Archive for May 2004

The Felicity of Spam

May 29th, 2004 — 1:00am

It’s been awhile since I’ve had time to read the Word of the Day emails that I get from the good peo­ple at Mer­riam Web­ster and long enough that I’ve set up a fil­ter direct­ing their daily con­tri­bu­tions to the bet­ter­ment of my vocab­u­lary into a one of those dead-end Out­look fold­ers that you see high­lighted in bold, but never man­age to do any­thing other than bulk delete every few months when you rec­og­nize the num­ber of unread mes­sages has crossed from two to three dig­its. (The count of unread words of the day in my folder is now 91 — just about time to purge again.)
But now, thanks to the atro­cious epi­demic of spam that’s rag­ing with­out surcease, I don’t need to feel bad about ignor­ing the lat­est juicy word to drop into my Inbox.
Now instead of know­ing that it will only be shunted aside and ignored for months before its’ sum­mary ter­mi­na­tion, I can calmly watch as it’s dis­posed of with­out ado.
Now all I need to do for a rich and unusual lex­i­cal les­son is peruse the sub­ject lines of the dozens of spam mes­sages that the lay­ers of fil­ters deployed by my ISP haven’t cor­ralled as par­a­sitic trash.
Thanks to the per­ti­na­cious con­clave of spam­mers who’ve found the means to pol­lute the Inter­net with offers of dis­count med­i­cines and penile enlarge­ment dis­guised behind word com­bi­na­tions gen­er­ated by dic­tio­nar­ies and scripts, there’s a ver­i­ta­ble smörgås­bord of uncanny sole­cisms grac­ing my inbox every day.
Things like, “libidi­nous plutarchy”, “incon­spic­u­ous megohm”, “char­coal expec­to­rant”, and oth­ers not even worth men­tiong despite their remark­able incon­gruity bring me unfore­seen ver­bal rich­ness.
Aside from the sur­re­al­ists and their exper­i­ments with auto­matic writ­ing dur­ing the 30’s, who but a spam­mer would ever think to send out a mes­sage about “alba­nia seethe pfen­nig colum­bia” — which by the way would make a great name for comic book vil­lain­ness “You haven’t won yet, Alba­nia Seethe! Jus­tice will be done!“
My day is already good when I can look for­ward to read­ing about “erosi­ble integu­ment”, which I seem to remem­ber over­hear­ing the last time I was within fifty yards of a geo­chem­istry lab.
“Sys­temic coho­molgy” sounds like a pretty cool degen­er­a­tive dis­ease, or maybe a death metal band.
“Afghanistan sur­name baboon” is the sort of thing I’d expect to hear com­ing from one of those early arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence pro­grams try­ing to recre­ate human speech: the sort that you used to see on Nova in the early 80’s; you know the scene — lots of twenty-something guys who haven’t been out in the sun­light enough even though they’re at UC San Jose are all stand­ing around a radio-shacked ama­teur ver­sion of a speaker cab­i­net look­ing intently at an amber mon­i­tor, while one of them types “Hello. How are you today?” on a key­board with­out a cover, only to end up vis­i­bly crest­fallen when a tinny syn­the­sized voice spits out some­thing akin to gib­ber­ish above, and in the end they utter the inevitable com­bi­na­tion of exu­ber­ant pro­nounce­ments regard­ing nat­ural lan­guage pro­cess­ing, and con­di­tioned real­ism about the fal­lac­ies of sci­ence fic­tion expec­ta­tions.
Some of the spam­mers no doubt pre­fer to take a more Zen min­i­mal­ist approach to foment­ing palaver, using sin­gle words that bespeak a sub­stan­tial degree of amphi­boly; “gasify”, “arch­fool”, “decid­u­ous”, “invo­lute” and “burg” are exam­ples of this tra­di­tion.
Then there are the imper­a­tives, not to be casu­ally ignored with­out some mea­sure of trep­i­da­tion: “decon­volve”, “rebut”, “throb”, and “migrate” for exam­ple.
With all these SAT words flow­ing unin­ter­rupt­edly into my mail­box, there’s prac­ti­cally no excuse for not doing the Times cross­word in pen.
So I say “Thank You Spam­mers!” Spam On! When­ever I want a tasty lin­guis­tic morsel, I’ll just shut off my spam filters…

