Sunday, 24 April 2011

Lesson five and a bit - More Cantina antics

So last time I think I established that librarians should not require training in the responsible serving of alcohol and that bar staff need not concern themselves with Library of Congress subject headings.

On further reflection, why would you go to a seedy bar to hire a ship in the first place? Why not just go to the docking bays and look for a willing captain and crew to take you where you want to go? Surely Obi Wan could have found Han there without anyone losing an arm...  

I can only assume Old Ben must have sensed that the Cantina was the best option for asking about someone with a no questions policy.

This raises an interesting point. Where we choose to get our information from can shape the outcome we use that information for. We want to know that information we receive is reliable. We don't always go to the most reliable sources for it though.

Now before you assume this is an anti BitTorrent, Lime wire or Knapster rant. I'm not going to get preachy about downloads. Where you get your music from is your business. I'm thinking about what I used to do before Google. No, I'm not anti Google either. It is what it is but is that the most reliable source for information?

Before Google, I would search out trusted sources using a metasearch engine like Metacrawler or Dogpile. I would then search those sources directly for the information. I would compare the sources for accuracy by looking at the sources they drew upon for their information and back in the day I could communicate directly with person responsible to find out more detail if I wanted.

There were fewer netizens back then. The Internet Movie Data Base had just started a website. Before that it was a Usenet group called rec.arts.movies. Ah, the 90's... alt binaries newsgroups... Fond memories...

Then came Google. I still recall getting an email from a colleague suggesting it was worth a look. It changed my process for a while. It was faster. I could ask the question and then look at the results to identify potential sources and go direct to specific content .

Then I had an epiphany. Google is like the Cantina. It's where I go if I want something with no questions asked.  This is because if I where to ask a question it would be "So how come this particular result in ranked first?"I really don't know the answer. Since I know that Google can be gamed can I trust that I am seeing the best sources?  

Metasearch lets me compare results from Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search tools. It is like going to the Docking Bay and talking to all the pilots to find the one best suited. A site that ranks highly across multiple search tools is either the best choice for a trusted source or has the best Search Engine Optimisation strategy. Fortunately, I can tell the difference.

Something to ponder next time you Google....

We are not quite done with the Cantina yet. Nor have forgotten to include the standard parody video.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Lesson five - The Mos Eisley Cantina and information etiquette

For this lesson, we set the scene with a musical interlude, courtesy of Mr "Weird" Al.

As an impressionable eleven year old, I found this particular scene put me off the very idea of ever going near any kind of bar. Later on, I made the mistake of entering the infamous Waterside Hotel on a dare one afternoon, which only confirmed my suspicions about the rough types and suspicious activity that are part and parcel of such seedy dives.   

That was until I discovered three interesting facts. First, I liked girls. Having been educated at a boy's only school, the opportunity to realise this earlier had been denied me. Second, I learned to enjoy alcohol in moderation and still do to this day. Finally, by coincidence I found bars often had both alcohol and girls inside. It was a perfect storm.

Another place I liked was libraries. I still do. You see libraries had the thing that pubs and bars lacked. Answers. The same curiosity that got me to walk into the Waterside was only ever satisfied when I found what I was looking for in the stacks. I was never punched in the face or thrown up on at a library, an added benefit.

If I am ever going to make a point then it is this. There is a lot of talk about library 2.0  and libraries become a third space. The move away from the word library toward leaning hub is not disturbing of itself. It simple reflects that fact that print media, like the scroll and the clay tablet that preceded it, is no longer the most efficient way to get information. It concerns me that the library community is becoming more focused on the library as a social space as opposed to a learning space. Part of this is the perception of libraries being seen as boring by a section of the community. Another aspect is the need for local government to recover costs of services wherever possible.

I am not into multitasking. If I want to study, I want to be in a space that is conducive to study. If I want to be social, then I go to somewhere social. If you want to have coffee and music in the library, you may as well put books in the bars and teach the bar staff to shelve and catalogue. Imagine the patron wandering up to the bar and asking for some Tolkien and a schooner. 

A more detailed look at the Cantina next time.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Lesson four - Jedi mind tricks to amuse your friends and influence people.

Set the scene - Outskirts of Mos Eisley. Imperial checkpoint. You and your stormtrooper clone buddies have just pulled up a speeder with a young boy, an old man and two droids on board. By coincidence, you are looking for two droids just like these ones. Nevertheless, you both know these are not the droids you are looking for and tell them to move along. What a nice old man...

For some tasks there are better ways than human judgement alone, particularly if an individual's ability to evaluate results based on experience is lacking or biased. Sometimes this can be addressed through engineered solutions that automatically decide for us. A smoke detector takes all the guesswork out of deciding if you can smell smoke or not.

Information as evidence is neutral. It's just raw data. Human interpretation of information is subjective. The questions we ask and our reaction to the answers presented by the data determine the outcome. Occasionally, we choose to ignore the evidence that doesn't fit what we want to see.

This week's video is a case in point. I sought something to illustrate the scene I wanted to examine. I went to YouTube and entered "These are not the droids you are looking for". I got a number of responses, including the original scene, plus a number of parodies. My experience allowed me to tell which was which and from there select what I thought was appropriate.

What if I had never seen Star Wars? How would I know what to choose? Could YouTube choose for me? No, not really.
Being able to impartially evaluate unfamiliar information should be a basic skill. It also needs to be methodical and the techniques should be commonplace. That's why I was pleased to see Edward De Bono's Six Hats methodology being used in a local primary school. Critics point out the hats are silly and the process is longwinded and it can feel that way initially. Practitioners will point out that it becomes more intuitive with time and the actual hats are just symbolic. What matters is that the tool gives anyone a reasonable chance of making better decisions more consistently, even if they don't have a great deal of life experience.

This is critical in a business context. Too often, we assume that if we just dump all our data somewhere there will be someone with an overview that can advise us. In a typical office that may be the administrative assistant, office manager or that person who was with the company before television was invented. Let's hope they never go on leave or retire right?

For the record, my resolution for this scene would have been to shoot all droids matching the description on sight and then sort out the mess later...

And as a parting gift this week, here is another mind tricks video

Trooper - College Humour 

Next stop - The Cantina...

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Lesson Three - Why genealogy is important or "My dad was a good guy right?"

The scene - You are Luke Skywalker. The little R2 unit you bought off those Jawas has run away. You tracked him down but had a nasty run in with some Tusken raiders until old Ben shows up. Turns out he knows about your dad...

This clip has nothing to do with that scene but it's a nice follow up on the whole stolen droid thing from last time.

Ben. An old, mysterious man who lives alone in the middle of nowhere. That's not the least bit suspicious is it? Of course he seems nice enough and he did save Luke's life.

Turns out good old Ben has a past and Luke's dad was part of that. Really? Where are the records to prove this?

Seriously!  Perhaps the most important information there is relates to identity. This information defines who we are and what we have done and can do. It establishes our character and place in the community for better or worse. For our descendants, this information will be an invaluable resource, just as the material about our ancestors helps us understand where we came from and how we got to this point.

Should you really rely on a hermit for reliable genealogical data? Turned out the answer was no... I suppose Telling Luke his father was killed by Darth Vader is easier than saying "Luke, your dad is a seven foot tall homicidal maniac that is more machine than man and who sucks up to the Emperor big time".

If there is a moral here it might be to never falsely embellish your LinkedIn profile. It will catch up with you in the end...

Next time - That old Jedi magic has you in it's spell.