Sunday, December 18, 2005

How to Read a Book

I just finished Adler & Van Doren's classic How to Read a Book, which I can't believe I never read until now. (Actually, I think I started it once, but abandoned it. Ironic.) The authors outline a system of analytical reading and "syntopical" reading to allow you to get the most out of any book, and stretch your reading capabilities. Not that all books are worthy of analytical reading. There is an appendix in the back of the book of their recommendations of great books that are worth the effort.

Syntopical reading (their term) is the process of analyzing several books on one topic in order to formulate a discussion on the issue. This is essentially wht is required to write anything at the graduate level, and it is immesely helpful to have the process explicity and systematically explained. I could have used this last semester!

Of course, in order to be an expert reader, one has to read books of quality. (Reading for information and reading for pleasure are not going to improve one's mind.) The guilt I feel upon examining my own reading habits has inspired me to do two things: First, I am going to buy the Great Books of the Western World collection, so I can syntopically examine the greatest ideas by the greatest minds of all time. Second, since I have a month before school starts, my next novel will be one I have been putting off for some time: Tolstoy's War and Peace. The length has always been daunting to me, but I just realized that if I add up the pages I expect to read in the next month, they would be equal to the length of W&P anyway. Why read three or four shallow books when I can read one great one?

On a lighter note (hey, not everythig I read has to be cannonical), I just finished Julie Powell's Julie & Julia, an account of one woman's self-appointed project to prepare every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking within a year. This was a lighthearted and fun book, especially as I love cooking, and what with my immense regard for Julia Child (another Julia who admires Julia). The tone was a little cynical for me, but I had a fun time living through her failures and trumphs (I have had my own experiences with recipes in my copy of MtAoFC.) I found myself propelled though the book in order to find out how the project ended. It was touching as well.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Heaven on Earth | PBS

Think you're a socialist? Think again. At least this documentary should give you some food for thought. It's a good historical summary of the rise and fall of communism.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Ujiko: "Evolving Search Internet Player"

I had to critique a search engine for my Information Retrieval Class. Ujiko is built as a layer upon the Yahoo! search egine. It calls itself an "evolving search internet player" adding more functionality as the user gains expertise. It has an interface like a video game. Here is part of my review:

I came up with five categories to review Ujiko’s interface, based on what we discussed in class, and what Ujiko claims to offer: analytic search capability, search navigation, interactive browsing, visualization of the information space, and “evolutionary” capability. I have rated these on a scale of one to ten (one being poor, ten being excellent), and provided a summary of the features that provide the basis for my critique.

Analytic Search Capability


Search Navigation


Interactive Browsing


Visualization of the Information Space


“Evolutionary” Capability


Analytic Search Capability: simply put, Ujiko provides none. There are no “advanced search” options except for the capability to support a Boolean query, and this is not even mentioned on the help page. To Ujiko’s credit, analytic capability is not its ultimate goal.

Search Navigation: Ujiko offers several features to keep the user from “getting lost” during their search, and to help organize search results. There are three buttons to keep track of search history: “last queries,” “last answered queries”, and “last pages visited.” I found these to be very helpful in avoiding duplicate searches while adjusting my queries. Ujiko also provides five folders to file results by your own categories, and look at later as a set.

Interactive Browsing: There are three key features that I consider to be the highlight of Ujiko’s interface, and provide the opportunity for fast relevance judgments. First, when one mouses over the URLs provided, Ujiko provides “thumbshots” (provided by of the web pages with a summary underneath. This is a quick way to determine whether a site warrants further investigation without clicking on it. Second, one can rank each site by clicking on a heart icon (giving it relevance points) or a trash icon, which will filter it out of the results. If you run a previous query, the results you picked as relevant will appear at the top of the list. Third, Ujiko provides additional query suggestions in the middle of the page (pulled from the pages’ metadata) and allows you to pose a new query with the additional key words by clicking on them. These three features make sorting and filtering a large number of results very efficient.

Visualization of the Information Space: Ujiko’s visual layout is fun and easy to maneuver. Providing results in two columns around a circle prevents scrolling, which is a plus. The use of color-coded bars to associate query terms with individual results is also effective, although it is a very limited way of showing the relationships between results. The major weakness of the layout is that it is framed in an oval, which eliminates substatial screen “real estate.” One of the limits of information retrieval is our lack of screen space, and Ujiko’s interface makes it even smaller.

“Evolutionary Capability:” Ujiko promotes itself as an engine which “grows” with the user’s expertise. The more you use it, the more “advanced” options it provides. This is complete nonsense, and my major problem with this search engine. It awards points for every site visited, and awards additional capabilities by moving you to a new "level" every ten points. While novel at first (and somewhat addictive, I admit) it becomes increasingly frustrating. The first five levels provide you with the features that I have mentioned in this review: buttons to view previous search history, folders to sort results, etc. But these features could hardly be considered to provide “advanced” search capability; a novice user could easily manage these features before they have visited fifty pages. As I advanced through the levels, I was increasingly disappointed by the features added. At level eleven (after one hundred ten sited were visited) the newest feature was a button linked to Wikipedia (which it simply opens in a new browser window). Needless to say, the concept of Ujiko being “evolutionary” is hype intended to keep the user interested in the tool.

Overall, Ujiko is an interesting interface, and a highly interactive search engine. Will I use it in the future? Probably not. But the "video game" metaphor is worth investigating. I would like to use this interface with a joystick rather than a mouse. Given the propensity for video-game playing today, maybe this will be the way we search for information in the future.

What are you missing if you only Google?

Search Engine Results Continuing to Diverge

This is an interesting article from back in August about how little overlap there is in search engines.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Ambient Findability

This is a new book that my husband pointed me to. I ordered it from Amazon, but won't be able to get to it until next week, when my final for my current class is finished.

It looks like it explores the meeting space between computer and library sciences. It is more of a theoretical than practical book. Can't wait to get inside the covers of this one.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Wind Chime Hell

I live about half a mile from the beach where we get a pretty constant coastal breeze in the afternoons. Many people in the neighborhood feel compelled to hang a collection of aluminum pipes outside their front door. When I open my window at night, all I hear is a cacophony of random ding-a-ling-a-dinga-dings. New neighbors moved into our apartment complex and- guess what? They have aluminum wind chimes! What is going on? I'm no music afficonado with perfect pitch. In fact, I have trouble singing on key, but the chimes are driving me batty. Am I the only one who hates these things and fantasizes about cutting them down?

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Julia Child

One of my idols, Julia Child, was profiled on A&E Biography recently. I always liked the fact that she made French cooking accessible to the average American cook. I also knew about her early days at the OSS (pre-cursor to the CIA), but I didn't know about her mastectomy, devoted marriage of 48 years, and that she started The French Chef on PBS when she was 50. Amazing woman. Her kitchen is in the Smithsonian. I might buy her biography, Appetite for Life.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Library of Congress Lecture Series

C-SPAN is hosting a series of lectures about the digital future of libraries. Very cool. Can be viewed online.


Monday, March 28, 2005

New Wheels

My new bicycle. It's my latest attempt to ward off old age, but it has seven speeds to help me get up the hills. The basket is removable so I can take it in a store. It's also a trek- can you believe it? Posted by Hello

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of cheap pinot noir...

Oh, Trader Joe's.... how happy I am to be back within a three-mile radius of your store.Wino-sheek. Check out this Don Quixote pic in our local Trader Joe's, painted IN CHALK on a chalkboard. There are a couple dozen pic's of this quality throughout the store. Posted by Hello

Friday, March 18, 2005

Digital Libraries

Here are some references for my latest paper on digital libraries:


Borgman, Christine L. (1999). What are digital libraries? Competing Visions. Information Processing and Management, 35, 227-243.

Creative Commons. Licenses Explained. Retrieved March 14, 2005, from Creative Commons Website:

Ginsburg, Jane C. (1993). Copyright Without Walls?: Speculations on Literary Property in the Library of the Future. Representations, 42(Special Issue: Future Libraries), 53-73.

Kahle, Brewster. (Lecturer). (2004, December 13). Universal Access to Knowledge [Television broadcast]. Washington, D.C: CSPAN. Retrieved March 7, 2005, from C-SPAN web site:

Library of Congress. (2005). Challenges to Building an Effective Digital Library. Retrieved January 29, 2005, from Library of Congress Digital Library Initiatives Web site: http:/​/​​ammem/​dli2/​html/​cbedl.html

Levy, David M. (2001). Scrolling Forward: Making Sense of Documents in a Digital Age. New York: Arcade Publishing.

