Last of the day, first of the posts

Of course on this side of the Atlantic (I’m based in The Netherlands) the DODH starts early. The 18th of March is 2 hours and 11 minutes old, time to put in a post.

First thing I did was putting some obligatory stuff on the about page so people can sort of find out who I am. Doing so confronted me with the fact that my profile page at my institute is still in need of an English translation (after about half a year), that my list of publications is in serious need of updating, and that various information on the linked pages is outdated. Hmm.. rather confrontational, this DODH. Some day I’ll master the secret of getting todo lists actually done.

Anyway, for me this is the very last bit of the day. I just finished working on a presentation that I’m to deliver tomorrow at ICTDelta 2010 ( One organizer described it as the “North Sea Jazz Festival of Dutch ICT innovation”. I’m curious what that means. I’ll discover it tomorrow, I guess. (And I’m bound to be blogging about it.) The content of my presentation is actually on this Alfalab project I’m heading (cf. I’m talking to non specialists, I’m told, so I put in a lot of attractive image material. I’ll try to give a quick high level overview and will then present some more concrete and hopefully intriguing research. We might yet convince them we’re doing a serious and interesting job on creating a computational impetus in the humanities domain in The Netherlands.

Wow, 2.31am already. Off to bed, trying to safe some of the night!

On the train

I’m in the train on my way to the ICT Delta 2010 ‘festival’ on IT & innovation (see On my bike from Maarssen to Breukelen ( I structured and rehearsed what I am going to say. It’s just a 5 minute presentation, so not a whole lot actually that can be said. I’ll be telling the (rather) general audience Alfalab ( is about Humanities meeting Computational Sciences. Not as a clash but as an interested and deep connecting to eachother. I’ll flash Alfalab’s approach before their eyes and will highlight the Circulation of Knowledge project ( to make the research connected somewhat more graspable. Wondering how my colleagues will do, they are presenting some of the research projects related to Alfalab, also in the 5 minute format.

Stupidly enough I’m nervous as always for this presentation, just as like for any other. Well, nerves just serve to keep you on your toes for a splendid performance, don’t they? Hm… maybe I should find out where I should register. This seems to be a rather large event. Don’t even know if I supposed to pay a fee actually. That’s what you get for sloppy preparation due to being flooded with work.

Are we coming of age?

We just wrapped up our 4.5 minutes presentations session. René van Horik of DANS ( kept every speaker strictly to their 270 seconds, using a annoying ‘tjing’ sound producing device. With hilarious consequences of course: people pleading and bargaining for 15 extra seconds.

In the conference room next to the usual suspects -like researchers such as Antal van den Bosch ( and Arjen van Hessen ( we had new faces, but we’re not sure who. They looked like policy makers. Well, if they were I hope we had an interesting talk. The audience seemed to appreciate our message. We lined up with me starting off with a talk about Alfalab en how we hope that will create a common interest between humanities and computational science. Anne ( stressed the social and usability aspects of such a move. Douwe made the concrete case about microtoponyms. Karina closed our Alfalab-interlude with an overview of eLaborate, the successful transcription and publishing framework for literary editions.

Now at lunch we’re wandering around at the World Trade Center Rotterdam ( where the conference is based, and  we’re suddenly discovering ourselves as peers amidst the guys from hard core computational science, simulation people, and robotica scientists. During earlier of such mix ups we found ourselves always a bit out of place, to be honest. We were always trying to just catch up with the real players. Now however, we seem to be quite level with what we used to call the ‘tech guys’. Are we indeed realizing an impetus for computational approach in the humanities?

Sample slide

Screenshot from slide #2 of my presentation. It has very nice animation in real life, which will no doubt annoy the hell out of powerpoint luddites.

