The meteor has struck. The dust is in the air. Let’s leave the dinosaurs to their fate and concentrate on the mammals: Notes on the New Humanities.

The abstract for my talk tomorrow at Digging the Digital 2013 in at the University of Alberta in Edmonton tomorrow.

bqq. The digital humanities are not some flashy new theory that might go out of fashion. At this point, the digital humanities are The Thing.  There’s no Next about it. And it won’t be long until the digital humanities are, quite simply, “the humanities” (Pannapacker 2011).

It is a truism to note that the definition and scope of the Digital Humanities has been the object of considerable discussion in recent years. Who’s in? Who’s out? Do you have to code? Must you read from a distance? Is DH under theorised? Overly popular with funders? A threat or an opportunity to renew the “old” humanities?

In my view, this focus on DH as a (sub-)discipline of the larger Humanities is unfortunate. Because while I have gradually come to believe that there is such a thing as the Digital Humanities (in the same way that there are other (sub-)disciplinary specialisations like Post-Colonial Theory or Medieval Studies), I have also come to believe that our focus on defining what makes it different is preventing us from paying attention to what is really important about the widespread introduction of computation into humanistic study over the last few years: the extent to which technology is changing the way we do everything else.

In this paper, I would like to look at how digital technologies are fundamentally changing the way Humanists—of all persuasions and sub-disciplines—are conducting their day-to-day business. How they are changing the way we teach, the way we communicate, interact with colleagues and the public, and judge our relative success. In many cases, these changes are so new that our discipline as a whole has, by-and-large, yet to grasp fully the extent to which they have already occurred. In other cases, our ability to benefit from changes that have been recognised is hindered by generational resistance, institutional inertia, and a tendency to see anything digital as belonging to the DH “fad.”

This is a problem we must address. An Open Access, Open Source, social web is an internet that presents Humanists of all stripes with remarkable opportunities: to engage with far larger audiences, to work with a far wider variety of cultural and historical material, and to develop forms of communication and publication that are far better suited to the type of research and teaching we have always done. Our unwillingness to embrace more fully the opportunities before us and develop the skills and knowledge necessary to lead in their development is a terrible missed opportunity.

As my title suggests, I also believe it is a generational problem: the technology that offers us the greatest opportunities has developed far faster than we have been able to integrate it into our disciplinary training. Few Associate Professors have PhDs that are newer than the popular recognition of the most significant Web 2.0 applications; many of our senior faculty began graduate school before the development of the World Wide Web. The only way forward, I argue, is for the dinosaurs to recognise that their days are numbered and to develop a new training model that prepares our students for the mammalian world they are going to inherit.


Fly trap? An interesting way of capturing comment spam

Some time ago, I added a post on some of the more unusual comment spam I received at this site: “It’s fantastic that you are getting thoughts from this paragraph”: Greatest comment spam. In the post, I included direct quotations from some of the funnier comments I’d received.

Recently, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon: all the comment spam I receive now is to my posting on comment spam. My guess is that the spammers search for known comment spam sentences and then attempt to post to that entry, on the assumption that the presence of the quotations means that the blog owner is automatically approving all comments.

Either way, it makes my life a lot easier: if you comment on that page, you are almost certainly a spammer.

Recovering encrypted drives

I’ve been disappointed in Ubuntu for several years now, since they switched to the Unity desktop. And for a number of years, my notebook has been chewing up processor power for the simplest of tasks, something I believe may have to do with the fact that I encrypted my home drive during the last install.

I have a couple of serious deadlines coming up and I can’t afford to work on a computer that freezes for a minute or so everytime I try to add a new reference to Zotero or access Chrome.

So time to update the system. Here were the tasks I saw before me:

  1. Backup my files on the system (that will be /home, /var/www, and a dump of all the SQL)
  2. Install a new system, reformating /home and /var and copying the files from my backups.

To make the backups, I did two things: I backed the files up using scp to an online repository; and I copied all my /home files to /var/www, with the idea that I could leave this directory unmounted during installation, then mount it and copy all the files back to the new /home.

