Category: Uncategorized

Draft to Draft, Tracking The Creative Process

It is amazing how easily one can forget the steps it takes to create a finished and publishable piece of writing. The piece we read on a page is rarely ever the first version of the story. But what happens to the earlier drafts?

We have been reading Henry David Thoreau, mostly his essays in Walden, for the last few weeks. But what we have been reading, the published version of Walden is just one version of it. The essays within Walden were written and rewritten in a span of a few years, which we as a class saw through Digital Thoreau fluid text online which lets the viewer compare multiple drafts of the different chapters of Walden.

Being a Creative Writing major, I am very familiar with the multiple and multiple drafts that come with creating a written piece. These drafts can show the simple correction of grammar or word exchanges to the massive undertaking of adding and removing paragraphs. Sometimes, by accident, I forget what I named the newest draft, so I use Word’s “compare” feature which pulls in two different documents to compare what was added and removed from the “original” draft to the “newer” draft. I have learned through this class that this type of mark-up is called TEI.

We spoke briefly in class about TEI and how to use different code sets to tell the computer to read or set the text up in different manners. Unlike HTML coding, TEI focuses on telling the viewer how the text should look. As in what is the beginning and end of a paragraph, what is a line, as well as how the text was edited. This means particular coding inside the brackets to show what was added and what had been removed from draft to draft.

What I find fascinating about this, is that it allows us to see the fluid motion of one’s thoughts and ideas as they find their way on paper. It’s a way to see an individual’s creative process. Although we can’t exactly use this process to find out why Thoreau made the changes he did (we can speculate but not know for sure). I am curious though if this kind of analyzation can be used to see how and why current writers change their drafts.

What I’ve Learned Throughout the Semester

When I first started this class, I never really thought of how technology came to be, particularly with how it affects communication. When I started to read The Information by James Gleick, I started to become aware of how communication has evolved over time and how technology has impacted that. The Information described how communication originally started. There was really no forms of technology back then, so to communicate people would use drums. The beat of the drums would communicate a message. However, in order to hear the message you had to be within range of the drum.  Then, communication shifted to telegraphs. With a telegraph you would send codes that represented different words or messages. Here we can see how technology is slowly started to evolve. I picked to focus on these two forms of communication because they are the ones that relate most closely to the technology we have today. With the technology that we have today, such as iPads, and iPhones, we can see how the drums and telegraph has impacted our communication. With communicating by using drum beats, it was often easy to misunderstand or misinterpret a message. The same can be true for when we use text messages or email. We can interpret a text message or email one way, but the way that someone on the receiving end of that text message or email may interpret the message in a different way. Such as with using emojis. When you send an emoji, you know what you want that emoji to represent but the person receiving that message may perceive it differently. With communicating using the telegraph, people would use shorten codes because they were cheaper to send. When we send text messages, we sometimes use codes as well, such as typing “u” instead of “you.” We don’t use those shortcuts as a way to save money, but as a way to save us time. Throughout the course of reading The Information, it became clear to me that even though technology has evolved during time, the way in which we communicate has not.

Looking at communication, I have been able to see how communication has evolved technically. Just like how we use symbols when texting or how people used to use codes when sending a telegraph, symbols and codes can be used when working with atom. Atom is space that uses a command line and a series of codes. For instance, atom can be used to keep track of folders or journals within your computer. With atom, I have started to keep a journal of what we’ve been learning in class and different things that have happened throughout the semester. This has helped me keep track of the different technical computations we have been learning. In atom, there are a lot of codes or symbols that represent different commands or shortcuts. For example, typing “*title*” it would show the word “title” in italics. By typing “**title**” it would show the word title in bold print. Through atom, you can also insert pictures from the internet and make them appear as if you’re looking at an internet page. When Lawerence Lessig came to speak at the college, I wrote a journal post on the event. By writing it through Atom, I was able to organize it in a way that was easy to read, including a picture of Lessig. Using atom has helped me recognize the way in which technology and communication. As the drum beats represented different codes or messages, lead to the telegraph using codes and symbols to communicate messages, then to atom using symbols or shortcuts to communicate through writing.

