MARC’d This Week

ICYMI: Things I’ve found worth mentioning, amplifying, reading and collecting from the last few days.

The Guardian takes Poll Data Visualisation to A New Level with its Election 2015 Poll Projection.

Inquiring Minds Podcast Episode 75 with Kevin Kelly – What Technology Wants. I blogged in more detail about how interesting this was.

I came to The Encyclopaedia of Life via Kevin Kelly’s website and a former project of his to catalogue and identify every living species on earth by giving it its own web page. This led to me to The Global Names Architecture (GNA) for connection biological information.

Also via Kevin Kelly, The Quantified Self a blog all about self knowledge through numbers and Wink: remarkable books that belong on paper.

The Museum of Modern Art exhibition page Access to Tools: Publications from the Whole Earth Catalog, 1968-1974

On our #citylis #infodomains theme of Healthcare information I added The Wellness Syndrome / Carl Cederström and André Spicer published by Polity examining the modern ideology of wellness to my want to read list.

Combining the Quantified Self and Healthcare Information I read this intriguing article on building your own pancreas. It uses data from internet of things (IoT) type devices with a hacker mentality to create new, and social systems, for monitoring and medicating diabetes. There is an interesting point made about “data and free speech” but the potential legal grey area of DIY code and healthcare regulation.

This little video, also from the Quantified Self blog, is about time tracking. Greg Kroleski talks about 6 years spent tracking his time. The methodology (one week every quarter in a spreadsheet) and visualisation (mostly graphs) are not that unusual but as well as the raw data what I found interesting was the ‘taxonomy of time’ he developed to categories his activities and the difficulties of categorising.

Interesting post on Visualising Data on the use of pink and blue, or not, for gendered visualisation. Potentially relevant to a project I’m thinking of working on for my #dataviz assignment.

Interesting post by Sara M. Watson in DIS Magazine on metaphors used to describe big data. they have a current issue all about data which provides a critical look at “the datalogical turn” since 1948:

“Since World War II, information theory has had many offspring, all of which share fundamental traits: that the composition of information must be binary, and thus digital, compressible, reversible, predictable, scalable, and measurable. What has been most urgent as of late is the development of critical theoretical positions that follow the spread of such platforms over society at large. Subjects are not just actors in a network, but also network architects themselves, both supplicator and designer in an increasingly automated sociality.” – Marvin Jordan and Mike Pepi

Rob Kitchin’s article on Continuous Geosurveillance in the “Smart City” is worth a read anyway but even more so for the striking original artwork by Mark Dorf.

#citylisters love the History of Documents so they might be interested in this history of big data by Bernard Marr.

Great visualisation by Allison McCann on women’s sports data. Ok tongue in cheek there, but it demonstrates how second class women’s sport still is.

Meanwhile the Washington Post highlight a debate between the US and The Netherlands over marijuana usage featuring what they describe as a “passive aggressive infographic”. Remember folks information may be beautiful but it’s not always neutral!

For International Women’s Day (8th March) the Economist has an interactive visualisation the best place in the world to be a working women.

Project Initiation (Escape to the Country Style)

By the end of an episode of Escape to the Country the show’s participants have completed a project initiation phase that is proportional in time and effort to the project implementation and have adopted a quality first approach.  They are now ready to go to the time and effort of buying a new house and moving from the old to the new having fully explored their requirements, options and assumptions.

  1. They have defined what success looks like for them.
  2. They understand how the golden triangle of budget, specification and location (time) constrain them
  3. They have prioritised requirements and know where they are willing to compromise
  4. They have developed these requirements and rehearsed future states through prototyping and modelling
  5. They have accepted they “can’t have it all” and have managed their aspirational ideas into a pragmatic strategy.

It’s a template that also goes a long way to reducing the stress of IT project implementations if done well at the outset.

This blog post discusses how I realised that the brainless and escapist television I thought I was watching to relax was actually repeatedly demonstrating the execution of a successful project initiation pattern and indoctrinating me with the merits of its application.

My Daily Schedule

One of the benefits of taking a year to return to full time postgraduate study and therefore working from home on a flexible schedule is the scope to self-determine a productive and pleasant daily routine beyond the standard 9 to 5 of many office jobs.

Over the last 6 months I’ve gradually evolved into a routine where I get up and go out for a gentle run and do some yoga to wake myself up; eat some breakfast whilst reading and watching the birds in the back garden; I then sit down at my desk and work until my brain energy is depleted.  Sometimes I even remember to get up and move about and eat regular small meals.  Early afternoon, with my mind tired but my body stiff I go out for a longer walk or run before settling down for a break with a cup of tea and some television before going back to my desk for a few more hours work before preparing dinner.

Introducing Escape to the Country for the Uninitiated

Invariably, my after television watching break involves watching Escape to the Country. For those who haven’t seen it, (a determined thing to achieve given its ubiquity across BBC schedules), the format involves two protagonists, usually a couple, who wish to relocate from their current abode to somewhere quintessentially rural to pursue their dream life.  There is an introductory section where were meet the pair and they explain their story, their rationale for moving and what they are looking for.  The presenter then takes the couple to see a first house, before the couple get to meet a local expert and try an activity that appeals to their interests/location.  A further two houses are visited, the third being the ‘mystery house’ designed to challenge their thinking before the presenter visits another expert to try a local activity for themselves whilst the couple mull over their home choices.  Finally the presenter meets the pair for a wrap-up where their preferences are revealed and their plan for future action discussed.

It’s a gently appealing programme for many reasons:

  • appreciating how beautiful and diverse our country is with the artful shots of countryside and landscapes, much of which is accessible to most of us.
  • the activities the couple/presenter undertake are usually quite interesting dip into various hobbies and services.  From cheese makers to RNLI training and morris dancers to hovercrafts, it’s usually quite interesting.
  • you get to play house and imagine how you might fit yourself into various housing options without bothering with the actual hassle of conveyancing, mortgages and packing up all your detritus.  Most are unaffordable for many people but that doesn’t stop us imagining!
  • undeniably there is the vicarious pleasure of watching the protagonists interact and make choices at this point in their lives.  We only know the little of their lives the show peaks at but this microcosm of real human drama at the show’s centre is often revealing and entertaining

From House Hunting to IT Projects

So it may be thought of as escapist and undemanding entertainment, but the more I’ve watched it the more I’ve come to appreciate its template for project initiation and wonder why more care isn’t given to this most neglected part of the process on IT projects to try and limit and direct project failure?

