The Three Things I Carry

I guess when you’re stuck somewhere in your own process, you can’t help but wonder how others do what they do. I regularly get asked by graduate students and undergrads what I carry. I think they think that I must always have a computer with me. Or a lot of other technology or impressive gear.

Sorry, no.

Apart from wallet and keys, here’s what I carry:

Pen, Paper, Phone

And that’s pretty much it. If I have a backpack with me, it will have an assortment of other things in it — pens, bandaids, photos of my wife and daughter, a kerchief of some kind, a large notepad, a file folder or two, usually at least one book — but at its core, in my mind, will be these three things.

One “Next” for Digital Libraries?

For a variety of reasons, I have been thinking recently not only about the digital humanities, as I have written about [here][1] and [here][2] (and [here][3]) for example, but also about digital library services. Perhaps more than any other collection of disciplines, the humanities have as their center the library. The arts and the sciences have a variety of discourses on primary and secondary texts (data and analysis in the sciences, artworks and criticism in the arts), some of which pass through the library and some of which do not. But in the humanities, almost any meaningful stream — and let me use that word here with a promise to treat it better later — passes through the library.

And this is coming from the very person who argued in his presentation to the Project Bamboo crowd that the library was not the beginning and end of my research. And I meant it. But I qualified my provocation by noting that the library is one of my beginnings, paired with equal amounts of time spent in the field (also known more simply as the world), and one of my endings — that is, I don’t see my job as only building a scholarly apparatus but also helping the people with whom I work with things they need or want.

Even given such a qualification, however, I emphasized the central role in my own workflow, and in the larger workflow of the humanities and human sciences, that the library plays. And that role has the potential to change radically and, perhaps, in the process become even more important, more powerful.

### Thinking While Driving ###

As far as I am concerned, podcasts and audio books are the best thing ever to happen to driving, which often includes waiting in traffic. I already spend a fair amount of time in my truck doing fieldwork, but now I spend additional time waiting in line to pick up my daughter from school. Non-musical audio files on my iPhone make me glad for the time behind the wheel. Podcasts like the BBC’s [In Our Time][iot] allow me to fill in parts of my education or in the case of NPR’s [Science Friday][sf] keep up with recent developments in fields not my own.

*In Our Time* is one of my favorites, and it features a rather old-fashioned format: an informed interlocutor, in this case Melvyn Bragg, pulls together a panel of experts and asks them to explain a particular topic to the audience. In the case of IOT, the panel is almost always made up of British academics, which brings me to [familiar territory][ft] (see especially [this][]). Recent topics on *In Our Time* have included:

* The Library at Alexandria
* The Physics of Time
* The Music of the Spheres
* The Great Reform Act

None of these are easy topics, but they are almost always handled well within the 42 minutes that confines the podcast, revealing that the program is really produced with radio in mind.

### Other Podcasts, Other Producers ###

The BBC is not alone in stocking the shelves of the iTunes Store. NPR does as well. And on another aisle in this on-line mega-mart, there is something called [iTunes University][itu]. A lot of universities are already on iTunes, and some are wise enough to make sure their content is on several aisles: Harvard is not only in iTunes U, but it also has several podcasts, one of which, the [Harvard Business Ideacast][hbi] (*iTunes link*), I subscribe to. The HBIs are more like new media (see the link for *familiar territory* above to see what I mean by this) in that they are of variable length, ranging from as little as 7 minutes to as much as half an hour, with the length dependent on the topic and not the medium. Many of the ideas are, of course, from Harvard faculty or from authors recently published in the [Harvard Business Review][hbr], but one of Harvard’s key strengths has always been its ability to promote itself. But other universities have as much talent, they just don’t quite have the machinery in place to promote it, or the culture of doing so.

Let me take my [folklorist/faculty cap][cap] off for a moment, and put on something like a digital librarian’s hat, because it seems to me that this is a really interesting place for digital library programs to come into their own.

When I performed my own survey of digital library programs recently, I chose a few major programs — e.g., Indiana University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Texas at Austin — as well as a few from smaller schools — e.g., Iowa State University. Some were more mature, some less. The more mature programs offered not only on-line repositories of the kinds of materials that libraries traditionally traffic in — texts and images (which also reveals an active digitization program) — but also had begun to imagine themselves as portals through which scholars could communicate.

But we’re digital now, everyone, and we need to start thinking about all the different kinds of media in which we can communicate, and which one best suits the idea or issue at hand. And I think it’s really in the best interest of universities to allow digital librarians to take some of this charge. Scholars and scientists already have a lot on their plate: they will come around, but the threshold for entry needs to be lowered more.

Libraries are already in the access business and are already familiar with the range of users that seek out the kinds of knowledge that universities produce. Indiana University has already outlined in its most recent strategic plan for IT the collection of challenges that universities like itself face as they look to the future. One of those challenges is clearly resolving the problem of scholarly/scientific communication in a way that universities do not face something like a triple tax:

* Universities pay salaries for scholars and scientists with the expectation not only of teaching but also of producing research;
* Universities regularly fund research expenses, be they the ongoing maintenance of library collections or scientific labs;
* Universities subscribe to scholarly/scientific journals, some of which charge steep fees for access.

It seems to me that digital library programs are in a great position to mediate across a range of challenges.

### The Particular Case of IU ##

Indiana University’s efforts are near and deer to me at the moment, having enjoyed a two-week fellowship with [EVIADA]( and had a chance to glimpse some of the things happening at the [Institute for Digital Arts and Humanities][idah]. So I decided to explore what presence had on iTunes University. For those who haven’t visited iTunes U before, click on the link in the left-hand column of the iTunes Store and you will see something like this:


On today’s front page, the Cassiopeia Project (an effort to make science education videos available to anyone who wants them), Duke University, and Yale University are featured across the top. Still featured, but now in the main content window are a range of programs from Carnegie Mellon, the Library of Congress, and New Mexico State among others — the range of providers here is interesting and makes me curious about how this block and the one above it get filled. I.e., what’s the selection process, because this doesn’t feel entirely random to me. More importantly, just like SEO, are players gaming the system at all?

I ask this question, because as we’ll see in a minute in this case study, iTunes U feels more like Google than it does Yahoo when it comes to finding content. That is, the thing that Yahoo did so well — but lost sight of because it became obsessed with beating Google at search — was to organize content. It was admittedly hierarchical, which meant users had to have a certain willingness, and wisdom, to move up and down the structures. The wisdom came from the fact that you could trace your steps to find the information again. This strikes me as somewhat different from the way most of us interact with Google, which really becomes a matter of trying to remember the string with which you searched last time in order to find again that thing you found. (That sentence was meant to mimic the feeling of doing that repeatedly when you can’t quite remember what it was you previously typed.)

So let’s go searching for IU:


The first time I tried this, all the results were for the Indiana Marching One Hundred. That didn’t seem quite right, so I tried again a little while later — again, this all goes to the somewhat unpredictable nature of iTunes in this area. Here are my later results:


This is better. In the iTunes U block we have three listings: (1) Music Clips for Podcasting, (2) Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, and (3) WTIU/WFIU’s “See It or Skip It.” There are two podcasts: (1)the School of Music again and (2) the Pashto Language Learning Podcasts. There are two albums and, of course, a basketball application. Clicking on the “Show All” link in the upper-right of the iTunes U box gets you the following:


It’s an interesting mix, and I can’t tell at all how much the variety is planned or unplanned. Sometimes with iTunes, you simply have to poke around, which I did until I spotted something interesting in the bread crumbs of the navigation bar:


Home > iTunes U > **Arts & Humanities** > Indiana University’s Jacob School of Music Presents…. Where does that “Arts and Humanities” link take us?


Under Arts and Humanities are the Music School again as well as those sound clips for podcasting and the “See It or Skip It” program. The new content is a “backstage pass” from the IU Auditorium and a series of talks posted by the IU Foundation. Elsewhere, there are a series of mini-lectures posted by the Alumni Association.

All of this leads me to wonder if there is a plan or some central organization body that is keeping an eye on how all of this unfolds with an eye to the university’s overall vision and goals. Is this an opening for a digital library program? It certainly seems to me that the functionality and features are parallel in many ways.

### Getting There from Here ###

No matter the current state of affairs, it’s clear that not only is iTunes University a viable platform, it also points to the fact that digital library programs will need eventually to include the full portfolio of media within their scope. If we — remember, I’m wearing my librarian hat now — wish to be not only repositories but also portals and communications platforms, we are going to have to push the envelope ourselves. If we are going to spotlight our faculty’s work, then we may have to set up audio and video facilities and learn how to prompt faculty to show their work off at its best advantage. We already do this, in some capacity, when we work with faculty to deposit their materials in archives, or, now, when we work with faculty on digitizing materials or setting up on-line collections or publications.

That is, successful digital library programs are already well on their way to doing these things. It’s just one small step … okay, it’s a series of small steps not only to helping maintain, and expand, our university’s reputation but also realizing the true democratic potential of information technology. We can reach more people in more ways. Everybody wins.


Mac OS X Services Come of Age

Snow Leopard has only been out for a day or two, but I already feel somewhat “behind the times” among the technorati who appear to have placed advanced orders through Apple and Amazon so that they could get their hands on 10.6 the very second it came out. I’d probably join them, but I have too much to do at present: two essays are due *now* as well as an NEH grant.

Nevertheless, some of my Mac geekness cannot help but surface when I hear that [services][1] are finally getting their due:

Mac OS X Services Come of Age

The image is copied from the coverage by [Mac OS X Automation’s coverage][1] which is linked above. Check out their article for complete coverage of the fact that services now appear both in the Services Menu (1) and in a variety of contextual menus (2-4).

For the more curious, and ambitious, Mac OS X Automation also has a terrific [list of free services][2] you can download and install.


“Rip Off What Matters”

J. J. Abrams, of _Lost_ fame, gave a [TED talk]( where he talked about the role of mystery in fiction, and in life. He attributes his own fascination with mystery to his grandfather — it’s a somewhat interesting story that I won’t summarize here. It’s not the best of talks, but a lot of these TED talks focus more on being entertaining and than being cogent and tight in what they are trying to say. In Abrams’ case, maybe it’s intentional — following his argument is sort of like trying to follow _Lost_: you think there might be, and you want there to be, something there, but maybe there isn’t and he’s only presenting the illusion, the mystery of there being something there to keep you watching.

No matter. At some point he discusses the mystery of the shark in _Jaws_ and asserts that the movie would have in fact been far less interesting if the mechanical shark, Bruce, had in fact worked as Spielberg hoped. The shark is the mystery, and we all remember the scenes of it. What we don’t remember are such amazing scenes as the one he shows in which Roy Scheider’s character tell his son to kiss him. The son asks why, and the father responds: “Because I need it.”

It really is an amazing scene, and Abrams seems to be suggesting that we come to the movie for the mystery of the shark, but what fills us up is the mystery of ourselves that we find in scenes like this.

Abrams then goes on to argue that where we go wrong when we make sequels or borrow from other works is when we rip off the ostensible mystery, the shark, when we should be “ripping off what matters,” which is the character, his development, and those moments in which the two are revealed.

Why I Wear a Cap

Some days I drive onto campus with a cap on my head. When I forget to take it off, I regularly get odd looks from my colleagues and/or the occasional question about whether I’m in costume. Something about “going native.”

Leaving aside the fact that I sometimes feel more like a native who has “gone academic” than an academic who has risked “going native,” there are already plenty of costumes on a university campus — college is, after all, a terrific time for young people to try on different identities.

I may in fact have multiple identities — *humanist* and *field researcher* for a start — but I do not wear a cap to feel more like one than the other. Rather I wear a cap for the same reason that I keep my hair short: Louisiana summers are hot. And bright.

The bill of a baseball cap is, of course, pretty good at shading one’s eyes, and that’s a good reason to wear a cap, but the real reason that I and so many people working out in rice fields or in metal shops wear caps is that when it’s hot you sweat. Caps are not necessarily all that cool, but their bands are good at catching sweat, and the fabric of the cap’s dome is good at wicking that moisture away. And if you keep several caps on a shelf in your shop or on the floor of the back of your truck, then you can always exchange a wet cap for a dry one and, in the process, feel somewhat refreshed, or at least like you have something of a new beginning, which itself is a fairly welcome feeling when you are up to your proverbial elbows in a dirty, greasy, gripping burning hot metal problem.

And that is why I wear a cap.

Small World: A bit of Louisiana in Indiana

I have been browsing the Digital Library Program at Indiana University and came across the [Charles Cushman collection]( Cushman was an amateur photographer who donated over 14,000 slides to his alma mater, IU. In addition to scans of the slides, the DLP has also scanned his notebooks, which reveal a remarkable eye for detail and record-keeping. *Wow.*

Cushman made several trips to New Orleans and he has a variety of photographs which oscillate between tourist, art photographer, and photojournalist. (It does make me curious about the man, so job well done there to whomever curated the collection.) While in New Orleans, he made a few side trips outside the city, one to my part of the world. In fact, he has photographs of the Billeaud sugar mill, which no longer stands, but is something of a standing joke in my family because people still give directions based on it. E.g., “Take a left where the mill used to be.”

The Billeaud Sugar Mill.

*The image is drawn directly from the collection’s website, so if you’d like to see a larger version of the image or find out more about it, please click the link above. You can find this image and others by simply searching for “billeaud” on the search page.*

It’s in the Blood

It’s always interesting to see your child’s proclivities. You can’t help but compare, and contrast, them to your own, seeking continuities and discontinuities, trying to fathom what’s nature and what’s nurture. Lily likes to diagram things (just like me):

City Map (2008-07-13)

According to Lily, this is “a map to a city. On yellow, and black, roads you go slow. You stop on red roads. You go on green and blue roads. And on purple roads you go fast fast.”

Air Conditioning Diagram (2008-08-16)

Lily prepared this diagram last summer around this time when our air conditioning compressor died. She drew this to help me fix it.

Boats That Go on Land and Water

*If you are coming here from another site, welcome! This page has news and information on my current research project — boats that go on land and water and the men who make them. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach me through any of the means listed on the [contact page](*

In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, there ranged a variety of debates and discourses around the nation about the wisdom of rebuilding in the areas struck by the 2005 storms. It makes no sense, many argued, to build a city, especially a modern American city, on land so, well, not land. The same argument has been made before about New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana: too much water, too little land. Two years later: National Geographic, a fairly sensitive observer on such matters as people and land, had this to say about New Orleans:

> The *sinking city* faces *rising seas* and *stronger hurricanes*, protected only by *dwindling wetlands* and *flawed levees*. Yet people are trickling back to the place they call home, *rebuilding in harm’s way*. (emphases in the original)

The editors of _National Geographic_ seem to be suggesting that Louisiana’s choices are barren landscapes beautiful but devoid of people or landscape full of poor people and thus not worth very much or a landscape which is in fact not land at all.

As a native of Louisiana, I knew my understanding of the world was fundamentally at odds with the way others were describing the world in which I, and others, lived and worked, but how to go about explaining our world to them? Where they see confusion, we see mutability, the opportunity to change one thing into another.

This transformative character of the landscape, and what we do with it and on it, seemed to me central to understanding how people in Louisiana imagine their world. But how to communicate it? As a folklorist, I had access to archives of folktales and folksongs, and they were rich sources of information, but they did not really address the *transformative* nature of the work people in Louisiana do when it comes to working, and imagining, the land.

I remembered a folktale recovered by folklorist George Reinecke and printed in the _Louisiana Folklore Miscellany_ in 1994. The story, which has European origins, appeared in the French-language paper of St. John parish in 1878 under the heading “Contes Negres.” It was printed in its native Creole and it told of a boat that could go on land and sea.

The answer was right in front of me, and it was such an obvious thing of imagination that I almost fell over them, or into them, as it turned out: *boats*. Boats that go on land and water.

Such a boat is surely the stuff of tall tales, folk tales, fairy tales, and yet it exists. It is the product of a limited number of individuals participating in a loose network of ideas, all of which exist within the confines of the very landscape that outsiders perceive as being “in harm’s way.” It is an inspired response to that landscape, and as such it begs for us to understand it as a creative response to a particular context.

Boats that go on land and water are everywhere in south Louisiana, and they are all made right here. While the pirogue is often cited as the first boat that could glide on the dew, there are two modern incarnations of that same idea and not only did they originate in south Louisiana but they originated at around the same moment in time: the shallow water, or surface drive, engine (and boat) and the crawfish boat.

My mission is to chronicle the history of these craft, highlight their makers/inventors, and document the boats and their use as much as possible.

Four Tenets for a National Data Policy

Andy Kessler in op-ed on the 19 August 2009 _Wall Street Journal_ assumes that AT&T killed the Google Voice app for the iPhone. Apple disagrees, but his essential point that Google Voice is feature-rich while current telephony is feature poor remains. His argument: *AT&T is dying and it’s slowing us down as it goes*. I’m not one for such grand rhetoric, but what I think is crucial is his argument that we need to do away with regulation of telephony and television, with the national communications policy altogether and focus on a National Data Policy with the following assumptions:

> * **End phone exclusivity**. Any device should work on any network. Data flows freely.
* **Transition away from “owning” airwaves**. As we’ve seen with license-free bandwidth via Wi-Fi networking, we can share the airwaves without interfering with each other. Let new carriers emerge based on quality of service rather than spectrum owned. Cellphone coverage from huge cell towers will naturally migrate seamlessly into offices and even homes via Wi-Fi networking. No more dropped calls in the bathroom.
* **End municipal exclusivity deals for cable companies**. TV channels are like voice pipes, part of an era that is about to pass. A little competition for cable will help the transition to paying for shows instead of overpaying for little-watched networks. Competition brings de facto network neutrality and open access (if you don’t like one service blocking apps, use another), thus one less set of artificial rules to be gamed.
* **Encourage faster and faster data connections to our homes and phones**. It should more than double every two years. To homes, five megabits today should be 10 megabits in 2011, 25 megabits in 2013 and 100 megabits in 2017. These data-connection speeds are technically doable today, with obsolete voice and video policy holding it back.