As I’ve been thinking about TED and storytelling recently, I got a couple of serendipitous nudges yesterday that put librarians into that mix. First, I got a comment from Roy Kenagy on my Controlled Serendipity & Storytelling article, in which he talked of his long experience in public libraries, and his idea that stories and serendipity are a good metaphor for what goes on in public libraries:

I’ve been following your controlled serendipity thread attentively, and I’m much taken with the way you’re now weaving story into the flow. One of the themes that I’ve been exploring over the past few years is that of the public library as fundamentally a “story” resource (and a democratic story itself) rather than an “information” resource – and the further thought that the public library’s primary “information” function is not directed search, but serendipitous browsing. All of this based not on theory but on my 33-year experience of what actually happens in public libraries.

Then a bit later I came across a tweet and web page about TEDx Librarians — A TED spinoff by and for Librarians, which is planned to have its first conference in Ontario in Summer 2010. So of course, it occurs … how about having someone talk about Roy’s idea of “The Storytelling Model of the Public Library”? What do you think, Roy? …


Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp

On Friday nights, my wife and I often watch a movie at home. A couple of weeks ago, I picked out 5 possibilities from the public library. At home, we “looked under the hood” for these titles on the Web, and none seemed too exciting, so I suggested that we look at some TED videos online instead. And that turned out to be just the thing for an enjoyable evening.

Part of the reason I had TED on my mind that evening is that I was in the middle of working on the Controlled Serendipity & Storytelling series of articles I was writing, based on the work of Maria Popova, who coined the term “controlled serendipity.” Noting that two of Popova’s strong interests are TED and storytelling, it occurred to me that that’s what’s so appealing about TED — It’s storytelling at its best — Good talkers sharing their passions — “Riveting talks by remarkable people” (See below for more about the stories on TED, and the stories my wife and I especially enjoyed …)


I think TED is often thought of as being rather geekish, but it has a wide variety of compelling topics and presenters. Keep in mind what TED stands for — Technology, Entertainment, Design. My wife is far from being a geek, and she has plenty to choose from. Here are the talks we liked from the Best of TED talks

Did the TED storytelling spirit come from India and Pakistan? I was sensitized to the centrality of storytelling – Age-old & modern – in South Asian cultures when I wrote about my idea that master-storyteller Salman Rushdie envisioned the Web. So, seeing that TED developer Chris Anderson “was born in a remote village in Pakistan, and spent his early years in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan” certainly makes me wonder — Did he learn to love story telling from that experience?

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp

Curation seems to be a trending topic, so I’m doing research for an article or two on it. Little did I suspect that the popularity of the subject had reached the heights shown in the story below, that I discovered serendipitously in a Google search (scroll down to see it documented). Shaquille O’Neal’s first art show is, in fact, opening Feb 19 in New York, with 66 works selected by Shaq, including Ron Mueck’s “Untitled (Big Man),” a 7-foot-tall sculpture of a naked, bald man (at left below). Credit for the “Big Curator” wording goes to the writer of the Yahoo article, JE Skeets.


How I happened upon this little gem: At the bottom of the Google search screen below for “Curation” there’s an entry for the Shaq story, with an attention-grabbing Shaq picture, under “News results for Curation” (How often is CURATION a subject for news 😉 ) … Sure looks like another case of controlled serendipity!

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp


In a separate article, I describe a small experience of Controlled Serendipity, as I was doing research on Nick Bilton’s recent NYT article ABOUT Controlled Serendipity. Another bit of serendipity that had its source in my research on the Bilton/NYT article goes deeper, leading to insights about the concept of “controlled serendipity” and its relationship to storytelling.


In thinking about the article, I Googled Bilton, and found that one of his interests is storytelling, and that he’s working on a book that has the sub-title The New Business of Storytelling. And I noticed that Maria Popova, who’s cited by Bilton as the coiner of the term “controlled serendipity,” includes “storytelling” as an interest in her Twitter Bio, and that she’s made an imaginative short video called The Evolution of Storytelling.

… So, I think  — Maybe controlled serendipity and storytelling are connected? … Yes, I think — Isn’t that what I’m doing when I do Google (re)searching on the Web? — Following a story… gets me thinking about metaphors … Following a story is like “following a thread,” an old geek/newsgroup idea, apparently having origins in the technical computer science term thread of execution — “a fork of a computer program into two or more concurrently running tasks.” … Now, with the Web, there’s an almost infinite number of “concurrently running” stories, and the trick of Controlled Serendipity is to follow the right story, the one that’s going to Answer The Question.

The thread metaphor leads to others – Fabric, Network — and Salman Rushdie’s word-picture of an Ocean filled with Streams of Stories — Last year, when I wrote a series of articles on The Stream, based on Rushdie’s envisioning of the Web, I emphasized the idea of The Stream, because that metaphor was being talked about by several commentators as the new metaphor for The Web. But Rushdie’s vision goes beyond the stream — He talks about an Ocean of Streams

[The Ocean] was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different color, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity … these were the Streams of Story …

This is a very compelling vision of how we experience the Web, I think — Trying to pick out the right story, the right strand, the right stream — And then to follow it as it weaves in and out with 1001 other streams. I think the term Controlled Serendipity catches our fancy because it resonates in our brains in the same way that Rushdie’s word picture does — a poetic description of how we experience the Web.

