Thursday, January 31, 2008

Growing Pains at BP3

I've been watching Bloggers for Peer-Reviewed Research Reporting and their Research Blogging aggregator with interest since learning about it from Alun Salt last week. I was taken aback by today's announcement from Dave Munger that they are turning down applications "because the blogs aren't written in English." My brain mumbled, "show-stopper." But I read on ...

I understand this problem: "The organization as it stands now simply doesn't possess the language skills to verify that blogs written in other languages are living up to our guidelines." Munger outlines some steps aimed at building community capability for handling non-English content. Since the BP3 model is predicated upon some human evaluation of a blog's "living up to [BP3] guidelines," they'll have to rise to the challenge or go out of business.

Another problem is poorly expressed: "readers might be turned off by a site that includes many posts written in a language they don't understand." How about (and this is clearly what Munger means if you read the whole post): users will need the ability to customize language and script settings. If I may, this will need to apply both to the interface, and to the filtering of content. And please don't bind these choices together! For example, I'd want an English-language interface but content in (at least) English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian and Spanish. This is one of the reasons we chose Plone as the platform for Pleiades: it comes localization-ready out of the box, and with a minimum of work you can manage multilingual content.

If the site hopes to mature beyond Anglophone scientific content, it's going to have to go multilingual. There's a whole world of humanistic scholarship out there just waiting to go digital; and much of it is interestingly more than English.

This reminds me, I need to write a rant about Blogger's recently announced pseudo-support for bidirectional text editing. Hint: I can't embed right-to-left Arabic, Hebrew or Persian in this post, but if I were reset my blog's language settings to one of those languages then I could mix in left-to-right English (or whatever) here. I bet I'd have to manually hack the HTML to mark the "foreign" snippets for language and script per RFC4646 too ...

Escape from PGeo


There's spatial data you want in an "ESRI Personal Geodatabase" file, but you don't have any ESRI tools. How do you get it out?

One short answer
One how-to (steps verified on Windows Vista)

Explore the content with ogrinfo
C:\Users\Tom\Documents\itins>ogrinfo ItAntMapping.mdb
INFO: Open of `ItAntMapping.mdb'
using driver `PGeo' successful.
1: whollyimprecise
2: placesAdded
3: placesEstimated
4: placesSolid
5: stretchesDangling
6: stretchesFloating
7: stretchesSolid
8: tpPoints
9: stretchesUnlocated
Extract a layer to an ESRI shapefile
C:\Users\Tom\Documents\itins>ogr2ogr -f "ESRI Shapefile" itant-solidplaces.shp I
tAntMapping.mdb placesSolid
Verify results
C:\Users\Tom\Documents\itins>dir itant-solidplaces.*
Volume in drive C has no label.
Volume Serial Number is 2C47-654D

Directory of C:\Users\Tom\Documents\itins

01/31/2008 04:00 PM 1,141,669 itant-solidplaces.dbf
01/31/2008 04:00 PM 147 itant-solidplaces.prj
01/31/2008 04:00 PM 85,780 itant-solidplaces.shp
01/31/2008 04:00 PM 24,580 itant-solidplaces.shx
4 File(s) 1,252,176 bytes
0 Dir(s) 172,586,586,112 bytes free
Coming soon

A sequel, wherein we write a python script to automate the extraction of multiple feature classes (layers, themes) with different geometries from a single geodatabase file to multiple shapefiles.


Sean and Howard.

NSSDC ID: 1958-001A

Image: NASA

The catalog entry blandly reads:
Explorer 1 was the first successfully launched U. S. spacecraft. Launched late on 31 January 1958 ... on an adapted Jupiter-C rocket ... Explorer 1 was the first spacecraft to successfully detect the durably trapped radiation in the Earth's magnetosphere
It was a real pleasure to read John Noble Wilford's piece in Tuesday's NYT ("Remembering When U.S. Finally (and Really) Joined the Space Race") on the significance and impact of the Explorer launch. His recap of the events and efforts leading up to the jubilant press-conference picture -- the one in which von Braun, Pickering and Van Allen triumphantly hold up a model of the satellite, and which for some reason the Times didn't run a copy of online -- caught me emotionally off guard.

Like so many of my peers, I've harbored, since childhood, a soft spot for the romance of space exploration. Part of its enduring infectiousness, I suppose, is its seamless blend of ethereal outlandishness and gritty mundanity. This is a heady brew, distilled from reality, promulgated by von Braun and others, and still shaping U.S. space policy (see Alex Roland's quasi-review of Michael Neufeld's Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War, Knopf, 2007; ISBN: 9780307262929). From time to time, working on projects we cared about, we've all felt something like what Wilford's subjects (the Redstone/Explorer teams) were feeling in the run-up to that launch: all that hard work and those late nights as the team pulled together (and threatened to fly apart) under the pressure of the deadlines and the ambitions and the sheer challenge of what you were trying to do.

