Friday, December 29, 2006

Map of the Internet (2006)

Visualization and spatial reasoning have been important parts of SIS research for many years. Thus, this Map of the Internet might strike your interest. What this map represents is not physical geography but the "geography" of IPv4 addresses. Do you find this a useful way of representing addresses?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Peering into the future

This is traditionally a time of year to review and reflect on the year that past. If you get tired of these reflections, you might want to reflect on what is coming. To stimulate this, you might want to review the links at this site from the Horizon Scanning Centre of the UK's Office of Science and Innovation.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Your new IT budget is $10

You might enjoy this post from Nicholas Carr's blog. Quoting a selection from this item:
It's pretty amazing to think about what a company can now get for $10 a year:

A complete, web-based IT infrastructure for its business

A custom corporate portal/intranet for its employees

Corporate e-mail service

Corporate instant messaging

Calendar software and services

Web-site design software

Web-site hosting

And, by incorporating some other free Google services, the company also gets:

Word-processing software

Spreadsheet software

Web-site analytics

All the necessary storage, data backups, security, maintenance, and related services are included in the $10 price.

Other than some cheap PCs, a printer, and maybe a bookkeeping application, that pretty much covers all the information technology that most companies on earth require to run their businesses. (And I'll bet the bookkeeping app will arrive soon, perhaps through a partnership with Intuit.) So, if you're a small business or a school or a nonprofit, that's your new annual IT budget: ten bucks. Why spend more?

WiFi at MIT

This link was recommended by Maria Harrington:

When we first spotted MIT's location-tracking WiFi network last year, the stalking capabilities were interesting, but not fully realized. Now with this new iFIND app of theirs, WiFi positioning takes on a whole new level of geeky functionality at the Boston campus. At its core, iFIND is a peer-to-peer application that allows users to control the flow of their own location information, eliminating the privacy concerns of a centralized tracking system. Built on top of that functionality are all sorts of interesting buddy list capabilities to track and chat with friends, and choose who can track you. You can also set up meeting places with friends, even using the system to pick a spot at the "center of gravity" of a group of friends for the ultimate in geek cred. Anyone with an MIT email address can use the system, and future functionality includes the ability to share data anonymously with users found with the system, or to alert the police to your position in an emergency without divulging your identity -- all for the truly paranoid, but fun stuff all the same.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Most dangerous roads in the world

This has nothing to do with SIS (except when SIS faculty travel :-). Please see this link.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Pioneering course on web 2.0 and online communities

This is from IBM developerworks: "Rawn Shah manages Community Programs for developerWorks and talks about the growing interest in online communities and a ground-breaking course he helped to launch and is co-teaching at the University of Arizona." Please see this link. Here is a link to the course information. This is an example of a course that would create excitement in the BSIS program...

From the issue dated December 15, 2006

Even With Improved Screens, e-Book Devices Not Ready for College
Campus librarians say new gadgets show promise but have a long way to go


A new generation of e-book devices recently hit the market, hoping to do for electronic books what the iPod has done for digital music — offer an easy-to-use, portable machine that can store vast libraries of material and make it accessible anytime and anywhere.

The screen is the big innovation in the new e-book devices, the most prominent example of which is the Sony Reader. (Another example is the iLiad, by iRex.) The displays rival ink-on-paper in their clarity and readability, thanks to an innovative technology called E Ink that was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Laboratory. Unlike a typical computer-screen display, E Ink does not light up or use illuminated pixels on a grid. Instead, the devices apply a complicated series of electric charges to millions of microcapsules that each turn either black or white, to spell out the proper letters, each time they draw a new page. The result is black text on a gray background, with about the same resolution as your daily newspaper — nearly 700 dots per inch.

"I am a 49-year-old woman who cannot read stuff on the dang computer screen," says Diane J. Graves, university librarian at Trinity University, in San Antonio. She recently bought a Sony Reader and raves about its display. "The ability to read that screen was — pardon the pun — like night and day compared to even a flat-screen monitor," she says. "That's the big breakthrough."

But will the new type of screen help the devices succeed where previous gadgets have failed? If you don't remember the Rocket eBook, the SoftBook, and other attempts at creating a machine that would make printed books obsolete, you're not alone. Hardly anyone bought them when they hit the shelves about five years ago. And while plenty of people have predicted over the years that laptops or tablet PC's would kill print, students still carry around textbooks.

When it comes to delivering long streams of text, the printed book is tough to beat.

