March 2009 Archives

BSG thoughts

On the cusp of the Battlestar Galactic series closer, I had a thought on a very specific piece of BSG mythology, specifically the phrase "You are the harbinger of death, Kara Thrace."

What if this is a positive, rather than negative thing? One assumes from the tone of the series that Kara is being marked as an Angel of Death by the hybrids that utter that phrase. But harbinger has a second meaning, which is a forerunner. Starbuck died on Earth and was resurrected, this we know.

We also know that the First Five rebuilt resurrection technology in the final days of Earth, as a way of escaping death from their own Cylon uprising. Could it be that Starbuck is the forerunner of the colonists (and rebel Cylons) reobtaining access to resurrection? Perhaps instead of bringing death to the colonists, she is instead leading them through it?

I suppose we'll find out in a matter of hours.

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A Twittering Beacon

I thought, given the recent Day of Digital Humanities that posting the proposal I sent into DH 2009 would be appropriate. (Ultimately, the proposal was part of a panel that was turned down, so I don't think I'm offending anyone by posting it here).

A Twittering Beacon: using social networking tools to enhance digital humanities tool adoption.

Darren James Harkness
Athabasca University

There is a common problem among digital humanities tools: they are not being used in great numbers, and get little attention outside of the conference and publication circuit. Innovative tools are being developed, but - with notable exceptions such as the Orlando Project - no user communities seem to form around them.It is a problem whose solution seems to be elusive amongst digital tool makers.As Dan Cohen writes,“most scholars have not yet figured out ways to take full advantage of the digitized riches suddenly available on their computers.” This paper suggests a possible solution, based on existing social networks and community formation in blogging networks.

The power of blogs and social networking tools to create communities is well documented. Social networks have been used within rural communities1, ethnic communities,2 and academia.3In my MA research, I found that communities regularly form in and around blogs and LiveJournal sites, and act as a positive force in the development of those sites.4 Furthermore, it develops a stronger sense of understanding between the blogger and her audience.

The sciences have adopted the use of social networking tools with great success.The most recent example of this is NASA’s use of Twitter to document findings from the Phoenix Mars Lander.5 The public response has been outstanding; MarsPhoenix has over 38,000 followers as of November 12, 2008,6 and inspired hundreds of its followers to create epitaphs for the lander when it finally shut down due to cold.7As a direct result of this success, NASA recently expanded their use of Twitter8 to include the Spirit and Opportunity Mars Landers,9 Mars Science Lab,10 and Cassini probe.11

Aside from increased public exposure, one of NASA’s great successes in adopting social networking tools is that it has created a much better understanding of its projects. Lack of understanding, as Claire Warwick et al suggest, is a key in understanding why there is a lack of adoption among digital humanities tools.12I have found this in my own work with digital humanities tools, such as the MONK project; documentation is scarce, and information on a system is traded through emails with programmers and project managers. Lisa Spiro summarizes the issues well: “in my conversations with researchers who aren’t necessarily interested in doing digital scholarship, just in doing their research better, I learned that they weren’t aware of digital tools and didn’t know where to find out about them.”13

Entry into digital humanities tools is currently difficult for those outside the field (and often even for those within it) and serves as a roadblock for adoption.  We can take a page from our colleagues in the sciences and make use of social networking tools to create a better understanding of how our tools work. 

1 Gilbert, Eric, Karrie Karahalios, and Christian Sandvig. (2008). The Network in the Garden: An Empirical Analysis of Social Media in Rural Life. ACM CHI 2008, April 5-10, Florence Italy.

2 Byrne, Dara. (2007). Public Discourse, Community Concerns, and Their Relationship to Civic Engagement: Exploring Black Social Networking Traditions on JCMC, 13 (1). [Special Issue of JCMC on Social Network Sites, Eds.: danah boyd and Nicole Ellison.], Byrne, Dara. (2008). The Future of (the) 'Race': Identity, Discourse and the Rise of Computer-mediated Public Spheres. In A. Everett (Ed.), MacArthur Foundation Book Series on Digital Learning: Race and Ethnicity Volume (pp. 15-38). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

3 Hewitt, Anne and Andrea Forte. (2006). Crossing Boundaries: Identity Management and Student/Faculty Relationships on the Facebook. Poster presented at CSCW, Banff, Alberta., See also

4 Harkness, Darren James. (2008) The Effect of adding a zero: the blog and identity.Master's Thesis. University of Alberta, Department of Humanities Computing.

5 MarsPhoenix Twitter Account.

6 Johnson, Bobbie. “Mars Phoenix: Nasa vows to carry on twittering across the universe” Guardian Online. November 12, 2008.

7 Madrigal, Alexis. “R.I.P. @MarsPhoenix: The Twitter Epitaph Contest “ Wired Science. October 30, 2008.

8 Terdiman, Daniel. “Mars Phoenix Lander completes its mission” Cnet news November 10, 2008.

9 MarsRovers Twitter Account

10 MarsScienceLab Twitter Account

11 Cassini Probe Twitter Account

12 Warwick,C., Galina,I., Rimmer,J., Terras,M., Blandford,A., Gow,J., Buchanan,G. (Forthcoming). “Documentation and the users of digital resources in the humanities.” Journal of Documentation 65(1), .

13 Spiro, Lisa. “Doing Digital Scholarship” Digital Scholarship in the Humanities (blog)

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Update to main site.

If you came to today and noticed there's been a change, you're right! I decided I wanted a central clearinghouse of my social networking, blogging, photo sharing, etc sites that I could point people to and sort of aggregate all the information in one place.

I originally tried using Tumbler to aggregate feeds from various places, and used Tumblr's RSS feed to populate the page on As it turns out, that wasn't the best way to go about it, for a couple of reasons. First, Tumblr didn't work exactly the way I wanted it to work with the Twitter feed -- it didn't direct people back to my Twitter page. Second, Tumblr only updated its imported feeds once an hour, which was driving me crazy to test. I ended up replacing this setup with Yahoo Pipes.

The Pipe grabs various RSS feeds and combines and sorts them into one master feed that I can then display on the main page. This works much better and lets me easily do some regexp against some of the feeds. For example, I replace the staticred: in my Twitter RSS with a linked "darren" and a twitter icon. It also updates relatively live, which saved my sanity while testing. The page on staticred will only check against the RSS feed ever 5 minutes or so, caching the feed the rest of the time. I don't get enough traffic on the site to really cause problems.

The script on the side of things is pretty straightforward and makes use of the Magpie RSS library. I won't reproduce it here, since it's so simple, but if you're really interested drop me an email and I'll send you the source.

If you prefer the old blog, have no fear - you can get to it via the links at the bottom of the page, or by clicking here.

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