First Up – Experimental Economics Lab Proposal

While I personally am a digital humanist, and many of the projects I work with are out of the humanities, I also provide research computing support to the rest of the College of Arts and Science.

My first task today is to develop a equipment budget for a CFI proposal to build an Experimental Economic Laboratory. The idea is to have participants (students) play “games” that simulate economic situations and compare how the real results mesh with what theory says should happen. Or so I (mis)understand … at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter if I understand the project completely as long as I know the technical needs. In this case it’s pretty easy — 30 laptops with long battery life, a charging/storage cart, a virtual server to run the games and networked audio/video capture of the room.

The Fieldstone Review Lives Again

Many moons ago I designed a website and wrote a content management system for the Fieldstone Review, an online creative writing journal. After having not heard from the editors in almost a year I thought it had gone the way of many student-run enterprises and quietly faded away. But today I received an e-mail that a new edition will be coming out and they’re accepting submissions for the next so I went in and made a few changes to the site.

Part of me is happy, but the other part is realizing that if TFR is going to continue I really need to re-write the content management tools (writing them in Flash seemed like such a good idea at the time…)

Planning Bibliography Class — Electronic Textuality

I’ve been asked to lead our graduate seminar in Textual Criticism next Friday. It’s a fun class — a couple of weeks ago I bored them with a not-so brief history of book and type design in the West and they very politely remained awake.

Planning to start them off with some standard McGann on electronic editing and then move to the real interesting stuff — Kirschenbaum and the editing of born-digital texts. Many of them are also in an electronic narrative class so hopefully we can discuss how they would “edit” the texts they are studying in it.

Eric Gill and the Golden Cockerel Press

Craig Harkema and I just met to discuss the project we’re doing with U of S Special Collections to create an online archive of all the book illustrations Eric Gill did for the Golden Cockerel Press. Or at least that was the plan — instead we spent some time trying to get various things to run on his laptop so he could give a presentation about the game “Portal”. But once that was done we managed to finalize a timeline for scanning the books and entering all the metadata. Like much of the grunt work underlying the digital humanities it’s not the most fascinating of work, but it will help pay the bills for some student and they’ll get to look at lots of very nice pictures of naked people.

All Your Database Are Belong to Us

One of the most common tasks I perform for researchers is setting them up with online databases for their research materials. I’m currently working on one for a history professor studying Canadian gay periodicals. Almost done — just need to finish up the search functionality.

Although most of these have been for personal/private use only, I’m constantly pointing out that it would be very easy to make parts of the database public — and thus allow other researchers to access the material for their own work. But I haven’t had a lot of takers so far, perhaps because the public implementations of these databases would not count for much in the tenure/salary review process as compared to the publications they spawn and/or there is some worry that publishing the raw data may result in others “scooping” your research.

That Took Longer Than Expected

Finished writing a rough “browse” interface for the database. Would have been easier except that in the name of database regularization and for ease of data entry I’m storing the material in 22 tables.

As part of my degree(s) I learned French, Spanish, Latin and German. It’s been a while since I used any of them at work, but in the last hour I used XHTML, PHP, Javascript, CSS and SQL — being able to count computer languages as meeting language requirements would go a long ways to easing the steep learning curve into the digital humanities.

That Didn’t Take Nearly As Long As I Expected

One of my first forays into the digital humanities was a summer job where I was hired to scan a couple of books for The Anna Laetitia Barbauld website. I remember spending days listening to the hum of the scanner.

In order to work the kinks out of a new bookscanner and see how long it takes to scan a book I just spent one hour scanning. I scanned two volumes of the Golden Cockerel Canterbury Tales, for a total of about 350 pages. And I was interrupted numerous times. There’ll still be some batch post-processing necessary, but I’m going to feel less guilty asking people to do scanning from now on.