My MSIM Application Essay

While I have posted snippets of my application essay for the MSIM program before, I’ve never actually posted the whole thing, and it occurred to me that this might make for interesting reading.  So here it is!

Peter Ellis, Application Essay for the Master of Science in Information Management Program
University of Washington – Seattle, January 2007

As a college freshman, I became aware of the interconnectivity of the world.  It is far from coincidence that many of those connections are expressed and explored through the exchange of information.  It is only recently, though, that I have realized that much of my work at the college level has been an effort to assist myself and others with visualizing and describing how the information they present should be organized.  As a writing tutor at Evergreen, my job was to reach a better understanding of information, its roots, and its connection to other ideas and facts; realizing a better organization and distribution of the Writing Center’s informational documents is my vision as the Center’s Information Technology Manager this year.

But what is information?  Certainly, there are textbook definitions, but I think of information as collective knowledge passed on by some form of communication.  Information can persist, but not without some method of recording it.  Information necessarily must be interpreted via communication, in addition to being conveyed through such means.  Without a method to interpret what is provided, potentially invaluable resources can be lost forever.  Worse than the loss of information is the loss of information’s meaning.

It is important to remember that information and information technologies are not inextricably linked.  Though information should survive without modern information technologies to manage it, the inverse is not true.  Modern information technologies serve to make the collection and dissemination of information far more efficient, and also make available new methods of manipulating information; still, it is the information itself that is key, and one must not lose sight of this.

Information management has been my work in some form since high school, but communicating information has been a lifelong pursuit.  As a person who wears hearing aids, I have found a natural affinity with the written word and the Internet as a communications medium.  Perhaps because, for me, there are fewer barriers in understanding via instant messaging, that is how I have found myself regularly communicating with others.  My desire to understand more about information stems – at least in part – from this experience.

I have found that information management is not just about the approach, but about the ethical and professional handling of information.  Without a clear and objective preservation and organization of the information crucial to organizations, and without a clear eye towards how such information should be presented, managed, and used, the process of preserving information for future use becomes a losing battle.  As a writing tutor who worked with students to discover meaning in their writing, I allowed them to realize the importance of knowing how what they tried to present should be organized and stated in a clear, concise manner.

As I shifted into my role as Information Technology Manager, I became the steward of digital copies of resources vital to the Writing Center’s daily operation, ranging from publicity documents to yearly statistics reports.  I find myself now in the position of drafting policy and recommendations about how the Center’s computer resources should best be organized, and also writing grant proposals to support that work.  My work on a digital archive of past and present Center documents, as well as my work on a customized appointment system for the Writing Center, has given me a far greater understanding of the centrality of information in work environments.

With this experience, I find myself considering another major interest of mine: sustainability.  Since my freshman year of college, I have been fascinated by this subject, particularly the issue of sustainable economics.  I have found, though, that there is very little baseline by which to measure corporate commitment to sustainable principles.  My experience with information is not yet broad or deep enough to understand well what it takes to measure sustainable performance.  I hope to apply my work in information management to construct a method of assessing companies by their commitment to sustainability.  I envision allowing everyone the ability to understand where corporations stand in relation to implementing more ecologically friendly approaches to business.

When I examined the MSIM program, I was surprised to find a profound intersection between my personal beliefs and the program’s identity statement.  I have made a point of ensuring that all the work I have done to date is human-centered and advances the ability of organizations and people to work not only more intelligently, but more efficiently.  I also have an interest in how information (or the lack of it) can influence everyday action on personal and organizational levels.  My personal mantra – though I have only consciously realized this recently – is that everything is interconnected; without information, those connections can be hard to articulate or even see.

25 Random Things

Originally posted on Facebook as part of a meme going around, but reposting here as well.

Okay, okay, I’ll bite on this one, since it actually looks fun (though I’ll probably repost to my real blog…)

Rules: Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.

