Thursday, 16 April 2015

Last Post

This will be my last post of the bunch, and serves to reflect on the course as a whole.

The very idea of the course is bold, and to some extent I think the structure of the course mirrors the current relationship between the humanities and the digital world. It's a little bit loose, but that is only because of the enormous opportunities that already exist, and the many more that will develop with time.

Through the course we learned a handful of useful tools that we may very well use again in our future careers, whether that be something like GIS or learning to navigate immense databases such as those behing Google's n-grams.

The classroom and lectures were typically fairly interesting and engaging, even during the first few lessons which mostly served to briefly cover the history of digital humanities. I may have been a little more knowledgeable about the development of the internet than most of my peers, but I think all of us learned a great deal from that part of the course, and beyond.

I think the course could deal with somewhat less of a student-driven learning focus, though it is still essentially to keep that as a strong element in a topic as broad as this. Like it or not, this class does exist in a somewhat less forgiving academic structure, and having more constant direction and feedback at least gives us some sense of our standing in the class. Leaving the capstone project largely in the hands of the students would be enough student-driven learning to let us pursue our own ideas about what digital humanities means, but I think better defining blog participation would help to keep the course grounded.

It may even be better to move away from the blog structure, and explore other opportunities that maybe encourage a little more interaction between students. Forums seem to be going the way of the dinosaur, but they come to mind as better system for sharing, discussion, and debate. If nothing else, you can set up something like that in courselink, though perhaps courselink debates stir up too many bad memories of awful online courses.

Alternatively, adding more weekly blog assignments would be an easy way to address this situation. The ones we were assigned seemed to encourage students to get the work done on time, while semi-voluntary participation leads to events where the student realizes just how little they've actually done compared to what they thought they did, and tries to fit a bunch in at once. (Who would do that? I mean really...)

These assignments don't always have to focus on a new tool that we've learned, and could be as simple as finding a recent news article relevant to digital humanities and tossing up a 5-600 word post interpreting it.

As it is, it's still a great class even without any of the improvements I've mulled over here, but I think they're worth keeping in mind. A little bit of direction helps to keep students focused, and regular marks let us know if we're actually grasping the material and engaging with the content as we should be.

Signing off (probably),

Shamefully Late Review for Anthony

I should have had this done weeks ago, but regretfully did not. I think your project was quite well done and largely succeeded at what it set out to do, so writing a review seemed fairly irrelevant. Even still, I'll make a few notes in praise and give you a few recommendations if you decide you want to continue with this project, or perhaps revisit it at some point in the future.

You had a really great catch with the Creative Commons citing – it's definitely an excellent resource and one that more people should be aware of. It helped you skirt some potential legal issues, and I'm sure a few more in the class took note of that particular database.

Having a specific goal for time to read your site is an excellent idea, and you seemed to do a pretty good job keeping things concise enough to stay within those limits. This also let you situate your project as something different from resources already out there, and does so with a hook that should resonate with many people (saving time).

Making videos for your site was pretty ambitious, and I thought they were fairly well done as they were. If you want to build on this site in the future, I would recommend re-recording the audio tracks on these videos, and trying to reduce the verbal fillers or pauses that slipped in to the recording you used. It would look a lot more professional to get rid of those, and would really bump up the quality of your content.

I'd like to see a little more depth on the humanities side of your project, but it is important to consider that many of your readers won't have the kind of background that we do. You mentioned that your site wanted to educate potential agents on how certain sales tactics work with some cultures but not with others, something which I think is particularly interesting from an academic perspective. It might be worthwhile to spend some time trying to expand on this a little bit more, and could possibly help encourage genuine cultural understanding rather than seeming like a way to make an easy sale. I think it's that sort of issue that really lets us put our humanities training to use.

Other than that, I think it was fairly well put together, and not in need of any significant revisions. Good luck!

Notes on suggested changes

I opted to go with the title Digital Immersion. I think it pretty accurately captures the spirit of the project, and is short enough to keep it catchy. If I had the resources and felt there was interest in expanding this project, Digital Immersion could becomes a series of sorts, making this Digital Immersion – Mandarin.

I scrapped most of the lower content on the front page, and all of the non-collapse elements on the main media pages. From here it was a tough decision to either stick with HTML/CSS text overlays, or to edit the overlays on to the images themselves. I went with the latter because it let me create bordered text, which is much more readable. The downside is that, due to how jumbotrons scale images, they all look to be different sizes despite using the same font size when creating the image. I think this could be resolved by cropping all of the images to fit the dimensions of the smallest image, but I haven't tried that yet.

I added an about section to the main page, offering up a basic explanation for the purpose of the site and how to use it. I also clarified the general meaning of the difficulties I assigned to every link, and ended up revisiting some of the difficulties I assigned and changed them to match the criteria established. I also used basic HTML to colour code the difficulty levels, choosing green, orange and red.

