Some practical ideas

Starting from the foundation - the soles of my boots

The soles of my boots - a good start

I tried to contribute last year but I found it hard to make space in my day to sit and write a blog – perhaps I’m a bit too active. A big difference for me now compared to last year is that I have an iPhone. My director and college Ian Johnson gave me an idea today over coffee which might work quite well for me on the day.

I’ll sketch the idea out here and try to stick to the plan.

As I move into a new “scene” during the Day of DH I’ll endeavor to take a photograph with the phone. I’ll upload these more or less real time to Picassa Web albums and when I get the chance I’ll add some text. I might not get too much text out on the day if I am running but I will publish the RSS feed from Picassa Web. It looks like it will be easy to link up an image and write about whats going on.

The nice thing is that the images from the iPhone are geotagged and Picassa recognizes this. If I take another “roll” at the same time on my better quality Cannon I can place these reasonably easily because I can compare the times. Actually if I load both streams into the same public web album and order by date they will be interleaved with the occasional lower res shot pinpointed on the map.

So, if I write nothing else until the day kicks off then that is what I will do.

Posting from an iPhone

Thanks to Peter now writing this on an iPhone. I love the idea and will definitely use it tomorrow. I haven’t quite worked out if it is possible to add media from the iPhone but if not I’ve got a fallback with an app called PixelPipe which will submit images to Picassa web albums. I think it will even do wordpress.

Waking up to a clear blue sky

What I see when I wake up

The really nice thing about being a digital humanist in Sydney is that the morning sky often looks like this. I make a semi political statement every day and ride to work whatever the weather brings but in this climate that’s not a real tough call. I grew up in eastern England and rode to work in London in the winter.
I tried to contribute last year but I found it hard to spare the time during a busy and unpredictable day. This time around I’m just going back and telling stories about the image stream I collected.

An unexpected visitor

My great friend Andrew who popped around to scam coffee and to generally rev me up as I made lunches for the girls. Andrew is running a conference tomorrow based around using artifical surfing reefs to provide the coastal protection we are all going to need soon.
Andrew is definitely one of the sharpest and coolest blokes I have ever met and he is the kind of person who everyone is happy to see. He is a dropout from a masters at the university where I work. The academic system didn’t really work for him which I’ve always thought was because it is a system – something you need to know how to work. I couldn’t manage Andrews unbounded enthusiasm in the private business world although I did try it for a while. At the university however I do find that I’m allowed to pursue things which excite me – so its time to go to work


My 12 kilo vehicle that I get to ride very fast up one hill and then all the way down the other into town. It is an American made Canondale and I get no closer to loving and inanimate object. I rode exactly the same vehicle up the Grand Central canal last year where I met Geoffrey and a number of fine other people – many of whom I think are blogging today – Hi…

In through the arches

I work in the old CSIRO building on campus. It is about 60-70 years old I think – I must check. The building houses a serious electron microscope unit and geoscience among other things. We have handfull of rooms in the guts of the building.

Hanging in the entrance hall is this big photo of an antarctic explorer. I think it is Edgworth David who went on Mawsons trip to the south magnetic pole in the first decade of last century. I love the picture bcause it speaks to me not only of wild adventure but of the formality of the academy.

Martin King

When I woke up I got an SMS from Google Calendar to remind me to bring in my tablet PC so that I could get a new battery and have it upgraded to Windows 7. This fine gentleman is Martin King who although he has a doctorate in Archaeology devotes himself to keeping our unruly rabble of creative nutcases in some administrative order. I have never seen him wear a jacket or sweater or a long sleeved shirt. He has some strange secret that he will not divulge.
Martin has a great love of Google Calendar and I have the SMS alerts on my phone which helps me a great deal. I’m not sure that we could manage the diversity of work we do without something like this cloud application. It is interesting the our university ICT unit is now beginning to recommend it. For me it is ubiquitous, especially now you can use it on an iPhone. As much of my work revolves around meetings with humanities research groups and these meetings can be months apart it is great to be able to consult the calendar in your pocket and push a meeting in real time.

Ian Johnson

Ian Johnson - my illustrious directorOnce I had waved my laptop goodbye I popped in to see Ian, my director. As usual he was brimming with ideas. Interestingly enough there is a picture by Bret Whitely behind him and Bret was a trully inspired artist who sailed close to the wind when it came to sanity – perhaps Ian keeps this on his desk to keep him inspired but on track. He is a constantly challenging person to work with – mostly for positive reasons and the negative stuff doesn’t sit around long enough to remember. He is an extraordinarily flexible boss who seems to have a knack for attracting research funding and creative people and although it doesn’t always seem that way we achieve a great deal while having a good time. There really aren’t many days I go to the office when I don’t laugh out loud at least once.

I think at this point Ian was giving me a list of new appointments for the day that I hadn’t expected. What I had planned to do was to pull together some XSLT work for the History of Balinese Painting project I am working on so that I could present a status report in a meeting later in the day with Prof Adrian Vickers and his RA. As I left this scene I was forced to quickly re-order my priorities for the day. I don’t know if this creativity and flexibility is a property of digital humanities or a just something that comes from the mix of projects, personalities and priorities that are unique to us at the ACL. Either way it is a major aspect of my daily work in this field.

The White Board

Diagram on a white boardSo, now we get into the guts of what I do. Here is a shot of one of the four large white boards that I share my office with.

This diagram has been up for a while and shows a schematic of a workflow we have developed for digitising manuscripts and linking them in to an index based on a finding list. The whole thing has been reworked a number of times and we are fortunate to have had nearly a year to get it right. Although I’m trying to get the concept generalised so we can have it ready to just “drop in” to similar projects the particular project we are developing it for is the Australian Research Council project on the Poetry of Charles Harpur, one of the best known poets of the colonial era in Australia.

I struggle to spend focused time on one project, finish it and then move on to another. This turns out never to be possible. I don’t know if this is to do with my inability to stay focused or to do with the shaky funding environment that obliges us to take on a raft of projects. All the projects have long lead times which is good but when we get closer to project status meetings things suddenly become urgent because we end up neglecting certain threads of work as we get bogged down with solving complex programming problems with other projects. Time management is always an issue and I often get banged on the head for my failings in this area but nothing we do is straight forward – it is all experimental so I reckon that you just do your best to make a rough guess on how long it will take you and make damned sure that the solutions you come up with are generic enough to be quickly adopted by other projects. Somewhere or other there is a grand unifying theory of digital humanities and once we find it we will work out that there are only about three applications we need to write. Until then …..

Steve White

Steve WhiteThis is my college and friend Steve. He has now assumed the mantle of Lead Programmer since Kim Jackson was poached by a large Telecommunications company last month. Steve used to teach programming for Microsoft sometime in the past. He came to us as the boyfriend of a visiting research fellow Arianna from Italy and sort of hung around until we offered him a job.

I spend a great deal of time with Steve talking concepts. We work almost exclusively with Heurist and he actually now maintains the code base. Heurist is an abstraction on the normal relational database which itself is an abstraction on an abstraction. Here we are in a meeting discussing adding a further level of abstraction. The meetings are full of weird metaphors which can get dreadfully mixed but we get through it and create really flexible and useful tools. Steve codes it up and I kind of implement within projects so I am the systems analyst.