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Hu Con 2011

HuCon 2011 Current Graduate Research in Humanities Computing

This conference report on HuCon 2011 is being written during the conference so they are raw and incomplete. I frequently stop typing when interesting stuff happens so these notes may be more notable for what is absent than what is written.

Milena Radzikowska: A Structure for Every Surface: Designing for a JiTR Mash-up

Milena talked about how she is bringing Protovis visualizations together with JiTR and design theory. This structured surfaces project is supported by the INKE project led by Ray Siemens.

The idea of structured surfaces is that we create surfaces on the screen which organize and let you organize data. The surfaces could be just bins that you can manually move items to or they could be surfaces developed out of the data. We are using the JiTR environment that can hold collections of items. Milena showed a number of her designs.

She then looked very closely at different types of surfaces like a Dorling cartogram. She showed how cartograms can work and not work. Canada isn't really good for cartograms as all the provinces are in a line. The challenge is to come up with designs that can actually be used for unanticipated datasets. For this project we want surfaces that people can use with their own collections.

Milena then talked about where ideas come from.

  • A memorable human experience
  • Refining existing ideas
  • Reinterpreting and building on the work of others
  • Iterative and multi-directional inspiration

At the end we talked about the challenges of table-top interfaces.

Mihaela Ilovan: Reflections on Information Overload

Mihaela started by telling us that her presentation would not be another presentation on information overload. She gave a historic tour through the issue rather than present yet another solution.

Why is info overload a problem? The standard answer is because the time it takes to find and assimilate information increases the time it takes to make a decision. But the experience of overload is also connected to epochal shifts in the amounts of information available while expectations of keeping up stay stable.

Mihaela quoted Plato, Seneca the Younger and Diderot about the problems of more writing and more books. Information overload predates the modern era. She also talked about the Note Cabinet developed in the 17th century for keeping and organizing notes.

I am struck by how many traditional solutions there are to the problem like:

  • Good writing always make information easier to assimilate and appreciate
  • Knowledgeable experts can guide you through the excess of information
  • Talking with others is far more enjoyable than stressing about not having the time to read.
  • Encyclopedias summarize, organize, and connect information
  • Get over it - information overload is a psychological problem not a real problem - just give up your expectations

Mihaela ended by pointing out that the term "overload" may have come from an electrical metaphor. The term was coined by Toeffler and made sense at a time when electro-shock therapy was being criticized. In effect information overload was being compared to shock therapy.

Daniel Sondheim: Digital Libraries: Automating Enlightenment

Daniel started by defining the digital library and with Vannevar Bush. The Memex was called by Bush a "library" at times, but he saw his idea as different. This library could hold your notes with the books and it could have trails. Licklider felt the book was a barrier to progress. He called his idea a "procognitive system" to get away from books and libraries.

There are now two ideas about what a digital library is. Computer scientists have a narrower idea that refers to a collection that is digital. Services is automated. The other view is open to all sorts of services that could be done by humans but offered over the web.

For Crane a digital library can allow more users to make better use of larger holdings. Digital libraries should be more convenient and have more stuff. For some, traditional libraries could be obsolescent. They could be on the way to becoming museums for material information culture. For others libraries are places that offer all sorts of services other than mere access to information.

Daniel showed a Smell of Books web site that jokingly offers a spray for your e-books.

Eric Forcier: The Robot Other in Proto-Science Fiction

Eric is analyzing the robot in 19th and early 20th century fiction. The word was coined Capek at the time pulp science fiction was taking off. Eric is looking at the fiction before the word gets coined and sci-fi take off. He looks at post-colonial texts where the other is savage. It is also in late 19th century that science undergoes a shift. Mesmerism leads to Kemplelen's Mechanical Turk. We go from psychic forces to machines. Eric asked questions like, why is the automaton humanoid? Why is it in the form of the Turk? Do we want robots to be others? He pointed out how often the slave/robot ends up murdering its master in fiction.

Sylvia Russell: Robo Sapiens

Sylvia reflected on the separation of mind and body and how it has influenced ideas about cyborgs and intellectual prostheses. She referenced the idea of the Extended Mind. She was critical of the focus on unembodied cognition. What would a Turing Test look like that involved the body?

Ali Grotkowski: The Non-Human in Popular Culture

Ali started with a clip from a Frankenstein film. The clip shows the monster learning to play and then it turns tragic. He is human, but is missing a basic moral sense of what you play with. The monster is an extended human whether bigger/stronger like Frankenstein's monster or sexier like Rocky in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. What do these extensions say about us. There seems to be a narratological pattern where a monster is created with extended characteristics; initially things might look good, but then something goes wrong thereby reaffirming that the human norm is best. Ali also talked about another pattern like in Avatar where the extended other teaches us something.