Miksa, Francis. (1996). The Cultural Legacy of the "Modern Library" for the Future. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 37(2), 100-119.

Olden, Anthony. (1987). Sub-Saharan Africa and the Paperless Society. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 38(4), 298-304.

Sellen, & Harper. (2003). The Myth of the Paperless Office. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Smith, Brian Cantwell. (Lecturer). (2005, January 31). And Is All This Stuff Really Digital After All? [Television broadcast]. Washington, D.C: C-SPAN. Retrieved March 7, 2005, from C-SPAN Web site:

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Moving bites. This is our kitchen. Note to self: next time we move, put the bottle opener in my purse. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Musings on Daniel Bell and the Information Society

In one of my classes for my Master's program, we have to read and comment on an article by Daniel Bell. [Bell, Daniel. (1980). The social framework of the information society. The Microelectronics revolution: The Complete guide to the new technology and its impact on society. Tom Forester, ed. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press: 500-549.]

Here are some of my musings- my thoughts aren't fully formed about it yet, but this is the best I can do so far.

Bell's premise: the centrality of theoretical knowledge, when codified,
as the director of social change.

My thoughts were split into three categories- social, political, and economic implications.

As far as social implications go, Bell talks about the effect of
electricity on society, how it enabled poeple to communicate over longer
distance, in effect changing social circles, etc.When I think about the
social effect the information revolution is having on our social world, I
think about virtual realities, and virtual worlds. For example,

China- (a report on NPR made me aware of this, maybe you heard it)
the online community in China has started to create online communities
with virtual relationships. Political, romantic, etc. People spend a lot
of time and effort in these online communities. People get married and
run for office. Run for office!! In a communist country, when people
have the freedome to choose what kind of society they want, they choose a
democracy. amazing. Anyway, for years, people have been questioning
whether the incresed trade relationship with western countries will foster
political change. But now I winder whether there will be a social
revolution first- a social revolution leading to a political one.

Now regarding political implications:

1. The question of whether data will be stored on a government database or not shows how long ago this article was written. We have already seen how this has turned out. The most efficient way to manage information is based upon a model of seperate entities networked together. A
government database is scary for a host of reasons- inefficiency, vulnerability to attack, and allowing the government too much power.

2. One issue that Bell didn't address was security- a modern phenomenon that Bell couldn't have foretold is identity theft. As a society, we have to balance convenience with security. It is convenient that if I want to shop at Safeway online, they have a record of all my past purchases from my Safeway card. But it is also a little creepy to think that someone might try to use that information in a court of law,(or in the press if I were famous) to try and prove that I am an alcoholic, using birth control (in a rape case to prove sexual activity), or whatever. Information in the wrong hands can be dangerous.

On the economic front:

On page 509 of Bell's article, second paragraph,he distinguishes between information and knowledge (and by association, data). Quote:

"...information is a pattern of design that rearranges data for instrumental purposes, while knowledge is the set of reasoned judgments that evaluates the adequacy of the pattern for the purposes for which the information is designed."

I would go further and add the term "idea" as a further abstraction, so that there exists a continuum- with the most tangible on one end, and the most abstract on the other:

data _______ information_____ knowledge ______ idea

Either end of the spectrum is more difficult to "own" or "sell" as a product. Those which affects the economy are the middle two.

As an example, if one were to stand on a street corner, one could observe the cars going in to a car wash on different days of the week. This is pure data, gained by the faculty of observation, which is available to everyone. If one were to put this data into graphs and charts which show that three times as many cars enter the carwash on weekends than on weekdays, this would be information. Perhaps the information would be valuable enough for the carwash to pay for it. They might even hire a consultant to tell them that they would improve their sales if they were to offer an incentive to customers to wash cars during the week, which would be knowledge. However, once the carwash comes up with the idea of the "weekday discount," and puts it into practice, all the other car washes will do the same thing, because no one has a copyright or patent on the idea. It could be argued that the "idea" in this example is an even broader one, like "profit." No one owns the idea of profit.

In any case, generally, information and knowledge may be transferred for a price, while raw data and ideas cannot.