Fall Quarter Reflection

If there’s one glaring thing missing from my work at the UW, it’s the evaluative process that I had gotten so used to in my undergraduate work at Evergreen.  The lack of that structure makes it fairly easy to forget to look back – hence why this post comes as late as it does when the quarter ended on the 10th.

This quarter, there were four different classes on my schedule – IMT 500, IMT 501, IMT 510, and IMT 540.  I’ll break each class down into a separate section, then try to combine them.

IMT 500 – The Information Management Framework: Since this was an overview course that lasted only the first few days of the quarter, there’s not as much to say here as there might be otherwise.  The major thing that happened for me in this course was the opportunity to give a presentation on SharePoint 2007 as part of an introduction to the course’s final project.  This 30 minute presentation was a general overview of the functionality provided by SharePoint, which I thought went extremely well.  The final paper in the class, which was an assignment designed around seeing how information moves through its lifecycle, allowed me to reflect a bit on how being an “expert user” of SharePoint (at least compared to the rest of the class) influenced my actions while working on the group project.

IMT 501 – Technology Foundations for Information Professionals: I nearly had no business being in this class, seeing as how it was about 95% review.  I’ve done this in the past when I took Computers and Human Reason during my undergraduate work at Evergreen, though that had a twist – not only was it review, but it was review from a very different lens – that of human cognition.  501 was review from a slightly different lens as well in that it took a high-level approach to explaining concepts while touching on many computing essentials, like database design and computer hardware.  My challenge in this class was not so much to learn the material, though I did have the opportunity to fill in gaps and to learn a few new tricks (JavaScript being one of them).  Instead, I used this class as a chance to pass at least some of my knowledge on to my classmates, though this was a somewhat limited endeavor, since it only really occurred in my group (labs for this course were optional, which is a move I don’t understand – barely anyone ever showed up).  However, I did have the chance to try my hand at explaining concepts in an effort to help people apply them properly, which is something I succeeded fairly well at.  While this was the easiest class content-wise, it was still quite worthwhile for the ability to try a new approach to learning some computing fundamentals and for the ability to show others how do think about concepts.

IMT 510 – Human Aspects of Information Systems: Of all the classes this quarter, this one drew the most from the approaches and ideas from the library sciences.  This class focused primarily on some of the psychological and social aspects of how information is used.  One of the most interesting things in this class was the idea of designing interview schedules and how one has to be careful about wording of questions, particularly as it pertains to questions that may be asked of people from different cultural background.  The class also focused a bit on the idea of information grounds – spaces where information is generated and communicated within a group.  I did fairly well in this class, though such a large chunk of the work was group-related that it was occasionally hard to assess my own progress in understanding the material.  My strongest point in this class was collaborating with two other team members to write up the final project report – the end result was so seamless that it was nearly impossible to tell who wrote what.

IMT 540 – Design Methods for Interaction and Systems: This was both the hardest class this quarter and probably the most rewarding.  Focusing on design methods for systems, this class covered everything from brainstorming methodology to usability testing to prototype creation (creating a physical system was outside of the scope of the class).  The group project consisted of designing a mobile system that would be in use in 2020, which meant that the class as a whole had to take a long-term view of what the future might end up looking like for mobile interaction.  My group focused on malls and what shopping might look like in the future, envisioning a system that was a cross between a social application like Facebook, Google Maps, a GPS, and a search engine.  The biggest challenge in the class was the sheer amount of reading required to understand a lot of the concepts, though I appreciated greatly the ability to turn around and put some of those concepts to use, either in our groups or as part of smaller assignments.

General Thoughts: I distinctly remember talking to a former co-worker who went on to become part of the iSchool’s Master of Library and Information Science program – he observed that graduate school really wasn’t that much harder than his undergraduate work at Evergreen.  I have to agree with this assessment, though I think I took enough ass-kicking classes during my undergraduate career that I knew what was expected of me.  Others who graduate Evergreen and who didn’t take a strong set of programs with faculty who were willing to dump loads of work in their student’s laps might not be quite as well off, but this did make my transition relatively easy (even after an entire year off from being a student).  A lot of this also has to do with the type of program and the fact that the MSIM program and the MLIS program share some of the same ideas and some of the same faculty members.  Regardless, I think I had an extremely successful quarter (with a final quarter GPA of 3.75, which is quite a bit above the goal of 3.5 I had set for myself).

