All posts by John Walter

Tweets from the Day

My #DayofDH began with coordinating homeschooling with @lisaschamess. Arduino-based robotics, Processing, and game studies all on the agenda

White paper “From Bitstreams to Heritage: Putting Digital Forensics into Practice in Collecting Institutions” (pdf) http://tinyurl.com/ptgtelm 

Working on CCCC Committee on Computers in Composition and Communication projects

Cmte work includes organizing the Technology Innovator Award & coordinating a working group in the much needed revamp of a website

I always forget just how much documenting my day as a digital humanist interferes with my day of being a digital humanist.

Community, mentoring, and play by @nymgamerhttp://www.samanthablackmon.net/notyourmamasgamer/?p=4898

Lunch, laundry, and back to work.

Dog walking and then back to non-#DayofDH writing, editing, and project management for http://coolerminds.com . Not DH, but it pays the bills

Lapsang souchong tea made. Now to the editing and project management.

#DayofDH is a good day to give a shout out to Maine’s online graduate certficate program in digital curation. http://digitalcuration.umaine.edu/ 

Gathering materials to create a paper-circuit microcontroller.  pic.twitter.com/KJoh7JqX5J

A list of tweets from today in chronological order:

First to make dinner, then to make a paper-based microcontroller.

Paper circuit microcontroller building is happening. Was delayed by daughter’s request to watch X-files. pic.twitter.com/ACShTQRzIj

A simple paper circuit made with copper tape. Paper circuit microcontroller coming. https://vine.co/v/M5e20Jr2mQW 

The Tiny AVR Programmer and an ATtiny 85 chip that will run the paper microcontroller. pic.twitter.com/0llbWXNAlg

My Tiny AVR Programmer doesn’t work, so no paper microcontroller tonight.  pic.twitter.com/wKpbBeBTqZ

I’ll try programming the chip with an Arduino and breadboard tomorrow.

[Not] Dead Tiny AVR Programmer

April 12 Update: Turns out the Tiny AVR Programmer is not dead. It was late, and I was tired and stressed and missed a crucial step. I needed to download hardware files for the programmer.

Tiny Programmer and ATtiny85 Chip
Tiny AVR Programmer and an ATtiny85 chip.

When I took this picture this evening, I had not yet learned that my Tiny AVR Programmer is dead. Yes, that’s right: After hyping the fact I was going to make a paper circuit microcontroller today, I’ve discovered that I have a dead Tiny AVR Programmer. This is all the more disappointing because I’ve not yet used the programmer. I took it out of its sealed bag for the first time this evening.

I thought it was dead because the LED wouldn’t light and because of the error message I was getting when I tried to upload a sketch to the programmer.

screen shot of an error message
An error message indicating that my Tiny AVR Programmer is dead.

All this means I’m not going to be programming the ATtiny85 chip tonight, and without the chip to run the microcontroller, there is no microcontroller. 

You can program a ATtiny chip just using an Arduino and a breadboard, but it takes a bit of time to connect everything together. The Tiny Programmer isn’t necessary; it just makes things simple. If I have a 10 uF capacitor on hand – I think I do, but having just started playing with electronics six months ago, I’m collecting components as I need them – or if I can pick on up at the Radio Shack down the street, I’ll try programming the chip tomorrow the old fashioned way and then use it to make the microcontroller.

Meanwhile, if you’re really curious or bored, here’s a Vine of a simple, two-LED paper circuit. Until you get into programming ATtiny chips, paper circuits are quite easy. Well, I can’t work with small surface mount LEDs without a pair of tweezers, but creating circuits with conductive copper tape and conductive paint is easy.

Invisible Work: Service to the Profession

As a member of the College Composition and Communication’s Committee on Computers in Composition and Communication (7Cs Committee),  the period between the CCCC and Computers and Writing conferences is often busy committee-wise.

For a number of years now I have coordinated the Technology Innovator Award, which is awarded at the annual Computers and Writing conference. With the nomination deadline approaching (April 28), I’m sending out nomination reminders and preparing incoming nominations for the awards committee. This year I’m also coordinating a 15+ person working group to redesign and update a too-neglected website.

Like a lot if not most service work, much of this is done out of the spotlight.

Social Media

Throughout my day, starting fairly early, I check in with my various social media platforms. For me, this means blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. I use social media to keep abreast of the field; to learn about resources; to read, share and engage ideas; to establish and maintain personal and professional connections; to exist within communities; and to collaborate with others.

I consider Jeff Rice’s Network Academics as a manefsto about why we, as academics, should be users of social media. Rice argues:

I want to draw attention to one aspect of new media (and thus, the Web): the network. Networks foreground the role connectivity plays in content management, information organization, and information production in explicit and implicit ways. What I call the network are spaces – literal or figurative – of connectivity and disconnectivity. They are ideological as well as technological spaces generated by various forms of new media that allow information, people, places, and other items to establish a variety of relationships which previous spaces or ideologies of space (print being the dominant model) did not allow.

These are spaces as databases – collections of information we must, as Lyotard once wrote, learn how to navigate. What I call the network is what Bruno Latour calls “the social” – a series of relationships developed among people, texts, and things. The social, or the network, always circulates and, through circulation, always moves meaning among those factors (people, texts, places, ideas, things) that generate meaning. The network, therefore, is not a site of observation, but a continuing rhetorical process. Our challenge is to understand how to describe and produce intellectual work without always resorting to studying some application, phenomenon, event purely in order to understand it. In other words, working with networks would also mean becoming networks.

