[Humanist] 29.31 billions of pages' worth

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat May 16 07:44:52 CEST 2015

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 31.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Tim Smithers <tim.smithers at cantab.net>                    (39)
        Subject: Re:  29.26 billions of pages' worth; hammer and nail

  [2]   From:    "Center for Comparative Studies"                           (7)
                <centrostudicomparati at libero.it>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 29.29 billions of pages' worth

  [3]   From:    Desmond Schmidt <desmond.allan.schmidt at gmail.com>        (115)
        Subject: Re:  29.29 billions of pages' worth

  [4]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (29)
        Subject: hammers & computers

        Date: Fri, 15 May 2015 08:02:43 +0200
        From: Tim Smithers <tim.smithers at cantab.net>
        Subject: Re:  29.26 billions of pages' worth; hammer and nail
        In-Reply-To: <20150514051321.367B1663B at digitalhumanities.org>

>        Date: Wed, 13 May 2015 09:55:50 -0700
>        From: Charles Faulhaber <cbf at berkeley.edu>
>        Subject: RE: [Humanist] 29.25 happy birthday Humanist
>        In-Reply-To: <20150513054343.B70D9102D at digitalhumanities.org>
> In re technology dominating inquiry.
> More succinctly: If you only have a hammer, every problem is a nail....
> Charles Faulhaber

Dear Charles,

Perhaps today that should be:

 If you have a Deep Learning machine people will think you
 have a Super AI that can solve any problem.

As Willard says: the times they keep on changin'

Less succinct is choosing the right hammer for the job.  Us
humans have discovered lots more things we need a hammer for
than banging in nails.  See




to cite just two.

The hammer has come a long way since it's use as a stone tool,
perhaps as much as 3.39 million years ago [1], and probably
before that as (less easily preserved) wooden or bone hammers.
And, as with many of our tools, hammers have become tools used
to make other tools with, including other kinds of hammer.
That makes it interesting!

Time to stop blaming the hammer, maybe.

Best regards,


[1] Shannon P McPherron, Zeresenay Alemseged, Curtis W
    Marean, Jonathan G Wynn, Denné Reed, Denis Geraads, René
    Bobe & Hamdallah A Béarat: Evidence for
    stone-tool-assisted consumption of animal tissues before
    3.39 million years ago at Dikika, Ethiopia, Nature 466,
    857–860, 12 August 2010.

        Date: Fri, 15 May 2015 08:11:13 +0200
        From: "Center for Comparative Studies" <centrostudicomparati at libero.it>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 29.29 billions of pages' worth
        In-Reply-To: <20150514051321.367B1663B at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear All, dear Willard,

I find this debate very interesting and I appreciate many remarks of this
message, but I think this list should avoid to publish definitions about
one of us is or is not. No personal quarrels, please, just respond to the
arguments with other arguments or evidences.

Sorry for chiming in and kind regards

Francesco Stella

        Date: Fri, 15 May 2015 19:59:50 +1000
        From: Desmond Schmidt <desmond.allan.schmidt at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re:  29.29 billions of pages' worth
        In-Reply-To: <20150515053223.5BCCE66A2 at digitalhumanities.org>

Hi Hugh,

this has been said several times already. (Such as here:
and here: http://ht.ly/3bBMb). Although I don't want this to degenerate
into a boring JSON vs XML argument, I'd like to point out that the JSON
standard has no version number precisely "because it is so simple, it is
not expected that the JSON grammar will ever change" (ECMA standard
ECMA-404). And I'd like to question this notion of yours that
technological change is stuck in a "rinse-repeat" cycle. What about the
work of the Text Encoding Initiative itself? Is that just a redefinition
of what went before it? The original grant proposal makes it clear that
what preceded TEI was chaos: everyone used different encoding schemes
for different projects that had nothing, not even character encoding
standards, in common. What we have now is at least something that
organises that chaos under the rubric of a single encoding technology.
You could argue that TEI has itself become chaotic, that it has allowed
accretions of material that was previously excluded. But I think we have
gone forward. The wave has reached higher up the beach.

In fact the JSON vs XML debate is part of a much wider movement on the Web
to simplify the technologies that underlie it. What about REST: this is a
reaction to the "opaque and insanely complex" XML Web services standards
so derided by Tim Bray. And what about technologies like NodeJS (in a
nutshell end-to-end Javascript) or RDFa, Linked Data, or (your own example)
noSQL? Aren't they also simplifications that, if your argument is correct,
are just part of a rinse-repeat cycle that will end up being just as bad
as what preceded them? I don't think so. There is something deeper and
bigger here: a strong desire to comprehend the Web as a technical whole,
rather than muddle through the hodge-podge of dischordant and endlessly
varied technologies, all screaming for attention, that have characterised
the early years of Web development.

As for being a "kakangelist" I have always tried to marry constructive
suggestions with criticism. I have worked hard on solutions, such as
multi-version documents for representing complex variation, standoff
markup properties to describe encoded texts, a packaged form of the
digital scholarly edition to replace the all-or-nothing approach of TEI,
a text-to-image linking tool that doesn't require overlapping
markup, on general and interoperable tools for digital scholarly
editions. That's not just being a critic; that's being constructive.
Indeed, I don't understand how one can ever challenge the status quo
without first pointing out what is wrong with it. Otherwise original
thoughts would never get a chance to be heard without being shouted down
by those who say that what we already have is good enough.

Desmond Schmidt
eResearch, School of ITEE
University of Queensland

On Fri, May 15, 2015 at 3:32 PM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 29.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>         Date: Thu, 14 May 2015 10:55:32 -0400
>         From: Hugh Cayless <philomousos at gmail.com>
>         Subject: Re:  29.24 billions of pages' worth
>         In-Reply-To: <20150513051508.A367A668A at digitalhumanities.org>
> Technical transitions are not religious wars, it is true, but technology
> is, to an unreasonable extent, fashion driven. Those of us who’ve been
> around the block a few times are very familiar with this sort of cycle:
> 1. New technology appears that compares favorably with an established
> technology, achieving greater speed or ease of use, often by dropping big
> chunks of the established technology.
> 2. New tech acquires many evangelists, becomes very popular. Old tech’s
> users are derided and have to defend their decision not to be fashionable.
> Inexperienced users choose the new tech based only of its hype and
> contribute to that hype.
> 3. Users begin to realize parts of the established tech that the new one
> dropped were actually useful. They begin to add them to the new tech.
> 4. The realization dawns that the new tech is now just as
> clunky/slow/undesirable as the old. Maybe it’s totally unusable now, or
> maybe it’s reached a sustainable level of maturity. Some people drift back
> to the established tech if it’s still viable, leaving a core of dedicated
> users, some move on to another new tech. Maybe the two continue to coexist,
> like vi and emacs. Old tech users (if any remain) lead a chorus of "I told
> you so."
> 5. Rinse, repeat.
> JSON is at about step #3 right now. Time will tell if JSON is to XML as
> XML was to SGML or if it’s like the NoSQL movement is to the RDBMS (for
> reference see e.g.
> https://dennisforbes.ca/index.php/2010/03/24/the-impact-of-ssds-on-database-performance-and-the-performance-paradox-of-data-explodification/
> ).
> There are no silver bullets. There is no single "right" technology. The
> choice of what technology to use to accomplish a task should be made based
> on its affordances, it’s maturity level, the help you can get from its user
> community, and its overall suitability for your data and your requirements.
> HathiTrust and its developers seem to me to have made a perfectly sensible
> non-ideological technology decision.
> You, Desmond, are a sort of XML kakangelist :-). I can understand finding
> a technology flawed and even irritating (I feel much the same way about
> RDF), but you seem to me to raise your dislike of XML to the level of
> ideology, and I don’t think that’s a reasonable basis for deciding whether
> or not to use a technology.
> All the best,
> Hugh
> /**
>  *  Hugh A. Cayless, Ph.D
>  *  hugh.cayless at duke.edu
>  *  Duke Collaboratory for Classics Computing (DC3)
>  *  http://blogs.library.duke.edu/dcthree/
> **/

        Date: Fri, 15 May 2015 12:05:11 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: hammers & computers
        In-Reply-To: <20150515053223.5BCCE66A2 at digitalhumanities.org>

A tangential point, or rather suggestion. The etymological entry for
'hammer' in the OED suggests that, "The Norse sense 'crag'™, and possible
relationship to Slavic 'kamy', Russian 'kameni' stone, have suggested that
the word originally meant '˜stone weapon'." This suggests further, perhaps,
that the hammer was the original weapon. Resemblance to an arm and clenched
fist relates it to the human body, the proto-weapon. Picking up a hammer
almost generates the desire to hammer something -- or someone. Is the
same true of knives?

Such a near-autonomic reaction is much fainter with screwdrivers, pliers
and so on, until the tool becomes 'ready-to-hand'. In the present context
this leads me to wonder about our machine. In what ways do we similarly
extend ourselves into our computers and our 'smart' appliances, to the point
of losing the distinction? I observe my quite distressing level of
disorientation and anxiety whenever my computer, network, its attached
devices fail to work. I *think* this is a very different state of mind from
the frustration at the failure of a non-computational device, though I
suspect the distinction has grown very fuzzy indeed.

This is more than dependency. But I doubt that there's anything essentially 
new here, and that makes this more-than-dependency hugely important, 
does it not? On the level of scholarship, it would suggest that the changes 
going on extend to the furthest/deepest levels. How might this be guiding 
our actions as scholars?

Anything of interest here?

Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Digital Humanities Research
Group, University of Western Sydney

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