Learning about technology and communication has made me look at the way I use technology. When I pick up my phone I now think of how we got to where we are today with technology. How the varies forms of technology and ways of communication has lead to me being able to pick up my phone and respond to a message within seconds. The way that technology and communication evolved, has transformed our society and will continue to do so. Every day, there’s a new technology device or a different way to communicate such as through new emijos. Technology and communication will continue to transform and change the way we interact with people, but will always continue to connect in some way with past forms of communication or technology.

Growing in Confidence and Knowledge With Computers

Since the first day of this class, I have constantly been learning new things and expanding my knowledge of computers. One of the things that has been most interesting to me has been learning how to use coding and Virtual Box to find out more information about texts such as Walden. Rather than reading through the book to find specific things, Virtual Box allows you to easily navigate the text and pick out the information you are looking for.

Read more

Digital Literacy and Media

Time for the Comm major to talk about his major! I’ve really enjoyed this class and the implications it has towards the study of literature and the nature of the digital humanities in general. Yet, as we’ve gone through the semester, the primary means of application that regularly pop into my head always have to do with my studies regarding Communication, primarily Journalism and Media, rather than literature.

So first I wanna talk about something pretty basic, Slack. I heard of Slack before we used it for class, but I had never actually used it or got to see its interface before. It reminds me a lot of the app “GroupMe,” which allows for group messaging regardless of what kind of device you have, but Slack is far more involved. I really appreciate the potential for Google Drive and Trello integration, Slack really is the perfect communication tool for collaboration. I’ve been involved with the school paper, The Lamron, since I arrived at Geneseo and I’ve always been frustrated with some of the paper’s logistical operations. The paper communicates primarily through email, and I find it’s easy for important messages to get missed or lost, and relying on email attachments to share articles presents its own slew of challenges. Next year, I get to serve as the Lamron’s Copy Editor, and since I’ll have more of an influence over the paper I may try and exert some of that to tweak how it operates. I love how we have the separate channels for our projects, assignments, book recommendations in class and how seamlessly we can talk to one another. I have a pretty clear vision of a slack channel for each separate Lamron section where writing assignments can be distributed, articles can be submitted, and questions can be answered. I’m excited to take some of what has worked in our Digital Humanities class and use it to better the school organization that I work so hard for.

So that’s a practical takeaway from this class that I hope to benefit from, but before I close out this post I want to get meta. This class has gotten me to consider data in ways I never could have fathomed, for obvious reasons considering our readings. I particularly enjoyed our class discussion regarding whether or not there are differences between data and information, and what those differences may be. I subscribe to the belief that they are different: data is simply the words on a page while information is the meaning we interpret from those words. How can I apply this way of thinking to my work outside of this class? The data-mining Thoreau project has gotten me to consider words in a new way, there’s more information to be obtained from that data than just the message communicated when words on a page are read in order. For example: as my group was learning to use Pyhton in order to extract data, we practiced with a programming package called NTLK. Basically, this allows us to find patterns and trends in a text more easily than if we went solely through the command line. One of the texts automatically included in NTLK was the classic comedic film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This was the text that I used to mess around with the software and it made me realize how much more information can be extracted from a film outside of just watching it. When I write for the Lamron, and in general, more often than not it’s some kind of film analysis. This potential to mine scripts opens up a whole new world of analytical possibilities. Did you know the word “swallow” is only said 10 times in that movie? Yet it is still one of the film’s most indelible quotes, which goes to illustrate the importance of context and delivery rather than frequency when it comes to important movie moments.

I really appreciate this class and the way it’s inspired me to consider analysis from a fresh perspective. Data was always something I figured was better left to STEM types, yet our work has shown me that there is plenty to be gained by anyone if they develop a basic understanding of digital technologies. This class has proved to me time and time again that the divide between technical fields of study and our own more creative endeavors really doesn’t exist.