A sampling of what I’ve read this morning: Alex Reid’s response to Marc Bousquet’s Chronicle piece on“The Moral Panic in Literary Studies,” an announcement of a white paper on “From Bitstreams to Heritage: Putting Digital Forensics into Practice in Collecting Institutions” (pdf), a cicerone’s answer as to whether draft or bottled beer is better, and Samantha Blackman on the value  of synchronous online communities.  (Sam’s Not Your Mama’s Gammer post hits close to home for me as the Netoric Project’s Tuesday Cafe was also my most important introduction into computers and writing.)

Making and the Physical-Digital Interface

As a technorhetorician, a media ecologist, and a digital humanist, I’m becoming increasingly interested in the physical-digital interface of physical computing and interactive programming.

A lot of this interest is playing out in my exploring both the Arduino microcontroller and the Processing programming language. Arduino programming language and integrated development environment (IDE) are based on Processing, the two work quite well together.  For instance, there’s the example project that interfaces an Arduino with Processing to creating an RGB LED lamp whose color is based upon word frequency within an RSS feed, or the much more simple example of simply turning on an LED by mousing over a Processing-created image, which I was able to do in just a few minutes. You can see the results in this Vine. Apologies for the shaky video – I held my phone with my weak hand as I used my better hand to control the mouse.

And then there’s these digitally interfaced physical books, from the basic MaKey MaKey + graphite + Scratch to Jie Qi’s Circuit Sketchbook

to Waldek Węgrzyn’s Elektrobiblioteka which uses conductive paint printed using silk screening and a small embedded microcontroller to create touch-senstivite illustrations that call up and interact with digital content.

While I’m still learning both Processing and Arduino, as a digital humanist I’m often thinking of the ways in which we might harness the ways in which visualization and generative art program like Processing can process and interact with text (for instance, this visualization of Goethe’s Faust and this “tube map” that’s created by inputting  text) with the codeable objects Processing library as well as the potential for interactive books making use of paper circuit technologies and embedded microcontrollers.

Three tasks I’m working on today is organizing a session on making, making pedagogy, and critical making & design and brainstorming a possible DIY craft and making workshop, both for CCCC 2015, and figuring out if I’m ready to propose a paper circuits workshop for THATCamp DC at the end of this month.

And later today, as a last-minute addition to today’s home schooling (as in decided about 10 minutes ago), we’re going to have our first go at programming an ATiny85 chip and using it to make this paper-based microcontroller:

You can find the tutorial at Jie Qi’s The Fine Art of Electronics.

Homeschooling as a Digital Humanist

While I’m not teaching in a classroom this spring, I am teaching. My wife and I are co-homeschooling our 15-year old daughter. Since my wife is gone on a business trip right now, I’m responsible for the whole day rather than just part of it.

A major focus of this week is working through Unit 7 of the Big History Project‘s curriculum.  Big History is an interdisciplinary macrohistory approach that begins with the Big Bang and leads up to the present, placing human history within the larger history of the universe.

While today’s Big History and reading of the House of Seven Gables are largely independent work, we’ve got some hands-on work (for me) with Processing and robotics. We’re using Daniel Shiffman’s Learning  Processing: A Beginner’s Guide to Programming Images, Animation, and Interaction as an introduction to programming and we’re building Parallax’s Arduino-based BOE Shield robot for an introduction to physical computing.

Robot stepper motors
The “brains” – an Arduino and BOE Shield – and stepper motors.

We took a few weeks break from both Processing and the robot while I was at the CCCC conference and while she was on spring break. Today we’ll focus on getting back up to speed with Processing and for me to prep for testing, programming, and experimenting with the stepper motors later this week.

Here’s what the robot will look like once we’re done:

Also up for this today is some joint exploration of Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan’s First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Over the past couple of years, my daughter has been developing a growing interest in narrative-based video games, and last week I handed her Wardrip-Fruin and Harrigan’s First Person along with Second Person: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media and Third Person: Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives to see if they might be something she wanted to explore. Today we’re going to start figuring out what she will read in First Person.

We’ve been homeschooling since last September, starting with 9th grade. My wife and I both have advanced degrees in English and have taught both high school and college. My wife, however, considers herself, for good reason,  a working writer – fiction, creative non-fiction, and urban and public policy. I, on the other hand, am an academic. Since I was teaching last fall and my wife has been working at home for a few years now, she’s largely taken the lead with homeschooling, but I’m starting to develop a larger presence within the curriculum, as witnessed by the programming, physical computing, and game studies.

Defining Digital Humanities

Although I embrace the term digital humanities, I find the need to define digital humanities as something separate from or in addition to the humanities at large to be problematic. Even though the logic of print still shapes and governs aspects of what we do, both as humanists in the academy and our culture at large, electronic media have been shaping us and our culture for more than 100 years now and digital media for decades. The modern humanities, having their origins in the fifteenth century, were intimately tied to the new technology of the printing press: by the new ways of production, transmission, organization, visualization, and thinking that the printing press fostered. As humanists in the digital age, it should be a given for us to fully engage digital technologies and the new methods and apparatuses they foster. Simply put, there should be no need for us to identify ourselves as digital humanists.

But since we do need to do so, I define digital humanities not as doing the work of traditional humanities with digital technologies but as engaging the humanities with the tools available to us and by the logics they foster. We explore, we interpret, and we make. Most importantly, we understand that all technologies of representation and communication bring with them affordances and constraints, and to limit ourselves to the apparatus of one technology, of one technological age, is to limit what we and what the humanities can be.