[Humanist] 23.96 programming for poets

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Jun 20 07:15:34 CEST 2009


                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 96.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Joris van Zundert <joris.van.zundert at gmail.com>           (48)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.92 programming for poets

  [2]   From:    Martin Holmes <mholmes at uvic.ca>                           (23)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.92 programming for poets


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Fri, 19 Jun 2009 11:11:57 +0200
        From: Joris van Zundert <joris.van.zundert at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.92 programming for poets
        In-Reply-To: <20090619064925.F20E31D1BD at woodward.joyent.us>


Hi all,

I'm quoting from Harvey Quamen's mail:

I've eliminated almost all math from my web scripting course. Right
>> away, I show the students examples of HTML and XML and convince them
>> that computers today are all about texts, not numbers. (I often cite
>> Danny Hillis's claim at the end of "The Pattern on the Stone" that --
>> bad paraphrase follows -- "if the original computer scientists labeled
>> the two states X and Y, we'd say that computers do everything with
>> texts, not numbers.") Consequently, about 90% of the built-in PHP
>> functions I teach my students are string functions. I tell my students
>> that they'll soon be able to "slice and dice" texts with ease, and
>> that that skill will be foundational for the digital humanist scholar
>> of the next few decades.  For students who have "math phobia," this is
>> welcome news.
>>
>
Okay, I like that. That might be a neat way to lure in a number of my
colleagues in the field into some computing. But what I wonder about: is it
really a 'math phobia'? Sure, I know throwing in a series of numbers and
statistics will set most of them running like mice from a cat. But also, I'd
assume there's a more abstract 'phobia' involved; one for trying to describe
and solve problems in a more formalized way. Addressing textual problems
with computation does at some point involve trying to express those problem
in the formal expressions of a computer language or model. I tend to find
that much of my colleagues just don't like this kind of formalization (or
any methodological formalization for that matter). It seems, to me, because
they value the aesthetics of 'free text'. Which is why the maximum amount of
formalization they seem to be willing to put up with, is the logic expressed
through human language - which is ambiguous most of the time to say the
least.

XML of course is a neat trick here because it balances exactly on the
borders between formalization and non-formalization. But once you start
computing on strings with PHP or Ruby...

So, I guess I'm just asking Harvey: any experience with your students that
you might relate to such a more general 'phobia'?

Kind regards,
Joris

On Fri, Jun 19, 2009 at 8:49 AM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

     

--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Fri, 19 Jun 2009 10:07:56 -0700
        From: Martin Holmes <mholmes at uvic.ca>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.92 programming for poets
        In-Reply-To: <20090619064925.F20E31D1BD at woodward.joyent.us>

Hi all,

I'd like to put in a word for the much-maligned JavaScript as a first 
language for coders to learn. It's fairly simple, there's a ready-made 
IDE on every computer (Web browser + text editor), a good debugger (in 
Firefox), and no need to run a server on your computer, or connect to 
one. I use the usual combination of languages in my daily work, from 
XSLT to Object Pascal, but I always find it a great pleasure to get back 
to JavaScript. Its natural data target is the document (which humanists 
understand), and teaching it also leads naturally into other related, 
easy-to-learn languages such as XHTML and CSS.

If I were teaching an introductory programming course for humanities 
students, I'd teach basic XHTML document construction, and move to 
document interactivity and manipulation through JavaScript. Then CSS, 
then (eventually) something like PHP, that requires server support.

Cheers,
Martin
-- 
Martin Holmes
University of Victoria Humanities Computing and Media Centre
(mholmes at uvic.ca)
Half-Baked Software, Inc.
(mholmes at halfbakedsoftware.com)
martin at mholmes.com





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