QoTD: On boredom

“Being bored doesn’t mean that “there’s nothing to do,” as children imprecisely complain to their parents on a rainy day, dragging their feet on the rug and kicking the sofa. It means that something big–whether it’s rain, other people, or our own hot-to-the-touch-fears–is keeping us from doing what we want to do, from playing outside, from expressing ourselves, from moving forward.”

Nancy Franklin, critic for  The New Yorker

QoTD: On boredom

Hi, Mom and Dad!

Lust and I have been getting some nice publicity recently: Seattlest just posted an interview, Seattle Magazine has a feature about me, Seattle Metropolitan included me in a feature on “15 People to Know for Spring Arts,” Modern Tonic posted a lovely review, there’s that interview at Newsarama and they also posted about my Lust downloadable wallpaper, there’s a 1/3-page review in ReadyMade magazine (though you can’t read it online), a review that I haven’t seen yet in…

Hi, Mom and Dad!

Last Man Standing

Last Man Standing

In case you missed the story, a 108 year old man by the name of Harry Richard Landis died on Monday, Feb 4th and with his passing another man, Frank Woodruff Buckles, earned the truly incredible distinction of being the last known surviving American-born veteran of the First World War. Of the 4,734,991 U.S. forces mobilized between 1914 and 1918 Frank Buckles is the last man standing. 

Last Man Standing



The ActiVest is a useful vest – well-made, lots of pockets, rain hood, warm – that integrates the design of the Slouch!Buster travel chair (the straps fold into their own pockets when not in use). My wife got this for me last Xmas, and I have found it very useful on dozens of occasions: beach walks, hikes, meditation groups, and other situations where I need back support. When I was younger my back needed no support, but luckily this was invented just as I felt the need for it. Nice…


Today a quote worthy of George Orwell:

“…the damaged state of American democracy is not the fault of George W. Bush and his minions, the corporate-controlled media, the insurance industry, the oil industry, lobbyists, terrorists, illegal immigrants or Satan. The point is that this mess is our fault. We let in the serpents and liars, we exchanged shining ideals for a handful of nails and some two-by-fours, and we did it by resorting to the simplest, deepest-seated and readiest method we possess as human beings for trying to make…

Today a quote worthy of George Orwell:

Jumping the gun on a MacBook?

Although UNC requires incoming freshmen to buy a laptop computer, and although some SILS classes require a laptop (I'm thinking here of the database or programming courses), by and large, I've found that I haven't really needed a laptop on campus. I prefer taking notes by hand on paper, and the campus is lousy with workstations where I can check my email, which is what most people do anyway. Most of my homework and papers I prefer to write on my home PC, simply because it's already customized for my peculiar needs. Nevertheless, since I entered the program, I felt a burning urgency to purchase a laptop--I'm falling behind! All the other kids have a laptop! I'm feeling left out!--and took advantage of a pretty good deal at the campus computer store to buy a black MacBook with the eerie glowing ghost-apple on the lid. I added an extra gig of RAM and donated the printer that came with it to a charitable organization. So, no worries there.

I also bought several of the Take Control ebooks to learn some more about the Mac. I tried out various backpacks, briefcases, and sheathes. I bought a Bluetooth mouse. I dedicated a spot to it on my desk where it sits and recharges.

And where it still sits, mostly unused. It's a fine machine, but I just haven't needed to use it.

The new MacBooks are now arriving with Leopard, which means that's another expense I'll have when I decide to upgrade the OS. Fortunately, I've bought no other software to install on it, so the hard drive and OS are still pristine, making the upgrade easier, I should think. Thinking more calmly now, I should have waited to buy till Leopard was pre-installed on all MacBooks.

It's clear to me now, looking back, that I had induced a panic state in myself over this issue and reason's sweet song would ne'er enter my ear. I took out a loan from the bank in order to pay for both my spring semester tuition and the MacBook, so paying that back every week is a constant reminder of getting too far ahead of myself.

