Decoding the Digital Part 2

In my last post, I wrote  about the presentations that made me think the most, but all the speakers at Decoding the Digital were great to listen to. It was a wide ranging and eclectic mix of digital humanities.

There was good contingent from the University’s own humanities school, including Joel Burgess who doesn’t like the phrase digital humanities any more because everything in the humanities is becoming digital. By way of example, he showed us a digital analysis of TV. Where, once upon a time, people would have to sit with stopwatches  to measure, say, the length of each shot in a TV program, now the same program can be loaded into a digital editing software package, which will identify the cuts and time the whole thing pretty much automatically. This is the technique they used to see if the common perception that TV has been getting steadily faster, and audience attention spans shorter, is true. So far, on a pretty small sample size admittedly, that’s not the case.

Morris Eaves, who had a hand in editing one of my favorite books, an illuminated collection of the works of William Blake, talked about digital collaboration, with collections (such as Blake manuscripts) and expertise that are spread around the globe. Joan Saab talked about writing books on-line (in Scalar, which looks interesting) and shared some of her work an local architect Claude Brugden. She is thing about how to tell his story in a 3D model of his work. She could be one for me to follow, or collaborate with…

(A presentation from Kathleen Fitzpatrick the following day, continued the theme of collaborative writing using digital tools, where blogs become eternal drafts, and modern students don’t expect to have to review their work.)

Cary Peppermint is an environmental artist with a little bit of the situationist or psycho-geographer about him. One of his works Indeterminate Hikes, sounds a lot like an app I blogged about a while ago called Serendipitor. I caught him after his talk at a reception and asked him if he’d heard about it. He said he’d worked with Mark Shepard, the creator of that app, and looking at their two websites, you can see a lot of similarity in their interests.

The conference kicked off with a keynote from Thomas Gewecke, Chief Digital Office and Executive VP, Strategy and Business Development, Warner Bros. He talked about Embracing Disruption. An entertaining and charismatic speaker, he talked about the lesson learned from Napster and iTunes in how to deal with piracy, which was essentially, make stuff available to down-load legally as soon, and as conveniently as possible. He and Warner Bros have been instrumental in creating the Ultraviolet standard, to that end. He also talked about crowd-sourcing the funding for the Veronica Mars movie through Kickstarter. There was some controversy about this at the time. People complained that a major studio should put up their own money for such a project and leave Kickstarter to the struggling “little people.”  Personally I think if a studio offered me the chance to pre-order anther series of Firefly, I’d be there, and I doubt the Veronica Mars movie would have got past the bean counters at the studio if they hadn’t shown that a lot of fans had put so much money down. I never saw the TV series, but the extended clip-reel Gewecke showed us makes the movie look pretty good.

Todd Havens, a Rochester graduate, continued the Hollywood thread by sharing some of the secrets of the social marketing machine that now surrounds movies. He is rightlly proud this successful viral campaign for the Last Exorcism:

The Last Exorcism – Chatroulette Viral Video by dreadcentral

The last day started with an interesting presentation from Robert Markley. He told us about a digital analysis of maps of the great lakes that he’s been working on, which has suggested that there was  a massive change in water levels in the early 19th century. For about twenty years, maps show what we think of as one long island as a chain of smaller islands instead. According to Markley, people who know the area believe that the change in water level must be massive to make the shape of the island so much. All the work so far having been digital, a trip is planned to survey the island next year. I noticed he’s writing a book Kim Stanley Robinson, so we spent the following lunchtime sharing our mutual love of The Years of Rice and Salt. Later in the day Henry Kautz explained an experiment that mined twitter to map public heath in New York.

There was also a strong celebratory theme running across the conference in the choice of speakers to end each day. Graduates of the university’s Eastman School of Music, all of whom are now veterans of the music industry, joined us to share not so much academic research, but some great reminiscences. Thomas Mowrey, Bob Ludwig and Don Pulse are names you’ll find in the production credits of some of your favourite albums. I could have listened to them all night. In fact on the last day, I got to sit next to them and Todd Havens for dinner, so in a way I got my wish. There was also a great explanation of the Loudness Wars from David Temperley, and by skype, Jeff Beal,(composer one of favourite TV soundtracks: Rome) who talked about composing for Netflix’s recent version of House of Cards.

I’m sure I’ve missed one or two speakers out, but suffice to say, it was a full and very enjoyable two and a half days. I feel honoured to have spoken on the same platform.

3 thoughts on “Decoding the Digital Part 2

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