And, oh, what they were trying to do ...

These are just two examples of some great space reporting in the Times this past year, both presentist and retrospective. There was also Wilford's treatment of the Sputnik anniversary (25 September 2007) and Christine Woodside's first-siting story (21 October 2007). And, also in the big space issue on 25 September, there was Dennis Overbye's poignant essay "One Giant Leap, Followed by Baby Steps," which did feature another amazing photograph:
There, on a pillar of violence, is your dream of transcendence, of freedom, of escape from killer rocks in the sky, boiling oceans or whatever postmodern plague science comes up with. Of galactic immortality.
There's been alot of retrospective, and hooplah, here in Huntsville during the run-up to this, the 50th anniversary of the U.S. entry into space. People who've lived or visited here know just how closely bound to space and rocketry our sense of place and community identity are. This got a bit easier to explain to outsiders when Shaila Dawan's "When the Germans, and Rockets, Came to Town" ran in the NYT on 31 December 2007. Although I must point out ... peanuts have never been a big crop around here. For 1950, try cotton.

Locally, the Huntsville Times has been reprinting historic, space-related front pages on a daily basis. There's also been some interesting original reporting, like:
The 50th Anniversary website provides plenty more of this sort of thing (remembrances, audio, video, images), and also includes information about the America in Space Technical Symposium going on today and the gala celebration tonight (purportedly to be streamed live at

I think I'll put on my propeller beanie and head down to Pete's. Maybe he's brewing Rocket City Blend today ...

Podcasts, at last

I've been wondering for a long time -- admittedly without yet having personally done anything about it -- why so few conference papers and lectures in ancient studies seem to get live-streamed or retrospectively web-cast.

Well, hats off to Kostis Kourelis, Lita Tzortzopoulou-Gregory and their panelists in Chicago! They've posted podcasts (with print abstracts) of their entire panel from the 2008 AIA Meetings on "The Archaeology of Xenitia: Greek Immigration and Material Culture." Now those who couldn't afford to go to the meetings, or had good personal reasons not to, can experience these papers. Moreover, the papers themselves now have a citeable, scholarly avatar.

Attention 2009 AIA and APA panel organizers: let's see how many panels we can podcast. Since I'm co-organizing the ASGLE panel, I'll have to put up or shut up myself.

My only criticism of the Xenitia podcasts: no license. What can I do or not do with these papers and their content? For next year, we'll want to work such details out in advance with our presenters.

Thanks to Bill Caraher for the tip by way of AWBG.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

New Colleague: Chuck Jones

The word is on the street: Chuck Jones will start work as the head librarian at ISAW in March. We're batting around various initiatives already, so if there's something you think that ISAW should be doing (at the intersection of digital scholarship, libraries and ancient studies),
let us hear about it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Is the UK Government Out to Get Me?

Just when I started focusing serious mental concentration on the issue of long-term archival arrangements for Pleiades data output, the UK cut funding for the Arts and Humanities Data Service. Now, one of the online resources that has been most influential on my thinking about how to do online resources for ancient studies is under funding threat: the Portable Antiquities Scheme. And just when we were gearing up for some serious interoperation. I'll let Alun Salt give you all the details.

I'm going to go put on my Grumpy shirt and cross my fingers ...

Yes, I know I'm an American and our project is spearheaded by American institutions. But we all study antiquity. And we all collaborate.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Traveling with Demetrios of Skepsis

I've known about Alexandra Trachsel's project on Demetrios of Skepsis for some time (we hope Pleiades will provide the raw data for maps she'll need), but it was only today that I stumbled across (by way of a link report for Pleiades from Google's Webmaster Tools) her interesting blog. One finds more there than meta for her project, especially interesting thoughts and reactions to new trends and reports in digital publishing and digital humanities research.

Ancient Gazetteer/Geodata Builders, Unite!

I keep running into more and more examples of people or projects building interesting and useful datasets/gazetteers for the ancient world. Maybe we should be talking to each other in a more regular and organized fashion?

There are, of course, the big digital gazetteers (compiled from multiple sources) that incorporate some ancient sites (e.g., the open-access Alexandria Digital Library Gazetteer and GeoNames and the proprietary Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names). But there are also established academic/historical projects like the China Historical GIS (unfortunately locked away from the geoweb by its license). Some other academic projects focus on the capture of metadata (including spatial information) about archaeological surveys, digs, bibliography and more (for example, Fasti Online, the Mediterranean Archaeological GIS, the Portable Antiquities Scheme, the TAY Project: Archaeological Settlements of Turkey, and some of the vast array of projects cataloged by the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative over the last decade).

