In this issue:
The Boston Globe • September 27, 2009
Metaphorically speaking...Read this article for a fascinating insight into the way language shapes our perceptions, and then think about how you can design your environment to help patrons feel more comfortable and productive (hint: softer chairs and smooth surfaces help).
Say you're working on a manuscript about XML syntax and the task in front of you is to describe the role of namespaces in schema validation or some other abstract idea. But no matter how many times you try to reword a particularly technical sentence, it comes out too dry. So take a break. Turn on a faucet, stick your hand in the stream of water, and try again. Now the sentence flows beautifully. Sound far-fetched? Maybe it is, but according to a growing body of research by cognitive psychologists, metaphors are rooted in our perception of the physical world. In laboratory experiments, a topic is considered heftier if it is discussed while holding a heavy object. And an unethical topic compels research subjects to reach for a cleaning wipe instead of a pencil, perhaps mimicking Lady Macbeth, who washed her hands to rid herself of guilt. According to George Lakoff, a professor of linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, "What we've discovered in the last 30 years is—surprise, surprise—people think with their brains...and their brains are part of their bodies." ( Godby)
Investor's Business Daily • September 23, 2009
ISO knowledge.Wolfram Alpha creator Stephen Wolfram says the goal of his new Web site is to produce knowledge rather than search results: "...When someone asks a question, we can dip into that base of knowledge and compute a specific answer, as opposed to providing (links to) Web pages." Read the interview to find out Wolfram's ambitious plans for the future.
The most revealing aspect to me is the "assumptions facility" that is used to differentiate queries with "more than one interpretation." The URIs in these cases reveal an internal classification scheme that help determine the types of "pods" that will appear in the results. It will be interesting to see how they manage this scheme as their domain expands and evolves. ( Young)
Library Journal • September 24, 2009
More Google gaffs.On the heels of complaints about Google Books sloppy metadata, U. of Hawai's professor Peter Jacsó says Google Scholar suffers from similar defects, resulting in "millions of records [with] erroneous metadata, as well as inflated publication and citation counts." Jacsó warns that while GS is a useful tool for finding scholarly papers, its citation system is not to be trusted.
It's unfortunate that Google didn't use accepted procedures to standardize the personal names for their Book Search. Disambiguating people is a complex task--different people publish under the same name and the same person may publish different names. While it's fun to point out that one of their popular authors is P. Login (for Please Login), the failure to distinguish among authors with common names has great impact. Pity the person searching for book by John Smith. It's particularly regrettable that Google didn't take full advantage of the metadata available for books. ( O'Neill)
Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox • September 21, 2009
Resisting the urge to redesign. Usability guru Jakob Nielsen reminds us that most users really don't care about Web site design--they just want to "get things done and get out." And because any major overhaul of an existing site makes that more difficult, organizations should strive for incremental change rather than a total revamp. One exception—when you've incrementalized to the point of complete dysfunction. Save this article for the next time Web site redesign comes up in a committee meeting.
A conservative approach to user interface design is likely to be popular with customers, who typically resist change. True enough and the article is full of sage advice along those lines. But what about the poor developer stuck with crusty old code and internally inconsistent design? As a programmer having been in this position more than once, I know the answer: bored and/or frustrated. ( LeVan)
Six Revisions • September 27, 2009
When your inner blogger beckons...Peruse this brief overview of free blogging software, from Bleezer to Zoundry, and you'll be ready when your muse inspires.
A set of nice reviews of desktop blog editors. You'd have to do a whole lot more blogging than I do to have any use for these, no matter how good they are. It seems I'm always online—especially if I'm blogging—and if I wasn't, wouldn't just any text editor work fine until I could paste it into an online tool? An intriguing one is Post2Blog which is reputed to be portable—just stick it on your USB stick and run it from there on "any computer," or at least any computer running Windows. I used to think that would be how you'd move your computational identity around, but lately it just sounds dangerous. Anyway, this article has some nice short reviews for those who might be interested. ( Hickey)