Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Snowmageddon Reading

I am always amazed at how my seemingly random choices of reading (and movies) serendipitously overlap. What I mean is, I will choose two movies with the same star or that are set in the same obscure place and I had no idea of this when I chose them. With books, randomly chosen, I'm amazed at how one will mention the other, or the content overlaps.

For my recent blizzard adventure (Snowmageddon I) in Cape May, I brought a stack of books chosen from my "Sabbatical 2010 Book-a-Week Reading List" and some others. these books turned out to be my primary source of entertainment after the electricity went out and stayed out for three days. here are the three books I actually read from the stack: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, and Notes from the Shore by Jennifer Ackerman. I thought I was choosing very different books, but I was surprised (and delighted) by the overlap.
Travels with Charley, where Steinbeck leaves his home on Long Island and travels across the county with his dog in a customized pick-up truck, and Silent Spring, Rachel Carson's groundbreaking environmental book, were both published in the very early 1960s. In the very early 1960s, I was a newborn and living in the very house in which I was experiencing Snowmageddon I. (I lived there until I was about three and my father got a job in Manhattan to support this late-in-life surprise baby. He had just retired from the US Coast Guard.) We lived on Staten Island, but visited the Cape May house often on weekends and in the summer. I remember the mosquito trucks driving around the neighborhood spraying their fog. Between the Delaware Bay four blocks away and all the salt marshes in the area, we had a lot of mosquitoes and they especially loved my father and me. (Mom could stand still out there and not get a bite.)

Anyhow, both Steinbeck and Carson describe the same America but from different perspectives. His is that of a writer who observes people, and hers is that of a writer who observes nature. Both describe a country and culture that has changed enormously in about fifty years.

Jennifer Ackerman's Notes from the Shore is a much more recent book, published in 1995. It is a collection of nine essays about Cape Henlopen, across the Delaware Bay from Cape May. That is where the Cape May-Lewes Ferry takes us, but I had only driven through it and not explored until about a decade ago. Ackerman is also a nature observer and writer, and describes this environment which is very similar to Cape May in some ways and very different in others. There's way less tourist traffic for one thing, so I imagine Cape May probably used to be more like Cape Henlopen. One of her essays is dedicated to the osprey, a large bird of prey that was almost wiped out by DDT spraying in the 1950s and 1960s. The poison chemicals made their eggs so weak and brittle that the mama osprey would crack them when she went to roost. The osprey population has rebuilt itself now, and we can see pairs of them in the warm weather on their nests. By page 48 of Ackerman's book, she had mentioned both Rachel Carson and John Steinbeck. Carson was no surprise since she was largely responsible for the public awareness that put an end to blanket pesticide spraying that allowed the ospreys to come back. But Steinbeck? Well, it seems that John Steinbeck found, in his Long Island garden, a gigantic osprey nest (they usually are) that contained three shirts, a bath towel an arrow and a rake. How cool is that? (A naturalist in Cape May once told us that an osprey nest there contained a hula hoop.)

Since I'm documenting everything during this sabbatical, I wanted to show the relationships between these three books. A mind map wasn't going to work for this because it wouldn't allow me to compare. Instead, I took a stab at a concept map, which is a way to map out similarities and differences between things. since I'm still without a scanner, I took an iPhone shot of my concept map to share. Also, if you are interested in what I'm reading, I'm keeping a list on LibraryThing where I am known as MargaretMontet.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

My first attempt at a Knowledge Map

After studying the Periodic Table of Visualization Methods (see previous post), and admiring the Knowledge Map, and deciding that those don't require too much drawing skill, I tried one. My printer/scanner is on the fritz (sorry Jackie), so I iPhoned it:
This is for an article on Twitter and Facebook and the different ways they are used. For the local publication that will be publishing the article, eventually, I brought in some local uses of the two tools.
Social Media is represented by the mainland on the left, and Twitter, Facebook, etc., are countries. In fainter print I've reminded myself of the various uses of each. The local users in Bucks County are represented on the green island. I made a few notes on their handles so that I can mention them in the article. The best quotes I received were from Peddler's Village (a quaint shopping village that features popular restaurants and many events), and Bucks County Community College (my main employer). Peddler's Village is linked to the mainland of Social Media by bridges, and BCCC runs a ferry service there. A road sign at the bottom points the way off-page to other social media countries I didn't treat in the article. I tried to work in a lighthouse because I could probably draw a decent one (better than the ferry anyway), but couldn't think how.
I enjoyed this exercise and, just like with a Mind Map, the act of drawing it helped me organize my thoughts and data. Just like with a Mind Map, many of the items works as prompts to help me remember the details I want to include. I'm hoping to wrap up this article tomorrow, but if I have to leave it for a few days, my Knowledge Map will help me pick up where I left off.

A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods

I could sit and look at this Periodic Table all day. No, it has nothing to do with chemistry, of course, it illustrates many ways to visualize information.
Take a few moments to hover your cursor over the various elements, and see which your brains responds to most.

I'm partial to the aqua Concept Visualization elements: Mi for Mind Mapping and Co for Concept Mapping. However, I am drawn (no pun intended) the Compound Visualization elements in cornflower blue: Lm for Learning Map, Ri for Rich Picture, and Kn for Knowledge Map. I will probably be experimenting with the Knowledge Map for some current projects since it doesn't require above-average drawing skills. (There's the other part of the pun.)

Step back a bit and appreciate the Periodic Table itself. Organizing these visualization methods into such an elegant image took some research, deep original thought and obviously a knack for visualization.

I'm going to go stare at it for just a little while longer.