To a Hammer, Everything's a...

Tools influence us in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. My latest-and-greatest tools (toys) are my Pulsepen and more recently OneNote.

Because the pen records my writing and audio as needed, I find a subtle pressure to write legibly, organize my thoughts, and speaker clearly when recorded.

I'm also enjoying OneNote. Even without a pen and tablet, who would have thought it cool be so awesome. Do people use "awesome" anymore? How about stinky cool?

Anyways, we're heading for a show down because both tools overlap in responsibilities.

I think the pen will win for meetings and capturing, organizing, and sharing thoughts "in the wild" away from a computer; while the software will be my super-duper-uper-smoocher research tool and educational assistant.

Some Writing Rants and Ethical Questions about Work Writing

I'm back in school, looking to complete a BS in IT with UoP.

The final presentation for my current class revolves around ethics and we've covered plagiarism. Here's some thoughts about it.

(caveat: I haven't met that many cheaters recently, but here's some ideas to throw out if you run across some)

I have a good reason to not blatantly cheat or plagiarize research papers: writing in the workplace (great fun or your worst nightmare, depends)! The practice we get in academic settings help if we need to do any kind of writing at work.

I work in the IT department of a health insurance and wellness company. I started as an Web programming intern, but the main reason I was hired full-time was for research I did and how I presented it.

You can't fake good writing at work! The prompts are company-specific, the audience is the boss or the boss' boss, and the sources are often restricted or proprietary information. There's almost no way to cheat at this. How would someone even find a paper to "describe competitor Web sites?"

And even when compiled information is available (for example, it's better for everyone in term of time, energy, and impressing management to explain where the info comes from.
Passing it off as self-researched info would just

  1. give the "researcher" more work to do (they'll keep asking for more info)
  2. possibly discredit the researcher
Showing others where to find something or how to find it can save your own time and effort as well as demonstrate that sought-after team-player attitude. So overall, I try to appreciate the learning experience for doing original research and properly citing sources in class (appreciate may differ from "liking" something, though!).

Although APA-style isn't used at work, most of the writing matches what's taught in any good writing class (clear and concise, front-loaded, and clean). The only difference is, the boss doesn't always tell you if the writing was good, how it was shared, or any grammatical errors or typos. Sometimes it's even read by the CEO - at that point, you get a few minutes to impress or irritate upper management. It's actually refreshing to get feedback from a teacher, believe it or not.

The question I have, though, is what are the ethical implications of using an account on a Web site to describe the site features to your company? Not that I'm saying I do this, but is there a difference between type of site (free versus paid-for through a membership)? And is the terms and conditions of the site the guiding factor or are there bigger considerations?

For example, are there any problems if your company wanted to rival google and it asked you to take screenshots and collect how it does search results? What if you wanted to create an online learning program? Is it okay to look at what other companies offer? I'm sure anything publically available is fair game, but what about the logged in screens of online students (which I'm sure breaks the T&C of most student extranets, including UoP)? I'm sure there's a difference between "right" and "getting sued" as well.

Strangely enough, I've seen marketing departments recycle answers in response to product questions or requests for proposals (RFP). It's not research really, it's just selling products and services. I don't see a problem with it in this setting, but why is it different from an academic setting?

50 Year Old Bookmarks

Can you imagine looking back at bookmarks we have from decades ago?

The Web still feels fresh to me, but I've been using it for at least a decade. The computers I used back then have been replaced, but much of the data persists in backups and backups of backups. Occasionally I find a set of bookmarks that reflect my interests from a given set of time - be it a particular topic, hobby, or subject from school or work.

With social bookmarking sites and tools like Google Bookmarks, my bookmarks in 2009 may last... decades!

I sometimes wonder what my grandparents life was like as teens or at my age. I have a sense of what my parents' lives were like from their and my uncles' and aunts' stories. But some 50 years from now, if I'm lucky enough to have grandchildren, and even if not - the world can look back at us in our splendid 32-bit color 2-dimensional images, blogs, and videos.

Imagine decades from now, a generation getting a picture-perfect, pixel-preserved view of several generations back.

Trends versus Life Stages

I sometimes ponder the difference between things that happen as part of an overall trend or global event that everyone is going through versus the things that happen because of the particular stage of life that I or someone else is in.

Most of us have a "my first car" story that's independent of the world at large and falls under the realm of the teenage (or college) years of a particular individual. The details and type of vehicle may of course vary, but the experience is unique to many new drivers.

However, remembering when gas prices were under $2.00 (for me it's under $1.00) is more of a global (or national, in this case) phenomenon - something that was experienced by everyone at a certain point in time.

For example, I remember when internet relay chat rooms (irc) were popular at my college ten years ago. AOL's instant messenger and chat rooms were popular as well and I spent a good deal of time connecting with friends and socializing in these "new" and interesting ways online.

In time though, I moved on and found other ways to connect with friends and family both in the "real world" and online. Most recently it's been blogs and social networking sites.

The question then is, was my experience with being enthralled with online chatting a phase that everyone went through at the time? Was it a trend that came and went and was eventually replaced with the latest and greatest hot new thing?

Or was it indicative of a process that many first-time internet users experience? Perhaps a good deal of new online users go through a series of steps such as (may not be typical of all users and can be experienced in a different order):
  • Finding useful information
  • Finding trivial and time wasting information
  • At some point spending too much time online
  • Getting an email account
  • Using chat rooms or message boards
  • Sending spam and chain letters*
  • Creating content (personal sites, blogs, social networking sites, etc)
*Is it just me, or do the "send this to 5 people to prove you're a decent human being" chain letter spam come from the "newer" online users we know? I may have sent a few in my early days of email, but it became more work than it was worth.

Perhaps when the technology or event in question is new or world changing (whatever that means) it falls under the "trend" category. Many of us experienced the computing revolution regardless of what generation we're apart of. But eventually the first computer we each own, would fall under the "life stage" category.

Going crazy over Cabbage Patch Kids in the 80's was definitely a trend, but wanting that "got-to-have-hot-toy-of-this-season" in general may be a recurring theme specific to certain age groups or life stages (not necessarily the young ones, either).

My first child was born a few months ago. Mommy and I were noticing the number of celebrity babies born around this time. Was it really a trend, or perhaps we're at that life stage where we of course notice all things baby-related?!