Archive for June, 2007

Straight to the castle

(I’ve been away. After classes, I just took a long break. But it’s okay; I’m coming round again.)

I’m watching The Labyrinth right now as a relaxing break from a busy day at work, and it’s just great. I watched this movie a million times when I was younger, and I didn’t realize just how entirely geeky Sarah is, which probably says more about what I consider normal than about anything else.

I’ve always had a favorite line from this movie: when Sarah is just getting started in the labyrinth, and the worm on the wall tells her there’s an opening where it looks like there isn’t, she starts walking to the left. The worm tells her never to go that way, and so she instead heads to the right. After she leaves, the worm says, “If she’d kept on going down that way, she’d have gone straight to that castle.” And if you haven’t seen the movie (!!), that’s her goal.

This sort of reminded me of another thought I had earlier today. I read LifeHacker, and I saw they posted about improvements to Google Docs & Spreadsheets. One such improvement was the addition of folders, which surprised me. “Google’s using folders? This from the company that produced Gmail, which moved away from folders? And also my partner ranted to me a little bit about how some blogs hyperlink words in their posts in counterintuitive ways. So, when is a new feature in an information system (usually intended to solve an information problem) a feature and when is it an obnoxious problem? What a line to tread!

I guess this happens in other areas: new fashion trends that become popular while some are just awkward. Probably others too, but that’s all I can think of right now. Well, maybe picking profitable stocks from those that never really return anything. I’m more into the information stuff though, so I’m curious about the adaptation that’s required of customers when buying in to a new way of accessing information, when they’re willing to do it and when they’re not. Microsoft seems to want to effect this by controlling the vast majority of the market. Firefox offers more flexibility in customizing one’s browser. Apparently some blogging software links words in a post that are also tags in the blog, though they look like hyperlinked words that one might expect to direct someone to a definition or the homepage of a product.

I’m sure there are lots and lots of people who’ll tell you they know how to tell the difference between a hit and a failure (before it’s been produced). They’ll even do it for a fee! But at this point I’m thinking that, though strong research is great, sometimes you hit on something and your design slakes largely unknown thirst, and sometimes you just miss. This makes me feel better about my decision to just throw as many potential solutions to a problem as I can and see what sticks. I respect perfectionism and I deeply understand the goals and the attendant processes that support them, but it’s not always a good method for creating something.

And I finished my book today, the day it was due. Remember? The Nothing That Is. What a great little book! I’m very accustomed to people who love math and logic to apply these principles to all of life and experience, which I don’t really agree with. But Kaplan seems to be a bit of a relativist who really likes math, and zero seems to be a great vehicle for expressing how the two perspectives are comfortable with each other. I remember reading a friend’s blog post some time ago, she said she wished she could enjoy reading theory for pleasure. I think this book is the extent to which I can derive such a high and consistent amount of pleasure out of intellectually stimulating material. Pithy theory will always be work, but work I struggle through and enjoy. This book though…really fun as well as rewarding.

Back to the movie, it was watching for the first time the masquerade ball scene that I developed a crush on David Bowie, a crush which persists to this day. Hottie.

End of quarter thesaurusoidal nothings

(I wish I could take credit for thesaurusoidal, but alas I cannot)

I’ve got one end-of-quarter class project in the can and one more to go. Woo!

540, the retrieval class, is pretty much done. I have some journal updates I should make an effort at completing, but that’s really it for that one. I think I enjoyed myself in that class, and more importantly felt challenged in ways I’ve generally been sly about avoiding in my educational endeavors: actively being accountable for everything I read/learn/produce, and also not achieving absolute greatness publicly (at least, in front of my instructor and fellow colleagues). I’ve got some honor roll student mentality to get over. ;)

Unfortunately there was some animosity in the class, and I am happy to be leaving that. The Santa Cruz hippie in me is coming out, and I want to get to a place of love, kindness, and always looking for the best in people, which is hard when I’m in a tense and frustrated group. I’ve done snobbery and cynicism, and while it has its place it’s just not as pleasant a way to live.

Last project is for the thesaurus class, and I built my part of our alpha index last night. I really like it; I liked seeing our work and our terms come together that way. We’re working off of a spreadsheet and a classified schedule, and I liked the classified schedule, but seeing the relationships marked up for the preferred and non-preferred, figuring out what needed notes and what didn’t, that was just nice. I know we’ve been working on this all quarter, but I think this felt like the first real deliverable. Maybe because I alone produced my part, while for everything else I’ve been working with others? In any case, it was fun to do the alpha and partially watch Numb3rs in the background.

When I was working on my 540 group’s final paper the other day, I wandered around the library for a mental breather and found this book–The Nothing That Is–totally at random. Subtitle: A Natural History of Zero. I just love this stuff! Socializing objects, historicizing concepts, it’s just gorgeous. I listened to about half of Salt a year ago on the iPod while traveling to and from work, and that was great until I realized I really wanted to see some maps. I wonder if I can convince my anthro/archy friends to produce this kind of work in their professional careers. The process these stories go through is kind of Dervin-y, very sense-making. (And this touches on another post rattling around in my head. But later!)

So I’m lounging around on this fine Saturday morning, tea and oatmeal at the ready, and I run across this passage in Zero that I think I’d like to use to kick off writing the introduction to our thesaurus. Kaplan writes

A way to calculate yet keep a clear record: this is where body and mind diverge.

It isn’t until [automatic, mundane actions] make their way, however shyly, into speech that we can abstract from them and so bring them into the theater of thought.

Intellectually this seems a fine way to begin an introduction to our thesaurus, in terms of informing people in comfortable, common language what it is you mean to do, and I suppose going along with the theme of my book, what you actively mean not to do (and what is absent). But I think the last time I began a written work with a quote was during the first quarter of my first year of undergrad, and it just felt icky and cliche. But there’s some juice there. (Wait, how can there be juice in a pithy quote?)

And finally I just need to document this bit of mental perversity for posterity. I’ve been working on notation for our thesaurus, and (naturally) trying to think about all the little details and consequences. Oddly, it was when I was told to relax that I started imagining notation in terms of color, as a set of three values (RGB) combined to produce some color which served as the notation for a term. And then I thought about distinguishing facets as a factor of saturation. Then (naturally) I tried to break my little ordinal “notation” scheme and came up with the problem of color blindness; that is to say, there are people who won’t read the “notation” the way most others do because they switch colors or some colors become indistinguishable from others. And then I thought, “I’ll make all our polyhierarchical terms the color blind colors.”

And then I watched junky tv for a while to bring my brain back to earth.