de commentariis

Just a short note. My “crowd sourced” commentary site is back online after a couple of years without a home (due to hosting costs).

Some previous stuff I’ve written about the site:

Updates will usually come from decommentariis on the twitters.

University Jargon – Reimagining collaborative program coherence through best-practice blended learning pedagogies and flagship employability aspirations with transformational learning

My university sent me a survey canvassing survey responses for their “UQ Student Strategy” which apparently all about “An open discussion: Creating change through transformational learning”. I read some of the PDF. It’s a jargon-fest. You have to rank 5 “strategies” you think should be top priority and three you think are low priority. Here are the strategies:

Screenshot 2015 11 10 12 10 19

I’ll spare you the full horror of the complete “Green Paper”. But here are the expanded Strategies 1.1 to 1.3, which correspond to the first three items in the list above:

  1. Reimagine UQ’s Graduate Attributes to drive program coherence, develop future employability skills and meet graduates’ aspirations and employers’ expectations
  2. Expand opportunities for extension experiences – including a suite of online and blended flagship courses and experiences – that reflect the comprehensive liberal education UQ is able to provide
  3. Build significant industry and government partnerships that strengthen and expand opportunities for authentic and attractive WIL experiences across all programs

I hope that this has made it clearer for you! Although I’m not entirely sure what a “WIL experience” is, nor what an inauthentic WIL experience would look like (seeing as we need to avoid that in order to provide an “authentic” one …)

Anyway they had a box to give additional feedback. And this is what I wrote to them:

Talk like a human for god’s sake.

All your options are just awful jargon with no real content. It’s meaningless drivel that sounds like a bad business strategy powerpoint slide from 2002. Does it have synergy? Does it vertically scale the horizontal integration of enterprise capability management with cost-effective strategization of key performance indicators implementing effective change management process design?

Look, after a long career in top flight computer programming jobs (a skill that UQ didn’t teach me, another university taught me how to think like computer scientist long before I went to UQ), I too can talk like one of your expensive management consultants. But stop it, just stop it, its a joke, and you’re a joke for spewing out this crap.

Teach students how to think, how to reason, how to research. Don’t just teach them “Java” or “C++” or “Plate tectonics” or the “Pauli exclusion principle” or a string of dates and facts pertinent to the French Revolution or what Jane Austen wrote about in “Persuasion”. Well, teach them all those things, but also teach them how to critically evaluate data, why to be suspicious (and when not to be!) of news reports of current events and especially scientific and technical matters, how to spot a likely fake, and where to find out if it is true or not. Teach them how to live, how society works, how it might work, how it should work, how it mustn’t work, how to treat other people, what’s the difference between right and wrong, and several different frameworks for deciding that.

Teach them that corporate jargon nearly always disguises a malevolent purpose- although actually, via negative reinforcement, you are already doing this, and you are empowering those students who have malevolent intent or those weak-willed enough to fall into line with it.

So don’t be mindless jargonising corporate robots ready to “create change” – is that good change or bad change. I mean Hitler “created change” right? So did Albert Einstein. What sort of change do you want? Hitler or Einstein? Change isn’t a unalloyed good and how can you teach the students the difference if you clearly don’t know that difference yourself?

Rules for postgraduate conference presentations


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If you’ve not got experience speaking at conference before, here are the rules to speaking.

Turn up to the room five or ten minutes before it starts. Make yourself known to the session chair. If you have a powerpoint, now’s the time to put it on the computer and test it. If you have a handout, make this known to the chair. Sit up near the front where it’s easier for you to get up and walk to the lectern to give your talk.

You paper will be 20 minutes with 10 minutes questions (usually – it might be 45 minutes with 15 minutes questions at more advanced conferences but then, if you’re presenting at one of these, you don’t need this blog entry’s advice). Your absolute limit is 25 minutes of speaking before people get restless.

Going overtime is absolutely the worst thing you can do. Do not do it. Ever.