Victoria Smith: The Zapatista Uprising: A Subaltern Engagement in Digital Activism

Victoria stared by reviewing the Zapatista revolt. In 1994 the Zapatistas took over 7 towns. It is considered a first example of digital activism. She distinguished internet activism and hacktivism. Activism uses the internet to support traditional activities. Hacktavism is using digital attacks/protests.

Victorian then switched to defining the subaltern and discussing subaltern studies. The Zapatista's refused to accept the official story and, by tearing down a statue of a conquistador, inscribed their own history. Subaltern studies is to provide tools and ideas to subaltern groups.

With social media we have gone from the mass consumption of culture to the mass production of culture. These tools can be used by the subaltern.

We had an interesting conversation about technology and the revolutions taking place in North Africa.

Joyce Yu: Digital Storytelling and Autoethnography

Autoethnography claims the conventions of literary writing and expression for the autobiographical. She talked about the lonelygirl15 who turned out not to be autoethnography but to be scripted and produced web fiction. Joyce was inspired by the It Gets Better project that reached out to gay and lesbian youth. Autoethnography makes the researcher part of the subject of research. Could it end up as solipsism?

Daniel Brophy, Ruth Guechtal, and Gerry Morita: Using Interactive Technologies for Performance and Improvisation

Artists have been involved for some time in experimenting with technology. Gerry started with a history of this intersection from Muybridge to Laurie Anderson. This team from music, industrial design, and drama are experimenting with new interactive instruments for improvised performance. They love the chaos of learning a new instrument at the time of a performance. They learn to control the chaos and the technologies.

Gerry talked about the blur of music, motion and technology. She danced her point. They demonstrated the prototype that made strange sounds based on contacts under the arm. This will be woven into an evening gown for dance/music performance.

Ray Siemens: Virtual Ingratiation

Ray presented a remote talk. He wasn't able to come so he put together a audio/Powerpoint talk. He talked about the INKE project. He talked how the project got started with asking what interested us as digital humanities and issues about electronic reading. He talked about how awkward even the best electronic books are? We hear the hype but not the reality. Ray points out that this is a humanities problem. We need to better understand the theories and pragmatics associated with traditions of knowledge conveyance. We have been doing this in the humanities since Plato.

He argued that one of the reasons electronic books are limited is that they are trying to imitate the book instead of doing something different. I think this is why the iPad is successful. The INKE project then developed four areas of research that would help reconceive reading in the digital age.

  • Evolution of reading and writing technologies
  • Mechanics and pragmatics of written forms of knowledge
  • Strategies of reading
  • Computation possibilities

Ray then talked about the activity areas of INKE:

  • The UX or "user experience" group is asking how reading has changed and could change
  • The TS or "textual studies" group is looking at how understanding print media can inform our understanding of new media
  • The ID or "interface design" group (which I am part of) is asking about the interface to information from print to the screen.
  • The IM or "information management" group is asking about how to design, store, process information to serve the needs of humane environments.

Ray then talked about how to organize a large team like the INKE group. One important point to be made is that thinking about and organizing ourselves is part of knowledge management. Thus studying how a group like ours organizes itself is part of the issue. How could we use information technology?

He ended by asking if our research might be applicable? Can we produce something beyond a book, a presentation, an interface? Or, is the thought experiment enough?

Joseph Dung: Approaches to Knowledge Extraction in the Wikipedia

Joseph started by discussing what information extraction (IE) is. IE is the extraction of entities from full text as in extraction of people, organizations, places. Then Relationship Extraction is figuring out the relationships between entities.

Mining the Wikipedia has certain advantages as it is a dense collection of updated information with URLs tied to articles about entities. He talked about the problems with custom IE systems. He then talked about the DBpedia project which aims to improve Wikipedia search and eventually become a hub of emerging web data. They take advantage of the consistency of the Wikipedia page. By September of 2010 the DBpedia had 25 billion triples!

Joseph talked about how inconsistencies in XML kills its ability to be used for ontologies. XML makes no commitment to specific vocabulary or modeling primitives. A small group can agree on an XML ontology but it is hard to scale up to the point of sharing.

By contrast RDF has a little XML, but it chains triples to form a graph. It is simpler and thus able to handle participation from a much larger group. (I think this is the point Joseph is making.) With a simpler format we can have a store of far more structured "facts" which with inference engines then allows us to ask questions and get answers.

He gave an example of how the BBC uses DBpedia to link their microsites and others.

The web is a network of linked documents. The idea of the semantic web is to think of the web as a database of assertions linked to data sources. The semantic web is more than documents, it is also a store of structured information.

Shannon Lucky: Social Networking in the Not-for-Profit Sector: Gameifying Participation in the NPOs

Shannon talked about how gameification has become increasingly popular on social network sites. She talked about how non profits have been adopting social networking to reach out to the public without major investment. Non profits can use social media easily and repurpose existing materials. They can grow their support base, increase brand awareness, connect to other non-profits and connect on a personal level.

Shannon then moved to gameification which applies game play mechanics to non-game situations. It has become trendy, but is not a silver-bullet. "Games are not fun because they're games, but when they are well designed." The real question is what sorts of behaviours do non-profits want to support/promote.

Shannon talked about the challenges of social networking and gameification. She argued that you have to have a real person who engages people in an interesting way. Having a twitter account isn't enough - someone has to use it in interesting ways. She gave craigconnects as an example to follow.

Calen Henry: Survival of the Bittest: Genre Evolution in Video Games

Calen tracked the genres different magazines had for games over time. As computer games changed the genre categories shifted. He showed a map of current genres for IGN. He pointed out how many hybrid genres there are like "puzzle action" which link simple genres. He argued that the explosion of genres happened around 2005. Calen then showed the ESA's graphs for sales of genres and argued that no one has really studied evolution of genres in the game literature.

He then showed how we can learn from literary theory (Bakhtin's ideas of dialogic history and the chronotope) to understand the evolution of genre. Literary theory has already dealt with the problem of genre. He ended up with a framework for analyzing a videogame:

  • Dialogic history
  • Chronotope
  • Interactivity

Vicky Varga: Finding Meaning in the Fable

Vicky also talked about games, but this time a specific game, Fable 3 which has a moral decision framework. She talked about narratology and ludology as two different approaches. She applied these to Fable 3. F3 has both elements usefully understood as narrative and elements understood as ludus. The binary of ludology/narratology is limiting when looking at complex games. How do you fit gnome hunting and money-making? Vicky likes to look at F3 as postmodern literature where reader is addressed as a character. She wants to apply reader-response theory to the birth of the player and she wants to look at gender construction and cyborgs. Finally, games are about play.

Ashley Moroz: The Apple iPad: A Fad or a Commercial Success?

Ashley tackled the question of why the iPad transformed our perception of how we could use tablets. Though not the first tablet, the iPad was a game-changer; why? All sorts of other companies have released or announced tablets. Ashley summarized some of the limitations of the iPad and tablets in general. One issue is the virtual keyboard - we are used to using computers for certain tasks that involve typing. Perhaps tablets will enable other uses that don't assume a keyboard is available?

For me the iPad has replaced the newspaper not the laptop. The iPad is challenging our ideas about what these devices are for. We compare the iPad to what we know, but it may define a new genre to which we compare other devices. The iPad is a poor laptop, but it may be a really good media tablet.

Erik deJong: Smart Phone Virtual Keyboards: Advances and Missed Opportunities

Erik talked about alternatives to virtual Qwerty keyboards. The Qwerty layout was designed to slow down typing, but on smart phones the issue is the small space and supporting thumb typing. He surveyed all sorts of interesting alternative keyboards for the Android (Apple doesn't seem to allow alternatives.) FITALY layout has an alternative layout that works faster. MessageEase takes gestures. SWYPE does gestures for words. 8pen has rotary gestures.

Colette Leung: New English in Nigeria: A Case for Digital Humanities

Colette started by talking about new Englishes. Nigerian English is generally classified as an "outer circle" English like Indian English. It has a colonial history and is an official language in Nigeria. English is supposed be a unifying force, but may be a corrupting or destructive influence. The poor state of Nigerian education is now being blamed on the lack of information technology. English is the language that will get you out and noticed globally. It will get you out on the Internet. There is a fascinating connection between English and technology - they are both blamed and they are both expected to be transformative.

What we may see is Nigerian English influencing us through the Internet.

Final Thanks

Ashley gave the closing remarks thanking folk like Harvey. This was organized by the first-years led by Colette and Ashley.

Shannon passed on the prestigious trophy (a bowling trophy sprayed green) to this year's best graduate speaker, Mihaela Ilovan. Congratulations Mihaela.



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