Documenting the Now (and other social media tools/services)

Documenting the Now develops tools and builds community practices that support the ethical collection, use, and preservation of social media content.

I’ve been talking with the folks at MassMine (I’m on their Advisory Board) about tools that can gather information off the web and I was pointed to the Documenting the Now project that is based at the University of Maryland and the University of Virginia with support from Mellon. DocNow have developed tools and services around documenting the “now” using social media. DocNow itself is an “appraisal” tool for twitter archiving. They then have a great catalog of twitter archives they and others have gathered which looks like it would be great for teaching.

MassMine is at present a command-line tool that can gather different types of social media. They are building a web interface version that will make it easier to use and they are planning to connect it to Voyant so you can analyze results in Voyant. I’m looking forward to something easier to use than Python libraries.

Speaking of which, I found a TAGS (Twitter Archiving Google Sheet) which is a plug-in for Google Sheets that can scrape smaller amounts of Twitter. Another accessible tool is Octoparse that is designed to scrape different database driven web sites. It is commercial, but has a 14 day trial.

One of the impressive features of Documenting the Now project is that they are thinking about the ethics of scraping. They have a Social Labels set for people to indicate how data should be handled.

What is the TikTok subculture Dark Academia?

School may be out indefinitely, but on social media there’s a thriving subculture devoted to the aesthetic of all things scholarly.

The New York Times has an article answering the question, What is the TikTok subculture Dark Academia? It describes a subculture that started on tumblr and evolved on TikTok and Instagram that values a tweedy academic aesthetic. Sort of Hogwarts meets humanism. Alas, just as the aesthetics of humanities academic culture becomes a thing, it gets superseded by Goblincore or does it just fade like a pressed flower.

Now we need to start a retro Humanities Computing aesthetic.

Embedded Voyant panel

This post is a demonstration of how a Voyant panel or hermeneutica can be embedded in a WordPress post. See our Voyant tutorials at

To embed the panel I created a custom HTML block. In it I pasted the <iframe> element exported from the Voyant panel I wanted. While editing I see the HTML code, when I Preview (either the block or the whole post) or publish then I see the Voyant panel in place. Try playing with it!

Digitization in an Emergency: Fair Use/Fair Dealing and How Libraries Are Adapting to the Pandemic

In response to unprecedented exigencies, more systemic solutions may be necessary and fully justifiable under fair use and fair dealing. This includes variants of controlled digital lending (CDL), in which books are scanned and lent in digital form, preserving the same one-to-one scarcity and time limits that would apply to lending their physical copies. Even before the new coronavirus, a growing number of libraries have implemented CDL for select physical collections.

The Association of Research Libraries has a blog entry on Digitization in an Emergency: Fair Use/Fair Dealing and How Libraries Are Adapting to the Pandemic by Ryan Clough (April 1, 2020) with good links. The closing of the physical libraries has accelerated a process of moving from a hybrid of physical and digital resources to an entirely digital library. Controlled digital lending (where only a limited number of patrons can read an digital asset at a time) seems a sensible way to go.

To be honest, I am so tired of sitting on my butt that I plan to spend much more time walking to and browsing around the library at the University of Alberta. As much as digital access is a convenience, I’m missing the occasions for getting outside and walking that a library affords. Perhaps we should think of the library as a labyrinth – something deliberately difficult to navigate in order to give you an excuse to walk around.

Perhaps I need a book scanner on a standing desk at home to keep me on my feet.

Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Disembodied Brains, Part I | Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations

Gerard Quinn’s cover for the December 1956 issue of New Worlds

Thanks to Ali I cam across this compilation of Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Disembodied Brains. Joachim Boaz has assembled a number of pulp sci-fi cover art showing giant brains. The giant brain was often the way computing was imagined. In fact early computers were called giant brains.

Disembodied brains — in large metal womb-like containers, floating in space or levitating in the air (you know, implying PSYCHIC POWER), pulsating in glass chambers, planets with brain-like undulations, pasted in the sky (GOD!, surprise) above the Garden of Eden replete with mechanical contrivances among the flowers and butterflies and naked people… The possibilities are endless, and more often than not, taken in rather absurd directions.

