Archive for October, 2007

Aristotle and the internet

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

From Tim Madigan, “Aristotle’s Email – Or, Friendship In The Cyber Age” (Philosophy Now):

Often discussions of personal relationships in the Cyber Age dwell upon the negative ­– the superficial connections, the dangers of identity theft, and information overload. Aristotle does warn us that, at least where friendships of the good are concerned, there are limitations to just how many it is feasible to handle. He writes, “To be a friend to many people in the way of the perfect friendship is not possible.”

Still, it seems to me that email has made it possible for friendships of all three categories [for utility, pleasure, the good] to thrive and prosper in ways Aristotle could never have anticipated. Of course nothing beats personal proximity, but in our highly mobile society this is often not feasible. Email has given new opportunities for continuing friendly ties from a distance.

Dour old Arthur Schopenhauer once sarcastically wrote that if you really want to know how you feel about a person, take note of the impression an unexpected letter from him makes on you when you see it on your doormat. I would amend this by saying that an unexpected email from a friend from the past can brighten up one’s day tremendously. As Aristotle reiterated more than once, we humans are social creatures. Email has added to the social realities of our lives.

Open Library

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

Adding this grandiose Open Library system to the Internet Archive strikes me as simply brilliant. In this case “fully open” is defined as “a product of the people: letting them create and curate its catalog, contribute to its content, participate in its governance, and have full, free access to its data. In an era where library data and Internet databases are being run by money-seeking companies behind closed doors, it’s more important than ever to be open.”

But simply building a new database wasn’t enough. We needed to build a new wiki to take advantage of it. So we built Infogami. Infogami is a cleaner, simpler wiki. But unlike other wikis, it has the flexibility to handle different classes of data. Most wikis only let you store unstructured pages — big blocks of text. Infogami lets you store semistructured data…

Each infogami page (i.e. something with a URL) has an associated type. Each type contains a schema that states what fields can be used with it and what format those fields are in. Those are used to generate view and edit templates which can then be further customized as a particular type requires.

The result, as you can see on the Open Library site, is that one wiki contains pages that represent books, pages that represent authors, and pages that are simply wiki pages, each with their own distinct look and edit templates and set of data.

Slowly, slowly

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

It’s a shame the JPEG 2000 bandwagon has been creeping along at such a slow pace, but this seems like good news from the LOC.


Friday, October 26th, 2007

Via DigitalKoans, a report on new open source OCR software.  Now — someone get busy and train it to read polytonic ancient Greek texts accurately …


Friday, October 26th, 2007

I hadn’t seen that word before, but these are videos associated with the Roman art exhibit at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, with an RSS feed for keeping up with the newest ones.

67 percent

Friday, October 26th, 2007

This topic has come up before and I imagine the trend will continue:

Colleges Leave E-Mail to Google and Microsoft

Seattle–“Should our university even be in the e-mail business?” Wendy Woodward King found herself asking last year. Her answer, the director of technology support services at Northwestern University told a session at the Educause technology meeting, was no. And that’s why Northwestern students get their e-mail “” which is hosted, free of charge, by Google Apps Education Edition. Bryant University, in Rhode Island, also decided to outsource, but went with another free service, Microsoft’s Windows Live@edu. And in both cases, a prime driver behind the decision was that students were already using one of these services when they came to campus. At Northwestern, Ms. Woodward King found, “90 percent of our students already had Google’s Gmail. When students forwarded their campus e-mail to a non-campus account, 67 percent of them did it to Gmail. Students told us they wanted Google.” By going with Google, she says, the university avoided costs in maintaining and upgrading an e-mail system, and took advantage of state-of-the-art technology that Northwestern could never supply. Bryant was particularly interested in staying in touch with alumni, and giving them one e-mail address for life, says Art Gloster, vice president for information services. “Many of our students already used Microsoft’s MSN Hotmail services,” he says. Moving to Live@edu, with an “” address, kept the transition from student to alumni easy and seamless. More than 50 percent of the 2007 graduating class signed up. –Josh Fischman

SSRN does Classics: old wine in new wineskins?

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

I always find myself wanting humanists to think about using the net for more than “let’s just do what we’ve always done, only on line now” (the BMCR syndrome, if you will). But still this expansion of SSRN into Classics seems to be a step forward.

Good to keep Peter Suber’s reaction in mind though:

On the one hand, I’m glad that my field, philosophy, will finally have a discipline-wide repository. On the other, SSRN imposes restrictions unheard of at other OA repositories. For example, it adds an SSRN watermark to the pages of some deposited articles and only allows links to SSRN papers in abstracts. As Vincent Müller pointed out to me, it doesn’t support data harvesting by ROAR. And I don’t like the PDF-only limitation. I plan to monitor the site to see whether SSRN lifts these restrictions.

In-house machine translation at Google

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

from Google Blogoscoped:

Google switched to a new translation system for the remaining language pairs on the Google Translator which were so far provided by Systran. The translator help files don’t mention this yet, but it might be possible that the new translations are the results of Google’s in-house machine translation efforts.

In a quick comparison between Systran translation and Google translation of the English < --> German language pair, I couldn’t see a clear winner yet (though I get the feeling Google’s results are slightly superior), but a lot of garbage results on both ends. Translating a sample blog post into German, for instance, was so bad that you’d have a hard time making any sense out of what was written if you don’t speak English. While it might help to get the point across for some texts, you start to wonder if these kind of translations in the wild will cause more understanding in the world, or more misunderstanding.

No more old wine in new wineskins

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

Tom Elliott has put out a new call for papers that looks good, “The Publication and Study of Inscriptions in the Age of the Computer.”

Joint Library Digital Classics accessions

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

The Joint Library of the Hellenic and Roman Societies and the Institute of Classical Studies has a new blog which will contains updates to, among other things, library news, accommodation and shelving issues, and major accessions. In addition, items of interest to the Digital Classicist community–whether studies of Classics and computing or digital resources on CDRom or online–will be posted with a “digitalclassicist” tag. I’m going to see if we can’t syndicate that list somehow…


Thursday, October 18th, 2007

Alan Somerstein, helped by several research assistants, has directed a substantive new site with ancillary discussions focused on the oath in ancient Greece. Careful definition of the phenomenon, a database of over 3700 occurrences, and a spreadsheet of sources for the citations. No word on licensing specifics, but, “As promised from the start, the database is now being made available for general use.”

(Via Rogueclassicism)

Multiverse & Sketchup: Doom of Second Life?

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

from Shawn Graham’s Electric Archaeology:

From an archaeological point of view, creating 3d representations of a site using Sketchup, and then moving that with the terrain into an online world, with the associated annotations etc could really be revolutionary – what immediately springs to mind is that this would make a far better way of publishing a site than a traditional monograph. Internet Archaeology (the journal) has been trying for just that kind of thing for a while. Maybe IA should host a world in Multiverse…?

New Plato translations, under CC license

Monday, October 15th, 2007

Cathal Woods, philosophy professor at Virginia Wesleyan University, writes:

together with a student, i have prepared new translations of plato’s euthyphro, apology (which we’re calling “socrates’ defense”), crito, and the death scene from phaedo. they’re free to all under a creative commons license.
they’re available via
or directly,
the last being an omnibus containing all 4, together with front matter.
can you make a posting about them on the stoa blog?

Nice! It’s great to see OA taking hold in the humanities.

Fitzpatrick on CommentPress

Monday, October 15th, 2007

from Kathleen Fitzpatrick, “CommentPress: New (Social) Structures for New (Networked) Texts,” Journal of Electronic Publishing, Fall 2007:

… CommentPress demonstrates the fruitfulness of reimagining the technologies of electronic publishing in service to the social interconnections of authors and readers. The success of the electronic publishing ventures of the future will likely hinge on the liveliness of the conversations and interactions that they can produce, and the further new writing that those interactions can inspire. CommentPress grows out of an understanding that the chief problem involved in creating the future of the book is not simply placing the words on the screen, but structuring their delivery in an engaging manner; the issue of engagement, moreover, is not simply about locating the text within the technological network, but also, and primarily, about locating it within the social network. These are the problems that developers must focus on in seeking the electronic form that can not just rival but outdo the codex, as a form that invites the reader in, that acknowledges that the reader wants to respond, and that understands all publication as part of an ongoing series of public conversations, conducted in multiple time registers, across multiple texts. Making those conversations as accessible and inviting as possible should be the goal in imagining the textual communications circuit of the future.

Roy Rosenzweig (1950-2007)

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

For some reason I never had a chance to meet Roy Rosenzweig in person, but I appreciated his scholarship, communicated with him by email a couple of times to discuss wikipedia, and heard lots about him from his admirers, of whom there were many. His was a very strong and very important voice in our digital humanities community. I also want to say that his closest friends who supported him to the end can be absolutely certain that their love and concern meant everything to him. I know that for a fact!


Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

posted to the TEI list

Wiki2Tei converter 1.0

We are pleased to announce the first release of the Wiki2Tei software. Wiki2Tei is a converter from the mediawiki format to XML (TEI vocabulary).