  1. I have absolutely no ability to resist sweets. I do, however, at least make an effort to select healthier sweets (oatmeal raisin cookies) when possible. Ah, who am I kidding.
  2. I want to buy a new bike and actually ride it – none of this sissy “hey, look, I bought it, now it’s a paperweight!” stuff, like what happened with the guitar I picked up. I’ve been strangely attracted to the Jamis Aurora, but can’t bring myself to test ride.
  3. I have a severe hatred of people who arrive noticeably late (say, 3 minutes after class/the appointment/whatever starts).
  4. It’s much easier for me to pretend to hear something than it is to actually hear it – this saves me a lot of “huh, can you repeat that?” loops, but gets me in trouble.
  5. When my parents lived in Seattle (I was quite young), I once hung a sign on the front gate in an effort to make money. I don’t recall what the sign said. I do recall my mother disapproving.
  6. Despite being an adult, I still can’t get over the occasional feeling that bad, scary things are creeping up behind me. Oddly, this only happens in certain places at my parent’s house (no, Dad, it isn’t you…)
  7. I don’t understand people who do things that don’t make them happy (I realize that this is sometimes necessary, but in a good number of cases, avoidable).
  8. I’m an armchair therapist, though I’m not sure friends actually appreciate the advice.
  9. “Environmentalist” isn’t really the right description for me. “Environmental sustainability enthusiast” is much, much more accurate.
  10. Spaceballs: Best. Movie. Ever. Next up would be Reduced Shakespeare Company.
  11. I want to write a novel, I just can’t seem to start. I want to write a nonfiction book, I just can’t seem to start. Oddly, I have plenty of poetry and song lyrics sitting around.
  12. The conversations I have with myself are sometimes the most interesting conversations I’ll have all day. This is sad, but true.
  13. I’m an introvert – literally. I scored 0 in the “E” component of the Meyers-Briggs test last time I took it (and I’ve taken it several times – last was in my senior year in college).
  14. As a consequence of both introversion and wearing hearing aids, I appreciate silence far more than anyone should. I was once on an overnight trip with a class where it was the quietest place I’ve ever run into, and the minutes I spent in that silence were peaceful.
  15. I am often told that it’s really obvious when I’m thinking.
  16. I appreciate the irony of owning a Prius and never driving it.
  17. At the same time as #16, I wish I drove it more, and on longer trips…
  18. …except that, for me, it’s not the act of driving that sucks, it’s the other drivers. I’d be perfectly happy being the only person on the road (and I’m quite certain this is a shared sentiment).
  19. I refuse to answer phones and have a somewhat irrational fear of them. Unfortunately, this is a point that often surpasses the understanding of others. If you e-mail me or contact me electronically, however, I’m as happy as a clam.
  20. The best job interview question I have ever been asked is “If you were a punctuation mark, what would you be?” This was for my work with Evergreen’s Writing Center. My answer to that today is the same as it was originally, but with different logic behind it: “I would be a period, because I tend to be quite abrupt, but very good at bringing things to a logical conclusion.”
  21. I miss living in the townhouse Amanda and I rented in Olympia; my heart skipped a beat when I noticed that one of those same townhouses was for sale a couple days ago.
  22. I want to live up to Gandhi’s statement of being the change we wish to see in the world. I am struggling to figure out how to satisfy that desire.
  23. So far, my favorite places are Hornby Island in British Columbia and San Francisco. I would love to travel to Italy or Greece, however (it’s my high school Latin classes calling their siren songs..)
  24. When it comes to (non-dessert) food, my weakness is pasta. Or pesto. Probably both.
  25. My biggest strength (and, consequently, my biggest weakness) is my independence.
  26. As of late, I’ve felt a lot like Gregory House (from the TV show House M.D.) and I have a lot in common.

How Recessions Should Impact Home Ownership

The Seattle Times had an interesting article a week or so ago on how the recession may well change the way that American homes are designed, much like what happened after World War II.  The article, towards the end, acknowledges that sustainable, green housing design (with a variety of associated design criteria) are likely to be adopted for new home construction:

Hudson and McAlester agreed that energy efficiency will be a lasting concern for buyers.

“Homes will be built in a greener and greener manner to reduce long-term utility costs,” McAlester said.

Hudson expects homes to have more energy-monitoring systems and more solar-powered systems to provide electricity and hot water. He expects more use of geothermal heat pumps, which capitalizes on the fact that a few feet below the surface, the ground maintains a stable temperature of 50 to 60 degrees throughout the year.

These heat exchangers use that steady temperature to heat and cool air inside the home. The equipment can cost several times more than an air-to-air heat pump, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, but greater efficiency can mean cheaper energy bills within five to 10 years.

— “Recession May Redesign the American Home“, Elizabeth Razzi, The Seattle Times, January 10, 2009.

Perhaps not shockingly to those who know enough about my background and my beliefs, but my response to this is the following: “Good start, but not good enough.”  There’s a few things I could think of that would help this along:

  • Pass a state law requiring residential construction to meet a minimum standard of energy efficiency. Whether this takes the form of LEED for Home requirements, meeting the 2030 Challenge, require these standards – don’t rely on homebuyers to insist upon them for any reason.  These laws should apply to new construction and remodels, regardless of project size.  There’s nothing particularly odd about considering this for Washington State – we already do this for public buildings.  This is ideally a federal requirement, but this is doubtful.
  • Lock down unintelligent further expansion into undeveloped areas. “How in the world does this help the economy, or, for that matter, provide for new home construction?”, I hear you asking.  The key word here is “unintelligent”.  A recent article in the Seattle Times blasted laws that allow property development in areas designated as floodplains – floodplain development and expansion would certainly cause further issues as the tendency for more severe floods increases.  Increasing population density in city centers, when done properly, can significantly enhance quality of life.  There is no reason why this could not be well-executed.
  • Create incentives for homeowners to purchase existing homes on existing land and renovate using sustainable approaches and lower-impact technology. As I’ve been looking around the real estate market as late, I’ve seen a number of opportunities where homes could be brought up-to-date, lowering their overall upkeep costs.  State or federal incentives to encourage such upgrades, provided that a sufficient number of homeowners are allowed to take advantage of these incentives (my thought would be to not cap the number of participants in any way, shape, or form), could drastically increase the livability of existing properties.
  • Turn the principle of buying a home on its head. It’s not just about a roof over your head, it’s about supporting your health, happiness, and general outlook on life.  One of the best ways to improve these is to invest in environmental changes – including around the home – that make it a friendlier place to live.  Whether this means increasing the amount of daylight coming in to the home, remodeling so that the flow of the space fits your needs, or lowering the cost of energy, utilizing these efficiency gains for both personal happiness and to lower the overhead of home ownerships can be a net benefit.  Shifting the act of home ownership entirely away from assets, credit, and all of the financial burdens that such an act creates and towards supporting one’s own personal goals and endeavors forces a complete rethinking of how we live as a society.

This is a topic I’ve been considering as I think about when I want to consider home ownership, and is doubtlessly a topic that will come up once again.

Winter Quarter Green IT Research Questions

My independent study this quarter focuses on the intersection of sustainability and information management, asking these three questions:

  1. What does it mean to treat information management as a “cradle to cradle” activity? (Another way of putting the same question: how does environmental sustainability impact approaches to information management?)
  2. What metrics provide a comprehensive picture of an organization’s ecological footprint?
  3. How can sustainable actions be visualized?

It is expected that these three questions result in two separate research papers; I will also be writing a book review of one of the three books I picked out for this independent study.