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 ...