The Wax Workshop

A few weeks ago I went to DH Wax workshop hosted by Alex Gil at Columbia University.         Our task was to develop our own projects based on Wax technology.

Wax is a minimal computing project. Through that project we were able to produce our personal digital exhibition and archives focused on longevity, low cost and flexibility. Its technology is simple enough to learn, as you don’t need to have any advanced programming skills. Through Wax project we will able to produce in the future beautifully rendered, high-quality image collections,  scholarly exhibits and digital libraries.

The template that was given at the beginning had a collection from The Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar and The Qatar National Library. We had to browse the collection and at the same time to replace it with a collection that we would like for our own project.

The workshop was a three part series.The first week started by learning general things minimal definitions and perspectives so as  to start experiencing fundamental principles of minimal computing.

Minimal design is to modify the structure of the project in order to focus more on the content production. Our goal in MC is to reduce the use of what you see is what you get interfaces and try to increase awareness of programming and markup processes. Maintain a minimal computing project is to try decrease the labor of updating, moderating and stewarding a project over time. Our priority is to avoid the usage of natural technologies like hardware and other peripherals or use implementation of advance technologies computer vision and other tracking mechanisms. In terms of minimal surveillance, it is needed to increase privacy and security so we can reduce hacks and harassment. Moreover one of our tasks is to reduce the use of specialized language and try to increase participation and engagement with shared techno cultural problems.

During the first week we tried  to install the theme through Jekyll. All the technological stuff was used it through Command Line and the terminal of our laptop. To be honest I had the experience to learn some basics from last semester in Patrick Smyth’s class and this really helped me to catch up with the progress of installation.

So what we have initially done was to create a new Jekyll website with a default gem-based theme scaffold. Using a mac I started using Xcode command line tool for my OSX. Using the terminal’s command line  I switched to the directory/folder ready to download and start using Ed theme .With all the materials  that were uploaded in Git hub, I was able to execute the commands  and run Jekyll server locally in my computer: After we run the following commands :

$ git clone
$ cd ed
$ gem install bundler
$ bundle install
$ jekyll serve

we were almost there! We had installed Jekyll (which is a Ruby gem package).Now the only thing left was to install ED theme. We managed to install a localhost server in my computer by using the url  This way I was able to view my project.The Jekyll theme designed for textual editors it was based on minimal computing principles, and focused on legibility, durability, ease and flexibility.

The second week we  focused more to the project we have decided to develop. We actually should resize images and prepare a csv file for our dataset that we had to work on. Working with csv file we  normalized and validated our metadata records based on certain fields with special characters and values. After we wrote our fields and cleaned our data we exported  them in a certain format (csv , .json, .yml) so that, would make our progress easier later. Most of the students used pictures and data that were only for practice purposes, as we haven’t really decided about our main project we wanted to create in the future. I started preparing some of the images to test during the class and also some dummy content. My final goal would be to create my personal portfolio and categorize my work and assignments that I have done so far in Graduate Center. In summary what we have done in class was to create a file of metadata records for our collection (csv file), to organize our collection images and put them both into the Jekyll site folder. After that ,we run a few command lines tasks in order to prepare the data for use by the Jekyll site and convert them with special components as static pages.Basically a basic diagram that shows the steps we have done was the following:


A very important advice that Alex suggested, was to try to clone our demo website and try to swap in our image collection data and exhibition content. That way we would keep our main site unused so we can use it from scratch in case  our code didn’t work during the whole process of development.

The third week was more to the practice of what we have learnt so far. Alex gave us some of the new layouts (page like exhibit.html or page. Html etc.) of the theme and we tried to add them in the front page of our website. Moreover, he gave us a folder full of new html pages that had to do with quick, reusable blocks (like shortcodes in WordPress) and he insisted how we should use them, in case we need to implement some of them in our project .

Finally he guided us on how we could host our website in a server  as soon as  we complete the project.  He also provided us with other Wax interesting projects  that had very successful results .

Personally I found this three part workshop a very well training course, although the student should study a lot prior to class in order to catch up Tutor’s directions. I think this was a great opportunity for those ones that are interested in building static pages through wax. Especially useful also for those who have collections of cultural artifacts and they would like to present them online or even offline, once they  learn in the workshop how to build even a local server on their own computer. It was also a great opportunity for students to be introduced in computing fundamentals. Even if someone doesn’t have advanced skills in CMS platforms or HTML and CSS, it is a great chance for everyone start building static websites, learning about data curation, basic principles about Github and web architecture. It could also  benefit users who want to expose their work in building digital exhibits, collections at libraries and archives. I highly encourage everyone to attend to this workshop as soon as the class hours will be announced next year.