examples of sustained conversations around a single question in the humanities of the sort that CIFAR supports. He challenged me to find examples they could use as models. Perhaps there isn’t a tradition of think tanks in the humanities? Perhaps senior humanists, of the sort CIFAR has recruited, are more solitary scholars who just can’t get excited about getting together to talk about ideas? Perhaps the humanities has lapsed into Cartesian solipsism – we think, we are, but alone.
I personally think CIFAR should restart and rethink their Humanities Initiative. If they are finding it hard to get humanists engaged in the ways other fields are, then try something different. I would encourage them to look at some examples from the digital humanities that have demonstrated the capacity to initiate and sustain conversations in innovative ways:
- The Humanities and Technology Camp (THATCamp) is an extremely successful example of an open and inclusive form of conversation. Mellon supports this initiative that supports inexpensive “unconferences” around the world.
- Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-century Electronic Scholarship Online (NINES) is a reinvented scholarly association that was formed to support old and new media research. This is not an elite exclusive community, but a reimagined association that is capable of recognizing enquiry through digital scholarship.
- The Day of Digital Humanities is a sustained look at the question, “Just what do digital humanists really do?” Started at U of Alberta in 2009, the latest version was run by Michigan State University’s MATRIX: The Center for Digital Humanities & Social Sciences. Other organizations have used this “Day of …” paradigm to get discussion going around issues like digital archaeology.
- 4Humanities is a loose group that looks at how to advocate for the humanities in the face of funding challenges. With minimal funding we support local chapters, international correspondents, and various activities.
In short, there are lots of examples of sustained conversations, especially if you don’t limit yourself to a particular model. Dialogue has been central to the humanities since Plato’s Academy; perhaps the humanities should be asked by CIFAR to imagine new forms of dialogue. Could CIFAR make a virtue of the problem they face around humanities conversations?
Can you start a dialogue with the potential to change the world?
I’ve been meaning to write about sexism in games for a while, but today I came across a YouTube video essay More than a Damsel in a Dress: A Response by Commander Kite Tales. This a response to Damsel in Distress: Part 1 – Tropes vs Women in Video Games by Anita Sarkeesian.
But first, a bit of history.
On May 17th, 2012 Anita Sarkeesian launched a Kickstarter campaign to improve the Feminist Frequency video web series of essays on problematic gender representations. The first of the new series came out recently in March 7, 2013, Damsel in Distress: Part 1 – Tropes vs Women in Video Games. It is well worth watching.
Alas the campaign and Sarkeesian were attacked systematically; see, for a brutal example, the Amateur game invites player to beat up woman. The obscene and hateful attacks have been documented by columnists like Helen Lewis in the New Statesman article, This is what online harassment looks like. What did Sarkeesian do? Lewis puts it succinctly,
She’s somebody with a big online presence through her website, YouTube channel and social media use. All of that has been targeted by people who – and I can’t say this enough - didn’t like her asking for money to make feminist videos.
So why did all these trolls attack Sarkeesian? 4Chan seems to have been one site where they organized, but what bothered them so much about her campaign? Sarkeesian’s interpretation is that they made a game of harassing her. As she puts it, “in their mind they concocted this grand fiction in which they are the heroic players in a massively multiplayer online game…” She goes on to describe how the players of this “gamified misogyny” were mostly grown men, they used discussion boards as their home base for coordination and bragging, the setting of the game was the whole internet, and the goal was to silence the evil Sarkeesian to save gaming for men. The trolls would go out, harass her, and come back to their boards to show off what they had done. It was a particularly nasty example of an internet flash crowd organizing to silence a woman. It was also an example of how the internet can amplify behaviour and provide haven for misogynist communities.
Sarkeesian’s video essay wasn’t even an attack on men or games. It is clearly the work of someone who likes games but is critical of the repeated use of the “damesel in distress” plot device and other sexist crap. The video essay is, however, effective at challenging the uncritical consumption of cliched tropes in games using a medium commonly used in gamer culture (short video essays that show game play and comment on games.)
Now, back to More than a Damsel in a Dress: A Response which argues that Sarkeesian didn’t look at the evidence with an open mind and that the princess in distress in both the Mario and Zelda series of games should be seen as brave individuals dealing bravely with distress that also represent the peace of their kingdom. While I find Kite Tales’ argument somewhat sophistical and mostly answered already by Sarkeesian, we should probably welcome responses like those of Tale that don’t attack the messager, but try to respond to the argument in some fashion; and there are quite a few responses if you care to work through a lot of poor arguments. It would be nice to say that video essayists are modeling how a conversation on these issues should take place rather than hurl abuse, but the medium doesn’t really lend itself to conversation. Instead we have isolated video essays with lots of comments. Not exactly a dialogue, but better than abuse.