Update: I wrote the above over a couple of days last week. This past Saturday, I decided to reinstall XP on my home PC, after dithering on that decision for a while. The reinstall went fine--except that Windows couldn't see the second internal hard drive, which holds all of my install files for my other software. I verified that the BIOS could see the drive but XP remained willfully blind. I schlepped the PC to Intrex (where I'd bought the PC in 2006 or so) for them to diagnose and (I hope) fix.

I didn't enter a panic state on this snafu, interestingly enough. I took the precautions of backing up my volatile data to my external USB drive and to the cloud, so they're accessible if I need them.

And, need I say, I had a laptop--an underused MacBook on which I could check my mail, finish my homework assignment due on the following Monday, and store info on my paper that's due in 2 weeks. Funny how these things work out.

Addendum:  Back up those drivers, kids! And print out your Device Manager settings! I should have inserted the motherboard CD and installed the RAID and sound drivers; that's why Windows couldn't see the second internal hard drive. OK, that goes on the master checklist for reinstalling Windows...

Ornamental Typography

Mauro Poggi 1750 ornamental letter

Mauro Poggi 1750 ornamental letter

Mauro Poggi 1750 ornamental letter

Mauro Poggi 1750 Figural letter

Mauro Poggi - Alfabeto di Lettere Iniziale - titlepage

‘Alfabeto di Lettere Iniziali’ (c. 1730) from designs by Mauro Poggi.

[The edition above, from the Austrian Musuem of Contemporary Art (link below),
dates from c.1750, and the cover page - sans watermark - comes from here]
[T]his lovely engraved oblong folio [is] one of the most delightful 18th century alphabets in the high rococo style. Reflecting the style of the early 18th century engraver, Giambattista Betti, the…

Ornamental Typography

Drafting scenarios and stories

This post discusses the following readings:

  • Gruen, D., Rauch, T., Redpath, S., & Ruettinger, S. (2002). The use of stories in user experience design. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 14(3&4), 503-534.
  • Head, A. J. (2003). Personas: setting the stage for building usable information sites. Online, 27(4), 14-21.

<<In class, we wrote sample story/scenarios, and I refer to a great story written by a classmate about a guy at a party who is covertly listening to his music while grudgingly assisting his wife with hosting a house party.>>

I thought the story about the guy at the party trying to hide the earphone was great--it worked as a complete vignette, the character had a secret (which puts the reader on his side), and it has a nice curlicue at the end. It's complete in itself but could fit nicely inside a larger story about this character.

OK, now *that* I would consider a story, more so than the scenarios we read in the IBMers' paper.

I've been writing short stories off and on since college and did a couple of NaNoWriMo stints, so here's what I think about the narrative devices used to create stories that could be used for scenarios.

CHARACTERS. Some of the best ways to create a character include starting with an archetype (the Scrooge type, the strong and silent type, the talkative type, the Type A type), someone you know, or a fictional character you know really well. As you write and spend time with the character, you'll get to know them better and their own personality emerges, especially as you put them in difficult situations.

You can create an amalgam character or persona, but one person that has many different kinds of tags (like the primary persona in the Personas article we read) can seem a little unreal to me, very manufactured. At that point, I think you're checking stuff off a list rather than creating an imaginary character that *seems* real, which is the goal of fiction. I'd suggest starting simple and then adding stuff as it feels right.

One of the age-old questions to ask about a character to get your imagination primed, is to ask yourself what the character eats for breakfast. This is also a good opening question to loosen up interview subjects, BTW.

PLOT. The IBMers don't talk about the mechanics of plotting, which is one of the toughest jobs in story-writing. A story's theme is what the story's about; the story's plot is this happened, then that happened, then this other thing happened.

Samuel R. Delany has a technique he calls "thickening the plot," in which the writer describes the setting in detail and gets the character interacting with it. So in the party story, we see the character moving around the house, taking things to the kitchen, anything to disengage himself from the party. People trying to talk to him, him turning to hide the earpiece, all help to thicken the plot and ratchet the tension that he'll be discovered.

RACHETING THE TENSION. In the party story, the tension is, "Will he be discovered?" There's no such tension in the IBM stories because, really, what's at stake for the characters? Nothing much. Particularly, that last story iteration they did was all Star Trek technobabble, there were too many characters (so no one person a reader could care about), and there was really no tension or emotion. (I'd say this is a danger of stories in the IBM method, in which lots of people start using the story as a dumping ground for their ideas and you start losing the main thread.)

