A Blog Philosophy

If a blog can have a philosophy, then the philosophy of this blog is that there is nothing particularly radical about the new. The new may be radical to some, but the new can only be new in the context of the old (or their ‘old’). Some of the old may be threatened by the new, but then again if the new isn’t new, the the old is only threatened by what it already knows, or what it has already learnt the hard way (remember Nuremberg). The new never follows what is new, the new leads in the context of ‘olds’ and what it keeps is a sign of how civilised it is, and what it discards, is often a sign of how lazy it is.

Few things are truly new and even the ‘new’ has a history of ‘newness’. Thus finding what is new and applying it to positive and progressive tasks, is far from a walk in the park. A blog is not an end in itself, it is a way of gaining perspective over-time, a cognitive perspective on what is new, what is useful, and how this can progress our knowledge (and make it new). Fundamental to the advancement of knowledge, is moving through knowledge, sharing knowledge, and imparting an alternative perspective to those who don’t look for it and to those who should.

What is new about new media, the Internet, and hypertext? It depends who you ask. In that famous line from 1972, Henry Kissinger asked the Chinese Foreign Minister, Zhou Enlai, for his views on the French Revolution of 1789. He responded, “It’s too soon to tell.”

Blog on, we might learn something.

How to create a virtual museum

A good introductory article from the Relics and Selves Archive produced here at King’s College.

This virtual exhibition originated with the idea of deconstructing the rarefied and sanctified museum atmosphere, and thus subvert the order and cataloguing of objects which were important to the consolidation of national imaginaires in 1880s Argentina, Brazil and Chile. The Relics and Selves project, then, seeks to take these items out of their cases and the order imposed on them, so that visitors themselves can un-order and re-order them. Using database and Internet technology, we can bring together thousands of images it would be impossible to handle via traditional publication methods (link).

Ted Nelson (1965): Complex information processing: a file structure for the complex, the changing and the indeterminate

This paper written in 1965 by Ted Nelson is one of the most famous in the history of the computer revolution. It introduces his concept of ‘hypertext’ (or links); the central concept of the web. Also, you may wish to read this 1995 article in Wired magazine called ‘the Curse of Xanadu‘; looking at the history of Ted Nelson and his project. One of the companies that they refer to in the article, Autodesk, funded Nelson for quite sometime at the same time I was working for them.

THE KINDS OF FILE structures required if we are to use the computer for personal files and as an adjunct to creativity are wholly different in character from those customary in business and scientific data processing. They need to provide the capacity for intricate and idiosyncratic arrangements, total modifiability, undecided alternatives, and thorough internal documentation. I want to explain how some ideas developed and what they are. The original problem was to specify a computer system for personal information retrieval and documentation, able to do some rather complicated things in clear and simple ways. In this paper I will explain the original problem. Then I will explain why the problem is not simple, and why the solution (a file structure) must yet be very simple. The file structure suggested here is the Evolutionary List File, to be built of zippered lists. A number of uses will be suggested for such a file, to show the breadth of its potential usefulness. Finally, I want to explain the philosophical implications of this approach for information retrieval and data structure in a changing world (link)

What is Thinking Rock?

 I really like these projects…and this one is from Australia. It is a way of 'mapping' the things you do or want to do. Hypertext was first imagined by Ted Nelson way back in the 1960s as a way to organise his thoughts. 

Thinking Rock is a free software application for collecting and processing your thoughts following the GTD methodology. It is simple and easy to use – see our demos and manual. A lot of our mental energy is directed towards trying to remember and manage all the things that we want or need to do. Thinking Rock will allow you to clear your mind so that you can become more proactive and concentrate on what is important to you. Thinking Rock allows you to collect your thoughts and process them into actions, projects, information or future possibilities. Actions can be done by you, delegated to someone else or scheduled for a particular date. Projects can be organised with ordered actions and sub-projects. You can review all of your actions, projects and other information quickly and easily to see what you need to do or to choose what you want to do at a particular time (link )

Digital Humanities seminar series at King’s College, London

(from the discussion list, Humanist. This will give you some idea of the projects underway in the Digital Humanities in Europe)

This is to announce the forthcoming events of the
London Seminar in Digital Text and Scholarship
for 2006-7, a description of which follows. All events
take place at 5.30 pm in Senate House, Malet Street,
unless otherwise noted.

