Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Madoko ...

Earlier today I tweeted a link to Madoko, a Microsoft project to provide an online markdown editor. I was sufficiently intrigued to try  it out:

Syntax is definitely more Markdown like than pure Markdown but you don't need to read the documentation to use it providing you know standard Markdown - something that's a bit of a contradiction in itself.

The program uses the split screen model adopted by StackEdit and where you type in one screen and you see your text appear in the other, rather than the ReText style approach where you flip between an edit mode and a preview mode.

As a microsoft product the menus and document structuring tools are word like in style.

Responsiveness is similar to that with Zoho, Google Docs or using Retext on I'd categorise is as reasonable, but not amazing.
Like Retext on, while a web application it can link to other cloud stores such as Dropbox and One Drive.

Unlike most other markdown editors it produces either PDF output or HTML to publish web pages rather than offering any of the more conventional wordprocessor format outputs. And being positioned as a scientific writing tool, it will import LaTeX documents, as well as doing formulae nicely. PDF export goes via TeX and you also get the output TeX document to modify as well.

Using Apache Tika to analyse the pdf output one gets

producer: xdvipdfmx (0.7.9)
resourceName: document.pdf
xmp:CreatorTool: LaTeX with hyperref package

which is fairly standard for the LaTeX world.

Would I use it?

Possibly, although I'm comfortable enough using either Kate or Gedit to create markdown directly. It's certainly an alternative to StackEdit if you're working on a Chromebook, or working in an environment without a decent text editor.

Monday, 21 September 2015

reading a paper book

Very strange.

For the last six months or so I've only read a book on a tablet or on a dedicated ereader. Didn't set out that way, it's just happenstance.

Recently, I had reason to read a thick legacy format paperback - ie one made of paper with pages that you turn.

And it's strangely odd to hold a book open, or even deal with the weight and bulk of the book ...

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Printing from the cloud with RollApp

RollApp - the service that lets you run applications from a web browser - has just announced a facility to allow you to print locally from your remote application.

Reading between the lines, it works a little like Office 365 or Google Apps printing by generating a pdf which is transferred to you local machine for printing.

But there's a couple of questions about this:

1) If you're using a chromebook or an android tablet with a keyboard as your desktop device you're going to have access to CloudPrint, so why the two step process - what would be cool would be able to queue the file directly

2) If you're working on the train, the bus, or in a coffee shop the chances are you don't have a local printer - again queueing it to one of your cloud devices, or using something like Epson or HP's print via email service to a remote printer is probably what you want to use

So, good idea and a good first step, but not the complete answer ... 

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Online galleries and the democratization of content

I’ve had an idea knocking around the back of my head for a few months or so now, ever since I was in Budapest and discovered the Hungarian National Gallery have their collection online.

Now it’s not a stellar collection, but it’s definitely competent and well curated.

At the same time I’ve been playing both with Pinterest and Omeka - Pinterest as a sort of visual research diary to collect and hold images, and Omeka as tool for assembling collections of material and putting them into context to tell a story.

Of course some items have an intrinsic structure - a scanned diary has a beginning, a middle and an end, just as a set of tax records from the 1700’s have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Others are just a collection of items that be assembled in various different ways to tell different stories with the same content - it's what you do with them that’s important. One fun example is the University of Reading's Collections tumblr page - a happenstance athematic collection of oddities

And then there are sites like Artsy that try to build sites around particular artists for all sorts of reasons - for example their Egon Schiele page provides visitors with Schiele's bio, over 25 of his works, exclusive articles, as well as up-to-date Schiele exhibition listings, and as such provide a service to people interested in the work of an artist or group of artists.

And interestingly is that under all of this is what they call their art genome project trying to evolve a classification model for art.

However, for the purposes of this post, what’s interesting about Artsy is how they have taken and reused content to make a different resource.

For quite a few years now there’s been discussion about digital repatriation - basically gathering together digitised content and representing (or more accurately making them available for re-presentation) as a whole - manuscripts that have been split up can be re-united, cultural material looted during nineteenth century colonial wars can be made available again to the original owners and collections of an artist’s work can be drawn together to show how his or her work and style evolved.

And of course we’re talking about the reuse of digital content, and the need to understand that once something is made available for reuse it can be used in lots of ways, and that you’ve basically lost control of the content.

And of course there’s fear element - make a high resolution image available and there’s nothing to stop someone else copying it and using it make a fridge magnet, and if it’s a popular and attractive item, a bit of money.

Inevitably that will happen, just as easily as people will make things of intellectual value, it’s simply that when you democratize access to content things change ...

