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Archive for March, 2010

PERSONAL #1: b.J.d.

you know this whole notion of how society measures and labels time? b.c. and a.d.? before christ and anno domini (in the year of our lord).

my life now comes with a similar structure. before july 30, 2009 and after. pre-Jarronn’s death and post.

looking at calendars has taken on a whole new dimension. and everything else that’s dated, for that matter. emails in my inbox. receipts on my desk. canned food items in my cupboard. headings on a page of notes.

if the date on something is after july 30, i can usually look at it and move on. unless it happens to be in the july 31 – august 30 timeframe, when everything felt so fresh. so surreal. so overwhelming. dates in that timeframe make me remember my struggle to make sense of everything. to figure out who i was. to take care of so many details. (kind of still sounds like my reality today, but somehow it’s different.)

if the date on something is before july 30, it usually causes me to pause. to remember how different life was then. how i thought of life so differently then. how i was a different person then. if the date is in the month of july 2009, my thoughts tend to turn to reflections on how quickly life can change. and to memories of my last everything with Jarronn. our last trip. our last movie. our last dinner. our last phone call. our last disagreement. our last kiss before he walked out the door to go for a ride with his friends.

these dates define my experience. my understanding. my realities. (at least for now). they cause me to stare into space. as if staring long enough would take me right back to those days before july 30, 2009. days that i miss. those days were filled with lots of expectations and dreams. and yet, i know that those days were also filled with false securities.

and sadly, those days weren’t meant to last. except in the form of receipts. and cards. stubs from the last movie we saw. photos. emails. memories.

july 22, 2004
june 21, 2005
may 4, 2007
july 6, 2008
may 15, 2009


before. Jarronn. died.


WEEKLY #7: Wikipedia vs. Encyclopedias

I’ll never forget my first major research project. It was 5th grade, and we’d learned all about using note cards to capture facts, how to organize facts into paragraphs, and how to create a bibliography page. Each student had to choose a difference U.S. state as the subject of their research paper. I chose Georgia — a choice that made great sense to me, because my 20-year-old brother was a Bulldog at the time, and I couldn’t have looked up to him more.

In those days, the primary source for research was the traditional encyclopedia. The school library had a 1992 volume of Work Book encyclopedias for everyone to use. I, however, was one of the lucky students who had a set of encyclopedias at home — or so I thought.

As it turned out, the set of encyclopedias I had at home were purchased for my older brother. Yeah, that same brother who was 10 years older than me. As a 10-year-old, I had little understanding of the fact that information about Georgia from 1984 was probably a whole lot different than information about the state in 1992. I learned there was quite a big difference when I got my paper back and was told that I had to re-write it. I made sure to use those 1992 World Books the second time around.

In later years, the research process improved. Encarta was a tool that seemed to change my life! I can still remember logging onto Prodigy and popping my Encarta CD-Rom discs into the computer. The ability to type in a search term and generate an entry (most of the time) was incredible. But today, Encarta, a Microsoft product, has been discontinued. And what do you know? Shutting down Encarta was directly related to the growth of this thing called Wikipedia.

Created by founder Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia is an online, free encyclopedia that can be accessed and edited by anyone. (This WIRED article provides great background on the development of  Wikipedia.)  And it’s hard to imagine that anyone who uses internet search regularly hasn’t come across a Wikipedia entry about the subject he/she is researching. The breadth of Wikipedia is amazing. At the time of this post, Wikipedia reports that it hosts 3,238,343 articles in English. I can’t tell you how tempted I was to link to Wikipedia articles when including the terms “bulldog”, “Prodigy,” and “Encarta.”

But in the past, there have been questions about whether or not Wikipedia is better than traditional encyclopedias that are written by trusted sources. And anyone who has used Wikipedia on multiple occasions can attest to the range in quality  that one might find from entry to entry.

Yes, Wikipedia has its shortcomings. But ultimately, its benefits outweigh those flaws. And those benefits ultimately make Wikipedia better than traditional encyclopedias. Wikipedia is available to anyone with internet access. It isn’t limited by a finite number of printed pages like a traditional encyclopedia, so it’s able to contain millions of entries, as opposed to just tens of thousands. And as Clay Shirky describes in his book, Here Comes Everybody, Wikipedia allows users to self-organize in such a way that brings real value. Yes, there are times when people “vandalize” an article on Wikipedia, but within the network of users, there are enough concerned individuals who will correct those mistakes. And finally, there’s the speed. Learning about Georgia today is vastly different from the days when I depended on a set of encyclopedias from the past decade. And as I think back on that experience, all I can think is that that’s a very good thing.

