The Art of Thank You

Juniata College

As part of her site specific sculptural installation at Juniata College in Pennsylvania, Maya Lin gave an address to the college on a “reflection of art within society.”  In it she articulated the idea of “a strong, clear vision,” which later became the title of the Academy Award winning documentary about her life.  After her talk, four local Vietnam veterans made a presentation thanking her for “our Vietnam memorial.”  Maya responded, “Thank you very much.  It was meant for all of you and I’m glad you liked it.”

Not everyone liked it.  This was six years after the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the acrimonious process that almost derailed it.  There were complaints about the shape and color of the memorial, about chronology instead of alphabetical order, and about Maya being an undergraduate Chinese-American woman.  Through all that hostility, Maya Lin stood her ground.  By the time of the Juniata event, these four veterans knew she had built for them a powerful memorial, a place where “the memories of our friends and brothers will live forever.”  When they thanked her, she let those four vets know they were the source of the power.  It was a brief encounter, just 170 words, with emotions bubbling under the surface and an expression of gratitude about every 20 words.  Thank you to Maya, thank you to the veterans, thank you to the college.

Fred Astaire thanks his sister Adele for the dance.

Terry Gross, of NPR’s Fresh Air, always thanks her interviewees and they usually respond in kind, sometimes offering a final insight into the person’s character.  Around 2004, Terry interviewed Madonna about her interest in the Kaballah when one of her books was published, possibly a children’s book called The Adventures of Abdi.  I am basing this on memory and a little Internet searching because NPR was unable to supply the audio or the transcript.  Terry, of course, graciously thanked her guest.  As I recall, Madonna did not say thank you in return, implying instead that she was doing Terry a favor by appearing on the show to promote her new book.  It may be a coincidence, and the book did make the New York Times best seller list, but according to Wikipedia, among the series of Madonna children’s books on the Kaballah, The Adventures of Abdi was the least successful.

Some of my readers know that I am a good dancer.  Perhaps this is what makes me sensitive to the art of thank you.  There is an etiquette to dancing with a stranger.  Even rock ‘n’ roll dancing is intimate and at the end of the dance both partners say thank you.  It acknowledges the enjoyed shared experience and ends the encounter so we can each go on to dance with someone else.  Everyone on the dance floor knows this etiquette.  If you mess up, the crowd senses it.  There is nothing so obvious as someone who is rude.

So let me take this opportunity to thank my readers.  I get a lot from writing.  I share my ideas, clarify my thoughts, and express my creativity.  But without readers, it’s just an exercise in putting words together.  Readers have their own motives – the pleasure of reading, the acquisition of ideas, the generation of new knowledge.  As a reader myself, I know we all have much excellent writing to choose from.  It is an honor when you give me your attention.  Thank you.

Photo Credits:
K.hierasimowicz, 2006.  Halbritter Center for the Performing Arts na kampusie Juniata College w Huntingdon.  Wikimedia Commons.
Fred & Adele Astaire. ca. 1906
.  Wikimedia Commons.

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Jun 2012

Little Bighorn: A Work in Progress

(Today, June 4, is the birthday of Larry McMurtry.  In addition to novels and screenplays, he wrote a biography of Crazy Horse, who along with Sitting Bull and Gall, led the Lakota warriors at the Little Bighorn.  McMurty also wrote Oh What a Slaughter: Massacres in the American West, 1846-1890, which includes his thoughts about the battle.)

7th Cavalry Memorial

One of the first memorials with names of enlisted soldiers,  the 7th Cavalry obelisk was erected at the Little Bighorn in 1881, just a few years after the 1876 battle.  In the study of American battles, it is second only to Gettysburg, which also featured George Armstrong Custer.  Several books have been written about the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument as an historic site, including Stricken Field: The Little Bighorn Battlefield Since 1876 by Jerome A. Greene.

While primarily about the battlefield itself, Greene also discusses the history of the memorial, to the point of listing every town the granite structure visited in its railroad journey from Massachusetts to Montana.  But he says almost nothing about the names on the memorial.  Turns out that access to the railroad itinerary is simple but those names are complex.  I may be the first researcher to attempt an understanding of the arrangement of names on the Little Bighorn obelisk.

It stands above a mass grave of 7th Cavalry soldiers in Custer’s command, listing 263 men who died with Custer or in other areas of the battle commanded by Frederick Benteen and Marcus Reno.  A memorial to the Indians of several tribes who fought against the 7th Cavalry was erected in 2003.  I will be looking at that memorial in the future.

The 7th Cavalry obelisk consists of two sections, one on top of the other, grounded by a two-layered base.  The sections both have four sides listing names in two columns or centered.  Supplied with a list of names on the memorial by Jerry Jasmer of the National Park Service (NPS), and with photos of the memorial and several lists of 7th Cavalry names, I figured out the general idea for the arrangement.

Officers, on the top West side, are centered, grouped by rank and, for the most part, listed by date of military commission, with rank indicated.  First Lieutenants are listed before Second Lieutenants, but both are grouped under the word “Lieutenants.”  It gets more complex with the remaining soldiers.  The memorial also lists scouts and civilians, to be analyzed in a future post.  Custer brought along a newspaper reporter, a civilian brother, and a teen-aged nephew.  He also had another brother and a brother-in-law in his command.

