Dec. 18, 2006

Hector Helps Don Do History

Helpin’ History Hector: Well, hi there Triple-D Don! How’s that last essay for the semester going?

Doesn’t Do Digital Don: I despise my computer at this moment. Searching through library databases and lists of journal articles is an odious and unrelenting burden. I still have twenty-four more pages to write; but I suppose you are having comparable difficulties H-Cubed?

Hector: Heck no! The time I’ve been spending learning a little more about computer programming and APIs for the last year has paid off!

Don: Computer programming? Gag! And isn’t API a recording label? How did they aid you in researching and composing a historical essay?

Hector: API stands for “Application Programming Interface.” APIs are programs on the web that people can get the code to. You can modify the code for your own specific purposes. It’s awesome! I used Google APIs to get more specific search results and map them on tem out on an eighteenth-century map of France. I not only got more relevant answers for my search terms but was able to look for visual patterns and relationships on the map that was created.

Don: Ugh! That would take forever to learn how to do! Besides, as long as I can check emails, search for an article, and type an essay, I’m satisfied with how my computer does what it does.

Hector: Yeah, but there’s a way to do all that stuff faster!

Don: Humph! Of course there is: pay for a faster computer. I’m living under constrained financial circumstances here Hector.

Hector: No, no! The way I’m talking about is open-source, so it doesn’t cost you a cent!

Don: Whatever “open-source” means… Tell me more.

Hector: All it takes is a little time to lear-

Don: I knew there was a catch! Hector, how am I supposed to write a 25-page paper in 3 days and learn how to become proficient in the art of “Hacking” or whatever it is you are doing?

Hector: Well, you know, if you’re going to be using the computer to do your research, wouldn’t you rather be able to navigate through pages more efficiently? Don’t you think it would better to get all relevant search results instead of two good results for every ten searches you did? If you became a little more comfortable with some of the more technical aspects of your computer, it might save you some research time in the long run. Also, companies like Google are working hard to make create a search experience that is unique for you. If you’re at all concerned about having a say in how much they know about you, it might be a good idea to ask how your computer does the useful things it does!

Don: Hmm… I am still not convinced. There is certainly something to be said for perusing dusty aisles of knowledge after using a library database. I very frequently stumble upon a book that did not appear in the library search! I also always keep up with what those Public History students at Western are doing, and as far as I can tell, they used no AP-whatevers for the website that they made to complement their museum exhibit.

Hector: Really? I thought they were all so technically-savvy! Wait though - I heard that they were thinking about using a Creative Commons design for their website. That’s not making a new program, but it is using somebody else’s HTML design and modifying it for their own purposes!

Dwelling More on Digital Don: Well, it seems that you make some strong points Hector. I don’t know if I’ll be able to use your fancy new digital techniques for this paper, partially because I really don’t have the time to learn more about my computer, but also because there this topic really isn’t that great for research on the computer at all: nineteenth-century Russian postage! What was I thinking?

Hammered His Message Home Again Hector: That you have an unusual interest in the artistic and economic implications of stamps in the Industrial Era? I suppose you’re right though. There are definitely some areas of research that are more conducive to online research than others. Good luck with the rest of your paper Donny Boy! You’ll lick it yet!