The Breakthrough Generation 2008 Conference

Hmmm.  Excerpts:

On April 10th, 2008, a small group of the country’s top young progressives and post-environmental thinkers and activists will come together in Washington, DC to outline a vision and a strategy for a new progressive movement, one that leaves behind the old generation’s narrow and complaint-based politics.

[ . . . ]

The Breakthrough Generation 2008 Conference seeks highly motivated and talented young individuals who are willing to challenge accepted social and political norms and possess an ability to think and work in new ways.

Notes: Using Uncensored Communication Channels to Divert Spam Traffic, January 31, 2008

This was a presentation given by Benjamin Chiao from the University of Michigan – he’s currently a PhD student at their Information School, but also has an economic background, which is where much of this talk was couched.

  • What’s the point of solving spam problem? Less time sorting spam, less economic cost for blocking spam, customers spend less money
  • $10 billion/year spent on spam related technologies
  • What is uncensored/open channel? keep inbox filters, no filters in special folder, guarantee delivery of messages into folder
  • Properly tagged messages will automatically be assigned to a folder/label
  • No new technological infrastructure required and fully reversible
  • Existing mechanisms to prevent spam: legal punishment, filters
  • Proposal of the open channel: decrease benefits of spamming by decreasing the number of recipients
  • Economics: micro-economic model shows open channels increase benefits to recipients, advertisers
  • This is not a unique mechanism – Chiao compared it to TV shopping channels: you don’t have to watch, but the information is constantly there
  • Open channel is like web sites – anyone can post
  • Not excluding the possibility of search within the open channel
  • Sender tags sent messages (as being part of the channel? This wasn’t clear in the talk)
  • The definition of spam used here specifically targets unsolicited commercial mass e-mails – no other message types are considered here
  • Current spam volumes are between 80-90% of total network traffic – 40% advertise medications, 19% is adult content, 41% other (according to Evett 2006
  • Spammers continue because they are economically supported – there’s a point where the supply of spam must meet demand
  • Why do we need open channel? Why not just search for the content via existing search engines? Sites selling these products disappear too quickly: 30% of domains created die within a day (according to MessageLabs 2005)
  • Spammers need to keep pushing information to inboxes because they must move rapidly due to legal reasons
  • 60% of spam messages are sent by zombies – computers hijacked for the explicit purpose of sending spam
  • The CAN-SPAM Act has essentially legalized spamming
  • The open channel proposal separates the current e-mail ecosystem into two ecosystems – one “open” (the proposal) and one “traditional” (the current model)
  • Audience observation: this system assumes that EVERY e-mail system implements the open-channel concept
  • Current technology already partially implements this idea (sort of)
  • Spammers might be happier on open channel! 😀
  • This is still a theoretical idea
  • Essentially create two channels: one open and one censored (I’m not clear on whether the “channels” are analogous to the “ecosystems” mentioned above)
  • E-mail recipients opt in to the open channel in order to maximize their own utility
  • The sender gets its current revenue from the advertising charge times the number of mails received
  • The sender’s current cost is the constant reestablishment of sending channels (zombies)
  • The open channel attempts to establish equilibrium between advertisers and receivers of spam (note that advertisers, senders, and receivers are independent parties)
  • There is not just a supply curve but a demand curve for UCM
  • The open channel method induces UCM to move out of the current e-mail system

I’m not sure Benjamin gave sufficient background to make any of us fully appreciate the idea – there’s two problems with it that I can see: first, it exists within the reality of economics, not the reality that we commonly deal with. Thus, it’s governed by the same economic laws that give me such a headache in PB AF 594, and understanding the concept requires a suspension of our own realities in order to appreciate the laws that govern the proposal. The second problem is that it’s not clear how this can be implemented within the current system. Is this a system that merely adds a tag to all messages that identify it as open-channel or “traditional”? How do you physically separate the two ecosystems without actually modifying the current e-mail structure, and how do you enforce proper usage of both ecosystems? An honor system in which we assume that the senders, the receivers, and the advertisers are all working to maximize their own utility (basically their net happiness) is perfect in economic theory because economic theory establishes that everyone will strive towards some theoretical maximum benefit, but in reality, it just doesn’t seem possible.