Update: I thought I knew more than I did

I did not expect this class to be this way at all. I’m not sure what I expecting, but it was not this. I had never done any sort of coding before or even understood the complex inner-workings of things as simple as a website. In my first blog post, I said that I thought I understood computers pretty well. I realize now how wrong I was.

I recognize that we are barely scratching the surface of computing and that amazes me. Personally, Markdown is very simple compared to HTML. I love having the knowledge to work in Markdown. I find it difficult to remember all of the specific codes for HTML, while Markdown seems to be much more introductory. I find it very similar to when I learned Spanish. Learning basic Spanish was pretty simple, but once I learned all the tenses and conditionals and when to use them is where I got lost. For me, Markdown is basic Spanish, while HTML is all the added parts.

Something I struggle with in this class is recording what I am learning. My computer works slowly with Virtual Box, so I cannot bounce between it and Atom to record exactly what we are doing when working in Virtual Box whether it regards Python or WordPress. Because the computer language is so precise, I forget the specifics when I try to document how we did what we did later. Recording in the moment causes me to fall behind the class and miss things. I am going to start taking photos of my screen using my phone or screen-capture to try to record what I am learning more efficiently.

I have learned a lot though in the class, but my lack of records makes it difficult to recreate. What I found most valuable from this class is using Virtual Box and Python. There are so many things that you can do in Virtual Box, Python, and even Jupyter. I think it is fascinating to analyze texts using these programs. There are so many things you can learn from language-processors and these programs that recognize patterns. I am excited to be in the Thoreau Data group, because I think we can learn so much more about Thoreau through this. I have previously taken the Thoreau Harding Project Class with Dr. Gillin and will be working on the cabin this summer as well. Being able to use this technology will definitely help me understand Thoreau more.

Another thing that this class will eventually help me with is computing for children when I am a teacher. There are children’s games and apps which incorporate coding and teach them HTML. Honestly, I bet if I downloaded the games it would help me in this class. Having even the basic HTML knowledge I have gotten can help me support my future students. Who knows, maybe I’ll have a future coding-genius in one of my classes!

A Difference in Perspective

When beginning this class I thought I was well versed in technology. I had always been the person that my friends and family would confide in with their technological problems and I was almost always able to solve any problem. After taking this class and exploring new technological as well as conceptual ideas I now realize that the knowledge I possessed at the beginning of the semester is such a small part of all the knowledge available pertaining to technology and that I did not know as much as I had previously thought. My view of technology has now become so much broader and I can see the different ways in which it can be utilized. I connected during class discussion the ways in which this class allowed us to use our computers in different ways to Walden in Thoreau’s description of the change in use of wood. In Walden by Thoreau, he describes the importance of wood, saying that “It is remarkable what a value is still put upon wood even in this age” and that “after all our discoveries and inventions no man will go by a pile of wood”. The material of wood is still just as valuable today as it was in the time in which Walden was written but what has changed is the usage of the material. For example, many of us do not use wood to warm our houses as Thoreau did during winter at the pond but we still use wood for things such as building. This exact logic can be applied to the way in which we are using our computers in this class. Our computer has not changed in importance but the way in which we are using the technology has changed causing us to view it in a new way. The ways in which we use our computers and technology will continue to change as time progresses just as the uses of natural resources such as wood have changed.