I kept titles center-aligned, but moved descriptions and difficult to left-alignment. I also changed the colour of the hyperlinks to white as recommended, and in doing so learned how to use CSS to give them a little more style. I set already visited links to a bright gray, and removed the automatic underline from all basic links. Hovering over a link changes it to bold text, making it pop out.

I changed the order of the media types, putting education first. I initially ordered them as I did because I just wanted some consistency (entertainment, information, education), but agreed that education should probably come first both in principle, and because it is usually the 'easiest' of the types. I moved entertainment to the middle, and information to last to keep with this trend of easiest to hardest.

I added photo explanations to all of the jumbotron images, and wanted to quickly note that the one I used for video is from Lust, Caution, which was originally filmed in Mandarin.

Some of the other changes I wanted to make worked out fairly well, others didn't. It didn't take too long to merge the JS and CSS files into one file to handle the whole site, and doing so helped to make the pages a bit more uniform. In doing so, I realized why the collapse boxes in the audio section were not lining up. All of the entries were fine on every page but Radio on the audio page, so I changed the radio class I used to radiobox, and it then aligned properly. Radio must be a class already defined by bootstrap. I also found a CSS property that let me set a minimum height (min-height) for the collapse boxes. This turned out to be a less elegant solution than I hoped, because it essentially just created a lot of blank, black space under the body of the text. Given that the process of merging lumped all collapse boxes into the same styling, setting a minimum height globally would either do nothing for the larger boxes, or look ridiculous with the small boxes. I ended up settling for a size that brought the audio boxes in line, and left the others alone because they looked fine as they were.

The ugly overlay text and the non-uniform video collapse boxes are two outstanding issues, and in writing this I thought of a pretty easy way to fix the video boxes. Basically, I'd just have to add classes for the set of audio boxes, and the set of video boxes, and put the min-height attribute under those as suitable values. The issue of being unable to use Chinese characters in most of the content of the site still remains, and I'm no closer to finding a solution to that than I was when I initially mentioned the issue. I was able to somewhat work around this by writing the characters into the image overlays, then adding the pinyin for them since they cannot simply be copied and pasted. It will have to do for now, and it least it does give Chinese characters some presence on a site about immersing oneself in Chinese.

Language Learning, Digital Humanities, and the Future

I am going with a blog post to talk about the possible future of language learning on the internet because this is something that invites a lot more dialogue than it can hope to resolve. Personally, I see three issues to consider, and I'll write a bit on each of them: Firstly, the immersion and instruction resources using the internet; Secondly, the increasing dominance of the English language; Lastly, the possible irrelevance from the first two as translation technology improves.

The first is probably the easiest and most pleasant to consider. As my project sought to demonstrate, the internet offers a previously unthinkable level of cultural and linguistic access to far-off cultures. Though regional copyrights do exist and serve to restrict access to some content, it is quite clear that a little bit of persistence and some basic language skills can open up a plethora of immersion opportunities. In addition, websites like duolingo and programs like Rosetta Stone use computers and the internet to teach a language from the basics up. Humanities experts played very significant roles in developing these tools, and duolingo in particular is still looking to hire scholars who are trained in traditional education methods.

The expansion of these tools could serve to encourage people to broaden their cultural horizons in their spare time, and help to teach people new language skills that may then aid their professional pursuits. Perhaps more significantly, these resources can be used by people who are not native English speakers to teach themselves English – possibly opening up opportunities they would otherwise be denied.

This segues well into the next possibility, which is that English continues to grow in significance, partly aided by the internet. English is already estimated to be the second most widely spoken language, second only to Mandarin Chinese. The demographic difference between these two languages is quite telling, as the vast majority of Chinese speakers know it as their primary language, while the majority of English speakers know it as a second or third language. Most of the biggest websites outside of China's special sphere are English-language websites such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter. These websites offer translation options and in the case of Facebook and Twitter allow users to experience the site through their own communities, but still exist as something that is still English, or at the very least Western.

It is difficult to say whether this may contribute to the expansion of English as the global lingua franca. This could be counteracted by the first scenario, though the third could very well make them both mostly irrelevant.

Digital translation tools are a relatively new technology, but are improving at a striking pace. Google is particularly notable in pioneering this, mostly through Google Translate. It is still a very flawed tool, but translation technology seems a great deal ahead of the likes of babelfish some ten years ago. While often technically incorrect, from my personal experience using Google Translate, it seems to do a pretty decent job translating the meaning of messages even when they are stripped from nearly all the context that often determines what the real meaning should be. The potential for Google Translate to provide real-time translating through a device like Google Glass could create a watershed moment in linguistics, at least as it applies to your average person who isn't actively working to learn another language.

