Pause for Breath

It has been a while since I blogged.  The great folks at #citylis have been keeping us busy recently.  Four assignments and a dissertation proposal were the end products for Term 2.  I’ve compiled a resource guide for early career Business Analysts that I’m hoping to bring to the web over the summer; written about the CIDOC CRM, a conceptual reference model for cultural heritage information; completed an information retrieval evaluation of popular online, web and social search engines (plus a bonus comparison evaluation of new human powered search engine WonderLib); created my first ever data visualisation on Women in Parliament since 1918 (a hot topic when female representation reach a new high point of 30% in the recent election); and submitted the proposal for my dissertation research on information behaviour in athletes.

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As usual I was calmly watched over through the many hours sat at my desk whether in focus or frustration by my trusty study buddy Soros the wise, inscrutable philosopher cat.  It didn’t make it any easy to do the work knowing he was dying.  A few weeks ago we took him to the vet and he was diagnosed with a large, tumour in his intestines leaking lymphatic fluid into his lungs.  It was highly unlikely he would survive any attempt to remove it and it soon became apparent after a couple of attempts at draining the fluid from his chest that it was leaking faster than we could treat it.  So we settled for a few more weeks of palliative care.  It’s never easy to make a life and death decision about another creature, especially when they are so stoic and refuse to give in easily to the fact they can no longer breathe.  He got to enjoy some last few days of spring sunshine in love and comfort and I got to enjoy his patient calm by my side until I met my deadlines.  Then he deteriorated quickly and we had to let him go before his suffering became too great.

Thanks to all those who provided support and kind words.  Fortunately the weather gods smiled so I was able to recover by sitting quietly out in the garden in the peaceful warmth of spring sunshine for most of the weekend feeling exhausted and sad but enjoying the clouds and the bright new leaves against a gloriously blue sky.

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Now, it’s time to contemplate and prepare for Term 3.  This means waiting for marks from the submitted assignments and hoping to pass the teaching component of the course and getting the dissertation proposal approved.  Then it will be working on the dissertation itself along with looking for a job or a project to move onto in October.  In the meantime there are some overflowing email inboxes to read, news feeds to catch up on, Evernote clippings to organise and file, list of blog ideas to get around to writing and a large pile of books to read on my desk that never seems to go down below a certain level.

My other two cats have been auditioning to fill the study buddy void in my life but so far they’ve been a little too needy, loud and in your face than the sanguine, quietly purring companion I’m used to.

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#citylis have also been busy building their presence on social media.  There is now a #citylis news blog to follow full of updates about the library and information science programmes at City.  There’s also a dedicated citylis Twitter account to follow in addition the familiar #citylis hashtag for tweets from faculty, current students, alumni and our guests and contributors.  If you are interested in studying library or information science you may also like to know the next City Postgraduate Open Evening is on Wednesday 10th June from 5.30pm and there is still time to apply for research studentships.  You can also read the thoughts of course director Lyn Robinson on recent debates in LIS curricula and keeping #citylis at the cutting edge of library and information science education. Finally, City will be hosting the latest in the Mashed Library series of unconferences.  #citymash will take place on Saturday 13th June (10:00 – 17:00) and is a “day of workshops and conversation for people interested in doing fun stuff involving libraries and technology.”  It is free but requires registration and anyone with an interest in libraries and tech is welcome to join in. It is a busy but stimulating time for all of us on planet #citylis!

Intermingling

Easter was a pleasant time filled with sunshine, the warmth of meals and conversation with family, and the vibrancy of nature unfurling back into life as blossom covers tree branches, shoots push through soil, birdsong fills the gleaming and frogsong fills the gloaming.

During the time I read two books, Intertwingled by Peter Morville and The Library Beyond the Book by Jeffrey T. Schnapp and Matthew Battles, and went on a visit, to Simply Permaculture in Saint Jean de Duras, all of which took me from libraries to the land and back again, whilst exploring similar themes:

  • exploring the connectedness of all things from information systems to natural ecosystems.
  • exhibiting the kind of quiet convinction and openness of thought needed to first see and then set aside limitations in order to reframe ideas, redesign systems and remix scenarios.
  • combining the anchoring role of centres with the the fertility of peripheries.
  • collapsing pasts, presents and futures to recognise they are chronological but not discrete.
  • critically dissecting our cartographic instincts: our need to make maps to understand the world around us whilst stressing the obvious trap that the map is not the territory.