But tugging on heartstrings isn't what scenarios are supposed to do; they're mainly of use to engage your imagination so you see the whole problem space, not just a little piece of it. (The other advantage being they get the picture and expectations from inside your head into someone else's head.)

The best IBM story was the one where the guy was installing software at 3 a.m. because the workers would be coming to do their jobs in a few hours. A ticking-bomb deadline is tried and true. I'd say that even the Madeline scenario <<a scenario provided by the professor, of someone using a health-care information system>> could use a ticking-bomb urgency, if the waiting room is crowded, people are being processed quickly, and the subject needs to hurry up so he can get back to work.

GOALS AND OBSTACLES. This is plot. An interesting character in an interesting situation creates the plot naturally without too much intervention. In the case of scenarios, we could introduce massive power failures, ice storms, zombies, etc. but they don't really help us with our purpose, which is to design a good user experience. (Another case where stories diverge from scenarios.) I would call scenarios not stories but soap operas: just one damn thing after another, until the fadeout.

That said, yes, the protagonist wants something and is frustrated by a stupid UI, a deadline, ice storm, zombies, etc. which means that something has to be at stake for him or her, and there have to be consequences for failure. In the party story, the husband gambled with multiple consequences of being discovered, which is what made it entertaining (another difference from scenarios: scenarios don't have to be entertaining, though they're more fun to read if they are). In the Madeline scenario, what are the consequences of not understanding the UI? Will I feel sorry for that character if they can't get the video working?

Here endeth another of my verbose postings. Carry on.

Article critiques: scenarios, stories

This post discusses the following readings:

  • Go, K., & Carroll, J.M. (2004). The blind men and the elephant: Views of scenario-based system design. interactions, 11(6), 44-53.
  • Gruen, D., Rauch, T., Redpath, S., & Ruettinger, S. (2002). The use of stories in user experience design. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 14(3&4), 503-534.

I thought the best thing about the Go and Carroll article was their listing of differences between scenarios and specifications (though it would have worked better as a table than as text) and their review of the literature surrounding the techniques. I also liked the breakdown of strategy/requirements/HCI planning to year/day/moments. Apart from those squibs, I thought the article was unbelievably dry and unimaginative (which is odd, considering they're talking about the importance of imagination in creating scenarios); for one thing, they introduce the "blind men and the elephant" story in the lead without following it up in the rest of the article. Do scenarios help us see the elephant? Or do they only show us pieces? By the end of the article, we don't know and the authors haven't told us. (I wonder if the editor made them tack it on.)

The Gruen, et al., article by the IBMers I thought was more interesting and meaty; they seemed really in love with their new tool which seemed to have united disparate stakeholders within IBM as well as their clients. I also thought it was interesting how the stories could be decomposed for other audiences as well, down to the design, marketing, and documentation materials. They don't attempt to speculate as to *why* they think stories unite audiences with differing needs, but I'd guess that we're simply trained, from childhood onward, to think in terms of linear narrative. A page of prose describing someone solving a problem is easier to read and understand than a functional specification document, which requires a specialist to draft. Stories don't require specialists.

Their descriptions of its use made it seem like a silver bullet, and I would have liked to know what, if any, limitations they encountered. How do they control their stories, to keep them from becoming distended or unbalanced when descriptions get too specific?

I'd also say that what they're calling stories are not stories, but extended scenarios that use narrative devices like character, setting, plot, etc. The chief characteristic of a story is that the character is different at the end of the story than at the beginning. Their example scenarios don't have that quality; they're more like Star Trek problem stories: Picard is trapped on the holodeck--how do we get him out? No character in such stories really learns about himself or his life. The interest is mainly in seeing people spew technobabble and race against the clock.

Likewise, the IBM scenarios attempt to trap someone in a problem and watch them squirm to get out. The interest is in watching this particular character squirm (would a different character behave differently in the same situation?) and noting the details of what they do to solve their problem.

Keeping Found Things Found

A web site focused on collecting and managing personal information, from the U of Washington I-School, with some help from Msft. I haven't compared their publications list with our syllabus to see if there's any overlap. Keeping Found Things Found "The classic problem of information retrieval, simply put, is to help people find the relatively small number of things they are looking for (books, articles, web pages, CDs, etc.) from a very large set of possibilities. This classic problem has been studied in many variations and has been addressed through a rich diversity of information retrieval tools and techniques.

A follow-on problem also exists which has received relatively less study: once found, how are things organized for re-access and re-use later on? "

How is it possible? More on email

The readings that prompted these postings were:

Lehikoinen, Juha, Antti Aaltonen, Pertti Huuskonen, and Ilkka Salminen. Personal Content Experience: Managing Digital Life in the Mobile Age. Chichester, England: John Wiley, 2007. [48-51, 84-94, 127-157]

Whittaker, Steve, and Candace Sidner. "Email Overload: Exploring Personal Information Management of Email." Paper presented at the Conference on Human Factors and Computing Systems, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, April 13-18, 1996, 276-283.

The following response was to a question about whether a high number of emails are seen as a sign of prestige or importance.

Both of my managers receive upwards of 50-100 emails a day, depending on the crisis du jour. It's more a sign that their world is probably wider than mine and that they have more responsibilities (and more corporate spam to filter out). Both would love to have fewer emails to plow through; sometimes the job feels like it's managing email rather than getting work done.

Piles of unprocessed emails stresses both of them out. So it's not a badge of manhood for them.

One of my managers has been there for 10+ years, and he's a filer; his folder hierarchy is like baroque stained-glass in its intricacy. But for our clients and others on the team who don't file, they know that he *does* file; hence, he's usually the go-to guy for "do you have a copy of that email?" His ability to file and find stuff means they don't have to (and he now has this reputation to live up to, so that adds to his stress). [Update: after backing up his emails to a CD, he deleted about 10,000 emails from his account, some dating back to 2004. And remember, he deleted lots of email too.]

I remember reading somewhere that our brains have a 'doing' function and a 'thinking' function. The trick is, that they don't work at the same time. Reacting to email is a satisfying 'doing' activity, so most people probably don't think too much about how to file something so they can find it later; they're too concerned with taking care of business now. Sometimes we'll think ahead and plan an elaborate system to process our emails, but when we start doing it, the system is awkward or cumbersome; I'd class making folders and filing as a system that some people find cumbersome.

Another part of the issue may be the just-in-case vs just-in-time mentality. A lot of us filers and packrats like to hold on to things just in case we'll need them; but 80% of our files are never seen again. 20% I'll access regularly, but that 20% is different for every user, which is why filing still winds up becoming a personal matter, even in a business setting.

I wonder if things would be different if we asked people to create their own filing systems as if someone else would be using them next year. Would they then take a little more time to create folders, to make life a little easier for the next person? They may be able to create just enough metadata for us to get by.

In what ways are your own personal information management practices similar to or different from those described in the two readings?I'm one of those unfortunates who believes there must be one true way to do anything; as a result, I keep shifting things around and never have a stable setup. My wife, OTOH, doesn't seem to have this problem.re email: My email strategies for work and personal are different. In general, I'm more organized than the article subjects, partly because my role in the team is be the unofficial archivist and because experience with our customers has shown that I'm better at keeping these records than they are.

At work, my strategies shift and vary based on the work I'm doing and the tools I'm using. I used Outlook differently from Lotus Notes, for example. In general, I find myself dumbing down the email interfaces so they're as simple to use as possible. I tend to create folders for each project I'm involved with and emails go there. Because we have storage restrictions, I will archive emails (usually emails with big attachments) to a separate database on my hard drive; I have an agent set up to archive mails over 6 months old. For the database on my hard drive, I have full-text indexing turned on as this lets me search inside PDFs, Word files, etc. (Can't do this with my active email database.)

After attempting to segregate mails by project AND fiscal year, I decided last year to keep all project-related emails in one project folder and be done with it. (Notes lets you keep a file in more than one folder, basically a shortcut to the email, but I rarely use that.) I rarely think about metadata or context; like the article subjects, I'm concerned with the next deadline or commitment and long-term storage and access isn't part of my everyday thinking.

