Category: Other Folks’ Say

Strategies for using Regular Expressions for converting text documents to xml

Thanks to @davidamichelson (by way of Nuzzle) for retweeting a post from the University of Pittsburgh’s Digital Humanities / Digital Studies program about their excellent tutorial on different strategies for using RegEx for “autotagging” text documents with xml. Although they are specifically using <oXygen/> as their editor, their suggestions still apply to many others.

While many of the people using such pattern replacements would probably create scripts for their reuse and the processing of multiple documents, I am waiting still for someone to develop a good, full-blown gui application version that not only includes a RegEx/pattern builder but also includes as part of its tools a text analysis engine to help discover patterns that might be of interest to users for tagging purposes.

edX reveals costs–er, revenue–oh, wait…

EdX is back in the news, so my outdated posting about their initial announcement still seems relevant which always makes me happy. This article  from the Chronicle of Higher Education website discusses how EdX will generate revenue for itself and the University–sort of. It sounds more like a Field of Dreams plan:  “If we build it, they will come. And then we will figure out how to make money.” That is, the EdX documents show how revenue could possibly be divided between universities and EdX according to two different “partnership models” (pricing structures),  but doesn’t quite get at from where that pool of revenue will come. The Chronicle does a great job of keeping that question “But How?” relevant.

I’m still waiting to see details on how these course will differ from other online courses. The article also mentions a pilot edX MOOC, “Circuits & Electronics” course, offered last Fall at San Jose State University, where “…60 percent of students passed the San Jose State course; 91 percent passed the edX-infused version.” While that sounds really encouraging, we don’t know what the basis of the comparison is–that is, did the San Jose State course and edX one have the exact same assignments and tests? And if so, were they graded by the same people? I’m guessing that the edX course used online tests. How did they account for ensuring that the people who took the exam were the same people enrolled in the course? Although the article says, “EdX has a deal with Pearson VUE…to hold proctored examinations for its MOOCs,”  it’s not clear from the article whether such proctoring services were used in this pilot course.

Don’t get me wrong. I am THRILLED by the possibilities that online courses hold. But I’m tired of all the hand waving and buzz words by different companies and universities. Even in my own university, there is a tendency to use Corporate-Speak when discussing distance learning. I’m guessing that besides the frontierness of such endeavors, the differing colleges must be mindful of the political climate where in budgets are debated in terms of bite-sized election ads, where for the political public, perception is more the focus than reality of circumstances.

Hey, Microsoft! Over here! Pick me!

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the new Microsoft Surface Pro (after the disappointing introduction of the lesser Surface RT) and so have been doing my due diligence by looking at its reviews since its recent release. It seems that many reviews have claimed the Surface Pro as an innovative design but complain about storage, battery life and weight. Okay, I get the battery life complaint–it’s too short. But not because my friends’ iPads or Android tablets get upwards to 10 hours, but because as a laptop, I want longer life. As a laptop–not an iPad or Android Tablet. Having said that, though, my current Toshiba Satellite tops out at about 4 hours, so even there, the Pro is an improvement. Weight is the other factor that these reviews seem to like to compare to the tablet devices–that since it’s heavier than the iPad, its use as a tablet is questionable. Since when did 2 pounds become “too heavy”? I’m sorry, but I’ve played around with an iPad as well as Android Tablets. Just because they are lighter doesn’t make them more useful. I’ve seen some nice apps on these devices, don’t get me wrong (reading an ebook on the Kindle Fire HD is beautiful), but as far as productivity apps like word processing or spreadsheets go, no thanks; I need a device that works with my workflow habits rather than forcing me to conform to it. It’s the software and the hardware. And so far, although I know a number of people who have really made a go at using tablets as primary devices, none of them have succeeded.That is, they still have their Mac or Windows desktops and laptops. And admit it:  how many of us, during that time just before the iPad first came out, dreamed longingly of a world where we could do everything on a tablet?  Though the iPad iterations as well as the host of Android tablets continue to be beautiful,  they have yet to come even close to fulfilling this dream.

Although this reviewer does talk up some of the good points about the Pro, it’s a great example of how many of the reviewers are not quite getting the desire for such a device by people like myself:

“The Surface Pro “suffers from trying to be too many things and not being good at any of them,” commented Carl Howe, a research vice president at the Yankee Group.”

Oh really?

I teach in a university and tote my laptop around with me everywhere I go. I receive student assignments as well as send feedback via Moodle. However, I would also like to handwrite on the documents rather than highlighting my comments or using Microsoft’s comment tools (handwritten notes tend to be much shorter, thereby helping me spend much less time on a single student’s assignment). Tablet mode to the rescue! Typing up assignments and papers or doing research, all using a real keyboard? Laptop mode to the rescue!

The fact that I can use the Surface Pro as a tablet as a more friendly way to consume media such as video or ebooks, or use it as a fully functional and powered laptop to do actual work, gives me great joy.

It seems to me that it’s not that Microsoft doesn’t know who the Surface Pro’s audience is, but that the reviewers don’t. If the reviewers want to really give an accurate comparison, they should be looking at the PC Tablets that have been around since around 2000. I was ecstatic when these first came out. However, they never became cheaper nor did their specs come close to a “real” laptop’s specs (meaning underpowered and little storage). The Surface Pro on the other hand, seems like it could change that. Although it’s battery life is dismal, it’s more than on par compared to the PC Tablets.

One review, from the Verge, did point out a problem with the kickstand not being adjustable nor good on one’s actual lap. How many people actually use their laptops directly on their laps, though? Though there have been one or two occasions in recent memory where I had to do this, I almost always use either a laptop cooling pad, or a clip-board that fits easily in my backpack with my laptop. But an adjustable kickstand would be smart–after all, even when sitting at a desk, I want to adjust my device rather than my chair or desk.

Gdgt.com’s review was one of the more honest with itself when it came to what they made of the different  device:  “CONCLUSION: We’re mixed”

I’m not saying that this is the perfect device (yet), but it’s a whole lot closer to the machine I want for my work and personal life than any other device currently out there. So Microsoft, here I am:  your audience! I’ve been waiting for this device a long time. Although I may wait a little longer just because I typically don’t buy first generation devices, I hope you will wait for me!

edX

I noticed this post sitting in my Draft box since May of last year… Although it’s outdated, I think it’s still worth calling attention to given the Gold Rush to Online education climate we’re currently experiencing… If anyone knows how how well it’s been working since Last year or has personally taken one of their courses, please post about your experience within the comments.

I don’t know whether to feel excited by this announcement from Harvard and MIT’s new online education program, or sigh out a ho-hum–the way they talk, it’s as if no one has ever thought about online education before.(“Hey, there’s this new thing that’s going to revolutionize the world–it’s called “electronic mail!”).

Rather than the self-praise about innovation, I think what’s important to the rest of us is that two gorillas of education have made such a publicly formal declaration supporting online education. What they haven’t talked about however, is how what they are going to be doing is any different from anyone else–I’ve listened to a number of courses via Open Universities, YouTube in general, Udacity.com, Great Courses, as well as how my own university is approaching online education (asynchronously). What I would like to see is more discussion on different types of courses based on different subject matter (a physics course is/should work differently than a literature course online or in class). I would also like to see more discussion on costs–not only for the classes but also for the universities. In addition, I would like more discussion also on who “owns” the course content (or how it is determined).

One of the things this announcement kept focusing on was the numbers–they keep referencing thousands and millions. I can see their website now: “Over 1 billion served.”

evolution of emotions through perception of motion?

Virginia Hughes has a nice article on a study (Sievers, Polansky, Casey, and Wheatley 2012) suggesting “that our ancestors first learned to interpret emotion from movement“. There was a particular question of any universal application of the results, so the team also ran the experiment in a completely different culture. Very nice. The writing itself is worth the read, but Hughs also manages to clearly summarize the experiments and what’s at stake.

The “spirit of entrepreneurship and egalitarianism” and collaboration

I love it when I serendipitously discover a terrific article or posting. Today, while searching for something entirely different, I came across Amanda Gailey and Dot Porter’s posting on Alt-Academy’s site, “Credential Creep in the Digital Humanities.” This posting’s title is a quote from their article. It gets at what I feel myself, hanging out with digital humanists.  Although it’s been about a year since they wrote the article, it seems that many of their concerns regarding the hiring practices for the digital humanities are being born out.

I remember something similar happening in the programming world back in the 1990s–originally, companies were hiring people who taught themselves to program. As the field grew, so did a perceived need for certifications for advancement, and then later, even for qualifying as a hiree. (On a separate note, I’ve always wondered if this was more due to the influence/assertions of the peripheral markets, such as certification companies and programming manual publishers.)  However, it seems that later on, although those accomplishments certainly did not hurt a person’s career, many managers  (at least in my organization at the time), realized that “real world” experience was preferable to degrees or certifications–as the deciding factor. I remember one manager expressing that as far as specialized skills were concerned, the company was often changing out different technologies as the different technologies advanced. This particular manager was more concerned that the programmers, networking people, and tech support persons he hired, possessed the ability to learn the new technologies as they changed–it was much cheaper to give that kind of training than to train new employees with specific skills from scratch. And it made the employees feel much more integral to the company’s success. It makes me wonder if the digital humanities will eventually follow this pattern. But if Gailey and Porter are correctly assessing how it’s following the academic model/pattern in general, well, it may be a longer time-frame.

