future of computing; centres for computing (73)

Sat, 15 Apr 89 20:56:48 EDT

Humanist Mailing List, Vol. 2, No. 845. Saturday, 15 Apr 1989.

Date: Fri, 14 Apr 89 16:02:28 CDT
From: Charles Ess <DRU001D@SMSVMA>
Subject: future // computing centers

Regarding the machine of the future and humanities computing

I too was surprised to see a reference to the Macintosh as a
nonstandard operating system. As someone who entered the
computer world by way of IBM, Nota Bene, and UNIX -- I understand
that shifting to the Macintosh is bothersome: indeed, there are
times on the Mac when I feel like someone has stuck me in a
rubber room (too many layers of insulation between me and what's
going on -- all in the name of user friendliness, of course).
Nonetheless, it is a powerful platform that has been around long
enough for people to have actually written some useful software
for it -- such as Intermedia at Brown (to be released this month
after a scant three years of development...)

Those of us concerned about being ready to meet the future when
it gets here (!) need to keep in mind that the technology is
absurdly far ahead of the software (anyone know of anything for
the 80386 that actually makes use of all its powers?) -- but the
chips are not much use without the software. (Speaking of
nonstandard operating systems, whither OS/2?) And my suspicion
is that however impressive the NeXT machine may be, fully
functional software packages that take advantage of its
capabilities will not be here for quite some time. My point is
that at least for my interests -- using computers as hypermedia
platforms -- the Macintosh will certainly do for now and for the
next few years.

I have found the responses on starting a humanities computing
center/centre (warum denn nicht Zentrum?) to be helpful in
sharpening my focus on the goals of such a center. At least as
located in the small college setting, a humanities center might
include hardware, software, and support staff for:

1) wordprocessing and other usual applications
2) scholarly research -- e.g., on-line searches and work
with machine-readable texts
3) tutorials -- of the more usual CAI and more experimental
hypermedia sort
4) communications -- most obviously, by way of BITNET...

Somehow I find myself resisting the idea that such a center would
include facilities, such as those described by Bob Hollander and
Marianne Gaunt, for pursuing major projects such as the creation
of, say, an indexed and annotated m-r version of Emily
Dickenson's poems. Perhaps I'm too pedestrian or not
sufficiently ambitious -- but such facilities seem the equivalent
of national supercomputer centers: they are facilities we
certainly need, profit from, and want to communicate with -- but
not everyone needs one on campus for their undergraduates.

(I'd be curious about the Humanities Division of the Computing
Centre described by Susan Kruse at King's College: who uses the
scanners, and to what purpose?)

With hopes that the discussion will continue -- and that others
are profiting as much from this as I am --

Charles Ess