Make a Little Metasense, Why Don't We?
It must be some sort of subliminal urge to seek balance, but after many years of accumulating data in databases, I decided that it would be good to know how the other half lives. Raw data is generally only interesting to whomever designed the database, but to be useful, it must be decanted into simpler relationships that answer other peoples questions. Often, these questions are posed long after the original architects have moved on, at which point, others, some of them conferees in this room, are brought in, to get the answers.
The likelihood of me aspiring to this austere fraternity is much higher than the probability of them letting me in. "Sorry, Charlie! We don't want tunas with good taste, we want dolphins that taste good!" Despite my neophyte status, it seems I blended in well with the other attendees. I kept waiting for caterers to roll in trays of jumbo shrimp, but in the end, settled for recognition of other oxymorons. The Book on this crowd is, "With increased knowledge comes increased sorrow", a concept with which I'm acutely familiar. A trace of this must have revealed itself to others in some subtle fashion, and I was treated collegially in conversations with others with whom I'd never met.
As it happens, one of the principal hurdles of this line of work lies not in reading tea leaves (scientifically speaking) for others, but in convincing them not to try making hemlock-flavored tea in the first place. On one hand, the data forms the basis for information, which should lead to decisions; on the other, data is often treated with distain or indifference by those who need information. The first presenter was an author and authority on designing data warehouses, and despite dozens of slides of intricate business relationship diagrams over the first three hours, I was able to follow his reasoning without any real difficulty. Since it was largely a technical subject, his was the easiest to follow. The other two presentations dealt with soft-suit issues, such as working with management teams, achieving professional recognition from other principal fields of endeavor, and protecting data from misuses and neglect. The people seemed as harried as anyone else, but just as capable of personal interaction, which was a relief.
I flashed back to a few years ago, recalling my son's nightly sign-off ritual, which finally was clear to me, in this room. I might have been on the phone to someone in Singapore or Shanghai, working through some technical issue from my dimly lit office at home, or composing some statement of work, proposal, or other bumpf for the next day. Home, but distracted. From the darkness of the middle room, I would hear a small voice, intoning, "Urgent... Urgent...", as he approached. From the shadows, he would bound forward to give me a 'Good Night' hug. Even as a young child, he evaded the physical appearances of his age, and looked like a scaled-down version of himself, now. I still don't know how or why that particular word rose to prominence in his ritual, but it was the one right word for the moment. Even delivered sotto voce, it cut right through whatever else I might have been doing, inerrant and unadorned.
Metadata, as it used, apparently passes through a similar moment of grace, before it is passed along in some other form. Like a school of Tetras, it shimmers past in the murk, raw, clean and unbiased, on its way to transformation. The data which is described by the metadata is often a herd of cats distracted, and the final product is often an extruded, filtered prop for some statistically specious proposition. The people in this room, calm and thoughtful, are ringmasters for the process, but they have the burden and luxury of witnessing such moments every day, whereas the rest of us are oblivious producers of data, or else, consumers of information. I could see it in their expressions, and I could have sworn that there was that little voice, in the background, softly resonating around the room; Slightly different message, maybe, but the voice was unmistakable.