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Welcome to the latest in my vast empire of web pages. This is a graphics-light, no fuss version. I'm not going to edit it every six months to revise and add the latest Java ActiveX Oracle interface. You can view this page with Lynx or the latest Netscape, at your pleasure. I'll keep updating the writing and ramblings per mine, and look forward to those occasions when the two meet comfortably and lead to us conversing here in virtual space or in physical space as the opportunities arise.
My domain name, ivritype, is derived from the Hebrew word for Hebrew, ivrit. Despite the fact that I mostly work with the internet and web architecture today, much of which is within the Yiddish-speaking (same alphabet, different language) community, I still consider my occupation to be that of "Hebrew typographer." It is also the last area of interest in which I am planning web pages. It has been intimidating to take the material I really care about and put it up on the web. I'm still not there.
A few years ago I began exploring XML. I was originally at a nonplus at my inability to find an XML editor worth using. If you have ideas, do come and chime in. Years later, my sense of what an XML editor should do has changed, but people still find the original document useful and I haven't had time to rethink. And I still haven't gotten beyond this very basic guide to web design literacy that I set up for my Klezmer website. I did write a chapter on web typography in volume 2 of Rosemary Sassoon's "Computers and Typography". It needs revision and time and then it will be on the web.
In the spring of 1998 I did a short survey of Online Education, focusing on Jewish Online Education, for Hebrew Union College. I now have permission to make the study public, and I am hoping that folks will use it to discuss the subject--here and elsewhere. In the Spring of 2000, I did a course in "Concepts of Community" and as part of that, wrote a piece on a day's stroll around the WELL.
As soon as Marcia Falk's The Book of Blessings hit the streets in 1996, following a decade of intense labor, I put up a page to both publicize this long-awaited "alternative" book of Jewish prayer, and to critique the Hebrew. If comprehension and aesthetic are your goals, then this book does poorly by its readers, despite important content. Disclaimer: Yes, I typeset some of the display Hebrew type and consulted on the Hebrew typography. But did they listen?
The 1996 Eastern European tour
On August 20th, 1996, I left the last of my boxes in a garage near San Francisco and, now homeless headed off to the UK, and then on to Hamburg, Germany, where I met up with my type buddy and good friend, Jovica. From there we drove to Belgrade. I had a crude digital camera (Kodak DC20) and a small laptop, and posted some travelogue pieces as I went. Much to everyone's surprise (my own, especially), I later found myself settling in Boston. This has been a great pleasure, but has yet to lead to a new set of web pages.
The Official curriculum vitae
More of a résumé, actually, but there's always so much to include, even when I've charged myself with being brief.
A ramble about what I do for a living
I've never had an easy time describing what I do. I didn't go to school and follow a career path. I kept getting distracted, finding things that seemed worth doing, and, in fact, only got a college degree a few years ago - after I had lectured for a decade in the New School Graduate Media Studies program online program, and after I had given a talk at Type 90, in Oxford, about multilingual typography. The degree is in Community Planning and Management, both subjects that fascinate me.
At some point, I am hoping that some of the large-scale website projects I work on will evolve to a point where I can apply some of the community planning knowledge that I have picked up over the years. Management is something I do well and enjoy. But these days, when I have time to focus on an actual course I tend to be more focused on the computer technologies that I manage, rather than on management, per se.
When I originally decided to write a web article about what I do for a living, I could point to lots of websites that I had been directly involved in. These ranged from some of the original Addison-Wesley websites, to a rather incredible record of a culture festival, Toronto's Ashkenaz '97. That one let me get into converting audio to streaming digital files, and to explore the edge of getting materials from an event onto the web in the shortest amount of time. Those projects happened generations ago in web years. Even my personal websites barely reflect new technologies - the KlezmerShack weblog, for instance, or the accompanying calendar. I haven't had time recently to do much direct web programming, although I recently reworked a horrible collection of badly coded static HTML pages, converting everything to standards-based CSS, and will be adding Moveable Type for news and calendar at an institute in which friends have been involved, www.rav.org. The site does offer streaming video, but these days that is very far from the edge.
In recent years I have focused more on project management and on digging into the ways in which a complex website can be built and maintained sanely to provide something increasingly close to the online neighborhood that I envisioned when I first started working on the web: I've overseen a news/online lecture/online forums portal at a startup, and more recently, architected and oversaw a whole web system at Tufts which made the simple transition from static web pages to a variety of web-provided services, including database-backed sites, supported by a single sign on systems (via LDAP). One of the neatest innovations was moving access to the static parts of the site to a NetApps network storage device from which the Solaris-based apache servers could serve webpages, which local webmasters accessed the information using drag and drop on their Windows desktops which are also connected to the same storage device. Although Tufts will eventually provide most services via a portal and CMS combination, this is a complex-sounding, yet relatively simple architecture that makes a lot of services easy. It also makes load balancing and redundancy easy, so that the system is nicely robust.
The deeper I get into web technology, the more I recall my roots as a typographer. I've already noted some typographic links in the section above this ramble, but now I'll talk about my own involvement in same.
I was first introduced to typography a couple of decades ago. I had just moved to California from Israel and was seeking a new career. Setting type seemed magical. Making books was a spiritually wonderful example of 'right livelihood.' At the same time, one of the first things that struck me in my new professional was that at most of the shops where I first interviewed, the owners were young entrepreneurs who had recently taken advantage of the newest generation of single-user phototype equipment and set up their own shops. There were therefore, two sides to typography: the setting of words on paper in as transparently aesthetic a manner as possible, and the coupling of craft with newer and newer technologies to enable better access to more and better information more quickly and less expensively.
Pursuing the opportunities that working with type afforded, I eventually found myself lecturing at Oxford on Multilingual typography, wrote a chapter on the subject for a book on digital typography, and teaching graduate students (via asynchronous conferencing, pre-web) about typography. Turnabout is fair play. Acknowledging how things have changed, the chapter I wrote for the second volume of "Computers and Typography" was titled: "Computer screens are not like paper: Typography on the web". It came out in 2001.
The technology questions led to me a long and quite wonderful stint at Addison-Wesley. Initially, the question was how to use new technologies to make old, familiar products: books. But, it was impossible to ignore the range of new opportunities represented by having all of this information in standard electronic formats. From disks with test banks for professors, to online slideshows and the vast opportunities of the Internet, we were blessed with an abundance of resources and opportunity to shape the next generation of teaching tools.
Although I haven't moved in a straight line, there is a common theme to all of this. How do we better enable communities (whether customers, corporate intranet, or closing the digital divide in underserved communities and countries) to access good information more quickly. How do we create the affordances that serve not just those of us familiar with technology, but those who "don't know how to ask" because to them, computers are tools, not what they do for a living. In real life, the most fun challenges are identifying long-term strategies and directions, then managing actual projects to create relevant projects or products or processes. Guiding cliché: People don't use technologies, they use tools. Technology is not real to me until it has been turned into something that yields tangible value to someone. The trick wasn't to be the first java shop, but to be the first site that offered a compelling, java-based product or service. I'm not shy, either. As needed, I've learned some python and php and java and c++ and I'm close to becoming a DBA.
Part of almost everything I do includes the tremendous world of online community, be it my original online home at the WELL, to lists that I host, to some new, WebCrossing-based communities that I am working on in my copious spare time (not!).
Addendum to the Ramble
In the Fall of 1998 I decided to back to school and begin accumulating some degrees. In the Fall of 2000 I finished all classwork for a BA in Community Planning from the College of Planning and Community Service at UMass/Boston. It was a gas. I was probably the first person at the school to focus on online community as an important part of the discipline of community planning. But that is also why I was there.
I have had a growing fascination with the problem of connecting non-profit and community groups with appropriate technology--especially appropriate computer technology. If your agency is unable to serve its community--and many organizations lack time and resources to serve their communities as is needed--are there places where thoughtful application of computer technology can free up more people to do more person-to-person work for more people? One answer to that question lies in online community. In this I am very convinced that "online" community is not something new or special, rather it is another way for us to interact, and to share information, and to build community. Now, if I could find the job that lets me mix my community-building side with my computer technologist side, that would likely be what would be most fun to work on next, and to work on for a long time.
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This page is maintained by Ari Davidow, firstname.lastname@example.org. Last modified: 12 September, 2013.