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semester title course number professor contact when where
Fall 2014
Code and Poetry, Critical Practice in Humanities Computing
ENGL 4911
Dennis Tenen
dt2406@
M & W 11:40 - 12:55
M Math 520, W Butler 208b

Course Description

For many, even for those with a technical education, computing remains an unreflective activity. Machines do things for us: they “process” words, “manage” content, and “serve” web pages. These agents, located at the core of human-computer interaction, shape our understanding of the each other and of the world in significant ways, and yet they remain opaque, obscured within the black boxes of restricted access and proprietary software.

The goal of this class is to bring our everyday encounter with technology into the light, to peel back the lid, and to take control. We will do this first by exploring the foundational concepts invoked in the discussion about new media: noise and information, data and metadata, artificial and natural languages, digital and analog media.

Second, we will build on these theoretical foundations to gain a measure of computational proficiency, learning about the basics of algorithmic thinking, computer architecture, internet infrastructure, file and operating systems, internet infrastructure, communication protocols, web standards, and cryptography.

Finally, we will contextualize our practice historically. The course will connect core concepts in computer science to long-standing problems posed by philosophy, literary theory, and social thought.

No prior experience is required.

Requirements and Grading

20% Online Participation (weekly forum posts)
20% Annotated lab notebooks
25% Midterm 
35% Final Exam

Course Concepts

Links & Resources

  • All readings will be linked from the syllabus directly
  • Class forum. We will use Piazza for our weekly forum.
  • Columbia Courseworks. Used mostly for course evaluation.
  • Grades will be linked here.

Please email me if you cannot access any of these sites and documents.

Provisional Course Schedule

Week 1: Plain text

Text and hypertext. Encoding. Surface, depth. WYSIWYG.

Studio: Terminal basics.

Week 2: Form, formatting, content

Technology as culture and politics. Compiling text. Typesetting.

Studio: Pandoc and Markdown.

Week 3: File and filing systems

Studio: package management, sys admin basics

Week 4: Medium and Message

Studio: groups, file permissions, rights management

Week 5: Digital and Analog

Studio: Package management, wget, head, tail

Week 6: Information

Studio: locate, find, grep, sed, wc, uniq, sort, xargs, comm

Week 7: Breathing Space

  • Catch up on reading
  • Lab on Monday
  • Workshop on Wednesday

Studio: "Hunting the Whale" assignment.

Week 8: Hardware and Software

Studio: Turing machines.

Week 9: Midterms

Monday: University Holiday
Wednesday: Midterms / project proposals due.

Studio: No studio this week.

Week 10: Drafts, Versions, Versioning

Studio: Git and Github, peer production, visible labor.

Week 11: The Tree and the Rhizome

Explore: Chapters 8 & 9 in Kernighan's book.

Week 12: Peer production

Studio: Project management. Github workflow.

THIS SECTION IS IN FLUX DO NOT READ YET

Week 10: Algorithmic Imagination

  • Browse Chamberlain, William, and Thomas Etter. The Policeman’s Beard Is Half-constructed: Computer Prose and Poetry. New York, NY: W

  • Knuth, Donald E. “Chapter 1: Basic Concepts” in The Art of Computer Programming, Vol. 1: Fundamental Algorithms, 3rd Edition. Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley Professional, 1997.

  • Aarseth, Espen J. “The Cyborg Author: Problems of Automated Poetics.” In Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature, 129–142. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

Studio: Intro to Git and Github.

arner Software/Warner Books, 1984.

Week 11: Artificial Intelligence

  • “Book of the Machines” chapters from Erewhon by Samuel Butler.

Week 5: Formal and artificial languages.

Interpreters and interpretation.

  • Roman Jakobson, “Linguistics and Poetics”

  • Kernighan, Brian. "Chapter 5: Programming and Programming Languages" in D is for Digital.

  • Wilkins, John. An Essay Towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language. S. Gellibrand, 1668.

  • de Campos, Augusto. "Bob Brown: Optical Poems," the introduction to the Brazilian edition of Brown's 1450-1950. First published in Suplemento Literário de “O Estado de São Paulo” / Literary Supplement of the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo. 9 January 1965. Later included, with several poems of Bob Brown's from the Jargon Books Edition, in the book A MARGEM DA MARGEM (AT THE MARGIN OF THE MARGIN). São Paulo, Brazil: Companhia das Letras, 1989: 126-141.

  • Brown, Bob. “The Readies.” OpenStax-CNX. Accessed June 24, 2014. http://cnx.org/content/m31518/latest/. Selections from Gardner, Martin. Logic Machines and Diagrams. Chicago: Univ of Chicago Pr, 1982.

Studio: Hello world in python. Variables. iPython debugger.

Week 6: Algorithmic imagination

Computer and literary algorithms. History of algorithmic imagination.