Friday, 28 August 2015

Numbers, reputation, and worth

In the past week I've been shedding twitter followers, while at the same time my Klout score (Klout is a website that claims to measure the 'worth' or 'impact' of your tweets) has increased by a few points.

It's long been my view that metrics, rankings and the rest don't mean much individually  in absolute terms but that in aggregate, higher scores indicate a degree of worth.

And this is sort of demonstrated by this week's little event. Normally if the number of followers had gone down you would expect that my Klout score would go down as what was being said was seen to be less valuable.

On the other hand if what was being said was felt to be more valuable my Klout score would go up and probably the number of followers would increase - and certainly this has seemed to be the case in past months.

But of course twitter is populated by a host of inactive accounts, perhaps related to dead and stalled projects, and of course it's the end of August, the time when in the northern hemisphere, academic projects are typically wrapped up and closed down.

So I'm guessing what I've been shedding is a slew of low worth accounts.

And this is a learning experience - what's being said is more valuable than the numbers listening, ie measuring influence/impact is more complicated than the things we can easily count ...

Monday, 24 August 2015

The disruptive chimera of the digital humanities ...

Over the past year I've become more and more convinced that Digital Humanities is a chimera, much as Eresearch is also a chimera.

Many disciplines in the physical sciences have always deal with large data seta and their manipulation. Many researchers in the social and health sciences have always carried out complex analyses of government statistical data to reveal both new trends and the impact of legislative changes.

Until recently the poster child for this was psychology - ore more accurately the cluster of closely related behavioural sciences from ethology through to neurobiology that are usually lumped together as 'psychology'.

Psychologists have used computers since they became widely available to contol experiments, present stimuli and illusions, and analyse data. Clever innovative work that has become increasingly more innovative as technology has become cheaper and more and more off the shelf components have bcome together.

But nothing was more than a logical extension of previous research. And that is what digital humanities are - a logical extension of preceding research. Yes, the easy access to large quantities of data and the availability of easy-to-use mapping systems, natural language toolkits, has allowed a step change in the nature of the research, but not a fundamental change.

For example, in a moment of rash enthusiasm, I thought you could do something with the tax return date in the Domesday book to graph the harrying of the north - after all the Domesday book is semi structured data and online as queryable resource - until someone pointed out that someone had looked at exactly that question some thirty years before, with some rather more traditional techniques.

In other words there was nothing special about applying digital techniques, they merely amplified what was already possible, and by extension there is nothing special about the digital humanities.

And because there is nothing special they need no special consideration in the provision of computing resources, they merely require consideration.

Where their disruptive effect comes from, and the thing that makes them look like something new and different is the scale of the step change - the large scale digitisation of resources though projects such as Google Books, and the comparitive cheapness of cloud based computing has meant that a guy with a laptop and a good idea can make a significant difference for a low cost, and unlike in the science the data collection cost is negligible.

However, even this difference will disappear as both various initiatives for the digitisation of legacy data in the sciences and the open science movement and its emphasis on data publication bear fruit. Just as in the humanities somone with a laptop and a good idea should be capable of disruptive change.

And in both these cases there is nothing special in the resources required. The real disruptor is that the person with the laptop and the good idea need no longer be at one of the big research centric institutions - meaning that research can spread outwards to smaller, and perhaps more nimble institions ...

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

No more playing with linux on old Imacs ...

Saturday was a sad day.

We bundled up all my old PPC iMacs and took them to recycling - I'd finally come to the realisation that I was never seriously play with PPC linux again. That's not to say I'm stopping playing with linux, because the one thing that the whole PPC linux on imacs thing taught me was that older hardward can have its working life usefully extended by being sidegraded to a lower demand linux environment.

Great for cash strapped schools and libraries, but it's not a panacea.

It does require that the linux distribution that you choose continues to be supported and maintained, simply because you need modern browsers, as well as all these security patches. It also means that the hardware you're working on has to have some upgrade potential - extra memory, more internal storage, simply because even the best linux implementation or application is not immune from bloat.

So, what now?

I'm personally convinced that linux on the desktop remains a viable alternative to proprietary operating systems. In fact things like printing and network configuration have got a lot easier over the years, and the general robustness of Libre Office makes it a viable alternative office suite, just as you can run your life on Evolution, just as you can on Outlook.

Using a linux based notebook I've found nothing I can't do on a machine with a commercial operating system with the exception of working with documents created with odd templates and change tracking - something that's not quite as portable as it should be. In fact things like straight forward text editing are a lot more straight forward on linux. I will say though that you do need a decent browser, purely because increasingly one ends up using browser based applications (Evernote for example)  rather than stand alone applications - however, Firefox admirably rises to the occasion.

So I'll keep on playing with linux - except it'll be i386 hardware from now on ...