The Room in Which I Work

The room in which I work is not part of our home’s heating and cooling system. It was once simply a space between the house and the detached garage that a previous owner of our forty year old house decided to enclose both to make it possible to bring in groceries while not getting rained on. It measures 89 inches wide by 101 inches deep for a total of 8989 square inches or 62 square feet. (That’s a little under 6 square meters for my European friends.) The hallway between the garage and the house is about the same size. To be clear, whoever had this space built was no fool, for the space doesn’t seem small, thanks to a large skylight and a large sliding glass door, which open the space to the world. And being so small makes it fairly simple to heat on cold and gray winter days: a cheap little heater from a big box store usually does a reasonable job.

And, too, I am fortunate enough that I can work almost anywhere these days. All I really need are my computer, and, for noisier environments, a pair of headphones or earbuds that, plugged into my phone, can block out most distractions. I am not keen on fighting volume with volume, though, and I prefer quiet spaces over noisy ones for working.

Working in such a small space means I have a kind of physical limit to my impulse to collect things. As much as I might like to accumulate piles of books and papers and memorabilia, I cannot. There is no room for it. In fact, with so little room, a certain minimalist mindset has slowly crept into my aesthetic, which, to be fair, has long been shaped by the modernist impulses of my childhood homes. The result is a kind of slow inculcation of a resonance to this space that makes me want to work within it.

Over time, I have also slowly succumbed to the dictates of this space by dispensing with any of the ordinary furniture with which I might fill it. The only furniture here that I have not built is the chair. The shelves, the desk, the monitor stand were all custom built so as to take up as little room as possible, and even now I am considering taking the two shelf units that are currently vertical, and thus taking up floor space, and stringing them up along the top of the wall like the other two units, leaving only the long narrow desk at which I work, and the chair, on the floor.

The only real problem with that plan are … files. Oof, folders of paper. Paper, paper, paper.

One thing I could do, I must admit, is to go through all that paper to determine what actually needs to be kept and what might be better kept and what can be tossed. Things like records that have to kept are easy. What’s hard is those things which force a decision: what are the projects that are going to move forward and what are those projects which will, in all honesty, never leave the Someday pile? That is hard, because it also reveals the reality of time, of death, and my own nature.

There are so many projects which I have marked as “someday” which I really should have done, if only I had been better disciplined. Not only scholarly projects, but the notes for stories that I have not written. Pulling those folders out is like having to revisit so many one’s own worst regrets, facing all the things about myself that disappoint me.

At the same time, letting those projects go might free up physical, and thus also mental, space to get new projects done…

24-liter Daypack Comparison

I recently decided to upgrade from my Deuter Speedlite 20 as the backpack I took for day-long outings with my family. The Speedlite has served me well for four years now, and remains my go to back for any number of other purposes, but for longer hikes, especially on warmer days, it clings to my back, collecting heat and sweat. (Thankfully, it dries quickly.) Its one-inch wide hip belt is not terribly comfortable, and its size means I can’t quite pack everything I would like, especially if I’d like to make it possible for a traveling companion to carry nothing. I already have a Deuter Futura 32, and so I know that it is more than I wanted, so I set my sights on something in the mid-twenties, 24 or 26 liters.

As fellow backpackers know, there are at least two categories of bags, if not really three, that occupy the 20 to 30 liter capacity range: the light packs, the standoff packs, and the technical packs. In the light category are Osprey’s Talon series, Deuter’s Speedlite series, and Gregory’s Miwok series. All fine packs, and reasonably comfortable with their various corrugated foam and mesh back panels, but not as comfortable as their slightly heavier cousins in Osprey’s Stratos series and Deuter’s Futura series. (Gregory’s offerings in the 20 liter range are Salvos, and then they shift to the Zulu line.) There are other backpack makers, I know, but I already owned both Osprey and Deuter packs and they have been super reliable for me: I use an Osprey Momentum 22 to commute to work and an Osprey Porter 46 for travel. I was familiar with Gregory, having looked at a Miwok pack before settling on the Osprey Momentum.