While I’m on this issue of damsel’s in distress like Princess Peach, Ars Technica has a story about how a Dad hacks Donkey Kong for his daughter; Pauline now saves Mario. Alas, it too got abusive comments, the worst of which have been compiled into YouTube Reacts to Donkey Kong: Pauline Edition. The compilation focuses on the sexist and homophobic comments. If you scroll through the comments now you will find that they are mostly supportive of the Dad. The good news seems to be that the sorts of comments Sarkeesian faced are being shamed down or being reflected back.
As for Anita Sarkeesian, her Kickstarter campaign raised much more than she asked for and she now has the funds and attention to do a whole series. I look forward to the next part on Damsel in Distress that promises to look at more contemporary games.
Jennifer sent me a link to an animated visualization of U.S. Gun Killings in 2010. The visualization shows the years lost by people being killed with guns. It animates their lives as arcs that change at the moment of death, but continue so that you can see how long they might have lived.
This visualization shows how animation can add to a visualization. In this case it adds drama and a sense of the individual lives. In many cases animation hides information as much as it shows like a slide show that hides one slide to show another. I’m convinced animated visualizations can do more, but haven’t come across that many.
The New Yorker last month had a great story by Larissa MacFarquhar on The Tragedy of Aaron Swartz. The net is full of opinions and outrage about the Swartz affair, MacFarquhar gives us a human dimension and a complex web of quotes from others. Another New Yorker story by Tim Wu, Fixing the Worst Law in Technology explains the law that prosecutors used against Swartz,
The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is the most outrageous criminal law you’ve never heard of. It bans “unauthorized access” of computers, but no one really knows what those words mean.
I must admit, my first thought on reading about this case, was that I would love to have all of JSTOR, though I’m not sure what I would do with it. I think there is a closet collector in every academic who wants a copy of everything they might need to consult late at night.
Sarah Kendzior has two challenging articles in Al Jazeera about the plight of adjunct faculty, The closing of American academia and Academia’s indentured servants. She is right to draw attention to this and right to accuse those of us who have positions of being silent. But first, the situation:
On April 8, 2013, the New York Times reported that 76 percent of American university faculty are adjunct professors – an all-time high. Unlike tenured faculty, whose annual salaries can top $160,000, adjunct professors make an average of $2,700 per course and receive no health care or other benefits.
Most adjuncts teach at multiple universities while still not making enough to stay above the poverty line. Some are on welfare or homeless. Others depend on charity drives held by their peers. Adjuncts are generally not allowed to have offices or participate in faculty meetings. When they ask for a living wage or benefits, they can be fired. Their contingent status allows them no recourse.
I suspect it isn’t quite as bad in Canada where we typically pay CAD $4000-$8000 a course and everyone has healthcare, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are depending increasingly on sessional instructors to teach our courses. If you don’t count the teaching done by graduate students I’m guessing that about 50% of the teaching (instructorships) in large universities is done by graduate students or sessionals. (This guess is based on limited and anecdotal experience. Here is one story I found.) The effects of the increased dependence on adjunct faculty are sobering:
- We are now in a situation where most faculty are living from contract to contract and being paid little. They have little commitment to the universities that hire them because they aren’t treated well or given a chance to engage over the long term.
- We have created a situation where highly-trained instructors are exploited to keep our cushy tenure-track faculty jobs.
- We are developing a caste system where a small number of tenure-track faculty have significantly different working conditions and opportunities due to the labour of a large adjunct class.
- Full-time faculty have to spend an inordinate amount of time hiring and supervising adjunct faculty.
- Students don’t get taught by full-time faculty until the end of their programs, if then. They often don’t know any full-time faculty and they can’t ask for recommendations from any.
I frankly don’t know how we will get out of this mess. The Adjunct Project is making a start by collecting data so adjuncts can vote with their feet and move to where the conditions are better. Perhaps online courses and colleges like The Minerva Project will introduce competition for good instructors and set an example with fair contracts. Perhaps adjuncts will unionize and strike for better conditions as they did at York. Perhaps we should all try merge with the local high-schools where at least they don’t exploit teachers the way we do.