The novel Metadata truly encompasses how this class has changed my perspective on technology and the way in which I look at data in general. The quote which I find myself constantly referring back to is “a roomful of books is not a library” (p.13). The concept of Metadata is one that was entirely new to me prior to this class and the idea that the organizational system used in a library is a form of metadata is fascinating to me. Organizational systems are all around us and we have been trained in the ability of “coding” these systems. For example we understand that a space in between two chunks of text signifies two separate paragraphs, we have been trained in the ability to “code” the system of “text organization”.  Without the Dewey Decimal System a library is simply a room full of books just as when we were editing text in XML we had to follow a strict coding pattern or else it is simply jumbled letters, numbers and symbols. In order to know where to find the book you are looking for you must possess the knowledge of the “Dewey Decimal System” and in order to understand XML you must possess the knowledge of the specific syntax/system used in XML. When participating in the “hands on” aspects of this course such as exploring the command line in VirtualBox or plain text editing in Atom I have learned that our computers are so much more powerful than we think. As a society many of us are using only a small part of what our computers are truly capable of simply because of ignorance and this course has taught me to seek out different ways in which we can utilize technology. Metadata is all around us, society is made up of metadata and certain organizational systems and once you open your mind to seeing these organizational semiotic systems it is impossible to “unsee” it.

My Life in Folders

As illustrated in my first blog post of the semester, I would consider myself the exact opposite of being “technologically inclined”. Before beginning my journey to technological greatness in the beginning of this course, I had very basic skills of computation (I essentially knew how to use Google and Microsoft Word efficiently).

Since then, however, I have acquired many skills with my computer. While I have learned how to navigate and operate advanced computer applications like Virtual Box, Atom, and Omeka, the most groundbreaking skill I’ve learned so far in this class may seem rudimentary. In this class, I have learned how to make and use (wait for it) … a folder.

I will give you a moment to react. Laugh, show it to a friend, become genuinely concerned for my well-being, these are all reasonable responses. However, before taking this class, this is quite literally a skill I did not have and never thought to learn how to apply. Work saved to my computer were regularly titled with “My name, the title of the class I was taking, the name of the assignment, and the date”. All files were simply saved in my documents folder (pre-installed on the computer) and searched for in the search bar every time I needed access to them. While these bits of meta data were beneficial, I was not being as efficient with my computer as I could have been; and that’s exactly what this class, Literature and Literary Study in the Digital Age, was supposed to help me in doing.

To quote Jeffrey Pomerantz in his novel Metadata, “a roomful of books is not a library”. Before my application of folders, my computer’s File Explorer was this roomful of books. Now, I have separate folders for every class I’ve taken, even with subfolders within them to separate and organize different units. This simple skill has made the way I organize my work significantly more efficient and easier to access, similar to the way meta data is categorized in a library.

Technically speaking, this was not a hard skill to learn. My very first Atom journal, titled “How to make a folder in Windows!”, contains literally two steps. The first, “Click new folder tab at the top left for standalone folder”. The second being “To create a folder within a folder, right click on an existing folder, then click new, then click folder”.

Conceptually, however, my application of this skill connects deeply to the topic of meta data and organization. To refer back to that “roomful of books”, a library would not function without methods of organizing meta data like this. In a library, books are shelved in categories like genre, and subsequent sub categories like author, and title. These bits of information in turn creating a call number. This method has been used by librarians for thousands of years, and we would virtually not have libraries without it.

In addition, the skill I learned from learning how to make folders was not simply to press a few buttons to create a folder. It was, in fact, how to apply these folders to my computer’s filing system. With each folder now comes a class name, with each sub folder a unit, and within those sub folders came my work. In essence, I have since created a library of my own works and writing, containing the basic means for a call number, and that’s pretty cool (if I do say so myself).

Besides ease of access on my computer, the application of this new skill has truly affected the way I think in the “big picture”. Upon realizing how much more sense it makes to organize files based on categories of meta data, I have begun to think about what other metaphorical “folders” I could create in my life. The way I take notes has changed, I now outline topics in the form of topic, subtopic, sub-subtopic, and so on. Even the way my drawers are organized have changed. I now have a clothing drawer for just my pants. Within that drawer, a section for yoga pants, a section for jeans, and a section for dress pants. While this may seem insane to some, my life has become organized entirely by meta data, both metaphorically and literally, down to my underpants.

This application of a simple computer skill to my real life is exactly what I’ve come to learn the digital humanities to be. The metaphorical bridge between technology and life as we know it. Essentially, our world is composed of information. In digital humanities, we work to apply this information to ourselves and the human condition. However, without an understanding of simple organizational methods using meta data, sorting and working to understand this information would be fundamentally impossible.

My Growth

In Dr. Schacht’s English 340 class we have been working a lot with different types of programs and devices. We were asked the question “What are the most interesting things I know now that I didn’t know at the beginning of the semester?” I feel that I have learned a lot this semester about computers then I have in years. Dr. Schacht’s class has pushed me to learn about all the different types of computer programs and websites. The most interesting thing I believed I learned so far in this semester is how to use the program VirtualBox.

Read more

Learning is Growing

They say that you are the pilot for your own path of learning. In taking this course, I really feel like I have taken that role of being in charge of my own learning in a whole new direction. A direction that at first, I was pretty uncomfortable with, a direction that has opened my eyes to so much more than I was seeing. For instance, the abundance of possibilities that a machine, our machines we have right in front of us, can do. A machine that can do so much that us as humans cannot even complete in a quarter of the time it takes for the machine to do so. Our machines are so much smarter and quicker than us! In another essence, humans are capable of reading in between the lines, making meaning behind something that is not explicitly stated, something our computer cannot do. How interesting, one aspect we hold over the technological world.

I would say the absolute most interesting thing I now know, that I did not in the beginning of the semester is XML – Extensible markup language. Extensible, meaning it allows us to extend our perception of what a document really is, what it really entails. Markup, meaning the explicit language used, more specifically the tags (opening, closing) or components of it. Lastly, the language part simply allows us to define other languages in a computable way. XML is a language for describing the culture of textual content and data which has opened my eyes to a greater dimension of the capabilities of technology. I mean, how incredible! Learning XML has made me think deeper, in a different way about things that I have not before. For example, the spaces in a book. WHO has EVER read a book and noticed or commented on the spacing between the lines, paragraphs, sentences, etc?! I certainly haven’t! Well, although I haven’t, someone has and to that someone, it is SUPER important. Quick side note in relation to life because I am such a stickler for life learning, different things will be more important than others to different people and having this view on technology is important because one little incorrect comma has the ability to alter an entire command, just like one thing to someone in life has the ability to change something immensely that maybe wouldn’t affect another person. In saying this, precision is absolute key. A simple misspelling or typing of a character or symbol can invalidate an entire document. In playing around with XML, I took a simple webpage, as a matter of fact our digital humanities group page, and placed it into a google sheet with a specific command line [ (=IMPORTXML(“websitelink”,”//item”) ]. With this I was amazed! The computer recognized it was XML and put it into an organized google sheet. It took all the content and did stuff with it because the content has the structure that the specific markup language has given it. The computer not only went to the webpage, but straight to the part where the item is (that level) and took all the items and separated things into data (author, ID #, time, etc). Imagine how l o n g it would’ve taken a human to organize and sort that for a whole blog post webpage. XML tells us that the documents are really a hierarchy of information, a hierarchy that it can easily organize into different “families” or “categories”. It makes things more visually appealing for the ease of our eyes, the webpage verses the breakdown of components in the webpage. However, in doing this, behind the webpage itself was this incredible amount of organization that is so interesting. In essence, XML provides a way to structure textual data (all the organizational information) and makes it so a machine can do something with it (make the webpage!). You can use XML to describe the various structural components of a novel by transforming it into a Microsoft document and telling it to separate paragraphs by a line or a different font for headings, etc. XML has the capabilities to do all of this! Overall, I have learned that XML is a markup language that consists of a set of rules for encoding documents in a format that is both human-readable and machine-readable. It allows you to separate information from the presentation of that information. This was definitely the most interesting thing I have learned thus far. This knowledge has changed me because it has made me realize that the computer is much more behind our perception. In other words, the webpage is much more than what we see of it.

