Carolingian electronic book

Hit recently by an inspiration-particle involving electronically enhanced books (that I may describe later, as the idea develops further) I went looking for the right term for it. E-books (enhanced), t-books (technical), a-biooks (augmented), s-books (sensitive)… all have too many other existing uses. Mr Google wanted a more specific query, thinking that “book” and “structure” and “open” are too vague, so I searched for the combination of a particular binding style, “Carolingian” (which has the features of nice thick boards and an open spine structure that match my first ideas for implementing the inspiration) with “electronic”. Mr Google delivered 3 items! which reduced to just one item a few days later. This was exciting – but found I had been given a fake item, a honey trap, advertising an essay mill using a mashup of topics in computer science and architectural history. Interesting words, yes, an exciting combination when it has meaning associated with it (in the way I thought of it!) but this existing document was a total lie, not even a fiction. False content, meaningless machine-generated scribble. Here’s a sample:

The word popishesque (coined in 1818, 1819 or 1824 –there is no total agreement– as a bridging term amid papistic and Carolingian electronic calculating machine computer architecture that preceded papisticesque, and Gothic that followed it) embraces architecture, art, and sculpture.

[ accessed 2013-11-12]

Although this is a website that is clearly intended to encourage the violation of academic integrity principles (he says stiffly from his stance on Academic Integrity), I reckon that I should act with intellectual honesty myself and acknowledge the reference – and it’s an ingrained habit to do so. If I tried to explain this, I am in conflict whether it’s in acknowledgment of its inspiration to me, or to name and shame this wicked practice. (It’s actually a crap service anyway of no value to anyone who is sucked in – if I received an essay in this style, even if the word combinations were meaningful, I would think the author was totally unable to express themselves).

But the accidental combination does trigger further inspiration. Before steam punk there was Carolingian electronics! I’m thinking of a book cover in solid wood, 18mm thick, incorporating a 15mm thick Raspberry Pi processor module… and enhancing the book in colour, sound, responding to the ambient environment of other books on the shelf or in the display cabinet, the history of its opening and closing and readings. Glowing jewelled covers, circuitry in gold, the book that can read the reader…

Note: I can’t type Carolingian correctly and need to correct it every time. I apologise for any residual misspellings. Sic.


hand made books and words in Handwritten, handbound

I opened the bookbinders’ part of a four-part exhibition at the Belconnen Arts Centre in Canberra last Friday in a nominally two minute talk. There was a great turnout and a great cross-mixing of audiences for different arts – many thanks to Jacque Schultze of BAC for making it happen together and harmoniously.
The calligraphers and bookbinders exhibition is combined in one room as Handwritten Handbound. Both calligraphy and bookbinding were invented long ago, both relate to working with paper and its embellishment and management, both work to the range of physical and visual differences in the paper. The bound codex book started nearly 2000 years ago, putting words and images on flat surfaces which are folded and attached, covered on a container that makes them portable, harder wearing, and later able to stand on shelves for storage and display. The covers and the structures are what bookbinders work in, responding practically to the needs of the book and its reader, and responding artistically to the contents of the book, which are often the work of another artist or craftsperson.
We each deal with hundreds of books in many forms in our lives, and many of those are now growing away from the physical form altogether. There are convenient electronic forms of container and distribution (I shook a necklace of USB drives at the audience) and forms for display for reading, in convenient containers that are rarely made aesthetically pleasing or reflective on their content. Much printing from computer is done on paper deliberately selected to be neutral and uniform to suit the printing mechanisms.

