Lily’s Cat Has an Index

At least that’s what she keeps saying. We don’t exactly know from where she grabbed the term, but it’s there and she’s using it to refer to something like a book. We haven’t pressed the matter yet because we’re so tickled by her rambling about the house talking about an index. Of course I am tickled by it, both because of the roles that indices play in folklore studies but also because of their role in information systems in general.

One could argue, I guess, that the folktale and motif indices were simply signs of their times, of the burgeoning of data and information that demanded in many ways that better technology be invented to process it. Perhaps, had the computer arisen earlier, we would still be driven by our typological impulses. Certainly, I am glad for the corrective of the ethnographic impulse. It’s where I’ve done most of my work in the last decade, but now with the rise of humanities computing and tools that can be actually used by mere mortals, I wonder what the future will hold not only for the field but also for myself.

And a quick reminder on what an [index is](

> An index is a list of words or phrases (‘headings’) and associated pointers (‘locators’) to where useful material relating to that heading can be found in a document. In a traditional back-of-the-book index the headings will include names of people, places and events, and concepts selected by a person as being relevant and of interest to a possible reader of the book. The pointers are typically page numbers, paragraph numbers or section numbers. In a library catalog the words are authors, titles, subject headings, etc., and the pointers are call numbers. Internet search engines, such as Google, and full text searching help provide access to information but are not as selective as an index, as they provide non-relevant links, and may miss relevant information if it is not phrased in exactly the way they expect.

Wikipedia disambiguates the above from the following:

* Index (mathematics), for various meanings of the word in mathematics
* Index (economics), a single number calculated from an array of prices and quantities. E.g., *Price index*, a typical price for some good or service, or *Operating Index*, a tool to compare the operating performance of a company with its peer universe
* Index (typography), a largely obsolete punctuation mark
* Indexing (motion), a kind of motion in many areas of mechanical engineering and machining
* Index (finance), a list of stocks
* Index (database), a feature in a computerized database which allows quick access to the rows in a table
* Index (information technology), either an integer which identifies an array element, or a data structure which enables fast lookup
* Index (search engine), for supporting information retrieval in search engines
* Webserver directory index, a default or index web page in a directory on a web server, such as index.html
* Subject indexing, describing the content of a document by keywords

NASA Wants Help Archiving Braun’s Notes

From the [Wired article](

> NASA is taking the rare step of reaching out to the public for help. The space agency is looking for the best way to analyze and electronically catalog a precious collection of notes that chronicle the early history of the human space flight program.

> “We’re looking for creative ways to get it out to the public,” said project manager Jason Crusan. “We don’t always do the best with putting out large sets of data like this.”

> The notes are those of rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, the fist director of NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Alabama and are typed with copious hand written notes in the margin. According to the official request for information, NASA needs ideas on what format to use, how to index the notes and how to create a useful database.

YAPF: Yet Another Presentation Format

One of the things I continually harp on my graduate students about is how they make presentations. For the majority of them, their idea of a presentation comes from their days (and days and days — they are graduate students after all) spent in the classroom where they have established themselves as the kind of people who enjoy classroom lectures. And so one of their first impulses is to re-create the classroom lecture.

But that doesn’t mean they have necessarily experienced, and thus are in a position to recreate, great classroom lectures. (One doesn’t have to have encountered excellence in a genre to be an established fan of the genre — more on this perhaps another time.) The same goes for the other presentational form that grad students have likely experienced, the conference paper. While the lecture format typically assumes something like 45 minutes to make its point, the conference paper is constrained to 20 minutes, or sometimes 15 minutes. However, that does not necessarily encourage authors/presenters to get to the point. I have, no lie, witnessed individuals read from article-length or chapter-length papers, somehow believing that there ideas are so compelling that the audience is willing to withstand their speed reading and such qualifications as “I can’t go into todepth here due to lack of time.” (I don’t think I have ever seen a “stage rush” at the end of such a performance with gobs of new fans breathlessly pressing for the skipped-over idea.)

I’m not picking on just academics here, but on presenters in general. I have, while in the business world, sat through many a PowerPoint slide stack which consisted of nothing more than slide after slide of bullet points, many of which were nothing more than read off the slide by the presenter. This is the scene of revolution, or at least revolt, for more sites and speakers/authors who seek to revise or refine presentational forms. One of the first of such sites I came across was [Presentation Zen][pz], a site I have regularly recommended to grad students — a recommendation, I can tell from their presentations, that most of them have ignored. From there, I have suggested they explore not only the form but also the content of the [TED talks][ted].

The technology sphere in general has generated a number of conventions. [Guy Kawasaki][gk] has his own [10/20/30 rule][123]. And there are presentations like [this one by Dick Hardt][dh] at OSCON on which even talented presenters like Lawrence Lessig have commented. (Lessig is a presentation dynamo in his own right, and his [free culture talk][fct], which speaks directly to the heart of folklore studies and the larger philological project, is well worth watching. Please also note that his book is available, in its entirety, as a free download at that link.)

And so it should come as no surprise that [O’Reilly][or], so often at the vanguard — almost too consciously so sometimes — has come up with Yet Another Presentation Format (YAPF). It’s worth checking out Scott Berkun’s meta-presentation on the format, if only for its suggestiveness:


Thinking about Traveling

With the recent trip to Indiana behind us, we find ourselves planning the next trip. We’re not entirely sure where we’re going, but go we will (at some point). With the heat pressing down here, we can’t help but think about cooler climes and the gear we might need:

* Like a decent backpack: The simplest would be the [REI Zip Travel Daypack][rei] which is 1200 cu in and is $30. The [Talos 22][t22] by Osprey has 22 liters (1800 cu in) of room and looks to sell on Amazon for about $90. (For the record, I like all the [Osprey packs][osp].)
* And maybe a better jacket: [like Eddie Bauer’s 365 system][365]

A comparison of the two Osprey bags I like:

Bag | Size | Price | Features |
:——– | :——: | ——- | —————————- |
Talon 22 | 22l | 99.00 | Full-fledged waist support |
Helix | 17l | 68.95 | Webbing waist support |


A Desktop Rig That Worked

For the record, I wrote 9000 words in less than a week while at the EVIADA Summer Institute, and I did it all on my MacBook, augmented. Augmented how? With one of these:

![Apple keyboard](

And one of these:

![Apple cinema display](

But, for the record, I’d settle for any decent 22″ or 24″ HD display.

JLO Now Has Its Own Code Base

Well, not entirely. The web application that actually makes this website work is WordPress. Up until last night, I was using a standard WP installation, which means I was running WordPress with a pre-packaged theme. Now there are literally thousands of themes: I won’t even link to any particular site here, because all you have to do is search for “wordpress theme” in any search engine to get page after page of links.

I have, since returning to WordPress for the basis of this site, used a half dozen themes in search of “the one.” All of them had something I liked, but none of them had everything. In the end, I decided that there was nothing else to be done except to code the thing myself. And so, as of the end of June in the year 2009, here is the working prototype of jello as I have come to call the collective pieces that make up

The Building Blocks

The essential building blocks of a WP site — disregarding for the moment all the scripts that make calls to the database to pull actual content into pages — are a collection of php scripts stored in the theme folder. Well, with our disregard, we should really call them the essential presentational blocks. In a typical WordPress site, you have a collection of page templates that call upon things like header.php, sidebar.php, and footer.php. Each of those scripts in turns contains calls to others in the WP engine itself to fetch content, either singly or in an iterative fashion, that gets coughed up.

In the case of something like sidebar.php, there is ample opportunity to call a variety of widgets, which are conveniently managed from within the WP Dashboard. For the sake of keeping things simple and for making the pages of JLO load faster, I opted to hard code, as programmers sometimes say, those functions into sidebar.php itself. Here’s an example:

<div class="section">
  <h4 class="ver small">
    <?php wp_list_pages('depth=1&title_li='); ?>

I borrowed the idea from the developer of the Modern-Clix theme, and I stripped out all the widgetry and now have a sidebar.php file that is 37 lines long.

I performed much the same sort of surgery on the other php scripts, paying especial attention to what the WordPress community calls the Loop, which is the iterative functionality that delivers something the list of posts, either on the front page of the site or in the archive pages. I don’t pretend to fully understand it, but I had to get inside it to some degree to begin to understand where I could intervene in terms of styling what really becomes one of the most important content blocks of the site, the post. I am not completely satisfied with the current state of things, but I have simplified the CSS and I will continue to do so, removing as much as possible to get the sheet to load as quickly as possible.

Flexible Presentation

What this means is that all those scripts I mentioned above deliver to a browser styled HTML. By convention, that means HTML broken into divs and other elements which are styled, by reference to a Cascading Style Sheet, either by class or id. In a style sheet, classes are indicated by a prefatory dot, “.”, and ids by a hash mark, “#”. By convention, classes apply to objects that appear multiple times on a page and ids to unique items. In terms of my own website, the div role call for a given page looks something like this:






In an attempt to be fashion forward and, I hope, a bit future-proof, much of the website’s measurement is made in terms of ems, a term borrowed from typography, where it refers to the square space constituted by the width of the letter m in a particular type face. There will be, under such a regime, subtle differences between faces. The hope is that those differences will be relevant to the type face itself and all the things it makes up: in books, pages; in websites, er, what we also call pages.

The other measurement commonly used in website is the pixel, which is great for absolute positioning, but it does limit what browsers can do to accommodate or adapt to their particular users. My hope is that using the em I will allow not only my youthful colleagues to read what I write but also some of the older folks with whom I work to read, and if they need to adjust type sizes, the website will flex fairly gracefully. I have not had the chance to try this out on other browsers apart from Safari and Firefox on the Mac, but I will as soon as I can and tweak appropriately.

Goals and Next Steps

My overall goal was to get the look that I wanted, but I also wanted to simplify the code base both for my own ability to use it and revise it as well as to make it faster to deliver to folks with less than optimal connections. The Flickr stuff is going to slow loading of pages down. There’s no doubt about that, but I wasn’t quite ready to give up the thumbnails in the sidebar. The site is now so clean that without a little bit of color somewhere, I worried it would fade into a white-out. I will continue to post bits of code as I go, and I will certainly make the style sheet available once I have made sure that everything in it needs to be there and that I haven’t stripped out anything important. (I would hate to give out broken code.)

Let me know what works and what doesn’t work.

My next steps are to style the printing of pages and posts so that they look like print documents and not printed screen documents and to style the website for use on mobile devices like the iPhone.

UPDATE [2009-06-29]: Comments are now on automatically for all posts.

iApps for Kids

On our recent trip to Indiana and back, we carried with us two devices that were dedicated for our daughter’s use: a Leapster and an iPod video. The Leapster had a range of, hopefully educational, games for her to play and the iPod contained a dozen episodes of [_Fetch with Ruff Ruffman_][frr], one of the [PBS Kids][pbs] shows she likes to watch and that we think has substance.

At one point during the trip, Yung was in the back of the car with Lily and they were playing the Leapster’s version of *I Spy* and Yung kept commenting on how hard it was to see the screen. Indeed, I have looked at the screen of the thing, and I don’t know if it began life brighter, but it is now a dim thing.

“Why not,” I wondered, “go with a better screen and with a device that is more flexible as she grows up?” The Leapster is going to fade in relevance at some point soon, and its maker will want us to buy the next device in the line-up, much as we moved from the Leap-Pad to the Leapster.

And did I mention the cartridges are expensive? Approximately $25 per cartridge for a limited set of new features/games.

Add in the better, bigger screen of an iPod Touch for watching videos, and suddenly it just seemed like the right thing to do.

A quick search of educational apps for kids turned up the following results:

* For $11.99, iPhone owners can download *Starmap*, a “pocket planetarium” that helps users easily find constellations, planets, or shooting-star zones.
* *Flash My Brain Flashcards* and *StudyCards*, both costing $9.99, allow users to create their own flash cards.
* *Lexicon* ($9.99) is an animated flash-card application designed to help users learn more than 70 languages. Users can quiz themselves and record and play back audio on their iPhone to hear how they’re progressing with the language.
* The *Atom in a Box* application is a tool to help users visualize atomic orbitals, showing what the hydrogen atom looks like in three animated dimensions for $9.99.
* There is also a [Maps of the World][mow] application that has 20 historical maps in it.
* [I See Ewe][ise], described as “an educational game for the iPhone and iPod Touch that helps your preschooler learn to recognize shapes, objects, colors and animals and to learn their first sight words through two simple yet engaging games” sounds a little too little for Lily, but might be useful for someone else.
* There are several math apps, most starting at age 7 (*PopMath*, *Basic Math*), but some at age 3 (*Cute Math*, *Dotty Shapes*) as well as one enigmatically titled miTables Lite.
* There is a *Memory Match Kids* game.
* Something called *Pre-School Adventure* that Dad-o-Matic loves.

The *New York Times* has their own [listing][nyt].

*Wired* recommends: *Wordex*, *The Secret Garden*, *Shape Builder*, and for adults *Shadows Never Sleep* and *Knots*.

The “Travel Savvy Mom” blog has [a few suggestions][tsm].

**Update**: To some degree, the listing from _AcadianaMoms_ got this ball rolling, and so I would be derelict in my note taking if I didn’t include a few apps that came from their page:

* *Shape Builder Lite* got Lily’s attention right away, and she burned through the sample shapes in no time.
* *Trace* is a lovely basic side level game, but it requires a bit more than Lily could process when I showed it to her. (The player can trace bridges and ramps to get your little guy where he needs to go.)
* Finally, there is *Eliss* which is described as a “puzzler set in space where supernovas and vortexes are the norm” — er, shouldn’t that be *supernovae* and/or *vortices* — “as the screen fills with newly formed colored planets you must work to keep different colors apart while combining like-colored circles.” Eh, sounds a bit complicated, but its space theme may appeal to the Bean.


Stanford Offers iPhone Dev Course for Free

I’ve written before about the amazing efforts by the likes of MIT and now Stanford, with its SEE (Stanford Engineering Everywhere) initiative. Stanford is now offering free video downloads of the class, “iPhone Application Programming,” to the public on its [iTunes U Web site][sid].


Overnight in Jackson

On our way back down, we decided to stay again in Nashville, which meant that our best bet was to push past Memphis, our usual midpoint stopover, and head to Jackson, Mississippi. (Not Jackson, Tennessee, which is one hour east of Memphis.) We have had such good luck, and experience, with the Memphis Hilton that we decided to try the Jackson Hilton, whose location we already knew. The reservations person we called said rooms were available, they just weren’t available at the state rate. Mind, this was at 3:30 in the afternoon, so why they were holding onto rooms at that late of an hour is beyond me.

It all worked to our benefit. While we went ahead and scouted possible Hamptons, we decided to wait to see if there was something like a Courtyard by Marriott hotel near the shopping center where we had spied a Barnes and Noble — books, coffee, and a decent play area are all admirable qualities in a place. B&N scores a perfect 3. As luck would have it, there was a new Hyatt Place hotel, which had an indoor pool, a great room, and a great rate. What a delightful surprise.

The view of our Hyatt Place hotel room upon entering.

After an hour or so in the pool, we cleaned up, had some pizza at a nearby local restaurant, grabbed a few groceries at a Fresh Market, and eyed the Apple Store. *Alas, there was no time.*

Kindles for Everyone?

As we wrap up our sojourn in Louisiana, we are, as I noted previously, spending our last weekend in the Indiana Memorial Union. Our fellow guests are mostly older folks, many look like they are probably retired, who are here to attend a *mini university*. I don’t know what their curriculum looks like, but I do know they are having a great time. I’m guessing that a good portion are alumni, who are simply enjoying a return to campus — not entirely unlike ourselves, so we have enjoyed watching them walk and reminisce.

They are having a great time, and, from what a young woman in the IMU Bookstore told Yung, then spend a lot of money. (We ourselves bought a few tee shirts as well as baseball caps for me and Lily.) Walking around this evening, cooling off after a final supper at Little Tibet, we saw a few of them settled into the first floor lounge of the IMU, reading. One of them was reading on a Kindle. Seeing that, I couldn’t help myself. My exec ed days kicked in, and I turned to Yung and said:

> The smart thing to do would be to roll the price of a Kindle into the overall package and hand each of them one with all their readings already loaded onto the thing. Throw is a laser engraving with the IU logo or a leather carrier with the logo and you’ve given them a great keepsake and a terrific calling card for the university. (Not to mention the fact that the Kindle’s adjustable font sizes are probably going to be appreciated, too.)

Such a “gimmick” probably has only a limited life-time while we all wait for the e-reader platform to develop, but while the opportunity exists, I would certainly use it. I would imagine that at least some exec ed programs are already doing this. Yung later read something in _USA Today_ about a number of high-end hotels doing something similar.