George & Libbie Custer

The names of the non-commissioned officers and enlisted men begin on the memorial’s lower West section, arranged by Company, rank and alphabetical order within rank, although only their names appear.  Since the first element of the arrangement is Company, you would think that all members of the same Company appear together.  However they are scattered around the memorial, with each section following the pattern of Company, rank and alphabet.

Companies are contiguous within each section, names reading first in the left column and then in the right column.  Only on the South side do names continue in the same order to the lower section. The West lower section contains a Staff member and Companies A – E.  The two South sections contain a Staff member and Companies A – G, overlapping the West side by Staff and five Companies.  The upper East section has Companies E – I and the lower section, Companies G – L.  The upper North section has Companies I – M and the lower section Companies L & M.  The final name, from Company L, is centered.  Most Companies appear in at least two orderings, the exception being Company D, which lost three men who appear together on the West side.  Companies E, G, I & L have  three orderings, four for L if you count that last centered name.

Fortunately, Jerome Greene footnoted his information about the memorial to History of Custer Battlefield by Don Rickey, Jr.  Rickey footnoted his material to the Elizabeth Bacon Custer archive, which she donated to a museum at the battlefield.  George and Libbie had an especially romantic relationship for the Victorian era.  When he died, she devoted herself to honoring his memory.  She wrote books, gave speeches, and arranged for the erection of large statues.  General Montgomery C. Meigs headed the construction of the memorial, keeping Libbie Custer apprised of his progress.  Her archive contains a list of the memorial names prepared by Meigs.

So I contacted NPS at the monument.  The archive requires preservation and recently moved temporarily from the battlefield in Montana to the Western Archeological and Conservation Center (WACC) in Tucson (!), a couple hours’ drive from my home in Phoenix.  The materials should be available sometime this summer.

However parts of the Elizabeth Bacon Custer collection were microfilmed.  Sharon Small of NPS provided me with copies of memorial construction plans and the list of names that Meigs sent to Libbie Custer, but not his accompanying letter.  The names for the soldiers are in almost perfect order – Company, rank and alphabet.  All Companies are contiguous.

Indian Memorial

It looks like a printed document, so Meigs probably sent the same list to the stonecutter in Massachusetts.  And then what happened?  Why didn’t the stonecutter follow the list?  That would be easier than dividing up the names with a few here and a few there from each Company.  Did anyone notice the rearranged names during the transportation and construction process?

The answers may sit in Libbie Custer’s archive in Tucson.  WACC is still working on the collection, so a little patience is needed.  In the meantime, I am beginning to research names on the Indian memorial at the Little Bighorn.  After all, they won the battle.

Photo Credits

7th Cavalry Memorial:  Belissarius, Little Bighorn Battlefield Monument, June 30, 2008, Wikimedia Commons.

George & Libbie Custer:  Mathew Brady, George Armstrong Custer and Elizabeth Bacon Custer, between 1860-1865, Wikimedia Commons.

Indian Memorial:  Michael Brunk, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, July 10, 2011, Flickr.

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Jun 2012

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Rededicated

While there have been reunions all year long, today marks the beginning of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War.  Memorial Day weekend activities in Washington DC included Rolling Thunder’s Ride to Freedom motorcycle rally and a concert honoring their own 25thanniversary of POW/MIA work.  The official ceremony today, a rededication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, features President Obama, the first President to speak at the memorial since Bill Clinton in 1993.

Rolling Thunder Parade, 2009

As my readers know, I believe the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (VVM) gains its power from a chronologic name arrangement, building community among veterans.  By remembering just one name from decades ago, a veteran can find all his fallen comrades from the battles he survived.  In the mirrored surface, he sees his own image among the names of his friends.

Why did I become interested in this “Names on Memorials” project six years ago?  Memorials mostly commemorate war or tragedy and I am a compassionate pacifist.  Although never attending an anti-Vietnam War demonstration, the demonstrators later became my friends.  I started looking at memorials when the initial plan for randomized names at the World Trade Center memorial was announced and then denounced by myself and many others.  After years of controversy, the arrangement was changed to reflect the 9/11 community.  Even though Michael Arad misunderstood the value of arrangement, the memorial designer identified Maya Lin and the VVM as an influence.  She in turn was influenced by Edwin Lutyens’ Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, which also created community among war veterans and survivors, not with chronology, but with a traditional military arrangement that kept friends together because of Britain’s location-based World War I recruiting strategy.

In the world of online search, we value finding specific answers, but the presentation of those answers can be just as important.  If we only wanted to find names on the VVM, we could have built a granite alphabetical index.  In fact, the lack of alphabetizing was a major complaint against Lin’s design.  We now see that her arrangement provides a context for the names, an especially valuable context for the veterans who survived the war.

I am interested in memorials because they use the arrangement of names to elicit an emotion, to provide the visitor with a guided experience.  These monuments are not digital.  They are set in stone and this allows us to evaluate the success of the arrangement.  That success can be translated to the digital environment when we choose how to arrange our own information.  What elements best present the data?  What arrangements help users understand the context or promote our ideas about the information?  For data mining, which elements help us compare, coordinate and discover.

In many ways, information management is a study in relationships.  At the VVM, Maya Lin used chronology to express the relationships of military personnel as they cycled in and out of their tours of duty.   By understanding how designers use arrangement in the art of memorials, we can bring these subtle skills to our own information projects.

Photo credit:  Alan Kotok, Rolling Thunder Parade, May 24, 2009, Constitution Ave., Washington, DC

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May 2012

Titanic’s Musicians

(Along with Titanic’s 100th anniversary, today is my grandfather’s 110th  birthday.  I don’t know how much the Titanic news effected California’s Italian immigrant population, but my great-grandparents must have spent some time that day thinking about their own Atlantic voyage in the previous century.)

Wallace Hartley

Titanic’s musicians hold the most honored position in its many tales of heroism.  Shortly after the iceberg hit, the band started playing cheerful tunes.  They kept on playing during the crisis, right up to their final “Nearer, My God, to Thee” as the ship submerged.

As with most legends, some details are controversial.  Did they take a break?  It looks like they did, since they seem to have acquired lifejackets in the second half of the concert. Also Bandmaster Wallace Hartley’s pockets were found filled with small valuables, which he might have grabbed in his cabin when he retrieved his lifejacket.  The biggest music controversy is the last song.  Was it really “Nearer, My God, to Thee” or perhaps “Songe d’Automne?”  Each has its supporters, with carefully constructed and convincing scenarios.

More important is the heroism of these men as they helped passengers endure disaster.  Hartley once told a friend, “When men are called to face death suddenly, music is far more effective in cheering them on than all the firearms in creation.”  He proved this on the Titanic and his valor soothed two nations.

With the eight musicians hailed as the finest examples of manhood, as many as 40,000 attended Hartley’s funeral procession in Colne, Lancashire.  The parade had eight bands, one choir, and even a second line of mourners, about as close to a New Orleans jazz funeral as Edwardian England could get.  The Titanic Band Memorial Concert at the Royal Albert Hall included seven orchestras, with such prominent conductors as Edward Elgar and Thomas Beecham.

Amalgamated Musicians Union Poster

The band inspired at least 18 group and individual memorials.  Several of them seem to have been based on a poster produced by the Amalgamated Musicians Union (AMU) of Southampton, which sold 80,000 copies in the first few months.  Proceeds were contributed to a musicians’ convalescent hospital.

Titanic’s band was actually two bands, a Quintet for the First Class dining room and a Trio for the Parisian Café.  Here’s the lineup, suggested by Titanic experts Walter Lord and Jack Kopstein:


Wallace Hartley, Bandmaster and Violin

Theodore Ronald Brailey, Piano

John Frederick Preston Clarke, Bass

John Law Hume, Violin

John Wesley Woodward, Cello


Percy Cornelius Taylor, Piano and Cello, possible Trio Leader

Roger Marie Bricoux, Cello

Georges Alexandre Krins, Violin

The AMU poster includes eight photos with two large ones in the center column and three on either side.  One of the larger photos is Bandmaster Hartley, the other is Taylor.  None of my resources comment on Taylor as Trio Leader, however I assume the AMU thought he functioned in that position.  The instrumentation suggests he was in the Trio and his photo is enlarged in the poster.    The two side columns are headed by Krins and Bricaux, both Trio members identified by Lord, with the four Quintet members below. This suggests the poster was organized to show the two different bands.

Titanic Musicians Memorial in Southampton

If my analysis is correct, then the AMU missed an opportunity.  The band leaders are arranged as Quintet and Trio because Bandmaster Hartley has to be at the top.  But the rest are organized as Trio and Quintet.  If the Trio members had been placed at the bottom, then the Quintet would have been next to Hartley and the Trio next to Taylor.

This error became more prominent when the arrangement was used for the Titanic Musicians’ Memorial in Southampton, where the AMU was headquartered.  Here the names surround a carving of the Titanic being held by a deity.  It feels like a circle, which can give the appearance of equality while maintaining hierarchy, as we saw in the Shuttle Challenger Memorial at Arlington.  Hartley is at top and Taylor, bottom, both in larger letters.  The remaining musicians on either side are in the same arrangement as the poster, with the Trio on top and the Quintet below.  So the two leaders are again separated from their respective bands.

Titanic Musicians' Memorial, New South Wales, Australia

The Titanic Bandsmen Memorial in Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia, may have used the AMU poster as a starting point and then gone off in its own direction.  This memorial is a broken column, symbolizing young lives cut short.  Here the two Trio members are immediately after Hartley, in the same order as the poster although Bricoux’s name is misspelled.  They are followed by the Quintet in a different arrangement from the poster, with possible Trio Leader Taylor among them.

New South Wales Memorial Detail

Recently commentators have argued that the band may have cost lives, that its music lulled passengers into a false sense of security.  At the beginning some passengers may have felt safer on the ship with its cheery music, perhaps one reason lifeboats launched half full.  Yet while the music played, passengers remained relatively courteous, at least in First Class.  We have their stories because they are the ones who survived.  People calmly sacrificed their own lives to save others, including Miss Edith Corse Evans who gave her place on the last collapsible boat to a mother of five.  When the music stopped, things started getting mean on the lifeboats.  On the ship, Wallace Hartley and his Trio and Quintet had kept passengers calm as they sorted out who would live and who would die.  Then the musicians comforted two nations in mourning with the story of their selfless attention to duty.

Primary resource for this article is Steve Turner’s The Band that Played On:  The Extraordinary Story of the 8 Musicians Who Went Down with the Titanic.

Illustration credits:  Wallace Hartley; Amalgamated Musicians Union Poster (April 12, 2012); Titanic Musicians Memorial in Southampton; Titanic Musicians’ Memorial, New South Wales, Australia; New South Wales Memorial Detail

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Apr 2012

Pearl Harbor: Equality in Service

Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, USN (1884-1941)

Today is the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  On that day, 19 American ships were damaged or sunk; 171 airplanes destroyed; 1,178 people injured; 2,389 killed; and 14 Medals of Honor awarded.  Pearl Harbor memorials to those who died tend to list the names in alphabetical order.  This is especially significant because one of the names is Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, Commander of Battleship Division One.  The highest ranking casualty of the attack, he was the first U.S. Navy flag officer killed in action against a foreign enemy.  The USS Arizona was his flagship.

In the early 20th Century, the Pearl Harbor memorial would have been a larger than life statue of Rear Admiral Kidd, probably not on a horse because he was a Navy man.  We started seeing lists of names during World War I, with its massive losses and better record keeping.  In that war, Rear Admiral Kidd would have been at the top of a hierarchical list of names.  But in 1962, when her memorial was dedicated, the names from the USS Arizona were carved in alphabetical order, signifying equality of service.  Rear Admiral Kidd is almost exactly in the middle, surrounded by his men.


Anchor of the USS Arizona on display at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza, Phoenix, AZ.

In Hawaii, Pearl Harbor or World War II memorials with names include the USS Arizona, USS Oklahoma, USS Utah, the Valor in the Pacific Remembrance Circle, and the Honolulu Memorial at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.  In Phoenix, the Arizona’s anchor sits atop a base displaying the names of her dead.  The only exception to alphabetical order is the list of Arizona survivors who choose to be buried in the submerged ship.  These names are located near their shipmates on the Hawaii memorial, but for practical reasons, they are chronological.

Rear Admiral Kidd among His Men at the USS Arizona Anchor Memorial in Phoenix









The Arizona accounts for almost half the deaths from the attack.  She remains in the harbor, her superstructure removed and her hull visible under water.  Most of the bodies were not recovered and are considered buried at sea.  The USS Arizona Memorial, designed by architect Alfred Preis, straddles the mid-section of the ship without touching it.  An open air building, reminiscent of a covered bridge, it is high on both ends and shorter in the middle, to symbolize December 7 as a low point from which America recovered.

USS Arizona Memorial


At the far end of the memorial is a wall with the 1,177 alphabetized names of those who died on the ship.  Listings include initials, last name, and rank.  Most are Navy, with 73 Marines in a separate section.  Rear Admiral Kidd and the ship’s captain, Franklin Van Valkenburgh, have an extra line indicating their position in the ship’s command.

Both earned Medals of Honor, as did Lieutenant Commander Samuel G. Fuqua, who became the ship’s highest ranking officer during the attack.  When personnel abandoned ship, he made sure everyone who could evacuate did so and he was the last person off.  Many survivors credited him with saving their lives.  About 90% of those on board at the time of the attack died.  Today, when ships pass the memorial in the harbor, sailors honor the Arizona by manning the rails, standing evenly spaced along their ship’s railing.

USS Oklahoma Memorial

Don Beck’s 2007 memorial for the USS Oklahoma overlooks the harbor.  Here the 429 alphabetized names are engraved on separate pillars, with the group of pillars fronted on two sides by short marble walls containing engraved quotes about Pearl Harbor.  The visual effect is that of a ship with its sailors manning the rails to honor those who died.  Two men from the Oklahoma earned Medals of Honor.  Ensign Francis C. Flaherty and Seaman First Class James R. Ward both held lights in different turrets so the crew could escape.  They did not survive when the ship rolled over.  The Oklahoma was eventually salvaged but sunk while being towed to San Francisco for scrap metal.

USS Utah Memorial (with her exposed hull on the left)



The USS Utah is its own memorial, remaining in the harbor rolled over with its hull exposed.   There are several plaques on a pier overlooking the wreck.  One contains the names of the 58 who died including Medal of Honor winner Peter Tomich, the Utah’s Chief Watertender and a Croatian immigrant.  His citation reads, “Although realizing that the ship was capsizing, as a result of enemy bombing and torpedoing, Tomich remained at his post in the engineering plant of the U.S.S. Utah, until he saw that all boilers were secured and all fireroom personnel had left their stations, and by so doing lost his own life.”

USS Arizona Memorial Visitors Center - Remembrance Circle

Also overlooking the harbor is the Remembrance Circle at the Visitor’s Center of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, containing the names of all who died at Pearl Harbor, except those from the Arizona.  Here the names are essentially organized by location, although military personnel are initially divided into their respective branches.  Within each grouping the names are alphabetical.  Based on this photo of an summary plaque, the branches are organized by Department of Defense order of precedence: Army, Marines, Navy.  Today the Air Force would be in fourth place, but at the time it was part of the Army.  Because of the overwhelming majority of Navy deaths, order of precedence continues to evoke equality.  Note also that civilians are first.  At the 1925 memorial to the Revolutionary War Minute Men in Medford, MA, a civilian who died is placed last. 

Located in the Punchbowl area of Oahu, the Honolulu Memorial at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific consists of a wide staircase leading to a Liberty statue with Courts of the Missing on either side of the stairs.  The Courts contain names of those missing or buried at sea from American wars in the Pacific – World War II, Korea and Vietnam.  The World War II missing from the southwest Pacific are memorialized at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines, where the names are alphabetized within each military branch.

Punchbowl (Honolulu Memorial at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific)

The architects of the Honolulu Memorial, Weihe, Frick & Kruse, may have been influenced by Edwin Lutyens’ World War I Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in Thiepval, France.  That memorial is an open air building with a wide staircase leading to a memorial stone.  On either side of the stairs are areas which could be termed “courts of the missing,” formed by interwoven structural arches.  (I have written extensively about the Somme memorial in IsisInBlog.) 

The names in France are in a full hierarchy, beginning with British Army Order of Precedence and continuing in a listing by rank.  World War I British recruitment strategy built military units from individual towns.  So this arrangement keeps neighbors together, but it does not express equality.  At the Honolulu Memorial, names are organized first by war, then by military branch, then alphabetized.   

Those who died on the USS Arizona, and whose bodies were not recovered, are declared buried at sea and therefore missing, so Rear Admiral Kidd is on the Honolulu Memorial.  As the highest ranking officer to die at Pearl Harbor, his name is among the K’s with other Navy personnel missing from World War II.  Here he is surrounded not only by his men on the Arizona, but also by almost 12,000 Navy personnel whose bodies, like his, were not found.

Photo Credits

Heiter. (n.d.). Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, USN (1884-1941) Naval Historical Center. Photo NH 48579-KN.

Victor-nv. (April 13, 2010). Anchor of the USS Arizona on display at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza, Phoenix, AZ. Wikipedia.

Katherine Bertolucci. (November 29, 2011). Rear Admiral Kidd among His Men at the USS Arizona Anchor Memorial in Phoenix.

Jayme Pastoric. (May 23, 2002). USS Arizona Memorial. U.S. Navy photo 020523-N-9769P-057.

Wally Gobetz. (May 26, 2010). USS Oklahoma Memorial.

Rosa Say. (August 20, 2008). The USS Utah Memorial.

Wally Gobetz. (May 26, 2010). USS Arizona Memorial Visitors Center – Remembrance Circle.

Jiang. (December 22, 2005). Punchbowl. Wikipedia.

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Dec 2011

11.11.11: The Anthem Veterans Memorial

At 11:00 am on November 8, 1918, Marshal Foch, the supreme Allied commander, gave German negotiators a 72 hour deadline.  They were to agree to his terms or the war would continue unabated.  To pressure his enemy further, Foch did not allow a ceasefire, even when the agreement was signed 5 hours before the deadline.  Fighting continued full-on until 11:00 on November 11.  Then, for the first time in four years, the bells of Big Ben rang over the streets of London.

Waffenstillstand:  “Colorized photograph, which depicts from left to right: German Admiral Ernst Vanselow, German Count Alfred von Oberndorff (1870 – 1963) of the Foreign Ministry, German army general Detlof von Winterfeldt, British Royal Navy Captain J.P.R. Marriott, Matthias Erzberger head of the German delegation Center party member of the Reichstag (1875 – 1921) who was later murdered by Freikorps rightists for his role in the Amristice (sic), British Admiral George Hope, British First Sea Lord Sir Rosslyn Wemyss (1864 – 1933), French field marshall (sic) Ferdinand Foch (1851 – 1929), and French general Maxime Weygand (1867 – 1965).”

The next year, President Wilson declared November 11 to be Armistice Day, honoring those who served in the Great War.  President Eisenhower changed the name to Veterans Day, now including those who fought in World War II and in subsequent wars, still keeping the historic symbolism of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

In 2011, 97 years after the Armistice of World War I, we have the once in a century experience of adding the eleventh year.  The new Anthem Veterans Memorial in Arizona, a beautiful expression of astronomical time, will be dedicated today on 11.11.11.

Designed by Renee Palmer-Jones, it consists of five pillars in graduated heights, representing the five branches of the U.S. military.  At the top of each pillar is a large elliptical shaped hole, gathering sunlight downward through the five ellipses toward a mosaic of the Great Seal of the United States at the foot of the pillars.  Each year on November 11 at precisely 11:11 am, the shadows of the pillars will align into one column and the elliptical sunlight will form a perfect circle shining onto the Great Seal.

Installing the Great Seal at the Anthem Veterans Memorial, November 9, 2011

The design focus of this memorial is the astronomy of November 11, not an arrangement of names.  Yet arrangement principles inform our experience in Anthem.  The pillars are organized by Department of Defense order of precedence.  There are only five units, so this ordering is simpler than the British Army order of precedence used at Edwin Lutyens’ World War I Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in Thiepval, France.

Chronology forms the basic arrangement, giving precedence to the oldest units.  However, even with only five, there are two exceptions.  Three of the units were founded in 1775:  the Army (June 14), the Navy (October 13) and the Marines (November 10).  The Navy disbanded in 1781, only to be reinstated later the same year.  So it appears third, after the Marines.  The Coast Guard was founded in 1790, but it is now in fifth position as a part of Homeland Security rather than the Department of Defense.  If the Coast Guard returns to the Department of Defense during a war, it would stand between the Navy and the Air Force (1947).

The arrangement and graduated heights of Anthem’s five pillars display an order of precedence, but the equality of the services is also expressed in the placement of their seals at equal heights on the pillars’ narrow sides.  This equality carries through in the benches at the front of the memorial.  Although they are five in number, they are not individually designated with the name of a military unit.

The Anthem Memorial Planning Committee used the fund-raising technique of engraved brick pavers that can be purchased to honor military personnel or to show community support.  Pavers with military names form a Circle of Honor on the ground around the Great Seal and the pillars.  They are primarily organized chronologically by donation date.  Prior to placement, families can request to be grouped together, similar to the “meaningful adjacencies” of the World Trade Center memorial in New York.  Two rows of blank bricks surround the Circle of Honor in soldier row formation, the typical placement of headstones in military cemeteries.

Pavers representing the non-military support of individuals, businesses and organizations, are arranged by size of donation in front of the benches, with the largest donations at the center bench.  The next two funding tiers are at the left and right of the center bench, with the two end benches reserved for the fourth tier.  The pavers within each tier are in no particular order, although they aren’t quite random.  Liz Turner of the Memorial Planning Committee told me they tried to lay these bricks in a manner that was “aesthetically pleasing.”

In its use of astronomical time, the Anthem Veterans Memorial fully honors the historic tradition of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.  Its primary symbol is the gathering of sunlight onto the Great Seal of the United States at 11:11 on November 11.  Yet peripheral arrangement decisions add power to this memorial.  Those pillars could be in alphabetical order, but this is a memorial to history.  Order of precedence reflects that.

I will be at the dedication ceremony today in the Anthem Community Park.  The ellipses of the Anthem Veterans Memorial will form a circle of light once a year, but we can only experience the eleventh year once in a hundred years.


Thanks to Steve Seivert, Project Manager for Haydon Building Corp, and to Liz Turner of Anthem’s Memorial Planning Committee for generously sharing their time with me in the last few days before the memorial’s dedication.  In addition to Renee Palmer-Jones, the memorial’s designer, members of the Memorial Planning Committee include Ronald Tucker, who conceived the idea of a veterans’ memorial in Anthem; Steve Rusch, a draftsman who helped build the model; and Jim Martin, an engineer who figured out the astronomy angles.

Illustration Credits:

Waffenstillstand.  Caption and public domain graphic from Wikimedia Commons.

Installing the Great Seal at the Anthem Veterans Memorial, November 9, 2011.  Photo by the author.


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Nov 2011

The Anniversary: 9.11.2011

The National September 11 Memorial opened today on the tenth anniversary of the attacks, expressing our grief and our memories of that horrible day.  As in all memorials with names, the arrangement forms our perception of those who died.

Gathering similar concepts together is the goal of information arrangement, the one exception being random, a strategy that specifically lacks meaning.  So I was appalled when random was chosen in 2004 as the organizing structure for the World Trade Center memorial.  In what became the beginning of research into memorial name arrangement, I wrote to the commission suggesting location as a better organizing strategy and posted blogs complaining about random.

I was not alone.  The families of those who died understood that random placed their friends and loved ones into a miscellaneous scattering of nearly 3,000 names.  Unlike the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where chronology allows a soldier to see the names of his fallen friends in one place among the panels, random would make every visit a search exercise.  Families protested loudly but the commission refused to budge.  The impasse went on for years, ending only when these wealthy families threatened to withdraw their monetary contributions.  Then, after hanging on to random for so long, the designers developed an arrangement strategy that grouped the names.  And once they made that switch, they did an excellent job.

The new arrangement is called “meaningful adjacencies.”  Of course, every arrangement structure, except random, can be termed a meaningful adjacency.  The World Trade Center method is unique among memorials in that it allowed families to select placement.  Names can be located within a group, often an employer, and they can be next to other specified names.

The strategy begins with location.  Names are listed in the footprints of the two towers and placed within their associated tower.  First responders and names from Pennsylvania and the Pentagon are on the south.  Names from the 1993 bombing are on the north.  Those on the planes are listed separately from building occupants.

Within these categories are complex meaningful adjacencies, illustrated by father and son firefighters Joseph Angelini, Sr. and Joseph John Angelini, Jr.  Their names are together on the memorial and, at the same time, grouped within their separate firefighting units.  This is accomplished by placing the two units on consecutive horizontal lines, allowing a vertical adjacency for the father and son.  Surviving firefighters can remember them with their units.  Their families can see the two names together.

Random said these people were miscellaneous.  Visitors would have seen thouands of names, reflecting a massive loss of life but lacking personal context.  With meaningful adjacencies, we see them among their friends.  We see a father and son together.  We know they are loved.  They are loved by families who fought for them so we could share a small piece of their time on earth.

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Sep 2011

Heroes of a Revolution: Memorials Discovered by the Simmons’ May, 2011 Strategic Information Arrangement Class


(During the CE Course on Strategic Information Arrangement that I teach at Simmons College, participants have the opportunity to write about a memorial in their local area for possible inclusion in my Memorial or Veterans Day blog post.  Today we have a Revolutionary War theme, perhaps appropriate for a college located in Boston.)

The night of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere saw two lights in the Old North Church and began his famous ride, alerting colonists in the Boston area that British troops were crossing the Charles River.  Near midnight, he reached the town of Medford, where Dr. Martin Herrick joined the ride, heading toward Stoneham.  Revere continued on to Lexington.  The militia assembled at dawn on the Green and the first shots were fired.  The British then retreated back toward Boston, reaching Menotomy (now Arlington) around 4pm.  It was there the war really began.  This brutal battle caused the most casualties of April 19 on both sides, including civilians.  Two men from Medford, William Polly and Henry Putnam, were mortally injured.

Christina Anderson of ABT Associates, found a memorial to the Minute Men of Medford, located near the public library.  It was erected for the 150th anniversary of the American Revolution. The 60 names are in alphabetical order, with the exception of Henry Putnam, who appears at the bottom described as “Aged 62 Killed in Action.”  Why was Henry Putnam given this honor and not William Polly?

The Medford Historical Society has limited hours, but volunteers Jerry Hershkowitz and Mike Bradford were there when I needed them.  So I called and asked about William Polly.  The key to the mystery is the inscription at the top of the memorial which reads “Roster of the First Company of Minute Men Who Assembled in Medford at the Call of Paul Revere and Engaged in the Battle of April 19, 1775.”  According to Hershkowitz, Putnam was exempted from the militia because he was too old, but he went to the battle anyway and got killed.  On the memorial, there is no way of knowing that William Polly also died.  I learned about it accidentally in my research.

If we think about this in terms of information arrangement, we have three facets:  those on the roster (59), those not on the roster (1), and an intersection of those who died (2).  Perhaps Putnam received extra information to explain his inclusion with the roster, but it creates confusion because someone else died and there is no acknowledgement.

Dating from 1925, the Medford plaque is fairly early among memorials in listing names.  That began in earnest with the First World War.  In 1936, Medford’s Lawrence Light Guard erected a plaque in the lobby of their armory with the names of Guards who served in WWI.  Hershkowitz took a short walk to the armory, now in commercial use.  He noted some names have stars, which he believes indicates those who died, a simple solution fully honoring their sacrifice.


If Menotomy was the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Saratoga was the turning point in September and October, 1777.  A major victory for the Americans, its hero was Benedict Arnold.  Serving under Horatio Gates, he commanded the troops on September 19.  The British won this first day, but suffered major casualties.  After the battle, Arnold quarreled with Gates and was relieved of his command.  Then in the second battle on October 7, Arnold disobeyed orders and entered the battlefield, taking command and leading the troops to a decisive victory.  This win caused the French to enter the war in support of the Americans, an important factor contributing to the success of the Revolution.

Arnold was injured in the battle and unable to return to combat, which may have influenced his treason in 1780.  He also felt a lack of acknowledgment for his military achievements and thought the Continental Congress was trying to cheat him financially.  Then he married a Loyalist woman prior to the treason.  Towards the end of the war, he fought again, this time for the British.

Julie Vittengl of GlobalSpec found the Boot Monument at Saratoga National Historical Park in New York.  Erected by Civil War General and historian John Watts de Peyster, it honors Benedict Arnold as “the most brilliant soldier of the Continental Army,” yet only shows his injured leg and does not name him.  Saratoga’s victory obelisk has four places for the four generals involved.  Arnold’s space is empty.  Likewise at West Point, the site of his treason, Arnold’s place as a Revolutionary War General is empty showing only his rank and his birthday.

In the book, Shadowed Ground: America’s Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy, 2003, geographer Kenneth E. Foote identifies four responses to high profile painful events:  sanctification, designation, rectification, and obliteration.  Sanctification creates a sacred space, such as the Saratoga National Historical Park.  Designation tends to be an onsite plaque or small memorial acknowledging the event.  While the Medford war memorials are not sited where the actual events happened, they would be examples of designation.  Rectification returns the site to productive use.  The World Trade Center is undergoing rectification, with office space in new buildings available for lease.  At the same time, the sites’s National September 11 Memorial and Museum is sanctification.  Obliteration removes the location from our memory.  Buildings at crime scenes are sometimes torn down and the vacant lot neglected.

Our national feeling about Benedict Arnold wavers between designation and obliteration.  He served his country in many battles, not just Saratoga.  He commanded that decisive battle, setting the stage for our eventual victory.  Then he turned against us.  We cannot remove him from history, but we can remove his name from our places of honor.  After all, thanks to men like William Polly and Henry Putnam, we won the war and we built our new nation.

(A note on resources not mentioned in the article.  I discovered William Polly in The Minute Men: The First Fight by John Galvin, 1996, and in Paul Rever’s Ride by David Hackett Fischer, 1994.  An article by Thomas Fleming, 2010, “Battle of Menotomy: First Blood, 1775,” clearly described that event.  Jerry Hershkowitz’ primary resource, other than the town itself, was Medford in the Revolution, by Helen Tilden Wild, 1903.  I relied on Wikipedia for information about Benedict Arnold, specifically the pages for Arnold, the Battles of Saratoga, the Boot Monument, and Saratoga National Historical Park.  Saratoga and Lexington & Concord are both described in the Encyclopedia of Battles in North America:  1517-1916 by L. Edward & Sarah J. Purcell, 2000.  Photo Credits:  Medford Minute Man Memorial by Christina Anderson, 2011; Arnold-Boot by Americasroof at Wikimedia Commons, 2006.)


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May 2011

Arranging to Persuade: Tailoring or Persuasion Through Customization

Dress Form

Fogg’s Principle of Tailoring:  Information provided by computing technology will be more persuasive if it is tailored to the individual’s needs, interests, personality, usage context, or other factors relevant to the individual.

We are all familiar with tailored technology.  Every time you go to, you are presented with items selected for you based on your previous purchases.  Facebook tailors the ads you see by mining your demographic profile.  Then you have the opportunity to approve or disapprove the ad, further allowing Facebook to tailor what you see.  B. J. Fogg in Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do, describes a site called Scorecard.  Enter your zip code and it will tell you about the pollution in your neighborhood.

Tailoring is one of the reasons for the success of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  The war lasted for about 18 years with military personnel cycling in and out of Vietnam.  The names on the memorial are listed in chronological order by date of casualty, bringing together those in Vietnam at the same time.  This gives surviving veterans an individual place on The Wall.  They only have to remember one name to look up in the printed index.  When they find that person’s panel, they find their own panel because that represents their time in Vietnam.  That panel is where they see all the names of their friends who died.

When I build an organizational structure, I like to use the word perspective for tailoring.  I build the structure from the perspective of the user.  Developing a classification scheme for Trans-Pacific Geothermal, Inc. (TGI), I considered how the client would use the system.  TGI is an exploration and development company.  They’re looking for hot water in areas where they have drilling leases and they want to see all the available material about the areas they are exploring.

Geologic information tends to have the same parameters of scientific technique combined with location.  A location is selected because it’s a great place to do the science or, as in the case of TGI, the scientist is interested in the location.  TGI wanted to know everything about the areas where they had their leases or where they were considering the purchase of leases, so I organized their material by location:



Geothermal Resource Area


If TGI had been doing pure scientific research, rather than exploration, I would have designed the system differently, placing science at the top, with location categories as the subsets.  This is an example of an ABBA construction.  Location can be the primary field or science can be the primary field, with the contents of the categories remaining the same.  There is no inherent hierarchy.  The hierarchy evolves to suit the perspective of the user.

Traditional library classification is not tailored.  Its goal is to classify all of human knowledge for everyone’s use.  In a typical library, geologic material may be needed by a science researcher or by an energy developer.  Catalogers can’t pick one over the other.

But you can definitely take sides when you know who your users are.  Define your clients and develop an understanding of why they interact with the material.  Then build your structure in a way that brings everything together for them.  Maya Lin used a chronology that gave all Vietnam Vets their own individual place on The Wall.  When I built a geothermal library, I used location to collect all the material my clients would want to see at the same time.

Your clients will have different needs and those needs may change as their projects proceed.  When you tailor category arrangement, you put your clients one step ahead in their work.   You can stay one step ahead of the client by including sorting capability and allowing users to do their own tailoring.


Illustration used with permission from Microsoft.


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Arranging to Persuade: Self-Monitoring or Taking the Tedium Out of Tracking


Red Shirt

B. J. Fogg’s Principle of Self-Monitoring:  Applying computing technology to eliminate the tedium of tracking performance or status helps people to achieve pre-determined goals or outcomes.

Self-monitoring, the fifth persuasive technique from B J Fogg’s book, Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do, includes such devices as a smart jump rope and a heart rate monitor.  As you exercise, the jump rope’s handles display the number of calories you’re burning.  The heart monitor shows the rate your heart is pumping.  Fogg explains that “this type of tool allows people to monitor themselves to modify their attitudes or behaviors to achieve a predetermined goal or outcome.”  The exercise machines at my gym have similar devices.  I sometimes pedal faster to reach a mileage goal before the end of the spinning class.

We’ve been examining how information arrangement uses Fogg’s persuasive principles at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  Self-monitoring is the one principle not in use at the VVM.  However, we can look at the facet-based search technique to see how self-monitoring works with this type of information arrangement.

Facets are a method for presenting the defined attributes of online records in a finite collection.  Users select and deselect attributes as the search proceeds, enabling them to monitor and modify the results.  This is especially valuable for online sales.

Let’s say you want to buy a shirt.  A clothing website displays all its available shirts with a list of facets:  color, fabric, style, etc.  You select blue, so now you only see blue shirts in available fabrics and styles.  If any fabrics or styles do not have blue, you no longer see them.  You select cotton.  Other fabrics are eliminated and you only see blue cotton shirts in the available styles.  Now you realize you want a polo shirt, but that’s not available in blue cotton.  So you modify your search by deselecting blue, retaining cotton, and choosing the polo style.  You see cotton polo shirts in the available colors, including a very nice red that you buy.

One example of this technology is the open source Project Blacklight.  Boston’s WGBH uses Blacklight for its Open Vault Media Library and Archives.  At the Open Vault search page, select a category under browse.   Now on the left under the heading “Narrow,” you’ll see a list of available facets for that category.  As you continue selecting, your choices appear at the top of the list.  You can add or remove attributes to modify the search.

Facets provide a satisfying search experience because there is no guessing.  It’s a process that searches a finite collection, only showing available items, so you always have an accurately populated screen.  As you select and deselect, you see different aspects of the collection.  If the online store doesn’t have blue polo shirts, a simple modification shows you they do have one in this nice shade of red.


Illustration used with permission from Microsoft.



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