Canadian video game industry catching up to TV & film production

November 16th, 2015

The CBC has a story on how the Canadian video game industry catching up to TV & film production. The story is based on the annual report of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada (ESAC). You can download the PDF from here. Some of the interesting facts from the report include:

  • The video game industry employs 20,400 people (up 24% from 2013) with an average salary of $71,300.
  • The currecnt skills most lacking in the talent pool include programming, artist and animation, data analysis, and game design.
  • Quebec has 29.4% of the companies or 10,850 full-time employees (53% of all direct employment).
  • Revenues from console games are down and mobile games are up.

ReFig 2015

November 8th, 2015

I’ve just left the ReFig 2015 workshop. I kept my workshop notes at Re-Figuring Innovation in Games (ReFig) 2015. Important research with an awesome team that I hope to follow. Last night we were treated to a conversation with Anita Sarkeesian that was fascinating. She has had more of an effect and probably done more good research in preparing the videos than most of the rest of us. There are lessons to be learned about how to address a broader audience, how to have an impact, and how to stay focused on social justice.

Digital Humanties Conference 2015 on YouTube

November 6th, 2015

The folks at the University of Western Sydney have now put up the keynote talks from DH 2015. See Digital Humanties Conference 2015 – YouTube.

I particularly recommend the two Keynotes by Jeffrey Schnapp and Genevieve Bell. You can see my conference notes here.

I was part of the panel on Building Communities and Networks in the Humanities.

Literary Analysis and the Wolfram Language

November 4th, 2015


Lately I’ve been trying Wolfram Mathematica more an more for analytics. I was introduced to Mathematica by Bill Turkel and Ian Graham who have done some impressive stuff with it. Bill Turkel has now created a open access, open content, and open source textbook Digital Research Methods with Mathematica. The text is a Mathematica notebook itself so, if you have Mathematica you can actually use the text to do analytics on the spot.

Wolfram has also posted an interesting blog entry on Literary Analysis and the Wolfram Language: Jumping Down a Reading Rabbit Hole. They show how you can generate word clouds and sentiment analysis graphs easily.

While I am still learning Mathematica, some of the features that make it attractive include:

  • It uses a “literate programming” model where you write notebooks meant to be read by humans with embedded code rather than writing code with awkward comments embedded.
  • It has a lot of convenient Web, Language, and Visualization functions that let you do things we want to do in the digital humanities.
  • You can call on Wolfram Alpha in a notebook to get real world knowledge like capital cities or maps or language information.

Replaying Japan 2016

October 30th, 2015

The Call for Papers for Replaying Japan 2016 is up. See CFP here.

The theme of Replaying Japan 2016 is “From Pac-Man to the present: Japanese Games between the local and global”

The conference will be held for the first time in Europe at Leipzig University from August 15 to 17, 2016. This is right before GAMESCOM in Cologne, Germany.

Join us! : Digital Humanities Concepts 2015

October 28th, 2015

TU Darmstadt MA LLC Structure

Just left a most delightful conference on Key ideas and concepts of Digital Humanities in Darmstadt, Germany. My conference notes are on : Digital Humanities Concepts 2015. The conference brought together an extraordinary set of speakers who were influential in the field when I entered it. Susan Hockey, Michael Sperberg-McQueen, Nancy Ide, George Landow, Wilhelm Ott and the list goes on. I would be hard pressed to imagine a conference I have been at better able to reflect on the history and ideas of humanities computing. The organizers Andrea Rapp, Michael Sperberg-McQueen, Sabine Bartsch and Michael Bender deserve much more praise than I was able to lavish on them.

Among all the great papers I will mention:

  • Michael Sperberg-McQueen gave a very smart and well argued paper on descriptive markup arguing against its dismissal as enforcing hierarchies.
  • Marco Passarotti talked about the Index Thomisticus (which he directs) and the Busa Archive. He brought some documents including some Gantt charts and early letters. I am definitely going to visit him and the archive in Milan.
  • Fotis Jannidis gave a great paper on topic modelling and its temptations. He has very interesting stuff to say about how the method has been adopted by humanists.
  • Julia Flanders gave a paper on “Looking for Gender in the History of DH” that when published will, I predict, become mandatory reading. She gives us a way forward after what happened at DH 2015. It was a truly wise and humble talk that could go a long way to providing an inclusive way forward.
  • Nancy Ide gave a great overview of the separate trajectories taken by DH and Corpus Linguistics.
  • Peter Robinson gave a call for open editions and walked us through what that might mean.

Given the speakers, there was a lot of reflection on the history of humanities computing and disciplinarity, though enframed by a German context. TU Darmstadt has an MA in Linguistic and Literary Computing (see image of the structure of the degree above) and is now developing an undergrad degree.

On Starving the Humanities in Japan: 4Humanities’ View

October 28th, 2015

Over the last weeks, with lots of help from others, I wrote a position on what is happening in Japan, On Starving the Humanities and Social Sciences of Students and Funding in Japan: 4Humanities’ View. The blog entry presents a 4Humanities view on what appears to be a troubling pattern of de-funding the humanities, arts and social sciences under the mistaken view that they do not contribute to economic growth. The evidence, at least is Canada, is that humanities students do get jobs and do do better than those without university education. They may not do better than those getting a degree in petroleum engineering, but we surely don’t need only engineers. (See my entry on Ignoring the Liberal Arts.)

