DH Project Management

I’m sitting at the food court at UCLA and I feel like a student again. Which I am, because I’m on campus for a two-day intensive training in Project Management from UVic professor Lynne Siemens. Usually taught in a week in the summer at the DHSI, we’ve moved quickly though the 450 page(!) manual prepared by our instructor.

Perhaps the most important take-away message from this event is realizing how integral Project Management has become for the kinds of team-based projects that are common in the Digital Humanities. From this class I’ve gained skills that I intend to add to my DH-class syllabus and that I will share with my faculty colleagues. But most importantly, I’ve learned concrete steps for project planning that I’ll apply in nearly every aspect of my own work–as an administrator, a researcher, and (most importantly) as a grant-writer.

While many of the steps that we learned are intuitive–defining the nature of our research questions and the expected outcomes, listing each step of the process, creating workflows for accomplishing phrases of a project, etc.–some elements were less intuitive, such as finding a critical path through a project, defining the scope clearly and balancing that against the time and money allocated for the project, adding moments within the plan to evaluate whether it’s still achievable, and creating a shared documentation system for recording all aspects of a project.

After having spent the last two days steeped in PM, I must confess that it’s not the most exciting topic imaginable. In fact, it can tend towards being self-evident (well, of course one needs to plan incremental deadlines in order to pull all of the pieces together for a large project to reach completion on time). But…the more I followed all of the processes and considered how they could be applied to just about anything: writing a journal article, planning a conference, coordinating volunteer writers for a group blog, etc., the more I realized that applying the elements of PM are critical for seeing projects through to completion. Because it seems as though (at least for me) projects are always so very easy to start, but so very difficult to finish.



I don’t remember the first time that I made bread dough, but I must have been fairly young–by the age of eight I’d already won a ribbon at the Fair for my sweet rolls (and yes, they are still amazing).  I’m sure the knowledge I had at such a young age came from watching my Mom bake–as I remember it, her loaves were usually whole wheat, sweetened with honey (or at least that is the flavor of bread that always reminds me of those young years).  Her dinner rolls remain, in my mind, the stuff of legend.

Although I have remained a maker of bread nearly all of my life, for the past ten years or so, I’ve primarily defaulted to doing so in a bread machine.  That way I can set a timer and not have to worry about any of the details of the process.  Out pops a tasty loaf in about two hours, or when I walk in the door from work if I’ve set the time earlier that morning.  Breadmaker bread is good, and is certainly better than most store-bought bread, but….it also has a uniform texture to it that’s not airy and the crust is not crispy and, most importantly, it robs one of all the pleasure of kneading and smelling and shaping the dough…

So I’ve begun making and baking my own bread again, by hand.*  It’s such a time-consuming and mercurial process: the very same recipe rarely yields the same result.  And there is so much intuition involved that I have to just “feel” the bread to know what it needs (more flour? a bit of oil? extra time for raising?).  Being a part of that process and experimenting with different recipes and doughs is pure pleasure.  I’m developing a kind of bread knowledge that allows me to compose recipes in my head and to refine my process with every loaf (though I did also pore over these two books for much of my bread-knowledge, too: The Bread Bible and Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day.)

I’m not sure why I am so keen on making my own bread right now.  I suspect that it’s filling a space of domesticity that’s a bit empty because I no longer have many duties in caring for my children.  Or perhaps it’s a craving for comfort and the memories of times past.  Or perhaps it’s a need to touch and smell something altogether different than the slick manufactured surfaces of keyboards and touchscreens and elevator buttons and chrome.

But whatever the reason, I am again making bread.  And it is good.

*I still do the initial bread mixing in either my Sunbeam or my KitchenAid.  In that I’m following the pattern of most bread “experts.”  I am also using this awesome Baguette Pan that was given to me by a friend.

12871386154_acc10d9f7a_zBut you are the only person alive who has sole custody of your life.  Your particular life.  Your entire life.  Not just your life at a desk, or your life on the bus, or in the car, or at the computer.  Not just the life of your mind, but the life of your heart.  Not just your bank account, but your soul.

~Anna Quindlen, A Short Guide to a Happy Life

BouckFamilyFB-45(1)Hi there friend, and welcome to my blog. I started writing on the internet more than ten years ago, first anonymously as “pilgrimgirl” and later under my own name.  I began as pilgrimgirl because at the time I was studying journey narratives and had a feeling as though I was starting on a new path with an unknown destination. Since I began writing online I’ve started and finished a PhD program, left the Mormon church and became a Quaker, got divorced, started a history podcast, found full-time work in academia, took up rock climbing and outrigger canoeing, and traveled across the globe (China! Belgium! Italy! Chicago! Montana! Portland! Gettysburg! and oh-so-many points in-between).  For my 38th birthday and 25th anniversary of my bone cancer diagnosis,  we (meaning me and you) bought legs for a young double-amputee from China.

