Taxonomy matters

It is my mission to correctly re-shelve books to the appropriate section of the bookstore. 

For example, “Darwin’s Black Box”, the famous psuedo-science book by the non-evolutionary non-scientist Michael Behe, should not be in the “Evolutionary Biology” section, but something more appropriate, such as “New Age”, “Religion”, “Christianity”, or even “Fiction”.  You get the idea.

Here is more, and the pointer is from the newlywed Jacqueline Passey.

Taxonomy matters

Gratitude tips

These are from the new and noteworthy Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, by Robert Emmons:

1. Keep a Gratitude Journal

2. Remember the Bad

3. Ask Yourself Three Questions (What have I received from…?, What have I given to…?, and What troubles and difficulty have I caused …?

4. Learn prayers of gratitude

5. Come to your senses

6. Use visual reminders

7. Make a vow to practice gratitude

8. Watch your language

9. Go through the motions [of showing gratitude, thanking, smiling, etc.]

10. Think outside the box [TC: this one should have been left out]

I didn’t learn anything from this book, but in terms of both truth and importance it is one of the most significant books you can find.  Ever.  Provided you live enough above subsistence, gratitude is the single most important key to personal happiness.  And how commercial society affects gratitude is one of the great underexplored questions of economic science and sociology.

Gratitude tips

Tip of the Week: Create an Idea Bank

Angela Booth suggests that experienced writers can use journals as their idea banks:

If you’ve been writing for a few years, your journal acts as your idea bank. It’s best to maintain several journals: one for ideas, another for essays, as well as a journal for a long project like a book.

If you’re writing a novel, for example, your journal will keep you “in” the novel, even if you have to leave the project for a week or two.

An idea bank would be helpful for anyone who works with information and ideas. You don’t have to use a paper journal, because there are lots of desktop or online solutions too. You could use a wiki, a note-taking application, a desktop information manager like DevonThink or PersonalBrain, a password-protected blog (to keep your ideas under wraps while they’re gestating), or text files.

How do you capture your ideas?


Tip of the Week: Create an Idea Bank

Justifying Design Decisions

“The craft of graphic design is replete with ratios, rules of thumb, and math—all an attempt to rationalize decisions that otherwise fall to subjectivity. Finding justification for design decisions is important to me—I want to bring purpose and intent to my work and depend less on taste and opinion. But I often find myself designing on impulse or intuition—pushing pixels around the screen or lines down a sketchpad with no structure, no rationalization— just because it ‘looks right’. That haphazard and experimental process gives me a lot of freedom, but it isn’t really design.

I asked Mark Boulton, Andy Budd, and Jeff Croft, three designers I deeply respect, about designing on impulse versus intention. They each had something different to say, but they each presented a design process far more rationalized and justified than my own…”

Justifying Design Decisions


Let’s face it– artists love to draw faces. Penetrating eyes, distinctive noses, expressive mouths– these are often an artist’s richest lode.

But when that face turns away and you no longer have facial features with all their emotion and meaning– what does that leave? Just the simple line of a human cheek. What can an artist possibly make of that?

Well, my friends, that depends on the artist.

Look at the knowledge that Alex Raymond conveys with this sensitive drawing. This cheek demonstrates more wisdom than most artists could convey drawing a full face.

Next, Austin Briggs applies a cruder tool and a simpler approach to the same subject, yet still conveys just as much information. I think this is a thrilling piece of draughtsmanship.

In the following illustration by Robert Fawcett, the person drawn from behind was obviously a much tougher artistic challenge than the full faces drawn from the front.

Finally, the great Mort Drucker infuses personality and vitality into a face that is not only viewed from behind, but is also obscured by layers of scuba gear.

Despite the obvious drama of the human face, it can be a far greater challenge to draw the head using just the subtle contour of a cheek. Experienced artists recognize that it is difficult to draw the head from that perspective. For many, the result ends up looking like a dollop of pastry dough.

Sometimes it pays to look for artistic greatness in the simplest places. The philosopher Santayana wrote,

Miracles are so-called because they excite wonder. In unphilosophical minds, rare or unexpected things excite wonder, while in philosophical minds the familiar excites wonder also.
Lots of artists can dazzle you with flashing eyes or a dramatic face. But the artist who can find the miraculous potential in the humble curve of a cheek or a blade of grass, and who can convey that miracle to you– that is an artist worth watching.

How to Solve Problems

Here’s a relatively simple method of gaining insight into problems that face us. Often the reason we can’t solve a problem is that we don’t concentrate on it long enough to look at it from enough different angles or give our brains time to process our ideas subconsciously.

Step One

Take a sheet of paper and write across the top “Questions I could ask myself about this problem include…..”

Then write down as quickly as possible between six and twelve different ways of finishing that sentence. Don’t think too much about what you write — the aim here is quantity not quality.

To take an example (completely fictitious of course!), I have a problem keeping my desk tidy. So I might write:

Questions I could ask myself about this problem….

  • why is this problem happening?
  • why does it matter?
  • how could I overcome it?
  • what problems does it cause?
  • who could help me overcome it?
  • what benefit am I getting out of it?
  • why is it so difficult to be tidy?
  • and so on…..

Put the sheet of paper away and go through Step One again the following day on a fresh sheet of paper without looking at the first sheet. You will probably find that you can find another six or more endings without duplicating anything you wrote the day before.

Step Two

Take both sheets of paper and extract from them the four or five questions that you feel are most helpful, relevant or useful. Then rewrite them as sentences for completion. So for example I might end up with the following list:

  • Reasons this problem is happening might include….
  • This problem matters because…..
  • One way of overcoming this would be…..
  • The benefits I get out of being untidy include….

Then do a similar exercise to Step One but this time use each of the sentences you have just written. Again aim to write between six and twelve endings to each sentence. Then put your sheet of paper away for 24 hours and do the exercise again. You will probably find that your insights have developed overnight.

You can do this for several days running if you have the time and the problem is not too pressing.

Step Three

Examine all the ideas you have written out and decide which ones you are going to put into effect.

How to Solve Problems

Let Me Get Two Packs of Tolstoy and a Carton of Kafka

Every day Sarah sends me nifty things to read and see on my magic computer screen. Today’s stash included a post at Popgadget describing a plan to sell classic novellas in retro cigarette packs via cigarette vending machines after a U.K smoking ban in enclosed public places goes into effect. At least I think they’re going to (try to?) sell these in actual vending machines. Whatever the case, they’re called Tankbooks, and are being produced by Tank, a think tank, creative agency and publishing outfit. Dunno if this is a P.R. stunt, an art project, an honest effort to sell books in an interesting manner, or all of the above. Nifty-looking packages, whatever the case.



Let Me Get Two Packs of Tolstoy and a Carton of Kafka

Information Architect

Web Worker Daily posts a mini-profile of Dayna Bateman, an information architect for Fry Inc. Various education qualifications are listed, and hands-on experience (though education can help out there too). I don't find it a surprise that many shopping and interactive sites get it wrong and need help. Those are big projects and it requires a champion (maybe several) inside the company to push for what may be an expensive overhaul of an existing site. Also, if generals are fighting the last war, then retailers are chasing last year's trends.

What interested me:

  • Bateman is working on a master's of science degree in HCI from DePaul ("to formalize what I had learned in the trade"). For someone who's already got deep experience and a reputation in internet retailing, I thought it interesting that she feels the need for a degree. It would be interesting to know whether she wants the degree to provide an academic balance to her resume's real-world experience (she's probably solved problems that haven't occurred to most academics), whether her company encouraged it, or whether she felt she needed a mental change of pace. I'm going at my degree from the opposite direction: I'm hoping to gain some formal knowledge that can help me get experience.
  • Very impressed by her commitment to self-education: keeping up with conferences, surfing and shopping to stay on top of new trends and patterns. She soaks herself in her subject.
  • She predicts that "transactions will become increasingly simplified" as mobile phone use becomes more prevalent. Using a cell phone frees people from being tethered to their PC in order to shop and buy. (And it is all about shop and buy, isn't it?) I'll keep an eye on whether my coursework in the coming years even touches on mobile technology at all.

I'm all for simplification--spare me from having to create an account at every store I want to buy from. However, as someone who uses a Tracfone and practices one-way cell calls (I can call you, but you can't call me because I leave my phone turned off), I feel like a curmudgeonly grandpa snapping at new-fangled progress.