Comments Off | The Media Environment

Traces of Fire

May 26th, 2004 — 9:55pm

Traces of Fire is an art exhibit and social exper­i­ment that used wildlife-tracking teleme­try to trace the move­ments of ten cig­a­rette lighters ‘lost’ in famous pubs in Lim­er­ick. The lighters were car­ried around Lim­er­ick by unknown peo­ple, as trans­mit­ters relayed loca­tion and motion data to observ­ing artists for nearly two weeks. From the cumu­la­tive data, the artists built a series of exhi­bi­tions show­ing pat­terns in the loca­tions and move­ments of the lighters around the city.

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When You Can't Find The WC, Build Your Own...

May 26th, 2004 — 3:00pm

Instruc­tions from the Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders field man­ual
“The sim­ple pit latrine is one of the sim­plest and cheap­est means of dis­pos­ing of human wastes. If well designed and built, cor­rectly sited and well main­tained, it con­tributes sig­nif­i­cantly to the pre­ven­tion of feco-orally trans­mit­ted dis­eases.“
I’m not sure how you’re sup­posed to down­load and print these from the Web if you’re in a loca­tion with­out plumb­ing, but then again I sup­pose that’s what satelltie phones are for…

Comments Off | architecture, Objets Trouves

The Voice of God?

May 26th, 2004 — 2:48pm

Seen a lot of movie trail­ers? Always been curi­ous about who owns the voice?
Thanks to JV for the answer:
”…Don LaFontaine, who is lov­ingly referred to in trailer cir­cles as the ‘Voice of God.’ A vet­eran of 40 years and more than 4,000 trail­ers, his rum­bling basso has enticed mil­lions with dra­matic into­na­tions like “In a world where …’”
Here’s the full arti­cle, from the WSJ.

Comments Off | People, The Media Environment

Ten Things The Media Doesn't Want You To Know

May 26th, 2004 — 2:20pm

Cour­tesy of the media aware­ness and activism group
1. A hand­ful of com­pa­nies dom­i­nate
Five media con­glom­er­ates — Via­com, Dis­ney, Time Warner, News Corp. and NBC/GE — con­trol the big four net­works (70% of the prime time tele­vi­sion mar­ket share), most cable chan­nels, vast hold­ings in radio, pub­lish­ing, movie stu­dios, music, Inter­net, and other sec­tors. [Con­sumers Union/Parents Tele­vi­sion Coun­cil]
2. Big Media are a pow­er­ful spe­cial inter­est in Wash­ing­ton
Media com­pa­nies intent upon chang­ing the FCC media own­er­ship rules have spent nearly $100 mil­lion on lob­by­ing in the last 4 years. FCC offi­cials have taken more than 2,500 industry-sponsored jun­kets since 1995, at a pric­etag of $2.8 mil­lion. [Com­mon Cause, Cen­ter for Pub­lic Integrity]
3. Con­sol­i­da­tion fos­ters infe­rior edu­ca­tional pro­gram­ming.
After Via­com pur­chased the inde­pen­dent KCAL in Los Ange­les, children’s pro­gram­ming plunged 89%, drop­ping from 26 hours per week in 1998 to three hours in 2003 (the min­i­mum require­ment set by Con­gress). TV sta­tions air pro­grams like NFL Under the Hel­met and Saved by the Bell, claim­ing they meet edu­ca­tional pro­gram­ming require­ments. [Chil­dren Now, FCC]
4. Cable rates are sky­rock­et­ing
Cable com­pa­nies lob­bied for and won dereg­u­la­tion in 1996, argu­ing that it would lower prices. Since then, cable rates have been ris­ing at three times the rate of infla­tion. On aver­age, rates have risen by 50%; in New York City, they’ve risen by 93.7%. [US PIRG]
5. Big Media profit from a money-dominated cam­paign finance sys­tem
In 2002, tele­vi­sion sta­tions earned more than $1 bil­lion from polit­i­cal adver­tis­ing — more than they earned from fast food and auto­mo­tive ads. You were four times more likely to see a polit­i­cal ad dur­ing a TV news broad­cast than an election-related news story. [Alliance for Bet­ter Cam­paigns]
6. Big Media use the public’s air­waves at no charge
The total worth of the publicly-owned air­waves that U.S. broad­cast­ers uti­lize has been val­ued at $367 bil­lion — more than many nations’ GDPs — but the pub­lic has never been paid a dime in return. And the broad­cast­ers claim they can’t afford to be account­able to the pub­lic inter­est! [Alliance for Bet­ter Cam­paigns]
7. Inde­pen­dent voices are fad­ing
Since 1975, two-thirds of inde­pen­dent news­pa­per own­ers have dis­ap­peared, and one-third of inde­pen­dent tele­vi­sion own­ers have van­ished. Only 281 of the nation’s 1,500 daily news­pa­pers remain inde­pen­dently owned, and more than half of all U.S. mar­kets are one-newspaper towns. [Writ­ers Guild of Amer­ica, East; Con­sumer Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­ica]
8. Con­sol­i­da­tion is killing local radio
The num­ber of radio sta­tion own­ers has plum­meted by 34% since 1996, when own­er­ship rules were gut­ted. That year, the largest radio own­ers con­trolled fewer than 65 sta­tions; today, radio giant Clear Chan­nel alone owns over 1,200. [FCC]
9. Con­sol­i­da­tion threat­ens minor­ity media own­er­ship
Minor­ity own­er­ship — a cru­cial source of diverse and var­ied view­points — is at a 10-year low, down 14% since 1997. Today, only 4% of radio sta­tions and 1.9% of tele­vi­sion sta­tions are minority-owned. [Writ­ers Guild of Amer­ica, East]
10. The free flow of idea and infor­ma­tion is being stymied
No copy­righted work cre­ated after 1922 has entered the pub­lic domain — an incu­ba­tor for new ideas — due to corporate-sponsored leg­is­la­tion extend­ing copy­right terms. If laws being con­sid­ered today had been in effect a few gen­er­a­tions ago, you wouldn’t have access to prod­ucts such as VCRs and copy machines. [U.S. Copy­right Office, FCC, Elec­tronic Fron­tier Foundation]

Comments Off | The Media Environment

Thinking of Becoming an IA? (continued)

