Cloud Street

Monday, January 30, 2006

Home again

So, I'm a researcher. (At least until the money runs out next year; hopefully I'll have something similar lined up by then.) Before I was a researcher I was a freelance journalist for about six years, while I did my doctorate; before that I was a full-time journalist for three years; and before that I worked in IT. Which is a whole other dark and backward abysm of time - I was a Unix sysadmin, and before that I was an Oracle DBA, and before that... database design, data analysis, Codasyl[1] database admin, a ghastly period running a PC support team, and before that systems analysis and if you go back far enough you get to programming, and frankly I still don't trust any IT person who didn't start in programming. (I'm getting better - at one time I didn't trust anyone who didn't start in programming.)

Now, there's an odd kind of intellectual revelation which you sometimes get, when you're a little way into a new field. It's not so much a Eureka moment as a homecoming moment: you get it, but it feels as if you're getting it because you knew it already. You feel that you understand what you've learnt so fully that you don't need to think about it, and that everything that's left to learn is going to follow on just as easily. Which usually turns out to be the case. The way it feels is that the structures you're exploring are how your mind worked all along - or, perhaps, how your mind would have been working all along if you'd had these tools to play with. (Or: "It's Unix! I know this!")

I had that feeling a few times in my geek days - once back at the start, when I was loading BASIC programs off a cassette onto an Acorn Atom (why else would I have carried on?); once when I was introduced to Codasyl databases; and once (of course) when I met Unix, or rather when I understood piping and redirection. But the strongest homecoming moment was when, after being trained in data analysis, I saw a corporate information architecture chart (developed by my employer's then parent company, with a bit of help from IBM). Data analysis hadn't come naturally, but once I'd got it it was there - and, now that I had got it, just look what you could do with it! It was a sheet of A3 covered with lines and boxes, expressing propositions such as "a commercial transaction takes place between two parties, one of which is an organisational unit while the other may be an individual or an organisational unit"; propositions like that, but mostly rather more complex. I thought it was wonderful.

Fast forward again: database design, DBA, sysadmin, journalism, freelancing, PhD, research. Research which, for the last month or so, has involved using OWL (the ontology language formerly known as DAML+OIL) and the Protege logical modelling tool - which has enabled me to produce stuff like this.

It's not finished - boy, is it not finished. But it is rather lovely. (Perhaps I just like lines and boxes...)

[1] If you don't know what this means, don't worry about it. (And if you do, Hi!)

2 Comments:

  • We call them Headshift Moments ;-)

    Hi Phil {waves}

    Lee @ Headshift

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 31/1/06 16:32  

  • Nice post and even better graphic. Any chance that can be made larger for those of us with dim eyes?

    By Blogger memer, at 10/2/06 15:34  

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