Individually they were all enjoyable and thought provoking; taken together they seeped across each other into a powerful meditation on culture and change.

Intertwingled

 

Intertwingled / Peter Morville
9780692225585
LibraryThing | Goodreads

Firstly, I read Intertwingled by Peter Morville. Morville is an experienced information architect, one of the earliest, and author of classic texts such as Information Architecture for the World Wide Web and Ambient Findability. This is a deeply personal book, based on Morville’s reading and experience, that elevates information architecture away from the practical towards the reflective and thoughtful by way of this elliptical and eclectic meditation on the skeins of information that surround us.

It sketches information in broad strokes, taking in the natural world and the invisible constraints of culture in order to expose the categories and limitations that inhibit thinking and the connections and levers that change thinking. An attempt, perhaps, at a more holistic epistemology of information systems that inspires, but doesn’t always succeed (in places it is a bit too gnomic). The style was sometimes a bit too consulting speak and such short sentences suggested a better presentation as a speech than a book.At times I was confused and felt like I was chasing important points that were, however, too ephemeral to grasp.

Following Infoscent

Given how much of the book is informed by influential texts Morville has encountered it is also surprising their isn’t a bibliography to accompany the provided notes (which aren’t always well referenced. Morville also has a tendancy to drop references into the text that aren’t well noted, for example infoscent, and assume a higher level of cogniscence with terms than I have. For a book about connectedness this displays a surprising lack of context and linking.

Everything is Connected

The foundational position is of connectedness, a deep intertwining of things that suggests a shift from systems to ecosystems thinking. The argument in Chapter 1 suggests that as this is the nature of things, including information, and therefore information systems design needs to encompass culture, governance and synthesasia as well as analysis and architecture if it is to achieve sustainable change. I’m convinced by this argument, though the examples and structural thread in this chapter are rather eclectic.

The second chapter is more coherently argued and discusses the consequences of catagorisation and the risks of confusing maps with territories. Through examples, how we architect understanding is unpicked and questioned. It is an important point that organising and structuring information is not a neutral act and as information professionals we have an ethical duty to reflect on our choices: what are we fixing and what are hiding by the labels we create. As expected from a great information architect, Morville is very good at exposing the structures of information architecture. These sections emerge as moments of clear insight from the surrounding fog of philosophical context and personal anecdote.

I was once again lost slightly in the third chapter on Connections, but the fourth chapter on Culture once again felt more solid, albeit contradictory. Having spent the chapter on categories warning us that “maps are traps” the Culture chapter urges us to make cultural maps to effect change.

There was much in here that resonated but overall it works best at creating a “structure of feeling”, an overall mindset about information, architecture and systems thinking. It is better than the sum of its sometimes vague parts and introduced me to a whole host of new thinkers, texts and ideas to explore by suggesting an interesting bibliographic path to wander by following up many of the quoted sources (that’s why I was so disappointed there wasn’t a full bibliography). For example Systemantics by John Gall, Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows and Bruce Sterling’s concept of spime (objects that are tracked through space and time), are all new to me and look interesting.

Simply Permaculture

Next I wandered an actual path that snaked through the permaculture garden of Sandra and Santi at Simply Permaculture in Saint Jean de Duras. Their property is an experiment in applying permaculture philosophy and design to their French smallholding and this was the opening weekend of their garden visits for 2015 and part of Spring in Duras. They open up their garden to visitors and providde guided tours to demonstrate their application of permaculture and help others learn.

Permaculture is a design process that using the patterns in systems found in nature to create more sustainable human systems: essentially design based on ecological principles. Permaculture was coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s as “integrated, evolving system of perennial or self-perpetuating plant and animal species useful to man”. For more information on permaculture the Essence of Permaculture provides a concise summary of the principles and ethics.

As I walked, I found the garden to be an example of “applied intertwingling” taking the concepts and critical structures from Morville and applying them to the domain of cultivation. In many ways it helped me understand Morville’s themes better.

The Flower is not the Garden

Pc_Flower_Poster_EN

Once again the map is not the territory. The permaculture domains and design principles provide a design map but in no way reflected the 5 hectare permaculture garden taking shape with loving care in France. As we were guided we learned about water management with swales, hugel beds for growing vegetables, a sustainable system of aquaponics using fish to fertilise the plants and the plants to clean and filter the water and how to get chickens to make compost.

Pc_Principles_Poster_EN

The permaculture principles emphasise connectedness, diversity and using feedback to design more sustainable systems. Each territory is different, but permaculture principles and ethics provide a cultural map that can guide sustainable cultivation.

An Aside on Information Behaviour

The day itself also demonstrated many of the ways people exchange information resources to learn about new things. Sandra and Santi went on a formal permaculture design course but they also described themselves as “YouTube Farmers”: if they didn’t know how to do something they searched for it using the internet. They watch lots of documentaries and do a lot of research to expand their knowledge, as well as consulting with their neighbours: long-term experts on the local terroir. Now, they are sharing their knowledge by opening their garden to curious visitors who can get information from posts located at various points on a trail through the garden or join a guided tour for more in depth information sharing. The group I was in exchanged ideas, and physical resources, between themselves and our hosts during the tour and it was probably one of the most dynamic peer learning experiences I’ve experienced.

My parents were so enthused with what they had learnt they immediately went home and started a project to use their chickens to help turn their compost.

The Library Beyond the Book

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The Library Beyond the Book / Jeffrey T. Schnapps and Matthew Battles
9780674725034
LibraryThing | Goodreads

Thirdly, I read Jeffrey T. Schnapp and Matthew Battles write up their experiments on reframing the library. Stemming from a series of design studios at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design Bibliotheca: The Library Past/Present/Future leading to the Library Test Kitchen. This seemed to be another example of “applied intertwingling”, this time in the domain of cultural memory.

This book does a fantastic job of tearing up the old cultural map by exposing the assumptions we make when we catagorise something as ‘library’ or ‘book, opening up connections, excavating the whole cultural process of authorship, readership and exchange and testing the limits of what libraries and books can be. It’s playful, poetic and provocative.

They consciously assert their domain as the library beyond the book not after the book, collapsing the past, present and future into a jumble of structures and possibilities: seeking fixity not fluidity. Like Morville, they reject simple determinimism and binary opposites. This is not a debate between visionaries and nostalgics but a rejection of constraints that might limit new connections and possibilities. They write of:

the intermingling of the analog and the digital, books and e-books, paper and pixels.

The Codex is not the Book

Just as the map is not the territory, so the codex is not the book. Schnapp and Battle insist that our ideas of the book, and authorship, are not fixed in formats but are “a flock of objects” suspended in the networks of their own creation and circulation. Much as we may like to fix things, they rather uncomfortably remain unfixed and spill out from their containers.

I like the way they argue that books became digital, in the processes of composition and publication, even before the artefact became digital. They describe books as “a medium that requires connection” and “are coaxed to life by conversation”. They have always been “surrounded by a halo of what we now call metadata”. Gradually, the digital halo that first emanated from books in the 1970s, now erodes the reification of books as physical things connecting the residual art of oration with the emergent “peritextual nimbus” of the digital and beyond.

A similar point is made about libraries themselves as being more fluid containers of books, conversation, retreat and communion than we assume. The book stacks and classification codes that were designed to organise and store books in the 19th century have been fixed so firmly in our culture that it is only with difficulty that we can see beyond them. It’s a critical discourse that comes from a deep love of libraries and what they offer society:

Libraries as sites for access, congregation, contemplation, delight, discovery, dispute, escape, hiding, repose, research, secrecy, self-abnegation … a capacious cartography of qualities, which register their historical texture, weave in and out and among one another, just as much as do the forms of the book.

This provocative essay suggests that we are experiencing a transitional moment as the dominance of these structures is challenged, arrived at not because of one thing but because of many interlocking changes in practice and documentary form. Nor do they suggest that books and book-holding libraries will disappear, rather that they will intermingle with new and remediated practices and forms, emerging from the traces of what books and libraries used to be and what they can be.

Beyond the Book

This critical discussion provides the context for the design experiments (“forward-looking, historically informed, speculative sketches”) outlined in the rest of the book. Tucked into margins, through words and pictures the book explores services, artefacts and scenarios that play with different levers to reframe the library and draw new maps based on a library typology: Mausoleum, Cloister, Database, Warehouse, Material Epistemology, Mobile Vector, Civic Space and Instant Reading Room. Some are better then others, some are more playful, others more possible. The exciting thing is that the authors, and their students, have been willing to go beyond existing categories and limitations to see connections and suggest new ways of being for libraries that go beyond the prevailing culture. It’s also written beautifully, poetically.

Such ideas are refreshing and urgent if debates about library futures aren’t to become too fixated on preserving a cherished but inhibiting past or ossified in arcane format debates that impose rigid limits on new ways of thinking. Libraries are not just places that entomb memory, they are also places where the living gather to imagine, converse, meet practical needs and find treasure. Some things will settle, to seeming permanance, others will change more frequently; not everything should change but nothing is entirely fixed. The book is packed full of suggestions for reimagining not just library spaces, services and systems but our whole library culture of authorship, publishing, acquisition and reading. It is critical, but devoted. The containers may leak and evolve, but the communion of ideas and stories will undoubtedly endure.

MARC’d This Week

ICYMI: Things I’ve found worth mentioning, amplifying, reading and collecting from the last few days.

Last Tuesday I followed JISC Digital Festival 2015 remotely thanks to Twitter and the live streaming of keynotes and selected sessions.  It’s not a complete experience but a good way to at least partially enjoy a conference when you have a cold, a twisted ankle and a student budget.  I particularly enjoyed the keynote by Professor Carole Goble on e-Science and research publication (brief notes | slides | recording).

Having discovered the Encyclopaedia of Life last week, this week I was introduced to the Biodiversity Heritage Library, which provides the literature component of the EOL, thanks to a talk in the Big Data and the Dark Arts session.

Interesting article ‘Bits and Pieces of Information: Bibliographic Modeling of Transmedia’ by Ana Vukadin in Cataloging & Classification Quarterly (DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01639374.2013.879976) looks at how FRBR or FRBRoo (an attempt to harmonise FRBR with CIDOC CRM) can be used to catalogue narratives that span multiple media platforms.

It is an approach to multi-part works that might also help cataloguing the multi-various Research Objects mentioned in Carole Goble’s keynote though, there is alread a ro ontology.

This week’s exciting conference was User Experience in Libraries (#UXLibs), a library-focused event on delivering great services to users. Whilst it was possible to follow remotely this was a conference intended for attending. The format of a keynote then practical team sessions followed by a Q&A wrap-up each day looked like a really interesting active conference format: rethinking the conference experience, not just the library.

Paper Knowledge: Towards a Media History of Documents / Lisa Gitelman

 

Paper Knowledge: Towards a Media History of Documents / Lisa Gitelman.
ISBN: 9780822356578

An interesting study of the near history of documents (last 150 years) examined through 4 ‘episodes’, printing blanks (early 20th century), typography (1930s), xeroxing (1970s) and portable document format (1990s) plus an afterword on zines along with discussion of some socio-cultural environments such as the emergence of office bureaucracy, the place of the author and the amateur and the long-standing and ongoing debates around scholarly communication as well as revisiting the less self-evident than it seems documentalist question What is a Document?

This was an intriguing media history approach to the topic of documents. I would recommend it not just to those with an interest in media or history but to librarians and information scientists who are interested in seeing the history of documents from the perspective of another discipline. It is a short book but not necessarily a quick and easy read. It requires a clear head and close reading to fully appreciate but there are some thoughtful ideas in here. I really liked the ongoing discussion of fixity and fluidity and document as genre. I also liked how Gitelman critiqued ideas of print and print culture and pointed instead to the Raymond Williams framework of dominant, emergent and residual media and also processes of remediation as part of a diverse scriptural economy rather than one split into distinct eras. The faint suggestion of a metadata pre-history in blank pro forma was intriguing and the chapter on typescript was also a study of earlier contexts and debates on research methods and scholarly publishing that provide connections and counterpoints to current scholarly precoccupations.

At times, however, I found the tightly wrapped combination of history and theory a little too dense and intricate to follow the thread of the narrative or argument clearly. Sometimes it felt like too much effort was required to tease out an idea than the point was eventually worth. I also enjoyed the introduction and earlier chapters more than the later chapters. Perhaps this is because as Gitelman acknowledges it becomes harder to find outstanding exemplars, particular for the PDF chapter. The strength of the first chapters lies in the more detailed analysis of anecdotes, examples and evidence that anchors the theory. In later chapters, with less solid case studies, the theory tends towards generalisations, exemplified only briefly. It lost the macroscopic quality of the earlier episodes that skilfully wrapped big questions in small examples and so I felt the PDF chapter fell slightly short in its task of exploring what distinguishes a digital document.

MARC’d This Week

ICYMI: Things I’ve found worth mentioning, amplifying, reading and collecting from the last few days.

The Guardian takes Poll Data Visualisation to A New Level with its Election 2015 Poll Projection.

Inquiring Minds Podcast Episode 75 with Kevin Kelly – What Technology Wants. I blogged in more detail about how interesting this was.

I came to The Encyclopaedia of Life via Kevin Kelly’s website and a former project of his to catalogue and identify every living species on earth by giving it its own web page. This led to me to The Global Names Architecture (GNA) for connection biological information.

Also via Kevin Kelly, The Quantified Self a blog all about self knowledge through numbers and Wink: remarkable books that belong on paper.

The Museum of Modern Art exhibition page Access to Tools: Publications from the Whole Earth Catalog, 1968-1974

On our #citylis #infodomains theme of Healthcare information I added The Wellness Syndrome / Carl Cederström and André Spicer published by Polity examining the modern ideology of wellness to my want to read list.

Combining the Quantified Self and Healthcare Information I read this intriguing article on building your own pancreas. It uses data from internet of things (IoT) type devices with a hacker mentality to create new, and social systems, for monitoring and medicating diabetes. There is an interesting point made about “data and free speech” but the potential legal grey area of DIY code and healthcare regulation.

This little video, also from the Quantified Self blog, is about time tracking. Greg Kroleski talks about 6 years spent tracking his time. The methodology (one week every quarter in a spreadsheet) and visualisation (mostly graphs) are not that unusual but as well as the raw data what I found interesting was the ‘taxonomy of time’ he developed to categories his activities and the difficulties of categorising.

Interesting post on Visualising Data on the use of pink and blue, or not, for gendered visualisation. Potentially relevant to a project I’m thinking of working on for my #dataviz assignment.

Interesting post by Sara M. Watson in DIS Magazine on metaphors used to describe big data. they have a current issue all about data which provides a critical look at “the datalogical turn” since 1948:

“Since World War II, information theory has had many offspring, all of which share fundamental traits: that the composition of information must be binary, and thus digital, compressible, reversible, predictable, scalable, and measurable. What has been most urgent as of late is the development of critical theoretical positions that follow the spread of such platforms over society at large. Subjects are not just actors in a network, but also network architects themselves, both supplicator and designer in an increasingly automated sociality.” – Marvin Jordan and Mike Pepi

Rob Kitchin’s article on Continuous Geosurveillance in the “Smart City” is worth a read anyway but even more so for the striking original artwork by Mark Dorf.

#citylisters love the History of Documents so they might be interested in this history of big data by Bernard Marr.

Great visualisation by Allison McCann on women’s sports data. Ok tongue in cheek there, but it demonstrates how second class women’s sport still is.

Meanwhile the Washington Post highlight a debate between the US and The Netherlands over marijuana usage featuring what they describe as a “passive aggressive infographic”. Remember folks information may be beautiful but it’s not always neutral!

For International Women’s Day (8th March) the Economist has an interactive visualisation the best place in the world to be a working women.

Project Initiation (Escape to the Country Style)

By the end of an episode of Escape to the Country the show’s participants have completed a project initiation phase that is proportional in time and effort to the project implementation and have adopted a quality first approach.  They are now ready to go to the time and effort of buying a new house and moving from the old to the new having fully explored their requirements, options and assumptions.

  1. They have defined what success looks like for them.
  2. They understand how the golden triangle of budget, specification and location (time) constrain them
  3. They have prioritised requirements and know where they are willing to compromise
  4. They have developed these requirements and rehearsed future states through prototyping and modelling
  5. They have accepted they “can’t have it all” and have managed their aspirational ideas into a pragmatic strategy.

It’s a template that also goes a long way to reducing the stress of IT project implementations if done well at the outset.

This blog post discusses how I realised that the brainless and escapist television I thought I was watching to relax was actually repeatedly demonstrating the execution of a successful project initiation pattern and indoctrinating me with the merits of its application.

My Daily Schedule

One of the benefits of taking a year to return to full time postgraduate study and therefore working from home on a flexible schedule is the scope to self-determine a productive and pleasant daily routine beyond the standard 9 to 5 of many office jobs.

Over the last 6 months I’ve gradually evolved into a routine where I get up and go out for a gentle run and do some yoga to wake myself up; eat some breakfast whilst reading and watching the birds in the back garden; I then sit down at my desk and work until my brain energy is depleted.  Sometimes I even remember to get up and move about and eat regular small meals.  Early afternoon, with my mind tired but my body stiff I go out for a longer walk or run before settling down for a break with a cup of tea and some television before going back to my desk for a few more hours work before preparing dinner.

Introducing Escape to the Country for the Uninitiated

Invariably, my after television watching break involves watching Escape to the Country. For those who haven’t seen it, (a determined thing to achieve given its ubiquity across BBC schedules), the format involves two protagonists, usually a couple, who wish to relocate from their current abode to somewhere quintessentially rural to pursue their dream life.  There is an introductory section where were meet the pair and they explain their story, their rationale for moving and what they are looking for.  The presenter then takes the couple to see a first house, before the couple get to meet a local expert and try an activity that appeals to their interests/location.  A further two houses are visited, the third being the ‘mystery house’ designed to challenge their thinking before the presenter visits another expert to try a local activity for themselves whilst the couple mull over their home choices.  Finally the presenter meets the pair for a wrap-up where their preferences are revealed and their plan for future action discussed.

It’s a gently appealing programme for many reasons:

  • appreciating how beautiful and diverse our country is with the artful shots of countryside and landscapes, much of which is accessible to most of us.
  • the activities the couple/presenter undertake are usually quite interesting dip into various hobbies and services.  From cheese makers to RNLI training and morris dancers to hovercrafts, it’s usually quite interesting.
  • you get to play house and imagine how you might fit yourself into various housing options without bothering with the actual hassle of conveyancing, mortgages and packing up all your detritus.  Most are unaffordable for many people but that doesn’t stop us imagining!
  • undeniably there is the vicarious pleasure of watching the protagonists interact and make choices at this point in their lives.  We only know the little of their lives the show peaks at but this microcosm of real human drama at the show’s centre is often revealing and entertaining

From House Hunting to IT Projects

So it may be thought of as escapist and undemanding entertainment, but the more I’ve watched it the more I’ve come to appreciate its template for project initiation and wonder why more care isn’t given to this most neglected part of the process on IT projects to try and limit and direct project failure?

Many times in my career I’ve joined a project at implementation stage without any idea of what success looks like for that project and with many initiation phases and gates having been skipped.  Most IT projects fail because they don’t define success well enough in the first place.  This is exactly what project initiation is for.

Projects success needs to be defined not vaguely:

we want a new IT system” or “we want an IT system that will do all this for us”

but more specifically:

we need a system that will do xyz for us by a.n.date.  Acceptable quality is this … we are prepared to compromise on this but not this … we have this much contingency in our timescale and budget … when it launches the system operation will look like this … in two years it should look like this … “

On Project Failure

Complete success in projects is unattainable.  Projects have an element of failure built in for they are imperfect vehicles for achieving change in complex scenarios.  Projects chart a course between the Scylla of doing to little and the Charybdis of expecting perfection.  The levels project managers pull really only determine the nature and degree of project success … and failure.  Projects inevitably need a degree of realism and compromise and most often fail to agree, or even identify, areas for compromise from the start through proper requirements prioritisation.

Often, the biggest source of chronic project failure is the relentless optimism of project planning and the refusal to acknowledge either previous failings and the possibility for more to come.  There are as many ways, if not more, for projects to go wrong than there are for them to go right.

This is where risk and issue management comes in but these should be seen as norms not exceptions and some kind of anticipated disruption quotient added to project estimates.  This can be based on risk assessment but also evidence: issue models based on previous similar scale projects.

Projects should acknowledge from the start that some things will not work and be clear not just what a desirable outcome looks like but also what an acceptable outcome is.

On Project Initiation

So what has IT project failure got to do with Escape to the Country?  Most couples start the programme with a dream; by the end they have at least a strategy and perhaps a solution.  They nearly always have a clearer idea of what they want.

This happens because they work through a proper project initiation process for their project (buying a new house and moving to a new life).

Initially the programme understands the couple’s story.  Where they have come from and where they are going to go?  This is important for understanding requirements broadly and stakeholder analysis and management and provides an initial strategy for investigating possible solutions (suitable houses).

This big picture analysis is not really interested in how many en-suites you want but about understanding you, where you are and where you would like to go. They do ridiculously fake, affected and cheesy things like walk their dog, or potter about their garden looking not very relaxed or comfortable whilst talking about their life and aspirations.  We all know it’s a bit fake and awkward but it’s an essential early part of the show.  It’s definitely a workshop.

Next, the couple meet the presenter (business analyst) who confirm their understanding of the couple’s requirements, press for more detail and clarify any areas of potential misunderstanding.  The presenter finds out budget, ideal location (can be though of as IT project release plan) and presses for any areas of disagreement between the couple and also potential areas of compromise.

It is usually obvious at this stage that as usually when people dream and have ambition that it is unlikely they will get everything they want (requirements) within their budget (resource constraints) in their desired location (time constraints).  It’s usually often obvious that the presenter knows this having done several of these shows and knowing what the show’s researchers have been able to source.  The golden triangle of project management always applies.

There is nothing wrong with aiming high and falling slightly short, it’s probably better than aiming low and achieving it all, but obviously without infinite resources and options the project constraints will always require compromise on the specification.

This is where requirements prioritisation is important:

  • is a view more important than an open-plan kitchen diner?  (Is feature A more important than feature B?)
  • is having “character” more important than it being modern? (Do you want custom development options or is off the shelf OK?)
  • do you want it to be finished perfectly or are you prepared to pay a bit less up front and wait a bit longer by taking on a property that “needs work”? (Do you want waterfall or agile?  Everything launched at once or iterative development? High up-front quality or continuous improvement?)
  • do you really need it to have four bedrooms and 2 en-suites for “when all the family come to stay” i.e. once in every 2 years or would you find a smaller property more cosy for the two of your and less maintenance? (Does your scope really make sense for the things you are actually going to do with this system?)

The way the show works it teases out these priorities from the initial requirements specification by prototyping and modelling. Each house that is actually visited, rather than seen in an estate agents listing say, acts as a prototype to see, feel, try out spaces.  To have an instinctive and human judgement not just an analytical one.  Each activity they try in the new local area is a test to see is this the way they want to live their life in future?  Can they see themselves operating like this in this space, this place?  On an IT project prototyping and process modelling can perform similar functions to rehearse future states before committing too fully to them.

Then there is the ‘mystery house’.  This house deliberately doesn’t address their requirements perfectly and challenges them to think different.  It either focuses more heavily on one set of requirements at the expense of others rather than taking a balanced approach or introduces new options and possibilities.  It sometimes backfires but is often successful at introducing people to homes they didn’t realise they wanted.

By the end of the program as the show participants discuss the houses they have seen they are conducting a retrospective to close this analysis and design phase.  Sometimes they have discovered their dream home and are already planning second visits and making offers.  Other times they haven’t yet found a solution close enough to their requirements but even they they always say the process has given them a better understanding of their requirements and priorities than previously and they have a strategy and a plan for how to focus their next set of activities.

Inquiring Minds:Joining Dots

There have been a number of times this year that a #citylis lecture has subsequent exposed connections in a way I’ve found uncanny. A sure sign that the course is opening my mind and encouraging me to pay attention. Coincidences are just connections I wouldn’t have noticed without being receptive to them.

This week’s connections were provided by the Inquiring Minds podcast a weekly show I would encourage you to subscribe to if you are at all interested in intersections of science, society and the world around us.

On a sunny spring afternoon I had about an hour’s walk home in front of me so I listened to Episode 75: Kevin Kelly: What Technology Wants (the ‘fact’ that sunny days and fresh air help you think better is only proven by my own anecdata!).

Connecting Healthcare Information

In the slot before the main feature co-hosts Kishore Hari and Indre Viskontas discussed the, possibly tangled and dark, connections between celebrity, disorders, medication and public awareness campaigns. This touched on many of this issues we discussed in our Information Domains lecture last week on Healthcare information with another session of Pharmaceutical information to come.

“We have to be a little more vigilant about how we as a society are promoting a particular disease” – Indre Viskontas

Inquiring Minds hope to have a follow up on this story. In the meantime other episodes to catch up on that connect with this theme are: Episode 74 featuring Kathleen Hall Jamieson on Fact Checking Science, Episode 36 featuring Harry Collins on Why Googling Doesn’t Make You a Scientific Expert, Episode 17 featuring Michael Pollan on The Science of Eating Well (And Not Falling for Fad Diets) and Episode 7 featuring George Johnson on Why Mostt of What You’ve Heard About Cancer is Wrong.

Also not coincidentally when I walked into my local public library outpost on Saturday the first book my eye was drawn to was Bad Pharma: How Medicine is Broken, And How We Can Fix It by Ben Goldacre.

Self Ordering

Another pre-feature chat concerned the MIT Self-Assembly Lab who have made a chair assemble itself in water.

Their research looks at how things can make themselves.

“Self-Assembly is a process by which disordered parts build an ordered structure through local interaction.” – MIT Self-Assembly Lab

This is more than a little bit mind expanding. They are researching the “building blocks. energy and interactions” for self-making things.

Now, when we studied entropy we looked at how ordered structures consisting of many independent parts tended to disorder. The self-assembly lab look at creating materials that can create order from disorder pieces: shifting from high to low entropy.

One of the questions this poses is do information technologies such as the Semantic Web and machine learning suggest a similar ability to self-order information resources? If so, what is the role and purpose of information professionals?

Kevin Kelly on Cataloguing Cool Tools, Surveillance and Technology as a Force

It is hard to describe the career and work of Kevin Kelly. So I’ll just borrow from Tim Adams who says it well in this 2010 article:

Kevin Kelly is a former editor of the Whole Earth Catalog and co-founder of Wired magazine, where he remains editor-at-large. He has been an irrepressible prophet of our digital future for 40 years.

It’s also hard to cover the eclectic mind swirl and surfing journey the ideas tumbling out of this podcast took me on.

Access to Tools

Let’s start with the Whole Earth Catalog, again pretty coincidentally given that during Reading Week some of us were participating in an optional workshop on cataloguing using RDA and MARC21.

Where Librarians catalogue books and documents the Whole Earth Catalog collected … well bits of information about everything. Often these were tools, tools being an infinitely malleable term. The Catalog was sub-titled “access to tools” and books were just one example in the broad taxonomy of tools they catalogued.

“”Tools” were endless and whatever users and staff deemed them to be. They could be actual tools for everything from jewelry work and enameling to woodworking and blacksmithing. Other tools were books of every type – from views of the future to death and dying to gravity and time to population control; maps; and how-to guides for everything from living in a tipi to building a pipe organ to using a compass.” – Whole Earth Catalog

Rising out of late 1960s counterculture, perhaps Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog should be linked to that emergent history of the web that threads through Paul Otlet’s Universal Bibliography, Vannevar Bush’s Memex, Ted Nelson’s Hypertext to Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web? It has been described as a cross between an early search engine and social medium published in zine form.

“With a seemingly haphazard arrangement of information within its categories, the CATALOG was the desktop-published equivalent an early search engine that invited readers to learn something new on every page – and to connect unrelated ideas and concepts.” – Whole Earth Catalog

Kevin Kelly described working on the whole Earth Catalog as:

“living on the web decades before the internet was born” – Kevin Kelly

For more information on and material from the Whole Earth Catalog and its culture the Museum of Modern Art has an exhibition page called Access to Tools: Publications from the Whole Earth Catalog, 1968-1974. The cuttings from the Catalog that accompany the bibliography at the end should be of interested to #citylis folks!

There is also a recording on YouTube of From Counterculture to Cyberculture: The Legacy of the Whole Earth Catalog held by Stanford University Libraries that discusses much of the content from Fred Turner’s book From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism

Kevin Kelly was an editor of Whole Earth Review (features including Computers are Poison and Peering into the Age of Transparency) before being part of the team that launched Wired. Two connective threads connecting this eclectic mix of ecology, technology and creativity (you may like to read Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems and the Economic World) are the desire to catalogue tools and the idea of technology as a kind of natural force.

Kelly still catalogues tools via Cool Tools. Every weekday this blog publishes and article about tools that work and has collated 1200 of the best of them into a book that is subtitled “A Catalog of Possibilities” … which perhaps sums up a reason for being of many catalogues.

Surveillance, Tracking and Technology as Force

Kelly also talks about the Internet, tracking and surveillance. He thinks that it’s not going to be possible to stop the internet tracking us. He sees technology as an evolutionary force. this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is deterministic but once systems evolve they neither fully control nor are fully controlled by the humans that originally innovated and introduced them into our systems and ecosystems. They are relentless in their adaptability and mutation.

The Internet is a force that tracks. In some ways resistance is futile. It’s going to be increasingly difficult to live off the grid or to use the Internet and benefit from it without accepting its trackable element. Instead of resistance, Kelly argues that we should accept this property of and figure out how to make it more beneficial than malevolent or malicious and how to work to ensure its multifarious and reciprocal. Tracking is not going to go away but it can also still be negotiated and contested.

Kelly raises the spectre of our looming identity crisis as we increasingly ask “What will humans be?” as we create forms of intelligence and self-creating machines that potentially seriously disrupt our place in the world and our ongoing development as a species.