Gathering resources

So far in this series I have been concentrating on websites and blogs over which I have direct control. It turns out, however, that the Internet, almost inevitably, contains a wide array of sites where you are mentioned or where material you may have written or contributed to appears but over which you have no direct control. Test it yourself by Googling your name, and be sure to use double quotes ” ” around it for a more useful set of results. (C’mon, you’ve done this before, you know you have!)

When I did this recently I found out two interesting things: first, there is still a fair bit of dross out there where my name appears but which has absolutely nothing to do with me; second, I re-discovered a number of presentations and articles I had written that I had forgotten about or lost track of. I immediately began to wonder whether it would be useful to draw the latter together in some way in order to make it easy for someone (e.g. a prospective employer, conference organiser, journalist) to get a quick overview of my output in a particular field over the years. A portfolio, if you will, but in particular a portfolio of items which I do not myself have the power either to remove or change.

If your name is more common than mine, or perhaps unfortunately shared with more famous individuals for whom you would not wish to be mistaken, then this might be even more pressing for you.

I have placed links to these presentations, articles, and briefing notes of mine on a Resources page on my main website and made that easily accessible. I suppose if I knew more about search engine optimization (SEO) I would know whether this helps or hinders the relative rankings of those resources in search engines. In any case, I haven’t done this to aid search engines, I’ve done it to aid searchers. It isn’t a comprehensive list by any means, but it is a list of resources with which I am proud to be associated. Moreover, if in future other things I write show up on the Internet on web pages I do not myself maintain, I will have a sensible place from which to link to them.

Managing a frontispiece website

With my blogs sorted for the moment, and at least the possibility of a tweet in the future, it behoves me to pay attention to my non-blogging websites. For this I have two (related) domains. One is essentially just a personal site for my friends and family. The content is variable, highly particular, and not really interesting to anyone for whom it was not intended. Unless you really, really want to know how to bake the best chocolate chip cookies in the world, ever 🙂

The other domain, which I mentioned in my previous post on this subject, is a frontispiece for a sole-proprietor consultancy business I set up some years ago. Almost any work I do these days is some form of consultancy, so it seemed appropriate. But it isn’t something that I intend to build into a vast business empire. So I want to keep that site mostly empty other than for contact details. People find out about me when they meet me in person, or, as per the norm, Google me, and if interested we take it from there. That’s enough for me. I’ve got other irons in the fire that need tending. Still, it would be nice to do something a bit more useful with this site. For example, I would like to write an article on my explorations of Drupal (ongoing) and host it there. That might lead to other articles, maybe even one on thinking through your PIO. So that site might grow. Managing content there might then become an issue.

You do not need to take on a full-blown web-hosting package in order to maintain a small frontispiece web presence. There are numerous no-cost options available. Two that I have looked at are Drupal Gardens and Google Sites. They both have their strengths and weaknesses.

Drupal Gardens is very enticing for anyone who has played with Drupal, is shamefully inept at backend systems administration (as I am), and who longs for the eye-catching goodness of the soon-to-be-released Drupal 7. Of course my claim that one doesn’t need to fully grok the Drupal backend is somewhat misleading. Once you get past the incredibly simple steps necessary to create a site, the user still finds himself or herself with a vast array of choices and decisions. Hard decisions. Despite being far more intuitive than the Drupal 6 interface, I think the user here will still want to go through some serious Drupal study and thinking. As per usual, Drupal 7 has almost limitless possibilities, but that may be too much for the simple frontispiece website. Nevertheless I’m going to keep exploring it in hopes that the veil will lift from before my eyes. It really is what I’d prefer to use.

Google Sites is equally easy to use in order to create a simple, or even a modestly complex, website. It is easy to enable co-operative website management. And there is plenty of room for growth beyond the 100MB of webspace a user is provided initially by moving up to the Premier Edition of Google Apps as and when it becomes appropriate. Indeed, if you are really just starting out, I think it would be best to simply start with the standard Google Apps package, which gives you Google Sites as well. The downside, at least for me, with Google Sites is the lack of rigour in its widgets. Whereas Google does a great job with the various widgets in, the comparable widgets in Google Sites are often just not up to the job. At least I’ve found many that didn’t really work. Maybe it is different in the Google Apps version, I just don’t know. Nevertheless, if all you really want is a simple frontispiece site, then Google Sites is fully able to provide that.

That brings me back to my thinking about my PIO. Do I really want or need a website that is substantially more than a frontispiece? That, as they say, is the real question.


Some novels just seem like dumping grounds for an author’s recent “research” projects. Paragraphs, even whole pages, show up that do little more than report on some phenomenon, concept, historical object or event, etc. This never impresses me. I haven’t chosen to read a novel in order to become “informed” (dread word) on a subject. There are other, more or less reputable, sources for (fact checked) information. A novel might glancingly touch on subjects that I might then go on to explore elsewhere, a spur if you will to my own “research”. But it won’t be a substitute for real information, so why masquerade as such?

Of course, it does help to get your facts right. Paris is in France (unless you are talking about Paris, Ontario). The War of 1812 occurred roughly in 1812, I think. A cedar is a coniferous tree. All these are true propositions, so far as I know. Any one of them might show up in a novel. But their appearance in the novel does nothing to either confirm their truth or confer any special status upon them. One might just as well have read that Paris is in Luxembourg.

When I see large swathes of research surfacing in a novel, I always wonder if the novelist could not have imagined a better history, a more relevant account. Something genuinely relevant to her characters or their situation.

One exception to this observation/speculation occurs to me. At the moment I am reading a “hard” science fiction novel set in the near-future or possible-present. Here the author includes, again, a considerable amount of “research”. But the research seems directly relevant to the plot and the characters in the novel. Perhaps this is not surprising since the plots and character actions of hard science fiction novels usually turn on exploring the implications of scientific advances. What would life on a space station be like? What if artificial intelligence became a reality? How do social structures of ant colonies compare or contrast with human social organisation? Here I both enjoy the paragraphs and pages of research but positively expect it of the author.

Rethinking my Personal Identity Online (PIO)

I have a confession to make: I have never tweeted. There you have it. Shocking, I know. I’m concerned enough about this to have gone and got myself a Twitter account the other day. Within hours two other users were “following” me. This despite the fact that I had never tweeted (and still haven’t). I wondered what they were expecting, with no history of tweets to judge that following me would be worth their while. I suppose my name, or more likely my email address, was sufficient within Twitter to attract them to my empty account (yes, I know them both outside of twitterdom). But that didn’t lessen my communications anxiety. What would it be worthwhile me saying (or, rather, tweeting)? Mark that. Before I have input a single 140-character utterance, I am thinking about the wider ramifications/implications/considerations of what I might place in the infosphere.

Recently, on an email list to which I subscribe I got notice of a call for papers for a special issue of the journal Minds and Machines (I haven’t bothered with a link because it is not an open access journal). The issue would be on the construction of Personal Identities Online (PIO). It caught my eye because some years ago this was a subject that concerned me somewhat. Seems like a long time ago now, but I remember struggling with the possible implications of fully embracing openness, which at the time meant mostly free and open source software to me. I concluded that the way to live openly would be to avoid a radical disjunct between my online identity and, for want of a better term, my “real” identity. As much as possible I wanted them to be seamless. That is the reason the URL for this blog has my real name in it. If I join an online community, or an open source community, again, I tend to use my real name. If I put a comment on your blog or elsewhere, I won’t hide the fact that it was me. I’m not naive; I know that some individuals have exceedingly good reasons for obfuscating their online identities. But I wasn’t in that situation and I wanted to take up the challenge of living in the open.

For the past month I have been helping a friend build an online presence for herself in a new career. At first we talked a lot about her goals. We also talked about what a personal website or blog, or a business website, says about you and how you can influence that impression in small ways. This prompted me to undertake an audit of my own online presence and begin to think through what I was saying with it. On which, more anon.