The mediawiki format is used by wikimedia fundation wikis (Wikipedia, Wikibooks, Wikisource), and many other wikis using the mediawiki software. Large amounts of free hight-quality structured texts are available in this format. These texts are used more and more often in NLP (natural language processing) projects. However, the mediawiki parser is oriented towards rendition and the mediawiki syntax is complex and hard to parse.

The Wiki2Tei converter makes available the information contained in wiki syntax (structuration, highlighting, etc.), and allows to properly retrieve the plain text. This conversion is intended to preserve all the properties of the original text. Wiki2Tei is closely coupled with the mediawiki software, allowing to convert all the features of the mediawiki syntax.

The Wiki2Tei converter provides a rich set of tools for converting mediawiki text from several sources (file, mediawiki database) and managing collections of files to be converted. The TEI vocabulary used is documented, according to the TEI Guidelines, in an ODD document. The code is open source and may be downloaded from the SourceForge download area:

The web site contains full documentation and a “demo”:

A mailing list is open:

Bernard Desgraupes,
Sylvain Loiseau

Instant-on startup screens

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

Ashlee Vance (by way of Siva Vaidhyanatha) discusses Splashtop from DeviceVM:

… one must suspect that Microsoft is none too pleased to see a plucky start-up trying to gain first touch with customers. It could be very frustrating for Redmond if thousands/millions of users go straight to their Yahoo! or Google e-mail without ever glancing at Windows or if they perform searches via Firefox all day long because that’s where DeviceVM pushed them…

Stretch your mind a bit more, and you could see a company like Google pushing its own desktop plans via something like the Splashtop software. Why even bother encountering Windows when you can have an instant-on machine that leads to search, e-mail, documents, photos, music and all the rest? …

We’ve seen the Splashtop software in action, and it boots as advertised. You hit the power button, and the software fires up right away. You can then opt to head toward Firefox, Skype or whatever a particular OEM decides to bundle on a machine or do nothing and allow the operating system to boot as usual. (Go get your cup of coffee.)

Mutatis mutandis

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

Laura Cohen’s post at Library 2.0: an academic’s perspective sets out some reasons for a “training wheels culture” in librarianship. I think folks in the humanities will recognize the syndrome as well:

Experience. If you’ve had little experience learning technology on your own, it can be hard to get started. It takes a certain kind of strength to wrap your mind around a new technology skill, especially one that is somewhat beyond your present skill level. There’s a problem-solving, experimental, hard-driving, trial-and-error mindset that you need to embrace. Self-training in technology is in itself a skill that you need to cultivate by actually doing it, repeatedly.

Habit. If you’ve expected, and received, training for almost everything you’ve learned, you’ve developed a dependent mindset. The environment has fit itself around you, rather than the other way around. You’ve been enabled. Your habitually tell yourself that there is someone around to help you and that’s the way it should be. All you need to do is ask.

Roles. If certain staff become too highly associated with technology training, other staff may become passive. This makes for a difficult paradox: having technology trainers on staff is a sign of administration’s support for this staffing role, yet relying too much on these trainers can breed passivity.

Attitude. Learning new skills is fun. It really is! If you dread it, or consider it a chore, or get easily frustrated, or fear failure, then you’ll have problems.

Learned helplessness. This is always a problem when it appears, and I don’t know how, exactly, to deal with it. I’ve heard this kind of thing often enough: “I’m just not good at this.” “This is always hard for me.” “I know this isn’t my strength.” “I’m a traditional librarian.” And so on. When an individual says these things often enough, and over a period of years, this person comes to believe it. Repetition creates immutable facts on the ground.

Ability. On the other hand, let’s face it: some people are just not technically inclined. You may say they have no place in librarianship, and you may be right. But let’s think about this further. I’m terrible with numbers, strong with words. With a more open mind toward numbers, and some vigorous effort, I could probably increase my skills. But I’ll never be as good as those for whom numeric reasoning comes easy. I think it’s unrealistic to expect that every librarian will have very strong technical skills. On the other hand, the profile of our skill levels will certainly shift upward in the coming years. In the meantime, we need to face facts. Some of our colleagues are technically weaker than others and they’ll stay that way. These people have other strengths, and we should cultivate and make good use of these strengths. But we also shouldn’t entirely give up on training them in new skills.

Intrinsic difficulty of the skill. Some skills are harder to learn than others. I’m unhappy when I encounter librarians who struggle to maintain Web pages made up of a bunch of links organized into unordered lists. I’m much more understanding of librarians who need help with higher-level skills…say, for importing RSS feeds into a Web page.

Time. Some people learn nearly everything on their own. More power to them! This involves a level of commitment that not everyone can match. One part of this commitment is time, including significant time off hours. We can’t expect this of everyone. This isn’t reasonable, or even desirable. In addition, many of us are overwhelmed with job responsibilities. This is why we have trainers on staff.

