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 Yourdictionary.com: 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
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.
Comments Off | Art
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
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
May 26th, 2004 — 2:20pm
Courtesy of the media awareness and activism group Freepress.net:
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
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 aifia.org 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.
Comments Off | Information Architecture
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.
Comments Off | Information Architecture
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…
Comments Off | Information Architecture
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
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.
Comments Off | Semantic Web