Information Architecture – A presentation of folksonomies

Good afternoon all!

I’m currently enrolled in the Master of Science Technical Communications graduate program at Northeastern University. This past quarter, January 1st to April 1st, I have been taking the Information Architecture (IA) course. The most recent of assignments was a presentation on a concept within the field of IA, which I chose ‘folksonomies’. Folksonomies was coined by Thomas Vander Wal in 2004. It is a portmanteau of the words folk and taxonomy, which has come to represent the information classification system of tagging. This concept is often utilized in places such as WordPress, so I thought it would be interesting to share here. Attached is my presentation. If you are interested, all of my resources are located on the final slide. Many of these scholarly articles are free downloads on the web. I hope you enjoy and learn something new!



“i love to you” a Philosophy on Feminism

Three weeks have past since I finished Luce Irigaray’s book, i love to you: Sketch of a Possible Felicity in History. I started reading this book as a Sophomore in college, a graduate professor had suggested it for a paper I was writing on language and gender issues. Ashamedly, I took bits and pieces from the book then, without taking the time to read it. The book is entirely philosophical and definitely written that way. The words tire your eyes and patience is a necessity. During that time I did not have this patience. Since then, I have picked up and put down this book at least five times. On this last occasion, however, I devoured it in one sitting. It was just as awe inspiring and remarkable as the individual lines I had read a few years ago. Irigaray’s views on feminism profoundly impacted me. The words on the page spoke to me in a way that much of the feminist philosophy today cannot do.

One of the more alarming aspects of this philosophy is that I do not believe it considered “acceptable” today. This philosophy is grounded in the reality of two sexes; man and woman, women and men. The current convictions, this new wave of third or fourth feminism, involves the varying different genders that have surmounted beyond the realm of science. This is the primary reason for which I think her ideas would be snuffed today. Perhaps this is exactly why it spoke to me. Before delving into her poignant philosophy, I will provide some background of her life.

luceirigarayLuce Irigaray is a philosopher, feminist, psychoanalyst, and linguist among other disciplinary interests. She was born in Belgium in 1930 and during her lifetime has written numerous books regarding feminism and language. As a woman, as well as a lover of languages, I was able to genuinely connect with Irigaray. She spoke of the importance of finding yourself within your sex, of valuing who you were as an engendered person, refuting the ever popular calls for equality. (See quote below.) Her beliefs are supported by research and conducted interviews with people of all ages and sexes. She conducted numerous studies in regards to linguistics, carrying out various forms of tests and interviews to better understand the ways in which we use language and how our use of language is profoundly impacted by our sex. For example, what she found is men often use sentences and language for stating the objective reality, one of her experiments entailed the use of the word “with”, in which men and women were asked to write sentences using this word. I took my book with me to class. I am having drinks with friends after work. I love spending time with my boyfriend. Irigaray discovered that men were more likely to describe his daily activities whereas women were more likely to create a sentence that involved her relationship to another or simply relations to another subject. I tried this experiment out on my own boyfriend, unfortunately after I sent him the video (linked below) but he still provided me the sentence that first came to mind: “I’m going to get drinks with my buddies after work.” Which really is quite interesting, because it is more uncommon to see men create sentences that involve a relationship to others. Of course, mine was “I love spending time with Philip.”

Irigaray’s book was an emphatic vocalization of woman’s need to define for herself a culture of her sex as well as the need to create a syntax for what it means to be woman. There are so many of her ideas that I wish I could write wholly of, alas, I would be here until after the new year if I attempted. Here are some of the passages that spoke so loudly to me as I read, my favorite, happens to be the last:

“…[women] lack a positive definition of their gender and the objective qualities which give it an individual and collective content…” (Irigaray 2)

“For such a development to come about.. it is, rather, a question of awakening her to an identity and to rights and responsibilities corresponding to her gender.” (Irigaray 4)

“To return to ourselves as living beings who are engendered and fabricated is a vital and ethical need of paramount importance.” (Irigaray 14)

“… claiming to be equal to a man is a serious ethical mistake because by so doing woman contributes to the erasure of natural and spiritual reality in an abstract universal that serves only one master: death. Aside from her own suicide, she thus deprives man of the possibility of defining himself as man, that is as a naturally and spiritually sexed person.” (Irigaray 27)

Perhaps I have peaked your interest, perhaps you think I am on my way to being impressively non-PC, however, her words are specific and her sentences beautiful. If even to read for its style, Irigaray touches on some great aspects of feminism that would not even be acknowledged today in mainstream society.

A video below represents an interview held with Irigaray in early 2013.