We've found that it's best after a project is over or some disaster has happened, to draft a Word file that summarizes the incident, what we did, our rationale, important facts, etc. It helps to draw everything together in one place in a coherent narrative. Often, important meetings or phone calls are not documented elsewhere, and they sometimes need to be captured. I then email it to as many people as request to see it (safety in numbers; in case I delete my copy, someone else may have it); I also save it to our Notes document database on the network where it's backed up and available for others to see.

[Aside: It strikes me that the Notes article is all about jumbled collections of individual items--call them 'words.' The Symbian developers are creating a framework to turn individual words into 'phrases' with simple grammar -- "is part of," "was taken on," "is used by," and so on. But there's no technological way to turn those phrases into any meaningful sentences or a narrative, except in the mind of the user.]

My personal mail is kept in Gmail, with minimal labels (I don't use multiple tags). I find the searches powerful enough that I only use labels for short-term personal projects.

Previously, I used Yahoo mail for several years; I archived all of that mail to my hard drive in 2006, and have gone back to it less than 10 times, I'd say. I just haven't needed to. I use Copernic Desktop Search to scour files for keywords if I can't find a particular document.

My files are organized primarily by directory name, but I have duplicates that have built up over time, and haven't figured out a strategy to deal with them. I depend on the directory and file names to provide whatever context I need to figure out what they are. I may append keywords to filenames, but not often.

My photos are organized in directory folders by year, then by month, then by subjects. Music files are organized in directory folders by genre, artist, etc. I don't really trust Picasa or iTunes or MediaMonkey to organize these things for me because their organization tends to be proprietary and require much organizational fiddling by myself, whereas they can all read the files in my directories, which I can arrange once and then forget about it.

I tend to think hierarchically and alphabetically, so that's how I tend to arrange my files on disk; I fall back to Copernic when I just can't find it by scanning folder and file names.

Fairfax City Public Library

For many moons I have been looking forward to the opening of a new library building in Fairfax.  I’ve been going to the old location for eighteen years, so surely progress is a good thing?  I noted:

1. The apex of the ceiling is now four or five times higher.
2. The space for computers is now four or five times greater.
3. The space to sit and read is now four or five times greater.
4. It now takes seven or eight minutes to park and get into the new fortress-like building, as opposed to one…

Fairfax City Public Library


I'm starting my third official semester as a graduate student but there are still a few nuts I haven't cracked yet. I'm starting to wonder if they're worth cracking or if I'm just worrying too much.

What I've been doing

Note-taking strategy. For both reading and classroom lectures, I still have (I think) a shockingly lazy attitude to note-taking. One of the issues is that this curriculum relies more on project-work than tests; I've only had one major test so far in about 6 classes. For the rest, class participation and assignments provide the grade. So notes are best used for specific assignments, as potentially interesting "just-in-case" reminders, or pearls of wisdom. I also note any books or authors the professors recommend.

I've tried mindmaps, Cornell notetaking, blank sketchbooks, and looseleaf. None of them have really done the trick. I was in awe of a fellow student's rigorously maintained class notes using Microsoft OneNote, in which she kept all of her class notes since starting her degree, making them instantly searchable and sensibly organized. She also kept all of her citations in her RefWorks area, so that when it came time to write any paper, she could search through her accumulated references for keywords of interest. Made me feel like a proper novice. After I described her methods, my advisor said, "Hm. She needs to be studied."

(I later learned that this student was a high-scorer on the GRE Quantitative, and that made me feel better. As I was a high-scorer on the Verbal, my brain is just naturally wired differently.)

As with most notetaking, though, I think it's the act of writing things down that is probably more important than the notes themselves. I have had no need to go back to any of my notes. I am, in fact, more likely to keep the course reading list, as they are fantastic compilations of references I could never dig out on my own. And I have, in fact, gone back to them on occasion.

Researching and Writing Papers. I have a paper coming up and don't really know how to attack it. DTSSTCPW? Zotero? Study Hack's simple or complex paper writing strategies? I wrote two big papers last semester, my first real papers since starting the program. For the first one, I used a modified version of the notetaking for research found here (scroll down to the bullet point, "Use a system"). For the second, I used Zotero.