Of course things went wrong:

  1. Using scp I forgot to set the archive option. This meant that all my original date, ownership, and group metadata was lost (replaced by the current datestamp and the username I used to access the backup directory). This is a serious issue, since the files go back 15+ years, though it is less serious than having them all vaporised. In practice, however, this is best used as a backup backup.
  2. Despite my careful checking of notes, I ended up reformating my original /var drive rather than my original /home. This meant that instead of my backups, I had the original, encrypted drive preserved. So I deleted this second backup, but preserved the originals instead.

Unfortunately, this also meant that the problem that started all this also remained: the files were on an encrypted drive, and, worse, one that was now unmounted and unconnected to any files system. If I couldn’t find the hex passkey, all the data would be lost.

Fortunately, after many years of crashing computers, I have learned to keep passwords and the like when I’m told to. And so a quick look in my online backups found the file encryptionPassKey (this is more secure and less useful than it sounds: the file was in the encrypted file system, which means it would be safe should somebody try to crack my drive, but also useless to me if I needed to find it in order to unlock same drive; this is why it is a good idea to back things up twice!).

Mounting and extracting the information was simple from there on following the instructions here

  1. create a new mount point for your home directory, e.g. sudo mkdir /mnt/oldhome
  2. find and mount the partition with the encrypted drive to this location. This means the file .Private. you do this using ecryptfs-recover-private (which you may need to install first).
    1. if you don’t know where the file is, run sudo ecryptfs-recover-private with no options; it will scan your drives for .Private files.
    2. if you do know where the .Private file is, you can specify it directly (e.g. sudo ecryptfs-recover-private /mnt/oldhome/dan/.ecryptfs/.Private
  3. Follow the instructions. You may or may not be asked for your key. You may or may not be asked for the password you used to log in to the system you are currently working on. In my case, I was asked the second.
  4. The drive is mounted read only.

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How to add a twitter feed to Moodle

Like many Digital Humanists, I use twitter a lot: for communicating with colleagues, the general public, and my students. Like most users of twitter (certainly most academics, I suspect), my most common type of tweet is probably one in which I share a resource I have come across—a book, article, website, project, etc. Since I use our university’s Moodle installation to store resources for my students, it would be quite useful to be able to capture a Twitter feed inside our Moodle class space. This post shows how to do it.

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English 4400n: Digital Humanities (Fall 2012)

English 4400n: Digital Humanities is a senior seminar on the digital revolution and the effect it is having on the way we communicate, research, and teach. Most of the course will be concerned with the mechanisms and effects of what we might describe as the second Internet revolution—the growth of cloud-based, often socially-network-oriented, services, applications, and repositories that are radically changing economic, social, and research culture and practices.

By the end of the course, students should have

  • A grounded historical knowledge of the history of personal and networked computing as it applies to the humanities.
  • Hands on experience with basic technological practices in the field
  • Extensive experience reviewing existing Digital Humanities projects
  • An understanding of what the Digital Humanities is and where it may and may not be helpful in the pursuit of their other research interests.


Draft Once per Week Class Schedule in Textile Markup

|-(week#wk1). *1*| *Thur. 6/9*|   |
|/2-(week#wk2). *2*|-(announcement). *Tue. 11/9*| (announcement). *Last day to add/drop* |
|*Thur. 13/9*|   |
|-(week#wk3). *3*| *Thur. 20/9*|   |
|-(week#wk4). *4*| *Thur. 27/9*|   |
|-(week#wk5). *5*| *Thur. 4/10*|   |
|-(week#wk6). *6*| *Thur. 11/10*|   |
|-(week#wk7). *7*| *Thur. 8/10*|   |
|-(week#wk8). *8*| *Thur. 25/10*|   |
|-(week#wk9). *9*| *Thur. 1/11*|   |
|-(week#wk10). *10*| *Thur. 8/11*|   |
|-(week#wk11). *11*| *Thur. 15/11*|  |
|-(week#wk12). *12*| *Thur. 22/11*|   |
|-(week#wk13). *13*| *Thur. 29/11*|   |
|/2-(test#exam). *Exam*|(test). *Sunday 13/12* |(test). *Essay 3 Due on Turnitin* (Midnight) |
|(test). *Mon. 10/12-Tue. 18/12*|(test). *Final Exam (Moodle)* |


Draft Tuesday-Thursday Fall Semester Class Schedule in Textile Markup

|/2-(week#wk1). *1*|(holiday). *Tue. 4/9*|(holiday). *No class*|
| *Thur. 6/9*|   |
|/3-(week#wk2). *2*|/2-. *Tue. 11/9*|   |
|(announcement). *Last day to add/drop* |
|*Thur. 13/9*|   |
|/2-(week#wk3). *3*| *Tue. 18/9*|   |
|*Thur. 20/9*|   |
|/2-(test#wk4). *4*| *Tue. 25/9*|   |
|*Thur. 27/9*|   |
|/2-(test#wk5). *5*| *Tue. 2/10*|   |
|*Thur. 4/10*|   |
|/2-(week#wk6). *6*| *Tue. 9/10*|   |
|*Thur. 11/10*|   |
|/2-(week#wk7). *7*|*Tue. 16/10*|   |
|*Thur. 8/10*|   |
|/2-(week#wk8). *8*| *Tue. 23/10*|   |
|*Thur. 25/10*|   |
|/2-(week#wk9). *9*| *Tue. 30/10*|   |
|*Thur. 1/11*|   |
|/2-(week#wk10). *10*| *Tue. 6/11*|   |
|*Thur. 8/11*|   |
|/2-(week#wk11). *11*| *Tue. 13/11* |   |
|*Thur. 15/11*|  |
|/2-(week#wk12). *12*| *Tue. 20/11*|   |
|*Thur. 22/11*|   |
|/2-(week#wk13). *13*| *Tue. 27/11*|   |
|*Thur. 29/11*|   |
|/2-(week#wk13). *14*| *Tue. 4/12*|   |
|*Thur. 6/12*|   |
|/2-(test#exam). *Exam*|(test). *Sunday 13/12* |(test). *Essay 3 Due on Turnitin* (Midnight) |
|(test). *Mon. 10/12-Tue. 18/12*|(test). *Final Exam (Moodle)* |


MySQL cheatsheet

Some reminders about basic dump and restore for MySQL.

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“It’s fantastic that you are getting thoughts from this paragraph”: Greatest comment spam

One of my fun tasks every day is emptying the comment spam. There’s always something worth reading. Until now, I’ve been trashing them. But I think I’ll start preserving the better ones here. This is a post that should be updated a lot! Read the rest of this entry »

How to fix the refresh time on the WordPress RSS widget

I use the RSS widget to follow other site I run and my Zotero bibliographic database. A major problem, however, is that it is extremely slow to update: it appears that the default update is once every 12 hours.

There is no option for speeding up this refresh rate in the widget GUI. There is a solution for this, though it is ugly and apparently not cross-theme: Read the rest of this entry »

Testing if a list is empty in textpattern

Let’s say you have a section on a webpage like the “current courses” section in the right menu bar my teaching webspace.

This draws its list from articles in the section “teaching” that have “current_interest” as a category.

The problem comes between semesters while I am preparing my syllabi. If no course has a category “current_interest” you end up with a header and no content.

What you need is something that checks whether there is content to display and then presents different material based on the outcome of that check. You might delete the section entirely, or, as I have done, display a placeholder message. Read the rest of this entry »

Installing Zotero in Ubuntu

See the excellent post here.

To install the .desktop, I used the application launcher under system>preferences>main menu.

How to draw a circle in GIMP. Seriously.

I use GIMP, the free graphics software package, all the time. But boy it can be awkward at times. Here’s how to draw a circle or elipse (like the one in the photo below):

Ellipse select tool > Start selecting > Hold down shift > Click on the circle to select it > Edit (Menu) > Stroke Selection – Voila!
Alternative method: Select a circle again > Fill it > Select (menu) > Shrink few pixels > Delete

CP photo of Bill C38 protest, modified to highlight protest sign.


Weaponised viruses: Flame and Stuxnet

The Globe and Mail has an article today about  evidence that the makers of Flame, which it describes as “the most complex pieces of malware ever designed,” are issuing instructions for it to self destruct. The article follows on an astounding New York Times piece on June 1st, linking the Stuxnet virus directly to the United States and Bush and Obama administrations.

Read the rest of this entry »

When everyone’s super… On gaming the system

For most of the last century, university researchers have been evaluated on their ability to “write something and get it into print… ‘publish or perish’” (as Logan Wilson put it as early as 1942 in The Academic Man: A Study in the Sociology of a Profession, one of the first print citations of the term).

As you might expect, the development of a reward system built on publication led to a general increase in number of publications.

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