March 22, 2012, 8:00 am
Today I want to introduce a nifty open source mapping software application, TileMill. TileMill is created by the developers of MapBox and is available for Mac, Windows, and Linux. MapBox is primarily a map hosting service that uses the crowdsourced OpenStreetMap data for its basic layers but makes customizing, styling, and hosting this data easy. Their most recent major customer is the popular social media location service foursquare, which has switched away from Google Maps to use the service. TileMill, however, brings MapBox to your desktop, allowing you to style map layers using a simple scripting language that closely resembles Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), the core technology behind the appearance of most websites today. Let us walk through a single fictional example of how one might use the application but since it really is targeting those who are comfortable using stylesheets, I…
March 14, 2012, 8:00 am
Last week I introduced the open source application QGIS, which gives all of us free access to powerful geographic software and liberates the more casual users among us from dependence on the commercial mapping suite for Windows, ArcGIS.
In this posting and the next, however, I want to introduce some online services which are starting to bridge the gap between the capabilities of Google Maps or Google Earth, and the more powerful but complex spatial analysis tools out there, at least when it comes to collecting, displaying, and sharing rich geographic data.
The first of these is the new WorldMap platform developed at the Center for Geographic Analysis (CGA) at Harvard University. The WorldMap platform makes it extremely easy for new users to get up and running with her own collection of geographic layers. After signing up for the service you can begin creating your own maps…
March 5, 2012, 11:00 am
Over the last few years there are a growing number of universities who offer workshops and instruction for faculty and students in the use of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) software. Most of us in the humanities, to be sure, are probably still hitting up our map librarians for a quick map for that book manuscript, scanning or photocopying maps we find in books around us—or even worse—trying to draw something by hand for our lectures and handouts. However, I suspect more than a few of us find ourselves looking on in envy at those social science PhD students we see working late in the campus computer labs who appear to be doing wondrous but complicated looking things with maps in some kind of program called ArcGIS.
I have personally faced two major frustrations with learning geographic software:
1) The leading software package out there, the ArcGIS suite, is expensive and…
March 2, 2012, 11:00 am
Two weeks ago I suggested that learning the art of regular expressions, or its future equivalent would become a skill for digital literacy in the age of information. Last week I told a story about James Legge using a regular expression (regex) to easily carry out an otherwise odious formatting task. This posting assumes you have read that one which explained a few basics.
This week, let us try something a little different and a bit more challenging. Using this Project Gutenberg plain text edition of an English translation of the Heimskringla containing fifteen sagas divided up into over 800 sections, let us see if we can use a regular expression to answer the question: how many – and which – separate sections in the text refer to women?
I should start by saying that I am not a regex expert. Like many of our postings here at Profhacker, in which we share things as we learn them,…
February 21, 2012, 3:00 pm
It was a fine spring afternoon in 1867. Mr. James Legge was just back from China and had settled back into his home in Clackmannanshire, Scotland. When he turned on his SteamBook Pro to check for mail coming in over the Intertubes, he was excited to see news from his publisher about his new popular edition of the Confucian Analects. Was the book already out, perhaps?
He growled in disappointment when he saw the one line message: “CHAPTER NUMBERS ON SEPARATE LINES, PLEASE.”
He opened his manuscript (which you can download here) and saw what the publisher meant: the chapter headings were on the same line as the opening text of the chapter. They were formatted as, for example, CHAPTER I or as CHAP. II followed by a period and a space. For example: CHAP. III. The Master said, …
This was a silly request, he thought. Some of these chapters are only a few lines long and putting…
February 13, 2012, 3:00 pm
It may not come this year, or next year, or even in the next five years, but I hereby predict that the art of regular expressions, or its future equivalent, will become one of the basic literacy skills taught in elementary or, at latest, in the early secondary school curriculum. What’s that? You’ve never heard of “regular expressions” or regex? A regex is just a pattern found in some text, but more specifically refers to the language used to identify these patterns in a larger body of texts. The art of regex is the art of finding things in the ocean of the digital, and very often, manipulating what you have found.
Over the years there have emerged a set of syntax rules for regular expressions which are implemented in many programming languages and computer commands with varying degrees of standardization but, in much simpler versions, they are found in almost every decent…
February 7, 2012, 3:00 pm
Over the past few years I have seen some fantastic projects reach their funding goals on the crowdfunding service Kickstarter and create some wonderful films, products, software, and websites. The proposed project picks a sum of money they need to accomplish some aim, promises to produce certain results if they get what they ask for, and doesn’t receive a penny unless their funding goal is met.
What if there was a similar system that let us, the community of readers, buy books out of indentured copyright? Or, from the publishers perspective, what if there was a system that paid you to allow a digital edition of your work enter free into the wild? Let’s say you get a book published, it has a good run and is popular, but is now only making you a very small trickle of income. The book goes out of print, and ebook sales are way down. If you own the rights to the work, and someone…
February 3, 2012, 8:00 am
In October Ryan showed us how you can use the text-to-speech accessibility features on your computer to proofread work. Ryan offers the example of checking the accuracy of a transcription with this method, but he notes at the end of his post that this might be helpful for proofreading our own writing. Some of us may ultimately find that synthesized voice technology is still too far behind to create a tolerable listening experience, but I personally find it good enough when taken in moderate doses.
During a session on “methods of reading,” as part of a series of discussions on technology and historical research methods I’ve been joining in on, my friend and favorite medieval Korean historian Javier Cha mentioned that he finds text-to-speech to be a great help in proofreading his own work. However, instead of using the text-to-speech features of his Windows operating system, he us…
January 23, 2012, 8:00 am
The 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association was packed with sessions on digital history and the digital humanities. In one time slot I counted four sessions related to digital archives, online tools, or other technology related panels. One of the panels I especially enjoyed was Crowdsourcing History: Collaborative Online Transcription and Archives (Tweets available at #session138 #aha2012), talking about some of the projects and tools out there which involve massive crowdsourcing of the transcription of handwritten documents. Presenters included Valerie Wallace who talked about the Transcribe Bentham project, James Ginther introducing T-PEN, Tim Sherratt on Invisible Australians, and Chris Lintott on Zooniverse and the Old Weather project. You can read more about the panel at the website created for it: Crowdsourcing History.
These were all inspiring projects of…
January 5, 2012, 8:00 am
Back in December, Jason introduced us to an exciting new portable scanner, the Doxie Go. After a most generous visit from Santa, I have had the opportunity to give the new Doxie a real workout scanning old photos and documents around the family home.
My thoughts about the scanner mostly mirror those of Jason. I have been very happy with the resulting scans, which mostly look great at their default 300 dpi setting, and need very little adjustment in the well-designed Doxie photo application that the pictures are imported into (unless you have saved the scans on a USB drive or an SD card—two other great options the scanner provides). This scanner is a great example of boiling a product down to its basics and make it simple and fun to use.
As Jason points out, the scanner is not built for large scale document scanning projects. The relatively slow speed, the single-sided scanning,…