Fall Blues and Disparate Interests

Fall, as a season, has been a struggle this year. Physically my allergies have gone haywire. I went into health services to consult with an allergist a few weeks ago and was turned into a temporary pincushion. The hardest part was kicking antihistamines for the five days prior to the test. The results weren’t too different from when I last was tested some 15 years ago. Still allergic to dust, most tree and grass pollens. Now I just need to decide whether I want to start up allergy shots again.

Psychically I’m worrying about the next step after finishing off my masters degree next spring. Do I want to find a PhD program and give that a shot? Would I rather find a job? What kind of job would it be? Who knows? My current inclination is to send out some PhD applications and see what sticks. If I chose today I would study philosophy. Sure the humanities employment picture is for crap, but I’m not too worried. If I don’t try it I’ll never know what success or failure feel like.

Classes and school continue to percolate along on a relatively even keel. My recommender systems class sparked an interest in linear algebra and matrices that I satisfied by reading through a textbook or two. There are two fields I’d consider studying at a bachelors level again for the heck of it: math and astronomy.

My information culture class has pushed me to follow some scholarly links to information ethics and ethical theory in general. I checked out the Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theories from the library in order to refresh my memory on terms and schools of ethical theory.

I’ve seen a couple of good presentations in the last week or so. Today Tim Westergren from Pandora and the Music Genome Project stopped by the iSchool to talk about his company and project. Basically he created a system to classify music based on its underlying structure. For example, fast or slow tempos and vocal harmonies. Then they compute the nearest musical neighbors and use them to power a recommendation system, called Pandora. I set up an account tonight and found one intriguing new discovery, a band called Needle that sounds like a cross between Dead Can Dance and Low.

John Seely Brown spoke at the iSchool conference last Sunday. I was so disgusted with the talk afterwards that I still haven’t figured out a way to discuss it. But I’ll keep working on it. He basically said a lot of things that I already agreed with but in a context, the university and a self-congratulatory iConference, where the contradictions were just too damn hard to ignore. It all goes back to the tangled question of higher education, the production of new scholars, the insularity of the university, and a bunch of other stuff that keeps me on the edge of academia, never quite sure whether I want to jump all the way in.

Lynn Eden stopped by as part of the STS colloquium on the 9th and gave an interesting talk about the analysis of blast and fire damage from nuclear weapons. The estimates made by the Defense department and it’s various hanger-ons, such as Rand, after WW2 ignored the effect of fire damage and concentrated on blast damage. Her book, Whole World on Fire, tries to find out why scientists ignored fire damage despite knowing that it would probably be worse than blast damage alone. Her explanation is a failure of knowledge frames and a type of institutional blindness or inertia.