I’ve taught ‘Crafting Digital History’ twice before. Once as a face to face course complete with lectures and in-class exercises, and once as a fully online course. The workbook now approaches 200 pages when it is printed out. One takeway from the 2016 edition was that I didn’t want to be writing tutorials and supporting students across multiple operating systems.
Especially Windows. Windows drives me up the freakin’ wall.
Because I also like to learn, and I’m trying to push for reproducibility as a goal in digital history (of methods at least, and re-visiting of conclusions) and in digital archaeology, I had it in mind for some time that some sort of virtual machine would be great. Everybody would be on the same platform. I would only have to write one set of materials. But experiments with virtual machines kept throwing up the same issues of getting the damned machine installed and configured correctly across multiple operating systems. I especially loathe those back-to-school specials with 2 gb that so many of my students seem to have (if you only do a bit of wordprocessing and facebook, good enough I suppose).
I love DHBox. I love the concept. I love the philosophy of openness baked in. I decided ‘go big or stay home’ and so I rewrote the 2017 version of the course to use DHBox nearly exclusively. And up until about, oh, 11.30 last night, things were going great.
A troubling error message, but not the end of the world. We had already increased the amount of memory allocated to our DHBox twice already (we have it installed on top of an openstack.org stack). Earlier, in the run up to the course, we tried to estimate how much memory the students would need. I wanted the students to work with real digitized materials that hitherto had not attracted any attention – the Shawville Equity’s print run from 1883-2010. I figured I could teach them how to use wget to download this stuff, and then in the next module I’d teach them various ways of looking at it, exploring it, extracting interesting stuff from it. Earlier, I’d also taught them how to use Twarc to download materials from Twitter, suggesting they use the ‘canada150′ hashtag (Non-Canadians: it’s 150 years from Confederation, whence sprungeth modern-ish Canada).
Being only a few weeks from the official day of celebrations (July 1) meant that there were, oh I don’t know, hundreds of thousands of tweets with that tag available via Twarc. Multiply by # of students.
Number of editions of the Equity available for download: 1595. Each one between 8 and 20 high-rez pages. Even though I asked the students to only download a few years’ worth, multiply by malformed Wget and/or processes left running…. (I had shown them and walked them through how to identify and kill running processes when necessary, but alas…)
And so I sent a call out to Andrew who has been supporting this class above and beyond the call of duty. He’s on vacation. But he tried to help me out regardless, and set things in motion to increase our memory allocation. Unfortunately, we’d clogged the pipes so badly that this process has itself gone sideways in ways that I am unable to explain (server-side stuff ain’t my bag, as Austin Powers might say).
And so we are currently DHBox-free. While this has caused me a mild heart-attack, it’s not really as bad as it might first seem. I still have all of my materials written from last year where I was supporting individual operating systems, so I just dusted that off (thank you, O Github repository) and gave it to the students who needed it.
The only thing that is seriously hurt at this point is my pride, and the loss of some downloaded data. The final projects – where I imagined them all collaborating on different aspects of that particular dataset – will need to be rejigged a bit, but it’s all going to be ok.
It’ll be ok.