Back to school

As I’ve alluded elsewhere, I have left my job of 13 years as Rice webmaster and will be going back to school as a full-time student at UT’s School of Information.

The iSchool as it’s affectionately called (does it come with white earbuds?) is an outgrowth of the library school. I was briefly in the program ten years ago, but when Malini came along I decided I couldn’t handle fatherhood + job + school and dropped out. My interest in seeing how library science could be applied to this new interweb thingie was probably pushing the envelope of what they had to offer anyway.

The iSchool has come a long way since then. They’ve hired new faculty and added an Information Architecture track, the one I’ll be in. I’m hoping to squeeze a two-year master’s into a year and a half. Several people have asked whether I wouldn’t want to go for the PhD; if I enjoy myself that might be tempting, but at my age and with family responsibilities I doubt that it will be realistic unless I find some unusually generous support.

People keep asking what I’ll be studying and what I plan to do with it. The short answer to the first question (as I understand it at this time) is techniques for helping people organize and find information, especially as applied to information technologies like the web. When people’s eyes glaze over I say, well, you could think of it as high-level web design with a lot of library science concepts thrown in. I’m not happy with that answer, even though more people seem to understand it, because it sells the field short and sounds like something you could do by reading a For Dummies book. I guess I need to find a few examples to wow ‘em with. As for the second question, I’m purposely not answering that one yet. I’m going back to school to open doors, not to close them.

I’ve had a couple of experiences to make me feel like a student already. I got advised, and while my advisor is very encouraging and supportive, there’s something inherently humbling about the faculty-student relationship that will take some getting used to after all these years away from it. In my work and out here in the blogarium I’m used to floating a vague idea and having people say “cool” or “that might not work because” or “take a look at so-and-so who’s doing something similar”. When I did the same to my advisor his response was, “well, there’s thirty years of research on that”. Gulp.

I’m a bit concerned about my schedule. Of the thirteen hours I plan to take, I can only find open sections for seven; despite my having several alternates everything else is waitlisted. And new students are last in line. I’m counting on some seats to open up. Also, I’m thinking of trying out a sideline in geographic information systems in another department, but the most likely intro GIS class in Geography conflicts with my core iSchool classes. That probably means putting it off for a semester and reducing what I might do in GIS by a third right off the bat.

Orientation is on the 12th and classes start on the 18th. I’m itchy to get started.

I need a keyword

Is there a word which incorporates all of the following? Work habits and work spaces; time management; mnemonics and other cognitive devices; tools like notebooks and PDAs; personal and shared knowledge management tools (bibliographies, bookmarks and linkfarms).

It seems to me that these things are alike in some way but I can’t find a term which unites them. I certainly know a lot of people who share an interest in them, largely through Ed Vielmetti and his always stimulating Vacuum mailing list.

The most prosaic reason why I want such a term is to use it as a category for this blog. But I think that having a term to describe this set would be useful in discussing the set itself. I want to be able to say, “What kinds of X do you use to help with [a task]? Another X related to that one is [a tool or technique]. The best book I’ve seen about X lately is [title].” Not to mention that “Ed Vielmetti and his friends have the most fascinating conversations about X.”

Moleskine reskinned

Moleskine, the delightful outboard brain which inspired the current logo for this blog, is being repackaged — fortunately not the notebook itself, just its presentation in a retail setting. There are, however, two new formats: one with musical staffs and one with little rounded rectangles for storyboarding.

But this post isn’t about Moleskine gossip. It’s about the fascinating presentation by Leftloft which explains in detail the reasoning behind Moleskine’s new retail look.

Fascinating, but frustrating, too, because one of its most intriguing illustrations (coincidentally reminiscent of my logo!) is misleadingly devoid of content.

Moleskine uses

I thought the functions on the right would show some insight into why Moleskine offers the particular varieties of notebook listed on the left. But if you believe this image, you can think only with the squared Moleskine, create only with the plain, and write only with the ruled.

This graphic makes me sad.