When you write your paper, time yourself before you give it. Unless you are an experienced presenter, with a topic that you really understand in a deep way, you will need to read your presentation off the paper. A good rule of thumb is one hundred words is about one minute. You’ll need to learn how to make such a presentation interesting; it is possible. I have learnt to leave two or three small sections I can extemporise on for about a minute or so before moving back to the written text.

Speak clearly and loudly. Speak to the person furtherest away from you in the room. Don’t speak too fast. Time yourself beforehand. Look at your audience at least occassionally.

If you are in a multi-paper panel, you are in the session for everyone else’s paper. Don’t run out and go to another session before or after your own paper. Yes, there may be parallel sessions to your own with papers you want to see. Too bad. Find the presenters afterward, apologise you couldn’t see their paper, and ask about it over lunch or afternoon tea.

Networking is the main point of conferences. Go to other papers. Ask questions. Go to lunch, dinner, drinks, with other participants.

Clean Your .bib!


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Do you use Mendeley, Papers, Zotero or other bibliographic softwares that export their bibliography to bibtex .bib files for use in LaTeX with with bibTeX or bibLaTeX? Do you hate the way those bibliographic softwares generally export a .bib file that can’t exclude certain fields and so make a total ugly hash of your Bibliography Entries?

If so, then this Python script is for you! It deletes the extraneous fields in the .bib file leaving you with just the essential ones, like Author, Year, Title, Journal, etc. Never have a horrid bibliography entry with the article Abstract (!) copied into it ever again!

Download: – GPL v3 license.

Warning: Requires you to at least not freeze in terror at the sight of Python code.

Tenses and writing about the written word


Say you’re describing (in non-fiction) what a writer wrote in a book sometime in the past. Do you use past tense or present tense (perhaps some some sort of historical present). MLA apparently says use the present tense.


In this chapter, Doris Authorname wrote that Frank poured her a beer, and
described in detail, the taste of the beer that she drank.


In this chapter, Doris Authorname writes that Frank poured her a beer, and describes in detail the taste of the beer that she drank.

I would argue past tenses describe the act of the writing, but present tenses – even if historical present – describe the act of reading the writing. Is “Doris” describing the action to “you” when you read it (implicit indirect subject == the reader) the description of which reading you’re giving in the active historical present; or has Doris described the action by writing it at some point in the past (implicit indirect subject, the written page), the description of which you’re giving in the historical past tense? If the implicit indrect subject is “the reader”, then although I’ve read Doris in the past, but you (my reader) might not read it until the future, so is the present tense conveying the acknowledged ambiguity of this fact?

And what about tense sequences? If I’m writing about what Livy wrote about what Scipio had done, I’ll need correct tense sequence to make all that work properly.

Oh god my brain wants to explode.

An intertext between Caesar and Cicero


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Cicero argues in the speech De Provinciis Consularibus, delivered to the Senate in 56 B.C., that Caesar ought not be recalled from his command of the two Gallic provinces (plus his new conquests). He argued that his enemies Piso and Gabinius ought be recalled instead. One of the arguments that Cicero used was the comparative employment of dispatches and their respective reception by the Senate. On one hand Piso was tardy in notifying the Senate with dispatches outlining his activities, and on the other, Gabinius had his letters subject to ‘novel dishonour’, meanwhile Caesar, by comparison, had been voted almost innumerable honours for his dispatches:

vos enim, ad quos litteras L. Piso de suis rebus non audet mittere, qui Gabini litteras insigni quadam nota atque ignominia nova condemnastis, C. Caesari supplicationes decrevistis numero ut nemini uno ex bello, honore ut omnino nemini (Cic. Prov. cons. X.25)

For you (the Senate), to whom Piso does not dare to send letters concerning his affairs, you who condemned the letters of Gabinius with a certain mark of infamy and novel dishonour; you voted supplications to Gaius Caesar, in number as no man from one war, honour as altogether no other.

An intertextual reference can be seen here with the language of Caesar himself in the B.G. 2.34.4, when Caesar says that ex litteris Caesaris – “from the letters of Caesar” – the Senate voted 15 days of supplications. Caesar then notes, in similar terms to Cicero, this is was an honour quod ante id tempus accidit nulli “which before that time fell on no-one.”

Although the question of which text references which will depend on the view you take on the order of composition of the texts (which depends mostly how you think that Caesar’s commentary on the Gallic War was assembled and published).

Forthcoming conferences, mid-year edition


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I’ve got three papers coming up in the next couple of months:

First up is Commanders and Commentary: The City and Territorial Discourse in the Roman Imagination at the 28th Pacific Rim Roman Literature Seminar in Melbourne on the 6th to 10th July 2014.

In Republican Rome, did the literature of the conquered and traversed landscape express theories about Rome itself? This paper starts with an examination of Cicero’s De Provinciis Consularibus. In this speech, delivered to the senate, Cicero sets up a polemic between the ‘virtuous’ commander, who writes reports to the Senate on his activities in the provinces, and the ‘worthless’ commander, who does not. I argue that this comparison contrasting ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Romans exemplifies Roman attitudes about the relationship between territorial conquest and discursive knowledge on one hand, and lacunae and oblivion on the other. In turn, the paper demonstrates the ways in which such discursive practices about contested territory clearly signal Roman conceptions of Rome itself, by contrasting the city to the territory it controls. In light of this textual interplay between Roman provinces and the discursive strategies of knowledge, the paper examines further models of territorial discourse and control in other Roman writers of the Late Republic and Augustan period. In particular it interrogates Livy’s history of the Second Punic War and teases out the ways that Livy uses the actions of commanders in the field as part of his discussion of the Roman political struggle in the city. The paper undertakes a comparative analysis of Cicero’s directly political literature on the one hand, and Livy’s literary historiography of politics, on the other, to uncover the potential commonalities and differences that they share in their respective understandings of Roman ‘power projection’ in the provinces and how these affect their literary theorisations of Rome itself.

After I deliver that I’m doing a slightly different version of it straight after: Conflict and Power in the Territorial Discourses of Late Republican Rome at the Australian Historical Association annual conference, (this year at the University of Queensland), on the 11th July 2014.

In Republican Rome, the landscape often features prominently in literature which discusses Roman governorship and territorial control. This paper examines Cicero’s De Provinciis Consularibus. In this speech, delivered to the senate, Cicero sets up a polemic between the ‘virtuous’ commander and the ‘worthless’ commander. I argue that this comparison illustrates Roman attitudes about the relationship between territorial conquest and discursive knowledge on one hand, and lacunae and oblivion on the other. In light of this comparison, the paper examines further models of territorial discourse and control in other Roman writers of the Late Republic and Augustan period.

Finally a paper with a slightly different bent; Using Django, Tasty Pie, and lxml for the Digital Humanities at Pycon AU 2014 in Brisbane on the 1st to 5th August.

Digital Humanities is the application of computer technology or computer-based quantitive methods to the problems and data of the disciplines of the Humanities. This paper will details some of the lessons learned by a recovering Java and C programmer in implementing a new Digital Humanities project on the Django platform. Using experience gleaned from two decades of programming experience and an ongoing PhD candidature in Classics and Ancient History, it will detail some of the gaps that need to be bridged between the two worlds and how Python APIs like Django and lxml can be used to bridge them, as well as what remains currently unsolved. It will also explore how the Tasty Pie REST framework for Django can be leveraged to solve particular types of problems in the Digital Humanities in creating textual annotations and linked data sets.

Epidoc and literary artifacts


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It was with a fair amount of interest that I read through AWOL that Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (CSEL) texts are now available in XML (TEI/Epidoc) format through Github – just the sorts of texts I’m interested in adding to de commentariis

But it turns out there’s a fair bit of work to do on the texts before they’re usable in a programmatic way. The format of the XML raises two questions for me. It’s always confused me that people talk about using “epidoc” (“Epigraphic documents in TEI XML”) to encode literary texts. Why is it used in this way, to encode documents it is apparently not designed to encode?