Improvised demos

At the conference people of DANS ( asked whether Karina (, Douwe and I were prepared to do some live demos of the sorts of software we were working with. Sure, no problem. Bit of a shock they immediately put a microphone in my hand and a video camera on my nose. Apparently this was turning into a full blown demo with serious audience expectations. Hmm… hope we did well. I was able to sort of convey the gist of eLaborate ( as a digital scholarly on line environment for the preparation and publication of digital editions, while Karina was pushing the buttons (and uncovering in the process that IE still isn’t standards compliant). Douwe did great with the speaking map of Dutch dialects ( Antal followed up with a nice demo of MITCH (

On my way home

Being on my way home less and less means being off from work. Lately working from home and working till late hours seems to have become a inseparable part of my professional life. Now note, I’m not complaining! I like to be connected and in touch, I like to be able to work anywhere anytime. And I still am able to close off for hours if I need that for some real scholarly reading. But lately the deadlines of specifically presentations, papers and research proposals have been piling up. Unfortunately presentations and research proposals don’t allow for dodging deadlines. You simply have to make them, right? So that resulted in a fair amount of turning in at 2am. Anyway, one other presentation to go (a vision and management summary on Alfalab for tomorrow), and then -next week that is- there’s probably some time for some much needed reflection on what’s happening all around me. So tonight seems to hold some more slides making.


After getting home I worked some more to get my mail done. Is email still a useful instrument these days? My inbox is flooded by default and functions more or less like the todo list of the things people will really get annoyed over if they aren’t tended to. So yes and no. A blessing in disguise. Like Arjen Versloot ( of the Fryske Akademy ( told me: it’s your self organizing whining todo stack. Things that other’s think you should tend to self organize on top of the inbox, fighting for attention. There was once a time when email was cool, I remember. Nowadays I mainly see it as a sad reminder of my inability to help all that want to be helped. The usual unread count hovers at a steady 80-90, the seriously damaging unread count (those lingering mails that really need attention, but just don’t make it to the top of the priorities) hovers at 7 or 8. Heh, I once made the mistake of boasting I was down at less than 60 unread. The day after the count tripled. I know people meanwhile (serious geeks) that started to treat email as letters of intend rather than things that really should be effected. Some of them only go by chat these days. Which basically makes me wonder when chat will become the new mail.

My old supervisor is happy

What triggered that nice little rant about email-these-days btw is the fact that I found a very nice mail in my inbox. My old supervisor (Bart Besamusca, is very happy indeed. He has published two on line database on Arthurian literature. This was already a number of years ago. The development was payed for by the Dutch Science Foundatio (NWO, But the technology (basically an Ms Access database hooked up by ASP specifics to a very limited web front end) is aging and at risk of falling into ruins. I guess it’s a familiar sight for a lot of us calling themselves Digital Humanists. Anyway a month or two ago I attended him on the existence of Clarin-NL ( Clarin is feverishly trying to expand their IT-support and consultancy outside the realm of linguistics to which they have been sort of tied the last years. I’m member of the National Advisory Board that should try to help in this endeavor. Adding one and one together wasn’t very hard in this case, and I brought Bart into contact with Jan Odijk, Clarin-NL’s current ‘CEO’ ( Yesterday they talked to each other, and apparently both left the conversation very happy. I got a very enthusiastic mail by Bart today. He will apply for funding in the next Clarin call for proposal, due June this year.


After dinner we put Aafke (my daughter, a 5 year old) in bed. I got her into her pyjama’s, brushed her teeth. Then it’s one of my favorit tasks to read her her bed time story. Today however, given a sleep depravation of at least 5 hours I gave the honors to Leentje (my wife, can’t disclose age for obvious reasons). And indeed, I didn’t even last through the first page. Drifting away on her voice I soon was sleeping.

On with the next PPT

Tomorrow there’s a meeting on the progress of Alfalab. And I should present… well.. err.. something. Again it’s going to be a five minute talk. A whooping 30 seconds more than the presentation on Alfalab today. I’ll be heavily borrowing from that one, I guess. Certainly my slide on Alfalab’s ’structure’ (see fig. 1). Meanwhile I’m just happily procrastinating by filling this blog.

Spheres of influence of Alfalab

(fig. 1) Spheres of influence of Alfalab

I’m done

There, I’m done. Presentation will be fine. I have a lot to tell actually, hope the message will fit in five minutes. Basically the message will be: be sure to tend to the research questions and communities if you want to introduce computational approach in the field of humanities. The other message will be: if you want to get this successfully done you’ll need other money than Royal Academy money. The success of computational approach is to be sought on European level, not on national level. Anyway, time to mellow down.