Many times in my career I’ve joined a project at implementation stage without any idea of what success looks like for that project and with many initiation phases and gates having been skipped.  Most IT projects fail because they don’t define success well enough in the first place.  This is exactly what project initiation is for.

Projects success needs to be defined not vaguely:

we want a new IT system” or “we want an IT system that will do all this for us”

but more specifically:

we need a system that will do xyz for us by  Acceptable quality is this … we are prepared to compromise on this but not this … we have this much contingency in our timescale and budget … when it launches the system operation will look like this … in two years it should look like this … “

On Project Failure

Complete success in projects is unattainable.  Projects have an element of failure built in for they are imperfect vehicles for achieving change in complex scenarios.  Projects chart a course between the Scylla of doing to little and the Charybdis of expecting perfection.  The levels project managers pull really only determine the nature and degree of project success … and failure.  Projects inevitably need a degree of realism and compromise and most often fail to agree, or even identify, areas for compromise from the start through proper requirements prioritisation.

Often, the biggest source of chronic project failure is the relentless optimism of project planning and the refusal to acknowledge either previous failings and the possibility for more to come.  There are as many ways, if not more, for projects to go wrong than there are for them to go right.

This is where risk and issue management comes in but these should be seen as norms not exceptions and some kind of anticipated disruption quotient added to project estimates.  This can be based on risk assessment but also evidence: issue models based on previous similar scale projects.

Projects should acknowledge from the start that some things will not work and be clear not just what a desirable outcome looks like but also what an acceptable outcome is.

On Project Initiation

So what has IT project failure got to do with Escape to the Country?  Most couples start the programme with a dream; by the end they have at least a strategy and perhaps a solution.  They nearly always have a clearer idea of what they want.

This happens because they work through a proper project initiation process for their project (buying a new house and moving to a new life).

Initially the programme understands the couple’s story.  Where they have come from and where they are going to go?  This is important for understanding requirements broadly and stakeholder analysis and management and provides an initial strategy for investigating possible solutions (suitable houses).

This big picture analysis is not really interested in how many en-suites you want but about understanding you, where you are and where you would like to go. They do ridiculously fake, affected and cheesy things like walk their dog, or potter about their garden looking not very relaxed or comfortable whilst talking about their life and aspirations.  We all know it’s a bit fake and awkward but it’s an essential early part of the show.  It’s definitely a workshop.

Next, the couple meet the presenter (business analyst) who confirm their understanding of the couple’s requirements, press for more detail and clarify any areas of potential misunderstanding.  The presenter finds out budget, ideal location (can be though of as IT project release plan) and presses for any areas of disagreement between the couple and also potential areas of compromise.

It is usually obvious at this stage that as usually when people dream and have ambition that it is unlikely they will get everything they want (requirements) within their budget (resource constraints) in their desired location (time constraints).  It’s usually often obvious that the presenter knows this having done several of these shows and knowing what the show’s researchers have been able to source.  The golden triangle of project management always applies.

There is nothing wrong with aiming high and falling slightly short, it’s probably better than aiming low and achieving it all, but obviously without infinite resources and options the project constraints will always require compromise on the specification.

This is where requirements prioritisation is important:

  • is a view more important than an open-plan kitchen diner?  (Is feature A more important than feature B?)
  • is having “character” more important than it being modern? (Do you want custom development options or is off the shelf OK?)
  • do you want it to be finished perfectly or are you prepared to pay a bit less up front and wait a bit longer by taking on a property that “needs work”? (Do you want waterfall or agile?  Everything launched at once or iterative development? High up-front quality or continuous improvement?)
  • do you really need it to have four bedrooms and 2 en-suites for “when all the family come to stay” i.e. once in every 2 years or would you find a smaller property more cosy for the two of your and less maintenance? (Does your scope really make sense for the things you are actually going to do with this system?)

The way the show works it teases out these priorities from the initial requirements specification by prototyping and modelling. Each house that is actually visited, rather than seen in an estate agents listing say, acts as a prototype to see, feel, try out spaces.  To have an instinctive and human judgement not just an analytical one.  Each activity they try in the new local area is a test to see is this the way they want to live their life in future?  Can they see themselves operating like this in this space, this place?  On an IT project prototyping and process modelling can perform similar functions to rehearse future states before committing too fully to them.

Then there is the ‘mystery house’.  This house deliberately doesn’t address their requirements perfectly and challenges them to think different.  It either focuses more heavily on one set of requirements at the expense of others rather than taking a balanced approach or introduces new options and possibilities.  It sometimes backfires but is often successful at introducing people to homes they didn’t realise they wanted.

By the end of the program as the show participants discuss the houses they have seen they are conducting a retrospective to close this analysis and design phase.  Sometimes they have discovered their dream home and are already planning second visits and making offers.  Other times they haven’t yet found a solution close enough to their requirements but even they they always say the process has given them a better understanding of their requirements and priorities than previously and they have a strategy and a plan for how to focus their next set of activities.

Inquiring Minds:Joining Dots

There have been a number of times this year that a #citylis lecture has subsequent exposed connections in a way I’ve found uncanny. A sure sign that the course is opening my mind and encouraging me to pay attention. Coincidences are just connections I wouldn’t have noticed without being receptive to them.

This week’s connections were provided by the Inquiring Minds podcast a weekly show I would encourage you to subscribe to if you are at all interested in intersections of science, society and the world around us.

On a sunny spring afternoon I had about an hour’s walk home in front of me so I listened to Episode 75: Kevin Kelly: What Technology Wants (the ‘fact’ that sunny days and fresh air help you think better is only proven by my own anecdata!).

