Monday, March 9, 2020

I May Have Been Ahead of Myself By 20 Years

First, a bit of background is in order. Recently, my ex-wife and her new husband suggested, if that's the right word, I might want to remove a few boxes of my things from their garage. They've been patient for a while, so even though I have no space for it all here, I went and picked them up.

One of those boxes contains papers I wrote while working on an advanced degree in English in the early 1970's, so maybe 45 years ago or there about.

I pulled one out and re-read it. It was on the general topic of rhetorical competence and the ability to understand technical papers by recognizing the structural relationships between units of discourse in those papers. My conclusions included the observation that, while content is important to reading competently, understanding those relationships and the writers' intent in establishing them was an equally important skill. In other words, the relationships between blocs* of text are just as important as the semantic meaning of those blocs of text.

So, as I read this paragraph, I couldn't help but think I was foreshadowing the days when I moved on to the development of relational database applications and returned to that fundamental concept: relationships between entities.

And finally, during the course of this analysis, it became clear that there were different kinds of relationships involved between certain units Specifically, it is possible to identify units from a structural viewpoint exclusively, in terms of bloc signals and sequencing of units. But in many cases, the analysis here resorted to what is more properly termed an "operational" analysis, wherein other considerations were made in deciding what the relationship with and between blocs should be. (emphasis added)
Forty five years ago, the key role of relationships was already being developed in how I understood effective technical communication. Twenty years later, when I first encountered Database Normalization, I guess it's fair to say that I was already primed to "get it".

And for that I will always be grateful to the late Will Pitkin and the other members of my thesis committee, John E. Lackstrom and Karl J. Krahnke.

*I used the spelling "blocs" because much of the thinking behind this approach came from a PhD Dissertation written by one of my professors, Dr. Willis J. Pitkin, who used that term in his work.