I know that a number of my friends are on Twitter. I know this because I see their tweets appear on my Facebook (FB) page. I had wondered why they were using an external micro-blogging site in order to post FB updates. Later I learned that through yet another tool you could post to numerous online communities at the same time, for example to FB, Twitter, and LinkedIn. (TweetDeck is an example of one of these tools.) Why would I want to do that? Why do they? I suspect I must have fallen behind the times on this.

The good news is that I’m back thinking about such things. As such, I thought an initial post that I am so doing would be a good way to solicit input from others on aspects of their PIO and how they manage same. In a series of posts (you noted the “I” in the title, right?) I want to turn my attention to blogs, rss feeds of various kinds, websites, online communities like FB and LinkedIn, and, of course, Twitter. I may even find something worth tweeting about.


Recently I have been thinking about eBooks and eReaders – not something to which I gave serious thought in the past. That might be surprising given my predilection for electronic gadgets and books. Two passions which have not found the opportunity to merge in any plausible fashion. However, at a meeting of a book club that I frequent a few of the members were enthusing about their eReaders, a Kobo and a Sony Touch eReader. There are also others on the market, including the much-promoted Kindle from Amazon. One of the book club members had her Kobo with her and passed it around so that we could get a look and feel. I was intrigued.

I have never been convinced by the line that eReaders enable you to carry hundreds of books with you when you travel. Whether on business or pleasure I have never been able to read even half a hundred books while I travel. If I manage one, two at the most, I feel reasonably satisfied. Then there is the pleasure in leaving behind in some distant cottage a novel that some other traveller some day may pick up and enjoy.

So, the portability of mass quantities is not particularly motivating.

Is there any cost argument in favour of eBooks and eReaders? Of course nothing but the ingenuity of man hinders the vast reduplication of digital objects which, in theory, could reduce unit cost of eBooks effectively to zero. In theory, perhaps. In practice the ingenuity of man (dread phrase) seems to have been dedicated to sewing up the DRM on eBooks about as tight as you can sew a stitch. And though the unit cost of production of these digital objects must over time approach zero, I am willing to accept that in the shorter term there are costs that need recovery. Where, then, is the price point – the point at which consumers will click the purchase button – for eBooks? To my surprise the price point is rather high (for others). Not exactly the same as the versions of books transported on organic matter, but not so far distant as to be insignificant. But to be fair, I shouldn’t compare the cost to full price paper books because I am loathe to make such purchases except as gifts. When eBooks are compared against the kind of discounting that Amazon does on a continuous basis or, worse, compared to remaindered texts (for which there seem to be numerous outlets in my region), then the eBook suffers. After all, these would be superfluous purchases for me. My price point for such purchases is very low indeed.

Especially when you consider the further alternative – the library.

The public library, along with socialized healthcare, is, I think, a gauge of civilized society. We are blessed with a fabulous public library within walking distance, the Waterloo Public Library, and an equally impressive public library just down the road in the adjacent city, the Kitchener Public Library. Access to books that can be borrowed free of charge (to the end-user) is more than adequate.

My experience is that libraries are always near the forefront of technological advancement. That impression was confirmed when I discovered that our public libraries also make available eBooks for loan. The Waterloo Public Library, for example, offers some 1655 eBooks, a small but growing collection. Of course these are licensed digital objects. The DRM systems in place are able to limit downloads to a single library patron for a set period similar to the period of loan for paper books. (Set aside how counter-intuitive that seems for a digital object.)

So perhaps a cost argument could be constructed in favour of purchasing an eReader. (I notice that my  ‘cost arguments’ always seem to be hypothetical arguments I might have with my wife, or better self.) For an initial not insubstantial capital investment, I could have access to eBooks at no further cost (to me) on into the future. Isn’t that the way I justified buying a somewhat pricey digital camera a few years ago?

Perhaps. And yet, for me the price point still has not been reached (at least for the eReaders themselves).  I think I will stick with my paper bound volumes of text for the time being. Or wait to be convinced by someone else.