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Hu Con 2010

HuCon 2010: Current Graduate Research in Humanities Computing

These are my conference notes on our annual graduate research conference. See They are being written live so they will need to be edited.

Yin Liu, University of Saskatchewan

Back to the Analogue: Some Thoughts About Tools

Yin Liu gave the first keynote and started by talking about how she got into digital humanities (in order to get SSHRC funding.) Most of her talk looked at medieval manuscripts and the digital.

Medieval editing involves a lot of tedious work (linguistic and paleographical analysis) that computers can help us with. Medieval texts have been preserved in an analogue technology (hand written text) whereas print she argues is actually digital in that it uses characters from a limited character set. She showed the variety of characters and space in a manuscript. The editor needs to ask if variations matter. Print culture has reduced the variety of hand writing to discrete characters from sets. Digitization just builds on that.

She then shifted to thinking about tools. A tool is something we use to manipulate the world. Unsworth says humanities computing uses the computer as a tool for modeling humanities data and our understanding of it. She talked about knots as tools. Knots are methodology for rope. She reminded us that technology is more than the digital. Many tools have become invisible, like knots, so we can focus on our intentions. An ideal tool has the simplest possible design for the task.

Principles of tools:

  • become invisible
  • designed for a specific task
  • simplest possible design
  • good tools are humanly usable
  • good tools are conducive to play
  • good tools generate more tools
  • tools can change the way we think

By "humanly usable" she means that you don't need to know how it works to use it. Good tools also encourage play. Good tools make the world more interesting and they generate more tools.

She then shifted to the note as the tool. A note is a written symbol that adds to the text. She showed a "manipula" - a hand pointer. Writing shift us from time (speech) to space. Writing then does things that speech cannot (layout, decorative elements, and notes).

Notation to sung music adds another dimension to text. She showed how in the manuscript you have text with "notes", both musical and textual. You have a relationship between Music, English and Latin. Then there are metatext - instructions in Latin on how to sing.

Using a robust technology (pen, ink, parchment / space) the scribe has encoded a very complex layered object in a way that has survived for centuries. Can it be done in TEI.

Musical notes on page changed us to thinking of notes as "high" or "low".

OHCO is for Yin a metaphor or model that is problematic for understanding manuscripts like ones with interlinear musical notation.

Markup didn't show her anything in her text that she didn't know. She collaborated with Jeff Smith who argued about the fallacy of prescience.

How can tools help discovery?

"Text is a labeled network of language objects." Glyphicus as annotation tool lets layers of annotations to be built up. Rather than OHCO you can have an unordered network.

A tool like XML comes from a way of thinking and does some things well, but not others. XML seems good for presentation. Tools that are invisible end up being used in an unthinking way. Thinking about our tools is important for humanists which is why we have a different

How do notes generate other tools?

Milena Radzikowska

Nested Gears: Visualization Decision Support Systems for Manufacturing

She talked about improving the efficiency, control, and accountability of decision making. Her project is part of a larger project developing a framework for plant-wide decision-making. She showed some existing systems like PROMIS (medical decision making.)

She talked about the job of design. Her job is not to make existing things better, but to imagine what things might look like in 20 years.

Joel Salt

The Digital Palimpsest: An Integrative Multimedia Edition

Salt talked about the map as supplementary and how it bothered him that multimedia objects like maps are seen as off to the side and supplementary. He envisages a palimpsest where there are layers overlaid. He is frustrated by the 2 dimensionality of the page. Even the screen seems 2 D - a hypertext link takes you to a new window. He proposes a sketch that uses overlays. He thinks of it as 3 dimensional.

Meshon Cantrill

Where Winding Alleys Lead the Doubtful Way: Gangs and Geography in Eighteenth-Century London

Meshon Cantrill talked about a gang that terrorized London called the "Mohock Club". There is little evidence that there was a real increase in violence, but there was lots of hype. There was a public fascination with stories about dissolute aristocats. Cantrill is mapping the crimes of the Mohock Club by looking at popular writings of the time from the Grub Street Project. By mapping the crimes he hopes to show patterns.

Dan Sondheim

Human Cognition and the Pantechnological Approach

Sondheim presented a philosophical reflection on the relationship between cognition and technology. He distinguished between personal and synthetic cognition. Changes produced by technology on cognition can be called technologies themselves.

Engelbart "Humans using language, artifacts, and methodology with training."

He talked about problems with personal and synthetic

He proposed the pancognitive/pantechnological approach. Cyborgs are seen as synthetic thinking (human + machine). Pantechnology doesn't see a difference between the human and technology - or seems them as difference of degree. Technology is defined as how humans relate to the world.

