Software to Watch: Sophie

if:book: Sophie Released.

For some time I’ve been watching the development of Sophie, software developed by the Institute for the Future of the Book “for writing and reading rich media documents in a networked environment.’ According to the developers, Sophie’s goal is “to encourage multimedia authoring and, in the process, to redefine the notion of a book or academic paper to include both rich media and mechanisms for reader feedback and conversation in dynamic margins.”

Version 1.0.2 has been released, and based on the little I’ve played, it’s an intriguing piece of software. There are a series of tutorials on the if:book BlipTV channel that I found very helpful in figuring out what the capabilities are. A good tutorial start with is Making a Sophie Book that give a conceptual overview of what the software can do.

Sophie is designed to have some specific strengths for humanists. Text flow is designed to allow complex arguments to develop over multiple pages without having to be reduced to bullet points as PowerPoint or Keynote One of the more complex features is the use of multiple timelines to support various types of presentations. Embedding media from a variety of sources, including the internet archive is supported, in addition to pretty sophisticated methods of collecting reader comments.

The project page has demo books, documentation and tutorials.

Surely You Jest: HPC for the Humanities?

Humanities High Performance Computing: “”

For the last three weeks I’ve been immersed in the world of HPC–High Performance Computing. HPC is that parallel universe where researchers run programs that take five days of processing, where tiny jobs only require 12-15 processors, where terabyte drives fill up in matters of hours and where shouting at and threatening colleagues is considered a perfectly acceptable way of communicating. Now humanities scholars are being invited play in the HPC sandbox too.

The NEH Office of Digital Humanities has just launched a resource page for Humanities High Performance Computing. This new resource is designed to attract scholars in the humanities and social sciences who have masses unstructured data that needs to be sorted, mined, or visualized to be better understood. Programs include a series of grants (deadline is July 15th for award in January 2009) and invitations to access to the National Science Foundation’s teragrid.

William and Mary has a HPC operation that has recently become a part of our academic and research support for faculty. Like the folks at the NEH, we’re hoping that a broader range of faculty will take advantage of the college’s investment in these high performance tools.

Digital Repository Pilot Project

Over the last semester, we’ve been working with Wayne Graham at the Swem Library and some students and staff at the Charles Center to create a digital repository of honors theses. I just received my first email notification of a submission– an honors thesis by Sara Thomas entitled From Shadwell to Monticello: The Material Culture of Slavery, 1760-1774. Sarah is finishing up an interdisciplinary major in “Jefferson Studies” working closely with Jim Whittenburg:

…also give thanks to James Whittenburg for agreeing to the idea of a self-designed “Jefferson Studies,” major in the first place. I thank him for his tremendous support over the past four years, for driving me around Virginia to see the sites, and for asking tough questions about Jefferson.

I spent a few minutes reading through Sara’s thesis and found it a very interesting piece of scholarship. Without the electronic repository and email notification, I never would have been aware of this work or the fascinating major Sara had designed. I’m looking forward to seeing what other interesting things find their way to my inbox as we continue with this project. (I also think it’s a tribute to Jim’s commitment to his students that he receives thanks not only for his intellectual acumen but also for his chauffeuring skills!)

Harvard is following William and Mary’s lead in creating a central repository of senior theses. The “Free Thesis Project” is a student initiative of the Harvard Free College Culture group and is seen as a student-led extension of the open access motion recently enacted by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The faculty project is being coordinated by Harvard University Library’s Office of Scholarly Communication. Typically Harvard has only retained hard copies of theses that receive honors or above.

Hamilton College Alumni Review: Sitting in the Front Row Could Be Dangerous

Hamilton College – Alumni Review – Spring 2008 – Sitting in the Front Row Could Be Dangerous

Hamilton College just ran a long article with reminiscences from alumni about their most inspirational professors. One was by Tom Reid, my freshman year roommate, about Edwin Barrett, professor of English, who was my advisor and inspiration as well. Tom begins by saying

I entered Hamilton in 1967 as a political and emotional conservative. Afraid of people and ideas I didn’t understand, I managed my anxiety by convincing myself that I pretty much had all the answers. Fortunately, courses with professors such as Russell Blackwood, Sidney Wertimer and Robert Simon began to loosen the grip of my insular ideology. However, it took Edwin Barrett to really get through to me.

Tom’s claim to have been a political conservative was pretty clear the first day I met him. We were comparing record collections–his focused largely on the Who and mine on Pete Seeger and Phil Ochs. The thing I knew, I was the proud recipient of a list of 93 Reasons Why Pete Seeger is A Communist. (My favorite was #34: “He sent birthday greetings to People Songs, Inc., a communist front organization.”)

Tom and I travelled in different circles most of the time that we were at Hamilton. I was pretty surprised to read the story of his encounter with Ed Barrett:

It was my second literature class with him. He had mainly given me C’s and D’s for papers blithely dismissing author after author as too negative or relativistic. Yet for some reason I had started to admire him, despite his obvious liberalism! Then he assigned a paper on "How Jane Austen Defines and Limits the World of Emma." In writing it, I somehow grasped the idea that a work of art should be judged not by external standards but by the values within the work itself. I don’t think I realized what a breakthrough this was for me, but Barrett did. He gave me an A-, but what mattered more was the summary comment he wrote on the title page: "Tom, this is your best vein: sympathetic, precise and undogmatic. If you could do this kind of work consistently, I think you would find yourself as a student, and to some degree as a person."

