Monday, June 04, 2007

Letting Go

I went on a little adventure to a nearby city last weekend, taking the opportunity to listen to the old cassettes that haunt my glove box. The pick of the drive was Tina Turner's 1983 release, "Private Dancer" which won the Album of the Year award in 1985.

I noticed the cassette cover art was essentially a thumbnail of the vinyl album artwork pasted into the top two-thirds of the cassette. Despite the cassette being rectangular in shape, the graphic artist could not let go of the square form factor of the original album. Even today, with iTunes cover art, one sees the same artificial form factor. There is nothing particularly "square" about an mp3, and yet that is how iTunes cover art is displayed:

Stepping away from that artificial form factor proved fruitful for Stefan Sagmeister who won a grammy for the design of the Talking Heads Once in a Lifetime Boxed Set.

In fact, stepping away from the artificial structures is how a lot of effective research can be done in many subfields of computer science. Because software isn't bound by the rules of physics, or materials science, or practical cost--because one can do "anything" in software--computer scientists have to create their own artificial structures in order to make sense of things. There's no real reason that there are seven layers in the networking stack, somebody just made that up.

These are my approaches to research: to examine those artificial structures with a skeptical eye, to redesign them in the context of a specific domain, or to throw them out completely. I believe I'm good at this because I've always been good at letting go of material goods. I bought a new car. Hated it. Sold it. Bought a sensible used one in its place. I bought a house. I was accepted into graduate school in another state. Sold it. No big deal.

I was at the nursery on Friday looking for some perennials for my shade garden. I considered buying some annuals, but I caught myself thinking, "I'll get them next year when I sell the house." Already pushing myself to get out of here. Already getting reading to let go of the material goods that have accumulated in my stay in GradShitTownVille...

...and I still haven't prelim'ed yet.


1 comment:

shannon said...

I'm ready for you to let go of that house and come home, too! :) I miss you...