Author Archives: Rachael G.

About Rachael G.

I’m one of the current 2012-13 Digital Interns at the Digital Science Center.

The Art of the Index

A sample index

So I was in class the other week when my professor mentioned the book she’d just finished. It was her first: to be published in the next year by a reputable academic publisher. I’m so happy I’ve finished the book. You’d never think that the worse part of the whole thing is writing the index – it took me over a month – I’m so glad I’m rid of it.

Academics have to write their own indexes? This caught my attention. Surely this is something publishers do. Apparently not. Once the final proofs are in, publishers issue authors with a set of guidelines and a tight timeframe with which to turn the index around. Everyone is waiting: typesetters, printers, binders and salesmen.

You might wonder why compiling an alphabetical list of a text’s proper nouns and page numbers is such a chore. But a good index is much more than this – in providing a summary of a text’s key concepts and their interrelations, a good index can have a great influence over how a book is discovered, used, and evaluated. In the publishing business, good indexes can drive sales.

My attempt to create an index using a professional software package

No wonder then that indexing is a serious business. There are indexing style guidelines, books on indexing best practice, journals dedicated to indexing, indexing courses and workshops, and an American Society for Indexing. Being a professional indexer requires considerable patience, dedication and skill – so much so there’s an annual award for it: H.W. Wilson Award.

My professor had three choices: hire a professional indexer; buy dedicated indexing software; or do it the old fashioned way. The first two were price inhibitive. According to one article on indexing, professional indexer fees can range from $3-6 per indexable page: If you have a 200 page monograph that’s $600-1200 of modest royalties lost. Alternatively, the two most popular index software packages, complete with 100+ page instruction booklets, start at $579.

Faced with such a decision, writing your own index using a word processor might look like a sensible option: but it cost my professor a month of hard labour. This got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a free, accessible, online tool that my professor could use for her next book? My spring semester project was born. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

Make 2013 your Code Year

So you might think that a philosopher (like myself) and a computer programmer don’t have much in common. But you’d be wrong. We care about two basic things: logic and language. Syntax, semantics and validity are our buzz words. Variables, conditionals and booleans are the kinds of thing we work with on a regular basis. Perhaps it’s not too surprising then that a philosopher should be interested in what’s going on in the code world. Cue: Codecademy.

Launched last summer, Codecademy aims to teach complete novices how to code. Pick your language (Java, HTML/CSS, Python, Ruby), pick your tempo (you can pick up and put down an exercise whenever you want) and pick the friends you’ll do battle with and you’ll have started down the path towards becoming a coding ninja. Founded by two Columbia undergrads as a tool to help college seniors make themselves more marketable to top firms, the site has developed a global userbase boasting a million users in 200 countries.


Codecademy’s homepage

If you check out the homepage it’s not hard to see why – it’s pretty user-friendly. One of the strengths of the site is its focus on learning by doing. The second you land it gets you coding straightaway with step-by-step instructions and instant feedback. You’re then taken through to your first proper module: an Introduction to Java. Never heard of it? Doesn’t matter. Drawing on elementary math, the instructions run you through the basics of strings, if/else statements and variables. Handy for those with attention defecits, the exercises are bite-sized and you’re rewarded frequently for your efforts with points and badges.

An exercise on variables in JavaScript

On the down side if you do get stuck on an exercise and the hint box isn’t helping, you’re on your own – as yet there are no posted answers to any of the exercises. Also if you want to get a bit creative, it’s not the tool for you: the site only allows you to execute the tasks within the exercises. That said, if you do get inspired to use your new coding skills, there are plenty of sites out there that will let you play around: see jsfiddle.net (for Java, HTML and CSS) and tryruby.org (for Ruby).

Still, as far as teaching you to code goes, it’s the best free tool out there. One last note to the Arts students among you: don’t be afraid. Learning to code is just like learning a foreign language, except there’s only one tense, no cases, no new words (given you know English already), and you don’t have to worry about speaking and listening. More specifically, philosophers should feel right at home. Given all the formal languages you learn in Logic 101 (under sentential logic and first order logic), you quickly see that learning to program just applies those skills in a different context. So why not make yourself a New Year’s Resolution: make 2013 your Code Year.

