Thursday, January 24, 2008


Blurring the Blogging Boundary – Inviting My Students to Blog with Me

As I recently wrote in a "Back to Blogging" post earlier this week, I now realize that I'd stopped blogging because I was too busy with my "real work" – which I'd defined as the teaching and writing and traveling and so on I did in my role as a Berkeley professor. This afternoon I caught myself in the act of building up that boundary again when I started to set up another blog as a discussion forum for my Document Engineering course that started yesterday when I realized that it would be much more sensible and interesting just to have all the students contribute to this blog. Otherwise I'd find myself in the ridiculous position of trying to decide whether a topic I wanted to discuss should be posted on "Doc or Die" or on the "official" course blog.

So I've now got two fellow bloggers here. The first is Zach Gillen, a 2nd year Master’'s Student at the School of Information, who is the Teaching Assistant for the Document Engineering course. The second author is "Document Engineering Student," a composite identity that all of the students will share (they'll also sign their posts with their real names) simply to avoid the administrative hassles of having them create Google accounts and so on.

I think this will be an interesting experiment.

-Bob Glushko

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Tracking Lettuce and Tracking People

I like to start my Document Engineering course at UC Berkeley with news stories or “mini” case studies of the sorts you find in trade magazines that illustrate the rationale, design, implementation, or deployment of some document-centric or information-intensive application. It’s a good way to get students to see the big ideas of Document Engineering and to start appreciating the idea that there are design patterns for information components and document exchanges that apply across a wide range of industries.

Today I mentioned several of these “Document Engineering in the News” stories. The first one, from the March 13 2007 Wall Street Journal, was titled "Tailing Virulent Veggies” and described the efforts by Dole to use GPS and RFID technologies to improve the tracking of produce from the field to the supermarket. The E. coli contaminations of spinach in late 2006 killed people, but also greatly undermined consumer confidence in the quality of the food supply, costing grocery chains lots of money and customers. People are starting to care a lot more about information transparency in this domain (I wrote about this last year and Jon Udell had an interesting post a couple of weeks ago), but there still isn’t very much of it.

For a second story I chose an article from Hong Kong (mostly to give students the idea that they can find these kinds of stories anywhere) about a tracking program at the airport there “to simplify passenger travel by integrating airport, immigration and airline processes in real time, offering travellers a range of benefits.” I don’t believe that the security at airports has increased enough to justify the costs and intrusions, but that’s not the point of this example. I just wanted to illustrate that “tracking” is a generic information pattern that applied to all sorts of stuff – in these two cases to lettuce and people.

But this led to an interesting discussion in which we compared “tracking heads” for lettuce and people that has kept me thinking long after class ended. For example:

-Bob Glushko


Back to Blogging

It has been a long time since I posted to this blog, and I finally realized that it is because I’ve been acting like writing here was something I did as a kind of recreation in the time cracks between my regular teaching and writing work. But this past semester was especially busy because of some crazy complications in my personal life, and I didn’t have a lot of unfilled cracks, so I’ve made just one post here since August. I had been too busy even to notice this, until I got email asking if I had abandoned my blog. I hadn’t intended to stop posting… I just never posted.

But during that same time period when I had ignored this blog, I wrote about 50 new lectures for my two courses at UC Berkeley ( Information Organization & Retrieval and The Information & Services Economy), wrote two other papers, gave several professional presentations at meetings and conferences, and ran a very interesting research seminar. I estimate that I wrote 2000 emails to students, former students, or other folks, and probably half of them had some interesting information that might have been useful to other people if I’d exposed it here.

So today I’m going to see if I can blur that line between blogging and work, and see if I can use this blog to publish more of what I’m writing and talking and hearing about. Today was the first day of the spring semester, and I’m once again teaching Document Engineering. This will be the 7th time I’ve taught this class, and it will be the last time, and that’s another good reason to spend more time here reflecting about it as the semester progresses.

-Bob Glushko

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