Great Workshop for New Programmers at Babycastles

I had a launch event Saturday afternoon for my new book, Exploratory Programming for the Arts and Humanities. Not a typical reading or book party, but a workshop for people completely new to programming but interested in pursuing it. It was at the excellent gallery and venue, Babycastles, on West 14th Street in Manhattan.

I don’t actually have the list of attendees – I’d like to sent everyone a note, but it will have to wait! – but two people I knew beforehand participated and ten others joined in, with some people from Babycastles also participating and helping out. (Special thanks to Lauren Gardner for hosting!) I was very glad that the group was diverse in terms of gender, race, background, interests … also, pleased that this time around we had more people who were genuinely new to programming. I’ve done similar workshops before, prior to the publication of Exploratory Programming, and often there are folks who have had some programming classes and done some programming projects before. I’m glad to help such people as they re-start work with code, but I tried to make sure this time that there was no crypto-prerequisite suggested; the session really was for those wanting to program but lacking background.

Of course we dealt with programming as culturally situated and meaningful within art, poetry, writing, and inquiry. We used the historical Memory Slam examples that I prepared a few years ago for another event in Lower Manhattan.

Because the book is out and registration for the workshop included a copy of it, I didn’t feel the need to go through particular code examples that are in there. I was able to frame the whole idea of programming and focus on a few early specifics in both JavaScript and Python – showing that code is just editing a text file; that there’s a difference between code and data (and parameters, too); and that error messages can be helpful rather than frustrating. We did work with specific code, but didn’t cover specific code discussions in the book or the exercises in there. The book is for use in a classroom, but also for individual learners, to allow people to continue their work as programmers formally and informally.

Many people introducing a new book will have book parties, with or without readings, that draw a much larger crowd that this event did. But, as Brian Eno said about the Velvet Underground’s first album, not many people bought it but all the people who did started a band. I hope everyone who participated in this modest event at Babycastles goes on to start a band, by developing a programming practice engaged with the arts and humanities.

Update: I should have mentioned – we’ll have a similar workshop on May 15 at the School for Poetic Computation!

“Envisioning the Future of Computational Media”

The final report of the Media Systems workshop has just been released:

“Envisioning the Future of Computational Media.”

You can download either the executive summary alone or the whole report.

I took part in the Media Systems workshop in 2012 with about 40 others from across the country. The workshop was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, Microsoft Studios, and Microsoft Research. As Noah Wardrip-Fruin, co-author and co-organizer of the workshop, writes on the HASTAC site:

>Our report, “Envisioning the Future of Computational Media,” starts with the fact that the future of media is increasingly computational — video games, smartphone apps, ebooks, social media, and more.
>As media evolve and change, the stakes are high, on many fronts — from culture and the economy to education and health.
>To create media capable of continuing the expansion of computational media’s impact, we need to combine technical research that develops media possibilities with innovations in the creation and interpretation of media projects and forms.
>Instead, today, we generally separate these activities. Technology research organizations generally don’t have disciplinary, funding, or organizational support for making or interpreting media. Media making and interpretation organizations generally lack support for long-term technology research.
>Our report is focused on recommendations for how to fix this.

Although I see the success of people who have integrated technical and humanistic viewpoints all the time – in my colleagues and collaborators, to be sure, but also in MIT students who bring together technical depth and with humanistic inquiry and artistic creation – I realize that there is still a gap between computation and media. I hope this report, which offers a dozen recommendations to address this disconnect, will be helpful as we try to improve our own skills and those of our students.

Digging beyond Data

Noah Wardrip-Fruin, a friend and collaborator, has a great editorial in Inside Higher Ed today. It’s called “The Prison-House of Data” and addresses a prevalent (if not all-inclusive) view of the digital humanities that focuses on the analysis of data and that overlooks how we can understand computation, too.

CS and CCS

Here’s a post from a computer scientist (Paul Fishwick) that not only embraces critical code studies (CCS), it suggests that collaborations are possible that would be a “remarkable intersection of culture and disciplines” – where the object of study and the methods are shared between the humanities and computer science. Radical.

Chicago Colloquium Notes

I went to the Chicago Colloquium on Digital Humanities & Computer Science this weekend (Sunday and today), and gave the keynote that opened this event. I spoke about Platform Studies, describing how the difference between Pong and Hunt the Wumpus could be better understood by considering that these games were made of different stuff — different material computing systems. Then, I brought in the five-level model of digital media studies that I introduced in Game Studies in my article “Combat in Context” back in 2006. I spoke about the existing and forthcoming titles in the Platform Studies book series by MIT Press: Racing the Beam (Montfort & Bogost, 2009); the book on the Wii, Codename: Revolution by Steven E. Jones and George K. Thiruvathukal; and The Future was Here by Jimmy Maher, covering the Amiga. I also spoke about 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); GOTO 10, a book engaging with platforms that I, and nine co-authors, are completing. Finally, I concluded by offering 16 questions about the digital humanities, in a lecture moment that was inspired by a particular 20th century American composer.

A few of my favorite aspects of the colloquium:

– Talking with Steven E. Jones and George K. Thiruvathukal, colloquium organizers and Platform Studies authors, among other platform-interested authors.

– Meeting Perry Collins, a new program officer for the NEH Office of Digital Humanities. This was Perry’s first trip outside the Washington, D.C. metro area, and she immediately (first talk of the colloquium) got to do something all of her colleagues at the ODH — Brett Bobley, Jason Rhody, Jennifer Serventi — have already done: listen to me complain about the prevailing, overly traditional, overly narrow model of the digital humanities that doesn’t embrace contemporary work and the expressive, creative power of computational media. There are some things to enjoy about being a gadfly, but I do wonder if I’ve now become a hazing ritual at the National Endowment for the Humanities.

– Getting to talk more with Kurt Fendt and two CMS students working for his group, HyperStudio, about their current projects. Although I can walk over to their space without going outside, of course I have to travel to Chicago to really learn about what they’re up to, and to hear discussion of it supported by an immense poster — it’s the nature of things.

– Suggesting to Quinn Dombrowski of DHCommons that that site have some facilities for allowing potential collaborators to meet at conferences, and to know about who was at conference together, and then discussing this with her over Twitter and email while she was sitting six feet away from me.

I had many other good conversations, saw several intriguing presentations, and even saw some nice automated text collage, but those are the most amusing highlights, at least.