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Archive for the ‘words’ Category

mapping Fighting Fantasies

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I found a folder down the back of a bookshelf. It was the shelf full of Fighting Fantasy books.


The first Fighting Fantasy book that Catherine & I bought was The Forest of Doom from the church jumble sale. I wonder if anyone raised an eyebrow at two little girls buying this?

I was thrilled by it. A book and a maze. A book that was a maze! So I bought more, one by one from the WHSmiths in Enfield shopping centre. I remember being appalled when Black Vein Prophecy cost £3.50. I thought they would always cost £1.95 or maybe £2.50 for a really hefty one. My first introduction to inflation.

The folder is full of maps. Maps of those book mazes.

Some are scrappy, works in progress, tools to help you along.


But some are too perfect and must have been redrawn once the book was completed. As a record, knowledge to be stored away.

chasms warlock caverns

There’s a stack on kids’ art paper but one map is drawn on the back of this.


And there’s a great deal of complex figuring out on the back of these green bar computer printouts.


This set is from “Imperial Chemical Industries” so must be stuff that Dad brought home. I remember narrower green bar printouts that Mum would bring home from the Broxbourne council IT department but there is none of that here.

The computer paper records the great frustration of my Fighting Fantasy stage. The Creature of Havoc.

I got stuck with The Creature, every option on every page seemed to lead to death. The map didn’t help. Decoding the encrypted bits in the text didn’t either. I went through the book page by page and found the end point that was about dying horribly. And then tried unsuccessfully to backtrack.

Today, with the internet, it took a few minutes to find out (as I had believed in 1988) the book was broken. But back then I just had to trust to the map.

Written by Karen

August 5th, 2015 at 12:04 pm

Posted in books,games,maps

why I like free-text fields in surveys

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I’ve been doing quite a bit of surveying in recent weeks and I’ve been challenged over my liking for free-text fields.

My colleague/partner-in-crime was worried that the data would be too time-consuming to analyse if we didn’t turn every field into a tick box of some form. I’ve always found the free-text fields to be the ones that contain the most interesting responses so I’m willing to wade through the data.

But it wasn’t just on our side of the fence that concerns where raised. In the latest batch of responses to the survey a couple of people wrote things along the lines “why not checkboxes?” in the field in question.

(of course, if it had been checkboxes, the people who’d wanted free text wouldn’t have been able to complain to me)

An unexpected benefit of the free-text field was that I could spot the spam because they faithfully quoted our navigation back at us when asked what parts of our website they read. The humans were mostly more varied than that.

The question was about what Guardian content they read. It was deliberately vague but most people interpreted as a request for genres and listed out four or five of them. It wouldn’t have been a huge problem to have offered them the main genres and asked them to tick. It would have probably involved a little less thinking for the respondents.

I suspect people would have ticked more things if offered a list.

What I wouldn’t have got was the things that people thought were important but we hadn’t thought important enough to put on the list. A lot of people chose something surprising as one of the four or five things they specifically chose to tell us they read.

As well lots of the expected genres, the responses also included:

  • formats
  • specific topics and countries
  • things they don’t read
  • how they choose what to read
  • who they read
  • which supplements they like
  • countries

They used language we don’t use e.g. Current affairs, Entertainment, International, Global, Arts, Finance, Opinion, Economics, Sports, IT.

I was also interested to see people using Guardian specific acronyms e.g. OBO, MBM, CiF.

Most people responded with a comma separated list which was pretty easy to turn into structured data and then just mop up the stuff that doesn’t fit nicely by hand. And that mopping up gave me an opportunity to learn the data and to begin to understand it.

This wasn’t a big scientific piece of market research, just the beginning of a conversation. And that’s best done without checkboxes.


Written by Karen

February 21st, 2012 at 6:29 am

treen: the woodsman’s miscellaneous category

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As a classification geek, married to a tree geek I was delighted to discover treen which Wikipedia says is “a generic name for small handmade functional household objects made of wood”.

I may start collecting miscellaneous categories from different domains…

Written by Karen

December 21st, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Posted in categorisation,words

desecration in a good cause?

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My basic librarian-ness is always a bit shocked by finding writing in books. But this is a bit different:

Talking Book

At first I suspected a personally prudish but meticulous scribbler. But there’s a more obvious explanation, of course. This book was used to record a Talking Book, a structured audio book that blind and partially sighted readers use.

Talking Books are recorded in DAISY format, a XML based markup language.

“A DAISY book is a digital audio book, designed to allow you to move around the text as efficiently and flexibly as a print user. You can:

  • make bookmarks
  • pause books
  • speed up or slow down
  • read or ignore footnotes
  • jump easily from chapter to chapter, heading to heading and page to page.”

Daisy 3 Structure Guidelines, for those that like this sort of thing.

Written by Karen

February 25th, 2010 at 6:49 am

Posted in books,rnib

is UX neo-conceptual art?

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So good friends in the UX community have expressed concerns about some of my slightly less than impressed references to “user experience”.  There was the whole penguin thing. And the using your clients language one. And the getting a bit snippy in an innocuous post about content management resources.  It is, admittedly, a bit of a bee in my bonnet (and no, I don’t own any bees before any of you ask).

