Louisiana Book Festival 2017

I am delighted to announce that The Amazing Crawfish Boat will be one of the featured books at this year’s Louisiana Book Festival. The book talk is scheduled for Saturday afternoon, 3:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the First Floor Meeting Room of the Capitol Park Museum. If you’re at the Festival, come say hello or swing by the festival’s store after the talk to find me signing books. See you there!

AIs Talk among Themselves

While science fiction has a long history of human-AI/robot interaction, especially in terms of dialogue, the idea of robots/AIs talking to each other gained a lot more currency in the wake of two Facebook AIs seemingly developing their own language. First, a more reasoned summary of what happend at Facebook from the BBC. And now something a bit more sensational. This Quora post also has a bit more on what happened at Facebook.

All of this concern about AIs talking to each other has a history, at least in science fiction. One moment to consider occurred in 1970’s The Forbin Project in which the USA build a supercomputer to oversee its strategic defense systems (missiles, bombers, you name it), only to discover that the USSR (now Russia) had a similar computer. It’s not too long before the two computers demand to talk directly to each other, then merge to form “World Control.”

One good place to start a larger history of robots and AIs talking to each other is Emily Asher-Perrin’s survey on Tor. (Tor is a long-time publisher of science fiction and fantasy literature; their website contains a mix of original fiction, thoughtful essays, and read or watch-alongs of classic or beloved works in the genres.)

(Perhaps one thing to think about is the difference between robots as corporealized entities and artificial intelligences as noncorporeal entities: our responses to intra-entity dialogue seems to differ significantly based on whether the consciousness is individuated in a way that our own seems to be.)

Python Modules You Didn’t Know You Needed

One of the things that happens as you nurture and grow a software stack is that you begin to take its functionality for granted, and, when you are faced with the prospect of re-creating it elsewhere or over, you realize you need better documentation. My work is currently founded on Python, and I have already documented the great architecture that is numpy + scipy + nltk + pandas + matplotlib + … you get the idea.

  • jupyter is central to how I work my way through code, and when I need to present that code, I am delighted that jupyter gives me the option to present a notebook as a collection of slides. RISE makes those notebooks fly using Reveal.js.
  • missingno “provides a small toolset of flexible and easy-to-use missing data visualizations and utilities that allows you to get a quick visual summary of the completeness (or lack thereof) of your dataset. It’s built using matplotlib, so it’s fast, and takes any pandas DataFrame input that you throw at it, so it’s flexible. Just pip install missingno to get started.”

I’ve got more … I just need to list them out.

Append a Python List Using a List Comprehension

In some code with which I am working at the moment, I need to be able to generate a list of labels based on a variable number that I provide elsewhere in a script. In this case, I am working with the Sci-Kit Learn’s topic modeling functions, and as I work iteratively through a given corpus, I am regularly adjusting the number of topics I think “fit” the corpus. Elsewhere in the script, I am using pandas to create a dataframe that contains the names of the texts as row labels and then the topic numbers will be used as column labels.

df_lda_DTM = pd.DataFrame(data= lda_W, index = docs, columns = topic_labels)

In the script, I simply use n_components to specify the number of topics which which the function, LDA or NMF, is to work.

I needed some way to generate the topic labels on the fly so that I would not be stuck with manually editing this:

topic_labels = ["Topic 0", "Topic 1", "Topic 2"]

I was able to do so with a for loop that looked like this:

topic_labels = []
for i in range(0, n_components):
    instance = "Topic {}".format(i)

Eventually, it dawned on me that range only needs the upper bound, so I could drop the 0 inside the parenthesis:

topic_labels = []
for i in range(n_components):
    topic_labels.append("Topic {}".format(i))

That works just fine, but, while not a big block of code, this piece is part of a much longer script, and if I could get it down to a single line, using a list comprehension, I would make the overall script much easier to read, since this is just a passing bit of code that does one very small thing. One line should be enough.

Enter Python’s list comprehension, a bit of syntax sugar, as pythonistas like to call it, that I have by no means, er, fully comprehended. Still, here’s an opportunity to learn a little bit more.

So, following the guidelines for how you re-block your code within a list comprehension, I tried this:

topic_labels = [topic_labels.append("Topic {}".format(i)) for i in range(n_components)]

Better coders than I will recognize that this will not work, and will return a list of [None, None, None].

But appending a list is simply one way of building a list, of adding elements to a list, isn’t it? I could use Python’s string addition to pull this off, couldn’t I? Yes, yes I could, and did:

topic_labels = ["Topic " + str(i) for i in range(n_components)]

It couldn’t be simpler, and shorter. And it works:

['Topic 0', 'Topic 1', 'Topic 2']

Readings in the Digital Humanities

Occasionally, a colleague or student wants to learn more about the digital humanities. Here is a list of texts/sites/journals that are worth their consideration.


Literary Studies in the Digital Age: An Evolving Anthology is “published by the Modern Language Association of America. It is the MLAs first born-digital, publicly available anthology. It launched in 2013 and continues to grow. The editors welcome new submissions that will expand the breadth and depth of the collection, including pieces that offer primers on topics, tools, and techniques pertinent to computational approaches in literary studies as well as essays that deepen or nuance topics already covered in the volume.” Some of these essays are the de facto standard introductions to various dimensions of the digital humanities. They aren’t necessarily my favorites or even the best, but they do fall under the category of “everyone at least claims to have read them.”

Digital Humanities Spotlight: 7 Important Digitization Projects includes Mapping the Republic of Letters, London Lives, Charles Darwins Library, the Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project, The Newton Project, and Quijote Interactivo. This is an interesting collection of some of the more polished sites that are also publicly accessible.


DHQ: _Digital Humanities Quarterly.

DSH Digital Scholarship in the Humanities — the journal formerly known as LLC, _Literary and Linguistic Computing.

JDH: Journal of Digital Humanities.

And maybe:

CA: Journal of Cultural Analytics.