What would the future of Language Education be in that scenario? It seems risky to presume that technology will never be good enough to translate effectively enough to make learning languages obsolete for practical purposes. The discipline itself could very well be challenged to defend its existence, though it is likely that many would still seek to learn another language for the cultural understanding that it offers.

Final Project Report

You can find my final project here,

My capstone project was to create a website to showcase ways one can use the internet to immerse themselves in another language. I am mostly satisfied with the outcome, though it ended up differing significantly from my initial plans, something I will detail in the sections to come.

Project Background

This project was situated within the humanities discipline of Language Education. The academic justification for this project can be found in my initial project report in this blog. Overall, I think this project stayed faithful to its initial goals. My website offers resources for readers looking to start learning Chinese, as well as more advanced resources for readers looking to supplement their language education.

Data Acquisition

Data acquisition was reasonably close to what I stated in the project proposal. The resources presented on my website come from my personal experience learning Chinese, and pursuing this project. Some websites, such as Grooveshark's Mandarin station, Melnyk's and are websites I used in the past. Others, such as youku and ppstream were recommended by Chinese contacts. The majority of resources featured were ones I discovered in the process of making this site, either through English or Chinese searches using the kinds of keywords I suggest in the main pictures.

Tool Application

The primary tools employed for this project were Sublime Text 2, GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program), and several websites that provided training or reference in the listed languages, as well as one that ultimately hosted the website.

Sublime Text 2 is a program designed to replace notepad for web design. It recognizes and colour coordinates elements and tags for better visibility, while also providing some basic quality of life improvements, such as automatically appending finished tags and end quotations when one initiates a tag or starts a quotation. Before a friend recommended Sublime Text, I was using EditPad, another notepad replacement that offers some advanced features such as tabbed windows, but lacked the programming-oriented features of Sublime Text.

GIMP is an open source image manipulation program, something I used to overlay bordered text on the main images used in each page. The process of creating that bordered text was somewhat complicated due to the relative lack of features in GIMP compared with something like Adobe Photoshop, but given the significant price tag on the latter it was out of the question. Out of all of the tools used, my application of this particular tool was weakest, likely because I have had no training in the proper use of image manipulation programs. I ended up with some pretty glaring flaws in my implementation of bordered overlay text, but this is not the fault of the tool.

Several websites also provided invaluable services, such as,, and I used codecademy's lesson programs to refresh myself on HTML and Javascript, and learned the fundamentals of using CSS to style a webpage. I originally thought to use some other websites to supplement my learning such as, but chose not to partially because requires a subscription, but also because I felt codecademy gave me enough of the basics to continue my learning in another fashion.

That continued learning came primarily through exploring, which taught me several new traits and their proper syntax for styling with CSS. It also served as excellent reference for HTML and JavaScript, so it is no surprise that it is usually the first result for any web design related question in a search.

Lastly, provided free, ad-less hosting with support for custom CSS and Javascript. This site let me simply upload my folder using their file manager, and it worked with minimal tweaking. Storage and bandwidth are fairly limited, but this should not be a major problem for this project. It does not host or even embed any of the media linked, so it is very light on storage, and it should not attract enough traffic to make bandwidth an issue either. If it does become an issue, altervista offers ways to increase bandwidth by either placing ads, or letting me pay a subscription fee.

New Skill Development

My skill development for this project mostly consisted of refreshing the HTML and Javascript I used to know, and learning CSS from scratch. My first exposure to HTML and Javascript was through High School Computer Science courses, where I learned the basics of website construction some ten or so years ago.

HTML was the most extensively used language, providing structure and most of the site content. Most of the basic structure was just a refresher, the HTML I learned through this project mostly involved the creation of classes and ID tags to be styled with CSS or called in Javascript.

Heavy use of CSS was the main focus of language learning. Learning to use CSS allowed me to create a simple but consistent aesthetic. Setting classes and styling them with CSS let me apply that same look across the website, while still allowing further customization through adding additional classes, or using specific IDs. especially with the incorporation of Bootstrap, a set of pre-defined CSS classes designed to divide the page into a set of twelve easily manageable columns. The process of learning to use CSS effectively was one of the most time consuming aspects of this project, something I will detail further in the reflections part of this report.

I used Javascript to add some basic interactivity, a process that was greatly aided by employing JQuery. JQuery is a set of pre-defined instructions that let one call classes and IDs established in the HTML file in an intuitive way. In the project, it is Javascript and JQuery toggling the 'collapse' CSS class on the boxes that allows them to expand when clicked on.


The process of designing and building this site was one of constant reflection and revising. The difference between the first rough drawing and description of my project versus what it ultimately came to look like illustrates this fairly well.

For some time I followed the lessons available on codecademy and tried to brainstorm ways of implementing the initial design. When I reached the part of the second lesson where it taught how to use Javascript and CSS to animate elements of a webpage, I spent some time brainstorming ways in which I might approach what I wanted. I couldn't find anything that allowed for the direct perspective shift that I wanted, so I explored animating elements as a way to achieve an approximation of perspective shift – which was to shift literally everything on the page, bringing elements to the center rather than bringing the center to elements. I tried to visualize some pseudo-code that might establish each element on a grid, and have every element shift on the grid by the same amount needed to bring a given element to the center of the page, but ultimately felt that this was simply getting beyond my current capabilities.

With some hesitation, I went back to something else introduced through codecademy's lessons that caught my eye – Bootstrap. Bootstrap looked pretty good, and was fairly easy to use. It meant completely redesigning the page, but that seemed like a much more manageable task in the time limit I had to work with. I was able to get a pretty basic framework up before too long, and with a couple more evenings worth of work I was able to fill in the content.

Using Bootstrap began a shorter process of creating, reflecting, and revisiting. The site I presented to the class used separate .css and .js files for each page. I suspected this might be an inelegant and redundant way to structure the website quite some time after I finished the project as it was to be presented, but it worked so I left it as it was. In the weeks I've had to finalize the project, I consolidated those .js and .css files into one of each. This process wasn't too difficult, and helped to remove some of the inconsistencies from page to page.

To some extent, I was stepping into unfamiliar technical and academic territory with this project. I did not do extremely well in the courses I took before, so even the training I did have in using this languages was nothing spectacular. Even still, knowing the basics helped me absorb the online lessons readily. My unfamiliarity with Language Education as a discipline was also somewhat of a barrier, and a good reason why I've spent much more time in these reports talking about the hurdles I encountered with coding.

Time has not been a major issue in the development of the project, except in that case where I finished the build of the site despite wanting to restructure it. Regardless, it is fully functional one way or another, and that particular project was something more to challenge myself rather than to add anything to the user's experience.

It is not difficult to say that I learned, and remembered a great deal through creating this project, at least on a technical level. I have doubts that this particular model of exploring other languages and cultures using the internet will gain any traction, but there have been many focused projects that have grown significantly in recent years, such as duolingo. I'll be posting a blog entry talking more about the implications of the internet for language education, as well a s a couple that deal with some of the revisions I've made on a technical level, and how I could tackle work that still needs to be done on the site. For now, I want to wrap up the report by saying that it has been a very unexpected opportunity to retrain myself in some professional skills that grew dull, while teaching me to think of ways I can use the knowledge and skills gained as a humanities researcher to create new, important kinds of content.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Google Earth Assignment

Not really sure what we're supposed to do with the files from this. I attached the image version of the map I made to this blog post, but I suppose I'll just email the .kml file to Professor Ross. Overall, it was a pretty neat assignment. It would have been cool to further explore some kind of bigger KML project, possibly as a class effort.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Review for Sarah M. (also posted on her blog)

 Sarah, your project seems very well planned! If nothing else, you've certainly made reviewing it a challenge. You plainly stated your goal, which seems reasonable yet ambitious. It borrows much from existing scholarship, but lets you apply what you've learned to create an assignment with information that nobody else would really have access to.

I can't think of any other particularly relevant cognate projects, though it is somewhat interesting how genealogical interest manifests in social networking. I am a member of a Facebook group dedicated to the genealogical line of the Derasp family, and while I fully admit that genealogy has never been my greatest interest, I have learned a good deal from some of the posts there. That kind of networking certainly helps reach out to people who may have more information on your genealogical line, even if it's something as simple (but important) as alternate spellings.

Your plan to digitize your family tree, and some primary sources available to you should turn out to be useful experience in the process of digitization. I'm not sure if you already have extensive experience with digitization, but you could view this as a chance to develop that skill further – even if it's not a new skill per se.

I think you could stand to elaborate a bit on one aspect of this project, which seems to be something mentioned early on and then never really expanded upon. You mention that you plan to explore the evolution of the German Transylvanian Saxon culture, and propose using your family history with traditional historical material to accomplish this, but it doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the project. Everything else looks to be about digitizing your family's history and providing compelling ways to look at that history, which sounds like a totally worthwhile endeavour, but not one that fulfills that earlier goal. Are you planning on incorporating this analysis throughout your project, or will this be a distinct part where you reflect on how your family's history fits into this traditional narrative?

It's certainly not a criticism, or something I think needs to be included in this project, but it's worth considering the point I think I brought up in class. It would be interesting to explore how small-scale, personal projects such as this one could be used to build histories from the ground up. Detailed records of smaller towns and villages may be hard to find, but enough information from people who lived in these places might allow us to gain some perspective that was previously inaccessible. Do you intend to make the information you provide on this presentation publicly available, or are you thinking of restricting usage based on privacy concerns? Both courses are certainly justifiably, but it's something to consider if you haven't already.

All-in-all, looks like a solid project! I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out.