More worrisome than what is happening in Japan is the politicization of higher-education in North Carolina both at the board level and now with the appointment of a new President of the UNC system, Margaret Spelling. Johann Neem has a disturbing essay in Inside Higher Ed on Margaret Spelling’s Vision for Higher Education. Even more interesting is Neem’s essay on what academics could do if universities become vocational schools, Taking It to the Streets: Preparing for an Academy in Exile.

Text Mining The Novel 2015

October 24th, 2015


On Thursday and Friday (Oct. 22nd and 23rd) I was at the 2nd workshop for the Text Mining the Novel project. My conference notes are here Text Mining The Novel 2015. We had a number of great papers on the issue of genre (this year’s topic.) Here are some general reflections:

  • The obvious weakness of text mining is that it operates on the novel as text, specifically digital text (or string.) We need to find ways to also study the novel as material object (thing), as a social object, as a performance (of the reader), and as an economic object in a market place. Then we also have to find ways to connect these.
  • So many analytical and mining processes depend on bags of words from dictionaries to topics. Is this a problem or a limitation? Can we try to abstract characters, plot, or argument.
  • I was interested in the philosophical discussions around the epistemological in novels and philosophical claims about language and literature.


Data Management Plan Recommendation

September 25th, 2015

Today I deposited a Data Management Plan Recommendation for Social Science and Humanities Funding Agencies ( our institutional repository ERA. This report/recommendation was written by Sonja Sapach with help from me and Catherine Middleton. We recommended that:

Agencies that fund social science and humanities (SSH) research should move towards requiring a Data Management Plan (DMP) as part of their application processes in cases where research data will be gathered, generated, or curated. In developing policies, funding agencies should consult the community on the values of stewardship and research that would be strengthened by requiring DMPs. Funding agencies should also gather examples and data about reuse of archived data in the social sciences and humanities and encourage due diligence among researchers to make themselves aware of reusable data.

On the surface the recommendation seems rather bland. SSHRC has required the deposit of research data they fund for decades. The problem, however, is that few of us pay attention because it is one more thing to do, and something that shares hard-won data with others that you may want to continue milking for research. What we lack is a culture of thinking of the deposit of research data as a scholarly contribution the way the translation and edition of important cultural texts is. We need a culture of stewardship as a TC3+ (tri-council)  document put it. See Capitalizing on Big Data: Toward a Policy Framework for Advancing Digital Scholarship in Canada (PDF).

Given the potential resistance of colleagues it is important that we understand the arguments for requiring planning around data management and that is one of the things we do in this report. Another issue is how to effectively require at the funding proposal end something (like a Data Management Plan) that would show how the researchers are thinking through the issue. To that end we document the approaches of other funding bodies. The point is that this is not actually that new and some research communities are further ahead.

At the end of the day, what we really need is a recognition that depositing data so that it can be used by other researchers is a form of scholarship. Such scholarship can be assessed like any other scholarship. What is the data deposited and what is its quality? How is the data deposited? How is it documented? Can it have an impact?

You can find this document also at Catherine Middleton’s web site and Sonja Sapach’s web site.


What Ever Happened to Project Bamboo?

September 25th, 2015

What Ever Happened to Project Bamboo? by Quinn Dombrowski is one of the few honest discussions about the end of a project. I’ve been meaning to blog this essay which follows on her important conference paper at DH 2013 in Nebraska (see my conference report here which comments on her paper.) The issue of how projects fail or end rarely gets dealt with and Dombrowski deserves credit for having the courage to document the end of a project that promised so much.

I blog about this now as I just finished a day-long meeting of the Leadership Council for Digital Infrastructure where we discussed a submission to Industry Canada that calls for coordinated digital research infrastructure. While the situation is different, we need to learn from projects like Bamboo when we imagine massive investment in research infrastructure. We all know it is important, but doing it right is not as easy as it sounds.

Which brings me back to failure. There are three types of failure:

  • The simple type we are happy to talk about where you ran an experiment based on a hypothesis and didn’t get positive results. This type is based on a simplistic model of the scientific process which pretends to value negative results as much as positive ones. We all know the reality is not that simple and, for that matter, that the science model doesn’t really apply to the humanities.
  • The messy type where you don’t know why you failed or what exactly failed. This is the type where you promised something in a research or infrastructure proposal and didn’t deliver. This type is harder to report because it reflects badly on you. It is an admission that you were confused or oversold your project.
  • The third and bitter type is the project that succeeds on its own terms, but is surpassed by the disciplines. It is when you find your research isn’t current any longer and no one is interested in your results. It is when you find yourself ideologically stranded doing something that someone important has declared critically flawed. It is a failure of assumptions, or theory, or positioning and no one wants to hear about this failure, they just want to avoid it.

When people like Willard McCarty and John Unsworth call for a discussion of failure in the digital humanities they describe the first type, but often mean the second. The idea is to describe a form of failure reporting similar to negative results – or to encourage people to describe their failure as simply negative results. What we need, however, is honest description of the second and third types of failure, because those are expensive. To pretend some expensive project that slowly disappeared in missunderstanding was simply an experiment is missing what was at stake. This is doubly true of infrastructure because infrastructure is not supposed to be experimental. No one pays for roads and their maintenance as an experiment to see if people will take the road. You should be sure the road is needed before building.

Instead, I think we need to value research into infrastructure as something independent of the project owners. We need to do in Canada what the NSF did – bring together research on the history and theory of infrastructure.