There were many other influences on me in those years, but nothing helped me see myself as clearly as that one comment. It became a kind of beacon guiding me to a more liberal and compassionate philosophy of life. Without it, I might not have become a teacher myself and might never have become the man who won the heart of my wonderful wife. I still think of Barrett’s words often, especially as I spend my evenings writing comments on the papers of my students, hoping I can be anywhere near as inspiring to them as he was to me.

Tom Reid ’71<br /

I still remember many of the comments from my courses with Professor Barrett. My papers were all typed on erasable bond paper on a Smith Corona electric typewriter and were returned with Ed’s final judgement on the cover page. His handwriting–like everything he did–was exuberant and expressive–more like calligraphy than the normal handwriting on a returned papers. One of my favorites:

Gene, This is the best undergraduate essay I’ve read on this poem. Well done! B+

This is a good reminder for this final week or two when so many of our friends and colleagues are plowing through the seemingly endless piles of papers.

Recommendation for Core Technology Library

New Media.jpg

Recently I had a colleague contact me asking for a bibliography of recent influential texts that he could include in a three credit introductory course in technology for language students. Mike said that he was looking primarily for items that approached technology from a theoretical or philosophical perspective.

I went though my RefWorks bibliography of about 1366 references for courses that I’ve taught in Adult Education, Technology Planning and Emerging Technology, and came up the following list as a starting place. Since I happen to have the New Media Reader sitting on my desk, I strongly suggested that he start there.

Any ideas of others that have shaped your thinking would be appreciated.


Anderson, C. (2006). The long tail: Why the future of business is selling less of more Hyperion.

Baase, S. (2008). A gift of fire: Social, legal, and ethical issues for computing and the internet (3rd edition) (3rd ed.) Prentice Hall.

Brown, J. S., & Duguid, P. (2000). The social life of information. Cambridge: Harvard Business School Press.

Dertouzos, M. L. (2001). The unfinished revolution : Human-centered computers and what they can do for us. New York: HarperCollins.

Duderstadt, J. J., Atkins, D. E., & Van Houweling, D. E. (2002). Higher education in the digital age : Technology issues and strategies for American colleges and universities. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

Friedman, T. L. (2007). The world is flat 3.0: A brief history of the twenty-first century Picador.

Hafner, K. (1998). Where wizards stay up late: The origins of the internet Simon & Schuster.

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide NYU Press.

Lessig, L. (2005). Free culture: The nature and future of creativity Penguin (Non-Classics).

Lessig, L. (2006). Code: Version 2.0 Basic Books.

Montfort, N., & Wardrip-Fruin, N. (2003). The new media reader. Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press.

Negroponte, N. (1996). Being digital (New Ed ed. ) Coronet Books.

Shenk, D. (1998). Data smog: Surviving the information glut revised and updated edition (Rev Upd ed.) HarperOne.

Shneiderman, B. (2002). Leonardo’s laptop : Human needs and the new computing technologies. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Talbott, S. (2007). Devices of the soul: Battling for our selves in an age of machines O’Reilly Media, Inc.

Vaidhyanathan, S. (2005). The anarchist in the library: How the clash between freedom and control is hacking the real world and crashing the system (New Ed ed.) Basic Books.

Weinberger, D. (2007). Everything is miscellaneous : The power of the new digital disorder (1st ed.). New York: Times Books.

Wright, A. (2007). Glut: Mastering information through the ages Joseph Henry Press.

I’m Going to the Faculty Academy

Welcome – Faculty Academy 2008

One of the spring events that I’ve come to look forward the most is the Faculty Academy for Teaching and Learning at the University of Mary Washington. This year I’ll be attending as an “esteemed guest presenter” and sucking in all the energy and creativity that event fosters. I’m honored to follow in the footsteps of such innovators as Alan Levine and Barbara Ganley and trying to figure out what I can add to the mix that will justify the invitation.

One contribution that I might make to the gathering is a bona fide historical artifact. I can talk persuasively about such topics as why the Commodore Vic 20 is a better home computer than the Apple II or a lament about why no one has been able to come up with a laptop that’s even close to the functionality of my Radio Shack Model 100.


One of the nice things that the organizers of the faculty academy provide is a widget that gives the countdown to the event. (29 days, 16 hours and 17 minutes as I start writing this.). The countdown serves as a constant reminder that I have a workshop and presentation to do in front of a whole bunch of people, most with laptops connected to Twitter and who aren’t afraid to use them! I’ve always felt a responsibility to try to connect when I’m making a presentation, and the special place that the Faculty Academy has assumed in the Academic Technology community really turns up the heat to contribute something meaningful. As a genuine historical artifact, my first thought for a workshop title is “Ten Ways You Can Use Vi to Get More Done and Enjoy Life More!” But then, I’ve got 29 days 15 hours and 30 minutes to reconsider.