Halving, doubling, and Virginia Woolf

When I am asked, "Why did you decide to go back to school?" or "How in the world can you work a full-time job and take two classes at the same time?", I can often provide at least 43 separate answers. That is the blessing and curse of my loquacious gift, which makes essay-writing easy but a succinct answer impossible.

I have a couple of good reasons I toss out about why I prefer taking two classes at a time: I often find points of unexpected connection between the classes, which I wouldn't find were I taking them one at a time; I'm going to be old by the time I get this degree, so let's hurry it up; I find the pressure of the second class provides time/energy constraints that force me to think creatively about my schedule, priorities; and so on.

Those are all nice, quantitative answers. But there's another, bigger reason that also goes to the heart of why I came back to school in the first place. I can't remember where I read it, but it's a quote by Virginia Woolf that goes approximately thusly:

After the age of forty, a novelist must either halve her output or double it.

For whatever reason, that quote and its idea has stuck with me. If you've published or written a lot in your early career, Woolf's advice is to slow the output and create fewer, denser works. But if you've thought more than you've written, then you need to use your remaining time to better advantage.

When I look at my last 25 years or so, I see that my output has been low. Others who look at my life may disagree, but for me, emotionally, I think I could have done more. Probably lots of people feel that way about their own lives.

So, one of my reasons for going back to school was to boost my output and make as much of the time and energy left to me as I can. Yes, I'm racing around like a maniac, I'm frequently overwhelmed, and my task diary is a paper-based super-collider of conflicting tasks, projects, and personal obligations. But--and here's the punchline-- I'm learning, writing, and producing a quantity and variety of material that, in my opinion, dwarfs what I have tried to attempt to do on my own over the last 10 years. And since I have the energy and the stamina now to take it all on, I want to make the most of this time and this opportunity.

Speed Networking

The SILS Alumni Association held a speed networking event earlier this week. It’s the second one I attended and, although fewer students showed up this year than last year, I thought it went very well.The “mentors” – either SILS alums or local folks working in the IS/LS domains who have ties to SILS – sat inside a U-shaped line of tables, while the students moved from chair to chair every 3 minutes at the ring of Pavlov’s bell. Here are some thoughts on what I liked about it and why I think the experience was valuable.

  • It gets you talking to people. We’re not, after all, the business or performing arts school. We’re mostly a group of introverts, some of us more sociable than others, granted, but it’s tough to get us talking to strangers. A 3-minute speed-networking event with the emphasis on communication and fact-finding levels the playing field wonderfully and I think gets people talking with an urgency they wouldn’t have at a polite meet’n’greet.
  • You learn to start marketing yourself. With only 3 minutes total, I had to hone my spiel to something quick so that we could actually discover whether we had much to say to each other. It took me about 4 or 5 tries to get this right, and even then, I tweaked it based on the feedback I received. Unnatural, perhaps, but is a job interview more natural? The only way to get better is to practice, and this event provided that.
  • You learn some basic chat skills. See “talking to people” above. Because I’m IS (Information Science), and the majority of mentors there were LS (Library Science), I’d sometimes fall back to standard questions: “Tell me about your library,” “What kind of work do you do,” that kind of thing, to make them feel OK about talking to to an obvious interloper. Alas, I was flummoxed when, just as I was finishing my screed, the young woman I was talking to smiled and asked, “Do you like working with children?” Ah, a children’s librarian! We both laughed but I’m embarrassed to say I never recovered my aplomb and fum-fuh’d till the bell rang.
  • Overview of the local field and the profession generally. By talking to lots of people working at different places, it’s possible to gauge the health of the local market and get peoples’ takes on the profession as a whole. Will there be jobs available when I eventually graduate? Where’s the demand? What are some of the problems they’re having to figure out? You can absorb very quickly a range of job descriptions and experiences. I also could feel myself, as I talked to folks, get excited or a little bored by the subject matter of the conversation. With no time to indulge in the deep thinking we INTJs like to wallow in, I reacted honestly to the subjects I’m more naturally interested in. (And yes, I am separating the message from the messenger here, not confusing one with the other.)
  • It’s encouraging to be encouraged. I do feel doubt occasionally about why I’m at school sometimes, as I entered it on a leap of faith, with no assurance of what I’d be doing with this degree when I finally got it. But several people reassured me that the skills I’ve acquired over the last 20 years, added to my education and interests, will help me when I eventually move into whatever field I choose. Made me feel much better about my choice.