Connecting Healthcare Information

In the slot before the main feature co-hosts Kishore Hari and Indre Viskontas discussed the, possibly tangled and dark, connections between celebrity, disorders, medication and public awareness campaigns. This touched on many of this issues we discussed in our Information Domains lecture last week on Healthcare information with another session of Pharmaceutical information to come.

“We have to be a little more vigilant about how we as a society are promoting a particular disease” – Indre Viskontas

Inquiring Minds hope to have a follow up on this story. In the meantime other episodes to catch up on that connect with this theme are: Episode 74 featuring Kathleen Hall Jamieson on Fact Checking Science, Episode 36 featuring Harry Collins on Why Googling Doesn’t Make You a Scientific Expert, Episode 17 featuring Michael Pollan on The Science of Eating Well (And Not Falling for Fad Diets) and Episode 7 featuring George Johnson on Why Mostt of What You’ve Heard About Cancer is Wrong.

Also not coincidentally when I walked into my local public library outpost on Saturday the first book my eye was drawn to was Bad Pharma: How Medicine is Broken, And How We Can Fix It by Ben Goldacre.

Self Ordering

Another pre-feature chat concerned the MIT Self-Assembly Lab who have made a chair assemble itself in water.

Their research looks at how things can make themselves.

“Self-Assembly is a process by which disordered parts build an ordered structure through local interaction.” – MIT Self-Assembly Lab

This is more than a little bit mind expanding. They are researching the “building blocks. energy and interactions” for self-making things.

Now, when we studied entropy we looked at how ordered structures consisting of many independent parts tended to disorder. The self-assembly lab look at creating materials that can create order from disorder pieces: shifting from high to low entropy.

One of the questions this poses is do information technologies such as the Semantic Web and machine learning suggest a similar ability to self-order information resources? If so, what is the role and purpose of information professionals?

Kevin Kelly on Cataloguing Cool Tools, Surveillance and Technology as a Force

It is hard to describe the career and work of Kevin Kelly. So I’ll just borrow from Tim Adams who says it well in this 2010 article:

Kevin Kelly is a former editor of the Whole Earth Catalog and co-founder of Wired magazine, where he remains editor-at-large. He has been an irrepressible prophet of our digital future for 40 years.

It’s also hard to cover the eclectic mind swirl and surfing journey the ideas tumbling out of this podcast took me on.

Access to Tools

Let’s start with the Whole Earth Catalog, again pretty coincidentally given that during Reading Week some of us were participating in an optional workshop on cataloguing using RDA and MARC21.

Where Librarians catalogue books and documents the Whole Earth Catalog collected … well bits of information about everything. Often these were tools, tools being an infinitely malleable term. The Catalog was sub-titled “access to tools” and books were just one example in the broad taxonomy of tools they catalogued.

“”Tools” were endless and whatever users and staff deemed them to be. They could be actual tools for everything from jewelry work and enameling to woodworking and blacksmithing. Other tools were books of every type – from views of the future to death and dying to gravity and time to population control; maps; and how-to guides for everything from living in a tipi to building a pipe organ to using a compass.” – Whole Earth Catalog

Rising out of late 1960s counterculture, perhaps Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog should be linked to that emergent history of the web that threads through Paul Otlet’s Universal Bibliography, Vannevar Bush’s Memex, Ted Nelson’s Hypertext to Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web? It has been described as a cross between an early search engine and social medium published in zine form.

“With a seemingly haphazard arrangement of information within its categories, the CATALOG was the desktop-published equivalent an early search engine that invited readers to learn something new on every page – and to connect unrelated ideas and concepts.” – Whole Earth Catalog

Kevin Kelly described working on the whole Earth Catalog as:

“living on the web decades before the internet was born” – Kevin Kelly

For more information on and material from the Whole Earth Catalog and its culture the Museum of Modern Art has an exhibition page called Access to Tools: Publications from the Whole Earth Catalog, 1968-1974. The cuttings from the Catalog that accompany the bibliography at the end should be of interested to #citylis folks!

There is also a recording on YouTube of From Counterculture to Cyberculture: The Legacy of the Whole Earth Catalog held by Stanford University Libraries that discusses much of the content from Fred Turner’s book From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism

Kevin Kelly was an editor of Whole Earth Review (features including Computers are Poison and Peering into the Age of Transparency) before being part of the team that launched Wired. Two connective threads connecting this eclectic mix of ecology, technology and creativity (you may like to read Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems and the Economic World) are the desire to catalogue tools and the idea of technology as a kind of natural force.

Kelly still catalogues tools via Cool Tools. Every weekday this blog publishes and article about tools that work and has collated 1200 of the best of them into a book that is subtitled “A Catalog of Possibilities” … which perhaps sums up a reason for being of many catalogues.

Surveillance, Tracking and Technology as Force

Kelly also talks about the Internet, tracking and surveillance. He thinks that it’s not going to be possible to stop the internet tracking us. He sees technology as an evolutionary force. this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is deterministic but once systems evolve they neither fully control nor are fully controlled by the humans that originally innovated and introduced them into our systems and ecosystems. They are relentless in their adaptability and mutation.

The Internet is a force that tracks. In some ways resistance is futile. It’s going to be increasingly difficult to live off the grid or to use the Internet and benefit from it without accepting its trackable element. Instead of resistance, Kelly argues that we should accept this property of and figure out how to make it more beneficial than malevolent or malicious and how to work to ensure its multifarious and reciprocal. Tracking is not going to go away but it can also still be negotiated and contested.

Kelly raises the spectre of our looming identity crisis as we increasingly ask “What will humans be?” as we create forms of intelligence and self-creating machines that potentially seriously disrupt our place in the world and our ongoing development as a species.

Fixed, Fluid and Finding

(Teodora Petkova via @lucacorsato | #SemanticWeb)

I discovered the intriguing, category defying blog of Teodora Petkova via her post Semantic Web, Relationships and a Piece of Conceptual art . This was a fascinating enough article in itself a philosophical, textual musing on the Semantic Web but the whole blog was full of great writing about texts, things and the relationships between them.

Her exploration of intertextuality reminded me of Peter Morville’s latest book Intertwingled and the growing critical interest not just in text or content but the inviting space between them where meaningful connections live. I am sure the Libraries and Publishing in an Information Society folk on #citylis will be getting their teeth into Brave New Texts over the coming weeks.

