Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Don't Whine to Me You Are So Well Off - Stay In School

What I wanted to say to the bright dropout University student but didn't--

I feel need to give you a reference to my perspective and you can make of it, whatever you want. So I will use myself as the example - here goes:

I'm from Alaska, I started working professionally at age 15 as a legal librarian and law clerk.Because neither of my parents saved money to send me to college I worked on the Alaska pipeline as a bullcook, seven days a week, 10-12 hours a day to save enough money for the tuition, books, materials, and living expenses.

This meant that I was a dishwasher on the Alaska pipeline camp that served meals for 400-800 men a day, and cleaned up the accidents that very drunk pipeline workers left in their beds, toilets, and the hallways where they got sick. I worked in Coldfoot Camp for 5 months with only a one day break. It was not the only job I had like that; I also slimed herring, and was a US Fish and Wildlife photographer!I went to the community college just like you did, starting when I was 16 years old.

At 21 I moved to Seattle to attend the University of Washington. I earned an undergraduate degree in fine art, which is in painting, finishing at the private college Cornish Institute - I completely funded my own education working either full time or part time while I attended school full time - it took ten years. Might as well say "would you like fries with that?" as they hand you your diploma.

After running out of money while on my own, and going without food for 4 days once in 1980 I decided I would take any job and do whatever is required to make a living.

To that end I took any job - the bottom of the barrel jobs as a support tech - while working for RealNetworks when the Internet was brand new -- I emailed someone I never met over the internet and told him I was copying his site so that I could learn to script HTML, and asked would he mind helping me a little bit?I took his site apart and put it back together as my own (http://www.wonderlane.com/).

I taught myself HTML. Once in a while I emailed him with a question and he looked at my work from Indonesia where he lived at that time. My Internet teacher and I still trade Happy New Years greetings via email - we have never met in person.From there I worked increasingly better jobs until I was earning a 6 figure salary.Now I am much older, after having worked since I was a kid, I decided I hate what I am doing for what is barely a living when I am lucky to have a contract. Like many people as I have gotten older I am earning less and less instead of more and more.

So I decided to go back to the university and earn a Masters in Information Science; I will learn something new and it is a challenge. I am not a good writer. And maybe if I am lucky and work hard to learn new things I will restart my career as a result. I follow my intuition -- one never knows what exciting thing one might do next!

One of the things that made a huge impression on me is traveling to India in 1989 and seeing starving people laying in the street and beggars with no clothes in the hundreds - standing around on street corners with nothing to do (and I thought I had it bad!) Even the educated people told me they had no jobs- so when I returned to work at Microsoft I worked to improve business relationships with India.As Americans we are such a rich people we can follow what we love to do and maximize the challenges presented to us in our lives, or we can make choices that make our lives easy.

Most of the other people in the world have no such choices. They work all the time until they die. They don't have "free time" or "disposable income" most people don't graduate from high school.According to UNESCO, at least 875 million adults remain illiterate globally, they never have any chance for an education, they never learn to read or write. Count out 875 million pennies and call me when you are done.

While in the backwoods of Nepal, one lady asked a friend of mine "is the sun that shines on your country is the same one that shines on my country?"30,000 people starve to death every day. Since you started reading this about 600+ people died. So after that grim baseline -Taking a class means taking initiative, to go through the materials, take the tutorials, and/ or work with other people, like following up on my offer to help you - I know both of those things can be challenging as learning experiences, alone, not even counting the subject matter.

And of course I have no knowledge of your background.My best advice is to follow whatever in life fills you with passion. But this was a once in a lifetime chance - everything is - it always is, nothing ever is repeated in just the same way or with just the same people. For example it is very unlikely I will be a TA again.We are very, very lucky, don't you agree? With that said we must take responsibility for every action.You have tremendous potential and only you know what that is and where to place your focus. I wish you every success.

But don't whine to me, because you are so much better off than most people it isn't even funny.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Why Information Management?

