Saturday, 22 February 2014

blogging question for this week: forms of the digital page

[re-posted with the same content; had some technical trouble with earlier version]

Hope everyone's been enjoying reading week! This week's blogging question will be brief and simple, as I'm typing fast between the second and third periods. To pick up some of the threads from our readings last week on the history of the page, and to get us thinking about e-books for the next few weeks, this week's question asks you to find an example of a digital text, e-book, app, or other form that reinvents the page in an interesting way. Your example might be an innovative example of page design, or it might be a more radical example of an experiment that completely challenges our idea of what a page is. Remember that the kind of design that leads to a well-made page, digital or otherwise, is often subtle, and works best when it doesn't call attention to itself.

You might want to refer back to last week's readings from Piper and Stoicheff & Taylor, or perhaps the recommended readings, to consider some of the themes that connect the history of page design with future possibilities. Given that e-books -- especially EPUB-style ebooks for reading devices, as opposed to apps -- are still in their design infancy, we'll have lots of opportunities to consider how ebooks don't hold up well next to their print counterparts. Let's try to balance that with some examples of how digital page design has succeeded -- remembering, too, that success sometimes takes the form of an experiment that fails, but fails well.

Update: if you can, please include a photo or screenshot so that we can see what you're writing about. If you're unfamiliar with taking screenshots of windows on your computer screen, this is a good chance to learn! Luckily there's an entire organization dedicated solely to educating people on how to take screenshots on different platforms: Perhaps they have annual general meetings and fundraising drives? They've made an elegant tutorial, in any case.

On another front, given that today's historic hockey game coincides with our assignment deadline, I'm going to be lenient about the 5:00 deadline today. If you're in the Inforum working on your assignment, go find a TV for the third period and start cheering -- go Canada!

Friday, 14 February 2014

follow-up and blogging question for reading week

This post will do double-duty, as I don't have too much to add by way of follow-up to our guest lecture this week by Andrew Steeves of Gaspereau Press. In the second half of class I talked about a project of mine called Visualizing Variation, including a simple prototype interface for using animation to display textual variants. Some of the images I showed in the lecture can be found on that site. I also showed a page from Teena Rochfort Smith's Four-Text Hamlet, an experiment in complex page design and typography as markup from 1883.

For reading week, I'm going to make our blogging question an open topic. Feel free to post about anything you like as long as it's somehow related to the topic of the course. You could blog about your response to Andrew's guest lecture this week -- he gave us a lot to think about in terms of publishing, reading, our relationships with books as objects, and the ecology of books and digital texts -- or you could blog about some aspect of your encoding challenge work, or test out an idea for your final project for this course, or some other topic of your own invention. Like a fresh snowfield waiting for someone to ski down it, reading week's seemingly vast expanses of time lies before us as a field of possibilities, as does the week's blogging topic. Let's all lay down some interesting tracks of our own devising.

Remember, our first class back after reading week will be held in the Fisher Rare Book Library, which may prove a surprisingly fitting place for our class's turn to the topic of e-books. I'll send out a Blackboard announcement in advance with logistical details regarding the field trip.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

this week's blogging question: encoding challenge examples

Apologies, all, for being late with this week's blogging question! I've adjusted the deadline for the first blog evaluation, moving it from this Friday to Monday, Feb. 17th, to give everyone the weekend to complete the final blog post for the first evaluation.

To make things a bit easier, let's also tie this week's blogging question to the encoding challenge assignment. One of my favorite things about this assignment is seeing the range of examples that students come up with, but as with many assignments it's usually just the professor or TA who gets to see that range as a whole. Let's rectify that this week by sharing descriptions (and images, where possible) of our materials for the encoding challenge. Keeping in mind that the encoding challenge is a group assignment whereas the blogging is individual, let's open the topic up to include encoding challenge materials that your group considered but decided not to use. That way one member of your group might blog about the example you're actually working on, while another might blog about one of the other examples you considered but didn't choose. (In my consultations with the groups I've been seeing some great alternative examples.) Also, it's not a problem if more than one person blogs about the same materials, since part of the rationale for this being a group assignment is that markup is innately social, and we can learn from having multiple perspectives on the same object.

