Blog to Self

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

On the Poetics of Numbers, Or, All Work and No Play Makes Bartleby a du11 8OY!

I have been checking invoices in the online database for my temp job for the last two days -- invoices from dozens of companies, each of which has its own style. It is very boring work, but my mind will find something to latch onto... (Warning: don't read this if you're in a hurry!)

I have a theory: (perhaps a "theory")
  1. Even numbers of digits are more 'human', i.e., easier to remember, find patterns in, etc. than odd numbers of digits, especially as the number grows larger.
  2. Given that fewer digits are easier to remember, there is an ideal number of digits for an invoice (or ID or other such number) which has enough digits to maximize the total possible unique numbers while allowing for easiest recognition and commitment to (short term) memory.

Phone numbers and SSNs are 7 digits [SSNs actually have 9 (Thanks Roger)--Ed.] -- not ideal by my theory. Eight and twelve would be preferable. Of course ISBNs have been 10 digits and now are 13 -- bad news by my theory -- or "theory". Silly -- but is it? ISBNs are for machines (computers) not people. And phone numbers and SSNs are dashes to allow us to comprehend them. I'm talking about straight numbers, no dashes. How does the mind organize them when attempting to "digest" them at a glance?

This line of thinking was compelled by noticing the difference between invoices for the copier companies Ikon and Xerox. Ikon's invoice numbers are 8 digits, Xerox's are 9. I like Ikon's better. (E.g.: 15151323; 15162728). I find that two 4-digit numbers are easier to comprehend in a glance than three 3-digit numbers. But there was another reason for my reaction. The invoice numbers from Xerox tend to begin with the three numbers 198. When not thinking about it, I could not help but group the first four digits together -- 1987, 1983, etc -- due to the suggestion of the year (the 1980s). However, when confronted with the last 5 digits, my tendency was to continue to see two sets of four --only with one extra lone digit in between -- which is harder to comprehend at a glance (E.g.: 198523085).

I know, It's crazy to be thinking much less blogging about this, but having been inspired by Douglas Hofstadter, I make no apology. Hofstadter is quite inspiring on the challenges of Artificial Intelligence, the complexity of human pattern recognition, and the analysis of the creative process -- all of which he finds are connected. (Letter Spirit was a program which attempted - with no little success, so far as it went! - to distill the essence of analogy in a computer program.)

But to return to my rambling, another company, Oce Imagistics, uses a 9-digit number but which more naturally divides itself into three 3-digit sets (e.g., 201899874). Image Integrator , a company out of Syracuse, uses a 5-digit invoice number. Very business-like (ie inhuman, machinelike due to the odd number of digits), but short for easy use. I think 6-digit invoice numbers are relatively common as well -- a nice compromise with 2 sets of 3. (E.g.: Ricoh Business Systems, 153006, 143699, 128266) Of course, one could also see these as 3 sets of 2, but that's not how I see them when punching them into the computer to check them -- 2 sets of 3 seems easier and faster for my mind (and short-term memory) to process. Efficiency and accuracy and ease of manipulability are the natural criteria as per function. The aesthetics of the business office lie in its efficiency, the smallest intersection of form vs. function. The beauty of form in a set of numbers is based in its internal patterns as suggested by repetition, patterns of even vs. odd, etc.

I think the worst offender of both aesthetics and utility is a company based in Schenectady, which I won't name, but whose invoice numbers use a combination of letters and numbers in a most annoying way. Some will use letters at the beginning or the end (Ikon: 1547919A) or just at the beginning (SDIN002356), but this company does both at once, and worse still, ends often with a number 'one' followed by the letter 'I', thus: MV070501I. How awful is that? The nerve. (Another bad one is Eastman Kodak: 243F05244. Putting a letter in the middle of a number like that! Very ugly.) I suppose the utility of recognizing one's own invoice number just from the number itself is the advantage in so annoyingly mixing letters and numbers.

Interesting that in aesthetics, an odd number is often more pleasing (like the number of flowers in a vase), whereas, according to my theory, an even number is more human because less machinelike, impersonal. Symmetry of odd numbers of objects is more aesthetically pleasing than that of even numbers (the latter is more 'square,' less round, less aesthetic, no?) Examples: 13531 vs. 24822842 (vs. 369363963 -- OR how about 24482448? So square! But more recognizable, more manageable in a business environment -- more 'human' for a clerk to utilize)

Is this interesting? Perhaps not. But I think so, vis-a-vis the dichotomies of utility vs. aesthetics, art vs. science, culture vs. business, etc.

I think the programs which create invoice numbers for Ikon must use numbers with patterns by some algorithm. 13909090. The patterns make it recognizable at a glance. There is some sophistication in that. Xerox's invoice numbers seem more purely random -- very inhuman.

For the scoffing skeptic: So what's a direct application of this kind of poetics of numbers? Music -- especially so-called "12-tone" or serial modern music (ie, Modern Music), a la Anton Webern...

Friday, May 25, 2007

Corning 2nd's legacy

Thanks, Roger for the factoid of Corning's years -- I found out that though the building was dedicated to him at his death in 1983, it was actually completed in 1973.

A nice excerpt from Paul Grondahl's biography (apparently referred to as a "minor classic" in the NYT Book Review, according to is here. (Via Wikipedia). The excerpt begins with a description of a cockfight -- which is offered as the link between the aristocratic Corning family and the (Albany Political Machine) O'Connells (esp. Dan O'Connell, who is credited with having placed Erastus 2nd in office). According to Grondahl, Albany GOP chief Joseph F. Frangella said (referring obliquely to Dan O'Connell), "Erastus Corning is an expert second fiddler to the oldest one-man band in America. "

The lefthand photo above is not Erastus Corning -- it's from the visitor's badge I have to get each day I work there -- they take your picture and give a printout on a sticker with a barcode which allows you access to the building. I've saved them all. I think I will make a collage...