Library Futures

As new media formats challenge the future of the book, government changes its funding priorities and the profile of the library user changes, educators across the country are asking themselves what the future holds for the library. In response, a number of trailblazing libraries have come up with innovative ways of engaging their communities and reimagining their spaces as collaborative and creative. The examples below are some of the most inventive experiments with public space to come out of the last couple of years.

1. The Library Farm

Books aren’t the only thing the public can check out at Northern Onondaga Public Library in Cicero, NY. For an alternative library experience, Cicero residents go out back to the library’s community garden where they can check out a plot for free. The aim is to teach and learn food literacy as well as to ‘preserve knowledge our grandparents might have had but never passed down’. Those not able to commit to maintaining their own plot can work on the shared, public plot where organic produce is grown and donated to local food shelters. Green-fingered classes include composting, herb growing and canning fruit and vegetables.

2. The Library Media Studio

Both Skokie Public Library, IL and Tacoma Public Library, WA are attracting the next generation of library users with their audio-visual suites, kitted out with Macbook Pros, iPads, flip cams, microphones and electronic instruments. These media labs are about software as well as hardware: creative packages such as Final Cut, iLife and Adobe Creative Suite allow library users to video edit, manipulate images and design web pages to showcase their work. Some of the most impressive projects are showcased on the Storylab blog which features stop motion animation, photo blogs and tracks recorded at the library.

3. The Library Printing Press

Local homeless poet Mark Bell was featured in the Sacramento Bee after publishing his first collection of poems at his local library in downtown Sacramento. The library’s I Street Press is a community writing and publishing center. It supports would-be writers from their first lines right through to self-publication with classes, writer workshops and one-to-one advice sessions. While it’s not busy printing titles authored by library card holders, the library’s Espresso Book Machine prints books on demand from the ExpressNet database which readers order from the library via e-mail.

4. The Library Makerspace

Community makerspaces are places where like-minded individuals come together to realize creative projects with professional tools. The maker phenomenon has recently made its way into libraries, with Fayetteville Free Library and Westport Public Library leading the charge. Funded through donations via crowdsourcing website Kickstarter, Fayetteville Free Library’s Fab Lab has opened its doors with 3D printers, digital cameras, microphones and a computer suite while Westport Public Library’s Maker-in-Residence Joseph Schott has trained library users in woodwork to help him make two giant model airplanes which now hang suspended from the library’s central hall.

Top Tools for Makerspaces

A major attraction of makerspaces is the eye-watering tools they have on offer. As well as traditional shop tools such as drills, sanders and soldering irons, many makerspaces have invested in the latest technology, making it possible for amateurs to create professional-grade objects. The tools below are among the showpieces of any well-kitted out makerspace.

3D printer

What it does: Prints 3D objects from Computer Aided Design (CAD) files
What you can make: Chemical models, spare parts, fine art sculptures
Suppliers: MakerBot, Printrbot, Stratasys, Bits from Bytes
Price: $700-2200

Laser cutter

What it does: Cuts a variety of flat-sheet material including acrylic, wood, aluminium, vinyl, textiles, paper
What you can make: Free standing structures, jewellery, ornaments
Suppliers: Full Spectrum, Epilog, Trotec, Universal Laser Systems
Price: $1,800-20,000

3D scanner

What it does: Gathers 3D digital data on an object’s shape and appearance
What you can make: Digital 3D models of scanned objects
Suppliers: Konica, Creaform, NextEngine
Price: $3,000-40,000

CNC mill

What it does: Cuts, drills, shapes and engraves materials including wood, acrylic and vinyl
What you can make: Furniture, models, puzzles
Suppliers: Haas, Milltronics, Fadal, Makino, Mori Seiki
Price: $30,000-200,000

Drill press

What it does: Creates holes and fastens materials such as wood, glass and plastics
What you can make: Bird houses, wind chimes, beads
Suppliers: Jet, Milwaukee, Delta
Price: $300-1,500

Band saw

What it does: Cuts a variety of materials including wood, metal and acrylic
What you can make: Boxes, custom veneer, serving trays
Suppliers: Jet, Milwaukee, Proxxon
Price: $100-2,000

5 NYC Makerspaces You Should Know

Makerspaces are social workspaces where people come together to realize creative projects. Lying somewhere between a machine shop, an art studio and a science lab, a makerspace offers low-cost access to a variety of professional tools for designing and building: from 3D printers and scanners to drills and soldering irons. No idea how to use a laser cutter? Makerspaces often run workshops on how to use the tools they have available as well as specialist skills such as programming and lock picking. Part one of my internship at the Digital Science Center has been to seek out these spaces and see what they have to offer the amateur innovator. Try out any one of the five local community spaces below to start getting involved in the Maker movement.

1. NYC Resistors

NYC Resistors is a well-established makerspace based in downtown Brooklyn. Co-founded by a group of tech professionals including 3D printer guru Bre Pettis, the space is equipped with a laser cutter, 3D printer, hand tools, sewing machines and stocks of DIY kits and components. Walk-ins are welcome on Monday and Thursday nights or at the regular study groups on Micro-controllers and Web Development. Daily classes are also run on topics such as soldering and programming ($50-125). Members enjoy full use of the space for $75/month.

NYC Resistors, 87 3rd Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11217; contact@nycresistor.com

2. Alpha One Labs

Founded in July 2009, Alpha One Labs aims to provide a ‘fun, tool rich space for users of all ages and interests to work on projects together’. The space holds weekly meetings every Tuesday at 7pm where anyone can bring along projects they’re working on and brainstorm collaborations. It also hosts regular events on programming, robotics and lock picking as well as weekly ‘Solder Sundays’ at 1pm. Membership costs $40/month and gets you 24 hour access to the workshop, class discounts and a free t-shirt.

Alpha One Labs, 231 Norman Ave #312, Brooklyn, NY 11211; info@alphaonelabs.com

3. Hack Manhattan

The only Manhattan-based space on the list, Hack Manhattan is right off Union Square and plays host to a variety of meetings, classes and talks by leading tech companies. Learn how to design a circuit board, operate a 3D printer or experiment with microcontrollers while meeting fellow enthusiasts for tech, science and the arts. The space boasts a 3D printer, machine shop with lathe, mini-mill and drill press, sewing machines and soldering irons. New faces are welcome every Tuesday night to drop-in and chat about creative projects.

Hack Manhattan, 137 West 14th St. Studio 201, New York, NY 10011; info@hackmanhattan.com

4. Genspace

Pushing the bounds of what it means to be a makerspace, Genspace brings together amateur science enthusiasts to work on biotech-related projects in a fully equipped community laboratory. For absolute beginners, classes are offered in DIY Neuroscience, Synthetic Biology and DNA barcoding by members with doctorates while hardcore enthusiasts can opt for the week-long Biohacker Boot Camp. If you’re wondering what biotech is, you might want to start out at one of Genspace’s regular education events; recent visitors have explored their microbial biome, learnt bioinformatics and created slime mold art pieces.

Genspace, 33 Flatbush Avenue, 7th Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11215; info@genspace.org

5. Gowanus Studio

The Gowanus Studio Space (GSS) offers a home to budding designers, artists and craftspeople. Located along the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, it houses a large arts workshop, private studios and an exhibition space. Members enjoy access to a drill press, lathe and saws in the woodshop while in the print shop they can get their hands on etching and lithography presses, silkscreen printing and glass tables. Recent classes have included textile printing, papermaking and photolithography ($40-100). Members have full access to the space for $95/month.

Gowanus Studio Space, 166 7th Street, Ground Floor, Brooklyn, NY, 11215; info@gowanusstudio.org