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Barbara L Hui | literature :: new media :: mapping :: coding

Women in Technology and Open Culture: Report on Adacamp DC

I gave a brown bag tech talk at work today, which was a report back on my experience attending AdaCamp DC last month. Below are the contents of the handout I created for the talk, which is an attempt at compiling what I learned there. No doubt there are things missing, and I encourage you to visit the resource sites listed below to explore more!

AdaCamp DC

July 10-11, 2012. Washington, DC:
The Ada Initiative:

Key Issues

  • The gender gap in open technology and culture
  • Trend of women leaving technology, engineering careers
  • Impostor Syndrome:
  • Getting more women to speak at conferences
  • Creating comfortable environments for women, minorities to participate in general
  • Raising girls to be geeky
  • The challenges of being a geek mom
  • Work-life balance
  • Career advancement/development
  • Supporting newbies
  • Lack of visible role models, mentors
  • Need to include non-techies in FOSS (Free/Open Source Software)
  • Fandom as a female safe space
  • Accessibility
  • Using tech for social change
  • Importance of UX design for getting newbies on-board
  • Supporting LGBT techies

Anecdotes and Data Points

  • Women come to computers late. Middle school tends to be where the gender gap widens.
  • Parents give computers to girls later than to boys; computers often in boy’s room
  • Power of invitation – women need to be invited to run for office, to edit Wikipedia
  • If you make a (tech) program specifically for women, they will apply in greater numbers than if it’s just a general program.
  • Lack of women editors of Wikipedia (~9-13% of Wikipedia editors are women internationally.)
  • MIT OpenCourseWare users annual survey – 20% of respondents identified as women
  • Many developers at AdaCamp felt “immersed in male culture”, had a hard time relating to other women

Practical Ideas and Examples

Women Hackers’ Groups and Other Happenings

Key Organizations

The Ada Initiative:
Anita Borg Institute:
Geek Feminism:

FOSS Projects that train and/or support women, newbies

The Hacktory:
An Archive of Our Own:

Open Education

Other Resources

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Summer and Winter 2009 in Brief

While I’ve been micro-blogging away about my comings and goings on @barbarahui, my macro-blog here at has been eerily quiet. What with the year changing and all of that, I thought I’d take a bit of time to reflect back on the past 6 months or so in a brand spanking new post.

My summer began with a trip to Fairfax, Virginia for THATCamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp). The good people at CHNM have created something wonderful in THATCamp: it’s a user-generated unconference on digital humanities, which means that the organizational principles are quite different from those I’ve experienced at any other academic conference. And I have to say that it was hands-down the most productive, friendly, conversational, collaborative, egalitarian academic conference I’ve ever attended. And the quality of ideas and materials were not compromised, contrary to what some might think. Get ~100 super-smart, geeky/nerdy academicky types together and force everybody to check their egos in at the door, and watch great things happen.

Follow @THATCampSoCal on Twitter for information on a regional THATCamp in Southern CA, happening March 13-14 at Occidental College! Web site will be up soon too, and I’ll post the link here. (I’m not the main organizer, but am helping out).

The rest of the summer was spent here at home in East Hollywood (with a couple of brief forays out of town) writing my dissertation and working as a developer on Tim Tangherlini’s Danish Folklore project. I also took on the job of a writing computer program for a UCLA English professor that parsed the digitized text of Piers Plowman. This was pretty fun given that a) I’d read PP in college, and b) the fact that Middle English still has yogh (Ȝ ȝ) and thorn (Þ, þ) characters. Those of you who’ve experienced the joys of working with “non-standard” (i.e. non-English) character-sets and computers know what I’m talking about. I used Perl for its regex features–this was also somehow fun since I haven’t used Perl since about 2000 when I was still working for Berkeley. Ah, the geekery.

I made some decent progress on my dissertation over the summer, and was particularly motivated at the prospect of going on (drumroll please) the academic job market this academic year. I knew that the market was tough, but I hoped that I would have some chance at a job given that my specialization is in a field that’s arguably expanding rather than contracting. So September-October and into November and trickling into December, I spent many hours preparing job applications. Those of you in academia know that this is no small matter. One application, for example, asked for the following:

  1. cover letter
  2. C.V.
  3. writing Sample (25-30 pages)
  4. statement of current and future research interests
  5. statement of teaching philosophy and experience
  6. 2 sample syllabi
  7. 3 recommendations

I spent numerous hours putting together these materials, customizing and sending off the various packages. I consulted with my advisors, attended job market workshops at UCLA, gave a mock interview, and tried my best to keep working on my dissertation through it all.

Long story short, I didn’t get a single nibble in response to the applications I sent out. Instead, I got a number of rejection letters, many of them citing 400, 600, even 900 applicants for a single position. Yikes. I’ve known from the beginning that it’d be rough, but this is really rough. As the NY Times reported, the number of humanities professorship jobs in the U.S. has dropped ~35% since last year, which was already down ~25% from the year before.

I’m definitely not alone, as both the statistics and an informal survey of my colleagues bears out. Those people I know who do have interviews have them for adjunct, lecturer, or otherwise short-term positions. As Brian Croxall explains in The Absent Presence: Today’s Faculty, contingent faculty make up the bulk of the academic workforce today, and this isn’t a sustainable situation. Of course we knew this already (well, some of us, anyway), but maybe the fact that Brian’s piece was picked up by The Chronicle of Higher Ed means that those at top are finally getting it?

In any event, the whole experience has been a very sobering one. At the same time, I can’t say that I haven’t been realistic about the situation all along, and that I also haven’t been open to alternative post-doctoral careers. In fact, in addition to the professorial jobs, I am also applying to what some people on Twitter are labeling #alt-ac (alternative-academic) jobs–and I did get to the final round of interviews for one. The challenge now is to find a position in which I can utilize the full range of my skills, training and experience (technical and humanities).

Aside from the Job Market Epic Fail, I’ve found my research and work pretty fulfilling this past year. I made progress on my dissertation and Litmap, and have received much interest in them both. One chapter of the dissertation will be published in a book forthcoming in 201o (more info to come). Although writing continues to be the hardest thing I do, it’s probably also the most rewarding when I actually sit down and do it! I recently discovered Scrivener for Mac OS, which I absolutely love and highly recommend as a writing composition framework/tool, by the way.

On the programming side of things, I did a lot of database work leading up to the fantastic Orient North: Mapping Nordic Literary Culture conference at UCLA in early December, at which the Mapping Danish FolkloreIbsen Elsewhere and Mapping Icelandic Manuscript Production projects were featured. Coming off those projects, I was hired by UCHRI as the lead programmer for the Digital Media Learning Competition, which was picked up as part of Obama’s new STEM educational initiative. In sum: busy, busy, busy, but fulfilling in that I’m getting to keep up my programming chops, work in all kinds of environments and with new people, and see how people are using technology in all kinds of innovative ways.

I also have a cool little gig along with Brian Croxall working for the Scholars’ Lab / NEH Institute for Enabling Geospatial Scholarship, helping put together a clearinghouse of resources for humanities scholars working with geospatial/GIS tools. And last but not least, I’m going to geek summer school! Oh, and did I mention that I’m planning on filing my dissertation at the beginning of June? Time to get writing.

On to 2010!

Posted in Los Angeles, academic job market, bruce sterling, digital humanities, dissertation, literature, maps, media, programming, women in tech | Leave a comment

Challenges in “Literature”?

In his Beyond the Beyond blog on Wired, science fiction writer and some time media theorist Bruce Sterling recently made a post entitled 18 Challenges in Contemporary Literature. This is certainly  provocative title, and my ears immediately perked up at it. But after reading the post, I have to say that I’m pretty befuddled, mainly because there seem to be several conflicting definitions of literature involved here.

Sterling’s first point is that:

  1. Literature is language-based and national; contemporary society is globalizing and polyglot.

I thoroughly disagree with the definition of “literature” expressed here, and I’d venture to say that a good number of people writing literature and writing about literature would too. A piece of writing needn’t be mono-national in order to qualify as literature. There’s plenty of literature that isn’t. And what does Sterling mean by “language-based”? Did he mean to say “monolingual”? Again, a text needn’t be monolingual in order to be literature. Absolutely not. Apparently Sterling is honing in on the notion of a national literary canon and taking that as his definition of literature. I would agree that this idea of national literary canons is (and always was) invalid and outmoded, and that we need to move away from it if we haven’t already.

2. Vernacular means of everyday communication — cellphones, social networks, streaming video — are moving into areas where printed text cannot follow.
3. Intellectual property systems failing.
4. Means of book promotion, distribution and retail destabilized.
5. Ink-on-paper manufacturing is an outmoded, toxic industry with steeply rising costs.
6. Core demographic for printed media is aging faster than the general population. Failure of print and newspapers is disenfranching young apprentice writers.
7. Media conglomerates have poor business model; economically rationalized “culture industry” is actively hostile to vital aspects of humane culture.

All of the above points speak to the idea of “literature” as necessarily print-based and connected to the print media industry. Why not use the words “print media industry” instead of including this under the titular umbrella of “literature”?

8. Long tail balkanizes audiences, disrupts means of canon-building and fragments literary reputation
9. Digital public-domain transforms traditional literary heritage into a huge, cost-free, portable, searchable database, radically transforming the reader’s relationship to belle-lettres.[sic]

As before, these points are premised on a very specific notion of literature as the literary canon that is necessarily connected to the print media industry.

10. Contemporary literature not confronting issues of general urgency; dominant best-sellers are in former niche genres such as fantasies, romances and teen books.
11. Barriers to publication entry have crashed, enabling huge torrent of subliterary and/or nonliterary textual expression.

Again, the fact that Sterling hasn’t defined the term “literature” is very confusing here. Where is the line between literature and “subliterary and/or nonliterary textual expression”? It’s as though he assumes we’re all working from the same definition, but this definition is far from clear. He seems to be suggesting, though, that under the old print media economy, access to publication meant that a text had achieved literary status. At least in the non-niche genres (i.e. not fantasies, romances and teen books). But it’s confusing.

12. Algorithms and social media replacing work of editors and publishing houses; network socially-generated texts replacing individually-authored texts.
13. “Convergence culture” obliterating former distinctions between media; books becoming one minor aspect of huge tweet/ blog/ comics/ games / soundtrack/ television / cinema / ancillary-merchandise pro-fan franchises.
14. Unstable computer and cellphone interfaces becoming world’s primary means of cultural access. Compositor systems remake media in their own hybrid creole image.

Here, Sterling swings back to thinking about medium specificity. Books are just one medium among many; digital media challenge the longstanding monopoly of the printed book in terms of the production of “texts.” In these points he seems to want to say something more general about the book’s place within a larger media ecology.

15. Scholars steeped within the disciplines becoming cross-linked jack-of-all-trades virtual intelligentsia.

I’d love to hear examples of this! Sounds kind of exciting maybe, and yet I’m not sure. And I’m not sure that I can quite think of anybody who fits this description. What exactly is meant by “steeped within the disciplines”? And how does one become “virtual intelligentsia”?

16. Academic education system suffering severe bubble-inflation.
17. Polarizing civil cold war is harmful to intellectual honesty.

What exactly do these have to do with literature? Does he mean to imply that the academy defines the literary canon, and that this system is now compromised?

18. The Gothic fate of poor slain Poetry is the specter at this dwindling feast.

Has Sterling read a report somewhere that the production of poetry in general is down, or is it that “literary” poetry is dwindling by some measure? I’d love to hear an explanation of this statement, and also wonder how it connects to the other 17 items.

In short, I find these points to be fairly confusing, and think a definition of the term “literature” is sorely lacking — and perhaps misused in some cases. I’m sure the post was meant to be provocative and therefore a bit ambiguous and open-ended, but then again I’m not sure that it says anything new, and in some cases I just find it plain perplexing.

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Litmap Presentation Notes

As promised, here are my notes from the lightning talk I gave yesterday at the Digital Humanities Symposium at UCLA. I spoke on my Litmap project, which is a Google Maps mash-up I’ve put together for the purpose of mapping the books that I’m writing on in my dissertation. As you can see, it’s a very simple idea, and not much different from what other projects such as Gutenkarte have already done (and without the Metacarta-powered geotagging). Still, I have found it to be a valuable little side-project in doing my close reading of literature, and perhaps it will have some use for others too. I’ll be adding some more functionality over the next few weeks and giving a longer presentation on the project at that THATCamp at the end of the month.

Without further ado, here are my notes:

  • Recently I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the definition of  the Digital Humanities in terms of theory/praxis issues. I see the Litmap project as being the “praxis” component that exists together with the theoretical part of my research: in other words, it is not a standalone component, but rather something than needs to be understood within the larger context of my dissertation project.
  • Litmap is a tool I’ve created to help and enable me to read and theorize literature.
  • Ideally, Litmap helps to illuminate the text, to create new knowledge about the kind of spatiality that is at work in the text on a narrative level.
  • Litmap is not a distance reading tool (à la Franco Moretti)
  • Litmap is meant to be used in conjunction with the primary text at hand, then.
  • Unfortunately, Litmap does not count as work towards degree!

Moving to the Show & Tell portion of the presentation (below is an approximate screenshot of what I demo’ed while I spoke from the notes pasted below it):


  • The example I’m showing is a map of The Rings of Saturn [Die Ringe des Saturn], a novel by W.G. Sebald.
  • In the right-hand column, I’ve listed the “lexia” in which place names are mentioned in the book. These places are then plotted on the map on the left.
  • The narrative of The Rings of Saturn is structured around the 1st-person narrator’s retelling of his walking tour of an approximately 30-mile stretch of eastern English coastline (in Suffolk). This journey is mapped in red on the map. As you can see, it has an vaguely figure-8 shape.
  • As the narrator retraces his path, he tells stories of places that are spatially/geographically removed from the local area of his walking tour. This creates a narrative network of places that becomes increasingly global in scope:

At this point I zoomed out on Litmap to show approximately what you see in the screenshot below:


  • Here we have a visual illustration of place that conceives of local place (i.e., Suffolk) as having a global history.
  • My argument (which I of course explain in much greater detail in my dissertation) is that in The Rings of Saturn, Sebald illustrates a spatialized view of history that sees the local as globally defined (and here I draw on the work of Henri Lefevbre, Doreen Massey and other thinkers on space and place).
  • (Incidentally, the orange lines on the map denote the trajectory of Joseph Conrad’s life, which is described in Chapter V of The Rings of Saturn. More colors, icons, etc. on the map in general coming down the pipeline soon. Plans for more fine-grained data visualization have been brewing with the help of data visualization guru friend @noahi, and the mysql database in the background is ready to support it…)

What Litmap helps with:

  • Visualizing connections.
  • Identifying how many place names are geographically specific in a given text (and there are many in The Rings of Saturn!)
  • Mapping various texts throws the geographical/spatial specificities of each into relief. (This will become much clearer when I’ve completed the mapping of the 2nd book, which is in progress. The differences are pretty remarkable).

Challenges and limitations:

  • In The Rings of Saturn, Sebald has a “cosmological” notion of historical space in addition the local and global one. It is not possible to map this cosmological notion of space using the Google Maps API!
  • Using the Google Maps API (or similar) restricts the user to that vision/version of geographical space. When you’re working with that data, be aware that you’re working with those pre-provided layers of information, which have their own inherent assumptions built in.

