How to Run a Lab Space without the Space

Mark C. Marino
Feb 23, 2017 · 6 min read
HaCCS Lab Concept Art

Welcome to the Humanities and Critical Code Studies (HaCCS)Lab. Watch yer step, please. I’m yer guide. (Hope yunz can understand my Pittsburgh accent!)

Thank yunz all for joining us for this little tour of our virtual lab. Virtual as in all potential and no legacy issues. No, yunz don’t need special glasses to see it. Just close your eyes and let go of your need for institutional support and university signage.

Now, I wonder how yunz heard about us, about Critical Code Studies. See a Tweet? Read an article? Hear it mentioned derisively in a bathroom stall at a conference? Well, this is where the cheese gets made. (Hmm, Critical Code Cheese. Have to suggest that to the commissary.)

So, Critical Code Studies has been around for ten years, and the Lab, maybe half that. That’s why everything is so new and shiny. The Lab owes its start to a proposal by Lori Emmerson of UC Boulder, who said to our co-founder at a conference, “Hey, why don’t you start a lab?” One short logo-design session later and that proposal got the big green light!

To our left, you’ll see our entryway, that fine web portal. Yep, go ahead and touch it. Yup, just good ole Wordpress. What? Who endowed it? Oh, it came from our esteemed founder. Yes, he pays for its annual registration fee and hosting. Quite the benefactor! Only had to get it linked from an official university web page. Then, quick as you could say fake it till you make it, we were in business!

To our right, you’ll see our Twitter pressroom, where we disseminate news and micro-white-papers (They’re Like-Reviewed through a rigorous peer Retweeting process). Now, the robot on the right (give a wave, Li’l Turing) is in charge of Retweeting articles that are added to our Zotero group. The Robot on the other right (you, too, Graceful Hopper) auto-creates a newsletterish publication using

Oh, sorry, folks, we’re about to go dahnstairs. Please, watch yer heads.

Just kidding. No overhead here!

Now, along the walls, you’ll see photos of our members and affiliates. You’ll notice that members don’t have offices here. Just pointers to their actual offices in actual departments that pay them more-or-less actual money. (Pointers. That’s a little programming joke. Cracks me up every time.)

HaCCS Lab founding members, Mark Marino, Tara McPherson, Craig Dietrich. Photo by Pamela Johnson

What do they get for their affiliations? Oh, well, their names on these plaques that fit so nicely on their CVs and faculty service reports. Affiliate positions are available at every level, from established researchers looking to branch out as well as new graduate students, independent researchers, and even some ambitious undergraduates.

Despite all of these members and affiliates, it can get lonely dahn here, so we invite people to come and give talks. Of course, real people need to eat and sleep somewheres, so you might wonder, how can we pay them with only an imaginary operating budget? Well, we co-sponsor events in collaboration with old-fangled brick-and-mortar departments. Those dusty old things are good for something after all!

Guest speakers make a virtual lab a little less lonely

Now, just dahn here (oh, here we have it), the machinery of one of our main tools, ACLS Workbench. This was funded through a real grant channeled through the host institution’s grant office. Wait, let me give it a little kick. There we go. ACLS Workbench facilitates Critical Code Studies but is built on other funded grant-funded software, known as ANVC Scalar.

And we encourage critical readings — that’s our breadboards and butter, ya might say — conference panels, articles, edited special issues, and a special thread on electronic book review. The Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts has been particularly hospitable to our work.

Don’t touch the Neverending Gobstoppers, Beauregarde!

Oooh, it’s almost time for the biannual Working Group. We may have to expand a bit to fit everyone. It’s run on Vanilla Forums, which we nicked from — oh, wait, it’s free. We’ve got Hopper and Turing working on getting everyone rooms. Space fills up fast. Oops, I forgot. No space limitations.

2016 Critical Code Studies Working Group

Speaking of space, I bet you’re wondering where all these tunnels lead. Well, put on yer safety hats and hop in this transport wagon/mining car. And just a flip of the switch and we’re moving at lightspeed to one of our partner labs, like the Media Archaeology Lab. Or dahn this chute over here, we can reach the vast network of tunnels that lead to the Electronic Literature Organization and HASTAC stations around the world. (You ever hear tell of ELO? No, hmm. Gotta talk to their press person.) Well, they’re an international organization of scholars and artists and can sponsor grant applications , too— which comes in handy for imaginary — er, virtual labs.

Groups like centerNet do require a small contribution to their coffers in order to maintain the rails, but it’s worth it. With many groups you can connect the rails on your own or perhaps if you already belong to an organization, well, I’ll let you finish that analogy on yer own.

With groups like ELO and HASTAC, we can sponsor further online discussions and events and support the work of any HASTAC scholars interested in CCS. Of course, as you can see by those folks in that cart over there, some find their way to HASTAC through our Lab and vice versa.

Another way to communicate with our members is through these pneumatic tubes in the form of a listserv.

Oh, no! Looks like we’re out of time. But, as you can see, we’re never out of space. We always have more room to expand when new project come along. Because we don’t have to worry about storage, or staff, or keeping track of annoying university funding, we have quite a bit of freedom. (See, this is where I hang up all my boy band posters.) Yep, freedom’s just another name for no oversight, no accountability, and no snack budget, at least in a lab that you run offa dreams, fumes, and uncompensated midnight hours.

We hope yunz enjoyed our little tour. Just retrace yer steps, and you’ll find yer way out. Oh, and that dragon, don’t mind him. We call him Old Unsustainable. Just tickle him under his delusions of grandeur and he’ll roll right over. Just make sure he doesn’t crush you. He’s what they call relentless and inevitable, but he don’t scare me none!

For more information on the Humanities and Critical Code Studies Lab, send me an email — or send it to my boss, Dr. Marino. (He’s a bit of a tyrant.)

Mark C. Marino

Written by

writer/researcher of emerging digital writing forms. Prof of Writing @ USC, Dir. of Com. for ELO, Dir. of HaCCS Lab