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Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp


I find the Steve Jobs-Mona Simpson story fascinating — biological brother & sister (with a Syrian father) raised in separate families, who never knew about each other until Jobs was 27 –  In a nutshell: Jobs, raised in a modest middle-class family in California, becomes the highly successful genius head of Apple, then discovers that he has a sister who was raised by their (American) biological mother in Wisconsin, who is also a genius, novelist Mona Simpson. After meeting, they form a close relationship.

The 1997 New York Times Magazine article by Steve Lohr that’s excerpted below (which was written soon after Simpson’s 1996 novel  A Regular Guy and also soon after Jobs’ return as Apple CEO) is the best source I’ve found on the relationship — Especially because it includes rare remarks by Jobs about it. Below the excerpt, I discuss the difficulty of finding information on the Jobs-Simpson relationship, and other sources of information. Here’s the NYT excerpt, taken from the middle of a long article on Jobs:

When Jobs found Mona Simpson, a sister who had grown up in entirely different circumstances, it was as if they had been part of some nature-versus-nurture experiment. He was struck by the similarity in their intensity, traits and appearance.

Since he was a teen-ager [Jobs] had made occasional efforts to locate his biological family. He had nearly given up when he discovered, at the age of 27, that his biological parents had another child later whom they had kept, his younger sister. For reasons of privacy, Jobs explains, he won’t discuss his biological parents or how he ultimately tracked down his sister.

As it turns out, his sister is the novelist Mona Simpson, whose new book, “A Regular Guy,” is about a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who bears a striking resemblance to Steve Jobs. After they met, Jobs forged a relationship with her, often visiting her in Manhattan, where she lived and still maintains an apartment. Theirs is a connection that, to this day, neither Jobs nor Simpson have discussed in the press, and now do so sparingly. “My brother and I are very close,” Simpson says. “I admire him enormously.”

Jobs says only: “We’re family. She’s one of my best friends in the world. I call her and talk to her every couple of days.”

A few words about how I found this article, and the difficulty of finding information on the Jobs-Simpson relationship — I started, of course, with a Google search for Steve Jobs Mona Simpson – The first two hits are the Wikipedia articles on Jobs and Simpson, which is an indication that there’s nothing very definitive about the relationship between the two — If there were, it would be more highly ranked than the Wikipedia articles. The Lohr/NYT article above is #3. It deserves this high ranking, because it has the best commentary on the Jobs-Simpson relationship, looked at from both siblings, instead of being  from the viewpoint of one or the other of them, as in the other top 10 hits. Oddly, however, Google links to a reprinted version of the article instead of the original NYT version, maybe because it’s all on one page.

The Wikipedia article on Simpson has nothing on Jobs. The article on Jobs has rather oddly documented, brief mention of Simpson, with Notes 10 and 21-25 about her relationship with Jobs, but the NYT/Lohr article, above, is only listed in the general Articles on Jobs, with no acknowledgment of its discussing Simpson. Another puzzling ovesight in Wikipedia documentation — There’s an article listed in the Notes section that, while it doesn’t have much on the Jobs-Simpson relationship, does have good information on Simpson’s family background in Green Bay, where she was raised by her mother. It’s especially useful because it discusses Jobs’ biological Syria-native father. In the Wikipedia article Notes, there’s not a link to the actual article, only to the newspaper site:

22. Andy Behrendt, “Apple Computer mogul’s roots tied to Green Bay,” Green Bay Press-Gazette, December 4, 2005.

Presumably the article is unlinked because it’s no longer available from the Green Bay Press-Gazette. It is available here (scroll ca halfway down page for it).

Finally, one last little piece in this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction narrative — From the Wikipedia article on Simpson — Her husband is Richard Appel, and he is a writer for The Simpsons. Hmmm …

Picture Sources: Steve Jobs | Mona Simpson

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Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp

Steve-Jobs-and-Jonathan-I-001two70“Deviceful” – Wonderful word. I discovered it serendipitously in a thesaurus search for “creative” – An interesting story of the way words evolve, a Middle English word that’s out of common use now. I came across the word about the same time the iPad was launched and it seemed fitting for the occasion.

I’m interested in the human element of the iPad story, especially talk about Apple Head Steve Jobs and Designer Jonathan Ive. Jobs, of course, was the center of media attention, with dozens of articles focusing on him. But the younger Ive also got mentioned a fair amount. Since about 2006, he’s been suggested as a possible successor to Jobs as Apple CEO, and with the iPad being the first big Apple Media Hype since Jobs health-related leave-of-absence in 2009, this talk is becoming more voluble.

Invariably described as a quite, behind-the-scenes sort of personality, Ive’s award-winning designs are widely recognized as being central to Apple’s success. One little-reported episode stands out as a tantalizing “what if” story — How different our world might be if Ive hadn’t been a failure as a designer of toilets! …

One day in 1992 a then-struggling Apple hired Tangerine [the small London-based consultancy where Ive worked] to toss around a few ideas for the emerging portable computer market. Ive took on the project while he was designing a new range of bathroom appliances for Hull-based Ideal Standard. On a grey afternoon he drove to Hull to present a new toilet to Ideal Standard. … Ive’s designs were rejected. Shortly afterwards Ive went to the US to present the new laptop to Apple. The firm liked his ideas so much they offered him a job … It wasn’t until Steve Jobs returned to take charge in 1997 that Ive’s career took off. Former Tangerine colleague, Peter Phillips, recalls: ‘Jobs realised he had a jewel in Jonathan.

Another interesting tidbit on Jobs and Ive, that I haven’t seen discussed — They both have important “outside America” connections in their background — Ive, of course, is native to Britain. What’s not so well known is that Steve Jobs biological father was a native of Syria. Our debt to the World is striking.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp

The memorable phrase Controlled Serendipity, from the title of Nick Bilton’s recent much-discussed NY Times article, keeps going through my head. That phrase, as well as other catchy language, is attributed by Bilton to Maria Popova (@brainpicker). Surprisingly, Popava has not been mentioned much in the buzz, so I’m excerpting her striking language


Here’s Bilton quoting Popova (with my boldfacing of the Librarianesque, Meta-ish phrases that stick in my mind):
“Another purveyor of fine content is Maria Popova, who calls this curating ‘controlled serendipity,’ explaining that she filters interesting links to thousands of strangers out of her thirst for curiosity. Mrs. Popova uses a meticulously curated feed of Web sites and Twitter followers to find each day’s pot of gold. She says, ‘I scour it all, hence the serendipity. It’s essentially “metacuration” — curating the backbone, but letting its tentacles move freely. That’s the best formula for content discovery, I find.’ ”

Looking at Popova’s Twitter page and blog, more creativity jumps out (again, boldfacing some of my favorite words):
… From her Twitter Bio: “Interestingness curator & semi-secret geek obsessed with design, storytelling & TED” … And the byline for her blog: “Curating eclectic interestingness from culture’s collective brain.” (What a lot packed into that!)

Beyond America: The *Wide World* Web – Maria Popova is apparently a native of Bulgaria (although her Twitter page says she lives in LA) — Which brings up something I’ve noticed for many years — Often some of the most creative, innovative work on the Web comes from countries other than the US. I thought about this again recently, when researching an article on Apple honchos Steve Jobs (whose biological father is Syrian) and Jonathan Ive, who’s from Britain. Leaving aside the question of why this non-US strength in quality web-work happens, I think it’s worth noting that it does. I’ve been thinking about making a tag to describe this (which I can use for several articles already), and I’m thinking about what to call the tag. Surprisingly there doesn’t seem to be a smooth, non-negative phrase for this (offshore, international, non-US don’t feel right). So I’m thinking of using the tag Wide World — Not strictly accurate, of course, since the US is part of the world, but I think it communicates the sense of the idea. I’m open to suggestions, via comment or email.

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Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp

Nick Bilton wrote in the NY Times last week:

Consumers are witnessing the beginning of a new war between computer companies. Instead of the Apple-Microsoft conflict of the early 1980s, this fight is taking place between Apple and Google.

In a follow-up article, Bilton has the graphic below, that I’ve tweeked to emphasize what will certainly be a key element in the Apple-Google competition, and why Microsoft makes a logical ally for Apple — Microsoft has the Bing online search engine but doesn’t have mobile hardware. Apple has the iPhone/iTouch, but doesn’t have a search engine. Google has both …


Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp

Last week I ordered a book by Kurt Vonnegut. He’s one of my all-time favorites. When the oversized brown package came in the mail, it was so light weight, I thought maybe Amazon had made a mistake and forgotten to enclose the book. But it was there – A tiny little paperback, hardly bigger than … well … my iPod Touch …

Seems like this says something about the economics of publishing — Doing the math — The cost of the book was $7.99 + 2.99 shipping, total $10.98. The Kindle version costs $7.19 (I didn’t buy it, the screenshot below is from the free sample ;-)) … Hmmm … How to compare the prices? Paying more for an insubstantial paperback, much of what I pay goes for the process of producing and transporting the physical thing, and these sorts of costs are certainly going to continue to go up in the future. Compare this with the Kindle eBook version, for which there’s no “physical stuff processing” involved, and the price is likely to drop, especially with competition for the eBook market. … The digital future of publishing looms …


Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp

The slide below (from a recent webinar on the NCSU mobile library site) does a great job of conveying what I’ve been saying recently about the importance of keeping mobile sites simple. It also brings to mind the bottom sketch from a recent post. Taken together, these two graphics give me hope that, with the advent of mobile tech, libraries are catching on to simple design. Traditionally, the design of library interfaces (especially OPACs) has tended to take the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach, with way more information than users attend to (as shown in the bottom sketch). With the restrictions of small screen mobile-devices, though, I suspect the appeal of simple design will become more apparent, as shown nicely in the NCSU mobile catalog search.


Sketch from: Why Apple & Google Win – And Libraries Don’t


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Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp