The Best American Essays 2012

Brooks, D., & Atwan, R. (2012). The best American essays 2012. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

I was travelling a few months ago and one thing I tend to do when I travel is buy books.  Since, I was taking a break after finishing my doctorate in information science (job hunting), I thought it was a good time to start reading other stuff (fiction, non-doctorate literature, general how-to guides to daily living, non-fiction, teen novels, real estate manuals, etc.), I picked up The Best American Short Stories 2012.  I was ready to dive in to some fiction, remind  myself why I have two degrees in English literature and how much I enjoyed it all.  I started it, but it didn’t capture my attention right away (I’m going to go back soon enough).  I haven’t read short stories in a while and I was seeing the results.  I read a few stories but put the book aside.  Back to reading journal articles.
On my next airport expedition, I picked up The Best American Essays 2012.  I was in search of some change in my reading habits and a desire to learn new things.  It fits with my growing interest in documentation, particularly of documenting daily life, reflection and lived experiences.  Documentary films are fast becoming my favorite genre.  Keeping a record of life and living was a new hobby.  Reading about people’s reflection on life and living is exactly what essays provide.  I was ready to dive in and find out how others are living in this changing world. Continue reading

Interview Glass Cube

I appreciate the short interview.  I understand the long interview.  

There are moments when you realize that the interview is like being arrested, getting locked in a room with windows and sitting at a table waiting to be grilled.  The room is really a glass cube centrally located for optimal viewing.  Imagine that glass cube in Times Square with people walking by on their way to do their jobs or not.  There are moments of stopping and staring through the glass, trying to figure out exactly what you’re doing in that glass cube.  They smile if you notice them and continue on their way.  Another passes and repeats.  You smile and think of things to do that will entertain.  Maybe you could do that hand trick you learned as a child, or maybe the mime skills you developed in college.  You could entertain.  It’s possible.

Someone offers you water.  You refuse the water. Guides say to refuse the water.  They continue to offer you water throughout your stay in the glass cube.  What do they think?  Do you look like you’re dying of thirst?  Did you really speak so much that you need to drink a glass of water each time someone comes or goes? It’s freaking crazy. You refuse the water and at some point after being asked for the fifth or sixth time, you accept. Yes, I’m going to drink the damn water. I’m going to get the glass of water and I’m going to love it! You don’t do this very often. Instead you do it once and realized that they didn’t really expect you to say yes. There’s no place to put the water. There’s no place to throw out the paper cup when you’re done. There’s the awkward moment when you’re drinking the water and the next person shows up. It’s a ploy. You’re unprepared and accidentally splutter while trying to regain your composure. Continue reading

Pet Peeves: IE9 Favorites

If you consider yourself a designer in any sense of the word, then you probably see design solutions that just gets on your last nerves.

Today, I installed IE 9, which I’ve been avoiding for a little while.  I didn’t want to update but I needed to for the sake of my website.  I could have waited until Microsoft institutes their automatic browser updates in January 2012, but I figure what the heck, I can test out the new version now.  The first thing you notice is that web browsers are starting to look the same, particularly the minimalist design with tabs.  It’s great to try to get more screen real estate and to get rid of unnecessary crap, but some things are being hidden in secret menus.

Anyhow, IE9 has changed the favorite icon from star and words to just a star and moved it from the left of the screen to the right of the screen.  There’s nothing wrong with this.  It seems to make sense and now it looks like Chrome and Firefox which would suggest some consistency.  When you click the star, the favorite menu appears.


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Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do

Studs Terkel | 1974 | New York: New Press

I worked in a bank.  You know, it’s just paper.  It’s not real.  Nine to five and it’s shit.  You’re lookin’ at numbers. But I can look back and say, “I helped put out a fire.  I helped save somebody.”  It shows something I did on this earth. (Tom Patrick, Fireman, p.589)

Working is an oral history done in the mid-1970s.  People talk about their working lives and what it means to them.  There are nine books that cover a variety of themes pertaining to the work that people are doing ranging from working the land to finding a calling.

It’s not a book to rush through, but rather to take a slow journey, giving each story its due.  As an oral history, you’re pulled into the person’s words and point of view of life, you take your time and you listen, even if that listening is reading.  Some are short, a page or less, and some are long, five or more pages.  The working life is painted by the worker and the feeling of the work is present in the words and phrases on the page.  I took my time reading.  I didn’t read too much at once.  I read and digested what I learned about a world of work.  As I read, I saw that today’s work is not that different from work over thirty years ago in America.  Many of the jobs in the book still exists.  Some of the jobs have certainly disappeared or have dramatically changed with the times.  For example, the switchboard operators are no more.  One can argue that a variation of this job still exist in the person that connects you when you make a collect call, but that is a major shift in job.  I imagine that the jobs that still exist might still have the same/similar stories from its workers.  It would be great to have a new 21st century version of this book.  I would very much enjoy doing an oral history of today’s workers.

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The Time-to-Degree Conundrum

Leonard Cassuto | October 16, 2011 | Advice – The Chronicle of Higher Education |Original Article 

“Graduate students take longer and longer to finish because we don’t reward quick finishers with academic jobs. In fact, we do quite the opposite.”

It is a complex situation for a graduate student. On the one hand, you want to get your degree and get on with the business of working in your area. On the other hand, you want to get the job but you know that it’s not going to happen if there’s not enough work products by the time you graduate. What do you do? Do you finish quicker but risk not getting a job because you don’t have enough items to present in your job packages or do you delay finishing so that you have enough to present and increase your chances of landing that dream job?

Answering these questions are personal and each graduate student would need to decide what is more important given the circumstances. The author of the article points out that the system that graduate students aspire to join lean heavily towards slow finishers even though graduate schools want their students to finish quickly. The graduate schools also find themselves in a similar predicament as their graduate students. Do they want their students to be quick finishers or slow finishers? The quick finishers cost less for sure, but who’s going to pick up the additional teaching and research assistantships that helps the faculty to be successful? The slow finishers may cost more to maintain, but they might provide more reward in the long run. Who knows?!

On a personal note, I’m naturally a quick finisher. I intend to finish sooner rather than later for a variety of reasons.

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Interaction Design in the Wild

Rogers, Y. (2011). Interaction design gone wild: striving for wild theory. Interactions, 18(4), 58-62.

Yvonne Rodger’s article “Interaction design gone wild: striving for wild theory,” begins to touch on the inherent problem of theory and practice.  HCI theory draws from many domains, but no one theory maps completely or produces exact results.  Thus, there is a break-down between what is theorized and what is practiced.  One problem which the article is trying to address is the fact that much of theory is based on controlled lab experiments, which are good for some things but not everything.  The controlled lab experiments can test very specific things, but what is missing from the theoretical landscape is what happens in the real world, or as researchers like to say, “in the wild.”   The article calls for researchers to start doing research “in the wild” and to develop “wild theories.”  It is a noble request and there is possibility that it will occur.

My call is for there to be another phrase rather than “in the wild” for research that occurs under real conditions in real world situations with real world constraints.  The “in the wild” phrase really is coming out of ethnographic research where the “in the wild” was the “other.”  The “wild” also speaks to the “otherness” of the real world as compared to the lab.  The lab represents the “not wild” world whereas the non-lab world is represented by “wild.”  The wild means there are less researcher inflicted constraints and thus, “wild” refers to the researcher’s perspective of the context.  If we truly want to do interaction design for the world in which it will exist, then we need not think of that world as a form of “other,” apart from oneself and one’s world.  Designing for the everyday world and life mean doing research, implementation, evaluation, theory, and all that comes with it, in that world for that life.

Real world also has it’s problems as a terminology but at least it’s not separating the world into otherness.  There’s enough of that already happening in the world.  We really don’t need any more theories or conversations labeled “wild.”  Let’s call it what it is rather than what it is not.