Archive for the ‘Internet Culture and Technology’ Category

Weaponizing the Digital Humanities

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Jan Christoph Meister has posted a blog about Weaponizing the Digital Humanities. His entry comes from an exchange we had, first around the paper about stylistics to psychologically profile people. (See my conference report on DH2014.) After the session we ended up talking with someone probably from the intelligence community. It is a bit startling to realize that we merit attention, if that is what it is. Certainly research on recognition of typing patterns might be of interest, but it is hard to imagine what else would be of interest.

The other side of intelligence interest in our field is our interest in surveillance. What can we learn from the intelligence agencies and the techniques they develop? I’m certainly intrigued by what they might have been able to do. What responsibilities do we have to engage the ethical and interpretative issues raised by Snowden’s revelations. My blog entry Interpreting the CSEC Presentation: Watch Out Olympians in the House! would be a attempt to interpret Snowden documents – perhaps paleography of the documents.

Meister rightly opens the ethical issue of whether our organization should have a code of ethics that touches on how our research is used. We have a code of conduct, should it extend to issues of surveillance? The humanist in me asks how other fields in the humanities have dealt with the sudden military application of their research. There was/is an issue around the involvement of anthropologists and sociologists in Petagon-funded projects.

Xanadu Released

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

Screen shot of Xanadu

Hacker Trips has an article about how Ted Nelson’s Xanadu finally gets released after 51 years (with Transclusion). The article describes a conference in Ted Nelson’s honour. At the end he is quoted to the effect,

To wind up his story, Ted Nelson stated that he was “dealt one of the best hands in history, and misplayed it to the hilt. [He] could have accomplished so much more. [He] was here 1st, and it’s all gone wrong. [He] believes this would be a very different world and better world if [he] had gotten leverage. The world has gone the wrong way.”

Nelson also announced a demo of a working version of Xanadu with transclusion. Open Xanadu is up at the Xanadu site.

Museum of Online Museums

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

From Twitter I learned about the Museum of Online Museums. The idea is great. It is part of a site by Coudal Partners, “a design, advertising and interactive studio … as an ongoing experiment in web publishing, design and commerce.” I’m not sure what that means? Will this survive? They also have an enormous Board which seems to be voluntary.

On the MoOM I found some neat online museums like the Sheaff : ephemera.

Around the World Conference

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

ATW_Logo

Today we are running the Around the World Conference from the University of Alberta. This year’s topic is privacy and surveillance in the digital age. The Kule Institute for Advanced Study is hosting this online conference. Here are some of my opening comments,

I would like to welcome you to our second Around the World Conference. This year’s conference is on Privacy and Surveillance in the Digital Age.

The ATW conference was the idea of the Founding Director of KIAS, Jerry Varsava. The idea is to support a truly international discussion around a topic that concerns us all around the world.

This year we have speakers from 11 countries including Nigeria, Netherlands, Japan, Australia, Italy, Israel, Ireland, Germany, Brazil, the US, and of course Canada.

This ATW conference is an experiment. It is an experiment because it is difficult to coordinate the technology across so many countries and institutions. It is an experiment in finding ways to move ideas without moving bodies. It is an experiment in global discussion.

A World Digital Library Is Coming True!

Friday, May 9th, 2014

Robert Darnton has a great essay in The New York Review of Books titled, A World Digital Library Is Coming True! This essay asks about publication and the public interest. He mentions how expensive some journals are getting and how that means that knowledge paid for by the public (through support for research) becomes inaccessible to the very same public which might benefit from the research.

In the US this trend has been counteracted by initiatives to legislate that publicly funded research be made available through some open access venue like PubMed Central. Needless to say lobbyists are fighting such mandates like the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR).

Darnton concludes that “In the long run, journals can be sustained only through a transformation of the economic basis of academic publishing.” He argues for “flipping” the costs and charging processing fees to those who want to publish.

By creating open-access journals, a flipped system directly benefits the public. Anyone can consult the research free of charge online, and libraries are liberated from the spiraling costs of subscriptions. Of course, the publication expenses do not evaporate miraculously, but they are greatly reduced, especially for nonprofit journals, which do not need to satisfy shareholders. The processing fees, which can run to a thousand dollars or more, depending on the complexities of the text and the process of peer review, can be covered in various ways. They are often included in research grants to scientists, and they are increasingly financed by the author’s university or a group of universities.

While I agree on the need to focus on the public good, I worry that “flipping” will limit who gets published. In STEM fields where most research is funded one can build the cost of processing fees into the funding, but in the humanities where much research is not funded, many colleagues will have to pay out of pocket to get published. Darnton mentions how at Harvard (his institution) they have a program that subsidizes processing fees … they would, and therein lies the problem. Those at wealthy institutions will now have an advantage in that they can afford to publish in an environment where publishers need processing fees while those not subsidized (whether private scholars, alternative academics, or instructors) will have to decide if they really can afford to. Creating an economy where it is not the best ideas that get published but those of an elite caste is not a recipe for the public good.

I imagine Darnton recognizes the need for solutions other than processing fees and, in fact, he goes on to talk about the Digital Public Library of America and OpenEdition Books as initiatives that are making monographs available online for free.