My file management for the first paper was horrible: I'd actually lost track of PDF'd articles I could have used. I had stacks of paper. My notes following the above advice were OK but not great. I also dug myself into a hole by spending a month trying out stuff like CiteULike, looking at research organization programs, and not doing the effing readings. Can you say "wake-up call"? For my second paper, it was all online research that I saved using Zotero, but I missed the ability to move things around and see everything at once, and I continually lost track of web page titles and stuff. So, not much better.

Reading. If there's anything I can do, it's read. The question is, how closely do I need to read. My 752 class last fall had a heavy reading schedule, with the class time really only focusing on one of the articles, or on a particular aspect of the topic. The reading provided the background and context for the lecture. I found that by mainly skimming through and reading the bits of interest to me, essential phrasings or ideas would stick in my mind long enough to make the in-class connections and make my usual over-the-top verbal contributions, and that tended to be enough.

I'd read something and think, damn, I should blog about that. And never did. Also, I had the feeling that I was really skimming the reading and not really connecting the dots. (This was compounded by rough seas at work and a brutal schedule that left only the minimum amount of time to do my required reading.)

One of the advantages of a college education is, as I read somewhere, you have the opportunity to read profligately. I won't be reading this widely and this quickly again. I need to immerse myself in this literature as the whole field is new to me.

What I'll do this time

For my classroom notes, I use a large ruled Moleskine Cahier notebook. I'm not going to worry about following a particular style of notetaking. I'll just write down stuff that I think is interesting, pertinent to an assignment, or memory-worthy. The key will be to review my notes after class, update them with fresh thoughts, and correct my horrible script so I can decode them later.

The trick in keeping up on the readings is to do some reading every day and, if possible, reduce the number of other tasks and distractions that steal the time that the reading requires. I'm going to use the Moleskine notebook to keep my notes on the assigned readings. By doing this, I can write down my own thoughts and opinions, track what I found most interesting, and I can refer to the notes during class discussions. I like the simplicity of keeping the class and reading notes in the same book.

The nice thing about these notebooks is they're lightweight and I can slip them into a folder or envelope after the semester is over, if I want to keep them.

I'm using a simple 1" 3-ring binder with multiple tabs to segregate my syllabi and assignment sheets. I thought I wanted 2 separate small binders for each class, but decided to have one binder and use the tabs. Fewer things I have to remember to carry.

For in-class stuff, I have Pendaflex file jackets for each class to hold the current week's readings and a standard accordion folder into which I dump the previous weeks' readings. At the end of the semester, I'll sort through the accordion folder to see if there's anything worth keeping and then recycle the rest.

I have a short paper coming up soon, and I'm going to go 100% on Cal Newton's simple version of paper research. I'll fire up a Google Doc and start a continuous revision draft as explained in this article by UK coach and author Mark Forster.

Citations are not fun, but if I write them down correctly once in the approved format, then all I have to do is retype them. No big deal.

And what's your goal again?

The overarching goal is to make my academic life (and thus, my larger life) easier to manage so I can accomplish what I need to do without having to think and re-think and second-guess my strategies every damn day. I have task management systems and processes at work to get me through the workday, and I want similar systems that will help me through these new challenges. The aim is to do as little thinking as possible about how I will do these tasks, so I can spend more time thinking about the tasks.

So my sub-goals are to track incoming information, sift and disburse that info to where it'll do the most good, manage multiple projects, and to do so in as relaxed and easy a manner as I can manage.


Apokalypse 57v

Apokalypse 60v

Apokalypse 69v

Apokalypse blockbook manuscript 72v

Apokalypse block book manuscript 74r

Apokalypse blochbuch 75v

Apokalypse 77r

Apokalypse 83r

Apokalypse 15th century mss 92r

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Apokalypse 105v

The Apocalypse, or Revelation to John, the last book of the Bible, is one of the most difficult to understand because it abounds in unfamiliar and extravagant symbolism, which at best appears unusual to the modern reader. Symbolic language, however, is one of the chief characteristics of apocalyptic literature, of…