The End.

Posted in digital humanities, dissertation, maps, presentations | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Digital Humanities Symposium


I’ll be giving a 5-10 minute “lightning” presentation on my literary mapping project and how it fits together with my dissertation at the Mellon Seminar Digital Humanities Symposium on Monday, June 1st, at UCLA.

The seminar is free and open to all, and I believe the whole afternoon will also be broadcast in Second Life as previous seminars have been (see site for details). Kate Hayles will be giving the keynote talk and there will be many other “Digital Humanities” presentations by faculty and graduate students. You can see the schedule by clicking on the program image above, and also access it and other relevant documents at the UCLA Digital Humanities & Media Studies site itself.

I’ll be live-tweeting as much as I can from @barbarahui during the event as well. Hope to see you there, whether in person or virtually!

Posted in digital humanities, presentations | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

On Theory, Praxis and “Digital Humanities”

A bit of background: this post is a response to @jcmeloni’s recent blog post On Going from Industry to Academia, which was itself a response to a discussion @jcmeloni and @georgeonline had on Twitter, which I belatedly butted in on. As she puts it:

There was some discussion on Twitter approximately a billion years ago (I don’t know, last month maybe? Internet time has always been messed up.) that I believe started when @georgeonline was musing about transferable skills and how there’s work to be had for digital humanities scholars outside of academia. My curmudgeonly self popped up and noted that jobs are hard to come by for everyone, that as an industry person it’s easy to see gaps in the skillsets of some academics working in digital humanities, that people coming from academia to industry are competing with people who have been in industry all their lives and have been laid off/downsized, and that it would be generally bad advice to tell an academically-oriented digital humanities scholar that they are automatically competitive for industry jobs (just like it would be bad advice to tell an industry person that they are suited for a wholly academic job without spending any time in the academy, IMHO).

Then I said that I should really get off my butt and write my “what it’s been like going from industry to academia” post, and @barbarahui said she’d like to see it—she did the same thing—and then I stayed really busy and never got around to writing it or anything else. But here we are. I’m going to take a crack at it.

As soon as Julie (@jcmeloni) put up said post, I ran off to read it, and it provoked enough musings of my own that I’m now writing my own post in response.

Let me preface by saying that my “industry” story is different from Julie’s in a few ways. First, my career in tech was at a university, specifically at UC Berkeley in the Information Services & Technology department. While the IST department is non-academic (it provides the entire campus with voice and data network services), many of its employees–particularly the techie ones–were students at the university at some point. In fact, many of the programmers are former graduate students, most of whom studied things that have very little if anything to do with voice or networking technologies. The director at the time had a PhD in biology, a fellow programmer had studied American history, the network sysadmin was ABD in Political Science, and so on. By and large, these people got their programming/tech skills on the job. I hear this sort of homegrown technical skill is not unusual across the tech industry, but I do think that at IST there is a particularly strong link to academia for several obvious reasons.

A recent grad from Berkeley with a BA in Comparative Literature, I started out at IST on a temp job as administrative assistant, got curious about computer programming, which was exploding in the SF Bay area at the time (1997), and started my tech career by taking a night class on “Intro to Programming in C.” My  boss generously offered to pay for the course so that I could see if I even liked it. Sure enough, I was hooked. I love the pattern-making and puzzle-solving aspect of coding, the challenge of designing tools and interfaces in efficient and elegant ways. I still find it enormously satisfying to be able to create something via code that is functional, that is deployed out into the world and is instantly useful to people. After taking that first course, I learned more on my own on the job and via other classes, and slowly but surely transitioned into positions with increasing levels of technical responsibility. My first gig was a temp position writing data reports; in my last few years at IST I was a core member of the IT development team, writing applications code full-time.

[It was a weird time in SF during the dot com boom. I would go to parties in the city and get job offers from start-up dudes apparently because I was a woman who knew how to program. But I digress...]

After 6 years on the job though, I just didn’t feel that a life of full-time coding was quite meant for me (this in spite of the fact that I had a pretty wonderful, secure career with a goodly salary and great benefits. I know, I’m crazy. Just ask my family ;-). I missed exercising the other side of my brain. I deeply missed the challenges of reading literature, philosophy and theory, and writing about them. I decided it was time to go back to my first love, and so I applied to PhD programs in Comparative Literature. This is how I ended up in said department at UCLA, where I’m currently finishing up my dissertation on late twentieth-century German- and English-language literature.  My break with “industry” was more decisive than Julie’s: I quit my job, and although I’ve had programming gigs throughout grad school, they have all been at the university as a graduate student researcher. This means that I get paid a fraction of what I would be paid in the “real world” for programming, but my employers understand that my main job is my academic research; there’s no bottom line of profit; and the work is all academic in nature. It just happens to be in digital form.

While I’ve been back in (the loving arms/ivory tower of) academia, I’ve thought a lot about what role digital media (should) play in my own research trajectory and in the humanities in general. Given my background, I suppose it makes a lot of sense that I would “do Digital Humanities.” And I would say that I do. But to be honest, I’ve found that defining what that means is not easy. There is a gnarl of issues involved. After much mulling over the subject, the crux of it seems to me to be a problem of theory vs. praxis.

I’ve seen DH defined (implicitly more often than outright) in a few different ways. Some define DH more along the lines of theory, and others more along the lines of praxis. Saying that one “does DH” can mean a variety of things:

  1. Some DH scholars don’t create any digital tools themselves at all, but rather, for example, read and theorize about literature that has been written in the digital medium, and/or that references the digital medium in some way. (pure theory)
  2. Other DH scholars don’t theorize at all, but instead, for example, might have a background in a “practical” discipline like Library and Information Studies (or a humanities degree they have “left behind”) and now work on creating digital reference or archival tools for use by humanities scholars. (pure praxis)
  3. Yet others do a mixture of both: for example a literature and media studies scholar creates a new media mapping platform to serve as a multi-purpose tool for both teaching and theorizing about city-spaces. (theory + praxis)

Which of these scholars is the most authentic DH scholar? Or is DH all of these things? Is the DH scholar who can’t/doesn’t write code a true DH scholar? Or should she instead be called a literary and/or (new) media theorist?

What about the scholar who creates digital tools for use by humanists but doesn’t theorize in the humanist tradition? While digital tools might enable humanities scholars to produce new knowledge, do the tools themselves constitute new knowledge, or are they, to quote Thoreau from Julie’s post, “just pretty toys” until and unless they are used productively? Good tools are invaluable to be sure, but perhaps they should be counted as work in Software/Platform Design, not the humanities per se.

Or what about the literature scholar who comes up with the idea for a digital project and serves as the project PI, promoting it throughout the academy, writing grant proposals and giving presentations, but doesn’t actually do any of the applications development herself?

This brings me to Julie’s point about the observable lack of IT skills among academics working in DH. Unfortunately, I would have to agree (although of course there are always exceptions). Too often, humanities scholars come up with wonderful ideas for technical projects but don’t know what it is that they want in technical terms, and are therefore unable to manage the project from a technical perspective. Problems that stem from lack of knowledge about the software application creation process all too often lead to inefficient development, closed/insular design and the other kinds of problems listed in the Tools for Data Driven Scholarship report.