Deuter, Gregory, and Osprey also appear to be the only ones focused on making day packs with light metal frames and mesh backs that are comfortable on days you sweat. And so my comparison shopping came down to the Gregory Salvo 24, the Osprey Stratos 24, and the Deuter Futura 24. All good bags, but a couple of them are handicapped by recent design choices. In the case of the Deuter, the hip belt pockets have recently been dropped, and the hip belts themselves somewhat shrunken. In the case of the Osprey, they have gotten ride of the roomy outer stuff pocket in favor of some weird vertical zippered pocket that everyone agrees is useless when the pack is full.

That left the Gregory Salvo 24. It offered everything I wanted: 24 liter capacity, a large central compartment with panel access, a padded hip belt, with pockets, and a stuff pocket on the front. But I was not comfortable making a decision without some comparison, and so I added the Deuter Futura 26 into the mix: it’s a slightly taller bag, and one of the issues here is my torso. As a six foot plus tall man with 34″ legs, I have a longer torso, and finding a pack that gets the straps far enough up my back to reach my shoulders comfortably is unreasonably difficult. The Deuter Futura 26 is built like bigger packs: it has a spindrift collar, a brain, and while it doesn’t have a front stash pocket, it does offer easy access to the main compartment via a zippered panel.

I wore both packs around the house with a gallon bucket of paint stashed inside: its bulky and heavy (and it was handy). Both packs seemed fine. I then took them out to a nearby park, again with the can of paint handy, and walked around with them. While the Deuter was a bit taller, it also felt like it was fighting me a little bit, and the Gregory just seemed more comfortable, which may in part be a function of the pack staying a little closer to my back. (This feature may become a bug, since obviously there will be less air between my back and the pack, but I cannot know that within the window I have to make a decision.)

So, in breaking with a long tradition of only owning Osprey and Deuter packs, with a couple of Timbuk2 shoulder bags, it looks like a Gregory is joining the family. I’ll post a photo from an upcoming hike as soon as I have one.

New Book Thursday

Julia Flanders and Fotis Jannidis. 2018. The Shape of Data in Digital Humanities: Modeling Texts and Text-based Resources. Routledge.

Data and its technologies now play a large and growing role in humanities research and teaching. This book addresses the needs of humanities scholars who seek deeper expertise in the area of data modeling and representation. The authors, all experts in digital humanities, offer a clear explanation of key technical principles, a grounded discussion of case studies, and an exploration of important theoretical concerns. The book opens with an orientation, giving the reader a history of data modeling in the humanities and a grounding in the technical concepts necessary to understand and engage with the second part of the book. The second part of the book is a wide-ranging exploration of topics central for a deeper understanding of data modeling in digital humanities. Chapters cover data modeling standards and the role they play in shaping digital humanities practice, traditional forms of modeling in the humanities and how they have been transformed by digital approaches, ontologies which seek to anchor meaning in digital humanities resources, and how data models inhabit the other analytical tools used in digital humanities research. It concludes with a glossary chapter that explains specific terms and concepts for data modeling in the digital humanities context. This book is a unique and invaluable resource for teaching and practising data modeling in a digital humanities context.

For those of you thinking “Oh, no, Routledge. I can’t afford it. You are correct.” This was not the promise the internet made to knowledge distribution.

AFS 2018

For those who have asked, below are links to the paper I gave at this year’s meeting of the American Folklore Society along with the slides and the handout (which was a version of the slides, so you don’t need both). As I catch up with everything on which I have fallen behind, I will post my notes about the conference itself in some fashion.

Here are: the paper, the slides, and the handout for “It’s about Time: How Folk Narratives Manage Time in Discourse.”

Abstract: Concluding his consideration of “Time in Folk-Narrative,” Bill Nicolaisen noted that the nature of human experience is centrally of time and that what marked genres of folk narrative, perhaps as much, or more, than anything else, was their management of time: “What must be stressed, however, is that in contrast to the concepts and realization of an extended present and of narrated time in the folktale, the dramatic comparisons made in the legend are designed to demonstrate the incompatibility of the two time frames, which exist as parallel systems” (318). Much of Nicolaisen’s efforts are focused on a careful compilation of how time is signaled, and thus managed, within the discourse of ten fairy tales drawn randomly from Thompson’s One Hundred Favorite Folktales. This paper revisits and extends Nicolaisen’s work, taking as its central task the careful attention to words used. Where Nicolaisen focused principally on the folktale, with occasional references to legend, this paper, part of a larger examination of legends in the current moment, uses a number of legends taken, first, from oral discourse, and then a number of legends found online. It follows this examination with a look at, what the paper itself argues, is the adjacent genre of the personal anecdote, sometimes also known as the personal experience narrative, in order to determine how a close examination of the management of time, in discourse, might reveal where the two genres converge or diverge, in hopes of finding a better way to model both and reliable discursive cues. Some of the methodologies deployed are computational in nature, beginning with forms of markup first explored by computer scientists Pustejovsky et alum and followed up by recent attempts to automate temporal signals in texts by David Elson. The current work seeks to re-imagine the pioneering work of Bill Nicolaisen, and before him Benjamin Colby, in light of recent developments in computational modeling of narrative with an especial focus on what that means for the study of genre.

Nicolaisen, William. 1978. Time in Folk-Narrative. In Folklore Studies in the Twentieth Centuries, 314-319. Ed. Venetia Newall. Rowman and Littlefield. (Available as a PDF.)

Nicolaisen on “The Structure of Narrated Time in the Folktale”

As I work on my paper for this year’s annual meeting of the American folklore society, I find myself treasuring one of a collection of offprints once sent to me by Bill Nicolaisen. I am pretty sure that others will find his work compelling and that the conference proceedings in which it appeared, Journées d’Études en Littérature Orale: Analyse des contes, problèmes de méthodes, is probably pretty hard to find. Here’s a PDF version. (The OCR is okay, not great: I’m working on am improved scan.)

Text Analytics APIs 2018

Text Analytics APIs 2018: A Consumer Guide is $895 for a single user license. At 299 pages, that’s about $3 per page. The blurb notes that:

Robert Dale is an internationally-recognized expert in Natural Language Processing, with three decades of experience in academia and industry. With a PhD from the University of Edinburgh, he’s worked for Microsoft and Nuance, and he’s driven the development of SaaS-based NLP software for a startup. He has taught at the University of Edinburgh in the UK and at Macquarie University in Sydney, and presented tutorials and summer school courses around the world. He has over 150 peer-reviewed publications, including a comprehensive Handbook of Natural Language Processing, and the de facto textbook Building Natural Language Generation Systems.

LitRPGs

Audible emailed me about “LitRPGs”, a genre about which I have heard little. I imagined something like Choose-Your-Own-Adventure or Cortazar’s “Hopscotch” but it seems to cover a pretty wide range of texts.

Ternary Color Scheme

I was interested in the data for the age of European populations, but I found myself more taken with the color scheme used in the visualization:

Ternary Representation of European Populations by Age (Web Size)

A full-sized version of the image is available on request — it’s really big. But the map is part of an article in The Lancet.

WikiArt Emotions Dataset

WikiArt Emotions is a dataset of 4,105 pieces of art (mostly paintings)
that has annotations for emotions evoked in the observer. The pieces of art
were selected from WikiArt.org’s collection for twenty-two categories
(impressionism, realism, etc.) from four western styles (Renaissance Art,
Post-Renaissance Art, Modern Art, and Contemporary Art). WikiArt.org shows
notable art in each category in a Featured page. We selected ~200 items
from the featured page of each category. The art is annotated via
crowdsourcing for one or more of twenty emotion categories (including
neutral). In addition to emotions, the art is also annotated for whether it
includes the depiction of a face and how much the observers like the art.
We do not redistribute the art (images), we provide only the annotations.