Welcome back to Part II of the CompAppArch and ClassAssoc executive summaries. If you missed all the calorific goodness of Part I you can find it here. This installment is something of a lucky dip, focussing on, well, whatever else my capricious little mind has found absorbing in the past couple of weeks. It’ll start off with a few random papers and conversations from CAA followed by some general musings on CA in Birmingham.
First, as promised in Part I, comes mention of Sorin Hermon (PIN, Florence) and Joanna Nikodem (University of Bielsko-Biala, Poland)’s work on a ‘3D Modelling Pipeline’. Those of you who have heard my Crossbones shpiel will know that I’m quite in favour of ‘ugly’ 3D. Call it the bare bones if you will (and I have), but I’m talking about the kind of stuff that enables you to do serious analysis, even if you wouldn’t bring it home to meet your mother. Sorin and Joanna have created an application that pipes a MySQL database together with the marvellous OS 3D software Blender in order to autoconstruct building hypotheses. The DB enables the user to manipulate variables associated with confidence and the like, whilst a model of the building itself is automatically constructed by Blender using template components. The result is that different possible alternatives can be explored with ease whilst being transparent about the source data. I haven’t checked out the Blender API yet, but I played with the tool itself a while back and, and at least to non-3dsmaxers like myself, it looks pretty darn cool.
Some 3D underwater projects that seem worth checking out are one using Multi-beam Sonar Data, and another one looking at the submarine H. L. Hunley. This was the first submarine to successfully attack and sink another warvessel, but catastrophe struck shortly afterwards and it sunk killing all 9 men on board (their victims were somewhat more fortunate, being able to cling to the rigging of their ship as it lay in the shallow waters of Charleston Harbour). The wreck was found recently, raised in 2000 and a major project is now underway to excavate it. Besides its remarkable condition, I was amazed by the fact that it was single skinned and just 4′ high by 3.5′ feet wide.
The GRASS workshop held by Ben Ducke finally gave me the opportunity to play around with the GRASS/Paraview/QGIS dreamteam that gets talked about so much these days. And the verdict is: IBTFAD (which leaves me a dollar up :-) ). I’ve already been working with QGIS for a pet project on Ptolemy’s Geography, and it’s a nice tool for hauling data in from every-which-where. It doesn’t have a lot of bite when it comes to any kind of geoprocessing though so they’ve built a nice cuddly frontend to the GRASS toolbox that let’s you do things in a relatively painfree fashion. Paraview, on the other hand, is seriously hardcore 3d visualization technology. Ben (or one of his buddies) has stuck the whole lot, along with portable UNIX into a pendrive-friendly 600MB directory so that you can run it all from USB. It’s a neat trick and works pretty well, but you still need to know the basics of UNIX if those all important first few hours aren’t going to make your brain bleed. That’s where things began to get interesting…
…After the workshop I had a chat with Ben and several others, including Scott Madry, Robert Hecht and Martijn van Leusen, to figure out how we might make OS GIS a more viable alternative to the huge wedges of cash we voluntarily hand out for multiple licenses of proprietary software. That’s not to say that ArcGIS might not have its place, rather that it still seems to be standard practice to pay first and ask questions later. The outcome is our intention to create a consortium of archaeologists commited to:
a) identifying what critical features may still be lacking in OS GIS for archaeologists (e.g. essential cartographical tools)
b) implementing them
c) (most importantly) documenting the whole lot
I’ll blog about this further once we’ve got a website up – possibly over at OSGeo:Archaeology?
It’s probably not the done thing to say, but Birmingham University always reminds me a little of st custard’s. I vaguely recall being told by someone that it was built by a madman, but that may have been idle speculation on their part. In any case, I didn’t get to see a lot of it as the conference was held in the Crowne Plaza Hotel which has a rather fetching view of Queensway. That’s actually quite a shame as I think the Birmingham cityscape is about as close as modern Brits can get to experiencing ancient Rome. It’s almost as if a sort of mania took over and people just kept building impossibly large buildings on top of one another in a kind of giant’s playground. No particular sense of function or propriety, just sodding big buildings. I love it.
I was there to give a paper on a panel with some chums of mine from the Digital Classicist. For those of you unacquainted this sterling institution, they’re an online community/hub/resource centre for, well, classicists working digitally I guess. Their focus is frequently more textual than us archae-types so I was presenting on the use of Network Analysis as an approach to understanding ancient conceptions of space. I fear that the 5.00am start needed to get me there for 8.00 may have taken my edge off my performance somewhat but the conversations afterwards were great – especially with Melissa Terras, who’s PhD work on auto-text recognition of the Vindolanda Tablets was ridiculously impressive. Although I hang around Arundel House (home of DC and Methods Network) whenever I can, it seems there’s a lot more potential for collaborative work than currently takes place and not enough folks at both CAA and DRH/A.
The rest of the proceedings were enjoyable enough – some interesting papers on pedagogy and porticoes in Rome, but most fascinating (not to mention frustrating) was the plenary lecture given by Prof. Margaret Mullett on ‘History and Truth, Lies and Fiction: Byzantium and the Classical Tradition 25 Years on’. The reason for this was that the Classical Association conference and 40th Byzantine Studies Spring Symposium fell together so it was an address to both. As a classicist I hasten to add that I understood barely any of it, but my byzantinist sources inform me that they didn’t fare much better. Having said that, I did learn that
a) the 1140s were one of the most dynamic decades for literature in all of European history, and
b) there’s a Byzantine play (called ‘the Virgin’s Voice’?) set over the crucifixion and resurrection, in which Mary’s dialogue is taken principally from Euripides’ Medea.
Now that’s got to be worth reading.