But really, given the current academic system, is it fair to expect digital humanists to have expert technical skills? We are humanities academics, after all. Most humanities scholars start their careers without having had a discrete chunk of time in which to learn tech skills, much less experience the life cycle of an IT project (which is arguably essential for successful digital tool development). Since learning these skills is not part of the humanities curriculum at most institutions (at any institution?), I can’t imagine when a digital humanist would possibly acquire them, unless they happen to have worked in IT at some point before grad school. Which is highly unlikely, unless you’re crazy enough to leave the industry like @jcmeloni and me. Point is, acquiring the kind of tech skills to be an effective creator of digital tools is hardly something a young humanities scholar can be expected to do in her (non-existent) spare time.

Given this, I actually find it pretty impressive that DH scholars have managed to build the tools they have built. The challenge for now and the future is to figure out a way to bring the expertise of the two fields together in an improved way. UC Berkeley, for example, is launching a new “Designated Emphasis” in New Media for PhD students, which adds a semester or two on to the regular doctorate. I’m not sure how technical this curriculum is, but in general it makes sense to me that one needs additional time to gain what is essentially expertise in another discipline.

Personally, I find DH to be a fulfilling approach because it brings theory and praxis together. I came back to the humanities because I missed the  theorizing and the “fuzzy” logic of it, but working in software development has also given me a firm appreciation for creating things that have solid answers and an immediate effect in the here and now. Thinking about and playing with media, recognizing that the medium does make a crucial difference to the message, is deeply fascinating. I’m a strong believer in the fact that ideas matter, and am constantly inspired by the work being done by people both in the humanities/social sciences and in IT to see the world around them more clearly and communicate those ideas in a way that makes a difference. Of course there will always be those whose aim is just to make silly toys (for profit or fame or what have you), but I think that DH can be a particularly rich mode of inquiry.

Posted in digital humanities | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

For Ada Lovelace Day

Ada Lovelace, the 1st programmer

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, and I’m determined to write something, even if short, to celebrate.

There is definitely part of me that balks at singling out women based on their gender, but the fact remains: there is a distressing paucity of females working in tech today. If holding up examples of women in tech whom we admire can help right the imbalance (and it makes good intuitive sense to me that it would, surveys aside), then I am more than happy to participate, and look forward to the time when this exercise is no longer necessary.

Firstly, I’d like to collectively thank the women programmers with whom I worked at IST-CNS, UC Berkeley from 1997-2002, especially Terri Kouba (my long-time supervisor) and Urszula Frydman (my manager). Looking back, I realize what an unusual situation I ended up in there. Not only did I work in an IT group comprised mainly of women, but I also had a female supervisor and manager for my entire tenure at the job.

I learned a great deal from Terri by observing her at work on database and systems design, both from a purely technical point-of-view and in terms of consulting with users. She is both extremely smart (sometimes delightfully geeky) and also good at communicating with all kinds of people. Over the years I worked with her, I saw her both learn whole new technologies (e.g., VoIP) and whole new ways of working (e.g., delegating work instead of doing it all herself). She also always has all kinds of web dev projects going on outside of work, and I admire her entrepreneurial spirit.

I didn’t work with Urszula for all that long (under a year?), but doing so left an impression. She is fiercely smart and no-nonsense, a kind and fair manager, who sees the issues at hand with a laser-sharp vision and is a great advocate for her team. In terms of education, she was one of the first females to go to MIT, where she studied computer science – a fact that always awed me. Now retired, she is continuing the activist work that I remember her doing already when she was my manager. I really admire her for her balance of smarts and social involvement.

These aren’t examples of famous or internationally influential women by any means (sorry Terri and Urszula!), but they have been good real-life models of women in tech for me.

Now that I’m on a new career path in academia, there’s a different sort of technically-minded woman that I look up to, but hey, I think I’ll save that for next year.

Check out other Ada Lovelace posts in list form here or plotted on a world map by author location here (cool idea!).

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Now Twittering on (Digital) Tech and the Humanities

twitterI’m now on Twitter, folks! Follow me there for what will be undoubtedly far more posts than you can find here. My aim for the account is to collect and disperse information pertaining to intersections between (digital) technology and the humanities.

[I'm putting "digital" in parentheses because I don't want to limit myself to digital technology only. I don't want to exclude "digital humanities" either, however, and that seems to have currency as a catch-all term these days.]

As my friend @Gnat74 put it (and I couldn’t agree more): “Twitter is the most useful social media device I’ve come across yet. Sure you can tweet that you just ate a weird apple or something like that, but most people I follow are just about exchanging useful information. I’ve found the best content on the web through my Twitter ‘friends.’ [...] I think the succinctness of Twitter posts enhances the opportunity for effective suggestive keyword placement in tweets by marketers. Also Twitter and other social networking applications are trance-inducing. I think it has to do with the mental mapping we do when we’re on sites like Facebook and Twitter. When we’re on these sites — it IS the real world we’ve mapped out in our brains with these friends and connections.”

Incidentally, Natalie’s comments are excerpted from a discussion about Twitter that took place on my Facebook page! The discussion was prompted by a tweet which was was pushed to FB, thus becoming my status there (I have since unlinked my Twitter account from FB):


I wholeheartedly disagree with the article referenced in my status as pictured above. I think that pretty nigh any behavior can “stem from a lack of identity,” and I don’t think that Twitter particularly encourages such behavior. I also think that it’s difficult to know the usefulness of Twitter unless you actually actively use it, as this counter-post points out.

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Dissertating, and a Very Belated MLA Report

I have clearly not been very good at keeping up my blog here. I’m going to blame the obvious culprit: my dissertation.

The good news is that I finally seem to have figured out a writing routine that is productive for me. This consists of producing 2 pages a day, 7 days a week, religiously. Every once in a while this is very easy to do, and I allow myself to claim those days as gifts. More often than not, however, it takes a few hours, and there’s not a bit of anxiety around getting myself started. And then there are those days when it’s like gouging my eyes out. But I do it anyway, and 2 pages is just about manageable.

At this point I’ve come to realize that at least 87.4% of writing a dissertation is figuring out the magnitude of the task and how I, personally, can be the productive writer of such a large project. A humbling process, to be sure!

I’m also continuing to do systems development and database work on Timothy Tangherlini’s Danish Folklore Project and Lisa Parkes’s Virtual Study Abroad Site (both at UCLA), as well as development on my own LitMap project.

I have to say that it is hard to fully concentrate on both analyzing literature and coding algorithms. Each of them requires such immersive attention. Full blog post on that soon.

I did attend the MLA (Modern Languages Association) Conference in San Francisco in December/January and sat on a panel named “Imagining Collaboration in the Humanities.” All of us on the panel did actually talk about real-life collaboration in the humanities, and there was quite a lively discussion afterwards. Here were my main points of discussion:

  1. Group authorship — how do we deal with this in the humanities, which has long operated on the single author model?
  2. The challenges of “translating” between humanities and hard science/computer project members.
  3. The challenges of project management — in a collaborative work environment, who is in charge? What model of management do we choose? whose project is it?
  4. Which model of group work do we choose when working collaboratively in the humanities? The scientific laboratory model? A model from the social sciences? What about models that have emerged out of feminist discourse?
  5. How are academic institutions dealing with humanities dissertations that have collaboratively authored elements? UCLA, for example, doesn’t “count” any collaboratively authored work. Is this model still feasible as collaboration becomes more common?
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Subway-Style United States Interstate System Map, by Chris Yates

Thanks to my friend Brendan Piper for posting the link to this map on facebook. Too bad the Interstate system isn’t actually a subway! I’d love to jump on right now and go to visit a few friends at some of those stops. I wouldn’t even mind changing lines a few times.

Of course this particular mapping technique could also be used to visualize all sorts of other spatial relationships…

The original URL for the map image: (prints are for sale at

The Eisenhower Insterstate System (Simplified), by Chris Yates (2007)

The Eisenhower Insterstate System (Simplified), by Chris Yates (2007)

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