May 18th, 2004 — 11:31pm

It was a friend who was con­sid­er­ing a career change to IA that kicked off this theme orig­i­nally. I didn’t men­tion that in the last post­ing, which on re-reading might have made some of the ques­tions and rec­om­men­da­tions in the first entry sound a bit more like friendly advice, which was what I’d hoped. Apolo­gies to all for lack of con­text. I’ve since heard that she’s read the Polar Bear book(s), actively done IA work on a well-known prod­uct company’s web site, and has the back­ing of man­age­ment to invest in fur­ther devel­op­ment, pos­si­bly by even hir­ing a men­tor.
Here’s my reply, and some rec­om­men­da­tions on how to go fur­ther:
It sounds like you’re doing all the right things. And if your man­ager is will­ing to back you with some dol­lars, then you’re way ahead of the game already :) You could look to hire a men­tor — and I might be able to help with find­ing one — but I’d recommned using some of the time and money to look into edu­ca­tion or train­ing. And, ide­ally, a men­tor would help you out for rea­sons other than sim­ple pay­ment. There should / will be a pro­gram avail­able from the AIFIA soon to match men­tors and can­di­dates together. You might be able to use this.
AIFIA is the non-profit IA organ­za­tion started a while back to help sup­port the com­mu­nity, fur­ther the dis­ci­pline, etc — check the site at for more info. It’s a cheap mem­ber­ship ($50 ?), and it will give you access to a good set of resources and pro­fessi­nal con­tacts that can help with more specifics on what and how to get started. Other orga­ni­za­tions to look into include ASIST, ACM, and the UPA; none of these focus on IA exclu­sivly as AIFIA does, but all have strong com­mu­ni­ties and resources avail­able.
There are a ton of edu­ca­tion and train­ing options, from full-on M.A. and Ph.D. pro­grams, to half-day sem­i­nars. What areas related to IA inter­est you most? Where do you want to take your career? Do you think you’d like to approach IA from a strongly visual per­spec­tive, which might be rooted in lay­ing out inter­faces and defin­ing page tem­plates and stan­dard con­trol sets for user inter­ac­tions? Or maybe usabil­ity is more inter­est­ing to you?
Some things to con­sider adding to your skills port­fo­lio and using as a basis for pur­su­ing IA fur­ther include usabil­ity, user research, inter­ac­tion design, library sci­ences tech­niques like tax­onomies and the­sauri, busi­ness analy­sis, use cases and UML, task analy­sis, infor­ma­tion design, sys­tems archi­tec­ture, knowl­edge man­age­ment, com­mu­nity design and social archi­tec­ture, most any­thing related to CMS, nav­i­ga­tion design, etc.
All of these are rel­e­vant — it’s the way you put a set of them together that will define the approach you use for IA, and the work that you’re best suited for. I’d say try to fol­low up on one or two of these, put the tech­niques into practce, and then see how it goes. The deci­sion to go to school obvi­ously depends on your time and oppor­tu­ni­ties.
Even­tu­ally, you’ll want to empha­size and pub­li­cize the shift in what you’re doing; maybe with a title change, or a branded free­lance offer­ing, or a for­mal edu­ca­tion ref­er­ence like an MSLIS on your resume. If you can’t make the shift offi­cially inside your cur­rent work­place, then it might be time to make a move into a new con­text that defin­i­tively shifts your role.

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How IA Might Look to Clients

May 17th, 2004 — 10:55am

Noth­ing like being blind­folded and lost in the woods to teach you how things look from the out­side…
Dur­ing an Out­ward Bound ses­sion last week, I was part of a group of IAs and Design­ers tasked with walk­ing a short dis­tance through the woods to a com­mon meet­ing point while blind­folded. We had twenty min­utes to pre­pare and twenty min­utes to fin­ish; the total dis­tance was about 50 yards.
After the clock started, I took my blind­fold off to look around. I saw a dozen peo­ple stag­ger­ing through the woods, with their arms wav­ing around and sticks in their hands, fum­bling through brush and trip­ping over logs. It was really funny. And a bit sad.
It was also a very good les­son in how silly things can look to some­one on the out­side. Shift­ing con­texts to the realm of IA, I’d have been upset if I were pay­ing for high-class con­sult­ing time from ‘experts’, and this is what I thought saw them doing.
Of course, from the inside, what we were doing made per­fect sense: we were simul­ta­ne­ously using dif­fer­ent meth­ods of tak­ing on a prob­lem com­pletely new to all of us. But you wouldn’t know that unless you’d either spent some time in the woods bind­folded before, or you’d watched us exper­i­ment with many, many, options for find­ing a tree (which all seem to feel exactly alike) dur­ing our prepa­ra­tion time.
We made it in the end, but it was as much luck as the result of our ‘opti­mized wayfind­ing strate­gies port­fo­lio’ — which is surely how you’d have to label a bunch of peo­ple wan­der­ing blind­folded in the woods in order to per­suade some­one to pay money for them to do so.

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Thinking of Becoming an IA?

