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Defining a Rabbit Hole

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The History Kid

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Recently, I got approval from my security advisors to begin writing on a 1960s era weapons platform.  It will comprise of a single component of what will eventually be my dissertation.  It isn't so much that the platform is sensitive material, rather than I'm just getting in the habit of working with my security guys.  After all, my career is young, and there may be times down the road when I need a more rapid response to an inquiry than "in a few weeks."  

This past weekend, I wrote up a short writeup on the project for my other blog.  It's pretty standard for me to want to put out as much information as I can on any subject, and this other blog entry was to be an exercise in the examination of research material that was already out there at large.  However, with any kind of research comes the classic problem: narrowing your search.  Lo and behold, two and a half minutes into this exercise, I have several other search queries with several other search terms input in the fields.  

"We can't talk about X, without talking about Y, and talking about Y doesn't make sense if you don't know about C, and C is part of project D that was designed to replace platform A which predates project M."  But it gets worse: "Project M has three sister projects that were referenced in X, which didn't make it to production and were instead used in project Z which then went on to be O."

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We all like to joke about how this is a meme.  However, in the world of research it is an absolute fact of life.  A coherent thought is what begins here, though you wouldn't notice it if you aren't accustomed to the process.  Why?  Well, it looks like this.  Which is fine and all to a researcher, but the real world isn't interested in X, Y, C, D, A, M, Z, or O.  They want to know A, B, C and/or X, Y, Z.  How they get there is inconsequential to them and the responsibility of the author or presenter.

So what is a rabbit hole exactly?

A rabbit hole is the terminology we use to define the path that leads to a "hairball."  A hairball is essentially what that well known meme is depicting - a bunch of lines connecting topics, thoughts, books, papers, research, theses, and commentaries.  You could think of a rabbit hole as a first-draft, or an early stage annotated bibliography, where the hairball is the collection of the topics assembled into a muddled up mess on paper.

What is the real world practice of this?

The project that I am working on is on a key-note weapons platform that eventually did go on and get used in the first stage of a modern-day system.  None of those systems are used anymore, which is why the topic was approved.  However, within that line of thought there are over 35,000 independent systems that went into the project, 14,000 contracts, and over 60 different projects that grew from it encompassing over 150,000 systems and contracts combined.  And no, a security review wasn't done over the rest of those.  Sadly that means that while I have the approval for the one, I still don't have the freedom to move around like I should be able to in order to conduct the research as necessary.  So goes the plight of a researcher.

So too goes the definition of a rabbit hole.  Lucky you, you just read a blog entry on research (of an ambiguous weapons system) on an anime forum.  Sorry tinfoil hatters, there's nothing groundbreaking that will be in here.

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