Then there are the folks building teaching and reference datasets (e.g., Ross Scaife's Bronze Age Crete KML for Google Earth), as well as those developing regional gazetteers for academic purposes (I just noticed Bill Caraher's mention of his plans to co-author with David Pettegrew a gazeteer of the Eastern Corinthia -- hint: search in page for "gazetteer").

If I were going to try to gather some information about projects creating academic historical "gazetteers" or "geographic datasets" (focused on "ancient" times), what questions should I be asking? Should your project be listed?

If you have thoughts on this, please post a comment or a blog post linking back to this one.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Shapely: A Python Package for Programming with 2D Geospatial Geometries

Sean deserves a big hand, and a break: he's just released Shapely 1.0.


It's a package of python code for manipulating and analyzing two-dimensional geospatial geometries. Shapely lets you calculate unions, intersections and differences of two-dimensional shapes, thereby letting you determine whether these shapes intersect, touch or contain one another.


Sean had alot of great help (see Shapely Credits). Some of Sean's work on Shapely was supported by our NEH grant for Pleiades.


Why would humanists care about (or help fund) such a code library?

I'll give you the Pleiad-o-centric part of the answer: information discovery is an essential component of humanities research, and geography is often highly relevant. What's near what? What's within something else? Or within a certain distance of something else? Are there Roman-era weapon finds cataloged by the Portable Antiquities Scheme that fall within 2km of a Roman-era fort registered by Pleiades? Are there excavations documented by Fasti Online or regional surveys cataloged by MAGIS that correlate with features cataloged in Pleiades? (If so, dynamically provide Pleiades users with links to them as they browse).

Shapely gives us what we didn't have: a tested, free, open-source, pythonic base for building these kinds of correlation functions and cross-project interoperability calculations into Pleiades and, hopefully, helping others do the same.

John Matthews' Theophanes wins Breasted Prize

Thanks to Chuck's post on ANE-2, I just learned that the AHA has awarded the 2007 James Henry Breasted Prize to:

Blunt Instrument Trauma (or why you haven't heard from me lately)

Rant advisory

Rob Frieden wants us to "blame blogspot" for his email not getting to his wife (her company's spam filtering solution deems any message containing any blogspot url to be spam and bounces it).

I've been having similar problems sending legitimate professional email to colleagues at various universities (these emails contained citations of various entries on this here blog; bounces included Harvard and the University of California Santa Barbara among others). Some of them at least employ a bounce message that explains why:

Spamhaus is the culprit.

Newsflash for Spamhaus and filter writers everywhere:
  • Link spam is an evil-bad problem.
  • Dropping a nuke in the baby's bathwater is not the schoolhouse solution.
Maybe I should bill Spamhaus (or those institutions using its black list) for the time I've spent troubleshooting this. Maybe you should too.

Update: this has been going on for a while:
And, most interesting of all, the comment stream on Storm Hits Blogger Network (slashdot, 30 August 2007) ... search in page for "spamhaus" ... where we find arguments to the effect that my reaction above fails to capture the full complexities of the situation.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Techno-travels: 22-24 May 2008

Second annual HASTAC Conference, proposals due 15 February 2008
University of California, Irvine and University of California, Los Angeles

This year’s theme is “techno-travels” and explores the multiple ways in which place, movement, borders, and identities are being renegotiated and remapped by new locative technologies. Featured projects will delve into mobility as a modality of knowledge and stake out new spaces for humanistic inquiry. How are border-crossings being re-conceptualized, experienced, and narrated in a world permeated by technologies of mobility? How is the geo-spatial web remapping physical geographies, location, and borderlands? How are digital cities interfacing with physical space? How do we move between virtual worlds? And what has become of sites of dwelling and stasis in a world saturated by techno-travels?

This year’s conference literalizes and metaphorizes travel, as attendees will participate in sessions at Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego, and on the connecting corridors of Southern California.

Take the Digital Humanities Tool Developer's Survey

Susan Schriebman and Ann Hanlon have put together a survey that aims to redress the current lack of a "concerted effort to gather information about the perceived value of tool development, not only as a scholarly activity, but in relation to the tenure and promotion process, as well as for the advancement of the field of digital humanities itself."

This must be the meme of the month, as Bill Turkel just this week unveiled plans to co-author with Alan MacEachern a "book to teach practicing historians how to use programming to augment their ability to do research online."

Anyway, I'd encourage everybody who's ever built a digital tool for a humanities function (or who is thinking about it) to take the survey and pester Bill to finish the book.