Prototyping; GUIdebook

Found some interesting or otherwise time-passable things on the web related to prototyping and our discussion on Wednesday. A List Apart runs deep-dish articles on web design. This article shows how paper is good for tabbed interfaces, widgets, and usability testing. He also suggests keeping a glue stick handy.

Pen-based low-fi vs hi-fi; use while keeping the above paper prototypes in mind.

  • Sketching with a Sharpie - (37signals) - “Ballpoints and fine tips just don’t fill the page like a Sharpie does. Fine tips invite you to draw while Sharpies invite you to just to get your concepts out into big bold shapes and lines. When you sketch with a thin tip you tend to draw at a higher resolution and worry a bit too much about making things look good. Sharpies encourage you to ignore details early on.”

A neat idea if you want to keep your prototypes looking rough.

  • Napkin Look & Feel - “The Napkin Look & Feel is a pluggable Java look and feel that looks like it was scrawled on a napkin. … Often when people see a GUI mock-up, or a complete GUI without full functionality, they assume that the code behind it is working. … So the idea is to create a complete look and feel that can be used while the thing is not done which will convey an emotional message to match the rational one. As pieces of the work are done, the GUI for those pieces can be switched to use the “formal” (final) look and feel, allowing someone looking at demos over time to see the progress of the entire system reflected in the expression of the GUI.”

This is a really good post that links to Napkin and other sources to express what we heard in class, namely, the more “done” the prototype looks, the more finished the client expects the entire application it to.

The SILK project grew out of someone’s dissertation research. The current public release of Denim runs on Mac, Win, and *nix.

  • DUB - DENIM and SILK - Research - “Through a study of web site design practice, we observed that web site designers design sites at different levels of refinement – site map, storyboard, and individual page – and that designers sketch at all levels during the early stages of design. However, existing web design tools do not support these tasks very well. Informed by these observations, we created DENIM, a system that helps web site designers in the early stages of design. DENIM supports sketching input, allows design at different refinement levels, and unifies the levels through zooming.”

Referred to in the List Apart article, this is a neat site that shows the evolution of OS and application GUIs from their inception to today. It has sections for splash screens, icons, the tutorials that were included to help us learn how to click with a mouse, and a timeline showing the slow progress of GUIs from the Lisa and GEOS on up to Leopard. The site appears to have run out of gas around 2005 or so. I have personal experience of GEOS (Commodore 64 & PC), Amiga, DOS 3-5, Windows 3.x, Mac (mid-80s-early 90s), and OS/2.

The Bush Tragedy, US and UK

329 days until the end of the Bush presidency; who knows how long to fix the damage. I wish I could appreciate the attempt at humor in the UK edition (the second image), but I can’t. To be honest, it sorta pisses me off. Weisberg’s book has been described as “compassionate” and largely sympathetic to Bush, arguing that all this isn’t his fault but rather can be set at the feet of Rove, Cheney, Rumsfield and Rice. Thus, the imagery of a puppet show in the UK version, which seems appropriate.

The Bush Tragedy, US and UK

Claims my Russian wife won't even deign to laugh at

If you get up late in the morning on weekends, you must think sleep is very valuable.  And if sleep is very valuable, that means we should go to bed early.  Because if you go to bed early, you always have the option of sleeping later – that is sleeping more – and getting even more sleep than if you had gone to bed late.  (You can’t just shift your sleep into any hours block you want, given the coordination issues.)  And if sleep is very valuable, the option to sleep more must be valuable as…

Claims my Russian wife won't even deign to laugh at

Time Machine Is Not All the Backup You Need [Mac Tip]

timemachine.png Mac OS X Leopard only: If you’ve got a FireWire drive hooked up to your Mac, chances are Leopard’s dead simple backup utility, Time Machine, has you backing up your data—and that’s a huge step forward if you weren’t backing up at all pre-Leopard. But Time Machine is only one piece of a full backup scheme. Macworld runs down what Time Machine can do (effortless, regular, intervention-less local backups) and what it can’t (system clones and online backup). If you want to complete your…

Time Machine Is Not All the Backup You Need [Mac Tip]