There was one thing that I want to follow up on – Benjamin mentioned the Attention-Bond Mechanism (Loder 2006) in his talk, so I’ll have to look up exactly what that entails (it’s a concept related to the acceptance or rejection of e-mail messages).

Notes from Central Debates of Sustainable Design, January 15, 2008

Ann Thorpe, author of The Designer’s Atlas of Sustainability, gave a talk entitled “Central Debates of Sustainable Design” as part of the UW’s Luce lecture series. My notes from this are below.

  • Wanted to cover in the book where people come from when approaching sustainability and how to “do” sustainability
  • Book systematically and visually presents the concept
    • “The making of” – the book started in 2001
    • Based on the principle of “If worth doing, it’s worth doing badly” – had to start somewhere for the idea
  • Central debates: responsibility, pace (of adoption), scale, operation, and appearance. The talk focused on the first three central debates.
  • Designers rarely have time to get up to speed if they don’t know about sustainability
  • The market is not the same as the overall economy
  • Natural resources have different prices
  • “Let the market decide”
  • The operational spheres of nonprofits, private, and public organizations all overlap with the economy
  • It appears cheaper to destroy natural or societal resources than it is to preserve them according to the market
  • What responsibilities do designers take across a market economy?
  • Nonprofits will be seen as having a potential for a proactive stance in promoting issues
  • Part of the problem is how we take things from the ecosystem and then redistribute it
  • We don’t see the costs for the global distribution of produced materials
  • Different things work at a different pace – art/fashion, communication, infrastructure, culture, nature (this list is actually sorted fastest to slowest in terms of rate of change)
  • Commerce is starting to control the pace of change
  • Much as we want to push change, we need stability in the (economic) system
  • Change takes three forms: physical, economic, and cultural
  • Audience question: sustainable costs more – can we make it cost less? Do cases of this happening exist?
  • Answer: marketplace tools are a solution here. There are some cases where this has happened.
  • Things are cheap in monetary terms that aren’t in sustainable terms – this is a systemic problem
  • “Be an active citizen” to make sustainability viable – knowledge is power
  • Sustainability is complex and depends on context of values
  • How might open source play into sustainable design?
  • Audience: We do sustainable buildings, but it “doesn’t look good”

Information Architecture Panel: January 10, 2008

The iSchool held a panel of practitioners in the field of Information Architecture as part of iCareer Week at the beginning of the quarter. These are my notes from that panel (interpreted without quite as much of the fresh context in my head as I usually like, I must admit).