WEEKLY #5: Scared of the Google Empire?

At a recent dinner party, where conversation had turned to current events, one person at the table made a comment that in today’s world, there are two things to fear. The first is Google, because of the amount of information they control, and the second is Oprah, because that lady gets presidents elected.

Google’s dominance in the digital world is pretty undeniable. It’s impressive to see how many Google products exist and to see how people use the company’s name as a synonym for the verb “search.” It seems as though this dominance has quite a few people nervous about what the company is capable of — and even fearing that all of this power could be used in manipulative and controlling ways.

According to December 2009 data, Google controls 66 percent of search market share. (Imagine if that figure was 66.6 percent…then we’d really know Google was evil). Clearly Google’s competitors have quite an uphill battle in trying to eat away at Google’s goliath share. And so from a market competition/anti-trust perspective, perhaps we need to be concerned about Google.  But otherwise, I say Google should keep the super algorithm going.

In fact, I already professed my love for Google in a previous post. And that’s because, like so many other people, I really find tremendous value in the things Google creates and facilitates. It’s Google’s effectiveness that has made the search engine so popular. And it’s also been their ability to understand, and even anticipate, the needs of users. In my mind, one of the best examples of their innovative nature is the company’s use of Google Labs.

I won’t deny the natural fear that arises from knowing that Google possesses so much information. However, much of this data is only used in the form of aggregated, non-personal information (Greg Housh). There are also examples of how our information has been used to create better products. As these better products become available, I can’t help but to like Google even more.

WEEKLY #4: An Appetite for New Things

Somehow and some way, I became the friend that people call when they’re looking for restaurant suggestions in D.C. I’m not really sure how that happened. I hardly consider myself an expert. But yet, without fail, I get calls and IMs from friends looking for a particular cuisine, a place in a particular neighborhood, or my take on a place they’re about to visit.

I feel like I’ve hardly scratched the surface of what D.C. has to offer in terms of restaurants and other fun activities, but apparently the amount of trying I’ve done has been enough to make me a resource to my friends.

What can I say? I like to eat! And I really like to try new restaurants. But what most of my friends don’t realize about my “expertise” is that so much of it comes from using the Internet. I constantly use the Web to learn about new places to visit. I receive Zagat Buzz emails in my inbox every Thursday, with spotlights on new and popular restaurants. I read The Washington Post’s Going Out Gurus (GOG’s) weekly web chat to see what recommendations they make to fellow DMVers about the perfect spot for every occasion. And then there’s also The Post’s food critic Tom Sietsema’s reviews and annual dining guides.

What I realized in doing my research this week, is that there are lots of other resources and communities I can tap into as I search for my next great meal. Not only are there a ton of sites that have created manageable lists of great restaurants to try, what’s great is that a lot of these lists are built using survey data and feedback from actual diners (like Washingtonian‘s list of the area’s best 100 restaurants). To me, this is one of the best parts of the Web. It facilitates conversations that were much harder to hold in the past.

Where can you get the best Thai food in D.C.? Many would argue it’s at a small hole-in-the-wall called Thai X-ing. It’s on Florida Ave, and it’s literally a man cooking authentic Thai cuisine in a basement apartment. The place has just a couple tables inside, and people will call 2.5 hours in advance for take-out. In fact, the Thai X-ing Web site even suggests that you place your order one FULL day in advance. How did I find out about Thai X-ing? Online, of course. And it was the reviews from past customers that solidified in my mind that I had to visit.

This is one of the effects discussed in Chris Anderson’s book, The Long Tail. Little known songs, books, movies, and Thai restaurants can become sensations, because of the Internet. We get to learn about so many new and interesting places, as opposed to just the places with the largest retail space or biggest marketing budget for their store opening. We get to deviate from the mainstream.

If you’re interested in trying some new spots, here are some other great sites that I came across this week:

Urban Spoon – you can type in a neighborhood, cuisine, and price range for a suggested restaurant.

Yelp – online reviews and conversations about d.c. restaurants.

Adams Morgan Now – this site is an all-around site for the area, but I love it. Plus, I know the team that designed it.

Epicurious’s D.C. Guide – also by Tom Sietsema, but a nice way to organize the info.

What’s your favorite D.C. area restaurant?