Linguists Agree to Publish Data

My friend Jason Jackson passes on the news that at the annual meeting of the [Linguistics Society of America](, the following resolution was passed:

> Whereas modern computing technology has the potential of advancing linguistic science by enabling linguists to work with datasets at a scale previously unimaginable; and

> Whereas this will only be possible if such data are made available and standards ensuring interoperability are followed; and

> Whereas data collected, curated, and annotated by linguists forms the empirical base of our field; …

> Therefore, be it resolved at the annual business meeting on 8 January 2010 that the Linguistic Society of America encourages members and other working linguists to:

> * make the full data sets behind publications available, subject to all relevant ethical and legal concerns; …
> * work towards assigning academic credit for the creation and maintenance of linguistic databases and computational tools; and
> * when serving as reviewers, expect full data sets to be published (again subject to legal and ethical considerations) and expect claims to be tested against relevant publicly available datasets.

Goodbye, InfoBits, and Thanks

[The last issue of InfoBits]( was published this month. While I was never a heavy user of the service/bibliography, it was always nice to know it was there, to have it there. Perhaps this marks the beginning on one era of computing/IT in the humanities or perhaps it simply reveals how much such things are functions of particular individuals — to whom we later recognize we owe a debt — or perhaps it reveals only a particular moment in the funding of higher education in the U.S. No telling which way to read these tea leaves.

Tea Leaves

The Man Behind Fictional UIs

Mark Coleran designs UIs (user interfaces) for the movies. You’ve seen his work in the various Bourne movies, in the Lara Craft movie, and in a number of other places.

![Coleran’s UI for “Tomb Raider”](×230.png)

He has collected the [various UIs on a single page]( on his website, and it’s a great place to go for inspiration both when you are trying to design an interface but also when you are just trying to sketch out the structure of a problem. (Sometimes *how* you look at data helps you to imagine *what* your data is.)

Vygotsky and Coding

At the recent Microsoft Professional Developers Conference, an all-star cast of coding greats were convened on “Microsoft Perspectives on the Future of Programming. ” Among other things, Butler Lampson, Erik Meijer, Don Box, Jeffrey Snover, Herb Sutter, and Burton Smith discussed the improvement in IDEs (integrated development environments) and in various languages and how making coding easier, or at least less likely to fail, also means people not knowing everything they should in order to become great. One contributor likened it to anti-lock break systems: “Now you don’t have to be a great driver to perform well in snow. You just mash the brakes and the anti-lock system does all the heavy lifting for you and it pumps much faster than you ever could. It’s just, in my view, a case where computers actually help you think less. It’s like what Vygotsky in activity theory distinguishes between your performance and your competence.” The video is [here](, and the statement is right at 40:00 in. Check it out.

Tattoo You

The Text Analysis Developers Alliance has released an embeddable Flash widget which provides embedded [TAPOR analytics]( for the page on which it resides.

Here’s an example of the embedded widget:

Oh, yeah, that *tattoo* is short for Text Analysis TOOls. (Actually, it gets even worse, but I’m too embarrassed to repeat their version.)

Notes for AFS Forum on Communications in Folklore

***Note for readers**: this post is currently in process while I am in Boise for the AFS meeting.*

For those who attended the forum at the annual meeting of American Folklore Society in Boise this year, here are a few posts that form the background to my current thinking:

* [In the Era of the Meta-Platform, Content Is King][era] (20 April 2008) is sort of a foundational statement, for me, of what I think the possibilities are more broadly for the humanities.
* In [The Road to Digital Considered][road] (14 August 2008) I discuss …
* In [The Cult of the Author in the New Economy][cult] (8 August 2009) …
* In [The Difference Digital Makes] (29 July 2009) …
* In [One Digital Difference][one] (16 July 2009) …
* In [The Future of Scholarly Publishing from an Individual Perspective][future] (29 January 2009) …


Virtual Vermilionville

This fall the director of our premiere cultural heritage site, Vermilionville, came to me with an interest in upgrading their inventory systems. As we sketched out various possible uses of such a database, from rich inventory management (by location, by type) to ticketing and tracking of work orders related to inventory, we began to realize that the rich documentation required of such an infrastructure could be used for an entirely different purpose: to create a virtual Vermilionville that would not only allow visitors to view the facility from afar — thus allowing one of the site’s principal users, area teachers, to perform previews and follow-ups with students — but also allow the facility to expand beyond its current scope, since it would be unbounded by its physical constraints: you can only do so much with so many acres containing only so many houses with so many objects. Curation and interpretation are not so limited on-line, where houses can, in a sense, be returned to their original place and curation be addressed by multiple layers with multiple access points. E.g., a classic Cajun house can be returned to its original location, virtually, with its bayou orientation and all its accompaniments no longer simply explained as context but now as full-fledged texts to be examined in and of themselves. Such a virtual facility expansion would also allow Vermilionville to address dimensions of history that it does not currently have room to house: the role of other ethnic groups in the construction of Cajun and Creole cultures, how the changing landscape has changed the social base for these cultures, what happened before as well as after the facility’s current focus on the late nineteenth century.