  • Recommended courses: 530/540 (taxonomy/technology); project management; research methods and analytical skills; coollaboration/teamwork; 580s; User Centered Design (UW Extension/UW Educational Outreach)
  • When in class, always ask the question: “What’s the point of this?’ Also ask, “How can I communicate the value of this to someone not familiar with the concept?”
  • What kind of information architect do you want to be?
  • “What other value can I add to the degree?” (ask this)
  • Mike Crandall: What functional subspecialties are there in IA? What is IA?
    • metadata, user experience, user research, usability, analytics, wireframes, data modeling, interface/interaction design, evaluation
    • Major groupings within IA: taxonomy, HCI, design (visual and interaction)
    • There are also “innies” vs. “outies”: internal and external consultancies in IA. The contrast here is one of a mother who takes care of the kids and an ER doc who does triage. This is the contrast between a consultant for a company and a consultant for an agency.
    • If you want to get into programming as part of the MSIM degree, go for concepts, not languages
    • It’s difficult to be a developer and an information architect.
    • It’s important to be able to talk to people who understand how the system is built – hence why programming can be important.
  • Mike Crandall: What kinds of tools do you use?
    • Outlook/Excel/Office, mind mapping software, Illustrator (some), InDesign, workflows
    • “We’re consultants first” – need to be able to advertise and deliver IA. How to express that? “Deliverables, wireframes…”
    • “Tools were not a big concern [in work] – I had the underpinnings.”
  • Mike Crandall: Looking for a job – what did you do in your job search? How did you find IA-related jobs?
    • Join a professional organization related to IA and stay informed
    • Look for a job using your own personal network – go through the people you know
    • Make your own projects while you don’t have a job and build it. Create your own portfolio.
    • Get into a company that needs what you want to do and do it (note that this may not match your “official” job title!)
    • Brush up on resumes and cover letters
  • Audience question: how do you present stuff that’s not really done?
    • Get to the level of “I feel good about this piece of work” and give the context of the assignment
    • Depends on the type of IA you want to do
    • You’re attempting, in your portfolio, to show how you synthesize a large amount of work
    • Mike Crandall: process is the important thing: you sell the process, not the work.
    • Don’t be afraid to say you don’t do something because it isn’t your strength!
  • Mike Crandall: What is your next career step?
    • CEO! Getting more of the science behind the ideas, getting more in front of clients, practicing current work, “getting good”, balance design with working with people, create a collaborative process, start their own company, become web director, learn business skills, learn team management, work on motivation (self and others), get more management/oversight experience, work on client/account management
  • Audience question: What do you hate?
    • Being rushed, repetition, wireframes (sort of)
  • wireframes are breaking down – high level of interaction
  • Special Interest Group lists are valuable
  • Audience question: when did you finally feel confident?
    • When working with first client
    • Focus on the user is your selling point
    • Fake it – say stuff with confidence, even if you have no clue what you’re doing
    • Know how to figure things out

Data Ambiguity in Names

Terry Brooks, lecturing in INFO498, made an excellent point in his brief discussion towards the end of class today: the standardization of names is something that still troubles those that are pursuing the representation of people on the Semantic Web.  This is a larger data problem, though – how do you represent names when there are so many different methods of referring to a person?

For instance, the Library of Congress uses the format of “<Last Name>, <First Name> <Middle Name>”, but might also end up using “<Last Name>, <First Name> <Middle Initial>.”.  Friend of a Friend, one of the XML schemas used to represent information about people, might use “<First Name> <Last Name>” or “<First Name> <Middle Name> <Last Name>” or “<First Name> <Middle Initial> <Last Name>”.  How about academic citation formats?  APA, used by the social sciences, lists as “<Last Name>, <First Initial>.”.

So what does it take to be comprehensive?  Let’s use the name of the main test dummy on one of my favorite shows, Mythbusters, to demonstrate.  He is only known as “Buster”, but we’ll expand his name to “Buster Dee Myth”.

  • First Name: Buster
  • First Initial: B.
  • Middle Name: Dee
  • Middle Initial: D.
  • Last Name (Surname): Myth
  • Last Initial: M.

Ah, but wait – what about titles (Doctor, Sir) or numerations (the Third)?  Expand his name to “Sir Buster Dee Myth II”:

  • Title: Sir
  • Numeration: II (see the problems here?)

And this is just names.  What if there are multiple people named “Sir Buster Dee Myth II” (hopefully not)?

  • Birth date (see the problems here?)
  • Death date (see the problems here?)

Pushing the envelope still farther: what if there are are multiple people named “Sir Buster Dee Myth II” both born on the same day and died on the same day?  Okay, this seems a bit unlikely (unless they’re clones).  We’ll stop with the bulleted list there.  Is this a comprehensive representation of a person?  Does it represent everything we might need to know to identify a person as a single unique entity?  No.  What’s missing?

  • Birth place (see the problems here?)
  • Current location (see the problems here?  Is this category really necessary to uniquely isolate a single person?  No.)

We set out to standardize names, but we run into other standardization problems: how do we represent numeration (the Third, III)?  Or dates (MM-DD-YY, MM-DD-YYYY, DD-MM-YYYY)?  Or locations (latitude/longitude, country, state, city, zip code)?