The idea that “we write is only a small part of the whole process of creating new forms of relationships” fits well with Ernesto’s metaphor that trying to fix documents in the more fluid world of hypertext is like ‘pinning butterflies’. For my #LISF essay I read an interesting article David Levy wrote on the subject of document stability: Fixed or fluid?: document stability and new media and some of the challenges new media forms with different dimensions of fluidity that require different “technologies of fixity” pose for publishers, libraries and information services.

Immersive Futures Gathering Speed and Coming Closer

From my #cityLIS blog:

Digital Realities

At #cityLIS we start Library and Information Science Foundations with the much loved History of Documents extending from rock art to digital libraries.  We then spend much of our time  studying the present or near history/future in order to grasp the most pressing theories and professional practice for 21st century librarians and information managers.  However we are also encouraged to contemplate the future: the future of the book, the future of libraries, the future of publishing and the future of information societies.  One key theme we’ve been introduced to is what a new generation of immersive, multisensory and transmedia documents may look like and what this will mean for library and information services.

I’ve been laid up in bed recently with the flu which whilst debilitating and then boring does provide plenty of time to catch up on neglected reading including a big pile of news feeds.  So far it seems 2015…

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On Writing Essays

Like many of my #citylis classmates I’ve spent much of the past 2 months writing essays, with the remaining time spent prevaricating or indulging in some festive fun. This is what scholars do. Our job is to read widely, appraise critically, synthesise astutely, ferment wisely, distil succinctly and communicate clearly. Perhaps this is why we are always going on about coffee and alcohol too; we recognise and appreciate other alchemic crafts. Each publication is our craft brew of ideas.

I know people generally think students are ill-disciplined wastrels. However, most of my colleagues are either working and studying part-time as part of their professional development or they are studying full-time as an career switching investment whilst juggling their family commitments. No-one wants to squander the privilege of being able to advance their knowledge, gain a qualification and have access to some of the best tutors and literature sources in the business.

Juggling the ideas, research and writing for four courses during the same period is a difficult mental challenge. It’s been hard work and downright stressful at times. Sometimes it comes easily, sometimes you think I’m never going to finish this. It took me a while to find my rhythm but now I’ve found a routine that works for me and once established have been disciplined about sticking to it. I work on average 5-6 hours a day, every day including weekends. That work includes information scanning, reading, writing and ‘busy work’ in that order. I run and do yoga to rest my brain and eyes and make sure my body doesn’t seize up from too much sitting at a desk. My guilty pleasure is watching Escape to the Country with a cup of tea in the afternoons. Most importably I rarely skip second breakfast.

Reflective Practice

One of the things I want to carry into Term 2 is that routine. Now that we’ve experienced a whole term cycle and its demands you get a better feel for the pace of work. Most classmates have been commentating on the perils of procrastination and the pressures of deadlines. One of the maddening things about research is the more you read the more you realise there is to read. Sometimes hours can pass and you realise all you have done is collect even more things to read. No actual reading. Certainly no writing. If only they offered a Masters of List Making. Next time of course it will all be different.

I doubt it.

We will likely still procrastinate. Sometimes it’s a genuine avoidance tactic; sometimes it’s what you might call a sorbet for the mind. A cleansing activity between more demanding work phases. Sometimes you need to step away and stop hammering at a problem to allow your sub-conscious the opportunity to ease the passage of stubborn thoughts. Sometimes it’s a sign of tiredness and a signal to take a break. Part of learning is understanding here are always areas for improvement to look for and thinking about how you will at least try to do some things slightly different next time.

One of mine would be to plan better to allow more contingency for ‘off hours’ and ‘off days’ to make sure I’m using energy wisely and not wasting too much attention and to lessen the despair when a session feels like no progress has been made. I now know how much effort on average it takes me to write an essay of around 3,000 words. I also know from my running training that periodisation is important and I organise my running into micro, meso and macro cycles to balance effort and optimise performance. I want to think across the whole term and plan a framework for my intellectual activities in the same way.

I also want to write more regularly. I found with writing essays the hardest part is always getting started. Sometimes you just have to sit and write and perhaps that will be easier if writing becomes a habit. Last term we had our DITA blogging to practice writing and I’ll continue to blog. To this I want to add more time spent writing reflective notes after reading important sources and putting more words in towards assignments more regularly.

I Love Scrivener (and Zotero and Todoist)

One of the things that’s really helped me with this is buying Scrivener and using it to collect my research, structure my ideas and write my early drafts for each writing project.

Scrivener is a data and a writing tool that provides a full studio with many features for writing projects.

Early this term I want to explore Scrivener more to learn more about its features and take more advantage of it. I could improve how I combined it with Zotero for my references and understanding the formatting options so I don’t have to do so much final formatting manual. I’ve started a CityLIS template to store my settings and I’ll want to refine and enhance this before writing my next set of essays and the Big D.

You can save formatting and settings as a template for future projects. If only I knew more about all the possibilities …

Sitting down to organise my thoughts and start writing has definitely been easy with Scrivener and it joins Zotero and Evernote as an essential in my research toolkit.

I still love Zotero as my collect, curate and organise tool for research. I’ve started to think about how I can improve my Zotero habits to work better with the kind of research I’m doing now. I’ve been using collections more to support early assignment research and then selection of sources. I’m using their colour coded tags to indicate which resources are read, unread, to read and have been cited. I’m also using tags to record how deeply I’ve read a source. Have I done a quick skim (mostly), a deep read (some) or a full critical appraisal (hardly any unless you have to write an essay on such a thing).

Zotero allows up to 6 tags to be colour coded and assignable using numbered shortcuts.
This makes it easy to see what I’ve not read, what I want to read next, what I have read and what I’ve cited.

Zotero is based on the idea of index cards (remediated practice!) so I’ve also started using standalone notes to capture concepts and definitions and put more effort into connecting related items to each other. Of course these kind of good habits do get neglected the closer you get to a deadline so now is a good time to try and get these habits embedded and tidy up both my Zotero library and my overflowing Evernote shoebox of interesting things I’ve saved.

