14.0288 primitives

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: 10/03/00

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 288.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
       [1]   From:    John Unsworth <jmu2m@virginia.edu>                  (49)
             Subject: irreducible components
       [2]   From:    aimeefreak <ahm@ualberta.ca>                       (117)
             Subject: Re: 14.0282 primitives
       [3]   From:    lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)      (34)
             Subject: Primitives definition
       [4]   From:    "Osher Doctorow" <osher@ix.netcom.com>              (13)
             Subject: Re: 14.0282 primitives
             Date: Sat, 30 Sep 2000 11:48:39 +0100
             From: John Unsworth <jmu2m@virginia.edu>
             Subject: irreducible components
    [The following is exerpted from an offline conversation with John Unsworth
    on the subject of primitives. --WM]
    At 11:35 AM 9/28/00 +0100, you wrote:
     >>  John Unsworth in a talk given at King's College London (forthcoming
     >> from the Office of Humanities Communication) identified 7 scholarly
     >> primitives also based on close interdisciplinary observation and project
     >> work -- discovering, annotating, comparing, referring, sampling,
     >> illustrating and representing -- as the basis for a tool-building
     >> enterprise. He illustrated these primitives with work that has been
     >> going on for some time at IATH.
    I've put that on the web, as I do with everything...it's at
    please do publicize the URL in this context...there's also an earlier
    piece, focused on one primitive (searching) from a talk given at Rochester:
    if you announce that URL, please note that the piece is undergoing revision
    in response to comments by John Price-Wilkin, and shouldn't be regarded as
    a final product.
     >>Contemplating Ott's TUSTEP and Unsworth's thoughts about primitives, I
     >>wonder if what we're seeing here is two parts of a much larger design,
     >>proceeding from universality to specificity.  In broad terms, could it be
     >>said that a "methodological macro" like Unsworth's "discovering" or
     >>"annotating" comprises "methodological primitives" like "consult
     >>lexicon", "search WWW" "recognise image patterns", each of which in turn
     >>comprise "mechanical primitives" and so forth?
    I don't agree with that breakdown: what I'm trying to get at in the talk I
    gave at Kings, and in the larger project that's part of, is operations that
    are irreducible components of other activities--not macros composed of many
    steps and instructions, but broad and basic archetypes.  There are, of
    course, many ways in which to search--and perhaps "mechanisms" or
    "implementations" is the way to describe those--but things like
    "discovering" and "annotating" are not primitives if they can be further
    reduced.  Of course, if they are primitives, then they must be able to be
    further specified...
     >>I see us facing a real-world problem that in turn gives us a very
     >>challenging research agenda. This problem continues to be the one Wilhelm
     >>Ott, Susan Hockey and others faced many years ago, how best collegially
     >>to support research in the humanities with computers, or in other words,
     >>how to get more of our non-technically inclined colleagues intellectually
     >>involved in applied computing -- if for no other reason than the creative
     >>imaginations they will bring into the increasingly complex equation. Do
     >>we tell them to learn C++ or whatever, or do we work with them to define
     >>a better research pidgin?
    Well, while we're on the subject, I think the bottom line here is that
    computing tools won't be an important part of humanities research until
    humanities researchers can build them.  We need a different kind of
    education and preparation--a sign, I would say, that humanities computing
    is a discipline.
             Date: Tue, 03 Oct 2000 07:41:16 +0100
             From: aimeefreak <ahm@ualberta.ca>
             Subject: Re: 14.0282 primitives
    hello, humanist-ers;
    as i prepare to write candidacy exams (m,w,f next week) focussing at least
    in part on these very issues, i offer the following, slightly differently
    angled take, on this most interesting discussion.
    i want to take a wee step back, to 'computing' as cultural practice, and
    then onto 'humanities' as cultural practice.
    willard wrote:
      >(2) that the development of computing is increasingly toward
      >putting the ability to make things into the hands of ordinary users.