The point: standardizing names is not easy, because it requires more than simply the standardization of the name itself.  This doesn’t even consider the relationships between names and, say, works referring to that particular person, or works authored by that particular person, or jobs performed by that particular person — and the list goes on.  The idea of semantic data is to describe relationships and context (this is a bit of an oversimplification); each element must be carefully crafted in order for this to happen.

Career Goals

Even though this is posted on my internal wiki, I figured I’d post it here for posterity.

This document outlines my personal career goals as they currently stand, as well as related academic goals that inform these goals.

General Goals

  1. Apply my personal mantra, “everything is interconnected”, to information management and sustainability and understand how these fields infiltrate and influence everyday decisions.
  2. Work in a collaborative rather than an isolated environment.
  3. When possible, incite change. When impossible, make possible.

Academic Goals

  1. Serve as teaching assistant for an undergraduate course.
  2. Assist in the learning process of my fellow students; learning is not competition.

Topic-Specific Goals: Information Management

  1. Understand how information is ethically and professionally handled and embody these standards in my own work.
  2. Understand the paradigms behind information organization.
  3. Actively consider issues of information fragmentation, information overload, and information sustainability.
  4. Place human use of information first.
  5. Promote information accessibility.
  6. Participate in relevant national professional associations.

Topic-Specific Goals: Environmental Sustainability

  1. Significantly contribute to thinking and dialog about environmental sustainability and environmental policy.
  2. Understand the relationship between information and sustainable action.
  3. Promote corporate and public environmental stewardship.
  4. Recognize that sustainability is not achieved in a void. Promote cross-political and interdisciplinary sustainable initiatives.

    “I never saw a Democratic mountain or a Republican glacier.” – Daniel J. Evans

  5. Influence organizational thinking and action around sustainable ideals.

A Shift in Philosophy

People may or may not be aware that my work at Evergreen made one thing abundantly obvious: everything is interconnected. I’ve been living by this mantra for quite some time (indeed, since somewhere around my freshman year at Evergreen), but lately, I’ve come to realize that, while it’s certainly sufficient to recognize this, there’s an extra layer to this idea that I hadn’t quite recognized. There are two ways that I can state this, and I haven’t quite decided which one I prefer yet, since they are two distinct expressions of the same set of ideas:

Everything is interconnected, given a particular context.


Everything is interconnected; context is king.

The word “context” is something that is repeated almost ad nauseam in a lot of the work that I’ve done so far in the MSIM program. A lot of user interaction design work depends on the context in which a solution will be used. How things are categorized depends on the context of that information in relation to other facets. The context in which a question is asked can affect the results of that question. Management styles differ depending upon how managers choose to contextualize different information in their environments.

There is one major thing missing at this point as well that I’ve actually chosen not to attempt to integrate: the centrality of the user (or, less technically, of people) in information management. The reason for this is that it’s already recognized in my personal statement of my career goals (which has not been posted to this blog – it exists on my personal wiki).

So what’s the difference between these two potential statements? “given a particular context” implies restrictions or limitations on what connections can be formed, and suggests to me that those limitations may not be surmountable. On the other hand, “context is king” recognizes the original spirit of the mantra of “everything is interconnected” – that everything, somehow, connects to something else, context or not. It also recognizes that context plays a central role in our accumulation of knowledge and information.

Which one I end up choosing will depend heavily on which of these interpretations I feel is more central to my work.

Bush Screws Up

Why the hell was Bush provoking Iran in the State of the Union?  If I wake up and find out that we’re at war with Iran tomorrow morning, I’m pointing fingers directly at Bush.

More reactions to come once I get access to the transcript.

Information Management According to ERIC

As part of a class assignment for IMT 530, I’ve had to use some of the subject indexing resources at Suzallo Library on campus – one of them is the Thesaurus of ERIC Descriptors.  While I was doing my indexing work, I ran across the following definition of information management:

Management of the acquisition, organization, storage, retrieval, and dissemination of information–can combine such traditional organizational functions as data processing, telecommunications, records control, and user services.

Now if the iSchool could make it that clear :)