Smaller Actionable Chunks

Another thing that really worked for me was breaking work into smaller tasks. This does help with procrastination and organising a schedule. ‘Write essay’ is a really had task to get going with. The activity is too vague, the reward to far away. Humans are just not psychological equipped to work with this. I’ve been using Todoist to manage my tasks for a while. One of the reasons is because it allows sub-tasks. Along with priorities, tagging and easy scheduling it’s really easy to organise both macro tasks and an action list of micro tasks to work through each day.

I’ve now got a template ‘Write Essay’ task for each essay structure that includes the main phases to work through to which I add specific tasks under that. For everything I want to read I add it as a Todoist task. For books I add each Chapter as a sub-task. Latterly, once I’d worked out my outline structure I started adding write section tasks underneath a write First Draft task. Write 250 words would also work. Yes it does take a bit of time to make everything actionable. I told you I would get a Masters in List Making.

Example of Todoist sub-tasks. Splitting longer reads into smaller chunks makes it easier to measure progress and gives a better sense of getting things done – important for the confidence momentum gives. In cricket they would call this “keeping the scoreboard ticking over.”

Yet, there’s nothing that beats procrastination better than checking of a task. Bing! Stuff read. Bing! Stuff written. Yay! Todoist also adds a bit of gamification by giving you karma points and graphing your productivity trends. More than this I did find it comforting at the end of each work session to have a clear idea of what I was going to work on in the next session by adding priorities and scheduling tasks. Be realistic though if you look at your list of things to do today and it’s a dauntingly long then you and procrastination are just going to hang out a bit longer because where to you start with that?

Karma! Karma points for actioning tasks Todoist allows you to keep track of your productivity. Colour coded projects help to make sure your directing your attention at the right areas or balancing your attention correctly across projects/priorities. Anyone would think I had a deadline this week.

Looking Ahead to Term 2

In Term 2 citylis core modules now vary between the MA/MSc in Library Science and the MSc in Information Science and there is one elective choice so our happy cohort will mix up a bit. this term I will be learning about Information Retrieval, Information Resources and Organisation, Information Domains and hopefully Data Visualisation once the electives are confirmed. I’ll continue to write more generally in this blog along the way and am hoping to extend my DITA blog to cover topics in Data Visualisation which will be my most techie Term 2 module.

In the meantime I’ve bought some new running shoes in the sales to celebrate getting to this point and I like forward to breaking those in. It’s time to enjoy a few days rest: drinking wine, sleeping, catching up on the news, tackling on the pile of domestic chores that have built up on the wayside and dipping into the pile of books I’ve accumulate that are in various states of ‘readness’ are all on the agenda. I also need to catch up on Last Tango in Halifax! Then onwards to Term 2 which begins on the 26th January.

Diving into Domains, Documents and Digital Ecosystems

CityLIS Term 1 Week 5. In which we dipped into domain analysis before going fully immersive; we practiced techniques for collecting and archiving tweets as a prelude for visualising and analysing them; intrepid citylisters took field trips to Highgate Cemetery (check out the DITA blogosphere for some interesting blogposts on this) and screened The Internet’s Own Boy; I investigated how big worlds can actually be quite small; we learnt about storing digital assets in repositories and what happens when you set them free; and we explored what makes good communication, (written and oral), and how to deal with the parts we find uncomfortable.

Catching Waves

In DITA this week we explored issues around researching social media.  Ernesto compared this to pinning butterflies.  I find that metaphor makes me think more of capturing a specimen from the vortex of ideas this course unleashes and pinning it into my dissertation so I’m using the metaphor of catching waves instead.  Forever rolling against the sands of time (and entropy) collecting and analysing social media feels like trying to map patterns in the shifting tides and waves that lap against our shores.  So much of what we see is on the surface and ephemeral.  This week’s session helped us venture into the deep.  My submersible for this expedition was a Twitter API application I called DITA Venturi.  I initially thought of this merely for it’s connotation with venturing but then I discovered the Venturi effect and realised I’d managed to quite aptly traverse from thermodynamics last week to fluid dynamics this week.  Apparently the Venturi effect can convert pressure into suction and Venturi also invented a device for measuring flow through a pipe.  Quite an apt analogy for sticking an application into the Twitter stream and trying to analyse it’s flow and extract it for posterity.

We learnt about two possible data transports for APIs: XML and JSON and noted that XML’s qualities make it more suited for documents whilst JSON’s simpler model of key value pairs and arrays make it good for small chunks of data.  It is JSON that is presented by Twitter API endpoints and we then used Martin Hawksey’s TAGS google scripting to extract the results of a Twitter search into a Google spreadsheet using our Twitter applications.  This provides a one off or ongoing capture of tweets and all the power of spreadsheet analytics for interrogating that twitter archive including provided summaries and graphs.  Hawksey has also built some great visualisation tools that can be used to visualise the twitter archive in different ways such as TAGS Explorer (you can try this with the demo spreadsheet that is provided by default).  This week’s DITA blog on putting this together isn’t due until after reading week so I’m going to wait until I’ve attended the British Library Labs Symposium on Monday and use #bl_labs as my case study.

This was all pretty cool and also beautiful.  Data visualisation is spectacular and artistic.  What I haven’t been able to make the leap to yet is what insight it gives.  I can understand archiving tweets.  The Twitter API only contains tweets from the previous 7 days and then it becomes much harder to access from within Twitter’s vast and commercially valuable data vaults.  Capturing tweets provides a handy corpus that researchers can go back and consult but I cannot yet understand what TAG Explorer is telling me.  What does data visualisation add and how to we approach using this corpus for meaningful research rather than just because it’s interesting?  We will pick up where we left off after reading week so I look forward to finding out.

The Science of Small Worlds

It’s quite good that I’m behind on the University of Southampton’s Web Science Mooc (#FLwebsci) as this week’s topic of using network theory to analyse social networks really complemented DITA thinking.  In this week we looked at network properties and scale free, small world networks … like the web.  These are networks where most nodes have very few connections but a few notes, known as hubs, have huge numbers of connections.  This network pattern makes even global networks ‘small’ because most nodes can be connected by a paths containing a small number of ‘hops’ between nodes.  This is typically 6, leading to the phrase “six degrees of separation”.  This video from PBS Nova explains how social networks look and how this pattern is replicated across many natural and human networks.