May 8th, 2004 — 9:00pm

Infor­ma­tion Archi­tec­ture is get­ting a bit of a buzz these days — as some­one just noted on one of the dis­cus­sion lists — so I sup­pose it shouldn’t be a sur­prise that a few friends in related fields have asked how to get started as an IA.
The real ques­tion is — do you *want* to?
Beyond this, you’ll be get­ting into deeper water that could become down­right chilly. Ever read a the­saurus just for fun? Is your first answer to every ques­tion “It depends on -” ? Do you instinc­tively read through and item­ize in order of pri­or­ity all the cat­e­gories on the menu in a restau­rant before you look at the descrip­tions of any of the dishes?
Before you nod your head to the above and slap a sticker on your bumper, I’d rec­om­mend buy­ing / bor­row­ing / steal­ing “Infor­ma­tion Archi­tec­ture for the WWW”, and read­ing the intro and the first chap­ter. There are other good titles deal­ing with some of IA’s many facets out now, but a quick read through the front of Rosen­feld and Morville will give you a feel for the per­spec­tive and out­look that IA uses with­out too much of a time invest­ment. If you don’t like the feel­ing at that point, then I’d say that some­thing else is more your forte. Unless of course you have press­ing needs, or dis­turb­ing masochis­tic ten­den­cies that lead you to pur­sue spe­cial­ized dis­ci­plines that you don’t really enjoy.
If it does feel right, then skim the rest of the book and try read­ing through the case stud­ies at the end. If you’re still inter­ested, then it might be a good way to go. If at any point your eyes glaze over (did some­one say “schema­tize” again?) or you’re gen­uinely bored, then I’d sug­gest that either set­ting this par­tic­u­lar quest for per­sonal and pro­fes­sional elight­en­ment aside, or shift­ing your goal to learn­ing some of the basic lan­guage and pos­si­bly acquir­ing some spe­cific IA skills.
After that, the sky’s the limit. I’m active (well, ‘active’ might be a bit bold, but what’s life with­out aspi­ra­tions?) within the AIFIA men­tor­ing ini­tia­tive, so I’m part of a group of IA’s look­ing at exactly how to go about match­ing can­di­dates for men­tor­ing with the right teach­ers.
If you’re curi­ous about edu­ca­tion options, there are courses, cer­tifi­cates, and even some new mas­ters pro­grams com­ing on line.
Resources for all these ques­tions and more can be had for free at the ia wiki.
Hope this helps…

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Simmons College Panel on IA as a Career for LIS Grads

May 3rd, 2004 — 11:39am

Thanks to Beat­rice Pul­liam and Caryn Ander­son for the the chance to talk about Infor­ma­tion Archi­tec­ture at a Sim­mons Col­lege panel on careers for LIS grad­u­ate stu­dents. The event — Infor­ma­tion Pro­fes­sion­als In and Out of the Box: An ASIS&T Alter­na­tive Career Panel — brought four GSLIS grad­u­ates and myself back to talk about poten­tial careers related to LIS. I was the only non-graduate and the only IA on the panel. Titles for the other speak­ers included Man­ager, Data Ser­vices and Qual­ity Prod­uct Man­ager, Meta­data Spe­cial­ist, and Data­base Man­ager — all roles that I’ve worked closely with or in some way per­formed under the head­ing of Infor­ma­tion Archi­tec­ture.
It was a gen­uine plea­sure to talk to a group of inter­ested stu­dents, and also my first win­dow into the early acad­mic cod­i­fi­ca­tion that’s hap­pen­ing in and around the realm of IA.
After the ses­sion, I was intro­duced to some of the Sim­mons fac­ulty; Candy Schwartz (also here), who taught the first ded­i­cated course on IA offered at Sim­mons, and Gerry Benoit the cur­rent instruc­tor. Dr. Benoit works in many areas, includ­ing Sys­tems The­ory — which is one of the sub­jects I’d like to explore more, since it seems very rel­e­vant to some of the core con­cepts of IA.
Fol­low­ing up, I learned that Caryn is
”…work­ing with a Har­vard research fel­low and Ful­bright scholar on the emerg­ing spe­cial­iza­tion of Inte­gra­tion & Imple­men­ta­tion Sci­ences which is coör­di­nat­ing research and devel­op­ment in the areas of com­plex­ity sci­ence, sys­tems think­ing, par­tic­i­pa­tory meth­ods, diverse epis­te­molo­gies, inter­dis­ci­pli­nar­ity and knowl­edge man­age­ment for appli­ca­tion to com­plex, large scale prob­lems. One of the key chal­lenges of inte­grat­ing research from var­i­ous dis­ci­plines is facil­i­tat­ing the var­i­ous per­son­al­i­ties, pri­or­i­ties and lan­guages of the folks involved.“
Aside from sound­ing very inter­est­ing, this is a good sum­ma­tion of my cur­rent con­sult­ing role, minus the oblig­a­tion to cre­ate too many Pow­er­point pre­sen­ta­tions. I’ll try to find out a bit more, and put out an update on what I learn.
Here’s a recap of the ses­sion, com­plete with some zesty live-action photos.