I am heading home the day after giving the closing remarks at a conference in Buffalo on Word, Space, Time: Digital Perspectives on the Classical World. This is the first conference of the new Digital Classics Association. It was a gem of a conference where I learned about a succession of neat projects. Here are some notes. My laptop ran out of juice at times so I was not able to take notes on everything.
- Greg Crane gave the opening keynote announcing his new Humbolt appointment and what he is gong to try to do there. He announced that he wanted to: 1) Advance the role of Greco-Roman culture and Classical Greek and Latin in human intellectual life as broadly and as deeply as possible in a global world. And 2) To blow the dust off the simple, cogent and ancient term philology and to support an open philology that can, in turn, support a dialogue among civilizations. He talked about the history and importance of philology and then announced the Open Philology Project. This project has as its goals:
- Open greek and latin texts (the TLG is not open)
- Comprehensive open data about the classical world
- Multitext digital editions
- Deep linguistic annotation
- Full workflow through true digital edition
This is a worthy and ambitious vision and I tried to remind people of it at the end. Classics is the right size and has the right interdiscplinarity to be able to model a comprehensive system.
- Crane talked about Alpheios, a text editing and learning system that Perseus is connecting to. Monica Berti showed her work on fragmenta in Alpheios and I later learned that this is a philanthropically funded project. Berti’s demo of how she is handling fragmenta is at http://services.perseus.tufts.edu/berti_demo/
- Marco Büchler gave a tantalizing paper on “Using Google PageRank to detect text reuse”. His was not the only text reuse project – it is technique that is important to classicists who study how classical authors have been quoted, alluded to, and reused over time. Büchler’s software is TRACER which will be available once he has some documentation. I think the idea of using a PageRank to sort hits is a great idea and would love to play with his tools. He encouraged interested parties to join a Google group on text reuse.
- Walter Scheidel showed the Orbis system in a paper on “Redrawing the map of the Roman world.” Orbis is a brilliant tool for measuring time and cost for travel in the Roman world. It is a great example of spatial analysis.
- Tom Elliot talked about the Pleiades project and how they have around 34,000 places registered and linked. He was initially skeptical about semantic web technologies and RDF, but is now using it in a way that shows what we can do in the humanities with this approach. I am struck by how Plieades now provides a service to all sorts of other projects. What Classics now need is similar projects for people, passages (texts), periods (events and time), and other primitives. Classics could set an example of coordinated semantic data.
- Ryan Horne wrapped a great session on geospatial work with a presentation on “Mapping antiquity a-la-carte: a GIS interface of the ancient world”. He showed Antiquity À la carte which allows you to generate all sorts of maps of the Classical world. Great tool for teachers.
- Kevin D. Fisher gave a fascinating presentation on “Digital approaches to ancient cities: The Kalavasos and Maroni built environments project, Cyprus.” In The Crane Project they are using all sorts of cool technology like 3D laser scanners and ground penetrating radar to map their dig in Cyprus. I liked how was using techniques to model how the environments were lived in. What could you see from where, what were the accessible rooms in buildings?
- My favorite project of conference was Christopher Johanson’s visual argument on RomeLab: Performance on the ephemeral stage. He presented an argument about temporary stages in the Roman forum that was made through a virtual Rome that you can travel around through the browser. The argument is in a sequence points that can be opened and which will move you around the world to see what the argument is about. His paper was an example of a visual argument through RomeLab and by extension about RomeLab. Despite a technical glitch, it was an impressive performance that made its point on so many levels.
- I attended a neat little workshop on R led by Jeff Rydberg-Cox. His learning materials are at http://daedalus.umkc.edu/StatisticalMethods/index.html and he pointed us to a neat tutorial at http://tryr.codeschool.com/.
- At the end there was a great panel on Literary Criticism and Digital Methods. Matt Jockers presented is work on macroanalysis of 19th century literature. He had a neat word cloud visualization of topic modeling results. Patrick J. Burns was very good on ”Distant reading alliteration in Latin poetry.” He was very good on walking us through his method and illustrating it with humour. Neil Bernstein talked about the Tesserae project. The Tesserae project is looking at text reuse and has neat tools online for people to see how author A gets reused in author B.
I gave the closing remarks and I tried to draw attention to the history of the vision of a perfect reading (or philology) machine. I think took advantage of being the last to offer suggestions as to how digital classics might move research forward:
- The Digital Classics Association should take seriously Greg Cranes invitation to influence his Open Philology Project. Classics is, for various reason, in a unique position to imagine comprehensive research and learning environments.