"It's not easy to turn a conceptual grasp of a large space into workable solutions, however, and takes many different skill sets—not the least of which is learning to focus and work with talented people who may not have the overall picture but can contribute to the solution." (Mike Crandall, email Jan 21, 2007)

A thorough understanding of information, verses just design or data structures, is at the core of refined application and web design. In depth comprehension of information may help with design in ways planners, designers, and developers may not be able to imagine until actually undertaking the action to expose or make transparent data structures for human and machine use and interaction.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Is your Erdős–Bacon number indeterminate or infinite?

Is my Erdős–Bacon number is indeterminate/infinite? What is yours?

I propose by authoring this blog with a link my Erdős–Bacon number is .1/1/9 (.1.1.9) Therefore if I really do author a paper with (or am referenced by) or make a film(including clips) with Erdős or Bacon, I'd like to be a 1 like the act of Frank Aaron signing the same baseball with Erdős, but I'd still be much further down the chain of connection.

If you link your blog or web information packet to mine, than you will by the 'Totally Finite Rule of Community' acknowledge your Erdős–Bacon number.


Another game brought to you by The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, and Google Lunar Jobs Recruiters "lunarjobs@google.com".


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Photographer's Ethics in a Free Society, Why is this Case Important?

Here is a case of an artist, a photographer named Philip-Lorca diCorcia, using someones image without permission, and profiting by that, even though the subject of the photo asked the photographer to cease using the photo because it runs counter to his religious tradition. See case information: http://www.bigredandshiny.com/cgi-bin/frameset.pl?section=news&issue=issue40&article=STREET_PHOTOGRAPHY_AND_25151059 (Pardon the sticky site!)

Is this really what we meant by a free society, to not respect each other's wants and needs? How is the photographer informed by the law but not by belief? Where do people get the idea they have a right to take another person's image?

From a Boston based art/music community site:

"New York State Supreme Court dismissed a case contesting the ethics of street photography and whether it violates the rights of those individuals photographed"

[the person photographed without his permission and against his will] "Nussenzweig, an Orthodox Jew, claimed that the photographer using his image violated his First Amendment right to practice his religion on the grounds that his image constituted an engraven image that was exhibited and consumed commercially. However, Justice Judith J. Gische said that Nussenzweig's claim to privacy was not valid, finding that diCorcia created the photograph for artistic purposes."

He may have done it for artistic purposes but he certainly did it for profit: "The photographer said multiple prints of Nussenzweig's picture sold for about $20,000 each. The picture also was published in "Heads," a book that sold several thousand copies, diCorcia said. (boingboing.net/2005_07_01_archive.html)

Law.com claimed that the photographer sold 10 copies of the image for 20K-30K each - no starving artist there. "As commerce, the picture would be subject to the restrictions set forth in New York's right-to-privacy laws; as art, it would not." (http://www.law.com/jsp/law/sfb/lawArticleSFB.jsp?id=1139565912319 )

In this case the photographer may have justified this as an act of free expression, but what if it was a photo of him? or his parents? What if he was doing something embarrassing? Does this justify the artist/photographer and any American's right to make money off another person's image without their permission? How far could this be extended? Could Nike or Levis or McDonalds run images of people on TV, say making fun of them without their permission?

While dismissing the case, Gische, the judge did say this: "Clearly, plaintiff finds the use of the photograph bearing his likeness deeply and spiritually offensive," she concluded. "The sincerity of his beliefs is not questioned by defendants or this court. While sensitive to plaintiff's distress, it is not redressable in the courts of civil law. In this regard, the courts have uniformly upheld Constitutional First Amendment protections, even in the face of a deeply offensive use of someone's likeness." ( http://www.law.com/jsp/law/sfb/lawArticleSFB.jsp?id=1139565912319 )

What if Nussenzweig had just said - I don't want others to make a profit off my image. One, stop producing images of me, or two pay me whatever you make, because I did not give you permission. But he didn't - he just said 'no'. Isn't that good enough?

Here's Nussenzweig's attorney quoted on the subject:
"We claim that to take someone's picture without their consent is bad enough," said Jay Goldberg, Nussenzweig's lawyer. "But to then hang the picture in galleries, put it in books and sell it around the city without telling the person or obtaining permission is unfair and outrageous."