I watched this RSA Animate short on the Power of Networks provides a great visual accompaniment to an article by our tutor Lyn Robinson along with Mike Maguire on using the Tree and Rhizome and metaphors for patterns of information organisation.  The tree view of knowledge classification comes from the Aristotle tradition of branching hierarchies: the rhizome was a term developed by philosophers Deleuze and Guattari to describe and organisation model based on a continual shifting set of connections between things.  The tree is like a narrative, the rhizome is a map for a constantly shifting world.

Seeding Knowledge by Ceding Control

We had a preview of some aspects of the British Library’s experimental work that may feature at the British Library Labs Symposium on Monday in Information Management and Policy this week when James Baker from the British Library came to talk to us about his job as a Curator in Digital Research at the library.  Digital Research is exploring digital collections beyond resource discovery to research at scale and lowering the barriers to digital researchers.  the library’s legal deposit has been extended to UK published websites so the library can now archive born digital resources.

Some Examples:

(1) Personal Lives: From Letters and Diaries to Computer Forensics

The implications for archiving with the transition from letters and personal correspondence to Digital Lives. The British Library is interested not just in content as received on computers but performing forensic analysis on hard disks to understand “the life of how someone interacts with the machine”.  This raises data protection issues so hard to make this collection public.

(2) Infectious Texts

Combining text mining and close reading to map networks of re-printing in 19th-century newspapers and magazines (a kind of historical version of what we are doing in DITA with Twitter data).

(3) The Mechanical Curator

This project over one million images from within 65,000 books digitised as part of the Microsoft Books project. Initially they were posted on Tumblr, then Twitter then the whole collection was loaded onto Flickr (with metadata also available on GitHub) under a CC Zero (public domain)  licence.

| “We enjoyed losing control of the collection”

James listed some of the remixing and interactions: teaching (learning about curation), hacking, experiments, #immersive adaptions, incorporation into Wikimedia that the experiment has spawned.  Using web infrastructure and UX “off the shelf” they were able to experiment with doing  things it would be impossible or prohibitively expensive to do with BL systems.

Some Questions/Issues to Negotiate:

  • Derived Data: what to do about data built on data, additional metadata and potentially incorrect data
  • Remixed Collections: what happens when images are decontextualised
  • Reintegration: incorporating user generated data back into BL collections

Collections 2.0

This made be think more about how the nature of collections and research may both change if digital collections become more open and extensive, connecting with some of our DITA themes.

We are Digital Makers: in a more participatory web architecture and culture we all have the opportunity to curate and create our own ideas and projects from raw digital material provided by libraries into the public domain.

Hacking research: uses of collection data outside ‘serious scholarship’:

  • community cataloguing and classification
  • art
  • machine learning
  • education
  • entertainment

What is the “role of the curator?”

James is a curator and part of the experiments also involve thinking about how curation might evolve as a result.

| “How do we manage this dispersal?”

It sounded to me like seeding an ecosystem (by ceding control), a different and diverse role for a curator from the more traditional managing a collection. It made me think of Hans Rosling’s describing public data in his Ted Talk The Best Stats you’ve Ever Seen.

But this is what we would like to see, isn’t it? The publicly-funded data is down here. And we would like flowers to grow out on the Net.

James spoke of a spectrum of information control from authority and finality (an institutional mindset?) to adaptability and evolution (a hacker mindset?).

This raises further questions like:

  • understanding and tackling the issues that arise when informations bridges different spheres
  • what is the role of the library along this spectrum?

Thanks to James for coming along and sharing his insight and some of the British Library’s Digital Research ideas and experiments with them.  you can take a look and James’ presentation on Slideshare.

On Communication

In RECS this week we discussed communication both oral and written.  This was an interactive, and humorous, session brimming with anecdotes and views on what makes good and bad writing and presenting.  When I thought about this as preparation for this session I thought about people like Hans Rosling, Daniel Kahneman, Tony Judt, Roger Deakin, Geert Mak, Hilary Mantel and David Attenborough.   I think of being absorbed by their calm authority and their skill in distilling complex subjects into clear, simple prose. They have the quiet confidence that those who don’t see will see.  They dive beneath the froth and foaming waves at  the surface and guide you into quieter, deeper territory towards something more profound.  Like skilful divers they have mastered neutral buoyancy and have the balance, control, technical proficiency, knowledge and experience to achieve this equilibrium.  More than individuals and their ability  I thought of how good communication makes me feel.  It is about transmitting the joy and awe of rising above and standing at the summit of a mountain seeing a vista clearly laid out before you as you have never seen it before.

Yet most of us find these skills difficult and uncomfortable.  So this session was designed to help us explore and confront the good, the bad and the ugly.  Afterwards I compared the discussion we had on the art of speaking and writing with ease with my constant attempts to improve as a runner and wrote myself some motivational guidelines that might help with both!

Full Immersion

In LISF this week Lyn Robinson took us right to the cutting edge and spoke to us about her recent conference paper at Internet Librarian 2014 on immersive documents (see also her blog post) potentially a future development in the history of documents as we shift to an increasingly digital and multimedia world.  Both immersion and submersion derive from the same Latin verb meaning to dip, soak or plunge.  Immersive unreality refers to virtual worlds that are so real they are perceived as real.  Lyn located this type of document emerging from the nexus of pervasive networked computers, multisensory multimedia and participatory interaction.  At the moment this is most often tied to gaming of fan fiction but if this kind of transmedia document becomes more prevalent what are the implications for libraries and information centres.  If the British Library is navigating the shift from letters to personal computers and book deposit to born digital and researchers are struggling to capture and interrogate social networks what on earth would a library or archive of immersive documents look like?