Strategic direction. If your library is moving in a strategic direction that expects certain new skills, then it makes sense to provide training for them. Unfunded mandates are not good policy. In my case, I’ve been making a focused pitch for importing RSS feeds into our public Web pages. I can’t do this while at the same time saying, “Learn it on your own!” If I provide a tutorial and offer support, the chances are much greater that staff will learn the skill that I want them to learn so much. And maybe they’ll listen to other suggestions from me, if I have a history of backing up my lobbying with support.

Library culture. I left this one for last. I do think our library culture is a factor. Our profession is on the cusp. What I mean is this: we’re on the cusp of a new generation of librarians (of any age) who are expected to be – and will be – technically adept. Expected to be is an element that is absolutely crucial, and we’re not there yet. Right now, we’ve got a mixed bag of skill levels on staff because of a technology generation gap, unfortunate hiring practices, low expectations, lack of vision, and so on. There is also failed leadership. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, that our adminstrators need to set good examples. I can’t stand it when administrators require skills that they themselves have no intention of learning, or even comprehending. Even more problematic are administrators who have relatively few skills and also can’t envision, advocate for, put much importance on, or make time for developing the skills of the staff they supervise. They don’t support what they need to support in order to make crucial learning happen. Neither scenario is sustainable.

More like this, please

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

From A. A. Adams, Copyright and research: an archivangelist’s perspective, SCRIPT-ed, September 2007:

To be an academic carries with it a great deal of freedom, or at least it should. At a time when pressures on academic freedom are rife, everywhere from Australia to Zimbabwe, academics should be confronting the responsibilities that go with their cherished and fought-for freedoms. That responsibility is to disseminate one’s work as widely as possible, to hold it up for criticism and to allow others to build on it. To do so demands that we hold Open Access to our articles as a categorical imperative and not allow the tail of academic publishing to wag the dog of academic communication.

(Hat tip, Peter Suber.) 

English-Latin-English dictionaries

Monday, October 1st, 2007

from the mailbag:

My name is Silvio and I’ve recently concluded a set of English-Latin-English dictionaries which I thought you could be interested in sharing with your site’s visitors. The dictionaries provide clear and precise translations and are absolutely free of charge.

Latin Dictionary:

If you have any feedback on them, I’d be happy to hear.


Silvio Branco

(Note: I cannot vouch for these dictionaries but simply pass along the announcement.) 


Monday, October 1st, 2007

from the CHE:

Latin Lovers Flock to Vicipaedia It’s taken only a few years for Wikipedia to become one of the world’s most translated documents: Sections of the site now appear in about 250 languages, including regional dialects like Quechua, Xhosa, Nauruan, and Kalaallisut. The translation projects, fledgling though they may be, serve real communities across the world. But what to make of Vicipaedia, a bustling site whose contributors have translated more than 15,000 Wikipedia entries into Latin? The Wall Street Journal offers an entertaining profile of Vicipaedia’s editors, who are remarkably devoted to a project that is “a slightly odd thing to do in this century,” as one translator admits. Most readers and contributors use Vicipaedia to test their language skills, not to conduct real research. So the site’s content is, well, eclectic: Entries about Roman history and mythology rub up against those on beer pong and Paris Hilton. There’s plenty of debate about neologisms — editors can’t seem to agree on the proper Latin word for “computer” — but Latin experts told The Journal that the quality of the translations is surprisingly good. –Brock Read

Mr. Rocchio’s coda: “Latin has a tradition of 2,700 years … and we don’t want that to end. Latin isn’t dead, it just smells funny.”

… and Why We Should Worry

Monday, October 1st, 2007

Siva Vaidhyanathan has posted on his blog, the Googlization of Everything, an interview he did with a Charlottesville newspaper. The interview reveals some of his concerns about Google. An example:

More than 20 big university libraries have signed contracts with Google, in which they’re allowing Google’s people to scan large collections of their materials… This concerns me because while the universities think they’re getting this great service for free, it’s Google that’s getting the gift. Google is getting hundreds of years of riches that the state of Michigan and California have funded. Google’s getting all this content for free and gets to control access to it, gets to control the manner of presentation, gets to control the formats and gets to control the terms of use. I think that’s a bad deal for these libraries.

Wikipedia’s Awkward Adolescence

Monday, October 1st, 2007

Thoughtful new critique by Karen G. Schneider (of Free Range Librarian) in CIO:

Like a startup maturing into a real business, Wikipedia’s corporate culture seems conflicted between its role as a harmless nouveau-digital experiment and its broader ambitions.

Worth a read.