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.

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.

Reflections on Writing

As a writing tutor, I tried to be as honest and straightforward about my assessments of student writing as I could while supporting the art and act of writing and helping writers to see where they had room to improve.  This made me a very polar writing tutor: people either loved sessions with me or they hated it and never returned.  If I got lucky, students who hated it realized that they needed the level of candid feedback that I provided and returned for more sessions with different pieces of work.  If I got extremely lucky, the writers that I absolutely reveled in working with returned time and time again.  That is not to say that I did not enjoy each and every single session I had (there were bad ones, but 90% of them were enjoyable).  But the quality of the writing and the talent of the writer allowed me to engage on a much deeper philosophical level with several students over time, getting past mechanics into more complicated issues like flow, thesis development, voice, and assertiveness.

I have not offered to read many of my classmate’s papers in the MSIM program, partly because it was no longer my job, but partly because my group work and the quality of the writing that resulted from that work discouraged me.  It is not that I am dealing with more English as a World Language speakers (some of whom have a better grasp of the mechanics of English composition than I do!), but that I am left unimpressed by the devotion to the art.  I recognize in many of my classmates the same tendencies that I wrestled with as a writing tutor: an aversion to the skill of written communication in general, a lack of interest in complete development of ideas, and no realization of the power that the written word holds.  Again, I do not imply that these are bad writers — there is no such thing – underdeveloped, perhaps, where skill can be improved, but never bad — only that they seem detached.

The problem is this: the MSIM program is a professional program, and a core competency for professionals is to be able to write.  By this, I do not mean the ability to string words together to make a coherent sentence – it is a much higher level than that.  It is the ability to use words to convince, to argue, to assert, to discuss, and to realize.  I do not demand that they enjoy the act, that they pine for the days when they can pick up the pen or sit down at the keyboard and write.  I do not even demand that they do so frequently (the program does, but I don’t).  Instead, I demand that they respect the process and that they devote themselves to nothing less than the best they can achieve.  Half-hearted is not sufficient.  I prefer no complaints, but I will tolerate those within reason, for not everyone is as interested in writing as I am.  If I am to hear whining the entire quarter about how we have to write a paper, I am unlikely to be interested in working with that individual again, for such reactions are uninspiring and indicative of more than they might think.

This is not a complaint post – far from it.  I am not bemoaning my peers, nor am I taking any stance in particular as to the technical quality of their work.  I have merely realized that my skills in writing have influenced my perception of my peers.  I have also realized that perhaps I have failed at something small but nonetheless significant: it was not simply my job to promote the art and act of writing as a writing tutor, but to carry this effort on.  I owe this in part to Kevin Desouza, associate professor at the Information School, who tirelessly offers on a weekly basis to both his Change Management and Finance classes to read any writing sent his way so long as it is mechanically correct.  His devotion to his students and to supporting them is above and beyond some of the other classes I have taken here.  This is neither good nor bad from a program perspective, but from the perspective of a tutor who has, perhaps, let the art slip, is inspiring nonetheless.

An Open Letter to Tim Eyman

The letter below was originally written as a reflection paper for Kevin Desouza’s class, IMT 583 – Finance & Accounting Foundations for Information Professionals.

Mr. Eyman:

It seems, that in this economic climate where people are trying to make life easier for themselves, you are intent upon bringing up initiatives that will only waste our money and time. In fact, your abuse of Washington’s initiative system has been so flagrant that you have been mocked by an initiative that attempted to name you a horse’s ass[3]. Fortunately for you – unfortunately for the citizens of Washington – the Courts struck Initiative 831 down as a mockery of the initiative system[5]. Now we find you at it again with Initiative 985, which has been soundly discounted by none less than the federal government as potentially endangering Washington’s transportation infrastructure, despite your attempts to prove otherwise[1].

So here is my proposal: since you seem so gung-ho about utilizing the initiative system to make the lives of Washington State citizens better (nevermind that you often miss your target and go straight to making it a living hell): why not create an initiative to abolish Washington State’s observation of Daylight Savings Time?

No, bear with me now – this is no better or worse an initiative than you could have dreamed up yourself. Arizona and Hawaii already buck the trend of daylight savings (so much so that Arizona becomes its own time zone when the rest of the country switches to Daylight Savings). Back in 2007, when the United States extended Daylight Savings so that it ended later, the National Geographic had this to say:

A study released last year by the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the change will save less than 1 percent of the country’s annual energy consumption.

Bob Aldrich of the California Energy Commission told National Public Radio that energy needs in the U.S. have changed a lot since the 1970s, when the data supporting the current bill was collected.

"We’ve become much more electronically configured, if you will," he told NPR. In addition to lights, people plug in more computers, televisions, satellite dishes, and other power-hungry electronics than they did 30 years ago[2].

Yup, that’s right – we based the choice, in part, on data from the 1970s! Keep in mind, Daylight Savings Time was a way of helping to standardize railroad schedules, and no federal mandate exists that requires states to observe it[6]. Let’s examine this from a financial perspective, since your initiatives are all about saving citizens money.

Consider for a moment that Washington is widely regarded as an economic gateway to Asian countries. Thus, much of our economy depends on our economic relationships with them. Later in Handwerk’s article, he cites Anthony Concil of the International Air Transport Association:

"When Europe and the U.S. are on different times, connections become less convenient. Right now there is one week of discord between the U.S. and Europe, so it’s sort of at a manageable level," Concil said.

He argued that if the energy bill passed, every year "you might have a monthlong period where you have lousy connections, so from a traveler’s perspective it’s not going to be particularly good."

Airlines may ultimately feel the change where it hurts the most—on the bottom line.

"It’s going to be expensive for airlines," Concil added. "Particularly for U.S. carriers—and they are in a difficult climate right now—it’s a major issue, as well as for carriers traveling to and from the U.S."

In 2006, the State of Indiana required all of its counties to begin observing Daylight Savings Time consistently – previously, it was left up to the counties to determine whether or not to observe Daylight Savings. Researchers from the National Bureau of Economic Research took advantage of this law to study energy consumption changes in the state. In the abstract of their report, they state:

Our main finding is that—contrary to the policy’s intent—DST increases residential electricity demand. Estimates of the overall increase are approximately 1 percent, but we find that the effect is not constant throughout the DST period. DST causes the greatest increase in electricity consumption in the fall, when estimates range between 2 and 4 percent. These findings are consistent with simulation results that point to a tradeoff between reducing demand for lighting and increasing demand for heating and cooling. We estimate a cost of increased electricity bills to Indiana households of $9 million per year. We also estimate social costs of increased pollution emissions that range from $1.7 to $5.5 million per year. Finally, we argue that the effect is likely to be even stronger in other regions of the United States[4].

An abolishment of Daylight Savings would likely have drastic impacts on our energy usage and consumption in the residential sector. Pairing an abolishment of Daylight Savings with a significant push for energy conservation and for companies to manufacture highly energy-efficient products could only help the state.

So, Mr. Eyman, I implore you – prepare our state for the future once again and throw your weight behind creating this initiative. Like many other initiatives that you have fathered, you can expect a good deal of healthy debate of the pros and cons of such an initiative; unlike your other initiatives, however, no matter what the result, you will have encouraged the citizens of our state to think seriously about energy conservation and use, as well as the practicality of observing an outmoded tool used for synchronizing train schedules.

With warmest regards,

Peter Ellis

Works Cited

  1. Broom, J. (2008, October 25). "Federal transportation officials say Eyman’s initiative could be costly to state". The Seattle Times. Retrieved online November 2, 2008 from
  2. Handwerk, B. (2007, March 9). "Daylight Saving Change: Energy Boon or Waste of Time?". National Geographic. Retrieved online November 2, 2008 from
  3. Initiative 831. Retrieved online November 2, 2008 from
  4. Kotchen, M. J. and Grant, L. E. (2008, October). Does Daylight Saving Time Save Energy? Evidence from a Natural Experiment in Indiana. Cambridge: National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved online November 2, 2008 from
  5. Modie, N. (2003, March 15). "A bum rap? Eyman initiative is ruled out". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved online November 2, 2008 from
  6. Vernon, J. (2008, October 31). "Daylight Saving Time History in the U.S.". National Geographic. Retrieved online November 2, 2008 from

Book Review: Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything

Book Cover for Wikinomics

This review is cross-posted from Kevin Desouza’s blog "Ideas 4 Change: Thoughts from an Info Mgmt Class".

Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams. New York: Portfolio, 2008. 315pp. $27.95 (ISBN 978-1-59184-193-7)

The essential premise of this work is that the business world as we know it has been changed irrevocably by bottom-up models of collaboration inspired and driven by the Internet. The authors, Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, argue that businesses have two choices: yield to the power of distributed collaboration or die.

Wikinomics strives to set forth a new economic model that takes advantage of a collision of forces: the advent of cheap technologies that enable cheap, easy collaboration and a new generation of workers that have grown up in an increasingly digital world. It argues that collaboration itself has been redefined, that "[t]he new promise of collaboration is that with peer production we will harness human skill, ingenuity, and intelligence more efficiently and effectively than anything we have witnessed previously" (18). The pillars of wikinomics – openness, peering, sharing, and acting globally – replace a tired business method foundationally supported by the idea of the hierarchy and holding knowledge and creative power within companies, jealously guarding these resources as sacrosanct. Rather than companies dictating what they will and will not accept as goods and services to customers or suppliers, companies must now innovate and work alongside them. Organizations not working with the customer merely leads to customers circumventing organizations and designing their own products and services; the organization then misses out on an opportunity to vastly improve products and services and to innovate (149).

The core chapters of the book set forth seven competitive and growth models for corporate use, with an introductory overview, a discussion of what factors created the fundamental changes discussed within the book, one chapter devoted to addressing the arguments against the wikinomics model, and one chapter devoted to discussing how these models can be implemented in what the authors consider the organizations of old. The authors set forth the following seven models:

  • Peer producers, where individuals independently form groups to produce something (67);
  • Ideagoras, global marketplaces of ideas and innovations (98);
  • Prosumers, consumers that both consume and produce goods and services (126);
  • The New Alexandrians, embracers of the openness of today’s economies who construct new collaborative environments (156-7);
  • Open platforms, where companies open their wares for others to build upon (184);
  • The global plant floor, where companies no longer keep all their knowledge and talent in-house and instead farm out responsibility and risk to suppliers, who, in turn, become partners in invention (218);
  • And, finally, the wiki workplace, where openness, collaboration, sharing, and acting globally are creating a new workplace (240).

Elements of each of these models – which all bring outside resources into the center of organizational culture – can foster successful assimilation into the new open economy.

One of the major unacknowledged themes in Wikinomics is the idea that the modern worker suffers from an abundance of information overload, which is, in part, due to the way organizations operate. This is a particularly interesting thread from an information management perspective. In the Wiki Workplace chapter, the authors write that

. . . the vast majority of employees don’t do business processes anymore, at least not in the traditional sense. After years of optimizing supply chains, outsourcing, automation, and stripping costs and inefficiencies out of the back office, most employees spend very little of their day working on regularized activities. "What they do," says [Ross Mayfield, CEO and founder of Socialtext], "is they manage exceptions to processes. Even in the most mundane workplaces like a call center, people are constantly wrestling with new problems" (255, emphasis added).

Workers no longer deal with the routine; they deal with the rule-breakers, and that negotiation often ends up in a slew of information that is never documented or captured for organizational use (and in fact, often gets lost in the shuffle of daily e-mail) (256).

Open platforms really discuss empowering people with access to information that the companies themselves have only loose ideas of how to handle. Tapscott and Williams frame this along the lines of the adage in the Linux community known as "Linus’s Law" after Linux coordinator Linus Torvalds (which, surprisingly, given that they hold Linux up as a model of innovation, is never quoted in the book itself): "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow". To restate this in the context of the book, given enough eyes, all solutions are shallow. Companies lack access to resources to realize all the potential that their data or inventions have – even if they had these resources, they would be unable to process the information. Thus, they are forced to open their walls and create scenarios where "ordinary people can create effective new information services that are more resilient than bureaucratic channels" with these "open platforms for innovation inviting unprecedented participation in value creation" (188).

So with all of the new information thrust upon us and with the advent of such broad-ranging technologies that enable collaboration cheaply and easily across geographic, technological, and ideological boundaries, what are organizations to do? Tapscott and Williams contend that the only things organizations can do – and the only way they survive – is to adapt themselves rapidly to the new models of sharing and cooperation that this "perfect storm of technology, demographics, and global economics" creates (54). The Net Generation, with drastically different norms than seen in business in the past – "speed, freedom, openness, mobility, authenticity, and playfulness" (54) – combined with cheap collaboration technology combined with a global economy that "demands and enables new kinds of economic cooperation and opens up the world of knowledge workers to every company seeking uniquely qualified minds to solve their problem" have created new and unusual problems for organizations to address (55). This storm means that "the new Web is inherently dangerous for the business models that depend on controlling the means of creation and distribution", and organizations must adjust (273).

This is a paradigm shift. Paradigms are mental models that constrain our thinking and are often based on assumptions so strong we don’t notice them. New paradigms cause disruption and uncertainty, even calamity, and are nearly always received with coolness, hostility, or worse. Vested interests fight against the change, and leaders of the old are often the last to embrace the new. Consequently, a paradigm shift typically causes a crisis of leadership (285).

Change management here is an essential trait. However, according to Tapscott and Williams, change management has to start from where companies are today, creating a map between what the company currently does and how it will innovate and collaborate in new economic waters (291). Companies must decide the extent to which they will release their reigns on their internal knowledge and intellectual property; however, the timing of this is vitally important (292). Failure to stage this transition correctly – or to release too much intellectual property – will send a company down in flames (177-8).

Most importantly, this sort of change starts from within. "When confronted with such an all-encompassing revolution in business most companies wonder where they should begin. Our answer is to start at home, by fostering collaboration in the workplace" (313). In addition,

Ignoring the cultural memes and norms of the organization is a common way to have the principles and practices of wikinomics discredited at initiation. Champions of this kind of change need to be sensitive to these concerns and structure their engagement with the enterprise in a way that allows the benefits of collaboration to manifest themselves in pilot projects that can be scaled up and help build further momentum for cultural change (313).

Tapscott and Williams clearly believe in the transformative powers of the innovations of Web 2.0. They recognize that a new generation of people raised with computers and electronics is fundamentally altering the economic landscape now and for years to come. This book made me think long and hard about some of the ideas they had for engaging the workplace in creation and change. They are, at least, realists who recognize that this sweeping change cannot and will not be immediate; for this, I give them a hefty dose of credit. They also recognize that there is a range of options that organizations can take to become more nimble in an economy that implements the ideas of wikinomics. One major challenge to their thinking is that they seem to frame the issue as if this generation were the first to realize the potential for drastic, sweeping change. There have been many instances in the past century where the idea of the old economy being swept away have presented themselves, with no particular action taken as a result. Wikinomics is not the be-all, end-all solution that it occasionally is presented as.

As a last note, I found myself strongly contesting one major theme of the book as I read. In talking about the "N-Geners" (people born between 1977 and 1996 inclusive, a generation that I am definitely part of), Tapscott and Williams assert the following:

N-Geners are not content to be passive consumers, and increasingly satisfy their desire for choice, convenience, customization, and control by designing, producing, and distributing products themselves . . . The ability to remix media, hack products, or otherwise tamper with consumer culture is their birthright, and they won’t let outmoded intellectual property laws stand in their way (52).

I took exception to these statements as I read, and I found myself reviewing the assertion throughout the book: it is unfair to paint the Net Generation in an "us vs. them" light, where the "them" is established cultural norms. This is a consistent theme throughout the book. I do not consider us at war, which this paragraph implicitly suggests. Instead, we are attempting to understand our place in the world as a generation, and increasingly, the answers have been evident in utilizing the existing culture in new ways. As a generation, we spur change not because we are rebellious or because we believe it us our birthright; rather, we do so because we know no better. Indeed, we do so because this perfect storm that Tapscott and Williams have described exists, and we are merely left to go along for the ride. We are simultaneously the instigators and the lost sheep that Tapscott and Williams discuss when they declare "the old multinational that creates value in a closed hierarchical fashion is dead" (214). We are as muddled, in many ways, as the organizations and corporate leaders that Wikinomics was written for: those trying to figure out how to stay afloat in an increasingly boundary-less society.

InfoCamp Notes – Day 2

Welcome Session (9:30, Theater)

Recaps of things learned yesterday:

  • Theory about why multimedia pods aren’t used in libraries: not social!
  • Creative Commons licensing – as soon as you put something online, it defaults to personal copyright unless licensing model is changed explicitly by the author
  • Legalese: “for when something gets really messed up” (hmm, what’s the lawyer to say to that?) – Complexity of language as a shield
  • Axure: “interesting” – Aaron Louie, a lot of interactions that can’t be represented:
  • Tamara Adlin: demoing Denim:
  • Privacy: it’s all about trust – user experience space hinges on the idea of trust

Plenary: Tamara Adlin: The Dirty Little Secret of User Experience (Theater)

  • “Things that you probably already know but that are too easy to forget”
  • Build something which provides information!  Therefore empowers users!
  • Problem: a lot happens before this is even possible, and all these things are handled by different people
  • If we don’t think about things that happen before design and build, we’ve lost a huge opportunity
  • We are Fish!
  • Waterfall method of designing software
  • Agile is actually “Agilefall”, since nobody’s actually doing agile, they just say they are
  • Information professionals (IP) should be there first understanding things and how they work before anyone else does anything
  • IP bring in their tools, but not much really works.  Why?  We throw our data into a hostile environment – nothing grows no matter what the IP does and no matter how good methods are
  • Environment: “executive staff” – if you don’t understand these, DOOM!
  • Dirty secret of UCD in real business: those that make the decisions haven’t decided what they want you to do! (there’s more to this.)
  • Executive: “Why the hell are you building X?  You should be building Y!” – they didn’t know they didn’t want X until they saw it.
  • Our job: help them figure out what they’re trying to do, then write it down!
  • In order to sell a process, someone has to admit that the current process is broken
  • Big honkin’ reports are still what we end up creating.  But data solves everything!  It’s totally the panacea!
  • We give big presentations with lots of bullet points, putting people to sleep – it’s our fault that they fall asleep!
  • Data solves nothing on its own.  Business speaks “Busineese”, you have to translate stuff in order to show them what’s obvious according to data
  • You can’t create great UX if the corporation is confused
  • In the absence of the forces of good, decisions will be made by a hippo – the (hi)ghest (p)aid (p)erson’s (o)pinion
  • Methods: doctor, heal thyself; make yourself usable to the people who are asking you to produce things.  Analyze your users, then create usable projects
  • Ask for business goals (usually have #s), brand goals (usually related to other brands, perception management), and customer experience goals (things you want to hear after people use your widget) – GET THEM APPROVED OFFICIALLY AT LEAST ONE LEVEL HIGHER THAN THE PERSON YOU’RE WORKING WITH!
  • Help customers get these three things written down – that’s your role as UX
  • Be the dumbest person in the room and apologize a lot.  Congratulate other people for your own ideas.  Remember that everyone in the room walks on thin ice and help them.  When you’re totally stuck remember that everyone else will think whatever you do next is the most inspired thing ever.
  • Do at least one exercise that forces people to play with sticky notes.  Put paper on the wall and sticky notes – it makes people feel important! (Adlin: “Maybe it’s because we deal with electronics all day and then they’re like ‘Ope, Paaaypeeer!'”)
  • Audience question: who needs to be in the room playing with the stickies?
  • If you pick the wrong persona, as long as you’re in the right neighborhood, you’re probably going to create something that’s better than you would have created otherwise.
  • Office: “At some point, someone’s going to want to put a pivot table on a birthday card!”
  • People who need to be in the room: those who care and the biggest pain in the rear available
  • Create personas, then show executives something that looks like Excel.  Create a persona-weighted feature matrix: ask people to weight the personas, then weight the features based on those personas
  • Get from business, brand, and customer experience goals through to actual features and functionality
  • You MUST be able to trace decisions back to the business goals
  • Hippos never go away, but if they sing the same tune, great!
  • When doing activities, go in cold – it shows confidence

Session 5: Geoinformatics: Why You Need the Science, Why the Scientists Needs You (Room 104)

  • Geoinformatics: geographic information systems, using GIS to describe environment – maps!  Find a spot on the surface and get information related to that location.
  • What’s going on with water quality, air quality, the amount of vegetation?  There’s not many piece of information about the environment at a particular location.  USGS has put together before and after imaging of different things – coastline lost, for instance
  • Discussion: we’re information consumers of this information – are we using interfaces to get information about our environment?  What opportunities exist for information professionals in geoinformatics?
  • Frustrations: people provide great data, but no underlying machine-readable files
  • We have precision to see this information, but the interface is bad – “Beautiful map, but we can’t interact with it”
  • UrbanSim:
  • Nat’l Weather Service relies on USGS data to provide things like flood warnings
  • There’s overlap and wasted resources because agencies work on the same issues.
  • Resistance to opening data to a specific standard: “I’m a GIS analyst and I use a complex system and I know that system well, so why should I turn around and give out the data?”
  • Does information get quashed out of fear?  USGS has no regulatory oversight duties – it doesn’t matter whether a volcano’s going to explode tomorrow, they present what’s happening
  • This is about information about the earth – what’s going on, not just what’s on the map
  • The data is completely meaningless without some hint of what that data is about – ideally, the structure given to that data self-narrates and describes what that data is about without additional documentation
  • There’s so much here and so much information that’s useful, but we’re so far down the road that there’s so much data in so many standards that it’s all very hard to start working with now that we’re actually interested in manipulating that data
  • “I want this data to be interoperable” – how do we get that to happen?  Contact USGS, congressperson, representative, anyone you can come up with – Department of the Interior
  • It’s not necessarily the data per se that people want, it’s the tool that interprets the data
  • Useful sites/resources: EPA SuperFund, Storet, National Water Information (NWIS), King County Parcel Viewer

Session 6: Some Database Design and Designing a Database About Everything (Theater), Quentin Christensen

  • How do we come up with a way that we can work with a lot of different diverse database sources?
  • First step: requirement gathering – what’s the data model we want?  What information do we need to have stored?
  • Relation: a table.
  • Normalization: 1st form: only one value; 2nd form: all rows have unique identifier (primary/candidate key); 3rd form: dependencies
  • Physical modeling: how much data do we have, how many times are operations performed, what types of operations?  These all have different costs – performance optimization!
  • Prototyping: create database tables, create operations, etc.
  • SSPiN: Wiki-inspired database system with different aspects that allow for linking generic aspects
  • User-generated content is great for the bottom line – you manage the infrastructure, but the users do all the work on giving your site data to work with

Session 7: Brainstorm: Solving the online identify crisis (Nick Finck) (Theater)

  • There’s you, your circle of friends, then groups of those friends (and networks that extend beyond that second degree)
  • Social networks: not really networks, but tools
  • Supposedly, UX builds these tools to help ease people’s lives… except we’re at the center of the hub and have to maintain all these tools
  • How do we manage all this information that these systems have that are not necessarily being shared but being used?  We really want to share this data across systems, connecting discrete pieces of information across systems.  These services are afraid to share data!
  • We need negotiators: things that take data and then share it with other systems – but systems are very protective against this.  OpenID is a translator, not a negotiator.
  • Common users aren’t programmers – they can’t get into APIs.
  • What happens if users can control and define data about social connections?
  • “I could go out and tell the system, ‘these are all my friends’, and it would just go out and figure out where all my friends are…”
  • We don’t want this kind of a system to be created by a company – we want it to be community-based.  There is no entity that we really want to give sole control over this sort of an idea.  Make it open source.
  • User should be able to control what data is used where and how it’s used – determine whether data should be shared.  System may be able to self-negotiate such a thing.
  • There’s no shared vocabulary that allows the definition of who is friends and other types of contacts
  • Next generation of social networks: it’s not just what’s connected, but the value and strength of those connections
  • If I’m connected to Bob and trying to connect to someone, it’d be interesting to know what that person has done as a result of creating that link.
  • Problem: APIs suck right now for social networks.  They just aren’t useful.
  • Creating separate identities for different purposes – one for professional interactions, one for “the dirt”
  • Services exist that combine all your phone numbers into one with various ways of manipulating where phone calls go
  • For gateway: first identify what accounts are yours, then categorize the accounts – note that some stuff would have to be stored by the gateway service – “the less, the better”
  • Forget CRMs, we need IMs – identity managers.
  • Challenge is where the borders lie: what information do you want/need to be different across services?
  • Define mappings between services, as well as mapping directionality: “this group on LinkedIn maps to this group on Facebook, and this is what I want copied”
  • (perhaps we could call this protocol “identity management protocol” or IDMP…)
  • Build the system based on what exists
  • Biggest problem for this system: membership – how many users does such a system have?

5 Minute Madness (interesting ideas, what we’d like to do, etc.):

  • Delridge Cultural Center has a great Halloween party in its space!
  • Not many blogs linked to the wiki…
  • Sessions touched on a lot of different parts of how we create user-centered information and experiences – these conferences can be overwhelming with “why don’t I, why should I…”
  • Where is your niche?  Not everything everyone else is doing matches every business situation or personality – know your gift and let your particular gift shine
  • What we really need for student research is a central, free tool
  • Idea: Crowdsourcing weather forecasting – put a bunch of transmitters on cars, if windshield wipers are on, where are they?  Anonymous data.  Idea: Metro has transit broadcasters already for bus locations – piggyback?  Washington Ferries do this for marine weather…
  • Idea: GPS track peoples cats – apparently this is already done…
  • Northwest Tea Festival coming up!
  • Refresh Seattle in Fremont

Infocamp Notes – Day 1

Orientation Notes

  • Infocamp: Power to the people.  Enable the user to use technology (but what’s technology?)
  • Disciplines represented: IA, Libraries, HCI, usability, user centered design, technical communication.
  • 2 days, 45 minute presentations – we can react to stuff happening NOW (WaMu)

Keynote – Jacob Wobbrock

  • Degree in HCI
  • dub: University of Washington HCI/design group, stands for “design, use, build” – combines computer sciences, info school, technical communications, school of arts
  • Disability: contrast w/ ability.  Contrast standard parking handicapped sign with other graphics
  • Accessibility: not just for people in wheelchairs, curb cuts: bikers and strollers assist as well.  Curb cuts if built from the beginning save money.  Anticipating accessibility saves money in the long run.
  • Person pushing cart through sliding doors: situationally impaired
  • accessible design: talking about everyone, in different circumstances (situational components)
  • accessibility is usability for all.  It’s not about disability, it’s about what you can do.
  • We have a standard interface for computing that presents challenges to someone with non-standard abilities – we usually adapt the user to the technology, creating specialized technologies.  The assistive technology is a mediator.  But why?  Why not design smarter or adapt existing everyday input devices?
  • EdgeWrite: creates a limited input area to assist with drawing letters
  • Can leverage the properties of edges for more than just text entry – playing with using different input methods along edges of mobile devices, trying to aim for a specific spot in a screen
  • Isn’t the stylus dead due to multitouch?  Weellllll….
  • Reading screen with finger is much different than actually using a screen reader
  • “Why can’t my computer just do the right thing when I type?” – person with peripheral neuropathy
  • Demo TrueKeys: live spell checking as typing occurs.  Challenge: How do you allow someone to not have to verify that a corrected word was done properly?  Is there a way that you can always correct a miscorrected word without feeling pressured?
  • Let’s burden the machine: SUPPLE++ – can we automatically generate UI customized to a person’s individual abilities?  Yup.  Issue low-level tasks, model it, then generate an interface that minimize cost and user errors.
  • Forgotten input device: the microphone!  It can be used in creative ways.  Person painted with his voice using Dragon NaturallySpeaking and MS Paint!
  • Vocal Joystick – voice/vowel map so that vowel sounds force cursor to move in a specific direction.  Can map pitch or loudness.
  • Angular deviation for cursors: create larger or smaller targets for clicking as people use the computer.
  • Why don’t we see targets that expand as we approach them, gravity wells, “slippery slope” guidance to common targets?
  • “The world is a button” – Jake Wobbrock
  • “What if the world was a switch?”  Buttons we need to acquire a confined area – switches, not so much – we can overshoot a switch, it doesn’t change the interaction so long as the interaction crosses the plane of the switch.  The world we’ve created is all totally fake when it comes to technology.
  • Can we get rid of pointing and use something called “goal crossing”?
  • Why do we have to assume desktops are x/y grids?  What about polar coordinates or reels?
  • Start from center, when crossing an icon, bring up specific interactions
  • “Flipping the burden”/ability-based design – allow software to adapt to people’s ability.  Think about accessibility as a potentially better design for everyone.
  • Challenge: it takes a company with developers and infrastructure to really push stuff out!

Session 1: Help Me Turn Data into a New Design (Kristen) – Room 106

  • Wanted to learn what problems people were trying to solve using library web site and tried to figure out how to find that out
  • Used chat with a librarian feature transcript to get feedback on current layout
  • Generated lists of tasks performed and problems people encountered (tasks: locate something vs. searching for something, access a specific database, search for specific piece of information, etc.; problems: people can’t find information, people don’t know what they want, did not understand a policy or service, library doesn’t own resource, etc.)
  • Possibilities: tweak search results and training curricula for searching databases, federated search, map out “task paths” for the most common ways of doing certain tasks, overview of resources available, come up with vocabulary based on chat transcripts, make the main page more visual – MORE WHITESPACE!  If people are stuck, give them an “out” – a way to get help.  Create profiles of users so that professors can “target” content to users that they want to see used.

Session 2: Knowledge Management (Room 102)


  • Research (gleaning new ideas)
  • tacit KM – preserving knowledge in the workplace
  • expertise location
  • knowledge sharing
  • knowledge boundaries
  • information verification and security
  • capture verification
  • value page
  • Jeff Smith: How track experts and make findable, not just a tool?  How expose what you don’t know that you wish you knew?
  • defining wwdk
  • data visualization
  • personalization – tailoring how people receive or record knowledge


  • some of the items in the list above could be treated as inputs into the knowledge management process – information verification, security
  • what is a knowledge management system?  It may not be a system at all…
  • What is a knowledge management system, really? It may not even be a “system” per se – it may be an interaction between elements.
  • In fact, knowledge management isn’t systematic – capturing it is, but knowledge management is CULTURAL.
  • KMS are now just generic systems trying to model particular things.
  • explicit knowledge: universal, tacit knowledge: something that’s inside, can’t be vocalized/translated
  • sometimes we need to be able to push knowledge into the background, but it still needs to be accessible and actionable
  • KMS: what these systems try to achieve can be done much more efficiently by changing the culture to allow a daily interchange of information
  • Knowledge needs context
  • “Modern Society is Document Decadent”
  • knowledge management talked about in the context of organizational goals
  • Knowledge Management Maturity Model:
  • what is the difference between information and knowledge, or do we actually even care?

Session 3: Flat File vs. CMS (Room 106)

  • wants something simple and easy to maintain
  • plone – cms, has problems with web host providing it
  • task: figure out whether to stay with flat files or to move into cms
  • what’s the difference between the two methods?
  • theory: a lot of people want to be able to create and maintain content – what to do with volunteers?
  • “flat”: one HTML page per site
  • CMS: more refined management structure
  • 10-12 pages
  • sections of site may be more dynamic
  • 2-3 days reasonable turnaround time on changes
  • 3-4 people updating
  • consider using templates

Another simplified CMS/Flat file:

  • time consuming to maintain and update
  • 12 pages not dynamic
  • 3-4 people updating
  • jobs – HTML templates
  • knowledge of HTML
  • Seamonkey – HTML Mozilla editor
  • richer experience = more admin time
  • social media
  • users are STC, other orgs
  • share resources
  • timely info and info update problem – users news and events and jobs
  • updates w/o CMS


  • WYSIWYG editor
  • easy to change
  • anyone can do updates
  • events: time/place fields
  • content control and security control
  • set permissions correctly
  • CMS outlive person or person outlive CMS?
  • Instructional overhead/longer learning curve
  • CMS doesn’t necessarily imply web 2.0
  • content and system lives on
  • organizational commitment
  • institutional memory/institutional history of docs
  • distributed users***
  • resource limitations: time, $

Cross-boundary considerations:

  • Google Analytics
  • Culture of content sharing
  • Overall vision
  • users have certain expectations
  • Free stuff? Open source?
  • Do I need this NOW or forever?

Session 4: Structured vs. Unstructured Data (Room 102)

  • Goal of product: search through metadata, find metadata in certain systems and create different views of the information out of the system
  • Created series of products that allows metadata findability, but doesn’t work for unstructured information
  • Structured v. unstructured information definition: structured: database has fields and tables and schemas, the Sematic Web, etc.; unstructured: info that you don’t have access to or that isn’t ordered – photos, video, etc.
  • Types of unstructured data: photographs (inc. print), sound files, text, user input, files, logs, video, animation
  • Structure has to have meaning to someone; something can be very well structured, but if you can’t make sense of it, it’s useless.  You need to be able to UNDERSTAND information.
  • Context makes a big difference on how information ends up being structured.
  • Transforming physical unstructured data: requires physical interaction with objects to add structure on top of the physical data
  • virtually all user input is unstructured unless you can limit inputs

A Tribute to NP-Complete

Inspired by an xkcd comic, NP-Complete, and also because I was buying some DVDs from Amazon anyway, I decided that I wanted to place an order from Amazon that was as close to $100 worth of merchandise as possible after tax and shipping.

The rules:

  • The order must be as close to $100.00 as possible, including tax and shipping charges (note: using free shipping options is not considered cheating).
  • Items in the cart at checkout must be things that the buyer wants and will use. You cannot?????? simply select something that will round out the price tag.
  • All items must be sold by, not their resellers (this is because resellers tack on extra shipping costs for certain items).

This took a bit of work, especially since I already had three DVD box sets in the cart that I was buying via one of Amazon’s TV DVD sales. Values as follows:

  • Stargate Atlantis – The Complete First Season; DVD; $24.99
  • Stargate Atlantis – The Complete Second Season; DVD; $25.00
  • Eureka – Season One; DVD; $25.00

компютри втора употребаI tried first throwing stuff in from my wish list, originally throwing in a paperback copy of Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous. After that, I realized that I had been looking for either a spork or a set of stainless steel chopsticks for home/travel use. I was able to add in a set of stainless steel chopsticks fairly cheaply. With the chopsticks, the book, and the three DVD sets, I got to $98.29 after tax and shipping – roughly $1.70 short.

I spent a bit of time trying to figure out if I could fill that extra $1.70 by buying something small, useful, and cheap – apparently Amazon doesn’t believe in selling individual packets of Post-its or M&Ms or something trivial like that (at least not without going through a reseller, which would break the rules).

I finally managed to get it to $99.75 total with free Super Saver shipping after swapping Weinberger’s book out with another book on my wish list. The breakdown looks like this:

  • Stargate Atlantis – The Complete First Season; DVD; $24.99
  • Stargate Atlantis – The Complete Second Season; DVD; $25.00
  • Eureka – Season One; DVD; $25.00
  • Serves One: Simple Meals to Savor When You’re on Your Own; Toni Lydecker; Paperback; $11.53
  • Global Decor Stainless Steel Chopsticks, 4 Pairs; Kitchen; $4.99

    Subtotal: 91.51
    Free shipping and handling
    Estimated Tax: $8.24
    Total for this Order: $99.75

This is actually an interesting exercise because it exposes information about what Amazon does and does not sell, and also gives some hints as to the usability of the site overall. While I was doing this, I was instant messaging a friend of mine that’s currently serving in Iraq (and coming home in the next couple weeks, I might add) – I originally described this as an “intellectual exercise in consumerism”; he shot back that this is actually interesting social commentary.

This was after calling me a geek/nerd/dork/weirdo/etc.

Summer Quarter Registration

Well, it’s official (at least on the iSchool side) – I’m doing my internship with the Washington State Department of Information Services over the summer, starting June 30th. That’s four credits of registration, with an additional three credits devoted to this summer’s Information Architecture Summer Institute, June 23rd to 27th:

The institute is intended for professionals working in situations requiring a solid knowledge of the foundational structures and techniques used in information architecture, in corporate, educational, government or nonprofit organizations. The workshop will provide theoretical and practical knowledge that can be used by project managers, taxonomists, Web designers and anyone who needs to successfully design large information structures to meet user needs and business requirements.

I’m mostly just waiting on DIS to send me the official offer of employment and starting to consider places to live.  I still have connections in Oly, so I’ll probably start contacting them soon.