You might have happened upon this blog because you’ve heard of my work in the digital humanities or because you are curious about living with a disability or because you are also in the midst of a faith transition.  Click on any of the links above to find my posts about those particular topics (or use the dropdown links in the nav bar on the blog header).  Or, feel free to read a little bit of anything and everything by using the archive links on the right sidebar.

This blog is eclectic and random–it has poetry and cooking and books.  And cats.  And flowers.  And the ocean (my ocean).  But in that sense it’s a good reflection of me and my wide-ranging, far-reaching, magpie curiosity.

but there’s a lot of math…

Screen shot 2014-02-27 at 11.37.56 AM

In a recent casual conversation with a friend, when I expressed interest in studying a particular topic, his reply was:

“But there’s a lot of math…”

And I realized that this reply was intended to tell me (a hapless not-mathematical female) that this would not be a topic of interest to me.  It’s quite possible that he was right, but it got me thinking about math and my own personal math-history.

When I was in 5th grade I received a C- in Math on my report card.  My parents were shocked and angry, as was I.  It turns out, it was a typo and my grade was a B (whew), but it scarred me for a long time–because I felt insecure in a numbers world and at some level I thought that I probably did deserve that lower grade.

My undergraduate degree in Biology required two years of Calculus, which was torture for me, as had been my years of high school math (the only exception: geometry–I loved writing proofs).  I suspect that my aversion to math was a combination of two things:  sheer hatred for rote homework problems and some lingering cognitive issues caused from the chemotherapy that I’d undergone just prior to high school.  To pass my Calculus courses I ended up memorizing the problem sets for the exams, because I could not grasp the concepts.  I’m still disappointed in myself for doing that, but I was so desperate to graduate…

And then I didn’t think much about math again (other than simple household calculations like doubling recipes and measuring fabric) for more than a decade.

And then I took the GRE for graduate school, without even reviewing the math portion, knowing that it didn’t “count” for someone entering the Humanities.

And then I got a higher score on the math section of the GRE than I did on the Verbal section.


And since then I’ve come to realize the elegance of numbers, and to learn that I’m actually pretty good at math.  For me, quantitative data is slowly edging out my attraction to qualitative, which is certainly why I’m so drawn to the digital humanities, which tend to combine both approaches to research questions.  Numbers, number patterns, number visualizations…they all fascinate me (and statistics–I love statistics!).  They aren’t a chore, they don’t swim around meaninglessly in my mind.  Instead, they have a beauty and an order that is quite appealing.

And…I suspect that if I were to do things over and be back in my undergraduate years again, that those Calculus classes would hold attraction for me.  Perhaps they would even be fun.


the basics

(Cross-posted from my Academic Technology blog at Chapman University)

I’ve made many mistakes with technology.  I’ve lost files due to not backing them up, I’ve edited the wrong versions of my articles because I didn’t have a good strategy for saving iterations of files, and I’ve had those awful moments where my printer ink runs out (which only ever happens when time is of the essence, of course).

Because of these failures, I’ve developed a set of backup practices and I always keep several of spare printer cartridges.  Of course technology still fails sometimes (like my server crashing during the middle of a technology talk–ugh), but I think I’m generally prepared for that now.

In that vein, one of my colleagues created a list of helpful links for those who want to become more tech savvy about backing up their files and learning computer shortcuts.  It seems worth sharing here, for those of you who are also eager to learn better tech practices.

View “Basic Technology Advice for Faculty

Download “Basic Technology Advice for Faculty” as a PDF

I have never felt the need..

12066103805_e7bd078edcPhoto taken in Tongeren, Belgium.


Loved this thought, on being satisfied with this world, and not needing an afterlife (or a God)…

You see, I have never felt the need to invent a world beyond this world, for this world has always seemed large and beautiful enough for me.  I have wondered why it is not large and beautiful enough for others–why they must dream up new and marvelous spheres, or long to live elsewhere, beyond this dominion…but that is not my business.  We are all different, I suppose.  All I ever wanted to know was this world.  I can say now, as I reach my end, that I know quite a bit more of it than when I arrived.  Moreover, my little bit of knowledge has been added to all the other accumulated knowledge of history–added to the great library, as it were.  That is no small feat, sir.  Anyone who can say such a thing has lived a fortunate life.

~Alma Whittaker in _The Signature of All Things_