But I can’t say “I’m an user experience designer”.  In much the same way that I couldn’t say “I’m a neo-conceptual artist” with a straight face.  I wasn’t raised that way.

I’m a bit embarassed to say “I’m an information architect”.  And as I said before I tend to avoid that at work.

(I’ve got a biological taxonomy metaphor I can use here but the whole Lakoff’s penguin thing went down so well…I think I better save that for the pub)

It would be a bit like me telling you my husband is a “craftsman”. It is completely accurate. It has grandeur and a philosophical sweep. It gives his career a wide scope and avoids him being boxed in by his job title.  But it doesn’t help anyone of you realise that he could make you a rather nice spoon, a lovely rustic fence or even some really good charcoal. And that he might not be the best person to ask for an earthenware pot or an Aran sweater.

What’s the IA equivalent of  “makes beautiful, useful things with wood”?

Written by Karen

August 27th, 2009 at 6:26 am

build your own job title

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In the old days job titles were created by grabbing a bit of Latin/Greek and adding ‘er’ or ‘or’ to it. The suffix just means “one who does”.

Something of the bits of Latin /Greek are obvious, some not:

Carpenter=wagons, Cooper=vats, Plumber=lead, Lawyer=law, Miner=digging, Baker=roasting, Butcher=slaughtering goats, Doctor=teaching, Teacher=also teaching, Farmer=collecting tax/rent, Soldier=being paid, Tinker=jingles, Tailor=cuts, Dyer= dark/secrets

Vicar interestingly just means substitute or deputy.

And who slaughtered anything that wasn’t a goat? (I’m putting the etymological dictionary away now).

It seems for a modern job title that a single word is not enough. You need a combination of object and activity.

Possible objects in my professional sphere:

    user experience
    customer experience

Posssible activities:


Some people seem to feel hemmed in by the activities bit and choose something vaguer. This usually implies they will only produce opinions not things e.g.


In the public and non-profit sector you also get ‘officer’ as in police officer but also projects officer or knowledge officer. This usually just means one who holds an office and seems to be a way of avoiding saying ‘man’. “Head of” is similar but usually at the opposite end of the hierarchy.

All combinations of object and activity are plausible and many are common. Although so far I only know one Usability and experience design oompa-loompa.

Written by Karen

August 26th, 2009 at 8:22 pm

Posted in career,ucd,words

working on a new job title

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I’m probably going to get a new job title. And it won’t be UX-anything, so don’t worry that I’ve had a change of heart on that.

I don’t use my IA title much within the organisation. The web team get it but that’s four people.  I tend to introduce myself by what projects I’m working on. In project kick off meetings and meetings with stakeholders I’ll explain what I’ll be doing on the project but not my title.

A lot of the teams I work with are intimidated by IT projects. And for them the language of user experience design and information architecture is as alienating and terrifying as the language of server architecture and database design. It is all big words from people who get paid more than they do and seem to work in an alternate universe of conferences, social networks and blogging.

So mostly my introductions go something like…”I’m Karen, I’m part of the project team and I’ll be responsible for making sure users can find their way around the new site”. Or “the search actually works this time”. Or “putting your content into the system isn’t such a nightmare”.

So my boss and I are trying to come up with something that both more accurately conveys what I actually do and is also a user friendly one.

Anyone got any examples of doing user research into what their job title should be?

Written by Karen

July 28th, 2009 at 6:54 am

Posted in career,rnib,ucd,words

using your clients language

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“Admit it. Ours can be an insular profession. As much as most of us think we communicate simply and effectively, we often don’t. Why? I think it’s because we’re sometimes overly concerned about how we’re coming across to our fellow UXers. You know what? Forget about them. Your real audience is the business stakeholder. When you’re planning a presentation or trying to figure out how to communicate your research or design solution, don’t let your inner Nielsen—or head-Nielsen for fans of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica TV series—prevent you from communicating in terms and concepts that your stakeholders can understand and groove on.

You know what this means, don’t you? You’re not allowed to use the term heuristic evaluation anymore. Banish it from your professional vocabulary! Now, wave goodbye to it, because, if you use it again, I will personally come to your house and punch you in the arm.”

via 8 Things You Should Be Doing in Your UX Practice, but Probably Aren’t :: UXmatters.

Absolutely. Couldn’t agree more. But it is ok to tell them you are user experience designer?

Written by Karen

July 24th, 2009 at 6:06 am

Posted in ucd,words

SharePoint search: Inside the Index book ‘review’

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Inside the Index and Search Engines is 624 pages of lovely SharePoint search info. It is the sort of book that sets me apart from my colleagues. I was delighted when it arrived, everyone else was sympathetic.

The audience is “administrators” and “developers”. I’m never sure how technical they are imagining when they say “administrators” so I waded in anyway. The book defines topics for administrators as; managing the index file; configuring the end-user experience; managing metadata; search usage reports; configuring BDC applications; monitoring performance; administering protocol handlers and iFilters. I skimmed through the content for developers and found some useful nuggets in there too.

1. Introducing Enterprise Search in SharePoint 2007
2. The End-User Search Experience
3. Customizing the Search User Interface
4. Search Usage Reports
5. Search Administration
6. Indexing and Searching Business Data
7. Search Deployment Considerations
8. Search APIs
9. Advanced Search Engine Topics
10. Searching with Windows SharePoint Services 3.0

The book begins by setting the scene, and with lots of fluff about why search matters and some slightly awkward praise for Microsoft’s efforts. It gets much more interesting later, so you can probably skip most of the introduction.

Content I found useful:

Chapter 1. Introducing Enterprise Search in SharePoint 2007

p.28-33 includes a comparison of features for a quick overview of Search Server, Search Server Express and SharePoint Server.

“Queries that are submitted first go through layers of word breakers and stemmers before they are executed against the content index file is available. Word breaking is a technique for isolating the important words out of the content, and stemmers store the variations on a word” p.32

Keyword query syntax p.44

  • maximum query length 1024 characters
  • by default is not case sensitive
  • defaults to AND queries
  • phrase searches can be run with quote marks
  • wildcard searching is not supported at the level of keyword syntax search queries. Developers could build this functionality using CONTAINS in the SQL query syntax
  • exclude words with
  • you can search for properties  e.g rnib author:loasby
  • property searches can include prefix searches e.g author:loas
  • properties are ANDed unless it the same property repeated (which would run as OR search)

Search URL parameters p.50

  • k = keyword query
  • s = the scope
  • v = sort e.g “&v=date”

Chapter 4: The Search Usage Reports

Search queries report contains:

  • number of queries
  • query origin site collections
  • number of queries per scope
  • query terms

Search results report contains:

  • search result destination pages (which URL was clicked by users)
  • queries with zero results
  • most clicked best bets
  • search results with zero best bets
  • queries with low clickthrough

Data can be exported to Excel (useful if I need to share the data in an accessible format).

You cannot view data beyond the 30 day data window. The suggested solution is to export every report!

Chapter 5: Search Administration

Can manage the crawl by:

  • create content sources
  • define crawl rules : exclude content (can use wildcard patterns), follow/noindex, crawl URLs with query strings
  • define crawl schedules
  • removed unwanted items with immediate effect
  • troubleshoot crawls

There’s a useful but off-topic box about file shares vs. sharepoint on p.225

Crawler can discover metadata from:

  • file properties e.g name, extension, date and size
  • additional microsoft office properties
  • SharePoint list columns
  • Meta Tags from in HTML
  • Email subject and to fields
  • User profile properties

You can view the list of crawled properties via the Metadata Property Mappings link in the Configure Search Settings page. The Included In Index indicates if the property is searchable.

Managed properties can be:

  • exposed in advanced search and in query syntax
  • displayed in search results
  • used in search scope rules
  • used in custom relevancy ranking

Adjusting the weight of properties in ranking is not an admin interface task and can only be done via the programming interface.

High Confidence Results: A different (more detailed?) result for results that the search engine believes are an exact match for the query.

Authoritative Pages

  • site central to high priority business process should be authoritative
  • sites that encourage collaboration and actions should be authoritative
  • external sites should not be authoritative

Thesaurus p.291

  • an XML file on the server with no admin interface
  • no need to include stemming variations
  • different lanuage thesauri exist. The one used depends on the language specified by client apps sending requests
  • tseng.xml and tsenu.xml

Noise words p.294

  • language specific plain text files, in the same directory as the thesaurus
    • for US english the file name is noiseenu.txt

Diacritic-sensitive search

  • off by default

Chapter 8 – Search APIs

Mostly too technical but buried in the middle of chapter 8 are the ranking parameters:

  • saturation constant for term frequency
  • saturation constand for click distance
  • weight of click distance for calculating relevance
  • saturation constant for URL depth
  • weight of URL depth for calculating relevance
  • weight for ranking applied to non-default language
  • weight of HTML, XML and TXT content type
  • weight of document content types (Word, PP, Excel and Outlook)
  • weight of list items content types

They’ll come in handy when I’m baffling over some random ranking decisions that SP has made.

Chapter 9 – Advanced Search Engine Topics

Skipped through most of this but it does covers the Codeplex Faceted Search on p.574-585


A good percentage of the book was valuable to a non-developer, particularly one who is happy to skip over chunks of code. I’ve seen and heard a lot of waffle about what SharePoint search does and doesn’t do, so it was great to get some solid answers.
Inside the Index and Search Engines: Microsoft® Office SharePoint® Server 2007

Related posts
SharePoint search: some ranking factors
SharePoint search: good or bad?

Written by Karen

July 22nd, 2009 at 6:33 am

Posted in books,search,sharepoint

most frequently looked up words on NYTimes

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Some are respectable; appurtenances, sumptuary, peroration, bildungsroman etc.

But feckless, swine, banal and glut are a bit disappointing. Must try harder.


Written by Karen

June 17th, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Posted in words