Discovery

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Archive for the ‘Computer science’ Category

In the World of Ngrams, Cougs Beat Huskies

The news desk of WSU Discovery has been having more than its share of intellectual fast food this holiday season with the introduction of Google’s new Ngram viewer, which shows the relative frequency of words and phrases in the massive Google Books database. Researchers at Harvard University say the tool offers great promise in a field called “culturomics,” a quantitative view of human culture and society.

The Google books database shows mentions of Cougars pulling ahead of Huskies around 2002.

That sounds like a new major to us, so we ran the notion by Patty Ericsson, associate professor of English and thinker in matters cultural and digital. Her response:

“This is an interesting machine.  As you might guess from my scholarly agenda, I’m a little wary of machine-produced data that doesn’t have smart, knowledgeable human interpretation.  So I think that this word-crunching machine is great as a tool to aid analysis—political, literary, sociological, and more.

“In the hands of someone who knows something about political history, an analysis comparing occurrences of the words “Hitler” and “Nazi” might be worthwhile.  In fact the differences in the results in German and American English appear fascinating to me, but I can’t make any conclusions because I don’t know enough.  In the hands of someone who knows little about such history but tries to make causal links, the results might be misleading.

“In the literary world, this kind of machine-based word crunching has been going on for decades.  A colleague of mine at Dakota State University was doing computer-based textual analysis of Jane Austen and Dickens in the early 1980s.

“I’m also cautious about the data based used for this research.  Any use of the data produced would have to carefully consider the texts included in the database.

“I wouldn’t consider a major on the topic of Culturomics specifically.  It’s too narrow.  But we do have a major in Digital Technology and Culture at WSU and a course in it is the “Rhetorics of Information,” which considers the widespread uses of databases and data crunching.  I’d include the Culturomics machine in that course if I was teaching it.”

For further reading and a tour of popular ngrams, check out the growing list of Twitter #ngram hashtags. And let us know your favorites in the comment box below.

Potatoes Rout Carrots

Meanwhile, here’s an Ericsson favorite:

“I love potatoes and hate carrots,” she says. “Obviously, the rest of the world agrees.”

Archiving, on their own terms

Back in 2002, Kimberly Christen took a dissertation research trip to the newly opened Darwin branch of the National Archives of Australia.

She saw troves of cultural artifacts — baskets, photos, music recordings and more, including many from the Warumungu Aboriginal community she had been working with since 1995.

The indigenous tribe had little to no access to the materials housed in the faraway archives, open to the public, seen by whomever.

Moreover, if they viewed the archives, there were items they just didn’t want to see.

A slide made by Kimberly Christen shows ways that indigenous artifacts and stories have been handled.

In their culture, as in many indigenous communities, the public exhibits violated their cultural protocols. For example, the Warumungu people do not want to see images of dead relatives. Some items are appropriate only for male or female viewers, while others might be limited by viewers’ age or sacred status within the community.

The Warumungu wanted to view their materials on their own terms.

Over time, Christen, a cultural anthropologist and assistant professor in the Washington State University Department of Comparative Ethnic Studies, began researching ways to create a separate digital archive for the community. The archive would include all of the materials from the museum, but within the software, viewing is restricted along culturally appropriate lines. The two archives are kept separate, so Warumungu people can have their own version aside from the public version.

This is all part of the greater trend of repatriation and bringing back in indigenous voices to tell their own stories, she says. It began in the early ‘90s, when museums were ordered to start giving human remains back to their original tribes. Christen has taken that idea and applied it to a new corner of archival work.

“Digital repatriation has taken off,” she says.

The project launched in 2007, and shortly thereafter, indigenous communities from all over the globe began requesting their own version.

In March, Christen received a $49,606 Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to create a free, open-source software that would work for everyone.

For Christen, such archives aren’t about “correcting” or rewriting the record. It’s expanding the record to include the native experience. It’s history with a conscious, she says.

“These materials are theirs … we took this stuff,” she says. (more…)

Improving computers via carbon nanotubes

Story and video by Becky Philips for WSU Today

Cars, computers, cell phones, DVDs, and life-saving medical technology — our modern world thrives on the power of electronics and integrated circuits. Today, the microprocessor — the workhorse behind most of these devices — is set to undergo an extreme makeover that promises to push the possibilities even further.

Josè Delgado-Frias, professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Centennial Boeing Chair in Computer Engineering, is working to merge the fields of digital technology and nanotechnology — the field of study which develops materials and devices smaller than 100 nanometers in size.

Using carbon nanotubes and FinFETS—tiny electronic gates used in digital components—Dr. Delgado-Frias’ research stands to advance the world of electronics by producing computers and other digital devices with faster speed, reduced size, improved reliability, and wide-ranging adaptability.

CMOS vs. nanocircuits
Contemporary integrated circuits and microprocessors are based almost entirely on a technology known as CMOS. The problem with CMOS is that it allows leakage of electrical current along system pathways, ultimately wasting most of their power. With nanoelectronics, that leakage can be blocked — resulting in a sharp drop in power consumption along with decreased heat production.

The technology can also make computers run faster. In theory, FinFETS could increase processor speed by a magnitude of 10. Carbon nanotube-based microprocessors are projected to run up to 1,000 times faster.

(more…)