Transdisciplinary crossovers into the DH – The Don’ts and what can go wrong

Dear friends, today I want to illustrate some trans-disciplinary crossovers (into the DH) gone wrong. In earlier posts, I have already explained some of the dos (Looking at data with the eyes of a Humanist: How to apply digital skills to your Humanities research questions and Formulating Research Questions For Using DH Methods and What are ‘real’ Digital Humanities and how to get started?), so I assume I have you covered in that area. This is all very happy and positive – but I think I also owe it to you guys to give you an honest opinion of where you probably fucked up. It always hurts to learn these things and it’s more butterflies and rainbow-sprinkles to list all the empowering things you can do. But there are some traps as well and we don’t want you to fall into them. And if you already have, at least now you’ll have the closure to understand why you maybe have gotten rejected

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Does LaTeX count as “programming”?

Today I wanted to talk about a common question I come across: Does LaTeX count as programming? Many people dismiss this question directly with a no. But I say the answer is not that simple and depending on how you practice LaTeX can definitely be ‘yes’ much more than you might think! Also, something I really don’t appreciate is people meaning to  degrade LaTeX when saying using LaTeX has nothing to do with programming (because it does and most people who think that way have just never seen LaTeX being used more like programming). LaTeX is, strictly speaking, a programming language and Turing-complete. Or rather, LaTeX is a macro package for TeX which is the actual Turing complete programming language. The typesetting-specific tools LaTeX provides probably can’t, however, be considered a full programming language on their own anymore. You could theoretically do anything with it, though it might just not be the easiest possible way to accomplish your ends (unless

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Join the #100DaysofDH Challenge!

I have been following the #100DaysofCode community for a while now and thought that it was sad that there didn’t seem to be a connection with the DH community. 100 Days of Code is such a great project which is motivational for those willing to learn but also a great way to foster a community. So I thought, why not start #100DaysofDH and I did. Looking forward to your contributions! The main activity around this will be happening on Twitter (account is @100DaysofDH, hashtag #100DaysofDH) but there is also a minimalist page:  On the github, you can also find the current state of the Tweepy and AWS-powered bot. The story behind the creation of this challenge Before getting into the details of how the challenge works, let me share some thoughts that I had in mind for the adaption of the 100 days challenge to the DH (skip this part if you just want the rules which can

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Learning to program: Failing fast and error messages

Today I wanted to talk about error messages and why you should learn to love them. If your mission is to learn programming, they show you your weakness and tackling a weakness is always the fastest way to learn. This is why the whole discussion of fixing error messages quickly turns into a philosophical discussion of a way of life: Walking the  path of the Ninja requires you to fail fast, early on, and often. Let me tell you why… Should you care about error messages and warnings? Are they secret messages from the universe? Yes, they are. If you’ve never given a hoot about errors and warnings in your life, congratulations. I don’t either. That is, until the thing doesn’t compile anymore. I am at awe with respect for people who fix mistakes before they become a problem. But I’m not one of them. What does this mean, however, with regard to your attitude towards failure? It probably means

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News on the DH and Gender Equality

A few weeks ago, I posted The Computational Humanities and Toxic Masculinity? A (long) reflection   and didn’t know what reaction to expect. It would either be a shitstorm or get ignored, I assumed. It turns out, however, that the timing might have been just right, since I was contacted by the (informal) Turing Institute reading group – they wanted to discuss my blog post. I was honoured that they did and that I could participate. Here I wanted to share some new insights and reflection prompts this discussion has sparked for me. First things first: Thanks for everyone who participated! First of all, I was happy this discussion happened at all. That’s exactly the type of thing I had aimed for with the post, yet I was pretty surprised it actually happened. After all, you normally don’t always get you want. Maybe it’s that help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it. 😉 So anyway,

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LaTeX for Archaeologists: An archaeological catalogue using LaTeX

Like hinted in various Noob posts, our friend the LaTeX Noob once asked for help typesetting her archaeological catalogue using LaTeX. As it sadly happens to me quite often, I totally forgot about this and was reminded by a recent inquiry (don’t be afraid to ask if I forget to post something I once promised!). In this post, I wanted to share the reaons why you should use LaTeX to typeset an image-heavy catalogue and what to take into account when deciding how to implement it in LaTeX. General PhD typesetting advice One PhD thesis = 2 outputs In the post on LaTeX for PhDs, I have already laid out the most common and some more commonly overlooked advice on why you should use LaTeX for typesetting your PhD thesis. An important aspect is that your thesis will likely generate two outpts, the thesis and a book (hopefully). If you “hard-code” everything now, the transition won’t be as smooth as

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Looking at data with the eyes of a Humanist: How to apply digital skills to your Humanities research questions

In my recent post on how to get started doing DH, I basically said that the essence of being DH is looking at data with the eyes of a Humanist and gave some tips on how to get started in just 10 days. However, it’s not that easy. Learning digital skills and the problem of skill transfer A problem I see a lot is that H people fail to transfer their newly won practical DH skills to their own research questions. They don’t know how to look at their own material as data. They don’t know how to leverage digital methods to help answer their own research questions. But if it isn’t compatible with their own research, they’ll never deepen their knowledge enough to actually profit from their DH skills. If you don’t use them, they are forgotten quickly. So how do you make this transfer which I think is, so far, being neglected as a skill which has to

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The Computational Humanities and Toxic Masculinity? A (long) reflection

Today, I want to talk about the Computational Humanities discussion from last year and finally say something with regard to the gender issues in it. I called this post ‘Toxic Masculinity?’ and maybe that’s provocative to you. But maybe it also correctly describes a situation which could come to pass in the DH – a discipline which considers itself so forward-thinking – if we don’t take lurking issues seriously. So this is my reaction. Some disclaimers and considerations I wanted to respond to this discussion when it originally came up. Then I didn’t dare  to post it because I was kind of afraid there would be a bad reaction, especially as the slightly-shitstorm-like situation was still fresh and I didn’t want to offend anyone. So I didn’t and now it’s all kind of too late and not up-to-date anymore. But since the general subject is still relevant to me, I decided to use this Corona situation to write up this

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Learning Programming from Video Tutorials

In these times of corona crisis, I have been receiving many offers for online programming tutorials in my inbox, so I wanted to give my views on one type in particular, that is learning from videos. I’ll share what I think are pros of learning programming watching videos, as opposed to, for example, text-based tutorials like blog entries or books, or also in-person trainings. Pro: Learning by imitation or watching someone else do it at first is a natural way to learn Using video tutorials, you don’t need to run the code yourself to see its results, which is fair, I think, when just quickly going through a tutorial or you’re at the very beginning of your programming journey where even installing a new software might still seem daunting. Generally, you should experiment for yourself and try to tweak example programs but at the same time, you don’t need to overdo it for something you just quickly want to look

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Formulating Research Questions For Using DH Methods

In the feedback forms I did on the DH classes I have taught over the last years, I got one feedback I didn’t expect: People were extremely grateful I had practiced with them how to formulate valid research questions which, apparently, no one had ever (really) done with them before. I found that quite astonishing because the DH are all about methods and methods are like specizalized tools. You need to know what you can use them for. So here’s the crashcourse. The Hammer and the Nail I want to start off with an analogy. A hammer is a specialized but not an extremely specialized tool. You can use it for a range of tasks, however, not all tasks are going to work equally well. Some might work but would actually require a more specialized tool if you had one. You can really use the hammer on about anything and almost always, something is going to happen. For example, you

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The LaTeX Ninja is nominated for the DH Awards for 2019! Please vote!

I don’t usually do self-promotional posts, but today I’ll make an exception: The LaTeX Ninja blog’s DH category was nominated for the DH Awards 2019. So I warmly encourage you to vote for the Ninja and share this – because, as the site’s 2019 FAQ state quite clearly – in the end, the DH awards are a popularity contest. So this is the reason for some shameless self-promotion today. I’ll be back with useful content soon. But this also serves me well in terms of my own blog time management since I’m currently too busy with conference organization to able to provide an insightful thoughtful blog entry. Generally, anyone can vote – you don’t even need to be in the DH yourself! So please do vote and get your grandma to vote too 😉 Am I allowed to vote? Everyone is allowed to vote, voting is entirely open to the public. You do not even have to view yourself as

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A Book Review of ‘Ultralearning’

