CWRC/CSEC: The Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory

The Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory (CWRC) today launched its Collaboratory. The Collaboratory is a distributed editing environment that allows projects to edit scholarly electronic texts (using CWRC Writer), manage editorial workflows, and publish collections. There are also links to other tools like CWRC Catalogue and Voyant (that I am involved in.) There is an impressive set of projects already featured in CWRC, but it is open to new projects and designed to help them.

Susan Brown deserves a lot of credit for imagining this, writing the CFI (and other) proposals, leading the development and now managing the release. I hope it gets used as it is a fabulous layer of infrastructure designed by scholars for scholars.

One important component in CWRC is CWRC-Writer, an in-browser XML editor that can be hooked into content management systems like the CWRC back-end. It allows for stand-off markup and connects to entity databases for tagging entities in standardized ways.

Professor Emeritus Seymour Papert, pioneer of constructionist learning, dies at 88

From Humanist and then MIT News, Professor Emeritus Seymour Papert, pioneer of constructionist learning, dies at 88. Papert was Piaget’s student and thought about how computers could provide children a way to construct knowledge. Among other things he developed the Logo language that I learned at one point. He also collaborated with the LEGO folk on Mindstorms, named after his book by that title.

Past Visions


Past Visions: penned by Frederick William IV is a lovely visualization of hist historical sketches and doodles. The visualization has a rich prospect view where you see miniatures of all the sketches arranged over time. You can pan in and out or use the keywords to see subsets. There is information available about each sketch (in German.)

This visualization was developed by the research project VIKUS – Visualising Cultural Collections at the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam. Thanks to Johanna for introducing it to us.

List of animals with fraudulent diplomas

Thanks to Twitter I came across this List of animals with fraudulent diplomas on the Wikipedia. As others have pointed out, this is the best Wikipedia page (so far). Here is an example to wet your appetite:

Ben Goldacre, a UK-based physician and science journalist, wrote in 2004 that his cat, Henrietta, had obtained a diploma in nutrition from the American Association of Nutritional Consultants; Goldacre had been investigating allegations about the qualifications claimed by Gillian McKeith.

Dennis Cooper: Zac’s Haunted House (A Novel)

Dennis Cooper has created an interesting novel of looping animated gifs called Zac’s Haunted House (A Novel). The novel is published by Kiddiepunk. I’m not sure why he deliberately calls it a novel when it has so little language, though one can think of the animated gifs as some sort of linked visual language. Perhaps animated gifs are becoming the visual equivalent of words with which we can compose.

I found this courtesy of 3QuarksDaily.

Mina S. Rees and Early Computers

Reading Thomas P. Hughes book Rescuing Prometheus I came across a reference to Dr Mina S. Rees who, in different senior roles at the Office of Naval Research in the late 1940s and early 50s, played a role in promoting early computing research. This led me to her 1950 Science article The Federal Computing Machine Program (December 1950, Vol. 112, No. 2921, pp. 731-736), a terrific survey of the state of computing at the time that is both a pleasure to read and nicely captures the balance/promise of analogue and electronic machines at the time. I was particularly struck by the wry humour of the overview. For example, in the opening she talks about what she will not talk about in her overview, and jokes that,

For an adequate discourse on the military applications of automatically sequenced electronic computers, I direct you to recent Steve Canyon comic strips in which a wonderful electronic brain that could see and shoot down planes at great distances was saved from the totalitarian forces of evil. (p. 731)

The Steve Canyon comic in question is a “Mechanical Brain” story her audience would have recognized. (See this review of the Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon 1950 compilation.) Interestingly (perhaps because she had read Jay Forrester’s reports about air defense), Whirlwind, one of the computers she mentions, went on to be developed into the SAGE system which was designed to semi-automatically, “see and shoot down planes at great distances”.

Rees’ humour, humility and prescience can also be seen in her concession that visual displays and interface are important to certain problems,

As one who has suspected from the beginning that all oscilloscope displays were manipulated by a little man standing in hiding near by, I am happy now to concede that in several of the problems we are now attacking the introduction of visual display equipment has substantial merit. (p. 732)

She recognized the value of a “broad point of view” that looked at computing as more than efficient number crunching. This article reminds us of how computing was understood differently in the 1940s and 1950s and thereby helps us reacquire a broad point of view on computing with some humour.

For a memorial biography of Dr Rees see the memorial here (PDF).

What’s New is Old Again: Studying Interface with Perseus

Yesterday I gave a talk over the internet on “What’s New is Old Again: Studying Interface with Perseus.” This talk was recorded and shared on via eHumanities Seminar – YouTube.

The abstract I submitted for the talk was:

[P]aradoxically, the primary effect of visual forms of knowledge production in any medium – the codex boo, digital interface, information visualizations, virtual renderings, or screen displays – is to mask the very fact of their visuality … (Johanna Drucker, Graphesis, p. 10)

Interfaces don’t get much scholarly attention because they are seen as an ephemeral presentation layer masking the real information the way the design of a book holds the content. This paper will discuss a series of projects that take interface seriously and historically. These projects were undertaken by the Interface Design team of the INKE project to find ways of studying the evolution of an interface. These projects used the Perseus project as a test case as it is one of the oldest continuous projects in the digital humanities. The presentation will argue that:

  • There is a history to digital interfaces that is rich and interesting enough to study.
  • We need to theorize about how to do the history of interface. Heroic design stories are not enough.
  • We need to act now to preserve traces of interfaces for study and that there are better and worse ways of preparing for preservation.

The presentation will conclude by showing the architecture developed for an archive of Perseus interfaces designed for future study.

O’Hagan: The Lives of Ronald Pinn

Thanks to a note from Willard on Humanist I came across this essay in the London Review of Books, Andrew O’Hagan · The Lives of Ronald Pinn (LRB 8 January 2015). The author decided to develop a false identity and “legend” by using the name of a dead person (Ronald Pinn) who was born around the time he was. This was in response to stories about how UK police had been going undercover since 1968 to infiltrate political groups. The police had been bringing identities back to life so O’Hagan decided to try it. In the process he explored a lot of the dark web including ordering drugs from the Silk Road, ordering guns, getting false IDs and so on.

The essay or biography is well written and poignant. Just before ends the legendary Pinn he meets the original’s mother.

‘Oh, Ronnie,’ she said. ‘There was nobody like him.’

The Provision of Digital Apparatus for Use in Experimental Interfaces

A paper I am a co-author on just came out through Scholarly and Research Communication (Vol. 5, No. 4, 2014). It is titled The Provision of Digital Apparatus for Use in Experimental Interfaceson and Stan Ruecker led the work. It is a nice article that shows a number of prototypes we have developed (actually I only contributed to a couple, but Stan led them.)

The future of the book: An essay from The Economist


The Economist has a nice essay on The future of the book. (Thanks to Lynne for sending this along.) The essay has three interfaces:

  • A listening interface
  • A remediated book interface where you can flip pages
  • A scrolling interface

As much as we have moved beyond skeuomorphic interfaces that carry over design cues from older objects, the book interface is actually attractive. It suits the topic, which is captured in the title of the essay, “From Papyrus to Pixels: The Digital Transformation Has Only Just Begun.”

The content of the essay looks at how books have been remediated over time (from scroll to print) and then discusses the current shifts to ebooks. It points out that the ebook market is not like the digital music market. People still like print books and they don’t like to pick them apart like they do albums. The essay is particularly interesting on the self-publishing phenomenon and how authors are bypassing publishers and stores by publishing through Amazon.


The last chapter talks about audio books, one of the formats of the essay itself, and other formats (like treadmill forms that flash words at speed). This is where they get to the “transformation that has only just begun.”