I must be losing it

· Best Practices, Book News

After a long pleasant period of using my Mac for pretty much all my work and play tasks, I’ve been involved in an IA project recently that required me to work in the Microsphere, in Windows 2000, with Office/Win software, using Visio to make diagrams instead of OmniGraffle or Illustrator.
It hasn’t been that bad, really. But the thing that was starting to disturb me as I geek-zone alpha-state flowed into the evening while working on my project yesterday (which was Sunday – not really necessary for me to keep puttering over the weekend but we’re coming to the end of this phase and I’m getting a little obsessive about my charts and diagrams, lists and spreadsheets, outstanding issues and other tracking devices; I keep tweaking them, consolidating them, cross-checking information between them, while all the time fiddling with the look of various sitemap and wireframe boxes and labels), the thing that was starting to disturb me I say is that I suddenly found the face of the stupid paperclip help avatar to be charming and expressive.
[the paperclip guy in repose]Hey, that middle fold is like a nose, I thought. (Duh.) Maybe it was the way his (it’s a he, right?) eyes went wide and he crossed his eyebrows as I saved my work for the hundredth time (since Visio’s been crashing on me I’ve become like a labmonkey pressing the pellet button, saving after every incremental sneeze in every open application window).
Ordinarily I hide or kill these bastard children of Microsoft Bob but lately I’ve been so focused on the work that I haven’t gone through all this software they set up for me and spent the time to set any preferences. Either the clip has gotten less distracting (better art direction?) or I’ve just had tunnelvision.

Bonus tangent No. 1: So when I was going back through this piece and sticking in some much needed paragraph breaks, I decided my thoughts in the second paragraph should be in italics, since it’s a typographical convention and one I like. I started entering an em tag, for emphasis, but then I thought. No, I’m not emphasizing this phrase. I’m italicizing it, to indicate thoughts instead of direct or indirection quotation. And I thought that the Zeldmanio-Holzschlagian ideal would be to mark the thought with a span tag and apply a “thought” class which would be set to display italics in a style sheet definition. Did I do this? No. But if a little paperclippy-descended thing said to me, “Hey, it looks like you’re italicizing that phrase. Are you using italics for emphasis, to indicate a thought, or for some other reason? (Please click one.)” – after which it would offer to update my style sheet and replace the i tag with a span class= kind of thing. But maybe I’d say back to it, “Hey, when you said ‘click’ did you realize I might be interfacing with my computer through something other than a mouse?”

It occurred to me that there will be full-fledged interactive AI help personas in our computer-enabled systems some day, maybe even in my lifetime, and won’t it be weird for them – the most sophisticated humane ones especially – to call an animated paperclip one of their ancestors, nearly the Abrahamic father of their line.

Bonus tangent No. 2: When Lakhtar Brahimi went to Afghanistan for the U.N., I found myself wondering if his name was at all cognate with the Indian word brahman, and then I suddenly had a strange thought (via “a brahman”) wherein I wondered if the name Abraham (or Ibrihim, as Muslims like to say and spell it) is in anyway etymologically related to brahmin. Maybe Ur (supposedly a northern-ish city in Mesopotamia near present-day Turkey and Syria and not the sourthern-ish city site still present in Iraq) was just a stopping point for father Abraham. Perhaps he and some of his devotions and hereditary wisdoms came from further east?