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Second Year: Thoughts on Spring 2011

It’s the end of the third week of the semester. I can safely say that my course schedule has shaped up to be an intensive and challenging one:

  • PLAN 548: Transportation Planning Analysis with Jinhua Zhao (class cross-listed with Civil Engineering)
  • PLAN 596: Seminar on Ecological Economics with Bill Rees
  • PLAN 550E: Building North America’s Most Sustainable City with Patrick Condon and Sam Sullivan (former Mayor of Vancouver; now of the Global Civic Policy Society)
  • IAT 885: Visually-Enabled Reasoning with Brian Fisher at School of Interactive Arts and Technology, SFU Surrey

I’m expecting to be stretched by this courseload in some extremely intriguing and important ways.

  • Analysis: the prof of IAT 885 has promised to make us “reflective analysts,” and, my transportation class has the word “analysis” in the title, so if my analysis skills are sketchy, they are likely to be much improved by the time I hit April 9th. I’m treating this as the biggest piece, because my degree so far has probably focused on people and ideas more than it has been about information in a hands-on manner (even as a lot of things have involved information). This class is so far really wonderful because I’m starting to realize that my big challenge as a researcher is making the jump from observations to understanding how to create tests to analyze, and doing so in a systematic and rigorous fashion. I’m really stoked to be diving more into decision theory, cognitive science and graphical representation.
  • Fleshing out ideas: my master’s project is going to be touching on service design, co-design of information experiences, and public space policies. I’ve found myself thinking about Adam Greenfield’s Everyware a lot these days, as I quote his assertion that many of the people building the pieces of “everyware”1 aren’t aware that that’s what they’re building, even as they’re making what pretty much amount to architectural decisions about information. I’m struggling to eke out a research proposal and to fit the pieces together with what I actually can and want to do. That said, I’m fortunate that the flow of class assignments and the work mean that I’m being forced to understand and face up the challenge constantly; and for me, that’s a pretty big and helpful thing.
  • Writing To Live: My two analysis classes require me to essentially keep journals — one formal, with reference to our course readings, and one more informal, on the processes we are going through as we created analyses. In addition to that, the usual boat of research and term papers. I am determined to make this writing go a lot easier and to be of higher quality than it has been, as well as to be a lot more active in that autodidactic process. Part of this means overcoming the images I have about what this blog is supposed to be. While I want it to be of value to the people reading it, I think I want to re-frame that so that the first person it should serve is me, and understanding the nature of that commitment to quality output to myself is a big piece of the work. This may mean more playing around with defining what this site and the Tumblr are really for.

This has turned out to be the class where I expand on how the perspective of planners looks like in collaboration with others: architects and landscape architects; civil engineers; researchers and visual designers, economists…it’s stretching me quite a bit.

I’m hoping also over the course of this semester to be working up to a much more solidified vision of what kind of value I can offer in a work situation. From there, I will continue to find out who’s working on the neat things that I want to be onboard with, and what are their biggest challenges?  Let’s call this my 5.5 “class” (where the fifth class is already the thesis)…

[1] his term for ubiquitous or pervasive computer, or the sensors involved in Smarter Cities, or whatever the use of informatics in your corner of the world calls it this week.

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