Category Archives: work

Using Collections – Virtually

I heard a remark the other day that struck a cord – or, churned my butter, a bit.

The gist of it was, “we should make digital facsimiles of our library materials (especially rare materials) and put them online, so they spark library use when people visit to see them in person, after becoming aware of them thanks to the digitized versions.”

Now, at Penn, we have digitized a couple of Japanese collections: Japanese Juvenile Fiction Collection (aka Tatsukawa Bunko series), Japanese Naval Collection (in-process, focused on Renshū Kantai training fleet materials), and a miscellaneous collection of Japanese rare books in general.* These materials have been used both in person (thanks to publicizing them, pre- and post-digitization, on library news sites, blogs, and social media as well as word-of-mouth), and also digitally by researchers who cannot travel to Penn. In fact, a graduate student in Australia used our juvenile fiction collection for part of his dissertation; another student in Wisconsin plans to use facsimiles of our naval materials once they’re complete; and faculty at University of Montana have used our digital facsimile of Meiji-period journal Hōbunkai-sui (or Hōbunkai-shi).

These researchers, due to distance and budget, will likely never be able to visit Penn in person to use the collections. On top of that, some items – like the juvenile fiction and lengthy government documents related to the Imperial Navy – don’t lend themselves to using in a reading room. These aren’t artifacts to look over one page at a time, but research materials that will be read extensively (rather than “intensively,” a distinction we book history folks make). Thus, this is the only use they can make of our materials.

The digitization of Japanese collections at Penn has invited use and a kind of library visit by virtue of being available for researchers worldwide, not just those who are at Penn (who could easily view them in person and don’t “need” a digital facsimile), or who can visit the library to “smell” the books (as the person I paraphrased put it). I think it’s more important to be able to read, research, and use these documents than to smell or witness the material artifact. Of course, there are cases in which one would want to do that, but by and large, our researchers care more about the content and visual aspects of the materials – things that can be captured and conveyed in digital images – rather than touching or handling them.

Isn’t this use, just as visiting the library in person use? Shouldn’t we be tracking visits to our digital collections, downloads, and qualitative stories about their use in research, just as we do a gate count and track circulation? I think so. As we think about the present and future of libraries, and people make comments about their not being needed because libraries are on our smartphones (like libraries of fake news, right?), we must make the argument for providing content both physically and virtually. Who do people think is providing the content for their digital libraries? Physical libraries, of course! Those collections exist in the real world and come from somewhere, with significant investments of money, time, and labor involved – and moreover, it is the skilled and knowledgable labor of professionals that is required.

On top of all of this, I feel it is most important to own up to what we can and cannot “control” online: our collections, by virtue of being able to be released at all, are largely in the public domain. Let’s not put CC licenses on them except for CC-0 (which is explicitly marking materials as public domain), pretending we can control the images when we have no legal right to (but users largely don’t know that). Let’s allow for free remixing and use without citing the digital library/archive it came from, without getting upset about posts on Tumblr. When you release public domain materials on the web (or through other services online), you are giving up your exclusive right to control the circumstances under which people use it – and as a cultural heritage institution, it is your role to perform this service for the world.

But not only should we provide this service, we should take credit for it: take credit for use, visits, and for people getting to do whatever they want with our collections. That is really meaningful and impactful use.

* Many thanks to Michael Williams for his great blog posts about our collections!

WORD LAB: a room with a whiteboard

Several years ago, I attended Digital Humanities 2011 at Stanford and had the opportunity to meet with Franco Moretti. When Franco asked what I was interested in, I admitted that I badly wanted to see the Literary Lab I’d heard so much about, and seen so much interesting research come out of. He laughed and said he’d show it to me, but that I shouldn’t get too excited.

Why? Because Literary Lab is a windowless conference room in the middle of the English department at Stanford. Literary Lab is a room with a whiteboard.

I couldn’t have been more excited, to Franco’s amusement.

A room with a whiteboard. A room dedicated to talking about projects, to collaborating, to bringing a laptop and getting research done, and to sharing and brainstorming via drawing and notes up on a wall, not on a piece of paper or a shared document. It was an important moment for me.

When I was in graduate school, I’d tossed around a number of projects with colleagues, and gotten excited about a lot of them. But they always petered out, lost momentum, and disappeared. This is surely due to busy schedules and competing projects – not least the dissertation – but I think it’s also partly due to logistics.

Much as our work has gone online, and despite these being digital projects – just like Literary Lab’s research – a physical space is still hugely important. A space to talk, a space to brainstorm and draw and write, a space to work together: a space to keep things going.