Jeff Smith

Kaleidoscapes: Re-Imagining How to Facilitate Creative Writing and Analysis with Software Tools

Smith started by apologizing for the mess that CS has left computing in for the rest of us. He is interested in how creativity can be supported, especially creative writing. Current tools support writing as print making by letting you control layout, type and so on.

Word processing tools doesn't support writing as a creative art form. Creative writers need to try variations and derivations of words. Writers need to juxtapose, explore tangents and archive fragments. Writers do reality construction and need to plan a lot - plan rules for the world, plan characters and plot. Writing is also reading. The writer is the first reader and then deals with other reader (anticipated or not.)

Smith pointed out that word processing only really supports writing as print making. He then showed some ideas for software. His software lets him model a world with words. What gets sent to a publisher is a view on that world.

I wondered if the word processor is not part of a larger writing environment for most authors.

Shannon Lucky

Geographical Clustering of Citations in Open Access Online Journals

Shannon looked at citation statistics for articles in two OJS journals. She wanted to see if open access journals encourages a wider geographic participation and found that there seems to be strong regional groupings for the journals.

Even in online world there seem to be regional biases. An online journal from Croatia (even in English) still has mostly regional authors.

Peter Organisciak

Collecting Crowds: A Survey-Based Introduction to Crowdsourcing

Peter started by talking about crowds. He raised the issue of what a crowd is. Is it a bunch of people acting as one, or some distributed thinking.

Peter gathered 453 examples of crowdsourcing projects and is looking closely at them. Crowd Flower? allows you to hire crowds. Gasbuddy is an example of a game-like crowdsourcing project. Digital Humanities Now is a knowledge aggregator.

The issue now is what works and why they work.

It struck me that the original OED was a crowdsourced project.

Joyce Yu

Hyphenation: A study of hybrid communities online

Joyce talked first about cultural hybridity - someone who participates in two different cultures. We often hyphenate to indicate the hybrid as in Canadian-Chinese. Joyce looked at web sites that deal with these issues.

Online community allows users to connect and develop a sense of belonging. The web removes tensions of dominant cultures.

Silvia Russell


Silvia is looking at why we use spatial metaphors for cyberspace. Language shapes how we think about our world.

Differences between metrical and cyber space:

  • Distance
  • Direction
  • Depth

What cyberspace has in common is topology. Some of the similarities are:

  • Connectedness
  • Pathways
  • Division

Andrew Keenan

Controlling Time In Video Games

Andrew started by talking about frustrations when playing games. When you die you often have to restart and spend a lot of time to get to the point. New games like Braid allow you to rewind time. He did heuristic research playing games and applying theories about flow.

The rewind ability changes the relationship between player and developer. It lets the player shape their experience and creates emergent games where people use the rewind to play a different game.

He argued that rewind should be used in all games to set us free. --- Sophia Hoosein

The Feminized Nature of Online Casual Gaming

Sophia talked about why female games like casual games and seek these out as opposed to the console games. Casual games like those on the Shockwave site seem to be mostly of moms.

Casual games are playable in small chunks of time. They can be minimized if you are playing at work.

Sophia pointed out how the ads focus on things like weight loss, household products, and food products.

Sophia also looked at the games and found games about household management.

She then went on to look at why women end up playing casual games. Some reasons:

  • Nature of games
  • Roles offered
  • Girls often get driven away from consoles
  • The game controllers are hard to learn

Ali Grotkowski

Avatars Beyond Video Games

Ali talked about the use of avatars outside video games starting with the movie Avatar. She showed some interesting examples of avatar fashion design in Second Life. She talked about virtual dress codes and showed a video of the Avatar Machine. She talked about a japanese man who married a game character from a DS game.

Matt Bouchard

Triple Threat: Why you Mom won't play Call of Duty with you

The three reasons Mom won't play with you are:

  • Frustration
  • Player ability
  • Context

These seem to be what distinguishes Mom and Me.

The threat to gaming is the casual gamers who are coming in and ruining everything. Matt feels that Wii let in a whole mess of amateurs. We will see 20 years of medium evolution lost.

To stop the stupidity we have to:

  • Make games harder
  • Make the prices higher
  • Make the context

Matt proposes "managed player efficiency" as a way of letting users control the complexity. I was wondering where Matt stands. He pretends to be a connosseur gamer who is intolerant of casual games and yet wants to casual gamers.

Calen Henry

Managing Difficulty: Enhancing Player Experience Through Game Interfaces

Calen talked about game difficulty. Game interfaces play a part in difficulty. The issue should be whether one wants to activate a feature, not which button to press. He showed a number of examples of good and bad interfaces.

He ended with the question of player satisfaction. Does managing difficulty increase satisfaction.



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