Paolo Sordi: I blog therefore I am

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On the ethos of digital presence: I participated today in a panel launching the Italian version of Paolo Sordi’s book I Am: Remix Your Web Identity. (The Italian title is Bloggo Con WordPress Dunque Sono.) The panel included people like Domenico Fiormonte, Luisa Capelli, Daniela Guardamangna, Raul Mordenti, and, of course, Paolo Sordi.

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Untangling the Tale of Ada Lovelace

Stephen Wolfram has written a nice long blog essay on Untangling the Tale of Ada Lovelace. He tackles the question of whether Ada really contributed or was overestimated. He provides a biography of both Ada and Babbage. He speculates about what they were like and could have been. He believes Ada saw the big picture in a way Babbage didn’t and was able to communicate it.

Ada Lovelace was an intelligent woman who became friends with Babbage (there’s zero evidence they were ever romantically involved). As something of a favor to Babbage, she wrote an exposition of the Analytical Engine, and in doing so she developed a more abstract understanding of it than Babbage had—and got a glimpse of the incredibly powerful idea of universal computation.

The essay reflects on what might have happened if Ada had not died prematurely. Wolfram thinks they would have finished the Analytical Engine and possibly explored building an electromechanical version.

We will never know what Ada could have become. Another Mary Somerville, famous Victorian expositor of science? A Steve-Jobs-like figure who would lead the vision of the Analytical Engine? Or an Alan Turing, understanding the abstract idea of universal computation?
That Ada touched what would become a defining intellectual idea of our time was good fortune. Babbage did not know what he had; Ada started to see glimpses and successfully described them.

Literary Analysis and the Wolfram Language

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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.

Visualizing Collaboration

Ofer showed me a interactive visualization of the collaboration around a Wikipedia article. The visualization shows the edits (deletions/insertions) over time in different ways. It allows one to study distributed collaborations (or lack thereof) around things like a Wikipedia article. The ideas can be applied to visualizing any collaboration for which you have data (as often happens when the collaboration happens through digital tools that record activity.)

His hypothesis is that theories about how site-specific teams collaboration don’t apply to distributed teams. Office teams have been studied, but there isn’t a lot of research on how voluntary and distributed teams work.

Sample on Randomness

Mark Sample has posted his gem of a MLA paper on An Account of Randomness in Literary Computing. I wish I could write papers quite so clear and evocative. He combines interesting historical examples to a question that crosses all sorts of disciplines – that of randomness. He shows how the importance of randomness connects to poetic experiments in computing.

I would recommend reading the article immediately, but I discovered, as with many good works, I ended up spending a lot of time following up the links and reading stuff on sites like the MIT 150 Exhibition which has a section on Analog/Digital MIT with online exhibits on subjects like the MIT Project Athena and the TX-0. Instead I will warn – beware of reading interesting things!

The Old Bailey Datawarehousing Interface

The latest version of our Old Bailey Datawarehousing Interface is up. This was the Digging Into Data project that got TAPoR, Zotero and Old Bailey working together. One of the things we built was an advanced visualization environment for the Old Bailey. This was programmed by John Simpson following ideas from Joerg Sanders. Milena Radzikowska did the interface design work and I wrote emails.

One feature we have added is the broaDHcast widget that allows projects like Criminal Intent to share announcements. This was inspired partly by the issues of keeping distributed projects like TAPoR, Zotero and Old Bailey informed.