I had been turning this over in my head ever since I met with Franco, but never had the opportunity to put my idea into action. Then I came to Penn, and met a like-minded colleague who got just as excited about the idea of dedicated space and collective work on projects as I was.

Our boss thought the idea of a room with a whiteboard was funny, just as Franco had thought my low standards were kind of silly. But you know what? You don’t need a budget to create ideas and momentum. You don’t need a budget to stimulate discussion and cross-disciplinary cooperation. You just need space and time, and willing participants who can make use of it. We made a proposal, got the go-ahead, and took advantage of a new room in our Kislak Center at Penn that was free for an hour and a half a week. It was enough: the Vitale II lab is a room with a whiteboard. It even has giant TVs to hook up a laptop.

Thus, WORD LAB was born: a text-analysis interest group that just needed space to meet, and people to populate it. We recruited hard, mailing every department and discipline list we could think of, and got a mind-boggling 15+ people at the first meeting, plus the organizers and some interested library staff, from across the university. The room was full.

That was the beginning of September 2014. WORD LAB is still going strong, with more formal presentations every other week, interspersed with journal club/coding tutorials/etc. in OPEN LAB on the other weeks. We get a regular attendance of at least 7-10 people a week, and the faces keep changing. It’s a group of Asianists, an Islamic law scholar, Annenberg School of Communication researchers, political scientists, psychologists, and librarians, some belonging to more than one group. We’ve had presentations from Penn staff, other regional university researchers, and upcoming Skype presentations from Chicago and Northeastern.

A room with a whiteboard has turned into a budding cross-disciplinary, cross-professional text analysis interest community at Penn.

Keep up on WORD LAB:
@upennwordlab on Twitter
WORD LAB on Facebook

academic death squad

Are you interested in joining a supportive academic community online? A place to share ideas, brainstorming, motivation and inspiration, and if you’re comfortable, your drafts and freewriting and blogging for critique? If so, Academic Death Squad may be for you.

This is a Google group that I believe can be accessed publicly (although I’ve had some issues with signing up with non-Gmail addresses) although you appear to have to be logged in to Google to view the group’s page. Just put in a request to join and I’ll approve you. Or, if that doesn’t work, email me at mdesjardin (at) gmail.com.

Link: [Academic Death Squad]

I’m trying to get as many disciplines and geographic/chronological areas involved as possible, so all are welcome. And I especially would love to have diversity in careers, mixing in tenure-track faculty, adjuncts, grad students, staff broadly interpreted, librarians, museum curators, and independent scholars – and any other career path you can think of. Many of us not in grad student or faculty land have very little institutional support for academic research, so let’s support each other virtually.

In fact, one member has already posted a publication-ready article draft for last-minute comments, so we even have a little activity already!

Best regards and best wishes for this group. Please email me or comment on this post if you have questions, concerns, or suggestions.

よろしくお願いいたします!

*footnote: The name came originally based on a group I ran called “Creative Death Squad” but the real origin is an amazing t-shirt I used to own in Pittsburgh that read “412 Vegan Death Squad” and had a picture of a skull with a carrot driven through it. I hope the name connotates badass-ness, serious commitment to our research, and some casual levity. Take it as you will.

arsenal of research: organizing citations, PDFs, notes, brainstorming, and drafts

Post title courtesy of the tyrannical Brian Vivier.

Although I post about the content of my research quite a bit (when I do post), I thought I’d take a step back and talk about the research process today. I’m going to write about a very specific aspect: the ways in which the computer helps me organize and engage in my research.

Obviously, there are things like databases and library catalogs, which are a topic for another day. Many people I talk to don’t know the first thing about WorldCat, so it needs to be addressed! But let’s pretend I already have my sources. Now what do I do?

When I read, I’m very traditional. I take notes with pen and paper when I have a book or a photocopied source. In fact, I used to print out PDFs too, and highlight and write in the margins. Well, that turned out to be a terrible idea. Your highlights and margin notes are not very accessible when you’re coming back to the document later to brainstorm, outline, or write.

My lesson learned – learned after many difficult situations – was to take notes like I’m never going to see the source again. My advisor recommended I do this with primary sources, but if you take long notes that involve mostly direct quotes from the sources, there’s no need to buy the book or really even check it out again. There’s no need to keep binders and binders of printed-out PDFs. So that’s the kind of note-taking I do with pen and paper, first.