The second question follows on from this. I don’t know whether this is an artefact of using Epidoc or if it’s an artefact of the particular choices made to encode the CSEL. The standard numbering systems of the critical editions of these texts are effectively lost in the Epidoc versions of the text online, rendering them problematic for programmatic access to the data in the standard scholarly reference systems.

Different texts have different breakdowns, for example, Book/Poem/Line, Book/Line, Letter Number/Line, and so on depending on the particular text and the choices made by the editor of the critical edition. In the Perseus format (the “old” format?) the TEI documents have a header that tells my programs on De Commentariis the structure of the document breakdown, thus:

<encodingdesc> <refsdecl doctype="TEI.2">
    <state delim="." unit="book"></state>
    <state unit="chapter"></state>
    <state unit="section"></state>
</refsdecl> </encodingdesc>

This tells me that that this particular text is encoded in book.chapter.section format, e.g. 5.3.2. Then the text body itself has those very book/chapter/section divisions in it:

<div1 type="book" n="1">
  <div2 type="chapter" n="1">
      <div3 type="section" n="1">
          <p>Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur.</p>

This gives the document a structured, hierarchical view of the content. Everything contained with the div1 element with the attributes type=“book” and n=“1” is a part of Book 1, and the div2 element inside that with type=“chapter” and n=“1” is 1.1. and inside that the div3 with a type=“section” and n=“1” is 1.1.1. The abstract document structure (according to the standardised referencing established by the critical edition) is encoded directly onto the data structure. It’s an excellent XML structure that reflects directly the way the data is referenced, with enough flexibility to encode many different types of referencing schema, as long at it’s laid out in the metadata and the relationship is hierarchical. It’s easily navigable with standardised XML tools like xpath/xquery or simple XML DOM (document object model) manipulation.

On the other hand, this is not:

<p>Sancto episcopo Salonio Saluianus salutem in domino. <note type="chapter"> 1 </note> </p>
<p>Omnes admodum homines, qui pertinere ad humani officii <lb n="5”></lb>

In this style of format, the presentation of the text (the original page it was scanned from) is confused with the data structure, and the critical data structure information is presented in the form of an annotation attached to a particular line (rather than enclosing all the lines which belong to chapter 1). This style of document is incredibly difficult to use with standard tools like xpath. This is highlighted if we go down just a little further into the text:

tantum laudem aucupantes tam indignis rebus curam impen­ <lb></lb>
derent, non tam inlustrasse mihi ipsa ingenia quam damnasse<note type="chapter"> 3 </note> <lb n="10”></lb>
uideantur. nos autem, qui rerum magis quam uerborum ama­ <lb></lb>

Where does chapter 3 start? Clearly not half-way through impenderent and most likely not at the word break in damnasse uideantur. Is it at the comma after impenderent? At the full stop after uideantur? A human, familiar with the original text, might be able to decide: a simple algorithm inside a computer program, probably not.

I bring this up – I know it may seem churlish, after all any open XML version of an ancient text has to be a good thing – because I feel that in the “official” digital classics circles there is a certain enthusiasm for recoding existing XML texts to the Epidoc format, but if this is the result, it’s a definite step backwards. Forgive me if I am wrong and this is merely the first step in getting from the presentation layer (the scan of the book) to the data layer (a properly structured XML version of the text). But I certainly hope this style of markup isn’t regarded as the standard way to proceed into the future.

Update: an interesting set of notes by @paolomonella on Epidoc and the difference between “documents” and “texts” is found here and there is a twitter conversation here.

de commentariis – recent updates


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So far got the following features in place

  • Automatic permissions on verified email accounts. Google+ social logins automatically verified.
  • Edit your own existing commentary items by just clicking on them
  • “Read more” link on other long commentary items, see here for example (requires login)
  • Many styling and layout improvements.

Coming up soon: features to support instructors in the classical languages to create, manage and allow their student cohorts to engage with their ancient texts via the commentaries they create. List of features planned.