Thursday, March 31, 2005

Textual Intervention 1.2

I've described before my notion that one way to actively bring about changes in your thinking is to stage "interventional texts". A recent thread on the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing listserv discussed dissertation writing advice. It produced these examples of textual intervention:

I'm Not sure who to give credit for this but...when I was writing my master's thesis my mantra became "Don't get it right, get it written!"

I printed it out large and taped it on the wall above my computer. Worked like a charm! ; ]

And may I add to "don't get it right--get it written" and "done is good" the following:
"Butt in the chair!" (Thanks, Mary Kay.)
"The best dissertation is a done dissertation." (Thanks, Carl.)
Both these statements fit nicely on Post-Its stuck to computer monitors.

But I need to mention that this is no silver bullet. I don't believe that a prominently placed piece of paper *necessarily* changes what goes on around it. We ignore signs all the time. They might work if they are new and might not work because they've been there so long we tune them out. A third option is that they work like advertising -- by being so omnipresent that they work almost subconsciously. A friend of mine described safety signs posted all around Navy ships that created a "climate" of safety.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Textual Coordination 1.5: Splitscreen

Recently, while writing the document pictured below, I needed to simultaneously view the introduction (which contained several academic citations) with the works cited list, to recall who was arguing what. I'd forgotten about this functionality in Word, but you can split the screen to view two portions of the document simultaneously -- formerly impossible with digital documents and a major affordance of print over on-screen reading.

But I'd been using Excel a lot recently, and I remembered that split screen was available in Word too. So here's an image of splitscreen textual coordination in action.

Coordinating on-screen texts with splitscreen funtionality Posted by Hello

By the way, to do this, you grab a little tiny bar over on the scroll bar and drag it to where you want to create the split. You can then scroll each part of the document independently. Nifty!

How to split zee screen -- grab and drag. Posted by Hello

Finally, I found myself wanting to do the exact same thing in Adobe Acrobat while reading a .pdf. No such luck. The functionality hasn't migrated beyond MS programs to my knowledge.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Presence of text for social change

While studying how tech writers created new texts by carefully staging and incorporating existing texts into the target document, I began to try to think of the texts that *weren't* being staged. For example, in writing the document, the writer never consulted a text about ethics . So I've begun ruminating on staging texts as an intervention. I think this quote (from CultureCat's 100 Things list revisited) is an example of someone attempting to do just that:

#57: One of the "How to be more productive" self-help books I'm reading advises its readers to have a "mind like water," which means a mind that reacts in exact proportion to the situation. When you throw a pebble into a lake, there's a ripple effect that corresponds to the weight of the pebble. The water never underreacts or overreacts. I found the principle so helpful that I now have a post-it on my desk that says "Mind like water".

[Update: She's not alone.]

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Textual Coordination 1.4: Clay Coordinates

Here's UT's Clay Spinuzzi demonstrating a highly sophisticated annotation system the night before ATTW 2005. Note the use of two meaningfully different colors of Post-It Notes. (Well, meaningful to him at least.) This shouldn't come as a surprise; Clay's very aware of his own literate processes (see also: his "Encomium on Sticky Notes").

Clay Spinuzzi coordinates text, oh yeah!Posted by Hello

A coordinating madman. Posted by Hello

Friday, March 18, 2005

ATTW 2005

Had a great time at ATTW 2005. Presented on a great panel with Bill Hart-Davidson, Clay Spinuzzi, and Mark Zachry. My talk was well received. Saw some other great panels, but ended up sitting in the "Theory Stream" room all day long. Got a chance to catch up with my RPI colleagues and saw my new colleague Peter Vandenberg from DePaul. But then I had to zip back home to work on the diss. No C's for me!

Monday, March 14, 2005

Put the info where you need it 1.3

I snapped this picture at the Pennsylvania Convention Center at the MLA conference back in December. This Braille sign includes a raised blueprint of the restroom -- but for the sighted, it takes a moment to figure out why you're being given a map. I thought perhaps I was to memorize it in case of fire, use it to guess the location of surprise attackers, or use it to plan my trip to the restroom more carefully.

Preview of the inside of a men's room Posted by Hello

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Put the info where you'll need it 1.2

NCSU Library's done it again. They put a map of the building right where I needed it, for right when I needed it.

What a useful place for portable maps! Posted by Hello

Oh, and I employed a clever bit of my own information management for my trip. I showed up with a list of each book I needed organized by floor, starting with Z40 .H325 on Floor 9 and ending with B398 .T4 R66 on Floor 3. Got it down to an art by now, my friends.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Useful Technology

When asked if I think technology negatively affects how people write, I'm hesitant to venture a guess. When pressed, I mention my suspicion that technology might hinder serendipity in researching. While a Google search no doubt yields unexpected results, those results still contain the search terms entered. The poster-child example I've used is researching in a library. When I go to pull a book from the shelf, I often stop and browse the titles near by, or even not-so-nearby, but on my way. Technology, I thought, hindered this particular kind of serendipitous researching. Until now.

Searching NCSU Libraries' online catalogue for Mirel, Barbara, Interaction design for complex problem solving: developing useful and usable software, I saw that the book was available and located on in the 6th floor stacks at QA76.9 .H85 M57. And then I saw this.

Posted by Hello

Clicking "Browse the shelf!" displays a list of books which are "near by" in the stacks -- books with close call numbers and therefore, on a somewhat related topic. I'm impressed.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Prototype for expanded screen view

Ran into a display limitation while coding my dissertation data -- needed to see my data, timescale, column entries, AND coding scheme at the same time. But I overcame that with a little-a T.C. (textual coordination). See, I told you Excel bites.

Ran outta screen room! Posted by Hello

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

When technology gets cheeky...

From Posted by Hello

Research -- Snow Crash Style

Just read the coolest passage from Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. In best cyber-punk fashion, Stephenson describes "goggling in" to the Metaverse, a VR/avatar-based version of the Internet. The main character, Hiro Protagonist (heh), wanders into the Library and stumbles upon a friend's research project:
The room is filled with a three-dimensional constellation of hypercards [think document avatar], hanging weightlessly in the air. It looks like a high-speed photograph of a blizzard in progress. In some places, the hypercards are placed in precise geometric patterns, like atoms in a crystal. In other places, whole stacks of them are clumped together. Drifts of them have accumulated in the corners, as though Lagos tossed them away when he was finished. Hiro finds that his avatar can walk right through the hypercards without disturbing the arrangement. It is, in fact, the three-dimensional counterpart of a messy desktop, all the trash still remaining wherever Lagos left it. The cloud of hypercards extends to every corner of the50-by-50-foot space, and from floor level all the way up to about eight feet, which is about as high as Lagos's avatar could reach.
This is how I would like to organize my dissertation data.
Excel bites.

Mediating Chicago

So on my recent job interview trip to Chicago, I wanted to get a good look around to see some spots my wife and I might consider living. The goal was to scout out neighborhoods and take some pictures so that she might see what they looked like.

Someone was kind enough to drive me around and tell me about the area. Here's the tricky part. When you take a picture, how do you know where on the map it was taken? I tried a few approaches:
  1. Make a numbered note on the map that corresponds to the picture taken.
  2. Take a picture, then take another picture of road signs nearby to help pinpointing later.
  3. Make short videos of the areas and say the name of where you are.

I tried each of these as they occurred to me -- experimental mediation on the fly! The third worked best. Here's a photo I accidentally snapped as I juggled all my artifacts.

Mediating Chicago! Posted by Hello

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

I'm giving a little talk today, entitled "How My Teaching Changed after Observing Writers," at NCSU for the CWSP's brown bag series.