The next step is to get them into the computer, because I want them to be 1) stored somewhere safe (I do daily external HD backups, plus sync, more later on that), and 2) searchable, and also 3) copy and paste-able. But where to keep them? How to organize?

I have gone through several pieces of software trying to figure this out, and I’ve settled on Mendeley. I first used Scrivener even for note-taking, which is a great program, but bad for citation management. I then tried Zotero, but that turned out to be bad for PDF management. What I really wanted was a good database that would save my citations, any PDFs I happened to have (I’m currently digitizing all of my sources from my dissertation so they don’t get lost or damaged, and so I can free up my filing cabinet for other things), and ideally let me take notes and even annotate or highlight the PDFs.

Well, despite Mendeley being owned by the devil (Elsevier), it’s free and it actually does everything I need with only a few minor nitpicks, and does it in a way that makes me supremely happy. (My nitpicks are no nested bulleted lists in the notes, and no shortcut keys for bold/italics in the notes.) If you have a PDF attached to your citation and it has OCR, Mendeley’s search function will search not only your citations, notes, and annotations, but also inside the PDFs. It can be overkill at times, but it’s pretty amazing.

So step two of my research organization process is the painstaking, mindless, thankless task of typing my pen-and-paper notes into Mendeley under the appropriate citation. It’s boring but worth it. As I mentioned above, it searches all my notes, and I can copy and paste them into Scrivener, which I will address next. As I type my notes, at the very least I copy and paste them into brainstorming documents as appropriate (usually full quotes), and if I’m up to it, I do some free-writing to brainstorm how the source informs my topic and what I could write about related to it. This usually brings up new ideas I didn’t know I had.

What happens after I get all the notes typed in, PDFs organized and annotated if I have them? I next move over to Scrivener. I’ve been using it for over five years, for both research and creative writing, and can’t sing its praises enough. It’s a word processor that creates a database for your project, where you can store your reference materials, brainstorming ideas, notes, and draft. And more, if you can think of other areas you need to record notes in. Unlike old Scrivener (when I first started using it), you can now add footnotes and comments that port straight to MS Word when you compile your document for it, making the transition to final draft in Word very easy. (Sadly, publishers seem to prefer things that are not Scrivener databases when reviewing.) The typical things I store are the draft itself (of course), a research diary of brainstorming that I update periodically, brainstorming specifically about sources and particular concepts or points, and also under the “Notes” section the comments and suggestions and draft corrections I receive from others. So I keep my full writing process, except for mind mapping/concept mapping (another post), all in one place. It’s amazing.

I’m extremely happy with these two pieces of software; my only complaint is that neither of them does all of what I want, and I have to use two different things complementarily. Well, the situation is still significantly better than several years ago, when I used Mendeley Alpha and it deleted my entire library of citations multiple times. Yikes. Now its syncing works perfectly and I haven’t had a library failure yet. (Fingers crossed).

Next posts will include mind mapping software, how I take notes, how to effectively find and import source citations, and how I deal with multiple languages in my citations.

#DayofDH Good morning and self introduction

Cross-posted from Day of DH Wasting Gold Paper

I’m up early on this Day of DH 2014. So much to do!

I thought I’d introduce myself to you all, so you have an idea of my background. I’m not your typical DH practitioner – I’m not in the academy (in a traditional way) and I’m also not working with Western-language materials. My concerns don’t always apply to English-language text or European medieval manuscripts. So, if you looked in Asia I’d be less remarkable, but here in the English-language DH world I don’t run across many people like myself.

Anyway, good morning; I’m Molly, the Japanese Studies Librarian at University of Pennsylvania, also managing Korean collection. That means that I take care of everything – from collection development to reference and instruction – that has to do with Japan/Korea, or is in Japanese/Korean at the library and beyond.

Penn_1

Let’s start off with my background. I went to college at University of Pittsburgh for Computer Science and History (Asian history of course) and studied Japanese there for 4 years. I fully intended at the outset to become a software developer, but somewhere along the line, I decided to apply my skills somewhere outside that traditional path: librarianship. And so off I went (with a two-year hiatus in between) to graduate school for a PhD in Asian studies (Japanese literature and book history) and an MSI in Library Science at University of Michigan. Along the way, I interned at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities (CDRH), redesigning the website for, and rewriting part of the code of, a text analysis app using XSLT for the Cather archive.

