Eureka!

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Eureka!

I think I may have finally hit one of those eureka moments. Fortunately for the residents of Southampton, I wasn’t in the bath at the time and simply just expressed this is as a knowing grin for the rest of the day. For many months, I have had a vague idea of what I wanted to achieve in my third-year project, but was struggling for the academic justification and/or supporting evidence to provide foundation for my work. Software design is an evolutionary process and people typically join at different parts in the cycle. At what point in the cycle of evaluation, requirements, design and prototype should I enter? The first step was taking the jump. For me, this was creating a fixed point by establishing of requirements with only a vague academic basis – the full basis could be fleshed out, or maybe even contradicted, at a later date.

Following on from this brain-storming session, I started working through putting together the content of a survey, which would provide some first-hand justification (or not) for my requirements list. During this process, I was engaged in a seemingly idle conversation with a fellow student over exactly what I was hoping to achieve with the project. It seems that I had been developing a reputation of being the mind map guy. Having read the theory of this form of expression, I found myself at odds with the textbook definition.

Let me elaborate: one of the arguments against the reams and reams of text found in modern academia remains that it is a very narrow bandwidth of communication. Mindmaps seek to allow people to express ideas and reduce reliance on short-term memory by using associations sourced from a central point. There are a number of issues with the strict definition: 1) the word associations are personal to the person who wrote them, which makes sharing difficult; 2) Every mindmap relies upon a central point, which during the learning process is unusually not known; 3) The formalisation of the process essentially creates another form of expression that is more difficult to comprehend than the ideal it should be seeking to replace and arguable just as narrow a form of communication. The idea of mindmaps have developed and been promoted by people who receive money for their services, so it should be of no surprise that claims are preached with enthusiasm, whereas solid academic grounds and citation are a little more difficult to find. It has merit, but it is certainly not the be-all and end-all. I felt something had been lost in the process.

Therefore it was necessary to review and look at what was good and not so good about the process, the tools available and find that missing element. By having this conversation – that seemingly idle one – I was put in a position to articulate and show my current thinking. Although words may fail me on the odd occasion, I tend to find that a demo is a good backup skill. Sam Weston – my interlocutor on this occasion for who I owe thanks for asking – gave me the response along the lines of “you’ve thought a lot about this, haven’t you?”. Yes, Yes I have. And at that point, I had centred on what I wanted to do and why it was different and potentially innovative. This allowed me and my supervisor to work out a good method for expressing this in a meeting originally designed to review the questions in the planned survey. I can even summarise my project in two words: Supermassive Whiteboard (with apologies to Muse). Eureka!

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