    is it?  certainly, early rhetoric of what ted nelson called 'the home
    computer revolution' over and over and over again emphasised this very
    quality.  power to the people!  finally, the altair (1975, blinking box,
    torturously difficult to assemble, notoriously impoverished of utility)
    offered a technology for the confused, frustrated masses (of hardware
    wonks, of hackers -- a pretty specific kind of 'mass') to kneecap the
    obfuscatory giant ibm, with its priesthood model of computing (do not bend,
    fold, or spindle!  or else ...).
    early personal computers (opposed to mainframes of the ibm ilk, or even
    mini-computers of the pdp series) were devised as *transparent computing
    machines* and were lauded for the TOTAL CONTROL, COMPLETE POWER, UNDISPUTED
    AGENCY they offered their programmers (not, thank you very much, 'users').
    also, unlike mainframes and minis, there was no promiscuous time-sharing
    arrangements that cut into a programmer's mastery of every single last bit.
    from this mindset/context we get the hierarchy of:  machine language ->
    assembler language -> high level language -> application computing.
    machine language offers you the most control and is therefore best.
    see again willard's thoughtful comment:
      >[we seem to be] arguing about the level of
      >granularity at which we humanists work with computers. Does this
      >necessarily and forever need to be at the level of, say, Snobol or Pascal
      >or perl or Java? Once, I recall, it was at the level of assembler language;
      >I clearly remember arguments to the effect that unless you understood what
      >commands like "shift left accumulator" did you could not grasp the essence
      >of computing....
    i offer this narrative to bring two ideas into debate.  the first is:  how
    much are we operating under the assumptions that defined the pc
    'revolution' -- and what does it mean to be the legatees of such a
    power-hungry, control-mad discourse, and aggressive nerd-stance?  we are
    not hackers, but humanists:  marilyn deegan noted some time ago that the
    purpose of literary studies, at least, has tended in this day and age to
    *open up* rather than 'master' debate on particular texts.  let's pay some
    attention to possible disjunctions between founding discourses of personal
    computing and the humanities work we are all involved in.
    the second idea is:  has the pc ideal of complete transparency, total
    control, and programmer agency been surpassed?  and then, where do we go
    from here if this is the case?
    the current low-end pc, as we all know from cultural cliche, has more
    computing power than the mainframe that sent the first man to the moon.
    its components are tiny and unutterably complex; its speed is
    mind-boggling; its operations fuzzed over by layers of operating systems
    and proprietary soft- and hardware architectures.  it is a 'black box'
    machine:  how often have you called a tech help line, only to be offered a
    fix for a bug, which, upon asking, you learn that no one can explain why
    it's effective, but only that it works, praise god-or-bill-gates.
    we have come a long way from the do-it-yourself, homebrew club, altair-like
    hardware technologies.  and we have come similarly far from performing
    feats of computing in which it would even be possible to work in assembler
    language -- computing science has evolved into a highly specialized, highly
    rigorous and theoretical discipline.  the days of barking orders at an
    obedient machine in straightforward procedural languages (well, i found
    them pretty straightforward) have come and gone.  OO languages are
    absolutely fascinating -- and terribly complex if one is seeking more than
    a cursory understanding.
    to cut a long story off before it loses all of you entirely, then, i would
    respond to willard's assertion with a decided ambivalence:  i do not at all
    think that computing tends to putting more power in the hands of users --
    unless these users plan to transparently deploy pre-fab tools and
    applications.  it's a consumer box, increasingly, designed to be as easy to
    use as a tv -- and it's getting harder and harder to be a 'creator' of the
    1980s hacker ilk because the machines, while easier to 'use', are getting
    more complicated all the time.
      >I'd think that the objective of our
      >system-building isn't to remove the need for intellectual labour, rather
      >that component of scholarly work which is mechanically definable, and
      >therefore trivial (in the mathematician's sense).
    ahh, shades of vannevar bush, who, in 'as we may think', proposed something
    quite similar.  the question becomes, i think, for humanists:  what can we
    so take for granted as common ground/self-evident that we can
    mechanize/trivialize it, and safely leave it to the stewardship of
    automated processes?  bush had in mind a sort of mechanical slave device
    that did all of man's [sic] grunt work for him, leaving him free for more
    associative, creative, genius-level work befitting his special gifts.
