Day in the life of Mr. D.

     Mr. D is particularly adept at retrieving, organizing, storing, and disseminating information. Depending on the type of information, he is pretty good at evaluating it too. To say he is a wealth of information is an understatement. He has access to vast collections of published and unpublished materials whether they be in written or audio-visual form. His primary purpose is to bring people and information together. To this end he is also very good at remembering names, addresses, and appointments. Mr. D is a librarian.

     He had been with the Reid family since the birth of Thomas, almost twelve years. Consequently, Mr. D has gotten to know the Reid's pretty well. Mrs. Reid is a financial planner by profession, a strong willed woman with a systematic mind. Mr. Reid is an interior decorator and more emotional than his wife. Thomas is just a curious boy. All in all, the Reid family is reasonably normal.

     Mr. D had been upgraded a number of times since he was purchased. There were the expected improvements like more RAM, smaller size, and faster processing times. His latest upgrade, distributed processing was something Mrs. Reid hadn't banked on but was awfully glad had happened. Now the entire family could have access to Mr. D's resources simultaneously, even if the family was remotely located from him and each other. Not bad for a machine the size of a bread box and with peripheral input-output devices ranging in size from a lapel pin to a chalkboard.

     It was a typical day for the Reids. Thomas went off to school, Mr. Reid had a client to meet, and Mrs. Reid had someone coming to the house in a little while.

     "Mr. D, I would like to read the paper now." announced Mrs. Reid. "I'll read it on the white board in my office." Immediately Mrs. Reid's personal paper was displayed on the large screen. The paper had been put together by Mr. D the previous night. Being a newspaper, the information was ephemeral. It contained the news relevant to Mrs. Reid's profession: stock market figures, gold prices, analyses from the "market gurus". The paper also included a story on the Lunar War peace negotiations. Since Mrs. Reid wasn't very interested in sports, the paper didn't include them (except upon request of course). The "white board" is a very large monitor. It enabled its readers to browse information quickly just like the old-fashioned newspapers.

     Mrs. Reid marked a few passages from the paper with her wand and then asked Mr. D for the mail. There was a thank you note from a satisfied customer. Mrs. Reid responded in kind and told Mr. D to add the customer to her Christmas card list.

     "He has been added." replied Mr. D in his usual robotic tone.

     There was also image-mail from a friend vacationing under the Pacific. The letter included pictures of strange creatures creating their own light and a table full of extravagant underwater delicacies. Mrs. Reid was jealous; she responded with a "visual raspberry" and a smile.

     "Who's my first appointment?"

     "Your first appointment is with Mr. T. Randolph Buckwalter III."

     "When did I see him last? What did I recommend for him? And how well did my predictions pan out?"

     Mr. D answered the questions, and at Mrs. Reid's request, displayed Mr. Buckwalter's portfolio on the screen in textual and graphical form. Overall it had done well but showed a severe decrease since the war began.

     "No wonder he wants to visit. We invested too heavily in stocks. With the war, business is afraid of spending. I told him we ought to diversify more. Show me the prices of precious metals beginning one month before the war to the present." Mr. D displayed the information. Naturally, there had been a marked increase in the prices of gold and silver.

     "I'll show him this and make a recommendation. To bad, he could have made a killing if he had taken my previous advice."

     After Mr. Buckwalter had come and gone, Mrs. Reid continued work on her essay for Financial Planner's Monthly. (Mrs. Reid had decided she want to be a published author.)

     "I marked a few passages in today's paper. I would like to have more information relating to those passages. Who is this David Witherspoon? Tell me more about the business he started. Where is it located? Who is their public relations officer? Do they have an office nearby?"

     "Here is a biography of Mr. Witherspoon. He has written a few articles himself. Would you like to see the citations?"

     "Yes."

     "I have sorted them by the journals you read, length, and date. I can sort them in any other order if you wish. You might be particularly interested in the third citation. That article is statistically significant considering the items you marked from today's newspaper. I have also displayed the answers to your third, fourth, and fifth questions. I am sorry, but I can not answer your second question, 'Tell me more about the business he started?' Please be more specific. Do you want to know what products or services it provides, what patents it holds, how much it earned last year, what its stock is worth, how many employees it has..."

     "Alright, enough already! I forgot you can't read minds. Give me a history of the company. That should be a good start."

     "It is now being displayed."

     Mr. D isn't really a librarian; he is merely a tool created by knowledge engineers, the real librarians of the day. Real librarians are people who are very good at two things: asking questions and finding answers. To these ends, they know about language and its subtle nuances. They know people do not always ask for what they want or ask for something that will not satisfy their information need. Once questions have been formulated, librarians can begin to find answers because they know how information is organized and where it is located. They also know different answers will satisfy the needs of different people even if the questions are the same. This is because people's knowledge bases are different. The question, "What is a financial planner?" asked by Thomas would be answered quite differently for Mrs. Reid. With these things in mind and the knowledge gained from experience, librarians can provide information better suited to the needs of individuals. In short, librarians create models of information storage and retrieval. They then incorporate these models into tools like Mr. D. In turn, these tools are used by people to help them with their everyday information needs.

     By now Mrs. Reid's screen was full of names, addresses, photographs, biographies, graphs, citations, abstracts, and paragraphs upon paragraphs of other types of information. Mr. D had marked in red the items he was taught to bring to Mrs. Reid's attention: text from previous searches, highs and lows in prices, dates marking the beginning and ending of projects. Mrs. Reid marked a few things on her own. She clipped and glued pieces of information here and there. She added her own ideas in between. Her paper was coming together.

     Meanwhile Mr. Reid was with his second client of the day, Mrs. Russell, a fussy women with nothing else to do but redecorate every six months.

     "Good afternoon Mrs. Russell. I understand we'll be redoing your living room."

     "Yes. I'm having a very important get-together in a couple of weeks and the current situation just won't do."

     "We'll see what we can do."

     Mr. Reid took out Mr. D and used him to take a three-dimensional picture of the living room. They then sat down and got to work.

     "What exactly did you want to change?"

     "I want to keep the same furnishings but the colors and textures are all wrong."

     "Okay."

     Mr. Reid began by bringing up his catalog of fabrics and asked if anything struck Mrs. Russell's fancy. She pointed to a few things. (Mr. D was getting an idea of what she wanted.)

     "Oh, that one is absolutely marvelous. Can I feel it?"

     "Sure."

     Mr. Reid pulled out his special gloves and Mrs. Russell put them on. As she rubbed her hands together she could "feel" the texture of the fabric.

     "I like this one very much but the color is not quite right and the pattern is a bit too busy. What do you suggest?"

     Mr. Reid used his drawing and painting tools to edit the pattern. He softened some of the curves, simplified the background, and generally made the pattern simplier. He then asked Mrs. Russell about the colors she had in mind. Mr. D displayed monochrome, analogous, and complementary color schemes based on Mrs. Russell's answer. After choosing the color for the walls they were almost finished.

     "This is the part I like the best." Mrs Russel giggled.

     After donning the gloves and some special glasses, they previewed the new living room inspecting every detail. At their request, Mr. D changed the view based on different lighting conditions: time of day, weather, season, artificial lights. Surprisingly, Mrs. Russell didn't want to change a thing.

     "I'll take it!"

     "You know we'll have to special order this pattern because I edited it. It'll cost more."

     "Oh, I don't care."

     Mr. Reid proceeded to place the order with the factory. He instructed Mr. D to keep track of the order daily. He also contacted the people who would do the installation and made an appointment for Mrs. Russell.

     "I'll keep track of your order, Mrs. Russell. Call me if you have any questions. Just sign here and I'll be on my way."

     Mrs. Russell signed and consequently Mr. D contacted Mrs. Russell's librarian to actually transfer the funds.

     As Mr. Reid was leaving he thought, "Another satisfied customer."

     Thomas was on his way home from school when he decided to stop in the park and begin his homework. The assignment was to read "The Hunting of the Snark" and write a report about it. Thomas asked Mr. D to display the text where he left off.

They sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care They pursued it with forks and hope; They threatened its life with a railway-share; They charmed it with smiles and soap.

     Thomas thought this was a funny passage and drew a smilie face in the margin. As he selected the word "railway-share" he asked, "Mr. D, what is a 'railway-share'?"

     "A 'railway-share' is document representing part ownership in a railroad company, a share of stock."

     "What is a 'railroad'?"

     "A railroad is path for trains to travel on." He continued, " In anticipation of your next question, 'What is a train?' I have displayed mini-movies of trains and a bit of text describing them."

     "Strange that someone would threaten the life of a Snark with a railway-share.", Thomas remarked and made another note in the margin.

     His brow became furrowed as he continued.

"Taking Three as the subject to reason about- A convenient number to state- We add Seven, and Ten, and the multiply out By One Thousand diminished by Eight.
"The result we proceed to divide, as you see, By Nine Hundred and Ninety and Two: Then subtract Seventeen, and the answer must be Exactly and perfectly true.

     This entire passage had been marked by Thomas's teacher. He asked Mr. D to display the marked text's note. It told him to write the mathematical equivalent of the selected passage and prove whether or not it totaled 3. Thomas wrote what he thought was the answer and saved it in the margin. His teacher would evaluate the answer when the report was turned in.

     Besides the teacher's and Thomas's notes, the text included the notes from the previous year's students. Consequently many of the words and passages were marked. Thomas could read what others had thought of the text before him. This was especially exciting to students who had older brothers and sisters; these children could read what their siblings had written. The notes stimulated learning. Gone were the days when writing in books was forbidden.

     Almost all text could be annotated. In fact, annotation was encouraged. It fostered creativity and thinking. But more importantly, it brought people together who had similar interests. This was done by leaving an address with the annotations. Then, when another person read the first person's note there was the opportunity for communication. This accomplished two things. First, it put people in touch with people; people are the real sources of information. Second, it created a new type of literature, hyperliterature. A person had to be careful about hyperliterature though because it quickly drifted away from the original topic.

     Mr. D delivered an urgent message to Thomas from his father. "Come on home son. It's getting late and I don't want dinner to get cold."

     Thomas packed up this things and started home.

     The day had been a normal one in the Reid household. Mr. and Mrs. Reid had seen clients, Thomas had gone to school, and Mr. D had been an indispensable part of these activities. Even though the day was complete for the Reids, it was not over for Mr. D. While they were getting ready for bed, Mr. D was busy putting together Mrs. Reid's newspaper, keeping track of Mr. Reid's orders, sending Thomas's report to school, and delivering mail.

     As Mrs. Reid was falling asleep she looked back on the day she bought Mr. D and thought, "That librarian is the best investment I every made, but I wonder why his name is 'Mr. D.'" Melville Dewey would be proud.


Creator: Eric Lease Morgan <eric_morgan@infomotions.com>
Source: This article was originally written for Thinking Robots and an Aware Internet
Date created: 1992-06-06
Date updated: 2004-11-12
Subject(s): fiction; librarianship; articles;
URL: http://infomotions.com/musings/mrd/