Another interesting factoid: Erastus 2nd's father was named Edwin, and he died in 1934 at the are of 51. My great-grandfather Edwin Oliver died in 1933 at a similar age. But that was in Illinois.... Still, though -- coincidence?....

Camera Obscura lyrics wow

I can't stop listening to this band Camera Obscura. Their retro (50s Americana pop), "Twee" sound belies their Scottishness. It's wonderful to discover ironic complexity and poeticism beneath beguiling music. With song names like "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken" ("...'Cause I can't see farther than my own nose at this moment") and "Let's Get Out of this Country", I'm thoroughly charmed. Here is a highlight in a song called "Suspended From Class"
from the 2003 album Underachievers Please Try Harder:

You’re such a beautiful writer /that’s not all you are
I’m sorry about making a pass
It was subtle but I think that you grasped
The meaning intended

I can be a friend to you / I won’t pretend
I’m not interested in breaking a heart
It’s not love no it’s nothing like that
I’ll leave that to lookers like him

Oh he’s such a delicate thing
Now it’s such a fragile thing that we have

||: I should be suspended from class
I don’t know my elbow from my arse :||

We could go out dancing
But, in truth it is the last thing that I have on my mind
Please say if I'm way out of line
I won't need telling twice

Now he wants to kiss
Said he can't resist
You're going to have to keep it hidden inside
I've a feeling that pigs might fly, might fly

||: I should be suspended from class
I don’t know my elbow from my arse :||

Thursday, May 10, 2007

See Remora blog for Library stuff (Bad idea?)

Remora. I made a decision to place library related items in a separate blog, since the name and all are already there. I'm looking for feedback on this decision. I suppose it's the librarian in me that wants to put things in separate folders, compartments, boxes, pigeon holes. So my interest in Library- and Web 2.0, libraries generally and their future, can have a home there, and the more personal, goofy, and artsy stuff can stay here. But if I point to the other blog every time I post, why make it more complicated?
I confess I have a third blog name I wanted to use for more purely artsy content, which is "Thelonious Bosch". All comments are invited and welcomed.
Another thing is that those labels, tags, and monthly archives on the side bar are all there to provide structure. Perhaps I should develop alter egos, so that rather than placing different content on separate blogs I can sign in with a different name. That might confuse me, myself, and I -- All three of us would forget who is who....The Wild Alsatian, Edwin Oliver (actually my great-grand-father's name and my middlename'sake), and ... Thelonious Bosch! Perhaps?

Please, take my inventory...

Monday, May 07, 2007

Bartleby STILL not replaced by the Digital Revolution

As I may havce mentioned earlier, my temp job at the Corning Tower is in the Office of Risk and Insurance Management of the Insurance Department of the Administraive section of the Office of General Services, which I think takes up more than just the top few floors of the building. (The organizationl chart is clickable!) I noticed an invoice for service in some office of "Space Allocation" on 28. Me, I just file invoices and claims for service to office machines for seemingly every state agency in NYS.

The State Police make a lot of copies, apparently. Ikon seems to be their biggest vendor for copy machines. Their folder needs to be replaced, it's so overstuffed.

The smallest accounts are the DOCS accounts (the Prisons)...

Xerox sends four copies of their invoices, conventiently labeled along the upper right-hand margin for easy disposal. We only keep one copy, though we do make our own copies later -- along with many other documents. The cost of making our own copies with our own machine is cheaper than the time and space which would be required to save their copies and interfile them later with the appropriate documents, all of which need copying as a group later anyway...

Isn't it fascinating? I love office work!

--the Scrivener, (AKA Sub-sub Librarian)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Filing on the Fortieth Floor, Pt. III: My Lunch, My Cubicle, and NYS Acronyms

First off, here's a picture of a model of the Corning Tower so you can get a sense of what I'm talking about. The footprint of the building is like a long narrow diamond with the ends cut off -- basically. 'X' marks the spot where I work.

Next, here's the view from my cubicle:
This is the southeast corner of the building -- the one represented by the picture of the model, actually -- As I said, I've drawn an 'X' roughly where my cubicle on the 40th fl looks out on the world.

When you get up to the window to the right of the chair in this picture, here's the view:

It was suggested that I supply a lunch tray shot from, the 29th fl cafeteria. so here's my lunch on the 29th floor looking north. You can see the Bell tower of the City Hall a little right of center. In the second picture, the red-roofed building cut off on the left is , I believe, the Capitol building. And then the Mighty Muddy Hudson!

Bon Appetit!

I'm learning a lot of acronyms: OMH, OMRDD, DDSO, SEMO, GORR (I altready knew that one), NYSED CEC, NYSED VESID, DOCS, and of course, the department in which I work, OGS, the Office of General Services. If you can name four of the acronyms you get a free subscription to this blog...

OGS takes up up the top several floors of the Corning tower and includes the Department of Risk and Insurance Management for which the Remi group (for which I work) manages the office machine policies for most every agency in the State Gub'mint. I get to file (literally) claims/ invoices for copy machine repairs. That's the boring part of the job. The exciting part is taking pictures ou of the window while no one is looking, hoping you don't look like a tourist in the prevailing staid office environment. Golf and American Idol are the most commonly recurring themes of conversation. Now that I'm writing more, I feel like I ought to leave off with one last picture. This one is actually relatively informative, though it doesn't give Corning's dates, it gives his full name and tells you Cuomo was Guv'nor and that it was dedicated in 1983...