The Latest Pleiades Talk

It's come to my attention that some folks might not have noticed the announcement on the Pleiades News channel that I've posted slides from my AIA/APA presentation a couple of weeks ago in Chicago. The context was the very interesting AIA panel discussion "Web-based Research Tools for Mediterranean Archaeology" organized by Pedar Foss and Rebecca Schindler. Maybe other participants in that session will post their slides too ...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

CFP: Uncertainty and Inference in Historical GIS

Noted by way of H-HISTGEOG:
Call for papers: RGS-Institute of British Geographers Annual International Conference, 27-29 August 2008

Uncertainty and Inference in Historical GIS

Organisers: Richard Healey and Humphrey Southall, Dept. of Geography, University of Portsmouth

Historical GIS is a developing sub-field at the interface between substantive quantitative work in historical geography and evolving theories of spatio-temporal GIS. However, a number of obstacles must be overcome before potential synergies between these two areas can be fully realised.

Among these are a range of theoretical, methodological and substantive questions that need to be explored more fully. Examples include dealing with imprecise or rapidly changing geographical units or locations for which data are available, data comparability over extended timespans, uncertainty in chronologies of events, sporadic spatio-temporal data coverage and the related problems of utilising GIS methods to make inferences about past economic or social processes, based on very limited or unreliable archival sources. This session aims to provide a forum to discuss both theoretical issues and substantive case studies, either from the UK or further afield.

Please send expressions of interest to: or

Deadline for title and abstracts (c. 200 words): 31 January 2008

For further details of the conference please see RGS-IBG website.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

CoDE: Center of Digital Epigraphy

One of the several interesting announcements made yesterday in the annual business meeting of the American Society of Greek and Latin Epigraphy was the establishment of a Center of Digital Epigraphy at Brown University. John Bodel (who directs the U.S. Epigraphy Project) and Michael Satlow (who oversees the Inscriptions of Israel/Palestine repertorium) have received startup funding for this co-directed center. As more details, and a web presence (I hope) emerge, I'll blog them over at Current Epigraphy.

Volunteered Geographic Information Workshop Report

Back in September, I blogged the call for participation in the December 2007 Santa Barbara Workshop on Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI). Mike Goodchild now writes to point us to the workshop results pages, which include: a description of the workshop, copies of presentation slides, a participants list and the participants' position papers.

IJGIS Special Issue on Digital Gazetteers

Mike Goodchild wrote yesterday to say that a "digital gazetteers" issue of the International Journal of Geographic Information Science (Taylor & Francis; ISSN-print 1365-8816; ISSN-online 1365-8824) is now in press and will appear in 2008. This issue arises from the 2006 Santa Barbara workshop on digital gazetteers and includes the following articles:
  • M.F. Goodchild and L.L. Hill, Introduction to Digital Gazetteer Research
  • C.B. Jones, R.S. Purves, P.D. Clough, H. Joho, Modelling Vague Places with Knowledge from the Web
  • Q. Guo, Y. Liu, J. Wieczorek, Georeferencing Locality Descriptions and Computing Associated Uncertainty Using a Probabilistic Approach
  • R. Mostern, I. Johnson, From Named Place to Naming Event: Creating Gazetteers for History
  • J.T. Hastings, Automated Conflation of Digital Gazetteer Data
  • K. Janowicz and C. Kessler, Rethinking Feature Type Thesauri -- An Ontological View

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The New Job

A big change ... and continuity too.

On the first of February I will be changing jobs: I'll take on the position of Associate Director for Digital Programs in New York University's new Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. It's a tremendous opportunity, and I'm eager to get started supporting ISAW's research, teaching and outreach missions and in collaborating with colleagues and friends at other institutions to address digital research and infrastructure needs across the breadth of ancient studies.

Leaving UNC and especially the Ancient World Mapping Center is bittersweet; it's been the center of my professional life for 12 years now. My thanks to all the teachers, colleagues, students and friends who've made that time and place so stimulating and rewarding.

As to Pleiades: I've been discussing with Richard, Ross and my new boss (Roger Bagnall) restructuring the current bilateral collaboration (AWMC and the Stoa) as a tripartite confederation adding ISAW. Indeed, ISAW will support my continued work as the Pleiades director as we finish out the current grant period and work to identify follow-on support for continued work.

It's going to be an exciting year!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Blogging Classics and Tech at APA/AIA 2008

I've made a series of entries on the Stoa blog providing details about, and abstracts for (where available) talks and panels intersecting on classics and technology at the joint meetings, now in progress.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Blogging Epigraphy at APA/AIA

I've just finished listing epigraphical talks at this week's joint meetings of the American Philological Association and the Archaeological Institute of America (over at Current Epigraphy). Two of these sessions have actually been scheduled concurrently, so I hope multiple folks out there in cyberspace will be willing to blog about some of the talks.