What books would teach me about information and data?
July 26, 2009 1:58 PM   Subscribe

Let's say I wanted to educate myself to sort-of the equivalent of a Bachelor's Degree in Information and Data (not sure what the real degree would be called, but you get the idea). What should be in my syllabus?

Areas of study would include things like informational networks and social networking, tacit and explicit knowledge, parsing and data extraction, data mining, visualization, metadata, information retrieval and storage, plus other things that I'm probably not even aware of. Websites are great, but so are books (maybe excluding $$$ textbooks if possible), podcasts, videos, source code, applications, etc. Assume a relatively high level of technical know-how (including coding skills) but little formal computer science training.
posted by Deathalicious to Education (13 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
MIT Opencourseware has course listings and syllabi.
posted by lsemel at 2:05 PM on July 26, 2009

The core of the UCLA undergrad program hasn't changed much in 20 years:

111. Operating Systems Principles
112. Computer System Modeling Fundamentals
118. Computer Network Fundamentals
130. Software Engineering
131. Programming Languages
132. Compiler Construction
136. Introduction to Computer Security
143. Database Systems
161. Fundamentals of Artificial Intelligence
180. Introduction to Algorithms and Complexity
181. Introduction to Formal Languages and Automata Theory

Real computer science is all about the math. I consider the CS112 I took with Leonard Kleinrock to be the highpoint of my undergrad career as far as professional learning went; there was a brief moment of time when I could clearly see the relation of Poisson arrivals to the physics of imaginary numbers, and it was beautiful.

Statistics, Game Theory, the prepatory two years of calculus stuff were the meat of my education. Math 61 was also a critical piece of the puzzle.
posted by @troy at 2:39 PM on July 26, 2009

Look at this list of classes. A lot of those should have class pages with the textbook & reading assignments.
posted by devilsbrigade at 2:42 PM on July 26, 2009

Best answer: A lot of those sound like ischool courses. Metadata (or "representing and organizing information" -- to librarians this is cataloging), info viz, social networking and information retrieval theory are all core concepts in the University of Michigan program and I can't believe that's unique to UM. Despite Blackboard etc, I bet you can still find a lot of syllabi online.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 2:59 PM on July 26, 2009

Response by poster: Sorry. I guess I wasn't being clear, so let me clarify a bit.

I'm not interested in studying computer science, although I do enjoy the odd algorithm from time to time.

My interest in this question is coming from a background of being a practical programmer who now wants to broaden/refresh my knowledge of what the thinking is on information, knowledge, etc. and how it is being used, along with specific information on how information in digital/electronic form can be manipulated, transformed, stored, etc.

devilsbrigrade's link is slightly closer to the mark of what I'm looking for purely because of its increased multicurricular reach, but veers into directions (philosophy and semiotics, I guess?) that aren't really my focus.

It feels like whenever I've looked up information theory work in the past, the focus is very strongly on management issues (and indeed, a whole slew of these books are available under the LOC designation HD45 under "Industrial Management"). Most material I come across on the web that addresses social networking is more likely to be buzz-wordy than intellectually rigourous. It'd be nice to be able to read material that is fairly rigorous, backs its assertions with solid research or experimentation.

So I guess I'm looking for academically rigorous resources focusing on social networking, the uses and forms of information, information and knowledge theory, and data extraction/mining (those would be the most important).

To give some context: this all comes just after having to read a couple of academic articles focusing on parsing academic texts for the purpose of building social networks based on metadata and contextual information contained in those texts. I was surprised that
  1. I actually understood them and found myself wanting to know more about the subject, and
  2. I really enjoyed reading the articles, and could do so without distraction (which is unusual for me when it comes to scholarly writing)
Hope this clarification helps.

So, if there are courses that focus specifically in this area, I fully welcome links to them, but otherwise I'd much prefer recommendations of individual articles, books, or similar resources.
posted by Deathalicious at 3:12 PM on July 26, 2009

Response by poster: Whoops, missed chesty's comment somehow. Yeah, that sounds much closer to the mark. Anyone care to offer specific recommendations of books or articles? Thanks!
posted by Deathalicious at 3:29 PM on July 26, 2009

Best answer: It's not directly what you are asking for, but I'll just point out this book because it is tangentially related to your interests (and it is a great book).

Programming Collective Intelligence
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 3:55 PM on July 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: i am a jedi -- already reading it! I like it for its practical application, but it'd be cool to get my hands on something that explains some of the theory behind it as well...
posted by Deathalicious at 4:21 PM on July 26, 2009

Best answer: Also, From Language to Information and Network Structures And Analysis.
posted by devilsbrigade at 4:56 PM on July 26, 2009

Best answer: Here's the syllabus of a fantastic class I took at the end of last year. The course was described as "Digital History" and covered both contemporary academic uses of technology and a kind of history and historiography of information. I'm linking to the syllabus on my professor's blog, which may be of interest as well; it includes discussions of other related work she has done.

You might also be interested in some of the responses to this earlier question, which I bring up only because I remembered talking about this class on MeFi before.
posted by dizziest at 8:05 PM on July 26, 2009

Best answer:
I'm not interested in studying computer science, although I do enjoy the odd algorithm from time to time.
Yes you are:
Areas of study would include things like informational networks and social networking, ..., parsing and data extraction, data mining, visualization, ..., information retrieval and storage,
Analyzing social networks is essentially an application of statistics to a graph structure. Algorithms! Information retrieval and storage is basically a database course. XML and SQL! Parsing can be related to formal language theory, but typically natural language processing is statistical in nature. Visualization can get hairy pretty quickly in a number of directions: OpenGL if you want fast realtime visualization, and general algorithms study if you want layouts better than graphviz is giving.

You're just not interested in systems, which is a common focus among CS depts found in engineering schools. But here's the deal: the systems classes teach students ways to design programs that feed on massive datasets and finish within a human lifetime. The founders of Google basically applied social graph algorithms to the web. If you haven't read it, their paper on PageRank talks about analyzing hundreds of millions of links in 1998. It's pretty clear that many of the most valuable data is generated from statistical modeling and analysis, so it wouldn't hurt to bone up on basic stats, Bayes Theorem / Network / Reasoning, and Markov chains.

Library Science can be hit or miss, but this syllabi from the only MLS program in my state at least mentions metadata and computers. It seems most courses at most focus on using rather than building Information Technology.

Google's search mission overlaps with your own interests, so I'll point out a few more resources from them. For videos, Google hosts tech talks (I think this video on scientific datamight appeal, and I know I've seen some on topics you've mentioned). Obviously Google Scholar is handy, but they also have a Recent Google publications feed. Brad Fitzpatrick published this paper that might be stale, so check out the related work section. Codewise, there's the openSocial project (another Google project).

And yes, "social networking" is a stupid buzzword like "viral marketing" that gets attention because a few websites are trying to get and stay popular. "Social graph" might get you better hits, but online social networks are still new enough that the things we need still aren't fully known. You might be better off gathering problems in social networking and analysis.
posted by pwnguin at 2:59 AM on July 27, 2009

Best answer: I don't have a specific article suggestion, but your question reminded me of a Journal more or less on those topics (although more about data than social networks)
Communications of the ACM

And the general subjects are totally related to Information science degrees.
posted by domi_p at 9:57 AM on July 27, 2009

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