I wonder if we can plot some of the early beliefs about computers through these images and stories of giant brains. What did we think the brain/mind was such that a big one would have exaggerated powers? The equation would go something like this:

  • A brain is the seat of intelligence
  • The bigger the brain, the more intelligent
  • In big brains we might see emergent properties (like telepathy)
  • Scaling up the brain will give us artificially effective intelligence

This is what science fiction does so well – it takes some aspect of current science or culture and scales it up to imagine the consequences. Scaling brains, however, seems a bit literal, but the imagined futures are nonetheless important.

Reflecting on one very, very strange year at Uber

As most of you know, I left Uber in December and joined Stripe in January. I’ve gotten a lot of questions over the past couple of months about why I left and what my time at Uber was like. It’s a strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story that deserves to be told while it is still fresh in my mind, so here we go.

The New York Times has a short review of Susan Fowler’s memoir, Her Blog Post About Uber Upended Big Tech. Now She’s Written a Memoir. Susan Fowler is the courageous engineer who documented the sexism at Uber in a blog post, Reflecting on one very, very strange year at Uber — Susan Fowler. Her blog post from 2017 (the opening of which is quoted above) was important in that drew attention to the bro culture in Silicon Valley. It also led to investigations within Uber and eventually to the co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick being ousted.

Continue reading Reflecting on one very, very strange year at Uber

The structure of recent philosophy (II) · Visualizations

In this codebook we will investigate the macro-structure of philosophical literature. As a base for our investigation I have collected about fifty-thousand reco

Stéfan sent me a link to this interesting post, The structure of recent philosophy (II) · Visualizations. Maximilian Noichl has done a fascinating job using the Web of Science to develop a model of the field of Philosophy since the 1950s. In this post he describes his method and the resulting visualization of clusters (see above). In a later post (version III of the project) he gets a more nuanced visualization that seems more true to the breadth of what people do in philosophy. The version above is heavily weighted to anglo-american analytic philosophy while version III has more history of philosophy and continental philosophy.

Here is the final poster (PDF) for version III.

I can’t help wondering if his snowball approach doesn’t bias the results. What if one used full text of major journals?

Why We Need to Talk About Indigenous Literature in the Digital Humanities

Screenshot from 1991 BBC Horizon documentary

I’ve just come across some important blog essays by David Gaertner. One is Why We Need to Talk About Indigenous Literature in the Digital Humanities where he argues that colleagues from Indigenous literature are rightly skeptical of the digital humanities because DH hasn’t really taken to heart the concerns of Indigenous communities around the expropriation of data.

Continue reading Why We Need to Talk About Indigenous Literature in the Digital Humanities

Marking 70 years of eavesdropping in Canada

Bill Robinson has penned a nice essay Marking 70 years of eavesdropping in Canada. The essay gives the background of Canada’s signals intelligence unit, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) which just marked its 70th anniversary (on Sept. 1st.)

The original unit was the peacetime version of the Joint Discrimination Unit called the CBNRC (Communications Branch of the National Research Council). I can’t help wondering what was meant by “discrimination”?

Unable to read the Soviets’ most secret messages, the UKUSA allies resorted to plain-language (unencrypted) communications and traffic analysis, the study of the external features of messages such as sender, recipient, length, date and time of transmission—what today we call metadata. By compiling, sifting, and fusing a myriad of apparently unimportant facts from the huge volume of low-level Soviet civilian and military communications, it was possible to learn a great deal about the USSR’s armed forces, the Soviet economy, and other developments behind the Iron Curtain without breaking Soviet codes. Plain language and traffic analysis remained key sources of intelligence on the Soviet Bloc for much of the Cold War.

Robinson is particularly interesting on “The birth of metadata collection” as the Soviets frustrated developed encryption that couldn’t be broken.

Robinson is also the author of one of the best blogs on Canadian Signals Intelligence activities Lux Ex Umbra. He posts long thoughtful discussions like this one on Does CSE comply with the law?