Archive for February, 2011

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New Web Tool for Typing Polytonic Greek (and more)

February 23, 2011

I have a long history of not fully grasping the intricacies of Greek fonts, dating back to the days when they had to be laboriously installed from a floppy disk.  I always learned just enough to get by, and absolutely nothing else.  Now, thanks to the joys of Unicode-supporting web browsers, Greek fonts are nearly effortless to view,  and several online library catalogs have begun supporting Unicode Greek. Typing in Greek into web forms is still a problem, though, unless you’ve memorized the Unicode charts for Greek (.pdf file), which, yeah, no.

UGA Classics’ visiting assistant professor Ben Wolkow has created an easy, web-based text editor for getting Greek (and other languages) out of your head and onto the screen.  He calls it ~da Grunk~ and it’s pretty simple:

[It] is an on-line Unicode text-editor, that allows you to easily type text in a number of languages.  When you are finished, you can cut-and-paste your efforts into a word processor, where you can gussy up that text with all sorts of fonts, colors, effects, and the like.  You can even paste the text into an e-mail, a spreadsheet, a presentation, a Facebook update, a Tweet — anything that can handle Unicode will cheerfully display your carefully crafted masterpiece with verve, if not gusto.

It’s easy to get started with ~da Grunk~ – just make sure the language you want is showing up highlighted in green, and type in the box.  There are some overall Instructions that cover the features (bonus points if you find the Violent Femmes reference in them) and a Language Tips section customized for the needs, like diacritics, breathings, and special characters, of each particular language. ~da Grunk~ supports Latin, Greek and a Euro Mode for the various squiggly marks in most European languages (French, Italian, Spanish, German, Scandinavian).  I’m testing it using Firefox on a Windows XP machine here at work, and it works well.  Poke around with it, report any bugs you find – and maybe this will become a handy tool for you.  I will note that for the full range of polytonic Greek characters to display you need to be using a font that includes them (if a character is not included in your chosen font, you see a box).  Dr. Wolkow recommended Cardo, New Athena Unicode, or Titus Cyberbit Basic – and I was able to download and install Cardo very easily, even on a locked-down work machine.

And then you can easily say χαίρετε to all your friends online!

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Kindle Dreams: What I Want in a Scholarly E-Book Reader

February 22, 2011

So, I’ve been using the Kindle and playing with formats and liking it, but I’m now at the point where I’m saying, “wouldn’t it be cool if…”  So here are my ideas about e-book readers for (Classics) scholarship.  Feel free to add your desiderata in comments.

  • I like the dictionary feature – put the cursor next to a word and you get a definition at the bottom of the page.  It would be great to have built-in dictionaries in multiple languages – for a classics scholar you’d want at least French and German, and for archaeologists probably Italian or Modern Greek, as well as the ancient languages.  Basically, like the Perseus built-in dictionary.
  • A way to handle footnotes or endnotes.  Ideally this would be treated in a webby/hypertext way, so you could move the cursor to the footnote and its content would appear discreetly below, the way the dictionary works.  A bare minimum would be structuring the texts so footnotes appear at the end of each page (and adjust if you change font sizes), or if end notes are a must, there should be way to easily flip back and forth between the page and its associated note.
  • A less slow/clunky way to highlight and annotate in the text.  The Kindle (I have the new one, I think it’s Version 3 – it’s grey and tiny) is okay to type on for the most part.  It has a qwerty keyboard.  I would love it if they could get numerals on the keyboard too, though – for those you have to open up a screen and navigate the cursor around it.  And moving the cursor around is a huge pain. I’ve gotten over my initial desire to use the Kindle like an iDevice with a touch screen – I wouldn’t sacrifice the reading ease of e-ink – but there’s got to be a better way to move the cursor.
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Reacting to the Past

February 18, 2011

I spent my office hour in the the Classics Department this week reading Jane Addams (on my Kindle, for the trifecta.)  I’m lending myself to a Reacting to the Past game in the history department for the next several weeks – a role-playing game in which students hone their analysis, rhetoric, and writing skills by re-enacting debates around historical crisis points – this one is a game called Greenwich Village, 1913: Suffrage, Labor, and the New Woman.

There are Reacting to the Past games on a wide variety of subjects;  relevant to the world of Classics are the published and well-established  “Athens Game” (The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 BCE) and a game in development on Rome, Beware the Ides of March: Rome in 44 BCE, co-authored by Keith Dix of the UGA Classics Department.

A role-playing game sounds a bit silly, and not very rigorous, but the Reacting pedagogy is certainly rigorous and once the students get over their initial self-consciousness, not silly either.  The great benefit of the games that I’ve seen – I played a round of  the wonderful Red Clay 1835: Cherokee Removal and the Meaning of Sovereignty last year – is the engagement the students develop with the material.  They must give speeches and write persuasive papers incorporating the arguments presented in the readings, so they become intimately familiar with both the primary sources and the larger issues at stake (what is democracy and who gets to have some? what is sovereignty for native peoples?).  I have a friend who teaches Reacting who also notes that the games create a bond between the students that long outlasts the game, and is especially useful for her at a commuter school where students are slow to feel connected to the campus and each other.

UGA has used the Reacting pedagogy since 2003.  UGA Reacting is hosting a conference this spring, March 25-27, in which participants will play an abbreviated version of either the Rome game or another game in development, about Darwin. This is an excellent opportunity to get an immersion in the pedagogy and share insights with other instructors about how to make it work in your classroom.

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Kindle Report: Citiation Issues

February 8, 2011

Teaching with texts on a Kindle quickly brings up the question of how to cite such works in a scholarly paper.  Citing books or other works read on an Kindle (or any other e-book reader) is not explicitly covered in the MLA Handbook (7th edition, 2009), which is the style used by the UGA English Department. (The UGA Libraries’ short guide to MLA 7 is available as a .pdf file.)  The topic has been the subject of some debate online, at the Chronicle of Higher Education forums and on numerous blogs and other sites.

Consensus seems to be that one cites the work as if it were a combination of a print book and a digital file, adding “Kindle Edition” if the work is purchased from the Amazon Kindle store, and using a location number (or a chapter number) in lieu of a page number for quotations.  For works found at Project Gutenburg, or other sites providing digitzed books in Kindle formats, one should probably cite the work in its original print incarnation, and add, i.e., “Kindle Edition from Project Gutenberg” and location numbers as needed.

For students, a consultation with the professor for the class is advised before submission of the paper, to see if the professor has any personal feelings on the subject.

Here are the suggested examples the professor and I came up with (using MLA):

In-text: “The sun illuminates only the eye of man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child.” (Emerson 54)
Works Cited list: Emerson, Ralph Waldo, Nature.  Project Gutenberg, edition for Kindle, 2009.  E-book.

In-text: “Actually, the laboring man has not leisure for a true integrity day by day;” (Thoreau 77).
Works Cited list: Thoreau, Henry David, Walden. Amazon Kindle edition, 2004.  E-book.

Just yesterday, however, came the news that Kindle books will start having page numbers; it is implied that these will correspond to the page numbers of the print edition from which the Kindle edition is derived.  This makes things easy, for books that have a print edition – but plenty of books already do not, and more will not in the future.  It’s a brave new world.  Luckily Walden is timeless.

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Kindle Report: Kinds of Texts

February 7, 2011

I’ve had a Kindle for six weeks now, and I really like reading on it.  It doesn’t give me the eyestrain that reading on a computer screen does, and I appreciate that I can read before bed as a wind-down – my perception is that screen-reading before bed makes it harder to fall asleep, as the lit screen messes with one’s circadian rhythms or something.  I though I’d list the types of texts I have read or tried to read on it, and how they have worked, as a starter.

  • Kindle Books bought (or free) from the Amazon Kindle store.  Kindle format gives “location numbers” instead of page numbers; in class we all have the same edition so to refer each other to a passage we use the location numbers.  We haven’t read any critical editions that would have footnotes, so I am not yet sure how these would be handled.
  • Books from Project Gutenburg in Kindle format.  These have been indistinguishable from Amazon Kindle books.
  • Word documents converted to Kindle format by emailing them to one’s free Kindle converter address.  The professor transcribed a passage from a book into a Word file (.doc) and I converted this to a Kindle format.  It worked just fine, assigning location numbers.  The professor included the page numbers in the transcription, so those show up in the Kindle text, which would be useful if one wanted to cite the original text in a paper.  This was a simple document, without footnotes or any unusual formatting.
  • Scanned .pdf. I scanned a scholarly article from an older bound journal into .pdf, for another purpose, and decided to try to send it through the Kindle converter process.  The journal was tightly bound so the scan was a bit distorted (lines not fully horizontal on the page), and as a result when the Kindle sent the text through its OCR process there were large areas that were rendered unreadable. I would judge this a failure.
  • .pdf from Jstor.  I downloaded a Jstor article in .pdf and sent it through the conversion to Kindle. The Kindle could not handle the footnotes and two-column format of the article (I used a 2005 article from the American Journal of Archaeology).  This was a worse failure than the above; the sentences were so mixed and jumbled that I could not make head or tail of it.

It’s my understanding that .doc and .pdf files can be moved directly onto the Kindle – as one would move a .doc file onto an external drive – and read in their native formats.  Since the page size is generally larger than a Kindle screen, reading them requires scrolling, and one can’t change the font size.  It’s just like reading a .pdf file on a too-small computer screen (except it’s e-ink and not backlit).  I haven’t actually done this yet, and personally I think that the benefit of the e-ink would be outweighed by the annoyance of all the scrolling (which is not easy on a Kindle – it’s not like it’s a touch-screen!)

Conclusions so far: I love to read free fiction books on the Kindle.  I would like to experiment with reading a scholarly book formatted for the Kindle (i.e one with footnotes), and to experiment with different sources of .pdf files to see if I can get any to convert well.

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From the Mouths of Babes (Just for Fun)

February 4, 2011

In May 1998, two weeks after finishing my comprehensive exams for the PhD, my fiance, my sister and I drove the 3-tiered wedding cake to my wedding – an hour’s drive over rural roads – in the back of a 1988 Toyota Corolla hatchback.  Overwhelmed with nerves in general, which coalesced around the fate of the cake, I spent the entire ride telling my long-suffering loved ones the story of the Spartans at Thermopylae, as recounted by Herodotus. (Nobody died at the wedding, and the cake was delicious.)

Last Friday night, when my children asked for a(nother) bedtime story, my husband (misremembering what has become a family legend; he’s an engineer)  said, “Tell them about the Peloponnesian War!”

My son (4) said, “The Pelopo-cheese-ian War??” and we were off, ultimately devising a story in which the Spartans brought the cheese and the Athenians the crackers. (We didn’t think to add, but a friend did, that the Athenians had to return “with their crackers, or on them!”) My daughter (7) is contemplating creating a comic book on the subject.

I told the story on Facebook and a friend from graduate school promptly replied that well into his teen years he himself had believed that the Battle of Salamis somehow involved cured meats.  Friends, what deep misunderstandings about the classical past did you hold as a young person?

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Google Art Project: Cool, but Little Ancient Material

February 2, 2011

The buzz on twitter yesterday was Google Art Project, a new Google project (what will those people think of next!) that takes the Google Street View idea indoors – one can “walk” through the galleries of about 15 wonderful museums worldwide, getting a sense of the entire rooms, and then focus in on some specific artworks.  It’s a must-see if you teach any kind of art history classes, and well worth looking at for archaeologists, historians, and humanities folks generally.

What’s good:

  • Great list of museums, with good international coverage: Versailles, Hermitage, Uffizi.
  • Incredible detail for some of the artworks.  Try looking at a van Gogh on maximum zoom – never mind the brushstrokes, you can see the weave of the canvas!
  • Especially valuable for museums like the Frick (and many others) where the room itself, the experience of works of art in an architectural setting, with furniture and decor, is a big component of the visitor experience.

What I’d improve if it were mine:

  • For museums you don’t already know, it’s not easy to figure out where to look for art you’re interested in.  In many museums, the galleries have room numbers that tell nothing about their contents, so you have to browse through all of them to see what, if anything, you want to see is there. (There is a “room description” but it’s at least 2 clicks to get there.)
  • Not all the art is included in the super-zoom (which is understandable, but seeing the art on the walls makes you want to zoom!)
  • Heavy focus on western European (and American) museums and western European painting (medieval-modern).  I’d love to see a more worldwide focus, and a broader time horizon. More, more more!
  • I find “walking” through the rooms a little tricky – it’s like a drunk person is operating my cursor.  This may be user error (though I promise I am not drunk.)

Specifically of interest to classicists/archaeologists: