Hello world!

More will be posted on 18 March, Day of DH 2010.

Getting Things Done

Up until a few years ago I kept everything organized by making extensive lists.  This worked pretty well (in the sense that I didn’t forget to do things) but left me feeling pretty exhausted at the thought of all the stuff on my plate.  One day over lunch a pre-tenure colleague was talking about how his tasks were getting the better of him, and I suggested Getting Things Done.  I hadn’t read it, but had heard good things about it.  He immediately ordered two copies and gave one to me, which I promptly read.  I talked to him a few months ago, and he seemed to have everything under control, although he never did find time to read GTD.  I’m not sure what the moral is, except, perhaps, that one should think before recommending books one hasn’t read.

Anyway, I found that I was already following many of the GTD recommendations, except for the central tenet that you shouldn’t have things on your mind unless you are dealing with them at that moment.  The problem with my lists was that I could always see everything on them, hence the stress.  I picked up some GTD software (OmniFocus for the Mac) and migrated all of my lists into it.  Now I don’t see an item unless I need to deal with it, and I feel much lighter as a result.  I also empty my e-mail inbox regularly, and close the program as soon as I have, so I don’t see new stuff arriving until I want to deal with it.  I’ve even gotten in the habit of keeping icons off my desktop and closing browser tabs as soon as possible.  Of course I still have stuff I have to do, I’m just not reminded of it constantly.  The first thing in my OmniFocus ‘due’ window this morning is “Write blog posts for Day of Digital Humanities.”  Done.

Making Stuff

E-mail reminding me to bring in a GPS module so that one of my students can experiment with it for a project that she is working on.  Yesterday my graduate class on interactive exhibit design met.  I spent the previous weekend in Portland for the ASEH and NCPH conferences, and thus didn’t have much prepared.  Fortunately, I have a great bunch of students this year, and they were all working busily on their own projects, which are coming along very nicely.  Megan Arnott was using our CNC sign cutter to cut continental outlines and place names out of sticky-back vinyl, for a tangible interface to a medieval Norse exhibit she is designing.  At this point she imagines using a small, magnetized Viking Ship as a kind of mouse and dragging it over hidden reed switches.  Jordan Goldstein was working on a robot that will use servo and stepper motors to control a tabletop hockey game and recreate historically significant plays.  Dana Johnson was sewing a wearable interface that uses the Lilypad Arduino.  Braden Murray was learning how to use the 3D laser scanner in preparation for some 3D printing he will do in a few weeks.  (Braden also blogged about one of his own days of digital humanities a week ago in ‘Onward and Upward‘).  Tim O’Grady was figuring out how to build a custom interface to a series of historical streetscapes that he created in Google Sketchup.  Rebecca Rahey was learning about digital recording and various voice and wave shields for Arduino.  She also served as impromptu videographer when any of the other students got something working.  And Sara Sirianni was collecting accelerometer data for a custom interface of her own.  I was able to help with Processing or electronics or fabrication as necessary.  It is great to have a place where people can work with their hands as well as their heads, and great to have students who can take so much in stride.

Need a 20 Minute Talk in Nine Days…

The item at the top of my to-do list right now (at least until a conference call in 25 minutes) is a talk that I have to give next weekend at the Rachel Carson Center in Munich.  They’ve invited Alan MacEachern and I to come and tell them a bit about the digital infrastructure that we have created for NiCHE: Network in Canadian History & Environment.  I’m excited about my first trip to Germany, but not sure how much I will see given the realities of (1) a three-day schedule, (2) killer jet lag and (3) a day-long workshop.  I’ve already warned my long-suffering students that I will be brain-dead on my return and that they will have to continue to teach themselves.  We’ve done a lot of digital things with NiCHE, but I think my main message will be that the best way to build a strategic knowledge cluster is to provide people with tools and support, allow them to decide how and when they want to interact, and keep track of what they do to better facilitate it in the future.

Data Mining with Criminal Intent

Just finished an hour-long conference call with our international Digging Into Data challenge grant team: Geoffrey Rockwell and Stéfan Sinclair also on the Canadian team, Dan Cohen on the US side, and Tim Hitchcock and Michael Pidd in the UK.  Our plan is to mash-up text / data mining and visualization with Zotero, TAPoR and the Old Bailey archives.  It is early days yet, but much awesomeness will eventually ensue.  Soon you will be able to learn more about the project at CriminalIntent.org

3D Printing and Wearables / E-Textiles Workshop

Exciting e-mail from Devon Elliott: he’s managed to get the extruder working for MakerBot #363.  It is the first 3d printer that he has built, and will be the third one working in our lab (after a Darwin RepRap and a MakerBot that I built).  This is good news, as it is just in time to demonstrate for the interactive exhibit design students, and we may take it to Kevin Kee’s Playing with Technology in History conference next month.  Devon and I are currently working on a paper on “Rapid Prototyping to Support Experimental History” for that conference.

Meanwhile, I am packing to go to Great Lakes THATCamp this weekend.  Beth Nowviskie and I are hosting a workshop there on Wearables and E-textiles.  As with all great teaching opportunities, I plan to learn far more than I teach.  Besides Beth’s considerable crafting talent, the participants include print makers, weavers, sewing enthusiasts, and many other skillful folk.