ia play

the good life in a digital age

Archive for the ‘words’ Category

hapax legomenon

without comments

Sadly, this post has nothing to do with lego men. A hapax legomenon (or ‘a thing once said’) is a word occurring only once in the written body of a language. It’s kind of the classical scholars version of GoogleWhacking.

Reading about hapaxes has led me to the discovery that honorificabilitudinitatibus is the longest word in the English language featuring alternating consonants and vowels. Sure to come in useful one day.

Other discoveries:

nonce word – one made up for the occasion, possibily with no expectation of reuse

stunt word – created to artificially suggest importance, or coined merely to demonstrate how clever the coiner is.

Written by Karen

April 5th, 2008 at 1:35 pm

Posted in words

classical wisdom

with one comment

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” – Cicero

Written by Karen

April 4th, 2008 at 7:45 am

book: A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink

without comments

A Whole New Mind proposes that business and hence our careers are changing under pressures from automation, abundance and outsourcing to Asia. Daniel Pink challenges the reader to consider their job and ask:

  1. Can a computer do it faster?
  2. Is what I’m offering in demand in an age of abundance?
  3. Can someone overseas do it cheaper?

He sees a rise in ‘right-brain’ jobs that emphasise skills like empathy and design.
Pink is only really addressing affluent westerners with the message “your jobs are going to India”. I found the failure to universalise the message occassionally jarring. I also don’t buy the idea that ambitious middle class mothers will be encouraging their kids to become nurses. I think there remains a difference between valuable, needed roles and aspirational, status roles.

I feel a bit like my reading list is eating its own tail. This time ‘A Whole New Mind’ referenced Pat Kane, Martin Seligman, Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi and Matthieu Ricard. Older reads that also featured were Isaiah Berlin, Powers of Ten, George Lakoff and Scott McCloud.

I think I may need to get out (of my reading rut) more.

Written by Karen

April 4th, 2008 at 7:45 am

Posted in books,career,work

book: Enough by John Naish

without comments

I’ve just read John Naish’s Enough. It arrived on my desk at work with it’s dazzling tag-line “ever get the feeling that you’ve had enough?”. Rather apt timing.

At times Enough seemed like a greatest hits of the happiness & modernity movement, featuring Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (Flow), Epicurus, Martin Seligman (Authentic Happiness), the jam experiment (also seen in Paradox of Choice), and Stephen Johnson (Everything Bad is Good For You). I skipped quite a few bits as a result.

But I really liked the stuff about personal sabbaths. Mine seems to involved baking bread and sitting on top of the rabbit hutch.And it’s got a nice ending. I get very uppity if books don’t end well.

Written by Karen

March 31st, 2008 at 6:47 am

I want one!

with one comment

Written by Karen

March 5th, 2008 at 8:43 am

Posted in books,playful spaces

you are not reading this

without comments

Steven Johnson has been writing about literacy scares in Dawn of the digital natives, inspired (or incensed?) by the recent National Endowment for the Arts study.

He seems especially irritated by their insistence on considering reading to be something that only happens when you have paper in front of you. He highlights this quote from the report:

“Whatever the benefits of newer electronic media, they provide no measurable substitute for the intellectual and personal development initiated and sustained by frequent reading.”

Written by Karen

February 11th, 2008 at 11:50 pm

Posted in books

when crowds are wise

without comments

I realised the other day I’ve never actually read James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds and that was undermining my ability to spot when senior management were systematically misusing the concept. So I got a copy from Swapshop – these are really not the sort of books you should ever have to spend money on.

I’ve been slightly resistent to reading it. At university David Gauntlett introduced us to Charles Mackay’s the Madness of Crowds during lectures about moral hysteria about media (and Victorian moral outrage at the bicycle, if I remember rightly). ‘Madness’ is not the easiest of reads but the stuff on tulip mania makes your jaw drop at times. It may have been my rosy memories of those lectures that made me irritated at Surowiecki’s concept.

Now Surowiecki isn’t rejecting that groups of people sometimes (frequently?) do intensely stupid things. He is more interested in describing the conditions under which a crowd can be surprisingly smart. The book should really be called ‘When Crowds are Wise’.

I haven’t finished it yet and don’t really feel like it would matter if I don’t. ‘Wisdom’ and other pop theory books are more tightly written than ‘Madness’ but the structure is repetitive and they outstay their welcome pretty quickly. Tellingly, most are expansions of magazine articles, expanded (or padded) with a series of anecdotes and a smattering of scientific studies that are briefly skimmed over. They make me crave depth. But maybe not as much depth as Mackay gives you!

Pop theory books are such easy targets, I shouldn’t really expend energy on them. Just read ValleyWag instead.

Written by Karen

February 10th, 2008 at 9:53 am

Posted in books,psychology

Gilbert’s playground

without comments

Daniel Gilbert’s homepage is the fabulously named hedonic psychology laboratory within which there is a page called ‘playing’. The page has the tag line ‘frivolous linkageZ’ (he’s got a thing about Z).

Slightly outside most people’s expectations for the page is the section called deathZ -which includes the links to Find a Grave and Dying Words .

Control a Man in a Chicken Suit, Kwazy Rabbit and Walls with Things Written On Them are probably closer to mainstream definitions of playful.

Written by Karen

January 16th, 2008 at 12:51 am

Posted in categorisation,words

harnessing the singular intelligence of users

without comments

In What is Web 2.0 Tim O’Reilly describes Amazon reviews as harnessing collective intelligence of the users:

“Amazon sells the same products as competitors such as Barnesandnoble.com, and they receive the same product descriptions, cover images, and editorial content from their vendors. But Amazon has made a science of user engagement. They have an order of magnitude more user reviews, invitations to participate in varied ways on virtually every page–and even more importantly, they use user activity to produce better search results.”

We’ve found in our user research that our audience doesn’t expect to find reading or writing user reviews to beparticularly valuable. Important as the user research is, this doesn’t mean we won’t build the functionality (remember the faster horses).

Now I do pay attention to the reviews. Generally I’m not that interested in a Mrs J Laithwaite’s individual opinion of The Not So Big House but the fact that 9 out of the 10 reviewers gave the book 5* holds more weight.

But, just as in the real world, there are individuals whose opinions are more than enough, especially in a particular domain. Stephen A. Haines is the #9 reviewer on Amazon.co.uk and writes shed loads of reviews of popular science books. I can’t, however, subscribe to his reviews or do anything like sort his reviews to find all his 5* rated books.

Swapshop also restricts user-to-user relationships which seems misguided. Having swapped one book with eadaoin surely that increases the chance that I will find another book in their collection than in the general mass of books? It is pretty hard to even find the user pages, let alone subscribe to them. Your only hope is to hack the URL or stumble across one of their books.

LibraryThing, on the otherhand, is brilliant at this sort of stuff. Not only can you subscribe to anyone’s library and their reviews but LibraryThing actively suggests overlapping and similar libraries and provides ‘watch this library’ functionality.

Written by Karen

January 14th, 2008 at 12:39 am

Posted in amazon,books

neologisms all over

without comments

Matt Jones also mention Gary Penn’s concept of ‘toyetics’, an interesting concept but one I can’t help feeling is destined for another list of hated words, just like this Lulu Blooker list.

I had ambivalent feelings about that Lulu list since one of the ‘winners’ folksonomy has dogged the last few years of my career, with far too many people, who should know better, getting confused about a useful idea and thinking it means we can get rid of all the BBC’s librarians.

But neologisms seem to be another way we entertain ourselves. Fun with words, even. The BBC’s newfangled broadcasting mechanism once upset C. P. Scott, the editor of my old employer the (Manchester) Guardian:

“Television? The word is half Greek, half Latin. No good can come of it” – C. P. Scott

Just like metadata then, another common work topic.

And this week Information Architect as a job title was lampooned in Private Eye using, shock horror, a BBC job ad in their Birt-Speak feature.

I’m neologisms all over at the moment.

Written by Karen

June 30th, 2007 at 2:04 am

Posted in words