After Michigan, I spent a year as a postdoc at Harvard’s Resichauer Institute, working half-time on my humanities research and half-time on a digital archive (The Digital Archive of Japan’s 2011 Disasters, or JDArchive.) Then, in July 2013, I made my first big step into librarianship here at Penn, and have been happily practicing in my chosen profession since then. I’m still new, and there is a lot to learn, but I’m loving every minute.

I admit, finding ways to integrate my CS and humanities background has been a huge challenge. I was most of the way through graduate school when someone recommended going into DH (which didn’t exactly happen – there aren’t a lot of non-postdoc or non-teaching jobs out there now). My dissertation project, a very close-reading-based analysis of five case studies of single books as objects and in terms of their publishing and reception, did not lend itself at all to a digital methodology other than using digital archives to get ahold of their prefaces and keyworded newspaper databases to find their advertisements and reviews. I used a citation index that goes back to the Meiji (1868-1912) period to find sources. Well, most of my research in fact involved browsing physical issues of early 20th-century magazines in the basement of a library in Japan, and looking at the books themselves in addition to the discourse surrounding them. I simply couldn’t think of anything to do that would be “digital.”

So my research in that area – plus what I’m working on now – have continued to be non-DH, although if you’re the kind of person who involves anything “new media” in the DH definition, it may be a little. (I am not that person.) Why do I still call myself a DH practitioner, and why do I bother participating in the community even now?

Well, despite working full time, I’m still committed to figuring out how to apply my skills to new, more DH-style projects, even as I don’t want my other traditional humanities research to die out either. It’s a balancing act. How to find the time and energy to learn new skills and just plain old carve out space to practice ones I already have?

I have a couple of opportunities. One is my copious non-work free time. (Ha. Ha.) Second is my involvement in the open and focused lab sessions of Vitale II, the digital lab (okay, it’s a room with a whiteboard and a camera) at the Kislak Center for special collections in Van Pelt Library. I have a top-secret brainstorming session with a buddy today about how we can make even more social, mental, and temporal space for DH work in the library on a topically focused basis. I’m jealous of the Literary Lab; that should speak for itself. In any case, I also ran into a fellow Japanese studies DH aspirant at the Association for Asian Studies Conference a few weeks ago too, and he and I are plotting with each other as well.

So there are time and social connections to be made, and collaboration that can take place despite all odds. But it’s still a huge challenge. I can do my DH work at 5:30 am, in the evening (when I have no brainpower left), or early on the weekends. I have many other things competing for my time, not least two other research articles I’m working on. I could also be doing my real work at any of those times without the need to explain.

Yet I do it. It’s because I love making things, because I love bringing my interests together and working on something that involves a different part of my brain from reading and writing. I’m excited about the strange and wonderful things that can come from experimental analysis that, even if they aren’t usable, can make me think more broadly and weirdly.

More to follow. よろしくお願いします!

creativity, goals, and the dissertation

I’ve been consulting some books on art-making lately, that you could broadly say are on that nebulous idea of “creativity” itself. (Art and Fear is the most well known of them and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s the best tiny book you’ll ever own.) As I’ve read more, I have realized that they apply not only to my artistic life – my life outside of the “work” of research and writing – but also to my current writing project as well. In other words, writing a dissertation, essentially a non-fiction book, is a creative undertaking of great magnitude and can be considered with the same principles in mind as would a painting or a composition or a mathematical theory.  (Fill in your creative path here.)

This was a revelation for me, despite the fact that I engage in drawing, painting, and creative writing as a part of my life: why would non-fiction writing for my “real job” not be creative work as well, and best approached with the same attitudes? Why  not?

So one thing that comes out of this is the issue of the goal. Art and Fear talks about this one and I’d honestly never considered it before. The goal often sounds like this: have a solo show, or get a piece in MoMA, or get a book published, or whatever. The problem arises that when the artist is successful and meets that goal, art-making can often cease completely, forever, because the goal has been met and there is no direction anymore, and nothing to aim for.

This book in particular recommends that goals should be more along the lines of “find a group of like-minded artists and share work with them.” Things that won’t be attained in a single moment, but that continue for the rest of your life.

It made me realize that yes, as a scholar, I have an end goal right now, and that is finishing my dissertation. After that, it’s a few articles, a monograph. But then what? And I don’t have a good answer for that. Thus, I am at high risk for becoming the same as the writer who quits after her first bestselling novel, adrift without an ongoing goal.