[2 November]
Dr Peter Garrard (Royal Free and University College Medical School,
London), “Textual Pathology”. Room NG15.

As we humans age, physical and functional changes are detectable in all
organs of the body, yet it is the physical structure and performance
characterisitics of the brain that excites more interest than any other.
The reasons for this cognitive bias are diverse, but a major factor is
undoubtedly the devastating and widespread phenomenon of senile
dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is now recognised as a major (though by no
means the only) cause of dementia, and the changes that take place
within the brain are easily recognised when the brain is examined at
post mortem. By destroying the dense network of neuronal connectivity
with which the brain achieves the highest levels of intellectual
activity, Alzheimer’s pathology disrupts the operation of a profoundly
complex system. Moreover, because of the predilection of this pathology
for some lobes of the brain rather than others, characteristic patterns
of abnormal performance are observed in the early stages of the disease.
These include a typical pattern of linguistic difficulty characterised
by a shrinking vocabulary in the presence of apparently normal sentence
structure. Using well-established techniques of digital textual
analysis, Garrard and colleagues were able to demonstrate similar
changes in the late work of Iris Murdoch, who began to exhibit signs of
cognitive failure soon after publication of her final novel, Jackson’s
Dilemma (1995)*.

Arising from the findings of this seminal work are a series of further
questions concerning the relationship between the complex structure of a
text and that of the brain in which it originated. Specifically, whether
ageing is reflected in progressive changes to a higher order structure,
which – just like physical ageing – may follow either a normal or a
pathological trajectory. Similarly, might the presymptomatic phases of
different cerebral pathologies give rise to distinct patterns of textual
change in the same way that Alzheimer’s disease, Pick’s disease, and
vascular dementia are recognisable to the experienced clinician?

Results of an approach to plotting such a trajectory through the final
two decades of Murdoch’s life will be presented, as will similar
analyses using serially sampled bodies of spoken rather than written
language output (a modality that is arguably more sensitive than the
written word).

Continue reading “Digital Humanities seminar series at King’s College, London”

History and Hypertext

(Mark Bernstein of Eastgate Systems was in Sydney this month talking about ‘History and Hypertext’…what I did my MA on in 1998).

Mark Bernstein

At times, hypertext has seemed incompatible with historical
narrative, either because non-sequential writing is at odds with
understanding cause and effect, or because hypertext caters to short
attention spans and immersive, unreflective visual appeal. Since the
future of serious writing so clearly lies in electronic writing
spaces, this incompatibility has inspired alarm, and the most
commonly-cited advantages of new media for the historian — cheap
publication and economical illustration — are not powerful allies in
this contest. Fortunately, the literary qualities of hypertext turn
out to be well adapted to the needs of historical discussion.

Mark Bernstein is chief scientist at Eastgate Systems and designer of
Tinderbox, a personal content management assistant for making,
analyzing, and sharing notes. Since 1982, Eastgate has created
hypertext tools and published original hypertext fiction and
nonfiction. A graduate of Swarthmore College, he received his
doctorate (in Chemistry) from Harvard University.

New media and cultural form: narrative versus database

New media and cultural form: narrative versus database

Ilana Snyder

Monash University

To appear in 2004 in: A. Adams & S. Brindley (eds), Teaching English with ICT. London: Open University Press & McGraw Hill.

Why narrative and database

Stories define how we think, how we play, even how we dream: they represent a basic way of organising human experience. We understand our lives through stories. Barbara Hardy has argued famously that narrative is ‘a primary act of mind transferred to art from life’ (Hardy 1977: 12). The act of the storyteller, the author, the novelist, says Hardy, arises from what we do all the time, in remembering, dreaming, planning.

Continue reading “New media and cultural form: narrative versus database”