Edoardo Ferrarini gave a talk yesterday on “Lo statuto disciplinare dell’Informatica umanistica” or “The Status of Humanities Informatics” (with a possible pun on status/statute). Ferrarini works in the area of Latin Literature of the Middle Ages and Humanism at the University of Verona. The talk was interesting and important in three ways:
First, he gave an Italian history of humanities computing which both looked at what happened (and is happening in Italy) and looked at what could happen given the current regulations around programs. The second part I didn’t quite follow as it assumed a knowledge of the statutes that govern the academy here, but my sense was that they are constrained by national definitions of what is allowed. In particular they are dealing with a changing, but rigid definition of what is allowed in the way of programs.
Second, he provided a definition of Humanities Informatics (IU) that drew on a long Italian tradition that we (in the English speaking world) are largely ignorant of. His definition draws on definitional work of Tito Orlandi, though I’m not so sure how closely. More on the definition below.
Third, he used this definition as a lens with which to review what IU should be and what it could be in the face of the statutes and status of the field in Italy. He argued for it being an interdisciplinary field available across humanities disciplines.
The tiny figure crawls out from under the sands. It’s dead.
“You win,” it says. “Okay, my turn again.”
Nothing left to do. Time passes.
The sun crawls higher.
*** SHADE ***
I just finished playing the interactive fiction (IF) Shade (2000) by Andrew Plotkin. A poetic work that plays with the genre without playing for the sake of playing. The meditation on life and the end of the game is for real and fiction. You can see other fictions by Plotkin at Zarf’s Interactive Fiction and/or read a nice review Enlightening Interactive Fiction: Andrew Plotkin’s Shade by Jeremy Douglass (electronic book review: 2008). I also recommend the review as a nice introduction to IF in general.
If you need some hints (as I did) see the comments here (and then enjoy his other posts).
How is this art? I suspect it is in the way he plays with repetition. Another project, Alphabetized Newspaper, takes all the words in stories on the cover of The New York Times and rearranges them in alphabetical order created a sort of sorted word list. (Click image and explore.)
He also did this with video of NBC nightly news, which produces a bizarre effect. Imagine all the very short clips of people saying “and” in a row.
I am struck by how he has humanly recreated what an algorithm could do.
Emil Johansson, a student in Gothenburg, has created a fabulous site called the LOTRProject (or Lord Of The Rings Project. The site provides different types of visualizations about Tolkien’s world (Silmarillion, Hobbit, and LOTR) from maps to family trees to character mentions (see image above).
The NPR show Planet Money aired a show in 2014 on When Women Stopped Coding that looks at why the participation of women in computer science changed in 1984 after rising for a decade. Unlike other professional programs like medical school and law school, the percent participation of women when from about 37% in 1984 down to under 20% today. The NPR story suggests that the problem is the promotion of the personal computer at the moment when it became affordable. In the 1980s they were heavily marketed to boys which meant that far more men came to computer science in college with significant experience with computing, something that wasn’t true in the 70s when there weren’t that many computers in the home and math is what mattered. The story builds on research by Jane Margolis and in particular her book Unlocking the Clubhouse.
This fits with my memories of the time. I remember being jealous of the one or two kids who had Apple IIs in college (in the late 70s) and bought an Apple II clone (a Lemon?) as soon has I had a job just to start playing with programming. At college I ended up getting 24/7 access to the computing lab in order to be able to use the word processing available (a Pascal editor and Diablo daisy wheel printer for final copy.) I hated typing and retyping my papers and fell in love with the backspace key and editing of word processing. I also remember the sense of comradery among those who spent all night in the lab typing papers in the face of our teacher’s mistrust of processed text. Was it coincidence that the two of us who shared the best senior thesis prize in philosophy in 1892 wrote our theses in the lab on computers? What the story doesn’t deal with, that Margolis does, is the homosocial club-like atmosphere around computing. This still persists. I’m embarrassed to think of how much I’ve felt a sense of belonging to these informal clubs without asking who was excluded.
