I changed the design of the site today. It still needs quite a bit of polishing, but I think it turned out pretty well. The header and footer images are from An Illustrated History of Computers .
Search as Landscape
I was thinking today about using the U's Google search as a tool to visualize its virtual landscape. Each of the myriad of University administrative and academic departments has its own base address, e.g. grad.umn.edu or physics.umn.edu . At a basic level this could be as simple as clustering the results by department or unit. There are further possibilities, though, for graphically presenting these clustered results according to administrative heirarchy (for all you beareaucrats) or plenty of other relationships.
Google already has a web services API for doing this type of repurposing of their results. It works through a web protocol called SOAP that allows backend applications to request data it a more compact fashion.
There would all kinds of rad ways to use the list of the 100 most current UThink posts. I'm envisioning big scrolling ticker with all of those seemingly random post titles streaming across it. It feels a little corny but it could have a big sign above it that says, "What are UThinking?" A sort of pseudo-random snapshot of the U blogosphere... cool. I suppose I should try to build a web page that does this first, then I can worry about projecting it onto buildings... or how about robots that write it all out on the sidewalks with chalk?
I wrote a script that parses the current entries page and turns it into an RSS feed. It runs a little slow, but it seems to work alright. You can copy one of the following links into your news aggregator application:
The curious among us will notice that they can select how many posts to return based on the "entries" variable in the URL (the max is 100.)
This morning I attended a talk about UThink by Shane Nackerud as part of the Institute for New Media Studies' "New Media Breakfast" series. He talked about starting the UThink project and about some plans for the future. Here's a few tidbits I found interesting in the talk:
- A paper on how libraries fit into the blogging picture that Shane cites as inspiration for the UThink project.
- A whitepaper that he wrote about blogging and the U libraries.
- "Blueberry Muffin Syndrome" - Why should the libraries facilitate me talking about what I had for breakfast?
- Cornerstones of the project, like promoting intellectual freedom and building communities of interest.
- Google seems to give high pagerank to UThink pages due to the "edu" and "lib" in their addresses, while blogs don't usually rate so favorably.
- You can post citations for papers to your blog directly from the libraries' FindIt system.
- UThink blogs will eventually be archived creating a searchable, informal, populist sort of historical document of what's happening at the U.
- UThink MovableType template contest, anyone?
It was a great talk with a lot of good questions from those in attendance. Maybe Shane will post his powerpoint presentation?
I've been thinking lately about trying to build a sort of collaboration server. There are quite a few server solutions that fit broadly under the title groupware , but the idea I've been rolling around would be a bit more focused. The application I'm sketching out would be a mix of groupware and social software (a la friendster .) I think this type of system could be really valuable at the scope of the U of M , especially in facilitating interdisciplinary collaboration.
There are tools for folks outside of the U, like the Experts@Minnesota database, yet no tools with the express purpose of bringing together researchers inside the U. Granted, this type of cross-collaboration happens already, but I for one would be excited about more interdisciplinary love.
Spring (Tech) Cleaning
So I'm writing this entry on a Cassio Cassiopeia A-11 which I actually used as my primary computer during the summer of 1997. I have these fits of nostalgia every so often where I start printing spreadsheets on the Senior Partner or checking my e-mail on the Newton .
I've been struck acutely as of late because it seems to be spring cleaning time in my department. I just can't bare to see a perfectly good Powerbook 180 go to the great computer store in the sky. The U seems to be a conglomeration of nation-states called "budgetary units," each with its own glorious idiosyncratic bureaucracy. In order for me to "export" any U property, it has to transfer through the nation-state called UCS and, being found sufficiently antiquated, on to that great store-house of University detrious, the Como Recycling Facility . Once there I, as a civilian, can peruse the selves to locate my obsolete treasure. This is assuming, of course, that it wasn't simply "recycled".
C'est la vie. I can't save all the junk in the world. (My basement's almost full.) If you're into the digital old school like me, here's a few cool places to browse:
- The aforementioned Como Recycling Facility
Mostly office furniture and the like, but once in a while they'll have some treasures.
- Midwest Surplus & Electronics
The old school geek super store right along the Mississippi in downtown Minneapolis. 124 12 Ave S, Minneapolis, MN (612) 339-9533
- That place on Raymond Ave. just north of University in St. Paul
Primarily a repair shop, but this guy's got stashes in storage all over the metro area. If you've got something specific in mind, ask and ye shall receive.
- And it never hurts to e-mail me and see if I've got something you need in the "warehouse." Strictly barter/lending library.
So Much To Do...
So little time... There are all kinds of things happening at the U everyday: paper presentations, concerts, human pyramid building. The Events Calendar is a good tool for keeping tabs on a lot of it. But the calendar is a voluntary effort. If The Graduate School is hosting an upcoming lecture on John Adams I have to remember to post that information on the calendar. Granted this isn't too hard to do, but there is this extra verification step... whine
The point is, if there is one, that there are easier and more automatic ways of doing these things. I could create an RSS feed that lists all of the upcoming events for my unit. Everyone that has a feed to offer would only need to notify the calendar site once and subsequently the updating would be automatic.
The current set-up works just fine, of course, but the potential exists for a dramatic synthesis to occur not just for events, but also research, news, etc. Once any system like this reaches a critical mass there is the potential for information to congeal and flow in new and interesting ways. Plus, I wouldn't miss hearing about Bose-Einstein Condensates.
Has anyone attempted to port the U Relations Templates over to MovableType? I didn't notice any going through the directory, but some UThink bloggers might appreciate having those available.
I might have a whack at it in the next few days. Having made my own templates in MT before and worked extensively with the U web templates, I should be able to figure it out. Let me know if you're interested or have questions.
The University Libraries have a MovableType installation! They've called it UThink. Isn't it handy to have a ready prefix for everything? Any member of the U community can just up and start a blog. How very democratic of them.
There are of course other options out there, but I think it's a great idea to have a community-centric blogging tool like this.
My name is Aaron Westre. I'm a web designer/developer for The Graduate School and the Office of the Vice President for Research here at the University. I'd like to use this space to explore information architecture, design and how web technology can act as a catalyst in connecting people and ideas.
If you have any suggestions or comments, let me know by leaving a comment, or sending me an e-mail at: email@example.com.