    but:  as a humanist studying culture, i am always most fascinated with this
    taken-for-granted level.  when i see computing projects, that's always what
    i want to know:  what is your ground zero that you've built all your
    computing assumptions around?  put another way, my 'special gifts' as a
    scholar is a rabid interest and zeal for interrogating founding assumptions
    for whatever social meaning they may betray.  this would seem incompatible
    with bush's project, which would whisk these assumptions under an automated
    carpet, out of sight.
    so then:  these 'common gronds' are the things rendered invisible by the
    process, if we use our machines as the black-box technologies i've
    described above.  we should all have enough expertise to peel back at least
    a layer or two of the computational onion to see how the projects *work* on
    this common-ground level.  and i suspect that's why we get stuck at this
    level in our discussions:  successful computerization of a research problem
    can mean making invisible this very interesting research problem.  in a
    field that seems to be organized around thoughtfully interrogating problems
    as our very raison-d'etre, to make them disappear in this manner is
    and so i think these discussions about primitives are in fact the very
    *meat* of humanities computing.  or at least the humanities meat.
    the intellectual labour, i believe, is *precisely* the thinking that goes
    into deciding what can/should be mechanized.  how can we make this process
    legible to non-expert users?  how do we avoid making these decisions
    invisible in the name of building useable, transparent resources? [assemble
    your own thoughtful questions here ...]
    anyhow, i've gone on far too long already.  thank you for reading if you've
    made it this far.  all of the contributions on this topic have spurred my
    thinking, and i'm thankful for that too.  :-)
    i miss programming in LOGO ...
    aimee morrison
    phd program, dept of english
    university of alberta
    edmonton, alberta
             Date: Tue, 03 Oct 2000 07:42:25 +0100
             From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
             Subject: Primitives definition
    I am wondering, given the definitions below, if the discussing of
    primitives which you so brilliantly summarized is not connected with the
    very interesting question as to how we transform the products of an act of
    reading (or repeated acts of reading) -- be these transformations
    deformations a la McGann or marking cruxes or plotting changes in
    from the Free On-Line Dictionary of Computuing, a 1995 entry
    <programming> A function, operator, or type which is built into a
    programming language (or operating system), either for speed of execution
    or because it would be impossible to write it in the language. Primitives
    typically include the arithmetic and logical operations (plus, minus, and,
    or, etc.) and are implemented by a small number of machine language
    and a 1999 entry
    <theory, programming> (Or "data type") A set of values from which a
    variable, constant, function, or other expression may take its value.
    Types supported by most programming languages include integers (usually
    limited to some range so they will fit in one word of storage), Booleans,
    real numbers, and characters. Strings are also common, though they may be
    represented as lists of characters in some languages.
    If s and t are types, then so is s -> t, the type of functions from s to
    t; that is, give them a term of type s, functions of type s -> t will
    return a term of type t.
    Some types are primitive - built-in to the language, with no visible
    internal structure - e.g. Boolean; others are composite - constructed from
    one or more other types (of either kind) - e.g. lists, structures, unions.
    Some languages provide strong typing, others allow implicit type
    conversion and/or explicit type conversion.
    Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large
    Member of the Evelyn Letters Project
             Date: Tue, 03 Oct 2000 07:43:04 +0100
             From: "Osher Doctorow" <osher@ix.netcom.com>
             Subject: Re: 14.0282 primitives
    Willard's summary is outstanding.  It will take me some time to consider
    each of the scholarly primitives, especially of Unsworth, but also the basic
    operations of Ott.  LBP should be able to help organize and perhaps provide
    some guidance for the relationships.  While you are doing this, you might
    take a look at some of the things that I have been doing on
    evolutionary-computing@mailbase.ac.uk and philai@listbot.com (philosophy of
    artificial intelligence).
    ----- Original Message -----
    From: "Humanist Discussion Group
    <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>)" <willard@lists.village.virginia.edu>
    To: "Humanist Discussion Group" <humanist@lists.Princeton.EDU>
    Sent: Friday, September 29, 2000 1:25 AM
    Subject: 14.0282 primitives

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