Sunday, December 19, 2010

Flatland and my adventures in Stanford's libraries

I almost forgot to post this tale, but I recently ran across the relevant photos on my phone and knew I had to write something.

A few months ago, in preparation for a trip up to Sonoma, Molly and I were at the Stanford Library to pick out a few books. Susan's house in Healdsburg is one of the few places I actually take the time to read, as opposed to listening to audiobooks; after a day of biking, wine tasting and swimming, there is nothing better than relaxing by the pool with a good story. Except the massages. But that's a different story.

The pool
I keep track of all the books I read - and all the books I want to read - on Visual Bookshelf, so I had my list ready when we got to the library. I found the nearest computer and began to search. First up was Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene. They had a copy, but it seemed to be on hold. Next up: The Pragmatic Programmer. Somebody already had it out. I then tried Xenocide, the 3rd book in the Ender's Game series. They had it! I wrote down the call number and headed down to the stacks with Molly.

20 minutes later, we came back to the terminal empty handed. The book was nowhere to be found. I continued searching. The Island? Out. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest? Lost. I tried a few more and finally got a hit for One Hundred Years of Solitude in another library. We wandered over there and, sure enough, it was missing from the shelves. How could this be? A world class library and I can't find a single thing to read? Close to giving up, I decided to look up one final book: Flatland. It was available, but hidden away somewhere in the basement. Expecting more failure, we headed down.

We found ourselves in a large room with a dark red carpet, low ceilings with exposed pipes jutting out and sliding stacks. We followed the call number to the proper shelf and, to our great astonishment, the book was there!


Success! I was just about to head out when one of the pages caught my attention. I opened the book up to take a closer look and this is what I found:


Scribbles. I flipped the page and found more scribbles. I flipped through the whole thing and it was nothing but jagged lines. Every. Single. Page. At this point, I was sure that I had lost my mind. Perchance to Dream anyone?

Molly captured on camera the split second when I totally, utterly cracked.
As it turns out, instead of the real Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott, I had stumbled across some modern art/poetry thing with the exact same title. The "author" explains on his webpage:
For each page of Abbott’s novel I have traced, by hand, a representation of each letter’s occurrence across every page of text. The generated result is a series of superimposed seismographic images which reduce the text in question into a  two-dimensional schematic reminiscent of EKG results or stock reports.
How the hell does this crap get published? Why did Stanford buy it? WHY?

I left the library that day without a book and quite shaken by the experience. Fortunately, time heals all wounds. Time, and a nice bottle of wine.



Monday, December 13, 2010

My hackday project is live: The Resume Builder

Last Friday, I got my first project up on LinkedIn Labs: Resume Builder. This little app will take your LinkedIn profile and convert it into a beautiful resume. You just sign in with your LinkedIn account, pick from one of the many resume templates, customize what sections are visible and their order, and then print & share to your heart's content. Some samples: sample 1, sample 2, sample 3.

The Resume Builder was my first hackday project: it won "most likely to launch" back in March, 2010. What motivated me was the frustration of maintaining my "professional profile" in multiple places. I had Word and PDF documents all over my computer, my LinkedIn profile, my homepage, etc. Every time I needed to send my resume somewhere, I wasted hours searching for the latest one and often times had to resort to some old version that I tracked down in my gmail "sent mail" folder. Once I joined LinkedIn, I figured it was time to keep my professional data in one place and produce all other formats from it, and I tested this idea out as a hackday.

The reaction to my hackery was very positive, and while it took me a while to get around to it, the Resume Builder has finally been converted into a fully functional app. The best part was that it gave me the opportunity to learn and play with a number of "best of breed" technologies: Ruby on Rails, jQuery, Compass, SASS, the LinkedIn APIs, and Markdown. Naturally, these are all part of my resume now.

I created the Resume Builder Blog to track updates to the project as well as the Resume Builder IdeaScale community to give users a chance to leave feedback, report bugs, and vote ideas up and down. If you have some time, give the Resume Builder a try and let me know what you think!