Rails Girls Canberra

Hard at wok - Rails Girls Canberra.

Hard at work – Rails Girls Canberra.

Women were programming pioneers. Ada Lovelace is recognised as the world’s first programmer.  In the nineteenth century she wrote the instructions which could activate Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine.  Her feat is recognised today through the Ada Lovelace Day which falls on 15th October in 2013.

It was not until the mid-twentieth century that computing really took off.  The ENIAC computer developed during WWII is recognised as the first electronic computer.  The entire ENIAC programming team were women. Grace Hopper wrote the first automatic compiler and led the development of the COBOL programming language which went on to become one of the world’s most popular business programming languages.

Yet the proportion of women programming has declined over the last couple of decades.  Today women are only a small proportion of  software developers.  There has been much wringing of hands about this, but wringing of hands does not achieve anything other than warm up our hands.

One development community is taking action to increase the numbers of women in website development.  I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in one of their events earlier this month.

Ruby on Rails is a popular development framework that is used to create websites.  The Rails community has supported a training program for women called Rails for Girls.  It started in Finland and is now well established in many countries including Australia.

I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in one of their introductory workshops in Canberra recently. Continue reading

Analysis of #OzHA2013

A few weeks ago I attended the 2013 annual conference of the Australian Historical Association in Wollongong.  There were many tweets from the conference and a few blogposts were written.  Yet many sessions were not reported online.

In order to give a view of the whole conference, not just the sessions I attended, I have analysed the conference program and shared the results on my history blog, Stumbling Through the Past.  I also analysed the conference tweets in order to understand more about the live reporting of the conference using this medium.

This post explains the methodology underpinning my analysis.  I do this because I believe that it is important that researchers allow themselves to be accountable for their work by allowing others to check what they have done.  I also believe that it is important that researchers share their data where possible so that other researchers can use it to do their own analysis.

There is also a third reason for this post.  I hope it will help other people learn some simple but powerful techniques that they can use in their research.  This blog is aimed at people starting out in digital humanities so the explanations will be basic. Continue reading

Barriers to IT Education in Australian Universities Must Go

The Scenario

A first year Arts student turns up for enrolment.  She wants to enrol in three units offered by the Arts faculty but she also wants to exercise her option under the rules of her degree to enrol in a unit offered by another faculty.  She wants to learn website design in a unit offered by the computer science department in the Faculty of Engineering.

The person handling her enrolment says he can’t process her enrolment in the Information Technology (IT) unit.  The student has to fill in a form, get someone else to sign it and then hand it in – but she is not told where to hand the form in, she has to work this out herself.  New to the university she feels frustrated and a little weird because she is clearly doing something that few Arts students do.

There is an added complication.  Two of the IT lectures clash with two other lectures she is supposed to attend.  Never mind, the university’s website says that the lectures of both these units are recorded.  Knowing that it is important to listen to all lectures, she plans to attend one set of lectures and listen to the recordings of the lectures she misses each week.

There have already been two obstacles set in her path deterring her from enrolling in the IT unit but she has worked out how to overcome them and persists.  However, a third obstacle crosses her path.  Even though the university has said on their website that the lectures of the two units that clash are recorded, she is told they are not.  Recognising the importance of lectures and the fact that she will be at a disadvantage if she cannot attend, she finally gives up on her ambition of including some IT in her degree.

One more young person has been denied the opportunity to improve their IT skills.  One more woman is prevented from gaining the technical skills necessary to fully participate in the world of technology.

The Underlying Issues

The ability to engage with information technology and use it to create is a fundamental skill in this era – for everyone.  It is a tool that is useful for every discipline.  It is a vital medium of communication, of information dissemination and acquisition, a means of discovery and creativity. Continue reading

How to Create Your Own Maps

When I was studying geography at university I enjoyed creating my own maps using ArcGIS software.  However, I thought my days of creating maps were over when I finished my course and no longer had access to the software.  Fortunately I did the boot camp at the THAT Camp in Canberra last year where Paul Hagon showed us how to create maps through Google Fusion Tables.  How exciting!  In this post I will share with you how I created a basic map of some 2011 Australian census data so hopefully you too can experience the joys of basic map making.

The point of this exercise was to help me learn more about making maps and to explore some of the data available from the 2011 census and the datasets that Australian governments have made available on data.gov.au.  I wanted to hone my skills in pulling together data from disparate sources, manipulating the data and mapping it.

The first map that I wanted to create would depict the number of school aged children (those in the 6-18 age group) as a proportion of the total population.  I wanted to concentrate on the Melbourne metropolitan area and its’ Local Government Areas (LGAs).  I needed the following data:

  • a shape file that showed LGA boundaries for Melbourne in .kml format;
  • the number of children aged 6-18 for each LGA; and
  • the total population in each LGA. Continue reading

THAT Camp for Digital Humanities Beginners

If you are new to digital humanities and want to learn more you definitely should attend a THAT Camp!  I travelled to Canberra to attend a THAT Camp for the first time on the weekend.  It was a wonderful weekend meeting people who I follow on Twitter, learning sooo much new stuff, being involved in stimulating conversations about issues in digital humanities and socialising.  I have much to follow up, a ton of new things to learn.  As one of the participants, Abigail Belfrage, so aptly observed on Twitter, “still in anaconda state after ingesting the goat that was #thatcamp canberra. will digest over the next few months…”

Will you feel out of your depth at times being a newbie at a THAT Camp?  Yes you will, but how can you learn if you are not stretched?  We had a boot camp the day before the conference started and it was well worth investing the extra day to learn new tools and consolidate previous learning.  I have lots of things to follow up, but the thing that really excited me was discovering Google Fusion Tables for the first time.  I don’t have access to GIS software at the moment but through Google Fusion Tables I can now create maps of data.  Mmmm, the possibilities….  A big thanks to Paul Hagon for taking many of the sessions I attended – I learned heaps!

THAT Camp Canberra was all that it claimed to be – collaborative, participatory, free of ego, a place to learn, friendly and fun.  These qualities were encouraged because THAT Camp is an ‘unconference’.  How did the ‘unconference’ model work at THAT Camp Canberra?  Firstly unconferences do not have a call for papers or a pre-determined programme.  Participants were asked to propose session ideas before the conference via the conference website.  At the first session of the conference the people who proposed the sessions gave a brief overview of what their topic was about.  There was also room for people to propose new ideas for sessions.  The conference organisers scheduled the topics, assigned rooms to them and wrote it all up on a whiteboard in the foyer of the venue.  We were all set to go!

Skills for Digital Humanities

I’ll cover the details of the sessions that I attended in other posts, but it is relevant in this introductory post to share what was said at the session looking at the skills required for digital humanities.  Suse Cairns summed up what we need to equip us in the field of digital humanities when she tweeted, “Attitude is a hugely important part in digital humanities upskilling. Willingness to experiment, play and get hands dirty.” (Of course an important feature of the conference was the #THATCamp backchannel on Twitter.)  As Tim Sherratt said, “show your working, share, be prepared to fail, display your thinking process”.  Digital Humanities is about experimentation and everyone, from beginners to leaders in the world of digital humanities, have to be prepared to confront what they don’t know, to make mistakes, to shout out for help.  Collaboration, learning and creativity is what it is about.  When we embark on the digital humanities journey we don’t have to have the skills, we have to have the right attitude.  This fits into the current employment market where increasingly people are not hired for specific skills, they are hired because they are trainable and can fit into a team. Continue reading

Digital Humanities – the First Steps

After I finished my thesis at the end of last year, I used my free time to start exploring the world of digital humanities.  I started out my professional life as an accountant and as part of our university degree back in the 1980s we were required to do programming in COBOL, dabble with databases (structured, not relational!) and we were exposed to spreadsheets in the days before excel.  In year 12 at school I did computer studies which included a fair amount of programming in Basic.  Throughout my career in accounting and later working in public relations, I have had to work with spreadsheets, databases etc, but I have not done any programming since the 1980s.

Then I went back to university and studied history.  I was astonished. Continue reading

Delving Deeper into Trove

In my spare time over the last few weeks, I have been experimenting with the tools developed by Tim Sherratt to extract data from Australian digitised newspapers available through Trove. In a previous post I discussed how we can produce graphs showing the frequency of the use of particular words in Australian newspapers over time using Sherratt’s tools.  In this post I will look at other methods of text analysis and explain how I used Sherratt’s tools to extract a large number of articles from the Trove database and used a text analysis tool to further analyse the articles. This post is about possibilities, not conclusions.  It is a work-in-progress, so I am keen to hear your suggestions and experiences. Continue reading