Get to Know SIG CON – an exclusive interview with Dr. Puppybreath himself!

While the “Get to Know” series started with our post on SIG HFIS was not intended to continue until after the upcoming Annual Meeting, your intrepid ASIS&T Social Media Contributors were lucky enough to receive a lead one day on contacting the distinguished and illustrious Dr. Llewellyn C. Puppybreath III, perhaps ASIS&T’s most famous member and the permanent and perpetual chair of SIG CON. Tasked with following this lead and with help from Candy Schwartz of Simmons College and Gary Burnett of Florida State University (this year’s SIG CON Program Chair), I was able to have a small number of questions sent to Dr. Puppybreath and, a couple of days later, received an encrypted e-mail from what appeared to be a throwaway Gmail account, presumed to be from the man himself. Unfortunately the password for decryption was unknown, but I figured this was the doctor testing us. Setting to work with the other contributors, it took only four hours to realize that the correct password was blindingly obvious to anyone familiar with Dr. Puppybreath’s extensive oeuvre in information racketeering (as we of course were) and thus decrypt the e-mail to reveal a set of answers.

Having solved the encryption, we are happy to present an exclusive interview with Dr. Puppybreath himself, permanent chair of SIG CON. New or prospective ASIS&T members may not know of the special role that SIG CON plays in the Association, be aware of the areas its sessions and activities cover, the benefits of attendance at and participation in these activities, and how the SIG engages with its members. Even well-established ASIS&T members may find something that engages them in the following interview. We certainly hope that this interview helps everyone to get to know SIG CON, and strongly recommend everyone in Seattle for the 2014 Annual Meeting attends this year’s 40th Annual SIG CON Session on Tuesday, November 4th at 8:30pm!


Adam: Dr. Puppybreath, I hope you are willing to answer our questions so that new and prospective ASIS&T members are able to learn about SIG CON. Perhaps you could start by explaining SIG CON’s special role and history in the Association, and the topics and areas that it covers.

Dr. Puppybreath (we presume): I am certainly willing to espouse the tenets and traditions of SIG CON to those who may have not be familiar with it, although it is, nevertheless, one of those things you simply have to experience to grasp completely. We have been on the very cutting edge of research areas across all areas of information science since our inception, and continue to be so; we are the only SIG that considers almost anything to be within the special interest of our group. In past years we were perhaps best known for advancing the important theories of baloonean logic and titular colonicity, with more recent forays into knowledge mis-management, the murky history of ASIS&T, the secret life of information — not to be confused with the social life of information, which we also discussed well before those social informatics folks came along — and the metaphorical meaning of snowmen.

But we started with the help of Brian Aveney, Sue Martin, and Hank Epstein, and with a focus in the coterminous operation of neo-nodes. Neo-nodes, of course, were the data science of early 1975. Unfortunately, unlike the present example neo-nodes did not trend for very long, and we quickly moved onto concurrently obsolete nomenclature (which remains popular today; we’re now an Association but still retain the A and the S in our acronym!) and conservation of nutmeats (less popular, sadly) for our first session on October 29th, 1975 in Boston. Between now and then we have had many ASIS&T firsts — to say nothing of world firsts, of course — present in the published and unpublished proceedings of SIG CON sessions. I was particularly proud of our 20th session in 1994, the year in which we received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the SIG of the Year Award Jury. Sadly I was not able to make it to Virginia due to, shall we say “legalities”… but welcomed the support offered by attendees and the Jury to SIG CON and for my own troubles. And I apologize yet again to Ralf Shaw.


Adam: Next, SIG CON is of course known for its session at the Annual Meeting, the only session where scholarly work is presented without time conflicts. Perhaps you could describe the activities taking place at a SIG CON session for those who may be unfamiliar?

I was somewhat miffed when they first introduced poster sessions, as that meant there was other sessions of scholarly work that did not always conflict with others. Then I realized that one’s attention is still divided at poster sessions, in ways that remind me of a paper presented at SIG CON in 1985 on concurrent conversation converter concepts, whose authors I forget. [With thanks to Candy Schwartz, we have been able to find that this was presented by Ben-Ami Lipetz and Hank Epstein – Adam.] So SIG CON remains the only session at the ASIS&T Annual Meeting where only one scholarly work is being presented at a time. And of course I have presented my own poster since, so I share no ill feelings… at least not on this topic.

Regardless of that, you asked about the activities taking place, and it must be said that how the proceedings, er, proceed does vary somewhat from year to year. Some of this is down to the logistics of the organizing committee and hotel arrangements, and sometimes down to powers that — despite the best efforts of Dick Hill or myself — remain beyond our control. I speak, of course, of the recent conference in Baltimore and the various issues I have faced over the years with travel arrangements. That reminds me of my recent travails in West Africa… but then you didn’t ask about those, did you?

Returning to the activities, there is always an Acting (or Program) Chair who serves to facilitate the proceedings. As a busy scholar with many important research activities I am, sadly, not always able to attend SIG CON, although I often hear speculation from those who did attend as to whether I was lurking somewhere. (If anyone asks, my official response is no comment.) In any case, the Acting Chair — this year’s is Gary Burnett of Florida State University — introduces a number of scholars who will give a presentation of some form. Unlike some other stuffy interest groups, we have no firm rules on the form of the presentation, although many take on the aspects of paper presentations, panels, or similar activities that you will find elsewhere on the ASIS&T Annual Meeting schedule and at other conferences that information scientists frequent. We always present our own special twist on these, however; presentations always offer something unexpected for attendees, while remaining of the utmost scholarly quality. The work presented at SIG CONs past on titular colonocity mentioned earlier lived up to this in spades, and I think the recent historical work presented — including an absolutely stunning interview with ASIS&T’s first president Watson Davis, undoubtedly a major coup over those History Fund yokels — has continued the trend well.

At the end of these presentations, the Program Chair for the SIG CON session nominates — or I really should say appoints, shouldn’t I? Or given the wand, even anoint? Yes, they anoint the Program Chair for the next year, by which time I have already approved their appointment to act in my potential stead, should I be unable to make it yet again. And then that is that, and ASIS&T concludes with what I know members find to be the most intoxicating session of the conference… and not just because of the open bar.

Online Engagement

Adam: Could you also discuss the online or social media venues — such as a web site, or a Facebook page or group, or a Twitter feed, etc. — that SIG CON offers? What can members find you posting there?

Er, I have a personal Twitter account that I really only use around ASIS&T Annual Meeting times. Does that count? I post meaningful content there, though, I promise… and I’ll certainly never let you down or desert you

The wonderful Candy Schwartz — who I am not closely acquainted with, but I hear good things, mostly — has also collected a lot of our history on a SIG CON web site, but I must stress that it should not always be trusted. Especially the parts about the multiple Mrs. Puppybreaths: I did not have sexual relations with those women. I will admit to having estranged family members, however, including a nephew that cares very deeply about me and my privacy…

But enough about that. I do like what I have seen of the upcoming ASIS&T web site redesign, but the purple in particular reminds me of the monarch who conquered my homeland. The new home page I’ve seen also says “our journal helps you stay up-to-date with cutting-edge research and ideas,” but what about SIG CON’s role? Are we not better than the creative ontologies this new design uses? That was our theme way back in 1981, no less; how more cutting edge can you get?!? I’ll need to have a word with this Diane and that Kevin I heard talk about


Adam: What do you feel is the most important benefit members of SIG CON receive by attending, participating in activities, and engaging with SIG CON?

I would stress that all ASIS&T members in good standing, of all levels and experiences, are automatically members of SIG CON. It is written into our constitution, and we have no dues. We intend to be much more inclusive than those other selective interest groups, and see this inclusiveness as the primary benefit. Anyone can attend SIG CON without financial penalty and anyone with the appropriate scholarly air and insight is welcome to present and participate. If you are unsure of the appropriate air then I would suggest attending a SIG CON so you may consume of the air, breathe in our knowledge, and smell our wisdom (and perhaps a few whiffs of something else; again, I note the open bar). Ask other members who have attended SIG CONs and I am sure they will speak good of our event and its benefits for them. And I am hopeful this interview will encourage more people to come to our activities and, perhaps, volunteer to participate in our sessions.

Final Thoughts

Adam: And finally, it is of course worth celebrating that this year’s SIG CON session will be the 40th! Do you have any insights into what we can expect from this session?

We always have surprising findings at SIG CON, and I think I can promise that this year will be no different. I even understand one of my estranged relatives may be planning to attend. Again, one of the best ways to become familiar with SIG CON is to simply partake in it, yourself, and I encourage all ASIS&T members and attendees to do that. Perhaps I can offer a hint though. We’ll have the distinct pleasure of a number of presentations on the latest insights and findings in the important and highly relevant area known as tIfdjvuU#@5gd*HHJ#%#$ffgh#%HJS2jfKN%HF

At this point, unfortunately, the encryption algorithm appeared to have suffered a malfunction, and we could not extract Dr. Puppybreath’s final answer from the e-mail. (We considered calling the NSA, but decided against it.) Suffice it to say that the SIG CON session has no cons; it always provides a great end to an ASIS&T Annual Meeting and should not be missed by all conference attendees! We offer our thanks to Dr. Puppybreath for his willingness to provide answers (encryption challenge and unconfirmed identity notwithstanding). Many thanks must also go to the resources and help of Candy Schwartz and Gary Burnett in connecting us with the (mostly) good doctor and providing necessary context. This year’s SIG CON with Program Chair Gary Burnett will take place on Tuesday, November 4th at 8:30pm; be sure to check your conference program for the room location. In the spirit of Dr. Puppybreath — and who knows, perhaps even in his or his relative’s corporeal presence? — we hope to see you there!

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