Enforced Analogue

Well. This is not the day of DH that I had imagined.

I had thought I would be on and off email all day, getting up to various tasks that I would tell you about, flitting between my different projects, happily in the Zone in my computer work environment (even though I’m working at home today). But yesterday, my laptop had an epic, non-recoverable fail.

Its not out of the blue. It was getting creaky.  I had maintained careful backups, so I’m not stressed about data loss. But darn, it was a good little workhorse, and now I am left in the lurch mid term, and working “in the cloud” until I get a new one, which means no sneaky catching up on the train to and from work, and less efficient working patterns.

Harrumph. Computers are great till they fall over. I am a humanist without a tool, and oddly bereft (or free?) from a machine I had had an intense working relationship with over the last few years. There are interesting things to consider with a job such as this, and the proximity you always are to your laptop, involving habit and the development of unconscious expertise which allow you to function fluidly and “expertly” in the academic zone.

And now I’ve got to start again. I know I’ll lose at least a week of work, once its been ordered, that is, in getting it set up just-as-I-Like-it. Perhaps another week trying to get it onto the Internet at UCL, and getting past the behemoth security systems. Tomorrow afternoon’s meetings are cancelled, and have been replaced by a trip down Tottenham Court Road to play with new machines.

And today? I’ll be on and off email on one of the many computers we have kicking around at home. But what the heck, I’m taking it easy and going to meet some friends for coffee. Enforced go slow!


I’m back in after a social morning. One of the joys of academia is the working patterns – I’ll work late tonight to make up for having a few hours off through the day.

A quick scan of email reveals the broad nature of what I’m up to at the minute.  There are things in there about the launch of the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, which will happen in May.  There is stuff in there about corrections to our paper about the Digital Humanities use of Twitter, which has been conditionally accepted to a journal.  There’s papers that need editing regarding a book I’m editing with Brent Nelson about Digitising Material Medieval Culture.  A few invites, to a Dariah workshop in Greece, and to an event at the British Library, that I should reply to.  Things from the eScience and Ancient Documents project, the Transcribe Bentham project. Older email hanging about reminding me I have three or four deadlines for book chapters approaching. And finally, emails from my current batch of MA students, who have to get their dissertation proposals into me by close of play tomorrow.

I have a love/hate relationship with email. In my final post last year, I mention that I am probably mostly a professional email answerer these days, and to a large extent its true. I get twitchy if I have more than 10 emails in my inbox at once.  Its a constant battle against the tide – we are information-king-canuting.

Being sans-decent laptop things will probably stack up a bit over the next few weeks, which makes me come out in a cold sweat.  Must. Keep. Checking. Email. Thank goodness for my iPhone, thats all I’m saying.

DH and DH

I’m back in business. Due to the computer situation, today has been a bit of a no-show workwise, aside from keeping up with emails on my iPhone, and finally sorting out imap on emails so, if something like a computer fail happens again, I wont lose my to do list in my inbox.  But while I’ve been gadding about town (well, you may as well run a few errands in that situation) my Darling Husband (or DH, as they get called in online forums) took the time to set up one of the old machines we have kicking about the house.

So I now have an old laptop, running Windows XP, that has thunderbird, ie,  firefox, open office, and paint.net on it. Nothing else at all (well, aside from the drivers that allow it to go online). I’m teaching tomorrow – my computer crashed yesterday mid lecture writing, so I’ll pull that off the server and hope it runs in open office. This laptop wont get online at UCL, as you need to queue up for an age at the Eduroam clinic to get your computer sorted out, and its not worth my time until I get a new machine in a few weeks time. But I can get on with some things now.

And I have to thank my lovely DH for helping me out on this day of DH, and getting me sorted out much quicker than I would have done myself.  Thanks, @expertsleepers.

Open office. Paint.net. Thunderbird. Firefox.  Wifi. Really, I can get a lot of stuff done with that.  Which leads me to my next point.

I have a close colleague who is not taking part on this day of DH as today he would just be answering email and using his computer as a word processing package, and I quote “that is not what DH is about”.  I’m not sure I strictly agree with that – sure, if you never ever do anything else than just answer email or write reports, then maybe you need to look at your definition of DH if that is what you self define as,  but surely having a working machine that allows you to partake in the information environment is part of the whole shebang, and some days, you will just be writing about your research, or writing lecture notes, or writing student references, or writing minutes from meetings. Not every day has to be about changing the computational paradigm to be counted as being part of DH? (as long as you think about that – and hopefully build and implement stuff, whether in a team or in person – sometimes?).

