Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Going further

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Last week I talked to colleagues from UBA/DPC and they mentioned their plan to build a VRE for archaeologists. So far it is still a plan, but the interesting thing is that this VRE is supposed to assist researchers in (collaboratively) creating a publication rather than in the “usual” creation and analyzation of research data. Within the Alfalab context this can be a nice example of (forward) vertical integration, for example by allowing researchers to easily transform the methodology and results from their “research” VRE into a publication.

Of course the opportunities for such assisted transformations are currently limited, but this is about to change with the many developments like SURFfoundations Enhanced Publications, Elseviers Cell or NISOs standardization of supplementary materials.

We seek solutions…

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Listening to a paper at the IEEE 2009 conference in Oxford by Jeff Dozier on ‘the End of Stationarity’ (although more likely you want to check out his contribution to The Fourth Paradigm), the speaker passed a memorable quote on us. It’s a quote from Energy Secretary Designate Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who has been an outspoken advocate of strong action on climate change:

We seek solutions… We don’t seek – dare I say this – just scientific papers any more.

As Alfalab is striving for its own small sort of climate change, I couldn’t fail to notice how aptly Chu’s comment describes some of the things we’re trying to advocate.

TekstLab and Community Building

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

Representing TekstLab and the Huygens Institute Ronald and I are attending the ‘Interedition’ ( meeting on ‘Current Issues in Digitally Supported Collation’. Ronald and I have been presenting CollateX, a digital text collation tool that was well received by this scholarly community. Discussions were also on how larger infrastructures supporting scholarly work (or humanities in general) could be successfully conceived and implemented. The meeting yielded a number of main focuses or target areas that any infrastructure initiative should take seriously into account. They’re a sort of ‘usual suspects’ but still I think they’re also relevant to Alfalab as a sort of ‘check list’, are we paying enough attention to:

  • Institutional backing for organizing, networking and dissemination
  • Continued funding possibilities
  • Community building
  • Teaching
  • Open, light weight and distributed technological solutions for machine interfaces
  • Tangible user interfaces

I think viable infrastructure will only arise if all those topics are tended to sufficiently. But in this case I draw special attention to teaching. It’s very clear from this meeting that at least this community lacks possibilities to carry its very valuable knowledge on computational solutions over to the next generation of scholars (current students). For me that feels like all that gained knowledge and experience on computational possibilities is not finding enough momentum in a very important part of the community: the future researchers. Indeed I got some worrying signals from early stage researchers that they only got to know about initiatives like these (and Alfalab?) when they all but reached the level of post doc applications.

Communication breakdowns

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Alfalab members Maarten, Joris and Smiljana talked today about communication breakdowns that sometimes occur between computer scientists  who are developing instruments for scientific research, and the researchers–particularly in the humanities and social sciences — who are the intended users of those instruments.

“There is a problem of translation,” Joris noted.

Not only those two different epistemic cultures use the same concepts to which however they assign dissimilar meaning (we came up with the term “token” as an example); also, and perhaps more importantly, their different ways of perceiving problems and solutions—as well as other conceptual, methodological, and epistemological differences—make those two groups and their collaboration easily susceptible to communication breakdowns.

What is the root of those communication problems? How can they be solved? How can the communication gap between computer and social scientists (i.e., between tool developers and tool users) best be bridged?

“Is it” Maarten asked, “that we mainly think and talk about tools, not about research problems and instruments that should address those problems?”

There is also a problem of expectations, we posit; people who are not really technologically-savvy often expect technology to “do miracles” (in social sciences it is known as the phenomenon of techno-magic).

All those issues are important and relevant for Alfalab, we concluded, so we will keep addressing them.