New Year, New Theme

My old WordPress theme was getting obsolete, so I’ve gone Back to the Future with a ‘new’ theme released in 2017 (new to me, anyway). It has multiple advantages: like  publishing categories more transparently, for instance.

There should still be some errant [bracketed] tags here and there, which I’ll replace in due course. (Some of the categories, like the newsletters on teaching and learning that I used to publish when I was Associate Dean, were littered with them, but I think I’ve removed them all now.) Most of the site now looks pretty functional, I hope. As ever, suggestions and reports are welcome.

A Gentle Introduction to NLP

I’m giving a workshop at the University of Calgary’s Language Research Centre on the 16th of November 2018 (Craigie Hall D420, 9-10:30 am). Here’s the abstract:

A Gentle Introduction to Natural Language Processing

Natural Language Processing (NLP) is less intimidating than its name suggests. It’s just using a computer to process texts written in ‘natural’ (i.e. non-computer) languages like English, Estonian, or Esperanto. It slices those texts into lists of words, and then it does things with those words: counting, sorting, categorizing, comparing, transforming, substituting, and visualizing them. (Here’s my introduction and tutorial on some of these basic functions.) NLP is behind every phrase you Google, and every query you pose to Siri or Alexa; but what concerns us in this workshop is its potential for language research. You’ll learn how to collect and process texts, and how to run algorithms that quantify your qualitative inquiries. A case study will be my work detecting rhetorical figures like chiasmus in Shakespeare (“Fair is foul, and foul is fair”). To benefit from this workshop you need no programming experience, only a willingness to treat texts as data.

NLP for Literary Critics: An Introduction and Tutorial

Preface: Knowledge and Information

Shall I compare thee, human, to a machine? Thou art more critical and more intemperate (Shakespeare, Sonnet 18).

But seriously: how do human readers compare to machines? I ask because I want to define how literary critics can use machines to augment and extend our readings. Figuring that out depends on an understanding of how our readings compare to the machine’s abilities. Sure, they’re faster: but faster at what, exactly?
Continue reading “NLP for Literary Critics: An Introduction and Tutorial”

The Roald Not Taken: Teaching the Short Stories

I’ve just finished teaching 58 first-year students the adult short stories of Roald Dahl, the 20th-century English writer better known for children’s books. (Here’s the course outline in PDF.)

From 1944 to 1988 Dahl, who died in 1990, wrote and published stories for adults: beginning with memoirs of his RAF service during the second world war, and covering a range of topics and settings: suburban English and American life; dysfunctional marriages; country pastimes in his rural Buckinghamshire (dog races, pheasant poaching); pick-pocketing, rat-catching, and human taxidermy. Continue reading “The Roald Not Taken: Teaching the Short Stories”

Text Accordians

I write, with my keyboard, all day. Every day. E-mails, lecture notes, grant applications, status updates, first drafts, second drafts, slideshow bullets, blog posts. To paraphrase the great Johnny Cash, I type everywhere, man.

And along the way, I find I quite often need to write the same words and numbers. I close every e-mail the same jaunty way (“yours, Michael”); I give students the same directions to my office; I repeat the same writing advice in my grading; my phone number hasn’t changed in a decade.

Continue reading “Text Accordians”

Roald Dahl’s Stories for Adults

“I’ll bet you think you know this story. You don’t. The real one’s much more gory.” Roald Dahl wrote this about the tale of Cinderella in Revolting Rhymes, but it also applies to the stories he wrote for adults from 1944 to 1988. “Nobody in their right mind would want to be a character in a Roald Dahl short story,” writes Anthony Horowitz (2.x). This author of beloved children’s books was known as ‘the master of the macabre’ for the twisted imagination he reveals in stories abounding with cruelty, lust, madness, and murder.

Continue reading “Roald Dahl’s Stories for Adults”

Get with the Programming

(This continues my previous post on this research project, about my questions and initial steps.)

This week I’m away to the Pacific Northwest Renaissance Conference to deliver a paper on rhetorical figures in early modern drama. (Wait! Don’t stop reading, it gets better.) I feel like a legit digital humanist for the first time in my life, because I’ve written my own computer program to analyze texts – a bash script in Unix that you can try for yourself on Github.

Okay, so my program just prepares my text files to run a far more complex program by Marie Dubremetz at Uppsala University (chiasmusDetector), but getting it to run on my files took some work.

Continue reading “Get with the Programming”