Whatever you choose to blog about, please give us a little background on it and tell us what prompted you to consider that example. What makes it challenging and interesting? If you started down the path of encoding it, tell us about any illuminating problems you encountered, including decisions about what strategy to take and how your approach meshed (or didn't) with TEI. If you or your group has been imagining a particular use-scenario for your encoded representation of this example, tell us about that, too!

This post is also a good chance to share particular encoding problems with the rest of the class, and the due date for this post (next Monday) allows a good interval before the due date for the encoding assignment (next Friday). Remember that contributions to the blogs in the form of comments and discussions can count toward your blog assignment grade -- comments on this post added after next Monday's due date can count toward the second evaluation, so please make sure to add them to your log.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

follow-up to our last class on XML

Actually I may be speaking too soon when I call today our last class on XML, as there's more to say about XML and interface that I may return to next week, when we consider the history and future of the page. One of the things I may discuss is my own interface experimentation project, Visualizing Variation, which has an "animated variants" component that shows how XML can combine with other web technologies (Javascript and Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS) to create a simple but scalable interface. For those who missed the TEI url I showed in class, we were looking at the "Apendix C: Elements" page of the TEI P5 Guidelines, whose table of contents can be found here:

Rather more exciting, however, is that Andrew Steeves from Gaspereau Press will be joining us to talk about the past and future of the page, and perhaps other topics related to the future of the book. I recommend learning a bit about Gaspereau Press beforehand, which you can do through its blog:

Also in the good news department: we'll be taking a field trip to the Fisher Rare Book Library (pictured below) for our first class after Reading Week, on Feb. 26th. Although this is a class on e-books, there are some items from the Fisher collection we can examine in relation to our topic, as well as some of the books we've been discussing in recent classes. We'll meet in our regular classroom at 9:30 and walk over together. Thankfully the Fisher is part of the Robarts complex, so you won't even need a coat. (In fact, the fewer coats and bags you bring, the quicker it'll be for our group to pass the security desk to get inside. Also, please be sure not to bring any pens or liquids; pencils and computers are fine for taking notes.)

Although it wasn't planned, our two main examples today were drawn, appropriately enough, from Darwin and the King James Bible. If you'd like to go to the Fisher to call up Darwin's corrected proofs for The Expression of Emotions in Man and the Animals, you can find the record here: The Fisher also has proofs for two other of Darwin's books, The Effects of Cross- and Self-Fertilisation in the Vegetable Kingdom ( and The Power of Movement in Plants ( Remember, you don't need to be a Darwin researcher to call up these books and look at them -- even if you're just curious to watch Darwin at work through his revisions, go ahead and call up one or all of these books. That's why the Fisher exists. If you'd like to learn more about how Darwin's theories evolved in relation to book publishing, correspondence, and other textual technologies, check out the Darwin Correspondence Project, Darwin Online (which provides digital facsimiles of Darwin's works), and Ben Fry's visualization of revisions to Origin of Species.

On the Biblical side of things, I've posted a couple of supplementary readings to BB, by David Norton and Peter Stallybrass, which unpack many of the typographical details we looked at today -- and many more that we didn't consider. There's a good digital facsimile of the 1611 King James Bible available from the U Penn Library's Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image. Here's the link to the page from Genesis that we used for our in-class exercise, and here's the link to the page from "The Translators to the Reader" that contains that politically ambitious printer's ornament (also discussed in Peter's article). We'll get a first-hand look at an actual copy of the KJV when we visit the Fisher in a few weeks. It's a very different reading experience in codex form, such that the translators should probably have reminded the readers to lift with their legs, not their backs.

Finally, here's the Wikipedia page for Douglas Englebart's so-called Mother of All Demos (I love that that's the actual Wikipedia url), which demonstrated for the first time in 1968 many computer interface elements that we now take for granted. Finally, here's the full story on the Rand 1956 "home computer" image hoax, which, unlike the Englebart demo, isn't actually true, but may possess truthiness of another sort.

As always, lecture slides are posted on BB. Happy reading... and shovelling!