Amy Winehouse and Nassim Taleb

Will Amy Winehouse — who won five Grammys last night — help or hurt the music industry? A few years ago, I went to a tasting event called The Joy of Sake. There were about 100 of the best sakes from Japan. A pre-event talk for retailers discussed the decline of sake in Japan. (Soju is cool; sake is old-fashioned.) That was the reason for the show. I loved tasting 30-odd high-quality sakes but the overall effect on me was the opposite of what the promoters wanted. I quickly became a…

Amy Winehouse and Nassim Taleb

The car as oikos

Chrysler chairman Robert L. Nardelli, in a New York Times article on the trend to outfit cars with elaborate entertainment technology:

“I think a vehicle today has to be your most favorite room under your roof. It has to bring you gratification; it has to be tranquil. It’s incidental that it gets you from Point A to Point B, right?”
Thus the car as oikos. Note that those who are to dwell in this house of the future are deemed incapable of finding gratification in low-tech endeavors:…
The car as oikos

- A Flock of Pigeons. You have to buy them individually

  • A Flock of Pigeons. You have to buy them individually though.
  • According to my New York Times Sunday Magazine, girls have more latitude in their identities, while boys are trapped in boyness. “…if ushered into a room and told they could play with anything, nearly half the boys chose "feminine” toys as often as “masculine” toys, provided they believed nobody, especially their fathers, would find out.“ Boys aren’t really given the leeway to, say, "create an amazing dance routine.” We’ve…

- A Flock of Pigeons. You have to buy them individually


Eagle motif in St. John’s Gospel:8th-century Northumbrian mss

Click through the picture to experience my disappointment in not finding a larger version of this wonderful image. Actually, to truly experience my disappointment you will need to (painlessly) register at the Parker Library site and then try searching several whichways to unsuccessfully hunt down the manuscript. Tease.

The eagle illustration represents St John and comes from an 8th century Northumbrian gospel manuscript. Although it does not appear to have been uploaded as yet,…

Links: file-naming conventions

I remember reading a columnist in one of the Ziff-Davis mags, back in the mid-90s, lamenting the busting of the old 8.3 file-naming conventions that DOS imposed. With the new Win95 long filenames-with-spaces convention, he predicted that people would actually lose more files than find them again. He used as an example their production process, in which every directory name and every character in a filename carried a specific meaning in the workflow. That kind of discipline ensured that everyone knew what state the files were in. With longer filenames, he was afraid that users would be mainly writing reminders to themselves rather than helping out the next worker on the production line.

Reading the identifiers article reminded me of a 43folders.com blog posting, and that led me to other postings related to how folks name files. The people commenting are mainly graphic designers and web designers, whose work involves tracking lots of little individual files that collectively make up a single job.

This is from the developers' point of view. Read the original post but skim the comments to get an idea of what developers have to consider when creating files the users will depend on. The Old Joel on Software Forum - Restrictions on # of files in a Windows Directory?

E: if it is problematic to have several thousand separate directory entries in one directory, I could envision a directory structure in which the all user IDs ending in '0' go to a directory called c:userdata, user IDs ending in '1' go to a directory called c:userdata1, etc. Or use more digits from the end of the user ID for greater granularity: c:userdata00, c:userdata01, etc.

Vox Populi: Best practices for file naming | 43 Folders

But, just so I don’t lose you, do give me your best tips in comments: What are your favorite current conventions for naming files? How does your team show iterations and versions? Do you rely more on Folder organization than file names in your work? How have Spotlight, Quicksilver, and the like changed the way you think about this stuff?

My god, there are 86 comments on this thread and many of them are detailed and illustrated....

...and then Lifehacker.com gets in on the fun. There are some some commenters who say "don't include the date in the filename" as that info is already captured with the file and you can sort on that info in most file managers. I include the date because I often share my documents with others and the date in the filename is the quickest way for them to discern whether they have the latest copy. Ask the Readers: Filing naming conventions? Another very long posting that inspired the 43folders post above. It's interesting to note that, for designers, they all have certain types of info they want captured in the filename, such as the client name and draft iteration. But where they put that info depends, probably, on who set up the system first, tradition, etc. What Do I Know - File Naming / Organization Methods?

Only 4 comments in this one, but they have good detail and pretty much mirror the other postings. Read this one to get a flavor of the longer screeds. File Naming and Archiving | 43 Folders

A single post detailing another designer's setup at his workplace. Use a boilerplate folder setup and consistent, meaningful names | 43 Folders

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!