Reflections on Bad Feminist

The other morning, I wrote what felt like a scathing review of Roxane Gay’s essay “Reaching for Catharsis: Getting Fat Right (or Wrong) and Diana Spechler’s Skinny“. Scathing because I have an incredible amount of disdain for heavy and negative criticisms. I feel ambivalent towards this book. At times, I laughed joyously at Gay’s account of her Scrabble experiences, at others I was infuriated by her harsh judgments, her criticisms, and her incessant verbal attacks on individuals she perceived as not having the “right experience” to understand her plights.

Although, when I completed the final two chapters last evening, I had the very typical warm and fuzzy reading you get once a book arrives at its culmination. I had the opportunity to listen to Roxane Gay speak about this book prior to its release, in the fall of 2013. It was at our Alma Mater, Michigan Technological University. I had forgotten until last night, that she had read an excerpt fmturom this book. I had forgotten how her words made me feel that night. When I began reading the final chapter, I was slammed into ground – at the location, of the very night I heard her speak and all the memories came crashing down at me. I remember exactly what the weather was like, I remember how I was mad at my significant other before I arrived to her speaking, I remember my text messages, and I can remember the very vivid details of what occurred afterward.

I re-read these chapters with alacrity.

I admire Roxane Gay for many reasons. Her writing is absolutely beautiful, as noted in my previous entry, the words she writes form the image of a ribbon baton in my mind. I aspire to write with as much passion bookand determination as she does. Mostly, I believe Roxane and this book made such a warm and touching impression on me because by the last two chapters she finally opened up to us, the readers, and provided us with a modicum of insight as to who she is. You can readily understand her opinions and official stances on major issues throughout her essays, but these final two were just different. Her guard was down, her words were soft, and her defenses lifted.

As much as I adore, yes adore, the final two chapters… many of her essays were not for me. I anticipate and know what her criticisms of the line “not for me” would entail. Probably some repudiation because I am a white woman. In spite of this, I enjoyed reading this book, and would definitely recommend it to others. It did spark within me, a return to the personal questions I have with feminism. ughHow I can accurately describe myself as a feminist without reluctance? Do I want to be a feminist? Am I a feminist? Am I passionate enough to be a feminist? Am I a feminist if I want my boyfriend to take care of me? If I want to be a stay at home mother (even for just a little bit)? Am I a true feminist if my boyfriend is conservative and comes from a country with a conservative culture? I guess, now that I’m a older, I like to think of feminism as supporting women. If I think of it  with such excessive banality, the whole concept becomes clear to me. Support people. Support and care for each individual. Ultimately, be kind and have empathy, treat people fairly. I suppose this is my current take on feminism. I am sure this will change in the years to come, perhaps even months, but like she says, “I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.”



Review: Roxane Gay’s “Reaching for Catharsis: Getting Fat Right (or Wrong)” and Diana Spechler’s “Skinny”

This week I am reading Roxane Gay’s compilation of essays, Bad Feminist. A beautiful writer. I will attempt to explain to you how her words feel inside my soul as I read them… imagine the ribbon baton. This is the kind of baton I would have used dancing around in a glittery tutu when I was young (or even now for that matter). Her words are the glitter and her sentences are the movement of the baton. Her witty commentary is the sharp whip the ribbon makes when waved vigorously. Although Roxane’s prose energized and lulled me simultaneously, there were a few instances that I was deeply offended by her brash assumptions and criticisms. I often shy away from the use of offended; I often try to understand the intentions of the other person before I recoil into myself and open myself to pain. I wasn’t just offended, I quickly realized too, that I was angry. Livid even.

In this particular essay, Roxane discusses Diana Spechler’s novel Skinny. A story of a woman escaping the pain of her father’s death and becoming a camp counselor at a fat camp. spechlerThe main character, who has recently gained approximately 30 pounds, begins to console her anguish and loneliness with weight loss. She begins to exercise and eat fewer and fewer calories; soon, she is barely consuming any calories, her body atrophying with the excessive physical training.

Roxane Gay begins to describe her criticisms of the novel and its overall effectiveness in communicating the story of a young woman who finds herself in a situation in which the only consolation she can find is within the self-absorption she has with her own body. A weakness, Gay begins to explain, is “the implausibility of all this drama over a mere thirty pounds of excess weight…”.

Earlier in Gay’s book, we learn that she is overweight. She finds comfort in food and security in being bigger. Taking all of this into account, I understand that I have never been the weight of Gay. I have, however, been almost 200 pounds as an eighth grader, with a body that was perhaps only capable of carrying the weight of a 130 pound girl.

Not only was I overweight, but it consumed my thoughts for 95% of my childhood. In high school, after the summer of my sophomore year, it became 100%. 100% for the next seven years. That is a long time to spend worrying and thinking about your weight, the perception you have of yourself and others have of you, and of your own happiness. In fact, as someone who viscerally experiences almost every moment of her life and the events of others in their own life, fighting a seven year battle with your own mind can become quite lethal.

When I read this line, when I read the implausibility of all this drama. I was stabbed in the stomach. How dare you invalidate the pain and experience others have had because you have a different version of the pain described. Because your version is different, absolutely does not mean that that pain and anguish does not exist or is implausible.

I have not read Spechler’s book, I have not been to fat camp, but I have suffered from eating disorders. Eating disorders “not otherwise specified”. Eating disorders that resulted from only being 30 pounds overweight. Eating disorders that caused me to destroy my body internally and externally. I was so starved I began to eat my mind and regurgitate it in the form of liquid and chunks of granola bars. I lost myself, in attempt to find consoling; I chopped my hair, I punched my stomach, just to feel out of the skin I was in. I did these things. Mostly, I hugged myself and I cried because the experience was altogether too painful and I could not escape my body, mind or the poignant feelings of disgust and shame, anger, and fear of what others were going to force me to do.

When I read or listen to people speak in the way Roxane Gay does in this particular essay, I am deeply wounded. The lack of empathy for people other than themselves is all too distinct.

I will fight this behavior for as long as I live because every voice with a story of eating disorders, deserves to be heard, regardless of the particulars of that person’s experience. The invalidation of pain one has not experienced is inexcusable, and frankly is counterintuitive to most of the movements Gay proclaims to stand strongly for.

I hear you, Roxane, when you explain why you wrote what you did, but I cannot help but believe that you are immensely mistaken in your criticisms and overt judgement of who is eligible to have and experience the pain of an eating disorder.

Confessions of a New Technical Writer

Four months ago, I started a new technical writing position in the greater Detroit area. I have had ubiquitous time since then to reflect on aspects of my previous and current position as well as who am as a technical writer. There are a few that have come to mind and have resonated with me since.

If you feel awkward about your writing, it’s because it is.

Keep it simple, if your writing sounds awkward it’s because you are attempting to incorporate too much language or you are not taking the quickest and easiest route to explain the actual purpose of your sentence. For this, write a concise statement incorporating all that your paragraph or entry should be about. Ask yourself what is absolutely necessary and what is not, if it’s not – just delete it. Even if you love the words oh so dearly that you want to include.

As much as you want to master everything right away, it is okay to say “I don’t understand”.

In technical writing, you are dealing with technical material, sometimes so technical you have to go “wait what?” when a subject matter expert is explaining the to you the information. This is far more beneficial in the long run; rather than pretending to understand and direly trying to digest the information but instead failing miserably and feeling miserable in the process… yeah. If that was ever you, it was totally once me. And I was called out on it too. Taking the time for a deeper explanation from the SME sooner will result in you understanding the material LONGER and being able to create better documentation that much more likely.

Ask so many questions.

There really is no limit to the amount of questions that can be asked when gathering information for a document. Question everything the SME tells you (politely of course) with the who, what, when, where, whys and hows. You can never be too thorough or precise. It is far better to be the curious cat in the beginning than have co-workers coming back to you without understanding your exact meanings in sections of a document.

Sometimes, you truly are just going to have to suck it up. No matter how much you hate the tools.

Oh the woes of CSS/HTML. One of my more recent projects has been to manipulate a stylesheet that is applied to an HTML sheet to be converted into a PDF. There is a caveat, however, and it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. The content management system we use, essentially providing this HTML is based on the Textile markup language. Textile markup language is a truly great tool for the purposes it is used for in the CMS, however, in terms of design, it does not lend itself conducive to easy decorations other than decorations of the text itself (especially when you are told to only manipulate the CSS and do not touch the HTML). For this, I cannot say I have enjoyed the process. There are perhaps better ways, but mine has gone something like this: rule out everything you feel cannot be done, then speak with your supervisor to see if they have input. Work with other employees to see if they have the knowledge of CSS or HTML. Ask questions, even if he or she doesn’t know the answer, they may be able to guide you to a new direction and help you answer the question.

Some days will truly be harder than others.

Truth is, I have written this blog post over the past few months. Not the past few hours. Starting a new job is tough; feeling inadequate sporadically is also incredibly difficult. Especially when you are working with extremely talented engineers who claim to be terrible writers; but in reality their self-produced documents are not that bad at all. Another important lesson I have dealt with (and still do) is that you cannot take anything personally. If you are doing your job, continually looking for ways to improve the quality of your work and your work ethic, then it is all going to be okay. Your worth is not compromised because of a bad day at work. Some days are just harder than others. In the end, however, there is nowhere to go but to grow.