The Cult of Done Works for Me

The analysis of the Project Bamboo scholarly narratives is done and uploaded to the IEEE Conference website — it’s really nice (the website; the paper I leave to others to judge). I’ll post more about the paper in a moment. In the mean time, the poster and the explanation tell you all you need to know about the **The Cult of Done**.

The Cult of Done Poster

1. There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
2. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
3. There is no editing stage.
4. Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.
5. Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
6. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
7. Once you’re done you can throw it away.
8. Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.
9. People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
10. Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
11. Destruction is a variant of done.
12. If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
13. Done is the engine of more.

The Difference Digital Makes

This is my own response to the current discussion being held by the Digital Humanities On-line Seminar:

> It strikes me that both the ongoing discussion about what difference digital makes and McCarty’s wonderment about Grafton and company really are two facets of the same jewel at which we all seem to keep staring, mistaking it, if I may continue the metaphor for just a moment more, for the light which it refracts. (I’m going to return to this Gothic moment later.)

> The point of reading, it seems to me, is to engage in better and more diverse kinds of dialogue. Wisdom does not flow from books, but from conversations between people. Perhaps this reveals my own deep indebtedness to philosophers like Karl Jaspers but such an idea is found in folk philosophies around the world. (E.g., the rural Irish concern for the man who keeps too much to himself.)

> Here, digital does make a difference, even if only that difference is, as other posters have noted, once of making things happen more readily. Still, the chance conversation between the scholar and the ordinary citizen is much more likely to happen in a place where both can be, if not simultaneously, at least in a deferred fashion. For this, I look no further than my own research with rice farmers and meta shop workers who regularly check my blog and my Flickr account to see what I’ve been up to and to wonder why I forgot to interview so-and-so. (I really should.)

> In turn, they submit to me, and to others, there own photographs and videos from their own archives, greatly expanding the historical record as they do so.

> I am fairly certain that many, many of us share this active difference that the digital makes possible — and by active difference I mean an orientation by action. Some of this is born out by the analysis that I am currently doing looking at the narratives collected by Project Bamboo from a variety of scholars sprinkled across the nation. So far, the common themes are really things people want to be able to do: access, search, digitize, manage, collaborate, preserve, compute. (It’s interesting that compute really amounts to the smallest percentage of actions people wish to perform.) They want all these actions to be pervaded by two properties: annotated (metadata) and authentic (authorized).

> What’s interesting about these actions is that under “collaborate” a number of the narratives/scenarios are really about opening up the scholarly convention not only to students but also to just regular people, who have their own ideas and practices. (And, to answer from a folklorist’s perspective an earlier conversation about is a prototype a theory? Yes, from my own experience as a field researcher, most folks do not have theories about why they do what they do. They don’t need to. It’s embedded in the doing. It can be drawn out to some degree, but not directly.)

> So I don’t mind if the book dematerializes. Let it go. The codex is a particular manifestation of a much longer-lived idea: that marks in the physical can lead to conversations that lead to ideas. (And, yes, this probably resembles Heideegger’s sense of “aletheia,” but I did warn you with a reference to Jaspers up front where this note was headed.)

> All of this reminds me of the construction binge our good Abbott Suger kicked off and put a whole lot of masons to work, all of whom had competing senses of what the right proportions were. The legacy of the ideas they carried in their head can be glimpsed in the architectural mess that is Chartres, among other cathedrals. The advantage we now enjoy is that many of those same workers carry smartphones and regularly check e-mail and our blog pages, if we but invite them.

Why I Do What I Do

Early in _The Writing Life_ Annie Dillard tells the story of an aspiring writer coming up to her after a reading and asking if she, too, could become a writer. That she really wanted to. In the moment, Dillard tells us she remembered a similar question once being posed to a painter and that his response was “Do you like the smell of paint?” Her response is “do you like to make sentences?”

The nature of the response is to point out that we too often focus on the role or persona and not on the process or product. Painters paint. Writers write. It’s a stupidly simple assertion, but it reminds us that behind any fame or glamor attached to someone who has done something is the doing itself.