A big part of next quarter will be my exposure to the ideas of environmental economics in PB AF 594, which I’m looking forward to, since I think it will serve to advance my work in sustainability quite well.  INFO 498 will also be quite interesting, since it will give me a chance to touch base once again with my computer science background and get into some programming.  I’m not sure on IMT 530 and IMT580 – I’ve ordered all my textbooks for all four classes, so hopefully that’ll give me some hints on what’s going on with each of them.  I’ll update more as I get more information about each class.

We Don’t Disambiguate Anymore

The thing that’s perhaps most interesting about the sustainability movement isn’t so much that it exists, though that in and of itself is certainly an accomplishment.  The recognition that we need to live in harmony with our surroundings is nothing new – Native American culture, to some extent, mirrors these exact values (though Alan Weisman in his book The World Without Us makes the point that Native American culture, too, hasn’t completely lived by this credo in the past).  What is new is that sustainability has somehow become synonymous with the environment – so much so that when we say sustainability today, it’s assumed that we’re talking about environmental sustainability.

Why does this make a difference?  Consider the many different contexts of the word:

  • Business sustainability, usually referring to whether a business or a business model can survive or not
  • Information sustainability, referring to how information is kept alive
  • Cultural sustainability, referring to whether a particular culture can survive
  • Ecosystem sustainability, which is a subset of environmental sustainability referencing a particular type of environment

Environmental sustainability is huge – it interweaves itself in and through our culture, our values, our economic system, our way of life.  So what does it mean when simply saying the word "sustainability" is almost a given reference to the environment?  There are four reasons that pop to mind:

  1. It is a recognition of the current "fad" that is getting governmental attention, though to call it a fad is to grossly understate the urgency of understanding our relationship with our surroundings.  This particular position is not one I agree with for exactly that reason, though it is held by various people.
  2. It is an acceptance of the idea that we must change our way of thinking about our daily lives.
  3. It is an encapsulation of many of the fears we have about the future and provides a focal point for our efforts to better understand and support the world around us.
  4. It is a tacit recognition that we have ignored the environmental impact of a consumerist society.

The tricky part about the entire question of sustainability is that its many different spheres – environmental, cultural, and all the rest – are all so enmeshed that changing our way of thinking about one type of sustainability can drastically weaken or strengthen the rest.  For example, the state of Washington (and every other state in the Union, for that matter) has strict policies on how long particular records must be kept by public organizations for audit purposes.  If you change those rules, you immediately impact three types of sustainability:

  • environmental, because you’ve changed how the information must be stored and how the media must be preserved (which could require special material treatments, additional infrastructure, etc.);
  • cultural, because you’ve changed the rules on how long records must be retained and thus have required the people responsible for those records to adjust their practices (note that this is a smaller example of cultural sustainability than what I was referencing above); and
  • information sustainability, because you’ve changed the length of time that that information must exist.

What happens, then, when we begin to think sustainably about our environment?  Our way of being changes.  This is not only essential; it’s required.  That’s why the word "sustainability" must be linked in people’s minds to the environment: to not do so is to put us all in grave danger of forgetting that we have to change.

Starbucks: Lethal? Not exactly.

I stumbled over an article published today about how Starbucks can actually help mom-and-pop coffee shops by opening stores nearby.  However, in reading the article, it becomes quite clear that the author has never seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

But closures like this have been the exception, not the rule. In its predatory store placement strategy, Starbucks has been about as lethal a killer as a fluffy bunny rabbit.

Give the bunnies a chance!

Holiday Raisin Couscous

This is part of a larger recipe for Chicken with Lime Sauce and Raisin Couscous, which originated at some point from the Food Network web site (I’ve been unable to locate any further information on it or to find the original entry, so I don’t have any proper credit beyond this).  This is only for the couscous part, which I make during the holidays.

1-3/4 cups chicken broth
1/3 cup raisins (adjust to taste; I usually go for more like a half cup)
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup couscous

In small saucepan, combine chicken broth, butter, raisins, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Boil 2 minutes over high heat.  Stir in couscous, cover, and remove from heat.  Let stand five minutes, fluff with fork, and serve immediately.