Our goal is to construct the best possible infrastructure that will allow Vermilionville to continue to “build out”. What we would like to offer up is a detailed description of the facility, its mission, our vision for this project, and our initial sketches of this information architecture in hopes of getting feedback on what we have missed and where we can contribute to the ongoing enterprise of finding the best possible mix of off-line/on-line curation. We hope that such an infrastructure will not only open the village up and out but also the data as well. E.g., We’d like to see Google Earth mashups and re-interpretations of artifacts in SketchUp as well as open up the facility so that visitors can layer their own stories onto the site — we want not only to reach a new generation but in doing so we want them to seek out the older generations and discover the latter’s stories and memories for themselves.

My Mac Life

I get asked this often enough by colleagues, friends, and students that I thought it would be easiest just to compile all the answers into a single post and then point people to it. What’s the question you ask? What apps do I use?

The short answer is that I try out any number of apps because I’m always curious to see how other people imagine problems. I pay for a small percentage of those apps. And I end up depending upon a fraction of that. And, no, I don’t mind paying for apps I don’t use. None of the apps listed below represented a monumental investment — nothing like paying for either Microsoft Office or even the Student and Home edition. In fact, for that same $150 you pay for the latter, you could buy the first three apps listed here. The fact is the Mac software world is filled with really great deals on software that will help you work the way you want to work. You only have to explore the territory a bit.

That said, I know plenty of people who never explore the territory at all and are very productive cranking out novels and essays and all manner of other things using Microsoft Word. More power to them. Because there is also some portion of the population out there that isn’t getting near as much work done because they are always seeking the holy grail of productivity, the perfect solution to whatever they think their problem is. (Their problem being that they think some piece of software will magically make the words come. It won’t.) I spent plenty of time in the first group, and, given the chance, I would gladly spend a lot more time with the latter group — hey, [Merlin Mann]( has made a good living and travels all around the world pretty much talking and writing about what he imagines will be *the* solution to his creativity woes. So much so that *that* is now his topic.

It’s a wacky world.

### The Apps I Use ###

That said, here’s what I use:

#### Writing ####

For long-form writing, I tend to use [Scrivener](, an app actually coded by a novelist and writer. I like it because it does several things well: it let’s me outline and organize writing quickly and in a way that I can “see” and “feel” — hard to qualify this latter dimension, I know. It also let’s me take snapshots of pieces of my outline so if I want to roll-back changes or keep different versions of a section — for different outputs — that’s all taken care of in-app and in a way that’s easily previewed. I can also split the screen and put media with which I am working next to where I am writing. If I am trying to describe a landscape, I can look at it, zoom in and out, pan and tilt. If I am listening to an audio file in order to transcribe it, I can do that within the app. Or I can work with PDFs without having to switch windows or switch apps. None of that. It’s a bit like iTunes for writers.

Scrivener in Action

For short-form writing, if it’s just text or if I am working with a Scrivener output that needs some adjusting before getting mailed or e-mail, then I rely on [Nisus Writer Express]( Its native format is RTF, and it can produce fairly robust documents within that format:

Nisus Writer Express

This screenshot is from the Nisus site. I don’t think I’ve ever made a document that looked like this.

For more complex layouts, I have changed to Apple’s own [Pages]( This was brought about in part when I had to deal with a two-column layout, with illustrations, for an IEEE submission and Word simply couldn’t handle it. Don’t get me wrong: I use Word. I depended upon Word for two decades, but now that Pages offers a superior outlining view and seems to handle layout better than Word, the only reason I still keep a contemporary version of the latter around is because everyone else uses it and I have to be able to work with those documents. It’s no longer for the love.

Three, even four, apps for writing? Seems weird doesn’t it? Well, yes. And, no. Mostly it’s just two, Scrivener and NWE. And there’s really no thinking necessary for which app I am going to use. If it’s short, like a letter, or I am moving quickly, it’s going to be NWE. If it’s going to be anything more than a few sections, I’m going to fire up Scrivener.

#### Organizing ####

For those projects that have not matured into a writing activity yet, or may never be a writing project but maybe a teaching project or simply stuff I like to think about, I have long used [DevonThink]( — I actually own the Pro version. It’s my kitchen sink application. I’ve looked at other apps, like Yojimbo — mostly because it has MobileMe syncing — but in the end I just keep using DevonThink. It does a marvelous job of letting me dump all kinds of information into it and then search for it when I need it. It also keeps track of URLs of web pages I’ve copied, *and* it appears that you will soon be able to tag things. *Yay!*

Most of my planning for teaching is done in [Omnioutliner Pro]( I have used OmniOutliner elsewhere in the past, for collecting notes or for organizing longer projects, but other apps now handle that space. (A number of us have been pressing the OmniGroup for years now to pay some attention to the app that has fathered both OmniFocus and OmniPlan, and perhaps they will at some point. For now, OO has languished, which has meant many of us have moved on.)

That said, I do try to use [OmniFocus]( to keep up with everything I should be doing. I don’t know about anyone else, but one of my problems with GTD is that if I really do capture all the things that I need or want to do, it’s an overwhelming list. And so I end up writing down little tiny one-offs in my notebook, because peering into the great Pandorian box of OmniFocus is scare. I know, I know. A wiser man would move a chunk of things into a *Later* category. But, yes, I do try, and when I do, I use OmniFocus. (It’s nice because it syncs itself through MobileMe not only to both my Macs but also to my iPhone.

It’s for that reason that I recently picked up [MacJournal]( It looks to be able to do the same magical syncing thing, *and* to post materials to this blog. (How cool is that?)

Every digital image I have taken for the last 5 to 6 years is sitting in a [Lightroom]( library.

All these magical apps! I don’t know at what point I went over to the *iTunes way*, but there it is. I was fairly happy, and reasonably productive, using nothing more than a text editor and outputting materials by writing in Markdown or MultiMarkdown and then running things through a series of Perl or PHP or Ruby scripts or some XML transformations. But it take up time. And no one else was doing it.

Yes, I would love it if my fellow humanists would use some version of plain text or at least used applications whose file formats were suitable to checking into modern version control systems like Subversion or Git, but they aren’t. By and large, most humanists are still using word processing applications, mostly Word, as fancy typewriters. And, hey, it works for them. But I’m not going to bang my head against a wall worrying about their data. I got plenty of my own data to worry about, and I’m hoping to produce more of it every day. The apps I use take reasonably good care of my data and do not lock it in a way that, should one of them fail, I will lose a huge amount of work.

Plus, plus, I just got tired of doing everything at the file level. Yeah, Spotlight works, but do I really feel like adding all the metadata by hand? Metadata is where it’s at when you’re in the middle of an information deluge, and these apps handle metadata superbly, making it easy for me to find stuff.

Are there more apps I use? Yes. Keynote, GraphicConverter, OmniGraffle. To name a few. SketchUp when I can. Photoshop and Illustrator when it’s time to go big.

This list is probably too much, too long. But you asked. (No, not you, but the person standing behind you. Oh? You didn’t know someone was standing behind you? Well, never mind. I don’t think they looked too dangerous.)

### The Sites I Visit ###

I also sometimes get asked how I know all the things, about technology, that I know. The answer is I read a lot. Here is a short list of things I read with a promise that I will work on making it longer in the near future:

* [Finer Things in Mac]( is a non-stop stream of “hey, I didn’t know OS X or app X did that, or could do that.” Sometimes there are, usually well-deserved and well-considered, complaints and/or critiques.
* For general news about the Mac world and sometimes insights either into design matters or the politics of it all, I read John Gruber’s [Daring Fireball](
* For trouble-shooting, I turn to my fellow denizens of the [Macintoshian Achaia](, one of many forums at [Ars Technica](, which has recently gone down hill, I’m afraid, so my only recommendation is for the forum itself. For general technical news — because we don’t live in an Apple-branded universe (thank goodness), I read [Wired]( The writing is sharper than AT, more thoughtful. (And there’s less re-blogging.) For re-blogging, there’s always [Slashdot](, and, increasingly it seems all the major news outlets. But then you knew that already, right?

It’s time to slip on the echo-chamber-noise-cancellation headphones and get back to work.

Filemaker Prices for Academics

A couple of weeks ago I downloaded a trial copy of the latest version of [Filemaker Pro]( — there is no plain Filemaker version, so I don’t know why they keep the “Pro” distinction — to work with the Project Bamboo scholarly narrative corpus. It came in handy and actually helped me discern a few patterns that I intuited but could not grasp readily. (See my previous post on [One Digital Difference][odd] for more.)

I went on to create two more databases with the app: one to contain my *vita*, which struck me as a better way to build a complex document, and one in which to keep research notes. I built the *vita* database both as a way to build my database skills but also because one gets so many requests for a vita, but often with particular information highlighted or, in some cases, with only certain information provided.

For example, I regularly get asked to participate in grants written for the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, which only wants two-page vitas. I am going up for graduate faculty review this year, and they only want to see the last five years of activity, and they prefer to see peer-reviewed activities highlighted.

Now, I can do that by hand in a document or I can let a database build the document from scratch for me. *Hmmmm … which will I choose?*

But Filemaker is not cheap. I had asked the College to purchase it for me, but as anyone in Louisiana Higher Education knows, there is no money. (And, it turns out, there will be no money for many years to come.) I can cry about it, or I can suck it up and regard Filemaker as an investment not only in saving my time in the future, but also in my intellectual/professional development. (And one with less cognitive overhead, and chances of cognitive overload, than my forays into teaching myself programming — *I will learn how to code one day!*

So, here are prices for Filemaker Pro:

* The [Academic Superstore]( has it for $184.95. (I am not sure what the shipping charges, if any, will be.)
* has the full version for $269.99. (I would go for the upgrade version, but I’m not sure that I have a qualifying upgrade product and some of the comments lead me to believe that this is more complicated than I care to explore.)
* The Apple Education Store has it for $179.95 with free shipping, but they will charge me sales tax of $14.37.

Ugh. What I wouldn’t give for my university to have a really cool bookstore that negotiated great prices for faculty, students, and staff. In an ideal world, this wouldn’t be this hard, and this expensive.


One Digital Difference

Recently in the [Digital Humanities On-line Seminar][dh], there arose the question of what difference does being digital make? Or, rather, does it many any real difference apart from speeding things up? That is, has the digital only sped up otherwise conventional work?

I have two responses to such a question. The first is the observation that at least one dimension of this question suggests that speeding things up or making more convenient certain facets of work are trivial. I make no claim that any work getting done within a quickened digital regime is any better than work done by hand — one imagines the shuffling of note cards versus a quick search through a database, but the quality of the work is always in what was written on the cards, what was entered in the database. The absurdity of such claims is revealed in the fact that books and the printing press achieved the same, if not greater, speed of dissemination — and probably of composition later — than the previous tradition of copied manuscripts. So it’s not worth bothering about.

The other observation is that such speeding up or making more convenient is not enough, that unless computing radically transforms humanistic study, it has not lived up to its promise nor potential. My response to this dimension of the complaint is that such *tipping points* are rarely perceived during their own time but are usually discerned later. The tipping points are, in fact, sometimes a matter for historical argument.

That’s all fine and good. Let history decide and all that. In the mean time, I *can* report on one digital difference I have enjoyed in the lat few weeks.

I am finishing up work on my analysis of the scholarly narratives collected by Project Bamboo. In the end, I focused on forty or so texts that I first simply collected as text documents stuffed in a directory. I also had a list of the texts I had chosen in a table in a Word file. The two really needed to get together, and so, since my SQL-foo is still incredibly weak, and I didn’t feel like running `sed` or `awk` through my collection of texts, I decided to download and install [Filemaker Pro][fmp] — for the record that’s a link to the page and I would be indebted to anyone who wanted to buy a copy for me: UL is broke and I am on my own fronting the cost. Filemaker is a cross-platform database app that can also act a as a GUI front-end to MySQL databases, and so I am hoping it will help me make the transition.

I had already read and to some degree categorized all the texts I put into my Filemaker database, and I had already learned a fair amount about them using IBM’s [Many Eyes][me] — that link takes directly to the corpus I uploaded there and some of the visualizations I set up. With the FM database I was able to automate a few simple tasks, like determining the size of each text by counting its words. But where I was really able to fly was being able to do searches either on tags or on the texts themselves looking for particular words or usages. Almost instantly, I could pull up the 7 seven texts that mentioned X or the 12 that used the term Y.

All of this would have been perfectly do-able if all these texts existed only on paper, but the work would have gone much more slowly and I would probably have taken far fewer chances. (It may also be true that the slower work may have allowed for more digestion. I don’t know, and I don’t think it’s worth arguing.) What I liked was the ability to “play a hunch.” For me at least, sometimes scholarship is really about discerning patterns. The problem is at what level of cognition the patterns get distinguished. Quite often, for me at least, I know I sense a pattern but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I may even flounder around, scanning texts or flipping through pages hoping something will “catch my eye” or “jog my memory” or put the thought on the “tip of my tongue.”

One difference “the digital” makes in my own scholarship is being able to pursue a lead as soon as it pops into my mind. That may only amount to speed or convenience, but that’s a significant enough difference for me. Please don’t take my bionic memory, and recall, away from me.


Speeding Up or Getting Around iDisk’s Sloth

Now that we are a two iPhone household, it is time to upgrade Yung to a full-fledged MobileMe account so that she can keep her contacts, calendars, etc. all in sync. And, hey, whaddaya know, there’s also this way to keep your files in sync, if, of course, it doesn’t *fail* every time you use it. (To be honest, it appears to be working okay for Yung, who has smaller, and usually fewer, files than I do — can I help it if I’m the media member of our household?) To be fair, I was added 1.4GB to my local iDisk and told it to sync overnight, which I figured it would take given our narrow “pipe” on our low-budget AT&T DSL connection. (Come on, LUS, bring us our FttH connection *soon*.)

Here’s what greeted me this morning:

Last Sync Failed

Last sync failed

Here’s Apple’s advice:

> `5`. Disable iDisk Sync (click the Stop button in the iDisk pane of MobileMe preferences, in System Preferences), restart your computer, and connect directly to your iDisk. (From the Go menu, choose iDisk, then My iDisk.) If you are able to connect to your iDisk, turn iDisk Sync on again.

> `6`. If the issue persists, reset iDisk syncing on your computer:
>> Turn off iDisk Sync (click the Stop button in the iDisk pane of MobileMe preferences, in System Preferences).
>> Restart your computer.
>> From the Go menu, choose Home.
>> Open the Library folder.
>> For Mac OS X 10.5: Remove the FileSync folder
>> Restart your computer.
>> Re-enable iDisk Sync.

But I am also searching out workarounds — without going to a workaround that works entirely around iDisk, like DropBox. We’ve paid good money for iDisk; it should work. It should work out of the box, but barring that, it should work with some elbow grease applied to it.

One possibility is to use an alternate WebDAV client than the one built into the Finder, e.g. CyberDuck, which I already own (or donated to):

User Name:
Initial Path: (unnecessary)
Port: 80 (default for protocol)
Protocol: WebDAV

It looks like another alternative is to connect directly to the iDisk using ChronoSync.

Stanford Offers iPhone Dev Course for Free

I’ve written before about the amazing efforts by the likes of MIT and now Stanford, with its SEE (Stanford Engineering Everywhere) initiative. Stanford is now offering free video downloads of the class, “iPhone Application Programming,” to the public on its [iTunes U Web site][sid].


Kindles for Everyone?

As we wrap up our sojourn in Louisiana, we are, as I noted previously, spending our last weekend in the Indiana Memorial Union. Our fellow guests are mostly older folks, many look like they are probably retired, who are here to attend a *mini university*. I don’t know what their curriculum looks like, but I do know they are having a great time. I’m guessing that a good portion are alumni, who are simply enjoying a return to campus — not entirely unlike ourselves, so we have enjoyed watching them walk and reminisce.

They are having a great time, and, from what a young woman in the IMU Bookstore told Yung, then spend a lot of money. (We ourselves bought a few tee shirts as well as baseball caps for me and Lily.) Walking around this evening, cooling off after a final supper at Little Tibet, we saw a few of them settled into the first floor lounge of the IMU, reading. One of them was reading on a Kindle. Seeing that, I couldn’t help myself. My exec ed days kicked in, and I turned to Yung and said:

> The smart thing to do would be to roll the price of a Kindle into the overall package and hand each of them one with all their readings already loaded onto the thing. Throw is a laser engraving with the IU logo or a leather carrier with the logo and you’ve given them a great keepsake and a terrific calling card for the university. (Not to mention the fact that the Kindle’s adjustable font sizes are probably going to be appreciated, too.)

Such a “gimmick” probably has only a limited life-time while we all wait for the e-reader platform to develop, but while the opportunity exists, I would certainly use it. I would imagine that at least some exec ed programs are already doing this. Yung later read something in _USA Today_ about a number of high-end hotels doing something similar.

Learning SketchUp

First of all, many thanks to the folks at AtLast Software and at Google for making SketchUp Pro available to educators at such an unbelievable price — it’s now free for instructors!

As I re-acquaint myself with the application and begin to gear up for making illustrations of the crawfish boats, I am finding that there is an amazing variety of educational materials. One is [Google’s own collection of videos](, which are divided into sections for [new users](, intermediate users, advanced users, et cetera. There’s even a video on [modeling a tractor](

There is also something called [The SketchUp Show](, which has a variety of lessons — they are up to Show 56 at this writing.

There is also a [SketchUp Cookbook]( published O’Reilly — link is to Amazon. If you have O’Reilly’s Safari Online Book service, then you can find the cookbook [here](