By contrast, the time and creative energy that the hand bookbinder puts into a hand crafted binding expresses something of the “slow” movements. The binder is a practitioner who puts energy and time into handwork processes, with the good that it brings back to the practitioner by doing that physical and craft-creative process, as much as it then pleases the collector or viewer of the completed work. Handbound books cannot hold back the rise of the e-book, but the e-book will not drive out the p-book altogether. The widespread use of e-books only strengthens the distinctive place of the hand-printed, hand-bound, by making a deeper contrast between the book-as-content alone (which is what the paperback has also served to provide, in a cheap, uniform, container) and the book in its handmade form as an artistic and craftwork expression in its own right.
Calligraphy has some of the same properties, responding to the meanings behind words into a visual expression on chosen papers and other surfaces, which form part of the response to give something extra to the reader.
The exhibitions also set me thinking about the problems of display. Calligraphy is usually on a single surface, producing a static object, that can be displayed in full when it’s hung on a wall: all the dynamics are in the reader’s eye. Bound books are naturally dynamic objects, intended to be opened and to reveal their insides progressively, as well as their outer covering – on all 6 or more sides. The dynamics are in the reader’s hands as well as their eyes. This makes the bound book inherently difficult to display. We cannot allow all visitors to handle all of the books. But their display is so restricted: some lie flat, with back cover and all the inside hidden. Some stand splayed open, with only a sideways glimpse into the sections and the pages that hold the contents that the binding is talking to. When they are on display many need to be protected from inquiring hands, whose everyday training in using books otherwise leads them to treat these one-off display items in unacceptably rough ways.
We now need to take advantage of digital photography and easy video, even with fairly amateur production quality, to augment the physical displays of bound books.
It’s in the nature of the book as an object that it’s hard to display en masse to public, and it’s a pity that this prevents most visiting craftspeople from being allowed to handle it and peer into its well-crafted corners, to inform and compare their own craftwork. Visiting bookbinders and readers are an important part of the audience. The structure and insides of the book, the content of the book, are important parts of what the binder is communicating. If the content of the book has been published, then a p- or e-copy for skimming would help the viewer see aspects of the binders’ vision in materials, form and cover decoration. If the opening and internals of the book can be show in a nearby display or in a remotely downloaded video, the binding itself is more revealed.
There’s an example here which goes a step further than just connecting cover and structure to content. We can lose something of the artist’s vision that is expressed in the handmade, handbound book if we cannot see what is inside. One of the books here (Robin Tait’s Pigments, Lakes and Dyes, cat.64) comes with a warning on the title page inside: wash your hands after handling this book. It’s not that the words inside are dirty, but the actual pigments put onto each page that are potentially toxic (remember the poisoning of the finger-licking reader in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose?) because this is a book of actual samples of the pigments and dyes on its pages, not pictures of them. They are light-sensitive, and so to preserve its value the book should not be opened for display. It’s a pity that the display case doesn’t include a picture of something of the interior, to make this connection visible to the viewer, even though it’s not possible to show anything of the actual book apart from its outside covers to the public in a normal gallery space.
For our next exhibition? the enhanced display. In 2013 The Invisible Thread is coming.

Computer program code is not poetry

Daniel Golding in Crikey Oct 2 talks about Why Code is Not Poetry.
He’s right in his conclusion.
Claire Hosking says some code is poetry, arguing from elegance: I think she’s wrong except in a metaphorically stretched (poetic) meaning of “poetry”.

Computer program code is written with intention, mostly by human people (discounting the code that’s generated automatically by another program at some remove from the origianl person). Good writing is also intentional. But not all good writing is poetry. The fact that the medium of writing code is the same set of letters and symbols that can be used to write poetry – and prose, and blackmail letters, and political conversation, is of no account. What’s the intent? and how does it read to humans?
Some program code is written with an attempt at elegance, and some of the best and most readable code has been laboured over to improve its elegance. But elegant writing isn’t enough to make it poetry, even less than a mathematical proof is poetry. All writing is communicating something. What code communicates is in aspects of language of structure, action, and infomartion relationships: not the aspect of language that poetry uses, of metaphor, with enlightening conjuctions and disjunctions of concepts, allusions and new angles on emotional relationships. On the contrary, program code is in the aspect of making and controlling logical connections of single meanings, of control, of precision. Relationships between entities in the program are made to be be well defined, not fuzzy and shaded with multiple meanings.

Code always means one thing to the computer that interprets it. There is some room for a difference in interpretations: particular program code may not be read by people to mean the same thing as it does to the computer, whether the poeple are the writer or another reader. It is notoriously easy unintentionally to write code that misleads the human reader to interpret it away from the meaning to the computer (which is why we code developers spend so much time testing and degugging code).
We can admire and aspire to and admire elegantly great mathematical constructions, elegant efficient engineering design of bridge or machine, programs written with elegance and parsimony, with lots of quailties like easy understandability, easy extension, powerful well-encapsulated expression of abstract ideas over the vast, smeary, fuzzy spaces of information. That’s not poetry to me. I like both aspects of writing and reading, but I haven’t seen poetic insight and expression in any program code.

Expectations on online teachers ctd.

Pennsylvania State University states a tougher expectation on teachers of one business day response, and a suggestion to monitor courses at least once on weekends:

  1. Establish and communicate to students, early in the course, a regular schedule for when you will be logging in to the course.
    Normally this is once per business day. Many of the students studying via the World Campus are adult learners who have work and family responsibilities. These students tend to be more active in courses on weekends, so you may wish to also include in your schedule time to monitor courses at least once on weekends.
  2. <LI value="6"
    Provide feedback to student inquiries within one business day.
    Because online learners must manage their time carefully, timely instructor feedback is especially important to them. If the you cannot provide a detailed response within one business day, we suggest that you respond to the student within one business day to simply let them know when a more detailed response will be provided.

John A. Dutton e-Education Institute
Best Practices and Expectations for online teaching
adapted from “Online Instructor Performance Best Practices and Expectations,” Penn State World Campus.

Expectations on online teachers

I have been wondering what is a reasonable and effective expectation for response to student inquiries, in an online course. The University of Southern Queensland is very much online for students. It has a statement of some minimum standards for online courses, which include some expectations for teachers of online courses:

USQ requires minimum standards in the operation of StudyDesk to support student learning.

  1. Checking of discussions and other student access areas on at least three [3] working days per week in order to:
    • monitor and moderate comments and discussion by students;
    • manage course operation by responding to student enquiries and learning activities.
  2. Student requests for clarification or assistance should be responded to as soon as possible, but certainly within 48 hours during the working week.

This statement has an old-fashioned ring to it. The concept of the “working week” does not fit with the current goal of fitting courses to student desires, and enabling students to study at any time. (If teachers are checking Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday then a Friday query will not be answered within 48 hours: the weekend intervenes, when students are often studying but staff expect not to be on duty. It’s effective to have a day or two block time away from the inquiry desk, and the 3 days per week standard allows that: but teachers would have to work Mondays and Fridays to ensure 48 turnaround. Is 48 hours way too long anyway for the learner?

It’s a good start to have some stated targets for turnaround : if it means teachers will need to work in a larger team to get coverage of desired turnarounds, that can be negotiated with their managers; or if having a team is not possible, having a different way of working with the students, with longer turnaround of queries. Otherwise it’s not reasonable as a work requirement, and it’s not effective for good teaching or any interleaved good research, if that’s still part of the academic work requirement.

What’s the optimum response time for best learning? it must depend on the discipline area and the level. Is there any research reported?

Does teaching online require quick responses?

The experience of some university academics teaching online is that they feel a need to answer student email and forum queries quickly, extending the teachers’ workload over the hours of the day (and night) even if handling each query is light work. Such immediate availability of the teacher is often regarded as a desirable aspect of new educational technology. But there’s another side: how do the students use immediate queries in their learning? The temptation to ask a question rather than think a bit longer is made even less costly if the question can be asked facelessly online, with no body language to read impatience in the teacher or reactions from the rest of the class about what’s a fair share of teaching attention. The unexplored trade-off is that a quick question may be less useful for learning than longer consideration. Michael de Percy [Political Science, University of Canberra] is quoted in Campus Review 17 April 2012

When I was online with Twitter and Facebook I found I did nothing during student semesters…. The more I was available, the less work they [students] did too. It just became unbearable and created stress and set an expectation that I couldn’t possibly meet.