As the title suggests the guide doesn’t guarantee complete protection – all you can do is get better at it. The guide is also clear that it is not for protection against government surveillance. For those worried about government harassment they provide links to other resources like the Workbook on Security.
In her blog entry announcing the guide, Anita Sarkeesian explains the need for this guide thus and costs of harassment thus:
Speak Up & Stay Safe(r): A Guide to Protecting Yourself From Online Harassment was made necessary by the failure of social media services to adequately prevent and deal with the hateful targeting of their more marginalized users. As this guide details, forcing individual victims or potential targets to shoulder the costs of digital security amounts to a disproportionate tax of in time, money, and emotional labor. It is a tax that is levied disproportionately against women, people of color, queer and trans people and other oppressed groups for daring to express an opinion in public.
How did we get to this point? What happened to the dreams of internet democracy and open discourse? What does it say about our society that such harassment has become commonplace? What can we do about it?
Stephen Wolfram has written a nice long blog essay on Untangling the Tale of Ada Lovelace. He tackles the question of whether Ada really contributed or was overestimated. He provides a biography of both Ada and Babbage. He speculates about what they were like and could have been. He believes Ada saw the big picture in a way Babbage didn’t and was able to communicate it.
Ada Lovelace was an intelligent woman who became friends with Babbage (there’s zero evidence they were ever romantically involved). As something of a favor to Babbage, she wrote an exposition of the Analytical Engine, and in doing so she developed a more abstract understanding of it than Babbage had—and got a glimpse of the incredibly powerful idea of universal computation.
The essay reflects on what might have happened if Ada had not died prematurely. Wolfram thinks they would have finished the Analytical Engine and possibly explored building an electromechanical version.
We will never know what Ada could have become. Another Mary Somerville, famous Victorian expositor of science? A Steve-Jobs-like figure who would lead the vision of the Analytical Engine? Or an Alan Turing, understanding the abstract idea of universal computation?
That Ada touched what would become a defining intellectual idea of our time was good fortune. Babbage did not know what he had; Ada started to see glimpses and successfully described them.
The hacker culture, and STEM in general, are under ideological attack. Recently I blogged a safety warning that according to a source I consider reliable, a “women in tech” pressure group has made multiple efforts to set Linus Torvalds up for a sexual assault accusation. I interpreted this as an attempt to beat the hacker culture into political pliability, and advised anyone in a leadership position to beware of similar attempts.
See his “safety warning” at From kafkatrap to honeytrap. His evidence for this ideological attack seems to be gossip from trusted sources – gossip that confirms his views about “women in tech” and pressure groups and so on. This sort of war rhetoric closes any opportunity for discussion around the issues of women in technology. For Raymond it is now a (culture) war between those on the side of hacker culture and STEM, against “Social Justice Warriors” and what is at stake is the “entire civilization that we serve.”
Why are these important issues being militarized instead of aired respectfully? When did the people we live with and love become the other? Just how confident are we that we objectively know what merit is in the hurly burly of life? What civilization is this really about?
Jeremie alerted me to a strange debate raging about Dead or Alive Xtreme 3, a sexist beach volleyball game that Koei Tecmo decided not to release in the West, apparently because of concerns about a feminist backlash according to an employee’s comments on Facebook:
Do you know many issues happening in video game industry with regard to how to treat female in video game industry? We do not want to talk those things here. But certainly we have gone through in last year or two to come to our decision. Thank you.
Needless to say, this has animated the SJW (Social Justice Warrior) discussion around the representation of women in games and censorship of games. (I should note that it isn’t censorship if a publisher decides to not publish something.) Interestingly, this is not the first time we have had this debate about Japanese adult games across cultures. Brian Ashcraft has an article in Kotaku on Why Is CNN Talking About Rapelay? which documented how the Japanese publishers of adult games were adapting to attention from the West by changing titles and not localizing titles. What has changed is how the West is arguing with itself through Japan. The Japanese seem to be trying desperately not to be part of our culture war.