3.782 supporting the humanists, and others, cont. (142)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Sun, 26 Nov 89 17:22:10 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 782. Sunday, 26 Nov 1989.

(1) Date: Fri, 24 NOV 89 09:44:31 GMT (35 lines)

(2) Date: Fri, 24 Nov 89 06:17:00 EST (29 lines)
From: JLD1@phoenix.cambridge.ac.uk
Subject: HUMANIST: Professional Computer Support

(3) Date: Sat, 25 Nov 89 20:52:00 EST (48 lines)
From: "HALPORN,JAMES,CLAS" <halpornj@aqua.bacs.indiana.edu>
Subject: User-Support, Universities and Computing

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Fri, 24 NOV 89 09:44:31 GMT

As someone who is involved with the actual management of an ordinary
computing centre (i.e. our customers come from all the nooks and
crannies of academia and not just the humanities), I would like to
describe our policy.

Whenever computing becomes active in a department we try very hard
to 'train' a computing representative from the academics in that
department. If we are successful he/she then acts as an interpreter
between the specialised departmental skills and the computing
knowhow in the centre. Centre staff cannot be expected to be expert
in their own discipline and in every other subject. The humanities
workload here is not sufficient to consider a full time adviser in
say, English Literature.

As time goes on and a department becomes more computing literate,
two situations seem to develop. In one case, the department employs
computing staff of their own almost always from their own discipline;
in the other the computing knowledge is shared among the academics.
Fortunately for the Computing Centre, departments continue to come
for advice and help as their computing skills develop.

The success or failure of computing centres and of computing in
departments depend so much on the personalities involved that it
is impossible to generalise. My advice is to try whatever you can
get a consensus for. With honest goodwill on both sides success is

If however the aim is to set up a 'Centre of Excellence' in a
particular field of the Humanities, that is quite a different

John Roper, S200@CPC865.UEA.AC.UK
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------36----
Date: Fri, 24 Nov 89 06:17:00 EST
From: JLD1@phoenix.cambridge.ac.uk
Subject: HUMANIST: Professional Computer Support

In answer to Michael Sperberg-McQueen (3.776) about his doubts as to the
existence of "professional computer support" persons in the humanities,
I must point out that I have a degree in maths, and a Diploma and PhD in
computer science (systems software), and have been running the Literary
and Linguistic Computing Centre here at Cambridge for more than 15 years.
It is to be hoped that I am good at my job - the users seem satisfied!
Continuous developments of hardware and software mean that some of the
questions to be answered change over the years, and of course many of the
enquiries which come to me now are from highly experienced humanities
computer users. However, the "elementary" enquiries from new users are
still in many ways the most important and satisfying things to deal with.
I am frequently able to offer new users the prospect of results which they
have not even thought to ask for, such as a rhyming index to their poems,
or a coding scheme to bring together all the variant forms of place names
in their historical data.

I take the point about the difficulties of teaching and research while
functioning as a support person. It has been difficult for me to keep in
touch with general developments in computer technology while also
supporting a large (and growing) number of humanities users. The
Literary and Linguistic Computing Centre has recently become part of the
University Computing Service, which has meant a doubling of the
technical support staff (from 1 to 2!), and a commitment to support an
Arts and Humanities Computing Facility as a separate entity away from
the main public terminals. This shows a most far-sighted attitude on
the part of the Computing Service.
John Dawson, LLCC, University of Cambridge Computing Service.
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------54----
Date: Sat, 25 Nov 89 20:52:00 EST
From: "HALPORN,JAMES,CLAS" <halpornj@aqua.bacs.indiana.edu>
Subject: User-Support, Universities and Computing

There were three columns in *PC Week* (11-20-89) dealing with computing
in the universities. The one most relevant to the discussion of
user-support is by Diane Danielle, "Do Universities Short Shrift Future
'B & B' Programmers?" (pg. 93). She notes that "corporations need at
least five classes of computer-literate employees": computer scientists,
technocrats, bread-and- butter programmers, employees with basic
computing skills, and "support staff to help everyone else."

She continues, "From where I sit, our major universities have no trouble
producing computer scientists and seem fairly successful producing
computer- literate technocrats. On the other hand, they are much less
successful when it comes to bread-and-butter programmers or basic
literacy. As for support staff, well, forget it." Her suspicion is
that such general programming is regarded as a trade, and universities
tend to prefer courses that are set up for budding computer scientists
or lean toward developing computational skills. Students who are truly
interested in computers often avoid the computer courses at the
universities with their focus on mathematical assignments.

Cheryl Currid, "Computer Literacy Doesn't Come with a College Degree"
(pg. 115), is disgusted with the ancient equipment, poor facilities,
second-rate software at the business school of a Midwest private
university. Barry Gerber (who works at UCLA) is more optimistic about
the future of the teaching of computing skills in the universities, at
least of southern California ("In School, as in Business, PC Leadership
is a Must", pg. 97).

My only surprise is at *their* surprise. Did universities ever put their
students in possession of up-to-date equipment in the sciences or
humanities? I recall that in the 1940s as a student in a major Ivy
league university proud of its strong chemistry department that I used
analytical balances in labs that had been state-of-the-art around 1900
when they were built. You were taught a complicated system of marking
balance swings (using a mirror) to get accurate weights. Imagine my
pleasure when in my senior year I went to work for an oil company and
found I was given a balance with a chain vernier to set the exact weight.

And you can also imagine what I thought in 1960 after I had seen
electronic direct weighing balances, when, in walking through the
chemistry labs of a major midwestern university, I saw the quantitative
analysis classes still using those balances of 1900!

Well, it isn't all bad: those balances are actually quite attractive,
much prettier than the modern equipment. I have two in my living room as
decorative objects (and they make useful conversation pieces).

James W. Halporn