Gailey and Porter end their post with three helpful recommendations to counter the credential explosion within hiring practices. I would add to their suggestions, that  smaller schools trying to add digital humanities components to their programs, work with an already established tech savvy group–a computer science department (if their institution has one). There may be problems with this type of setup, particularly in terms of budgeting issues between departments (sharing resources); I don’t know. But I do know that having worked in the corporate world, at least for the computer science program, it would be a boon for their students’ marketability to be able to gain experience by working on real world projects under the guidance of their professors. Not only would they gain technical experience, they would also gain invaluable project management experience–either as the manager or the managee.  That last point also applies to people within the humanities. Though they have much experience working with graduates, committees, and their individual research projects, learning to work with technologists on a project will teach them another subset of these types of skills: managing a programming project. It would also make it easier for the humanities people to gain experience with the different technologies. This has to help complete projects sooner rather than necessitating an individual professor or graduate student to learn five different technologies for one project. I’m sure this type of setup has already been in place with different institutions, at least in individual cases/projects. But establishing a formal partnership across programs would help facilitate the likelihood of more such projects. And who knows? Eventually, the institution may create a dedicated digital humanities center based on the interdisciplinary relationships in the “spirit of entrepreneurship and egalitarianism” we all understand are necessary for this field.

Digital Humanists Skillsets

Recently on Claire Ross’ blog, she asks the question, “Do you need to be procedural literate to be a great digital humanist?” in response to a previous discussion of a paper by Michael Mateas (“Procedural Literacy – Educating the New Media Practitioner”). Her summation is that Mateas

“…suggests that procedural literacy is necessary for DH and new media researchers, because without understanding the back end of the programme, researchers will never be able to think critically about digital projects.”

I think her question is a great one and the easy answer is that being literate would definitely help, but is it necessary? It seems like the answer should be obvious but like all things worth pondering, it really depends.

For one thing, the scope and time-frame of any project will dictate much of who can do what by when and for whom. Before academia, I used to program for a large corporation. Many of our projects–all, if they were not an internal tool for the IT group or an infrastructure project for the company–were managed by people with the business expertise, usually having no formal IT skills (except what they gained through working on such projects). The company’s policy was that business needs ought to guide development and not the other way around. Having project managers didn’t necessary mean top down workflow. These managers had to listen to input from the particular experts as well as be able to ask good questions. It was basically a collaborative learning as well as teaching environment.  And it makes sense for large-scale projects.

But likewise, for smaller projects–helping improve particular department’s tools/workflow or create something new based on new business demands usually consisted of a developer or two acting as a project manager to work with a representative  from the department–again, someone who had the the particular business expertise. It was a collaborative effort. In either of these scenarios, it took someone with vision as well as someone with the particular know-how. In my own experiences, any sort of successful project often boils down to someone having great trouble-shooting skills regardless of whether it’s an IT related project or a strictly business practice related one.

Having said this though, I believe these same sorts of trouble-shooting skills are at the heart of writing essays as well research projects in general. You break down the paper into sections that you know you need to explore, then work on learning what it is you need to in order to do the exploring. This may involve asking other experts, such as advisers, for leads to articles or books. Granted, projects involving developing research/archival sites or tools can feel a lot more like building a house (which can require a lot of different domains of expertise)–which brings me round again to my opening comments about the scope and time-frame of a project. I’ve been wrestling this last year on my own project, knowing I don’t have forever to learn all the necessary programming languages and tools I believe I need to pull it off. But with slow, very minor steps, such as getting my feet wet last year with TEI via Brown University’s text encoding workshops followed by an XSLT class at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute last month,  though I don’t possess any experience with these tools, I’m seeing how I can actually get at some of my project’s questions while also seeing a way to maybe narrow the scope.  At least today I feel this way.  I admit though, that after hearing at the DHSI of all the different projects people are working, I was overwhelmed by how large they were, and as well as the large infrastructures (whether it was time, training, developers, etc through such organizations as the Nines) they required; resources I don’t have. But the good news is that experiences with my smaller projects may lead to work with these larger collaborative efforts.

Back in my IT days, we used to refer to ourselves with that old saw about being a Jack of all trades, master of none. These days, I feel more like the squire…. The cool part about the promise of the Digital Humanities is the amount of cross-collaborative possibilities it holds. As organizations like Project Bamboo mature, they hopefully will become the model of an open market place of skills within which different universities and organizations can trade such skills frequently and within a flattened hierarchy. When that comes, I think the idea of cross-collaboration project managers will become more important than any one individual needing to know not only how to program but multiple languages.  But this then brings up a different issue:  what happens when the majority of people within the field want to be only project managers? Will that create an imbalance that will eventually force people to acquire procedural literacy that Claire and the rest of us are asking about? Hmmm. Might best to work on those skills, if slowly, just in case.