Comments Off | Information Architecture, People

Semantic Mapping, Ontologies, and XML Standards

May 3rd, 2004 — 10:23am

Here’s a some snip­pets from an arti­cle in the Web Ser­vices Jour­nal that nicely explains some of the busi­ness ben­e­fits of a services-based archi­tec­ture that uses ontolo­gies to inte­grate dis­parate appli­ca­tions and knowl­edge spaces.
Note that XML / RDF / OWL — all from the W3C — together only make up part of the story on new tools for how mak­ing it easy for sys­tems (and users, and busi­nesses…) to under­stand and work with com­pli­cated infor­ma­tion spaces and rela­tion­ships. There’s also Topic Maps, which do a very good job of visu­ally map­ping rela­tion­ships that peo­ple and sys­tems can under­stand.
Seman­tic Map­ping, Ontolo­gies, and XML Stan­dards
The key to man­ag­ing com­plex­ity in appli­ca­tion inte­gra­tion projects
Another impor­tant notion of ontolo­gies is entity cor­re­spon­dence. Ontolo­gies that are lever­aged in more of a B2B envi­ron­ment must lever­age data that is scat­tered across very dif­fer­ent infor­ma­tion sys­tems, and infor­ma­tion that resides in many sep­a­rate domains. Ontolo­gies in this sce­nario pro­vide a great deal of value because we can join infor­ma­tion together, such as prod­uct infor­ma­tion mapped to on-time deliv­ery his­tory mapped to cus­tomer com­plaints and com­pli­ments. This estab­lishes entity cor­re­spon­dence.
So, how do you imple­ment ontolo­gies in your appli­ca­tion inte­gra­tion prob­lem domain? In essence, some tech­nol­ogy — either an inte­gra­tion bro­ker or appli­ca­tions server, for instance — needs to act as an ontol­ogy server and/or map­ping server.
An ontol­ogy server houses the ontolo­gies that are cre­ated to ser­vice the appli­ca­tion inte­gra­tion prob­lem domain. There are three types of ontolo­gies stored: shared, resource, and appli­ca­tion. Shared ontolo­gies are made up of def­i­n­i­tions of gen­eral terms that are com­mon across and between enter­prises. Resource ontolo­gies are made up of def­i­n­i­tions of terms used by a spe­cific resource. Appli­ca­tion ontolo­gies are native to par­tic­u­lar appli­ca­tions, such as an inven­tory appli­ca­tion. Map­ping servers store the map­pings between ontolo­gies (stored in the ontol­ogy server). The map­ping server also stores con­ver­sion func­tions, which account for the dif­fer­ences between schemas native to remote source and tar­get sys­tems. Map­pings are spec­i­fied using a declar­a­tive syn­tax that pro­vides reuse.
RDF uses XML to define a foun­da­tion for pro­cess­ing meta­data and to pro­vide a stan­dard meta­data infra­struc­ture for both the Web and the enter­prise. The dif­fer­ence between the two is that XML is used to trans­port data using a com­mon for­mat, while RDF is lay­ered on top of XML defin­ing a broad cat­e­gory of data. When the XML data is declared to be of the RDF for­mat, appli­ca­tions are then able to under­stand the data with­out under­stand­ing who sent it.

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