Category Archives: Learning Technologies

XML/HTML5 and Perpetual Learning in Public

This will be a short post with origins in humility and a sense of the value of an attitude of openness to realizing and acknowledging that there is always more to learn.

I have to admit that I had a momentary meltdown when I read the text of Melissa Terras’s inaugural lecture, “A Decade in Digital Humanities,” last week.  The provocation about text encoding and over-attachment to XML hit a nerve, especially since I’m counting down days to my departure for the first of several summer efforts to feed my brain.  On Sunday, I head to Nashville, where I will spend two weeks in an NEH-sponsored Institute on Advanced Topics in Digital Humanities focused on XML and XQUERY.

Having chosen to attend the institute is one of the kinds of activities in which I continue to engage as I consider the ways that the technologies of the present change our practice of the discipline(s) in which we study the past.  So this morning I was more pleased than I can say to come across an announcement for another learning opportunity of which I plan to take advantage this summer.

This year, the Balisage Markup Conference includes a pre-conference symposium focused on “mending fences” between XML and HTML5.  I’m particularly interested in the presentation of Alex Milowski of the University of Edinburgh; I quote the abstract here:

In the beginning, many presumed we would move to a world where XML documents and the applications that processed them would proliferate across the Web. The Web looked like a bright place for markup; technologies like XSLT made their way into the browser and linking standards were on their way. Yet, it didn’t happen. As browsers strengthened their ability to process information, render HTML documents, display media assets, and deliver applications, the role of XML was either pushed to the other side or used as a way to deliver data to applications within the browser via AJAX. The potential mismatches between the wants of the Web developer and the generic, impoverished nature of the DOM led to the development of JSON. In places where they might once have used XML, web developers have moved in droves to using JSON and HTML. XML has been removed from its role to convey data to applications, shunted to the server, and labeled legacy by many. With an uphill, generational challenge to bring it back within favor, the fundamental question is: Do we really want XML on the Web?

I’ve never gone to Balisage because the idea of “extreme markup” intimidates me more than a little.  Okay, maybe not as much as it used to now that I have sat in rooms where people have been teaching the uses of the R statistical programming language or what’s “under the hood” in Omeka.  But I think I can manage one little day of listening to people talking about the relationship between XML, the beloved tool of the text encoding community, and HTML.

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First I Made It, Then I Broke It, But I Think It’s Fixed Now

Part of the fun of having set up my own domain this year has been the challenge of adapting to more advanced programming demands. And since my brain remains more than a little analog, it’s been a big challenge. So this is where I tell you a funny story in which I display how little you need to know in order to call yourself a digital historian/digital humanist.

I wanted to set up my own domain and migrate my blog here because it seems more legitimate to me than the option. Legitimacy here represents a not-necessarily-correct judgment about technical literacy, and plenty of people might well disagree with me.

Not surprisingly, the real challenge that kept me from posting over much of the past five months had precious little to do with programming. In fact, it had an awful lot to do with the ever increasing number of passwords that we generate in our digital age. Sigh.

Because you see, I decided that the passwords I could generate with my analog brain were more hackable than made me comfortable. Also, my stack of 3×5 cards was getting way too big. So I use an app that does a better job of both producing strong passwords and not breaking my back: mSecure. I don’t use the cloud function because…. I just say that it doesn’t make sense to me to store passwords there….

Joy of Challenges

But oh, the humanity! For one thing, the WordPress login appears in an entirely different place in this version than it does if you use Why, oh why, is it so far down on my screen? I’m sure I could fix that at some point….

“I spy with my little eye” v. GIGO

For another, organizing usernames/passwords in the mSecure works differently than the 3×5 cards. With the cards, I can shuffle them and scan for what I’m looking for in a comfortable old analog way. Whilst the app is just a database, and my ability to find things within it depends on how well I build the entry for a particular password.

Lessons Learned?

Which brings me to the perhaps-not-all-that-funny part of the story. I have not been able to find either the login link or the username/password for this blog for the past five months. At least I’m beginning to remember that it’s way low on the page and I need to scroll down. I’m confident this will improve with more frequent use.

But the thing that was really standing in my way over these past few months was the whole lost username/password thing. And so the real “Kathryn’s foibles”/GIGO lesson here is about doing a better job of paying attention to how I label entries in the mSecure database. I know that lots of people have lots of different ways to keep track of password, and that’s not really the issue I mean to highlight.

What I’m describing here is a lesson I learned about the power of thinking ahead when you organize your data. (Gasp!) Or revising the way that you have labeled your entries once you find they don’t work for you.

And I learned this lesson as a result of the way that creating my own domain generates a whole new set of usernames/passwords. Definitely a learning opportunity.


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