There’s a lot more to be said on this subject. I only come to it this morning because I am working on a photo-essay, an argument by illustration is what I am calling it, for a start-up journal. It’s on the boats, of course — which is nice after taking a hiatus to work on the Project Bamboo scholarly narratives. And what brought me to say out loud “I love what I do” was writing on some photographs I had printed out with a permanent marker, numbering them and also marking topics within the image that I wanted to pursue. I love the feel of it.

One Digital Difference

Recently in the [Digital Humanities On-line Seminar][dh], there arose the question of what difference does being digital make? Or, rather, does it many any real difference apart from speeding things up? That is, has the digital only sped up otherwise conventional work?

I have two responses to such a question. The first is the observation that at least one dimension of this question suggests that speeding things up or making more convenient certain facets of work are trivial. I make no claim that any work getting done within a quickened digital regime is any better than work done by hand — one imagines the shuffling of note cards versus a quick search through a database, but the quality of the work is always in what was written on the cards, what was entered in the database. The absurdity of such claims is revealed in the fact that books and the printing press achieved the same, if not greater, speed of dissemination — and probably of composition later — than the previous tradition of copied manuscripts. So it’s not worth bothering about.

The other observation is that such speeding up or making more convenient is not enough, that unless computing radically transforms humanistic study, it has not lived up to its promise nor potential. My response to this dimension of the complaint is that such *tipping points* are rarely perceived during their own time but are usually discerned later. The tipping points are, in fact, sometimes a matter for historical argument.

That’s all fine and good. Let history decide and all that. In the mean time, I *can* report on one digital difference I have enjoyed in the lat few weeks.

I am finishing up work on my analysis of the scholarly narratives collected by Project Bamboo. In the end, I focused on forty or so texts that I first simply collected as text documents stuffed in a directory. I also had a list of the texts I had chosen in a table in a Word file. The two really needed to get together, and so, since my SQL-foo is still incredibly weak, and I didn’t feel like running `sed` or `awk` through my collection of texts, I decided to download and install [Filemaker Pro][fmp] — for the record that’s a link to the Amazon.com page and I would be indebted to anyone who wanted to buy a copy for me: UL is broke and I am on my own fronting the cost. Filemaker is a cross-platform database app that can also act a as a GUI front-end to MySQL databases, and so I am hoping it will help me make the transition.

I had already read and to some degree categorized all the texts I put into my Filemaker database, and I had already learned a fair amount about them using IBM’s [Many Eyes][me] — that link takes directly to the corpus I uploaded there and some of the visualizations I set up. With the FM database I was able to automate a few simple tasks, like determining the size of each text by counting its words. But where I was really able to fly was being able to do searches either on tags or on the texts themselves looking for particular words or usages. Almost instantly, I could pull up the 7 seven texts that mentioned X or the 12 that used the term Y.

All of this would have been perfectly do-able if all these texts existed only on paper, but the work would have gone much more slowly and I would probably have taken far fewer chances. (It may also be true that the slower work may have allowed for more digestion. I don’t know, and I don’t think it’s worth arguing.) What I liked was the ability to “play a hunch.” For me at least, sometimes scholarship is really about discerning patterns. The problem is at what level of cognition the patterns get distinguished. Quite often, for me at least, I know I sense a pattern but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I may even flounder around, scanning texts or flipping through pages hoping something will “catch my eye” or “jog my memory” or put the thought on the “tip of my tongue.”

One difference “the digital” makes in my own scholarship is being able to pursue a lead as soon as it pops into my mind. That may only amount to speed or convenience, but that’s a significant enough difference for me. Please don’t take my bionic memory, and recall, away from me.

[dh]: http://www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
[fmp]: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00079W5TI?ie=UTF8&tag=johnlaudun-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00079W5TI
[me]: http://manyeyes.alphaworks.ibm.com/manyeyes/users/johnlaudun

Getting Back to My Roots

In the last few days I’ve had two interesting experiences of getting back to my roots, or at least glimpsing with pleasant recognition where my roots apparently lie.

The first moment occurred when I fired up a Pete Townshend playlist in iTunes and found myself singing along to “Athena” and quite happily finding it described my life in the present moment when I think about Yung and realize “I had no idea how much I’d need her.”

The second moment is a little less sappy. I’m working on what was simply to be an photo essay for [Technoculture](http://tcjournal.org/) but has turned into, at least in the beginning, an essay with photos. I wanted to think a bit about the term *technoculture* itself, and, as fortune would have it — and sometimes fortune wouldn’t have it any other way — to Heidegger’s essay on “The Question Concerning Technology.”

First, it was radiantly wonderful, lo these many years later, to read an essay by Heidegger from start to finish without really struggling to follow the twists and turns of his intricate language turns. In fact, I recognized them as language turns and realized how much Derrida does, in fact, owe to Heidegger, which Derrida himself makes very clear. I remember still quite vividly struggling with the first essay I read by Heidegger in my “Philosophy and Film” at LSU, of thinking myself quite clever when, later in a seminar on the Pre-Socratics, I could glimpse the meaning of a paragraph or two on *aletheia*. Here, last night and today, I read through “The Question Concerning Technology” and not only followed his argument but had questions to ask back to old Martin.

Second, as I transcribed some of his text into my own, and thus found myself paying close attention exactly to how he puts things, I recognized the steady progression of parallelisms, of moving forward by moving sideways. I remembered how my own writing, which must have been influenced by my reading of Heidegger, stymied Louise Phelps at Syracuse University, who admired its “poetic nature” but found it often “too oblique.” I am not, in this moment, going to argue with her assessment. I think the only good news is that, in that moment, I wasn’t consciously aping Heidegger, which would have been entirely possible at that pretentious age.

Instead, like my earlier discussion of one’s sense of God, I am led to wonder if the way I think was shaped significantly by my reading of Heidegger or that I read him, cleaved to him, because in his writing I found a resonance with my own way of thinking?

Born and raised by an architect and interior designer, each of whom was competent with words but really more reliant on volumetric arrangement and reasoning, I probably found in Heidegger some way to express the way I thought. (I remember that I wanted to write a poem that would recreate the feeling one got when inside a cathedral.)

Speeding Up or Getting Around iDisk’s Sloth

Now that we are a two iPhone household, it is time to upgrade Yung to a full-fledged MobileMe account so that she can keep her contacts, calendars, etc. all in sync. And, hey, whaddaya know, there’s also this way to keep your files in sync, if, of course, it doesn’t *fail* every time you use it. (To be honest, it appears to be working okay for Yung, who has smaller, and usually fewer, files than I do — can I help it if I’m the media member of our household?) To be fair, I was added 1.4GB to my local iDisk and told it to sync overnight, which I figured it would take given our narrow “pipe” on our low-budget AT&T DSL connection. (Come on, LUS, bring us our FttH connection *soon*.)

Here’s what greeted me this morning:

Last Sync Failed

Last sync failed

Here’s Apple’s advice:

> `5`. Disable iDisk Sync (click the Stop button in the iDisk pane of MobileMe preferences, in System Preferences), restart your computer, and connect directly to your iDisk. (From the Go menu, choose iDisk, then My iDisk.) If you are able to connect to your iDisk, turn iDisk Sync on again.

> `6`. If the issue persists, reset iDisk syncing on your computer:
>> Turn off iDisk Sync (click the Stop button in the iDisk pane of MobileMe preferences, in System Preferences).
>> Restart your computer.
>> From the Go menu, choose Home.
>> Open the Library folder.
>> For Mac OS X 10.5: Remove the FileSync folder
>> Restart your computer.
>> Re-enable iDisk Sync.

But I am also searching out workarounds — without going to a workaround that works entirely around iDisk, like DropBox. We’ve paid good money for iDisk; it should work. It should work out of the box, but barring that, it should work with some elbow grease applied to it.

One possibility is to use an alternate WebDAV client than the one built into the Finder, e.g. CyberDuck, which I already own (or donated to):

Server: idisk.mac.com
User Name:
Password:
Initial Path: (unnecessary)
Port: 80 (default for protocol)
Protocol: WebDAV

It looks like another alternative is to connect directly to the iDisk using ChronoSync.

On Science and a Bit of Faith

Earlier today I forwarded to family and some friends here in Louisiana, from whom I get the occasional e-mail of a conservative nature a piece on [Ars Technica](http://arstechnica.com) that [summarized a recent Pew Trust study](http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2009/07/public-trusts-scientists-not-their-conclusions.ars) of the difference between public belief in scientists and science in general and the divergence that occurs on particular topics. In response, my dad asked me if I considered myself to fit in any of the categories. I wasn’t quite sure of his question, and so I ended up writing this:

> Which categories? Scientist? Perhaps. I sort of work under the same rubric. (More on this in a moment.) Independent? Probably. I’m not a conservative (who apparently believe that the answer to everything is big churches and big business) nor a liberal (who believe the answer to everything is big government and big dreams).

> I’m not a scientist, per se, but I certainly operate from an evidence-based approach to investigating the world, which often puts me in conflict with some of my fellow humanists who wish to bend the world to their particular point of view. This is not as ideological, in terms of secular humanists or liberal ideologues as you might want to believe. Some of my fiercest arguments when I first got here were with Barry Ancelet who wanted to paint everything in south Louisiana as Cajun, when in fact large chunks of Cajun culture are clearly African. (The smaller chunks that were German or Italian had slowly come to be acknowledged as Cajun studies matured.) And now the African dimension of the story is slowly becoming part of the discussion, which makes things a lot more complex but also potentially a lot more confusing.

>In general, I don’t like it when anyone tries to boil down things to something simple just because thinking about complex stuff is hard. Some things are simple. Keep them simple. Some things are complex, let’s keep them complex. Evolution at the so-called micro level is demonstrably true and everyone in the U.S.A. knows at least one person saved by it. Evolution at the macro-level is also demonstrably born out by what we know of the archeological record. Science seeks to describe the world as we know based on things we can know. Sometimes those things are simple and obvious. Sometimes they are complex and take a long time to get a grip on.

> I do what I do for the long term good of my fellow travelers in this world. This is not the way to advance oneself quickly in a career, but I take, on faith, that my task is to be humble before creation and not to imagine myself better than it. There are moments when I feel God in my life, or at least think that I do, and I embrace them. Once upon a time I questioned what was true and what was simply a byproduct of being raised Christian. Now I don’t worry about it. I accept when I feel God’s grace and I don’t worry whether it’s simply psychological or is in fact a moment of transcendence. Some may believe this makes me a poor Christian, and they would probably be right. I don’t think that Jesus Christ was actually the son of God. Instead, I think he was, as the historical record would seem to indicate, a Sadducee who saw the potential for good in more people than traditional Judaism would allow and that he recognized the power of love. What he did and the things he said were profoundly true then and are still now. I think in the years that followed a number of people, for various and probably good reasons, needed to simplify the story to make it more easily told and Jesus was transformed over time to become something as powerful as his message. I no longer worry if such a point of view puts me at odds with others, because I find that I pay less and less attention to what people say — I’ve seen too many Godly men and women do unethical and/or immoral and sometimes evil things — and I pay more and more attention to what people do. I like hanging out with Gerard Olinger not because he is a faithful Catholic but because he is a profoundly good man. I like and respect you not because you are Christian but because you are a profoundly good man trying your best to do the right thing in a world where all too many others try to take shortcuts. I try to do the same myself.

>That is a long answer to your short question. You caught me a post-lunch contemplative moment.

Technology is much less about the large machines of Heidegger’s day and much more about the smaller machines that permeate our daily lives. They feel personal but they are not, which perhaps goes some way to explain the rise of “making” and its almost cult-like status.