I suspect that what will work in the humanities is finding funding for the editorial and publishing functions of journals as a whole rather than individual articles. We have a number of journals in the digital humanities like Digital Humanities Quarterly where the costs of editing and publishing are borne by individuals like Julian Flanders who have made it a labor of love, their universities that support them, and our scholarly association that provides technical support and some funding. DHQ doesn’t charge processing fees which means that all sorts of people who don’t have access to subsidies can be heard. It would be interesting to poll the authors published and see how many have access to processing fee subsidies. It is bad enough that our conferences are expensive to attend, lets not skew the published record.

Which brings me back to the public good. Darnton ends his essay writing about how the DPLA is networking all sorts of collections together. It is not just providing information as a good, but bringing together smaller collections from public libraries and universities. This is one of the possibilities of the internet – that distributed resources can be networked into greater goods rather than having to be centralized. The DPLA doesn’t need to be THE PUBLIC LIBRARY that replaces all libraries the way Amazon is pushing out book stores. The OpenEdition project goes further and offers infrastructure for publishing knowledge to keep costs down for everyone. A combination of centrally supported infrastructure that is used by editors that get local support (and credit) will make more of a difference than processing fees, be more equitable, and do more for public participation, which is a good too.

International Ethics Roundtable 2014

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Last week I was at a great little conference, the International Ethics Roundtable 2014. My conference notes are at Information Ethics And Global Citizenship. I gave a paper titled, “Watching Olympia”, about the CSEC slides that showed the Olympia system developed by the Communications Security Establishment Canada. You can see the blog entry that my paper came from here.

Early Selfie (1865)

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

There was a discussion on Humanist about selfies and Emma Clarke on behalf of the Letters 1916 Project team posted a link to this holding of the National Library of Ireland, Augusta Caroline Dillon and Luke Gerald Dillon with camera on tripod reflected in a large mirror.

The two were apparently skilled amateur photographers who experimented with photographs like this. If one goes beyond photographs to paintings, I wonder if Las Meninas would qualify as a selfie.

Dear NSA, let me take care of your slides.

Monday, February 24th, 2014

On Scribd I found a funny set of slides titled, Dear NSA, let me take care of your slides. The author points out how horrid the design of the NSA slides are, and then goes on to suggest alternative designs.

Conference Report: Digital Infrastructure Summit 2014

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

I have just finished participating in and writing up a conference report on the Digital Infrastructure Summit 2014 in Ottawa. This summit brought some 140 people together from across Canada and across the stakeholders to discuss how to develop leading digital infrastructure in Canada. This was organized by the Digital Infrastructure Leadership Council. For this Summit the Council (working with Janet Halliwell and colleagues) developed a fabulous set of reference materials that paint a picture of the state of digital infrastructure in Canada.

You can see my longer conference report for details, but here are some of the highlights:

  • Infrastructure has been redefined, largely because of SSRHC’s leadership, as big and long data. This redefinition from infrastructure as tubes to focus on research data for new knowledge has all sorts of interesting effects. In brings libraries in, among other things.
  • Chad Gaffield (President of SSRHC) made the point that there is a paradigm shift taking place across many disciplines as we deal with the digital in research. As we create more and more research evidence in digital form it is vital that we build the infrastructure that can preserve and make useful this evidence over the long term.
  • We have a peculiarly Canadian problem that most of the stakeholders are more than willing to contribute to any coalition, but no one is jumping in to lead. Everyone is too polite. No one wants a new body, but no existing body seems to want to take the lead.
  • There is a lot of infrastructure already in place, but they are often not bundled as services that researchers understand. Much could be made of the infrastructure in place if there were a training layer and “concierge” layer that connects to researchers.

We need to talk about TED by Benjamin Bratton

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

The Guardian has reprinted the trasnscript of Benjamin Bratton’s We need to talk about TED talk that is critical of TED. He looks at each of the three terms in T.E.D. (Technology, Entertainment, Design) and here is paraphrase of some of his points:

  • TED talks conceptualize the future, but tend to oversimplify it.
  • TED wants to be about imagining the future, but it tends to promote placebo politics and technology.
  • We are told that change is accelerating, but while that may be true of technology, it isn’t true of politics and culture.
  • TED talks have too much faith in technology. Another futurism is possible.
  • Capitalism is presented as being about rocket ships and nanomedicine. It is actually about Walmart jobs, McMansions and government spying.

He ends by talking about design. He argues that it shouldn’t be about innovation, but about innoculation. Design is presented in TED as the heroic solving a puzzles that will magically fix everything. Instead he argues for design as slogging through the hard stuff – understanding the politics and cultural issues.

He ends by summarizing why he feels TED is not just a distraction, but harmful. He believes TED misdirects our attention by charming us with the entertaining simple solutions while avoiding the messy, chaotic, complex issues that can’t be solved by technology.

I sometimes wonder if Humanities Computing didn’t serve a similar purpose in the humanities. Is it a form of comic (technological) relief from the brutal truths we confront in the humanities … especially the suspicion that we make no difference when we do confront racism, sexism, surveillance, politics and technohype. Why not relax and play a bit with the other?