Wouldn't it have been more ethical for diCorcia to just respect Nussenzweig's request? What if diCorcia decided to sell the photograph of Nussenzweig for an advertisment such as a billboard or use in a film? Why does it being art or in a public place mean that a person's image is not their own? How more deeply offensive can it be and still be justified as art or good practice -- can it still be art worth all this money and hold no concern for the living person?

Are there other examples of this, where something of yours is not yours because it is art or in a public in a free society? What about medical footage taken in a state hospital of a woman having a baby? Could that be run on television without her permission? Or does she have a reasonable expectation of privacy?

In this case I asked Jeff Stein - a student in the University of Washington's Informatic program, in the Info344 class, and he told me that he feels our culture prefers to honor the needs and values of commerce over the needs of personal privacy. He said this is especially true in public spaces.

Personally if he were asked not to use a picture of a person he had photographed he would honor the request. I would too. What is artistic about not honoring people. Isn't the lack of regard for their privacy doing violence to them by ignoring their request?

How is it that people will resort to the law in such an instance and not use their own belief system to inform them of what is respectful or reasonable?

As the BigRedandShiny.com article concludes:
"From this, therefore, we can conclude that artistic rights under the First Amendment trump freedom of religion, also protected under the First Amendment - at least when considering privacy laws within the civil courts of New York. "

What I find a sad twist of fact is when querying 'diCorcia', the photographer's name, in a local warm and friendly public search engine you will receive an image of Nussenzweig, probably many of them, as I did.

Why is this case important? It's important because our sense of ethical judgment tells us it isn't right, while the law says it isn't wrong.

Freedom of speech is closely tied to freedom of thought which trumps freedom of religion.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

On Accessibility from Dan Comden's lecture in Info344 (Informatics, iSchool UW)

Today Jan 18, 2007, Dan Comden presented a wealth of information on Accessibility on Web sites and presented a variety of devices to assist disabled people with accessing the Web and networks by either enhancing their disabled sense such as increasing the font size, or using another ability to make up for the disabled sense, such as a screenreader for the blind.

There were a couple of things I took away from his lecture, which reminded me that "getting around" to making my site accessable was never going to happen unless I had more empathy and just took the time to do it. As you can imagine lots of companies large and small approach accessiblity and usability from the same standpoint - someday we'll get around to it.

It seems that only when we are directly affected do we really understand. And we all know that someday never comes. So to this end we had the class count off 1-3 for assigned disabilities. The groups assigned were:
1. Physical Disability (such as missing limbs or being in a wheelchair, or unable to use hands without pain) - this is called motor-impaired as well.
2. Aural Disability
3 Visual Disability

Our goal is to communicate information effectively and to reduce barriers to the presentation and access of information.

Some of the issues Dan presented were -
1. Tab order and labling form fields
2. Alt tags to provide text for screen readers
3. Content skipping - to the main text
(such as the Whitehouse.gov site has hidden in the top left hand side of the main page - so that those visually impared useing screen readers do not have to read or tab through the navigation on each page every time the user hits a new page. Check it out, it's almost unnoticable.)

We already agree that these should be our standard practices from here on out.

Dan also gave us some things to consider as our take aways from his presentation - to me the most compelling one was "Test your sites and applications for accessibility."

When I am being interviewed as a product designer or manager my best way of communicating how strongly I feel about usability and accessability testing can be summed up by "What makes a good designer is insisting upon usability testing."

Often what makes good designers great is their enthusiasm for what they do - enthusiasm for excellent design is contageous! If you wonder should we make this useful and accessable because it will add $more money to the cost - no one cares - not really. But if you take the lead and remember that "Design adds value faster than it adds cost" (Thomas C. Gale) -- consider that usability includes accessability - design your sites and applications with that in mind - you will have useful sites and applications which are open and available to everyone.

The real time to "get around" to making a site usable is the first time - the costs of resources associated with makeovers on sites are too large oftentimes to go back and retrofit. Dan told us stories about how the orginal designers of sites did not take accessability into account and here, months or years later are still arguing over what should be done.

The what or how may be open to discussion but the why is not. Let's make it a point of this humane professional skill, add it to our arsenal of design capability to make things right the first time.

We were very pleased to have the entire class submit papers which reflected their passion for providing usable sites for those with disabilities.

Check out these guidelines: