Show and Tell at CHRIN


Stéphane Pouyllau’s photo of me presenting

Michael Sinatra invited me to a “show and tell” workshop at the new Université de Montréal campus where they have a long data wall. Sinatra is the Director of CRIHN (Centre de recherche interuniversitaire sur les humanitiés numériques) and kindly invited me to show what I am doing with Stéfan Sinclair and to see what others at CRIHN and in France are doing.

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How Science Fiction Imagined the 2020s

What ‘Blade Runner,’ cyberpunk, and Octavia Butler had to say about the age we’re entering now

2020 is not just any year, but because it is shorthand for perfect vision, it is a date that people liked to imagine in the past. OneZero, a Medium publication has a nice story on How Science Fiction Imagined the 2020s (Jan. 17, 2020). The article looks at stories like Blade Runner (1982) that predicted what these years would be like. How accurate were they? Did they get the spirit of this age right? The author, Tim Maugham, reflects on why do many stories of the 1980s and early 1990s seemed to be concerned with many of the same issues that concern us now. He seems a similar concern with inequality and book/bust economies. He also sees sci-fi writers like Octavia Butler paying attention back then to climate change.

It was also the era when climate change started to make the news for the first time, and while it didn’t find its way into the public consciousness quickly enough, it certainly seemed to have grabbed the interest of science fiction writers.

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TOKYO IDOLS: A Look at an Intriguing, Disturbing Culture | Film Inquiry

Tokyo Idols (2017) is a fascinating look at the idol culture in Japan. Directed by Kyoko Miyake it mostly follows an older (19) idol called Rio and her fans. The documentary confronts the creepiness of older men who find it too much work to have real relationships with women, but also shows their vulnerable side. These men spend all their savings on following idols and it gives them a sense of belonging. Miyake shows how the men (and some women) form fan clubs and follow their idol. It shows the constrained hand-shake meetings and photo opportunities that they pay for. It makes the connection to otaku culture and Akihabara.

The documentary nicely shows what it is like for the hard-working idols. For Rio it is a full time job, she has to practice, she has daily live sessions on the internet and she even packages up the schwag she sells. She even goes cycling around Japan (with live internet connection?) in order to connect to fans outside of Tokyo and to try to boost her popularity. As this TOKYO IDOLS review points out, you can’t help rooting for her.

What the documentary doesn’t cover much is the big idol stables like AKB48. Rio manages herself, but most idols are managed by professionals. I would have liked to learn more about that side of the business.

50th Anniversary of the Internet

Page from notebook documenting connection on the 29th, Oct. 1969. From UCLA special collections via this article

50 years ago on October 29th, 1969 was when the first two nodes of the ARPANET are supposed to have connected. There are, of course, all sorts of caveats, but it seems to have been one of the first times someone remote log in from one location to another on what became the internet. Gizmodo has an interview with Bradley Fidler on the history that is worth reading.

Remote access was one of the reasons the internet was funded by the US government. They didn’t want to give everyone their own computer. Instead the internet (ARPANET) would let people use the computers of others remotely (See Hafner & Lyon 1996).

Interestingly, I also just read a story that the internet (or at least North America, has just run out of IP addresses. The IPv4 addresses have been exhausted and not everyone has switched to IPv6 that has many more available addresses. I blame the Internet of Things (IoT) for assigning addresses to every “smart” object.

Hafner, K., & Lyon, M. (1996). Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet. New York: Simon & Shuster.

Bird Scooter Charging Is ‘One Level Up From Collecting Cans’–But These Entrepreneurs Are Making a Lucrative Business of It

Scooters have come to Edmonton. Both Bird and Lime dumped hundreds of scooters in my neighbourhood just before the Fringe festival. Users are supposed to use bike lanes and shared-use paths, but of course they tend to use sidewalks. Fortunately most people using them seem to tying them for a lark rather than seriously trying to get somewhere.

I can’t help thinking this business is a bit like the Segway (a company apparently making money now selling the scooters) – a great concept that appeals to venture capital, but not something that will work economically. For example, what will happen in the winter? Will the companies leave them around in the snow or pack them up for the season?

The economic model of these companies is also interesting. They seem to have minimal staff in each city. They pay chargers a to find the scooters and charge them each night. More gig-economy work that may not provide a living! See  Bird Scooter Charging Is ‘One Level Up From Collecting Cans’–But These Entrepreneurs Are Making a Lucrative Business of It.

At the end of the day, does anyone make enough to make this viable? One wonders if the scooter companies are selling the data they gather?

DH 2019 in Utrecht

I am back home after two conferences, first the CHCI conference in Dublin and then DH 2019 in Utrecht.

The CHCI (Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes) had its annual conference in Dublin, Ireland. The Kule Institute for Advanced Studies (which I direct) is a member. The conference was held at Trinity College and featured some extraordinary talks including a Silent Shakespeare performance talk by Judith Buchanan. My (flawed) conference notes are here.

Next I was in Utrecht, Holland for DH 2019. As always, my typo-ridden conference notes are at philosophi.ca : DH 2019This was the biggest DH ever with over 1000 participants. There was a real feel of the explosion of the field and all its directions. Before the conference proper I attended a workshop on DLS (Digital Literary Stylistics) Tool Criticism: Use Cases. I was asked to give a paper at the workshop and presented on Zombies as Tools: Revivification in Computer Assisted Interpretation. Revivification was my variant on replication as inspired by the Silents Shakespeare performances reviving silent movies. I also gave a short paper in a panel organized by Micki Kaufman on XR in DH: Extended Reality in the Digital Humanities. My short paper looked at Campus Mysteries: Playing with Serious Augmented Reality Games.

The conference was closed by a great keynote by Johanna Drucker on Complexity and Sustainability.

 

Undersea Cables – Huawei’s ace in the hole

About a decade ago, Huawei entered the business by setting up a joint venture with British company Global Marine Systems. It expanded its presence by laying short links in regions like Southeast Asia and the Russian Far East. But last September, Huawei surprised industry executives in Japan, the U.S. and Europe by completing a 6,000 km trans-Atlantic cable linking Brazil with Cameroon.

This showed Huawei has acquired advanced capabilities, even though it is still far behind the established players in terms of experience and cable volume.

During the 2015-2020 period, Huawei is expected to complete 20 new cables — mostly short ones of less than 1,000 km. Even when these are finished, Huawei’s market share will be less than 10%. Over the long term, however, the company could emerge as a player to be reckoned with.

The Nikkei Asian Review has an interesting article on Undersea cables — Huawei’s ace in the holeMy impression from Snowden leaks and other readings is that the US and UK have taps at a lot of the cable landing stations and that allows them to listen in on a large proportion of international internet traffic. If China starts building an alternative global network that could provide an alternative network backbone.

Pius Adesanmi on Africa is the Forward

Today I learned about Pius Adesanmi who died in the recent Ethiopian Airlines crash. From all accounts he was an inspiring professor of English and African Studies at Carelton. You can hear him from a TEDxEuston talk embedded above. Or you can read from his collection of satirical essays titled Naija No Dey Carry Last: Thoughts on a Nation in Progress.

In the TEDx talk he makes a prescient point about new technologies,

We are undertakers. Man will always preside over the funeral of any piece of technology that pretends to replace him.

He connects this prediction about how all new technologies, including AI, will also pass on with a reflection on Africa as a place from which to understand technology.

And that is what Africa understands so well. Should Africa face forward? No. She understands that there will be man to preside over the funeral of these new innovations. She doesn’t need to face forward if she understand human agency. Africa is the forward that the rest of humanities must face.

We need this vision of/from Africa. It gets ahead of the ever returning hype cycle of new technologies. It imagines a position from which we escape the neverending discourse of disruptive innovation which limits our options before AI.

May Pius Adexanmi rest in peace.

Racism, misogyny, death threats: Why can’t the booming video-game industry curb toxicity? – Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley is reprinting a story from the Washington post, Racism, misogyny, death threats: Why can’t the booming video-game industry curb toxicity? The story is one more on how nasty online gaming can be. The usual companies try to reduce the toxicity of game culture and don’t really succeed. So we are left to just ignore it?

With no clear methods to effectively monitor, halt or eliminate toxic behavior, many in the gaming community have simply tried to ignore it and continue playing anyway. Many of the titles cited most for toxic players remain the industry’s most popular.

Peter Robinson, “Textual Communities: A Platform for Collaborative Scholarship on Manuscript Heritages”

Peter Robinson gave a talk on “Textual Communities: A Platform for Collaborative Scholarship on Manuscript Heritages” as part of the Singhmar Guest Speaker Program | Faculty of Arts.

He started by talking about whether textual traditions had any relationship to the material world. How do texts relate to each other?

Today stemata as visualizations are models that go beyond the manuscripts themselves to propose evolutionary hypotheses in visual form.

He then showed what he is doing with the Canterbury Tales Project and then talked about the challenges adapting the time-consuming transcription process to other manuscripts. There are lots of different transcription systems, but few that handle collation. There is also the problem of costs and involving a distributed network of people.

He then defined text:

A text is an act of (human) communication that is inscribed in a document.

I wondered how he would deal with Allen Renear’s argument that there are Real Abstract Objects which, like Platonic Forms are real, but have no material instance. When we talk, for example, of “hamlet” we aren’t talking about a particular instance, but an abstract object. Likewise with things like “justice”, “history,” and “love.” Peter responded that the work doesn’t exist except as its instances.

He also mentioned that this is why stand-off markup doesn’t work because texts aren’t a set of linear objects. It is better to represent it as a tree of leaves.

So, he launched Textual Communities – https://textualcommunities.org/

This is a distributed editing system that also has collation.