Home About Subscribe Search Member Area

Humanist Discussion Group

< Back to Volume 32

Humanist Archives: Nov. 28, 2018, 6:25 a.m. Humanist 32.231 - limitations of devices

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 231.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
                Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org

    [1]    From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.230: limitations of devices (28)

    [2]    From: Jonathan Reeve 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.230: limitations of devices (108)

        Date: 2018-11-27 18:10:18+00:00
        From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.230: limitations of devices


You raise an ethical question in the context of individual acquisition of
a machine (or the parts to build one):

> And how could any computer be morally unstained? We ourselves can't. Is
> there a doctor (of ethics) in the house?

If one enlarges the scope to consider the making of machines, the
distribution of machines, their disposal, then one can contemplate
system-wide interventions i.e. the redistribution of wealth, the creation
of meaningful employment, ecological preservation.

These considerations may seem far from the daily concerns of humanities
computing. However consider how the institutional and individual are
imbricated in the global.

A computer could be untainted in a world that bridges its digital divides.

Francois Lachance

        Date: 2018-11-27 22:24:11+00:00
        From: Jonathan Reeve 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.230: limitations of devices

Hi Willard, 

I agree very much with your two points here, concerning operating 
systems, and I find it interesting that those are two of my 
reasons for choosing Linux over a proprietary OS like Windows or 

Regarding design and aesthetics, I think you're right that a lot 
of this is subjective, but I wonder how many of our emotional 
experiences of design are conditioned by advertising. Windows and 
MacOS, with millions of dollars of ad funds at their disposal, can 
manufacture familiarity, without necessarily earning it. In 
contrast, Linux OSes, as the product of volunteers rather than a 
company, has virtually no advertising money, and might initially 
strike some users as unfamiliar. But I'd argue that not only are 
the design principles of Linux-based OSes at least equally 
pleasing as those of its competitors, but that most of what we 
find pleasing about Windows and MacOS began in Linux, anyway.

New design features in MacOS are, for example, are likely inspired 
by Linux features that the Apple developers had been using on 
their personal Linux-based laptops for years. One case-in-point is 
the "dark mode" [https://www.apple.com/macos] that Apple has been 
touting so loudly lately, which has long been in use on Linux 
OSs (see [https://github.com/DH-Box/dh-usb] the screenshots of my 
own Linux OS for the Digital Humanities, DH-USB). Other examples 
include Windows 10's new split-screen mode (tiling window managers 
in Linux have had this since the 90s), uniformly-colored square 
icons, multiple desktops or workspaces, full-screen apps as 
workspaces, and more -- they have long been Linux features.

Regarding one's operating system's time demands, I hear you -- I use 
Linux precisely because I don't have the time or energy for MacOS 
or Windows. That labor is usually invisible to us, since we're so 
habituated to it, but consider the typical process for installing 
a program in those systems. First, you search around on the 
Internet for programs that will do what you want. Find one, then 
click around on the developer's website until you find a download 
page. Download the program's archive. Open your Downloads 
directory. Unzip the archive. Click on the installer. Tell your 
operating system that you assume the risk of a program downloaded 
from the Internet. Click "next" a bunch on the installer. Sign 
whatever seventeen-page agreement they make you sign. Choose where 
to install it. Then clean up all the installers and archives from 
your Downloads directory. You're lucky if you don't have to face 
malware, popups asking you to register your new software, or 
requests for you to pay for a license for the program. In Linux, 
(in DH-USB, for example) just open the program called "software" 
and click on the "install" button next to the one you want. No 
licenses to agree to, no malware risks, no installer programs, and 
no money exchanged. It "just works," as they say. This model is so 
powerful that both Microsoft and Apple have released their own 
similar app stores, although they don't yet have wide adoption 
outside of mobile platforms.

Many other computing tasks take about half the time on Linux as 
they do on other systems. I created DH-USB, and my colleagues 
created the cloud-based Linux server DH-BOX, in part to solve the 
nightmarish difficulties of installing software stacks in Windows 
and MacOS. Most of us that have taught a Python-based Digital 
Humanities course are all too familiar with these difficulties. 

Perhaps more importantly, since almost all Linux software is free 
("free" as in "free speech" and in "free beer," as they say), I 
can make and distribute an entire text analysis platform -- operating 
system, drivers, programming languages, software, language models, 
test corpora, and a polished user interface -- without breaking any 
copyright laws. This is crucial for the reproducibility of text 
analysis experiments. If you want a copy of my entire digital 
humanities laboratory, you can download it right now from GitHub. 
You just can't do that with Windows.

While there are certainly many Linux users who, like your son, are 
operating systems experts or hobbyists -- I certainly have been 
guilty of tweaking my system too much, on occasion -- I'd like to 
dispel the notion that one /need/ be a hacker in order to use 
Linux, or to install it. I've installed single programs on MacOS 
that were harder to install than entire Linux operating systems. 
One need only watch one of the Linux installation videos on 
YouTube, [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jmELj9MvVc[ like this 
one, to appreciate how little effort it takes. Once installed, 
the simplicity of the system is remarkable, which is why 
developers often install it on their grandparents' machines -- 
it's so much more intuitive. 

"If Linux is so great," one might wonder, "why isn't everybody 
using it right now?" Technically speaking, it's actually the most 
common operating system in the world: used on most of the world's 
servers, most of the world's mobile devices (Android is 
Linux-based), and virtually all supercomputers. But as for 
desktop/laptop adoption, this brings me back to my first point 
about advertising. There are so many options for computer software 
these days, that we have grown to trust only those with which we 
are familiar. That's to be expected. But for those brave souls 
that want to try something else, or who value freedom, and have an 
hour or two for learning something new, that hour is repaid a 
hundredfold in the workflow efficiencies it provides. Sure, we can 
answer an hour's more emails if we don't do that, but the 
long-term gains far outweigh this short-term setback.

But maybe I really shouldn't be talking about efficiency, since 
I've been writing this message for the past half hour, instead of 
writing my dissertation. So back to the drawing board for me!



Unsubscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted
List posts to: humanist@dhhumanist.org
List info and archives at at: http://dhhumanist.org
Listmember interface at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted/
Subscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/membership_form.php

Editor: Willard McCarty (King's College London, U.K.; Western Sydney University, Australia)
Software designer: Malgosia Askanas (Mind-Crafts)

This site is maintained under a service level agreement by King's Digital Lab.