[Humanist] 30.757 hands on

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Feb 18 08:07:40 CET 2017

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 30, No. 757.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (34)
        Subject: what the hands are on

  [2]   From:    Tim Smithers <tim.smithers at cantab.net>                   (144)
        Subject: Re:  30.753 hands on

        Date: Fri, 17 Feb 2017 06:47:10 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: what the hands are on

Susan Ford's point about the user interface, which is what hands-on hands
are on, together with as much of the whole person as can be engaged, brings
to mind my favourite hint of a future for interface design. Writing in the
mid 1970s for the journal Leonardo, operations researcher Michael Thompson
observed that "when the user directly 'converses'™ with the machine the
almost instantaneous replies immediately suggest the possibility of
improvisations, as if on a musical instrument" (1974: 227). His analogy --“
researcher is to computer as musician is to instrument --“ points back to
the cybernetics of human-machine systems, and that in turn back to all
manner of physical intimacy with tools, with the affordances of the world,
including living beings with each other. In Making, Ingold includes the
watch-maker and the cellist. But he also comes down rather hard on modern
interfaces for writing -- the typewriter and its digital imitation -- which
do rather badly in comparison with pen and paper. He does not mention the

I wonder, what would be a persuasive answer to his objection? Would it lie
in the direction of further study into what happens when we write with a
computer? (Does the investment shift from fingers to the kinaesthesis of
language in subvocalisation?) Would it lie in work on a return to
conversational modes of communication, beginning with speech-recognition,
moving on to gestures, facial expressions -- i.e. to face-to-face
conversation, of which Skype is a primitive foretaste? Is this direction of
thought retrograde, too either/or? Are we poorer for all our gadgets or
simply different? 

In yet another response to Sinai Rusinek's question about "DH knockouts",
let me ask, what interface, if any, would answer Ingold's objection? What
interface would take the next step beyond the McGann-Drucker Ivanhoe?


Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London; Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney
University and North Carolina State University; Editor,
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20)

        Date: Fri, 17 Feb 2017 09:08:20 +0100
        From: Tim Smithers <tim.smithers at cantab.net>
        Subject: Re:  30.753 hands on
        In-Reply-To: <20170217061132.6370D8A11 at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Willard, Joris, Bill, Franz, Paul, Susan, and other 

I too like Joris' clock proposal and Franz' sharp and to the
point sword fighting suggestion.

Paul, I think we should not too easily mix clocks with
software implemented automata.  Software is strange stuff,
very strange stuff, in comparison with the material stuffs we
make other things from.  Within its realm of existence--as
[amazingly] useful and usable enough approximations to Turning
Machines--computer programs are immensely un-constrained:
there's very little to stop you doing anything with software
stuff.  This is not the case for material stuffs.  The physics
underlying them constrains what you can make with these
stuffs.  We must learn about these, and how to work with them,
but they help a lot in bringing about robust, reliable, and
understandable things ...  like clocks.  The physical
constraints introduce useful intrinsic properties that can be
used to achieve self-regulating and self-correcting
behaviours.  The physics is different, but this is the case
for the frequency sources in all kinds of clocks: a component
that all clock need and have.  (Clocks, through the ages, have
been on the front of what we can make reliable.  Few things we
can make more reliable.  Yet, they have no regulator as a
necessary part of them, unlike almost all other machines.)

Hands on brings us up to and into contact with the
consequences of the underlying physics, and chemistry, and
biology, and ecology, sociology, psychology, anthropology, and
fundamental human-ness of the things we design and make for
ourselves from the different stuffs we have discovered and

It makes the rest of this message long, but here are three
different examples of "hands on" that I like, and are of a Tim
Ingold kind.  With apologies to those who already know these,
they are:

1 Glass
  An exuberant 1958 Oscar-winning film about glass-blowing,
  automation and all that jazz
  Bert Haanstra -- 10 minutes

  Glass won master film maker Bert Haanstra a well-deserved
  Academy Award for Best Short Documentary in 1959.  The film
  contrasts the production of hand made crystal from the Royal
  Leerdam Glass Factory with automated bottle making machines
  in the Netherlands.  An industrial film with a bebop heart,
  its lyrical use of light and sound still looks and sounds
  fabulous, nearly 60 years after it was made.

I like this as much for the Jazz as for the craft, machines,
the people, and their motions and movements ...  a kind of
dancing with tools that vanish as objects of attention ...  in
contrast to the machine that demands attention because it
attends to nothing.  Good clocks attend to their constant
rhythm.  Programmed automata just go round and round their
states as instructed.

2 The last day of hot metal press before computers come in at
  The New York Times
  29 minutes

  Once called the 'eighth wonder of the world' by Thomas
  Edison, Linotype typecasting machines revolutionised
  publishing when they were invented in 1886, and remained the
  industry standard for nearly a century after.  The first
  commercially successful mechanical typesetter, the Linotype
  significantly sped up the printing process, allowing for
  larger and more local daily newspapers.  In Farewell, etaoin
  shrdlu (the latter portion of the title taken from the
  nonsense words created by running your fingers down the
  letters of the machine’s first two rows), the former New
  York Times proofreader David Loeb Weiss bids a loving
  farewell to the Linotype by chronicling its final day of use
  at the Times on 1 July 1978.  An evenhanded treatment of the
  unremitting march of technological progress, Weiss’s film
  about an outmoded craft is stylistically vintage yet also
  immediate in its investigation of modernity.

  Director: David Loeb Weiss,  Producer: Carl Schlesinger

This film nicely shows, I think, how much has changed in the
way of making printed words, and the care and attention needed
to do this well.  And it captures the start on the road to the
less and less costly making of published words, which seems to
have cheapened so many of them today.  Perhaps so much so that
many published words today are empty of meaning and truth.

3  The Megaprocessor by James Newman

To me, this is an example of some imaginative and wonderful
scholarship: perhaps, a kind of Digital Humanities
scholarship?  It's a beautiful way to understand the physics
of the electronics that forms the needed foundation of all
software stuff, and it helps, I think, to show how software
stuff becomes liberated from physical constraints as you move
up from the transistor to the programmable computer.  (And
it's a nice example of how hands on can result in things
getting out of hand in creative and unexpected ways.  If we
can't put our hands on it, it getting out of hand can't

From the Extreme Tech report on the Megaprocessor ...

  Newman notes that his project started as an attempt to
  understand the operation of a transistor, before noting "I
  didn't plan on ending up here.  I started by wanting to
  learn about transistors.  Things got out of hand." When you
  start off wanting to learn about transistors, and instead
  build a giant implementation of one that fills most of a
  house, that seems an apt way to describe the situation.

  What drove Newman was wanting to be able to show,
  viscerally, how data moves across a CPU as it executes a
  program.  "Computers are quite opaque," Newman said.
  "Looking at them, it's impossible to see how they work.
  What I would like to do is get inside and see what's going
  on.  Trouble is we can't shrink down small enough to walk
  inside a silicon chip.  But we can go the other way; we can
  build the thing big enough that we can walk inside it.  Not
  only that we can also put LEDs on everything so we can
  actually SEE the data moving and the logic happening.  It's
  going to be great."

  Meet the Megaprocessor: A 20kHz behemoth CPU you can actually see in action
  By Joel Hruska on July 6

I hope this isn't all too big a hand-full for one DH List

Best regards,


Donostia / San Sebastián

> On 17 Feb 2017, at 07:11, Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:
>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 30, No. 753.
>            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>        Date: Fri, 17 Feb 2017 00:58:57 +0000
>        From: Susan Ford <susan.ford at anu.edu.au>
>        Subject: RE:  30.748 hands on
>        In-Reply-To: <20170215062439.DBB138A0F at digitalhumanities.org>
> Hi Joris, Willard and Bill
> One thing about software which has needed attention after the first generation, and still does, is the user interface.
> I admit to owning a mobile phone (cheapest one I could find as a compromise with none at all) yet it has I have just discovered a beautiful interface for setting the alarm time: one changes two sets of digits separately, one for the hour, one for the minutes and at the same time sees an 'analogue' version (i.e. a normal clock face) change in concord.  This sounds unremarkable, and in fact some would criticise it as an interface because the clock face is obviously redundant. However for some reason I have not yet figured out, this interface is very pleasing to me.  A pair of unequal length sticks rotating on the same pivot at different rates past an anulus of numbers is analogous to time in representing continuity, though by having an hour hand to accumulate the minute hand travel seems ot represent discontinuity. The first thing anyone notices who designs a software system and then tries to optimise for one aspect of 'usability' - response time - is that a second is a long time - a wait - to the mind; and what happens when you 'wait' for the system? The precise mediated and meditated interaction between mind and mechanism which is what one thinks about when (I presume) one builds a clock would be a delight to explore in a clock-making session at a DH conference, as Joris suggests.             
> Susan
> (susan.ford at anu.edu.au)

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