- They should think about primitives and how they support them. What Pleiades has done for place other should think of doing for people, periods (events and time), buildings and things, and so on. The idea would be to have a network of projects managing semantic data about the things that matter to Classicists.
- I encouraged people to think about how to include the larger public into research using crowdsourcing and gaming.
- I encouraged them to think about how digital research is shared and assessed. They should look at the work from the MLA on assessment and the DCA could adapt stuff for Classics.
- Finally I talked a bit out infrastructure and the dangers of developing infrastructure prematurely. I called for infrastructure experiments.
I think the DCA will be putting up a video of my closing remarks.
Robert Darnton has written an essay about the launch of the Digital Public Library of America that everyone should read. A great writer and a historian he provides a historical context and a contemporary context. He quotes from the original mission statement to show the ambition,
“an open, distributed network of comprehensive online resources that would draw on the nation’s living heritage from libraries, universities, archives, and museums in order to educate, inform, and empower everyone in the current and future generations.”
The essay, The National Digital Public Library Is Launched! by Robert Darnton is in the New York Review of Books. A lot of it talks about what Harvard is contributing (Darnton is the University Librarian there), which is OK as it is good to see leadership.
He also mentions that Daniel Cohen is the new executive director. Bravo! Great choice!
Victoria led me to this 1966 form for a student computerized dating service called “Cupid Computer.” You can see the form in context in the University of Waterloo student newspaper, Coryphaeus. See 1966-67_v7,n09_Coryphaeus. Click to read and page forward and you will see the two page insert with the questions you have to answer and send in. Here are some examples.
The Cupid Computer service was apparently “run by students” and would, for $3 give you a list of 3 scientifically compatible dates. They mention using an IBM computer and that the Computronics Company is “The Leader by far in Canadian Computer Dating Systems”. The PDF of the insert (and cover page) is here, 1966-67_v7no9_Coryphaeus.
It is worth noting that this was a student developed service. While serious university computer centers were doing other things, students were developing their own social uses of computers … and long before the web.
Emilie pointed me to an NPR strory on mining mood in 20th century books, Mining Books To Map Emotions Through A Century. This story draws on a very readable article The Expression of Emotions in 20th Century Books in PLOS One. The article reports on a study of “mood” or sentiment over time in literature. The used the Google Ngram data. I like how they report first and then discuss methodology at the end.
They mention support from an interesting EU funded project TrendMiner. TrendMiner is developing real-time multi-lingual analysis tools.
Luciano sent me this link to a stunning multipoint touch installation at Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, The Cube at QUT – world’s biggest multitouch installation. I like how they have the touch at ground level, but the screen extends up.
I note that the Cube folk also have a Lego Education Learning Centre. I’m doubly envious.
From Culture Smash an interesting example of West meets Japan, A Truly Bizarre Domino’s Pizza Commercial. This video nicely captures all sorts of phenomena like:
- The dangers of cross-cultural interactions. Sometimes it is just weird.
- The dangers of older men (like me) trying on cool Japan.
- Vocaloids as a phenomena.
- Augmented reality (and pizza).
You can download the free Domino’s App here. I plan to try it soon.
Speigel Online has an interesting story about how a Hacker Measures the Internet Illegally with Carna Botnet. The anonymous hacker(s) exploited unprotected devices online to create a botnet with which they then used to take a census of those online.
So what were the actual results of the Internet census? How many IP addresses were there in 2012? “That depends on how you count,” the hacker writes. Some 450 million were “in use and reachable” during his scans. Then there were the firewalled IPs and those with reverse DNS records (which means there are domain names associated with them). In total, this equalled some 1.3 billion IP addresses in use.
The GRAND network has just posted a nice story on the upcoming conference on Japanese Game Studies, see Industry-academic engagement focus of upcoming Japan-Canada game studies symposium. It is nice to have GRAND (a network I am part of) commissioning stories.
I gave a lecture at Kim Solez’s course on the future of medicine and he taped it and put it up on YouTube here:
This talk came out of a conversation we had at a pub about Ray Kurzweil where I disagreed with Kim about Kurzweil’s predictions. Thinking about Kurzweil I realized how fundamental prediction is. We call it hope. It is easy to make fun of the futurists, but we need to recognize how we always look forward to the near future.