The Impact of Information

I think the most interesting thing I have learned this semester is about how information is organized and spread. Due to the internet, there is a whole world of knowledge at my immediate disposal, but I never understood how this knowledge came to be organized and processed so that it could be accessed by a very large number of people. Learning about metadata and organization schemas like the Dublin Core has made me think about this. English 340 has also taught me about the impact that digital accessibility to information has on society, and about the idea of developing a “free culture,” in which this digital information is accessible to all.

I realized that there is so much information I take for granted, including even the word “information.” Information only becomes “informative” after it has been processed from data, which comes from metadata. And while people commonly define “metadata” as “data about data,” this definition is too simple, as one must ask what exactly data is (Pomerantz 19). Data is potential information, so metadata describes a “potentially informative object” (Pomerantz 26). I now understand that computing and access to information requires an immense amount of work and organization of metadata, as resources must be organized in a way that enable people to find what they are looking for. Central to organizing resources is the storage of data within them, for without this, finding information would be very chaotic. This point was very well demonstrated by one of my classmates last week, who said that “a room full of books is not a library,” as a library is organized using metadata so that there are easy ways to find books. Without metadata, information would simply be data: having the potential to inform people but unable to do so without organization. This leads me to a section of the book Metadata, that got me thinking about a different class I am taking this semester (Philosophy 207: Modern Philosophy). Pomerantz asks, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it generate information” (21). In Philosophy 207, I learned about George Berkeley, who asked a very similar question in the eighteenth century: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Berkeley believed that the answer is no: as an idealist, he thought that objects and events only exist in the consciousness of the perceiver, and to exist is to be an object of actual perception. Therefore, if a tree falls and there is no sensory perception of it, it does not make a sound. One could make a similar argument in terms of organization of data: if data is not organized, and cannot be perceived, it cannot generate information. To move from the conceptual aspects of this to the technical, I practiced organizing data by metadata when I made an account at Omeka.net and uploaded items that related to me. I then categorized them according to elements of the Dublin Core, a metadata schema. For example, I uploaded my resume and under title wrote, “Lizzie Gellman’s resume,” under subject wrote “Lizzie Gellman,” and under description put the date that the resume was made.

Thinking about how information is organized leads me to another interesting thing I learned this semester about the spread of information and increased regulation of creativity in society. I learned that information sharing is being limited by copyright laws that do more to protect certain industries against competition than to make sure artists are compensated for their work. I learned about the idea of cultivating a “free culture,” which says that the public should be able to benefit from past creativity instead of having work that is limited to certain audiences. These limited audiences include wealthy people, and those who attend a college or university (which is often people with money). This means that information distribution is limited, as many scholarly works are only available on digital libraries in which readers must pay for a lot of the content, such as JSTOR. As a result, the wealthy and educated have much more access to digital information than others do. After reading excerpts from Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture, I realized that copyright laws often benefit the rich and powerful, especially those who make the copyright laws (making more money from them than the creators of copyrighted content), and result in underprivileged people being deprived of access to information. This reminds me of reading about the information gap in my Communication 160 class, which says that there is a growing disparity in amounts and types of information available to people because technology is more accessible to some than others—and the majority of these “some” are the wealthy.

These are just some concepts that I have spent a lot of time thinking about this semester that I had previously never considered. Digital humanities have expanded my understanding of what it means to be a humanities student. I have often been asked “what I am going to do with an English major,” a question that has always frustrated me because I see so many benefits from my major. I explain that I learn skills, such as thinking critically, which are useful and important to anyone. However, this course has given me an additional answer: English 340 has given me a way of linking those skills to the digital world, and has allowed me to make interdisciplinary connections that increase my understanding of different subjects. Connecting English studies to the digital world has not only made information accessible to those on the Internet, but also has allowed me to use this information to make connections in other subjects and use skills I learn in my major to explore technology and expand my knowledge of many subject areas.