These are early days.  There are no immersive documents yet but there are some great examples from fiction of what they might be and some interesting prototypes emerging e.g. The Craftsman.  Immersive documents need new forms of creative writing and new forms of design for transmedia and for hardware, narrative form and content producers to converge (currently developing at different speeds). They also need to go through the technology adoption curve and make the leap from early adoption to mainstream use.  Part of me remains suspicious that if you asked the majority to choose between passive and participatory they would choose passive.

This session did make me reminisce wonderfully about the Fighting Fantasy series of novels.  Who didn’t read these without bookmarking the previous branch with your finger in case you’ve made a wrong turn? These were individually participatory and gave the reader some agency in determining the outcome through the branches.  I guess we are back to the tree and the rhizome again: digital immersive documents probably offer much more in making this less a branching narrative and more an evolving narrative and also more real than leaving your fingers in three different places to check that your decision hasn’t made you dead yet so you can go back and explore an alternative story if you’ve been stupid.

There are going to be ethical and cultural issues if this form takes off:

  • what are the privacy implications?  Bad enough surveillance of activity and communication but now add performance, fantasy and dreams
  • are stories define by the medium or do stories drive the medium?
  • could you experience someone else’s experience or would context awlays get in the way

Some of the issues for LIS may include:

  • are immersive experiences documents?
  • indexing and versioning
  • retrieval systems
  • dissemination
  • preservation
  • information interaction behaviour
  • immersive literacy

Rest assured though.  If it does come and you’ve studied at CityLIS you are going to be prepared!

Digital Flânerie

Not much Flânerie this week as I was busy setting up my new computer.  Next week is Reading week so apart from heading to the British Library on Monday I’ll mostly be spending my week with my nose in a book, (or its digital equivalent), and thinking about upcoming assignments.

Image Credits

Featured image: Heading up through the bubbles by Saspotato. Source: Flickr. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


From Running to Communicating

This week in our Research, Evaluation and Communications Skills class this week the emphasis was very much on communicating.  We we asked to think about good and bad writing and presentation styles and think about our favourites writers and presenters.  We were also asked to think about what we liked and disliked about writing and presenting.  This was an interactive session with lots of great ideas and input.  By the end of it I was thinking about how I could put together a motivational guide for myself based on the good advice discussed in class and by reflecting on my own previous practice, not just in writing and presenting, but also drawing on my training programmes from my time as a hockey player and now a runner and project work.

Just Start.
Beat prevarication by aiming low.

At the start you think it will be hard knowing what to put in: by the end you realise it is harder deciding what to leave out.  Still that blank canvas is daunting.

One thing I’ve learnt from my running is it’s sometimes best not to think about the end, just think about the next step.  The prospect of training enough to finish a race can be so nerve wracking it becomes dispiriting.  Instead in my running I initially try and concentrate on why I run not how far or how fast I am running.  I think about beautiful trails and fresh air; clearing my head and feeling energised and healthy.  I tell myself to just get out and do a little bit every day.  If I felt like stopping after 500m I could but at least I would have started. Once out I nearly always run further than I think I will but the key to running consistently for me is not to put pressure on myself by thinking a run isn’t worthwhile if it isn’t what I planned.  Anything will help.  When I join several runs together and train consistently I get fitter without even noticing and enjoy the process much more than when I focus on targets.  Like running, writing and presenting are not just skills they are habits, and forming good habits is hard.  The hardest part, however, is the first step.  Once you’ve got going you have momentum so to get going I tell myself to sit down for each study session and write not much of anything to begin with and go from there. I always write more than I think I will.

Be You. 
Find an authentic voice by using a style that suits you and your audience.

Adapt your persona to suit your audience but be sure that persona is still true to you. There is no best way if doing it that way makes you or your audience feel uncomfortable. There is no bad way unless it distracts from what you are saying. As long as you are enthusiastic about what you are trying to say your audience will likely be engaged.

The same is true for running.  Go running and you will see hundreds of people and hundreds of different styles.  Some look incredibly uncomfortable, others look as though they are flying over the ground.  You also can’t sprint a marathon or jog a sprint.  There has recently been a trend towards minimalism and more ‘natural’ running styles in the running literature.  This has come from the idea that there is a best way to run and it’s based on their way our ancient ancestors ran hundreds of years ago.  It has become the new evangelism in running.  It has led to a wealth of self-help guides encouraging people to adopt their running gait from heel strike to midfoot strike without there being much evidence that one is universally better than the other,  It has also seen running shoe fashion move towards shoes with less cushioning and a lower to the ground structure.    For many it might have brought them more strength, less injuries and better running.  For others it has brought the opposite either because such a style doesn’t suit them or their running or they have attempted to transition too fast.  You cannot go from one style to another in a single training cycle but it doesn’t stop people trying.  So the literature is filled with more research and opinions for and against with the end conclusion usually being the best style is the one that works for you, by keeping you injury free and healthy, rather than prevailing fashion.  Stay strong, be flexible, wear simple and comfortable shoes that don’t use too many gimmicks.

Build confidence by practicing regularly.

One of the reasons I am trying to blog more at the moment is because I know at the end of this year I will have to write a dissertation.  A dissertation is maybe like a half marathon of writing so can’t be entered into lightly. It needs preparation and practice to even finish never mind do well.  Preparation for a race will likely include following some kind of training plan that will aim to build fitness gradually over time using periodisation.  This involves varying your training over long and short cycles and organising it into phases so start with shorter easier tasks and culminate in more race specific tasks before tapering towards the end so you will feel fit and fresh.

A typical training plan will include the following phases:

  • Base (develop basic stamina and endurance)
  • Build Up (increase strength and endurance)
  • Peak (mix longer and faster sessions to develop all round intensive and extensive endurance)
  • Taper (ease down on sessions so your body stays in good condition but is able to reap the benefits of training by having more recovery)
  • Race (enjoy the results of all that preparation!)

Writing and presenting are kind of the same.  They involve a period of researching and playing with ideas and notes.  Maybe organising those thoughts into more of a structure and fleshing them out into a first or second draft.  You’ll research the point where’ll you’ll need to start taking things out rather than going longer and spend some time away from the project before going back and reading it through and polishing it.  Finally you will publish or present it.

This all becomes a lot easier if you do it regularly.  Runners have maintenance phases so writing and speaking in front of an audience whenever possible will help find or maintain your communication rhythm and style between formal projects.  This is one of the reasons I’ve started to blog more and write about the weeks: I’m hoping my communication ‘fitness’ will improve and things will be slightly easier for being familiar when more formal assignments come along.  I also know from running that the sessions I find the hardest and most dread are often the ones that leave me feeling most exhilarated and motivated to continue afterwards.  So just keep trying.

Let it Go .
Beat perfectionism by being agile


Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done is essential.

Principles Behind the Agile Manifesto

One of my biggest problems is knowing what to leave out and when to stop.  I don’t like to let ideas go so I squeeze them in until they have no room to breathe.  It is difficult leaving out painstakingly excavated research and carefully crafted words by the wayside so I tinker … but less is often more.

I got better at changing my mindset so I could tame my inner perfectionist and accept good enough more often once I had worked on some agile software projects and learnt about iterations and definitions of done and thought about my work in terms of releases and continuous improvement and quality in terms of fitness for purpose.  To author agile I: allocate effort, rapidly revise work,spend more time taking things out than putting things in, leave incomplete features on the back burner for future releases then stop.  It may not be perfect but it will be fit for purpose.  Most people most of the time won’t notice the difference between good enough and great and will forget about the bad but you’ll notice, and get exhausted by, how much more effort you have put in to achieve the finality you crave.  So just ship it.  Once it is done it cannot be redone or undone so by all means reflect but move on. Next time is waiting.

Entropy, APIs and the Public Record vs the Right to Privacy

CityLIS Term 1 Week 4. In which we move on from the history of documents to the relationship between information, the universe and everything; we play with the shift from a static, publishing web model (Web 1.0) to a service oriented, participatory web model (Web 2.0) by exploring web APIs and mashups; #citylis went to Internet Librarian 2014 (#ili2014), European Conference on Information Literacy 2014 (#ecil2014) and supported Open Access Week (#oaweek); we explored the tensions between freedoms of speech and information and data protections and the right to be forgotten; and we thought about ‘asking’ as research method.

Let’s Get Meta-Philo-Physical

After completing the history of documents Lyn Robinson turned to philosophy and as many sciences as she could throw at us in one afternoon to explore definitions of information, and the gaps between these definitions, across multiple domains. We covered Liebenau and Backhouse and their semiotic theory of levels in understanding information, Popper’s three worlds, Shannon’s 1948 Mathematical Theory of Communication, Professor Brian Cox on entropy and Sir Paul Nurse on Biology as organised systems of information. Not forgetting Luciano Floridi and his philosophy of information.  The book chapter David Bawden and Lyn Robinson wrote on conceptualisation of information across domains is well worth a read.

“We are faced with two kinds of gaps: the gaps between the concepts of information in different domains; and the gap between those who believe that it is worth trying to bridge such gaps and those who believe that such attempts are, for the most part at least, doomed to fail.”

Robinson and Bawden (2013).  Mind the Gap: Transitions Between Concepts of Information in Varied Domains

After being fairly comfortable with history this was fairly mindblowing – in a good way. We discussed information as difference (which I had to write down in three different ways to get my head around) and also information, entropy and the constant interplay of order and disorder. Is there more information in low order/high entropy systems, as Shannon argues, or is there more information in high order/low entropy systems?

It is counterintuitive to think that as the disorder and uncertainty around the arrangement of documents increases the amount of information increases. In LIS, we instinctively think that as order increases so does information. This may not be true. Findability may increase but this may not be the same as information.

Perhaps one of the compelling things about big data is the insight that comes from mining data that is more disordered than in a traditional database. Therefore, there is more to be uncovered about the possible arrangements of things within: hence being able to find more information using NoSQL techniques across a large unstructured corpus than using SQL techniques across a database ordered according to a particular scheme. Alternatively there is no information in big data until order has been found using complex algorithms and approaches (e.g MapReduce).

Blogging Mashup Mixtape Party

In the digital world I reached back towards my love of mixtapes to explore the present Web 2.0 possibilities for mashups by using open content, licensed for reuse, and web services. This was huge fun an involved creating Spotify playlists (including my mashup mixtape and cityLIS radio), Twitter widgets, watching Ted Talks, turning my websites into pictures based on human DNA, playing with WordPress shortcodes and sticking all of them together. Also discovering someone has hacked together a cassette player and tapes as a controller for Spotify playlists using Raspberry Pi. Very cool.

In fact, there were numerous music related API and mashup posts across the DITA blogosphere.

To Know and Forget

This week’s information management and policy session was on Information Law and there was a really interesting discussion about the issues arising from the European Court of Justice ruling (ECJ C–131/12) in the case of Google Spain SL and Google Inc. v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD) and Mario Costeja González. This ruling allows individuals in Europe to request that Google remove links from search results to content about them published on the web as part of the European Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC).

“The internet has revolutionised our lives by removing technical and institutional barriers to dissemination and reception of information, and has created a platform for various information society services. These benefit consumers, undertakings and society at large. This has given rise to unprecedented circumstances in which a balance has to be struck between various fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression, freedom of information and freedom to conduct a business, on one hand, and protection of personal data and the privacy of individuals, on the other.”

European Court of Justice Opinion ECLI:EU:C:2013:424

Our discussions ranged over the practical issues, the various roles of publishers and information indexers and mediators, such as search engines, and the ethics and the debate in the public sphere is also ongoing as the many parties involved attempt to implement and digest the ruling.

The European Union has produce a Mythbuster and a Factsheet to help with interpretation.

Google publishes a transparency report on their impementation of the ruling and has also assembled an advisory council to guide it. The council holds a series of public meetings across Europe and invites contributions from members of the public.

Luciano Floridi, a member of the Google advisory council, popped up again with an article in The Guardian considering the right to be forgotten as an exercising of power over information that needs to be carefully considered.

Floridi argued that publishers should have more of a say, a sentiment echoed by the BBC and The Guardian with the BBC saying they will beging to maintain and publish a list of their content for which they have received removal notifications.

Digital Flânerie

Image Credits
Featured Image: time disappears by Travis Miller. Source: Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)