Monday, 26 May 2014

Digital Humanities and Citizen Science

The humanities are going digital. This of course is not wholly true but those who study language and history - to name the two most obvious examples - have found the internet an unrivalled resource to provide access to digitized material.

No more trekking to obscure libraries and archives in the hope of finding material, it’s online, often as a result of various digitization and digital preservation initiatives. Even if the material is not online the archive’s catalogue almost certainly is, making the preliminary search something that can be done from home.

And then there’s archaeology - before the establishment of university archaeology departments in the sixties and seventies, a lot of excavations were sponsored by local archeological societies, and theire results never fully published. Digitization and initiatives such as the Archaeological Data Service in the UK have helped make that information available, findable, and searchable.
This is escpecially important in these financially constrained days where university archaeology departments are contracting and investigations are increasingly carried out by specialist sub contractors to mining and construction companies, meaning that there is no clear location for the deposit of results - digitisation, cheap storage, and a publication mechanism means that these results are less likely to be lost.

And there is of course what used to be called natural history - something that tends to fly under the radar these days but actually of great significance.

A lot of the fundamental information of species abundance and change is derived from the work of local natural history and field societies, good solid observational work that individuals find enjoyable to do, costs little, yet is of fundamental importance for assessing the impact of climate change or introduction of pest species. Truly citizen science.

Yet many of the results remain locked up in local society journals and botanical surveys yet it is of great potential. The digital humanities have shown the power of mass digitization, the field sciences have track record in citizen science - one can but wonder what would come out of putting the material collected by local societies online - time perhaps for Digital Ecology as a discipline ?
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Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Apple iCloud and Oracle Comms server

I’m not an apple iCloud user - yes I’ve an account and I’ve tried the online version of pages, but that’s about it.

However, this morning I stupidly left my personal phone at home. Apart from the irritation factor it’s no big deal, except that it had the weekly shopping list on it and no, I hadn’t synced it anywhere sensible, like it’s a shopping list.

Once a week I go to the Mawson supermarket and buy all the boring bulk items like toilet paper and dry cat food. The list is more or less the same except for the extras such as dishwasher powder that we don’t need every week.

However I still have my work iPhone, so my quick fix was to recreate as much of the list as I remember on iCloud and sync the note.

Ok, so far so good. On a whim I also mailed the note to myself and dumped out the headers to look at the routing info. Ok, very geeky, but interesting.

In the middle of the routing data was the following:

Received: from ([]) by (Oracle Communications Messaging Server
7u4-27.08( 64bit (built Aug 22 2013)) with ESMTP id
<> for
d^^^^^@^^^; Tue, 20 May 2014 22:06:29 +0000 (GMT)

(I’ve obscured the name of the mailbox I was using by ^)

And there it was - iCloud uses Oracle communications server. Kind of interesting given that at work we changed from an older version, Convergence, to Office365 at the end of 2012 - obviously the Oracle product scales reasonably well …

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Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Capacitive gloves

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t resist springing a dollar for some Chinese iGlove clones - ie normal acrylic gloves with a little bit of capacitive material in the finger tip to allow you to use touch screens.

Well, my dollar gloves arrived and they do work. My only criticism is that the ‘one size fits all’ size only just fits my not particularly large male Caucasian hands - ie if you have big hands they may not fit you.

I’ve tested them on a variety of touch screen devices and they’re fine. They also work well on a standard laptop track pad, meaning you could use them for surfing with a laptop or a chromebook.

As always, I find typing with gloves akin to dancing wearing clogs, but if you were desparate, you could probably type on a chiclet style keyboard while wearing the goves and using the trackpad.

The pair of gloves only have capacitive thumb and forefinger tips - you can get ones with all five fingertips made of capacitive material and these might allow reasonable typing on an iPad or Galaxy virtual keyboard …

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Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Chromebooks in daily use

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know I’m a happy owner of an HP Chromebook and as previously a less happy owner of a different manufacturer’s offering.

I’ve been interested in thin clients since the mid nineties, but it’s always been something that was going to happen ‘next year’. Basically the problem was that the early NT derived solutions were hobbled by licensing restrictions and the later solutions, such as Sun’s solaris based solution were hobbled by not having a decent software base - this is of course why Sun bought Star Office, and indirectly why we have Libre and Open office today.

This is all so much ancient history. By the middle of the last decade we’d moved into a world where overwhelmingly applications and data were stored locally and if you were lucky backed up. The range of applications available was such that you could live and work on any platform and be independent of any central provision.

Now, while there had been some quite credible remote desktop solutions earlier, things changed when Google bought Writely and started being able to provide remotely hosted word processing and later spreadsheet and presentation services.

Google were not unique, there were some other competitors about such as Zoho, who are still with us.
At the same time Google started offering cheap storage and solutions such as Dropbox started to become available allowing syncing of content between devices.

This meant that manufacturers such as Asus could come out with low cost computers such as the 701SD, that while they had local applications could be used primarily as web access platforms using google docs, gmail and the like.

Such computers were ideal for travel and field work - almost stateless, capable of being used offline, low cost and robust. Our 701SD went on a number of overeas trips with us and and I used it extensively going to conferences and seminars.

At the same time I used an old recycled iMac as my main desk computer at home very successfully for a number of years - essentially because I only used web based applications plus a couple of local editors - something that proved to me at least that the browser was king and the host platform increasingly irrelevant. Data was of course stored elsewhere.

The real trouble with the netbook concept was that people didn’t really see it as an internet first device, and more as a low cost computer. That, plus both the FUD around Linux and Microsoft’s hobbling of Windows 7 Home Basic’s capablities stymied the netbook concept. Instead we took a left turn through tablet based computing - yet another application of low cost internet based computing.

Now, one of the things that is interesting about the iPad is just how many third party keyboard solutions there are, which is effectively a way of turning a tablet computer into a netbook - or since we’re using browser based applications, a netbook - and I emphasise net in netbook.

This time around public internet access is more common meaning that having an offline capability is useful, but not as essential as it once was.

So, what are they like in daily use?

Well if you have Chrome on your desktop and use gmail and google docs you already know the answer - it’s just the same. And you are not tied exclusively to Google, Zoho works just fine and if you have a Microsoft account you can use Microsoft’s online versions of Word and Excel - they’re not perfect but good enough for most cases where Google Docs import and convert doesn’t quite cut it. And of course you have’s hosted Open Office and Libre Office) if you’re doing something too fiddly for Docs, although in my experience niether fork copes well with some of the more complex formatting in Office documents when they’ve been created with (a) a complex style sheet and (b) been through one or two Office installs already - project proposals and the like where they have to be created using the standard template and have to go through a number of reviewers, with some back and forth being the prime example.

However for 90% of daily computing use they just work. And that’s because all the common applications you might use, such as Evernote and Wunderlist to name two have web versions and or clients for the Chromebook environment - there is very little that you can’t do in a web based enivronment - something for which we have to thank Steve Jobs and the iPad for making network centric computing mainstream.

Chromebooks mostly just work. And providing you have no problem about being dependent on the google ecology, provide affordable low cost computing with remote data storage. Yes, you are dependent on Google and the internet, but then you are anyway …
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