  • Knuth, Donald E. “Chapter 1: Basic Concepts” in The Art of Computer Programming, Vol. 1: Fundamental Algorithms, 3rd Edition. Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley Professional, 1997.

  • Selections from Hollander, John. Rhyme’s Reason: A Guide to English Verse. 3rd edition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

Bogost Object Oriented. Chamberlain, William, and Thomas Etter. The Policeman’s Beard Is Half-constructed: Computer Prose and Poetry. New York, NY: Warner Software/Warner Books, 1984.

  • Aarseth, Espen J. “The Cyborg Author: Problems of Automated Poetics.” In Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature, 129–142. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

Studio: Programmer’s mindset. Where to get help. Pseudo code.

Week 7: From text to data

Data types. Metadata. From plain text to data. Databases. Concepts of digital and analog.

  • Knuth, Donald E. “Chapter 2: Information Structures” in The Art of Computer Programming, Vol. 1: Fundamental Algorithms, 3rd Edition. Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley Professional, 1997.

  • Khorana AA. “Physician as Typist.” Journal of Clinical Oncology : Official Journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology 28, no. 24 (2010): 3899–3900.

  • Abiteboul, S, Richard Hull, and Victor Vianu. “Chapter 1: Database systems” in Foundations of Databases. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1995.

  • Marche, Stephen. “Literature Is Not Data: Against Digital Humanities ” The Los Angeles Review of Books. Accessed June 24, 2014.

  • Browne, Thomas. “Musaeum Clausum” in Certain Miscellany Tracts. London: Printed for Charles Mearne : And are to be sold by Henry Bonwick ..., 1684.

Studio: Intro to NLTK.

Week 8: Logic and flow

Control structures. Iteration. Recursion. Mise en Abyme. Procedural worlds and procedural thinking.

  • Young, La Monte, "Notes on The Theatre of Eternal Music and The Tortoise, His Dreams and Journeys", 2000, Mela Foundation, www.melafoundation.org.

  • Berensmeyer, Ingo. “‘Twofold Vibration’: Samuel Beckett’s Laws of Form.” Poetics Today 25, no. 3 (September 21, 2004): 465–95.

  • Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. Grove Press, 2011.

  • Selections from Downey, Allen B. Think Python. 1 edition. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, 2012.

Studio: Control structures in Python.

Week 9: Object oriented ontology

Taxonomy, ontology. Classes, methods, functions.

  • Selections from Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. Reissue edition. New York: Vintage, 1994.
  • Selections from Downey, Allen B. Think Python. 1 edition. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, 2012.

Studio: Understanding classes. Writing functions. Passing data.

Part III | POLITICS & POETICS

Week 10: AI and unintelligent design

  • Browne, Thomas. “The Garden of Cyrus, or The Quincunciall Lozenge, or Network Plantations of the Ancients, naturally, artificially, mystically considered” in Certain Miscellany Tracts. London: Printed for Charles Mearne: And are to be sold by Henry Bonwick , 1684.

  • Magee, Michael. The Flarf Files (2003). Accessed and archived on 06/24/14.

  • Selections from Chiang, Ted. The Lifecycle of Software Objects. Subterranean Press, 2011.

Studio: supervised / unsupervised machine learning, writing flarf computationally.

Week 11: Man-machine

Human-computer interfaces.

  • Voskuhl, Adelheid. “Humans, Machines, and Conversations: An Ethnographic Study of the Making of Automatic Speech Recognition Technologies.” Social Studies of Science 34, no. 3 (June 1, 2004): 393–421. Selections from Norman, Donald A. The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books, 1988. Lab: Design process. Brainstorming. Wireframes.

Studio: TBA

Week 13: Crypto-anarchism

The hype and the promise of cryptography. Bitcoin. Censorship and surveillance. Privacy.

  • Selection from Vinge, Vernor; Frankel, James (2001), True Names: And the Opening of the Cyberspace Frontier, Tor Books.

  • Timothy C. May, "The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto" and “Crypto Anarchy and Virtual Communities”

  • “A Cypherpunk's Manifesto" by Eric Hughes

  • Steven Levy "Crypto Rebels"

Studio: Public-key cryptography, VPN, Tor, encryption.

!!! Final Exam TBA

In Flux:

Week 2: Internet architecture Studio: Cloud computing. Amazon AWS. Getting into your server with secure shell..

Protocols. Client - server dialectic.

  • Stevens, W. Richard, and Kevin W Fall. TCP/IP Illustrated. Volume 1. [Boston, MA]: Addison-Wesley, 2011.

  • linfo.org, OSI layer definitions: physical (wi-fi, bluetooth), data (bits into packets), network (ip), transport (tcp, udp), session, presentation (ascii, midi, mpeg), application (http, bittorrent)