mamamusings: November 3, 2003

elizabeth lane lawley's thoughts on technology, academia, family, and tangential topics

Monday, 3 November 2003

wishing on a star(fish)

Starfish in Monterey BayI woke at 5am today, trying to prevent my body from becoming accustomed to pacific time. It would be easy to become accustomed to pacific beauty, however. I had planned to walk down to the wharf and watch the sun rise, but there are thick, dark rain clouds surrounding the bay, so instead I’m using the time to write out the thoughts in my head.

When I travel to beautiful places like Camden and Monterey, I find myself questioning my life choices pretty closely. Why, exactly, is it that I choose not to live in a beautiful coastal town, when I love them so much?

There are good reasons, of course, family being largest amongst those. Living in Rochester means my parents have easy access to their only grandchildren. It means a cost of living that allows us to live on one salary, which in turn means my husband can be a full-time stay-at-home dad. It means public schools that we like and trust, and a neighborhoods where we feel at home. It means permanent job security for me, and coworkers whose company I enjoy.

Those are some powerful advantages.


I still find myself looking out at the waters of Monterey Bay, trying to figure out how we could relocate to a coastal town, somewhere, and still retain the quality of life that we have now.

In Sadie Plant’s “cyberfeminist rant” Zeroes and Ones, I found this passage about Anna Freud that helped to inspire my talks for tomorrow:

Her lectures were composed in the same way. First, she lectured in her imagination, enjoying the thunderous applause, and then she made an outline of what she had said, adjusting it if she needed to for greater simplicity and coherence. Later, with her outline in hand, she would give the lecture extempore. […]
This is hysteresis, the lagging of effects behind their causes. Reverse engineering: the way hackers hack and pirates conspire to lure the future to their side. Starting at the end, then engaging in a process which simultaneously assembles and dismantles the route back to the start, the end, the future, the past: who’s counting now?

This concept of starting with a clear image of desired results isn’t new, of course. It’s part of nearly every “New Age” book I’ve ever read, part of many psychotherapeutic approaches, part of the worst motivational talks I’ve ever heard. But despite all that, I think there’s something to it. So perhaps what I need to do is simply imagine the end point, and focus my energies on working backwards from there.

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more like this: family

controversial professorial weblog

The Chronicle of Higher Education today has an article entitled “A Weblog Starts a Fire,” about the weblog of Indiana University Professor Eric Rasmusen.

Since the Chronicle is subscription-only, here are the lead paragraphs, which summarize the gist of the story:

The trouble began when Professor Eric B. Rasmusen wrote that hiring a homosexual man as a schoolteacher was akin to putting the fox in the chicken coop.

“Male homosexuals, at least, like boys and are generally promiscuous,” he wrote on his Weblog, which is resides on the Indiana University at Bloomington’s Web site. “They should not be given the opportunity to satisfy their desires.”

Students and staff members complained about his comments, asking that they be removed from the Web site. Some even suggested that he should be fired. Mr. Rasmusen, a professor of business economics in Indiana’s Kelley School of Business, agreed to remove his blog from the university’s server while officials reviewed the complaints. But it returned a day later, after university lawyers concluded that it did not violate any policy.

Apparently this issue has already been discussed over on The Volokh Conspiracy (where it had its initial beginnings, it seems), and Crooked Timber, though it somehow slipped under my radar at the time.

(Please do not start a flame war in my comments about this, at least not without first reading through the analyses and comments at the two sites mentioned above.)


Just found Daniel Drezner’s post on this topic. Also worth reading.

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more like this: teaching

Internet Librarian: morville on "ambient findability"

Yes! A Boingo/DeepBlueWireless hotspot in the conference center. Hate to pay another $9/day for access (since I’m already paying in my hotel), but it’s worth it to me to be able to blog the conference.

Peter Morville is kicking off the “searching” track with a talk on “ambient findability.”

Interesting graphic showing “cells” of characteristics. Usable, Useful, Dedsirable, Valuable, Accessible, Creditble, and Findable. He wrote an article called The Age of Findability (“just Google it,” he says). Shows a great quote from a response to his article: “[This is] a case of librarians trying to muscle intot he usability field with their own spin…findability is just a subset of user-centered design.”

Great example of searches for information on cancer. Most people don’t search on “cancer” (which would bring up NIC in top results), they search on a specific type of cancer, like “melanoma.” NIC needs to figure out how to make their site “findable” for searches like these.

Amazing slide where he shows Launchcast, and says “what happens if you take away the words on this interface?”—then shows it. It becomes unusable. Wonderful way to show the importance of interface cues, as well as the importance of the text itself. Fascinating.

Quote from Herb Simon: “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

Mentions the study I wrote about last year.

Talks about Ambient Devices—they create items that respond to data inputs. Orbs, pinwheels, etc. Make the pinwheel spin faster as you get more urgent emails!

Talks about things like “child tracking” armbands. (Missed the company name.) “We are not trying to sell this product based on the fear of parents,” claims the CEO. (Peter pauses for effect; audience laughs…)

We’re putting more information about the physical world into the digital world, and the reverse. Ah, yes. My favorite topic—blurring boundaries.

Tells “story of the three stone cutters.” When asked what they’re doing in a quarry, the three respond differently:
1) I’m making a living.
2) I’m doing the best stone-cutting that anyone could do.
3) I’m building a cathedral.

As information professionals, we can think of ourselves as “building cathedrals” of content and information.

“What Amazon has done has create a ‘participation economy.’” (Top reviewer at Amazon is a former acquisitions librarian…)

Talks about Amazon’s “search inside the book” feature. Calls it a “major event in the information landscape.” Says that preliminary info shows that books with the search are selling at a higher rate than those without. (The skeptic in me notes that the causality could be reversed; better-selling books could well have been included in full-text first.)

Again, the boundary-blurring between the physical and the digital worlds. This is how we have to think about content integration!

(Another note to self: Must start reading Boxes and Arrows again. Somehow that dropped off my list.)

In response to an inaudible audience question, Peter says “There are things we know about libraries—as distance (ie ‘ease of use) increases, library use drops off sharply. One reason Google has been so successful is it is so ‘close’—so easy to use.”

This talk was a great example of how a good presentation can be done without succumbing to the “cognitive style of powerpoint.” It is Powerpoint, but extremely well done. At the end, he provides a link to the presentation file.

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more like this: conferences

my aggregator compromise

I finally realized that there is a way that I can use the power of aggregators without giving up my (perhaps irrational) attachment to the visual space of weblogs.

I’m going to use an aggreagator (Bloglines, to be specific) to read the online magazines that I haven’t been remembering to check regularly. Boxes and Arrows, A List Apart,, Wired News, and BoingBoing.

Because Bloglines is a browser-based aggregator, I won’t have to remember to launch a new application. I just have to add the link to my start page (which right now features my blogrolls) so that I remember to check it regularly.

Posted at 2:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (2)
more like this: technology

Internet Librarian: 30 Search Tips in 40 Minutes

Mary Ellen Bates on tips for searching effectively. These are her tips, not mine. My comments, when I have them, are parenthetical.

I almost hate to share these, because these are the kind of tips that let people like me come across as an “angel of information mercy” to the people who ask me for help in finding things!

BTW, Mary Ellen is a great presenter. Funny, interesting, clear. She’s got a free “tip of the month” email update, which you can also read on her web site.

  1. Always use more than one search engine. (You’ll often get very different results; useful to triangulate.) See a test at
  2. Use AltaVista’s “world keyboard” to insert non-Roman characters.
  3. Use AltaVista’s “sorted by” box to filter results. It’s not an “AND”, but it causes results with the sorted-by contents to bubble up to the top. “Softer than an AND but more relevant than an OR.
  4. Use thesauri and web dictionaries to identify key words, put client’s request in context. (e.g. Google’s define feature, etc)
  5. Use spell-check to identify American-only spellings (fiber/fibre, labor/labour, etc). Type search terms in MS Word, set language to UK English, and run spell check!
  6. Watch for alternative phrasing (retirement/superannuation, revenue/turnover). British to American tips
  7. Use Google’s synonym feature. ~search-term; e.g. ~sheep returns sites with terms livestock, lamb.
  8. Use “pearl culturing” (particularly in for-fee services)—look for key concepts in just the title of elements, then find the keywords assigned to that document. Use a similar approach on the web by using a “reverse link lookup”—find out who linked to a site, on the assumption they’ll have more like it.
  9. Use Google’s “related:” operator. Syntax: ; doesn’t find linked pages; finds similar pages.
  10. Use tools, not search engines. Open directory (, subject-specific directories. Use search engine to find a tool, use the tool to find the answer. Let someone else (an expert) find the most relevant/authoritative information.
  11. Search for sources, not just information. Assume key information will be buried in the “invisible web.”
  12. Mine weblogs, don’t subscribe to ‘em. “JIT research, rather than JIC reading.” Use daypop, technorati searches. (“Weblogs are the most efficient source of time wasting.”)
  13. Use AllTheWeb’s URL Investigator ; type URL in search box and see lots of meta information about the link.
  14. Use “reverse link” searching as a citation search, and to find “more like this”. Google syntax is Works best with less common sites. Works better in AllTheWeb
    #Use Wayback Machine to find deleted pages, 404 pages, etc. It now has full text searching which greatly enhances its value. Useful to see how an issue was treated at a specific point in time, or how it changed over time.
  15. Use whois to track down elusive companies.,, Caveat: some people lie. Aternative, Dialog’s Domain Names database (file 225), which lists Whowas records.
  16. Use commercial online services to search the web. Dialog, Factiva, LexisNexis. Search for keyword near multiple occurrences of “www” — this generally leads to a good overview article, with related links.
  17. Use to identify experts’ sites, link-rich pages. (Look at “resources” section on results page; these are “link-rich” sites on your topic.)
  18. Poke around the site. Be nosy. Use the “search this site” function, use site map, check all the pull-down menus.
  19. Mine Yahoo! Groups. Many groups have shared files, but you must join the group to get access. Find groups on a specialized topic, use that as a subject resource. (“Where would people with shared, obscure interests go to discuss a topic with like-minded people?”) This is invisible web content; you won’t find it in a general search engine.
  20. Buy a kitchen timer. After 15 minutes, re-evaluate your web research strategy. You can get so deep into “following the trail” that you lose your focus. (My note: Great idea for a lot of things. Blog reading, etc.)
  21. Use “type of document” indicators; for audio, include things like listen or hear — for opinion pieces look for PDF or DOC files. For statistics, look for .XLS files; include chart or graph along with keywords.
  22. Know the advanced search capabilities of at least three search engines. Truncation? Proximity searching? Case sensitivity? Field searching?
  23. Use results “clustering” or refining features when you can. Example of “”, an Australian search engine, which clusters results visually. Small index right now, but the concept is very cool. (My note: This kind of clustering is what I’ve always liked about NorthernLight, which was my pre-Google favorite engine.)
  24. Search inges only show 2 or 3 results from a site; click the more results from… link to see (often) many more pages.
  25. Know what you’re looking for. What kind of answer? A phone number? An expert? Search engine might not be the best tool. Think creatively about what kind of information you’re looking for; where would that be likely to be?
  26. Use the web to find experts, then pick up the phone! Makes you “value added” in a way that matters to clients.
  27. Use free sources to scope out what’s available, and to find problems in your search strategy— then go to a for-fee service.
  28. Disambiguate. Know what you’re looking for. What does “mobile messaging” mean? Net-enabled PDAs, or vehicles that display advertising. Always rephrase the request in your own words.
  29. What works best for the professional online services doesn’t work well with web searching. Complex searches don’t work on the web. Order of the search terms matters. Forget precision and go for what will likely float to the top.
  30. Some searches are simply not meant to be done online.
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more like this: conferences

Internet Librarian: Greg Notess on "Google Gambol"

Came in late, so missed the first 15 minutes; the room is packed, probably a combination of the topic and the fact that Greg Notess (who runs Search Engine Showdown) is an energetic, entertaining presenter.

Some useful nuggets, for those who care about search engine tips and tricks:

Google Answers is searchable—you can find the answers that other people already paid for.

Google Labs has their ‘under development’ tools, like location searching, news alerts, compute, webquotes, etc.

Be aware of varied filtering levels—by default, Google images are “SafeSearch” filtered and text is not.

Advanced search page lets you do things like limit to document type,
but doesn’t list all of the advanced techniques. “How do you search for a web page that has one word in the title, and another word elsewhere on the page?”

Field searching: allintitle: (finds pages with all the words in title), intitle: (finds only the first word or phrase following it). Also can use allinurl: and inurl: , allintext:, allinachor:, site:, and related: (A little bit of info on this is on his site.)

Can get to a cached web page by using cache:url

Find files of a specific type by using filetype: (e.g. filetype:ppt). [Personal note—this would be really useful for finding instructional materials. e.g. filetype:ppt animation for lectures on the topic of animation…]

Can use an asterisk for a word…e.g. “Unbearable * of being”; useful for quotations, variations on a slogan, intellectual property theft/plagiarism. Can find misspellings and plural/singular within unique phrases. [For example, “Well-behaved women * make history” would find the phrase with the correct “seldom” but also the incorrect but often used “rarely”.]

Google limitations: only first 101K of a page (not the case on alltheweb). Limits the number of search terms you can use to ten. No full Boolean text searching; while OR is available, it doesn’t always work properly.

Google has multiple data centers; each data center may have a slightly different version of the database.

I don’t own Rael Dornfest’s Google Hacks, alas, so I don’t know how much of this is also presented there… some of it is on Greg’s site, linked above.

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more like this: conferences
Liz sipping melange at Cafe Central in Vienna