17.275 dance steps to coding

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Fri Oct 03 2003 - 01:04:50 EDT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 275.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Fri, 03 Oct 2003 05:59:40 +0100
             From: lhomich <lhomich@ualberta.ca>
             Subject: RE: 17.271 dance steps to coding

    Dear Colleagues:

    I've come to humanities computing from the opposite direction to (what I
    imagine ) the approach that most of my Humanist colleagues have taken. I
    graduated with a degree in computer science in 1979 (I wrote a compiler on
    punch cards), then spent the following twenty years as a computer
    programmer, database administrator, and system designer. I began taking
    English courses several years ago and three years ago I became a full time
    student. I am now doing a Master's degree in Humanities Computing with
    English as my home department. I'm still learning computer languages: I
    started teaching myself Java this year, and I'm digging into XML and XSLT
    as well.

    During my career, I learned several languages. There were some points where
    time constraints restricted my learning to the point of "do this to make
    that happen"; I didn't have time to learn the background of why, when x is
    coded, then y happens. This has always made me uncomfortable; I still want
    to look under the hood and see what's there. Even if I don't understand
    exactly how the engine works, having a general idea helps me to situate myself.

    I've noticed that sometimes knowledge of one discipline tends to become the
    hammer that turns all problems into nails. I myself am guilty of cussing at
    those who don't behave according to the rules and algorithms that I think
    people should behave by. The PEBKAC (Problem Exists Between Keyboard and
    Chair) acronym and attitude is a good example, as are the many Procrustean
    interfaces one encounters in dealing with computer systems. Part of the
    reason that I began to study English is its attention to the person and to
    the facets of human experience that are not amenable to algorithmic
    approaches. I'm encouraged by the many Human Factors and HCI programs now
    available, but to tell the truth, when I was a student the first time, back
    in the late '70s, I don't know if they would have interested me. Life
    experience has taught me much that autodidacticism simply cannot. Computer
    languages can be self-taught, but even some things as supposedly
    autodidactic as learning to code benefit a great deal from the experiences
    of others. The "interdisciplinary dialogue upon which so much of humanities
    computing depends" is the "show-and-tell modes of knowledge acquisition."

    Eric Homich
    M.A. Student
    Humanties Computing / English
    University of Alberta

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