The things I want to get off my to do list today(and here I am really getting down to some good work at 4.30pm)  include

- some emails, discussing research ideas with people

- finishing up our team abstract for submission to the DRHA conference

- making sure I can use this machine to show my lecture for tomorrow (heck, I’ll probably do that first)

- having a go at our revised paper that has been accepted for a journal.

Open office, firefox, and thunderbird will do me nicely today. Not even sure I need paint.net today. Does that mean I’m not a Digital Humanist? answers on a blog comment, please.

Lecture: tick

tidied up, and working on this machine. At least I have some slides to show tomorrow, even if I cant get online to demonstrate various web publishing things. Its the final lecture in the web publishing course tomorrow (an 8 week course in “how the web works, and how to design things properly”. A fun course to teach. Even if you lose a lecture unexpectedly through computer failure.

Proposal for DRHA: tick

My job on the DRHA proposal is done. Now passing it over to the next person in the team for checking, but its nearly ready to hand in.  

Our proposal is based on the user studies we are doing as part of the LinkSphere project – the need for user centred design when constructing Virtual Research Environments.

tweet tweet

first pop onto twitter since early this morning (I tend to look at it more when I’m on the train on my iPhone, or at my desk on my computer.) Plenty going on. I’m getting to love twitter more and more – I think I’ve learned more about DH things in the past year that I’ve been using twitter than from all the conferences I’ve gone to. I’m @melissaterras, btw.


Anyone over this side of the pond will be aware of the financial meltdown that is happening in the universities in the UK  (a handy guide is on the NYR blog).  The situation, especially at Kings, is dire, and there’s been a log of criticism that University Management is using a budget crisis to impose an administrative agenda. And if you think this has little to do with Digital Humanities, well: the Centre for Digital Humanities at Kings took a huge cut last year of £550,000.

DH2010, at CCH at Kings, is sure going to be an interesting conference.  If any academics can afford to go to it, that is (my institution, UCL,  used to pay one conference a year for me from the graduate school. Now they pay one conference per career. I kid you not).

But today, some good news for UCL! The HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) funding allocations were announced, based on various things such as the Research Assessment excercise, and other stuff, quite frankly, I dont really understand.  We didnt get a cut, as we had been expecting/ warned by management was a possibility. UCL has received an overall 1.73% increase in funding for 2010–2011! caloooo! callay! oh frabjous day!

… but the cynical person in me does not believe that this above-inflation increase in funding willl stop any planned – or further – “restructuring”.

Its difficult times for academics in the UK.  And those times are going to get even tougher.  I know too many people being threatened with redundancy, and know better than to be complacent.


I just had my first email complaining about my current lack of response time to email. They obviously didnt know my machine fried yesterday. Peoples, I’m doing my best.

Winding down

Well, its 9pm. Time to start thinking about winding down and relaxing for an hour before bed. Tomorrow I am teaching for 4 hours straight, which always leaves me pretty much unable to string a sentence together, so its worth not working too late the night beforehand.

I didnt get to tell you about various things that are happening with us. Such as what is happening with the new UCL Centre for Digital Humanities. (Terribly exciting stuff. If you are around London come to some of our events!)

This time last year I was still on maternity leave. Today, given I couldnt do much work this morning until a laptop got a bit spruced up, I spent some time with the boy. I wanted to write a post about DH and academic parenthood – and how family friendly a discipline it is (that is, when you have a working machine, which I dont just now).  Its a discipline where you can work late, work from home, work anywhere you can pick up wifi and get to a machine, work flexibly.  The fact I have a kid has never (yet) been an issue.  There was an article in the chronicle a few weeks ago, banging on about the impossibilities of being a working academic mum, which painted it all as doom and gloom. Dont believe the hype, folks (but choose a really helpful, hands-on partner, which the writer of this article clearly didnt).

Other things. Some interesting new research we are doing with the British Museum. Some of the new projects I’m working with at UCLDH. But all this can wait for another time. See you either at my blog, or same time, same place next year?