Today, I wanted to share a little book review: Scott Young, Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career, Harper Business 2019. (Book website) It won’t be an exhaustive review, but mostly about my one key insight and some reflection on it. If you want a summary, there are countless ones readily available out there already. The following quote sums up the spirit (and main claims) of the book quite well, but it’s really a book packed with solid methods, not just promises: Is it really possible to get an MIT-level education without attending MIT? Or to learn a new language to the point of becoming fluent and conversant in just three months? Or to develop your own video game from scratch and make it a commercial success without being a professional game developer working for a big studio? (source) Apart from the fact that the whole philosophy of ‘Ultralearning’ can be seen as somewhat problematic (see

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An ‘Inline’ bib. file using filecontents

In this post, I will explain how you can use the filecontents package to create an ‘inline’ .bib file inside your main document.tex . This can, for example, be useful if your LaTeX gets compiled on a server and your method only allows you to pass one single document. If you wanted to pass a .bib file with it, this wouldn’t work out. Also, for LaTeX releases past fall 2019, the package is no longer required for this functionality, you can use it directly as an environment. I’ll still keep this the way I wrote it. See the documentation here. Premlinaries: How I ended up writing this That’s what I initially wrote this little method for: Our publication system archives data following the single source principle: This means that all representations you want, such as a web site or an output PDF, will be generated from one single document. In our content management system, my data are encoded in TEI

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What are ‘real’ Digital Humanities and how to get started?

The title suggests a political discussion, however, this is not what I want to discuss here. (However, I had a ‘more political’ discussion planned for a while.) At a recent conference, I realized many people from the Humanities find it difficult to grasp what the DH even really are – because they are so diverse. I was told a colleague had gone to a short DH summer school but still feels like she doesn’t get what the DH really are. Or that she hasn’t learned any ‘real DH’. How does this happen? How can we make it better? Maybe, as a first step, by trying to answer what the DH are in a way which is easy to grasp for someone who isn’t already part of the DH: It is really an umbrella term for a wide range of topics ranging from digital edition to long-term archiving, digitizing facsimile scans of books or running analyses. I don’t promise to unveil

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Learning to program: What to do if the program doesn’t compile

In this new year, I wanted to make an introduction to programming which mentions all the parts which (albeit being quite essential) many of the other tutorials, books and teaching documents tend to leave out. Things like “How do I even start debugging?” or “How to not lose it if my program doesn’t compile or when nothing works anymore?”. I was fortunate to get taught these skills by friends and helpful colleagues but if you’re a remote-only learner and don’t have access to such people – this series is for you. In this first post, I’ll address the problem that you’re in a situation where your program does not work at all. In the case of LaTeX, this means it won’t compile. Other programming languages which are not compiled will just not run. So what do you do in that dire situation? Step 1: Take a deep breath Stay calm. I repeat, stay calm. Take a deep breath. It’s just

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Strategically Using Search-And-Replace for LaTeX documents. Part I

In an earlier post, we talked about the perks of using search and replace wisely on XML documents. Here I want to argue that search and replace might be even more powerful when used in LaTeX.   The power of search and replace Imagine your thesis advisor decides last minute that they don’t like the way images are typeset in your thesis. It happens. We are speaking from our friend the Noob’s experience here. So imagine your advisor decides the images in your archaeological catalogue are too small, at the very last minute. In Microsoft Word, problem No. 1 you would have already encountered before now is that the document probably wouldn’t even open anymore (what with 200 pages full of images etc.). The second problem would be that you’d have to change each image size by hand, clicking and dragging around, cleaning up after the horrible mess and destruction your changes are leaving behind. In LaTeX, thanks goodness we

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Tracking your progress to make New Year’s Resolutions stick

Many people make New Year’s resolutions. Whether they are to lose weight, exercise more or learn a new skill, they often fail. In this post I want to show what pitfalls can be and suggest some good ways of making resolutions stick. Problem: Not having clear actionable goals If you’re not following through on your goals, that might simply be due to a lack of clarity about what they are. For example, “Learn X” is a bad goal because it doesn’t state what exactly you’ll do to learn X, which methods you use, how long you’ll practice or when and where. Swap unclear goals like these with something very concrete and plan when you’ll do it. Is it supposed to become a habit part of your pre-existing daily routine (recommened) or do you see it like an appointment? Then put it in your calender (on auto-repeat so it gets scheduled every week). (You can read some more about this here.)

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