I wonder how scholars deal with this (I may just go and ask a few of them), but I think for myself, I’ve found a seed of it in a digital humanities project I’m dreaming up but haven’t had time to start implementing yet. It’s one that is less about content and more about opening up possibilities for exploring questions in ways that didn’t exist before, and to experiment with new methodologies that wouldn’t have traditionally come from my discipline. Sure, it’s building a database. But then it’s what to do with that database that’s the real project.

At the same time, I think a huge issue both in the arts and the academic humanities is that of solitude. I am not saying anything new here. Right now, a colleague and I are planning on co-authoring an article and attempting to get it published (please cross your fingers for us). I think it may be in my best interests, more than anything else, to keep in close touch with this person who works on things that are similar to my own work, and to keep picking up those business cards I like to collect from people I meet at conferences who are interested in my research for some reason, and routinely emailing them. My database project is something I want to leave open source and twist others’ arms to take part in. So I’m thinking now, as I’m nearing the end of my PhD course, where to start with the idea of forming a like-minded group to continue to share and collaborate with. To keep the end goal always moving and yet always fulfilled, because it is within myself and other people, and not just about me and something outside of me.

phone destroys blog

When I have a hiatus (as I periodically do from online life, and especially something as intensive as a reflective blog such as this one), it can be due to all kinds of things. Real life nuisances take many forms: moving (sometimes transcontinental moves); frequent travel, back to back is even worse; getting bored of the Internet; someone visiting. Well, for the most part, it involves being overly mobile: I’m just not at the computer engaging with the world via Web browser, and that ends up killing my blog, Facebook activity (as though there’s a lot of that anyway), my nascent G+ activity, sometimes Twitter.

So what has destroyed my Internet life these days, outside of email and intermittent Twitter usage? It’s my phone! Being mobile kills again.

Here’s the work I do 90% of the time: teaching (which involves reading, writing, and talking), and reading/writing for my dissertation. This stuff doesn’t even use a computer.

More than half the time I don’t bring a laptop with me when I travel to and from school, or on little coffeeshop trips to work. Why? It’s because I have used my smartphone as an Internet substitute for so long that a laptop has become overkill for everything that isn’t computer-demanding work. Everything else gets done on my home desktop, and since I don’t bother to turn it on unless I need to Do Stuff.

Thus, my Blackberry has killed my blog. You may ask, how is it that you write pages-long email on that thing and can’t just write a blog post here and there? It’s much less to do with the Blackberry Web browser (which we all know sucks) and much more to do with the format itself.

Here’s the problem: a phone is great for doing one thing at a time; at best I bounce between 4 separate things. (Typically, Twitter, email, Web browsing, and weather – or substitute weather with “talking on the phone” more rarely, because I have Sprint and I can do all that stuff at the same time.)

When I’m writing things for the Internet? I have tabs open like they’re going out of style. I have different articles sitting there waiting for reference; I may be using a text editor or looking at dissertation notes; I am linking my photos from Flickr; I am posting the links to my new posts via Twitter, Facebook (which doesn’t work well on my phone), and G+ (which doesn’t work at all – it has no usable mobile site). I work in a flat and non-linear way. I wouldn’t call it multi-tasking; I would call it working. Rarely do any of us simply have one window open, doing one activity. That’s like having a blindfold on while you listen to music, and also carefully not allowing yourself food or drink, or mobility. That’s not how we live.

I’m not really specifically blaming my phone, or saying that if I had a bigger-screen, touch screen (ugh), or Android/iOS based phone that things would be different just because they are prettier and can render the Web more effectively. Actually, I wouldn’t get nearly as much writing done if I weren’t using the Blackberry – its ergonomics and keyboard are second to none. I would have even less of a Web presence if I didn’t have it with me.

But as long as I’m using a phone (or hey, if I were using a tablet down the road), the lack of true multi-tasking ability is going to prevent me from doing real work outside of constantly emailing. You might argue that with a big enough tablet, I’m basically working on my iBook. You’re right that the screen is similar, and that tablets try to be more than giant smartphones, but as long as they’re trending toward one-thing-at-a-time style usage, it’s never going to be more useful for me than a cell phone. In other words, useful for some daily communication (and so much so that I use it exclusively as my regular device for communicating), but totally inadequate for getting real work done.

Now that I remembered to charge both my laptops’ batteries and am getting back to doing lots of daily notes for work, that backlog of posts will start clearing out – but when real life interferes and I’m back on the phone, my online life will go silent again.

kawasaki reading room ・はじめに

I finally got a chance to visit the Kawasaki Reading Room at the new Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center here at UNL. With it being summer, full of international travel (for those of us in Japan studies especially) and family events, it took me a while to get an introduction to the center.

The reading room is unique in the Asian-language libraries that I’ve visited here in the U.S. It’s not part of the UNL library system, and yet it is. The collection was started by a large donation from one individual – with diverse interests, let’s put it that way – but is now kept going by additional donations from all over. The collection is eclectic: zenshu of canonical literature; dictionaries and reference books; Japanese language test prep materials; a wall of manga; and a growing collection of tapes and DVDs of all kinds. (Death Note and Nobody Knows on the same shelf!)

As I type, the Kawasaki Reading Room’s collection is continuing to be integrated into the UNL library system, but much of it is not. Other shelves have handwritten “not for cataloging” signs on them. It’s a place in flux. And the library’s own relationship to it is hard to explain. It’s a “partner” but not “part of.” There are limitations on what kind of obligation that relationship can entail. It’s an opportunity for me, new librarian, to be learning about the complex realities of campus units and their varying degrees of integration with the central library system.

The Reading Room sadly has limited hours, but it’s welcoming and friendly. It may be small but that cozy space gives a sense of informality, where one can feel at home right away. When I visited I spent most of my time chatting with the director, Reiko Harpending, who was kind enough to give me a personal tour. While we talked, a mom brought in her elementary-school age son who wasted no time getting absorbed in a kids’ manga series. I felt like I was in a tiny but wonderful public library, one where almost everything is in Japanese.

This is in contrast to my experience before: I am a student at a large research university with an equally large Asian-language collection. It, too, has a physically odd relationship with the library in that it’s so isolated: it has its own 3 floors of stacks, for all Asian-language books, and its own office and cataloging area. It has its own reading lounge. This is all great. But not having been in an environment like this until graduate school, I couldn’t quite figure out why all of this had to be cordoned off from all of the other books in the library – ones in English, French, German, Russian, and so on, which were all mixed right in with each other. At this point, I chalk such things up to “an artifact of how Area Studies historically developed as fields.” On the other hand, though, the Asia Library is an integral part of U of M’s library system and is fully integrated with the library catalog system. There’s not really a question of whether the library budget can be used for the Asia Library’s projects; it’s a question of how much funding the Asia Library is getting to allocate as they will.

So why am I posting about the Kawasaki Reading Room? It’s a unique, friendly place, and I only wish it were open at hours other than 1-5pm on weekdays because I’d have spent some more time among the books and DVDs. I have a week left here in Nebraska, though, and one of my goals is to spend a good chunk of an afternoon there and do some personal research. I want to get a better sense of the collection, its shape and contents, and interesting finds that may be hiding around in there. On my first visit, I spotted a dictionary of naval terms while talking to Reiko that turned out to be the “property of the U.S. Navy” (don’t tell anyone!) and dated from WWII. I can’t wait to see what else is lurking there and to report back! With pictures. Stay tuned.

the tradeoff: elegance vs. performance

Oh snap – I just fixed this by turning on caching in the Cocoon sitemap. Thanks Brian Pytlik Zillig for pointing out that this is where that functionality is useful! And note to self (and all of us): asking questions when you’re torn between solutions can lead to a third solution that does much better than either of the ones you came up with.

With programming or web design, “clean and elegant” is a satisfaction for me second only to “it’s working by god it’s finally doing what it’s supposed to.”  So what am I to do when I’ve got a perfectly clean and elegant solution – one that involves zero data entry and only takes up a handful of lines in my XSLT stylesheets – that crunches browser speed so hard that it takes nearly a minute to load the homepage of my application?

I’ve got a choice here: Two XML files (one for each problem area) that list all of the data that I’d otherwise dynamically be grabbing out of all files sitting in a certain directory. This is time-consuming and not very elegant (although it certainly could be worse). The worst part is that it requires explicit maintenance on the part of the user. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to give my application to any person who has a directory of XML files without any need for them to hand-customize it, even just a small part?

On the other hand, I can’t expect Web users to sit there and wait at least 30 seconds for TokenX to dynamically generate its list of texts, an action that would take a split second if it were only loading the data out of an XML file. I already have all the site menu data stored in XML for retrieval, meaning that modifications need only take place once and that nested menus can be easily entered without having to worry about the algorithm I’m using to make them appear nested on the screen in the final product.

You can tell from reading my thought process here what the solution is going to be. It’s too bad, because aiming for elegance often ends up leading you to better performance at the same time. Practicality vs. idealism: the eternal question to which we already know the answer.