Several college librarians who have used the Sony Reader told The Chronicle that the device is interesting but not ready for college-level work. And even Sony officials admit their new device is not ideal for the campus environment, since it cannot search texts or highlight passages a student might want to review right before a test. In fact, the machine has no input device, though users can press a "mark" button to electronically dog-ear a page of text for later reference.

"The Reader was designed for more the type of reader who just reads a book on vacation and less as an academic tool," says David Seperson, a product manager at Sony who works on the Reader device. It will take more research to develop a device suitable for college work, he adds. "We are looking into what's the best way to approach the higher-education market."

But the new screen technology does show promise, several college officials say, and it points to a future in which computers will be far easier on the eyes. And with huge digitization projects under way, such as Google's effort to scan millions of books from university libraries, more people may soon want to curl up with e-books in their favorite reading chairs.

$350 Price Tag

The Sony Reader could be called a book simulator. It looks like a book, measuring about 7 inches tall, about 5 inches wide, and half an inch thick. It weighs about nine ounces, as much as a thin hardback novel. And it has a leather cover flap that opens just like a book cover.

The retail price is about $350, which for now includes $50 in e-books from the Sony Connect store. Each book costs between $3 and $16, and the store boasts more than 10,000 titles, though academics are quick to point out that most are best sellers and not the kind of works that are on most college reading lists.

It is possible to load content onto the device from sources besides Sony's store, as long as the texts are in the popular portable document format (PDF), in plain text format, or in rich text format, which can be created using Microsoft Word. Some PDF's do not seem to work on the device, however. For instance, the Reader failed to display a couple of books downloaded from Google Book Search, which has a feature allowing some public-domain texts to be saved to a computer in PDF form.

The main benefit of the device is that it can pack the texts of more than 80 books into the space of one slim volume. "Students carry around a lot of heavy books, and they don't like that," says Saul Levmore, dean and professor at the University of Chicago's Law School, who recently went to a Sony store to check out the device firsthand.

He says he was impressed by the screen, but thinks that the device probably won't catch on until models that offer more features are released. "I think it's the thing of the future," he says.

Charlotte Johnson, director of user services at the Lovejoy Library at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, bought a Sony Reader in October and says she has read 20 to 30 books on it.

She says she originally thought that her library might buy a few of the devices and lend them to students as a pilot project. But she has nixed that idea.

"I would say it's probably not ready for prime time," she says, noting that the library might instead buy iPods or other devices to lend out so that students could listen to podcasts of lectures. "For that same amount of money, I think what our students would rather have is some kind of media player" that could play music and videos.

Ms. Johnson does praise the Reader's battery, which she hasn't had to recharge yet, despite frequent use. That is a big improvement over previous devices, she says, noting that she has owned "most every other e-book reading device" made in the past as well.

James G. Milles, associate dean for legal-information services at the State University of New York at Buffalo's law library, says he too bought a Sony Reader to test it out, and judged it overall "quite nice."

"The biggest problem I see with it right now is the limited selection for it in their bookstore," he says. He had hoped to load it up with a set of books for a professor studying terrorism and the war in Iraq, he says, but none of the books the professor wanted were available, even though the books were popular titles rather than academic ones.

Publishers Resist

Mr. Seperson, of Sony, says that its e-book store will grow, but that some publishers and authors are still wary. Some in the publishing world fear that they might lose control of books the way musicians and record companies lost control of recordings in the file-sharing era.

"I hate to pass the buck, but it's not our fault," Mr. Seperson says, noting that in some cases the company is asking publishers for digital copies but the publishers are refusing. Even some popular authors, like J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame, refuse to allow their works to be distributed in electronic form, he says.

"There is definite interest in the textbook market," though, Mr. Seperson says. "The publishers there are very interested."

Some academic publishers say that they hope future versions of the e-book devices support more of the functions that make digital publishing so exciting — like hyperlinks and multimedia.

"If the piece of electronic equipment doesn't add any value to the reader's experience, then what's the incentive to use it?" asks Kate Wittenberg, director of EPIC, the Electronic Publishing Initiative at Columbia. "The interesting question is what is the value added."

But even if someone produced the perfect e-book machine, she says, she is not sure that scholarly publishers are ready to put significant amounts of content on it.

"It's hard to say which has to come first — is the scholarly community waiting for a perfect piece of technology in order to move forward, or are the technology people waiting for the publishers to come forward with an extraordinary level and amount of content first?" she says.

Mr. Seperson says the company is interested in working with colleges on potential pilot projects involving the Sony Reader, but that no such projects are yet under way.

"The current device would work well for English students needing to pore through a stack of novels," he says.

"There's tons of public-domain and classical literature available both on our store and on that students can read," he adds, referring to the Web site of Project Gutenberg, a nonprofit effort that has long converted public-domain books to digital form.

Some observers, however, say that the Sony Reader's relatively small screen size and its lack of color capability are major limitations in many fields — such as science and medicine — where illustrations are important.

The device allows most texts to be displayed in three sizes, which can be especially helpful to students or professors with dyslexia or bad eyesight. But the feature makes it difficult for a scholar to cite a specific page of the text, since the number of pages in any given book changes depending on which size text is selected.

Questionable Premise

Others ask why on earth colleges would switch to electronic readers, when printed books have served academics so well for so long.

"Print books work really well," says Ben Vershbow, a researcher at the Institute for the Future of the Book. "They're a really good technology. They're not broken."

He says he has heard many companies talk about creating an iPodlike device for e-books, but he says a music player is not analogous to an e-book reader.

"The iPod was fixing a very real problem — portable music didn't work that well," Mr. Vershbow says, noting that it was a pain to carry around collections of CD's. "The iPod solved the problem. It's not so clear that the e-book reader really solves a problem."

Although some people do need to carry around large numbers of books at once, many others are happy to read one novel at a time. "I can't imagine how this will succeed," he says of the Sony Reader.

That said, the new screen technology will very likely be improved and used in other types of devices. "E Ink will continue to develop," he says, "and it will get better and it will do great things a little further down the road."
Section: Information Technology
Volume 53, Issue 17, Page A33

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Graphic Violence

Graphic Violence
Good and bad signage on the information superhighway.
Reviewed by Alan Jacobs | posted 12/11/06
From Books and Culture

Beautiful Evidence
By Edward Tufte
Graphics Press
213 pp.; $52

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic AdaptationBy Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón
Hill & Wang
144 pp.; $16.95, paper

In 1968 Edward Tufte received a Ph.D. from Yale University, having written a dissertation on the American civil rights movement. During the eccentric course of his academic career he taught political economy and statistics, among other things, but would become increasingly interested in activities quite distant from his formal academic training: large-scale sculpture, for instance; graphic design; typography and book-making. Eventually he founded his own publishing house, Graphics Press, and the titles of the four books he has published under that imprint suggest the chief concerns of the latter part of his career: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information; Envisioning Information; Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative; and, published earlier this year, Beautiful Evidence. Each of these books evidences a profound respect for the power of well-chosen designs—charts, graphs, outlines, and so on—to convey information quickly and powerfully.

But Tufte also reminds us that designs are often ill-chosen and poorly implemented. In this regard he may be best known for his relentless critique of PowerPoint, which, he believes, may have a place but certainly a less pervasive place than it now occupies. Indeed, in Beautiful Evidence Tufte compellingly argues that the inappropriate use of PowerPoint by some NASA engineers to present research about possible loss of foam insulation panels on the space shuttle Columbia led, quite directly, to the destruction of that vehicle and the loss of its crew. (That chapter of Beautiful Evidence is available on Tufte's website.) But he also shows some of the ways in which overuse of presentation software does less dramatic but nonetheless serious damage to people's ability to grasp information in many everyday contexts, in the business and academic worlds alike.

Reading Tufte on these matters can be a life-changing experience for people, like me, who deal in information every day—who are, as the current argot has it, "information workers." After spending some time in Tufte's company you become less inclined simply to accept the usual ways in which quantitative information, or non-quantitative information for that matter, is displayed. You start to ask yourself whether there are more creative ways than you had previously perceived to outline an idea for a book, or summarize historical developments for a college class you teach, or make handouts even for Sunday School or church vestry reports. You learn to try out various ways to organize information—historically, thematically, geographically—and in the process you force yourself to reconsider the way you habitually organize data in your own head.

But you also become a more critical reader, or viewer, of other people's visual designs. I became aware of just how much I have become Tufteized when, recently, I was reading The 9/11 Report: a Graphic Adaptation, by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón. (Some sample images from the book may be found here and here.) The book comes with an extravagant back-cover blurb from Stan Lee—"It will surely set the standard for all future works of contemporary history, graphic or otherwise"—but as the co-creator of Spiderman and the Fantastic Four, Mr. Lee could be thought rather biased towards the idea that a graphic version of the story is superior to a text-only version.

In fact, the first thing that should be said about The 9/11 Report: a Graphic Adaptation is that it is not an adaptation so much as an extreme abridgment. The two pages, 88 and 89, that I linked to above are based on more then a dozen pages of detailed narrative in Chapter 9, "Heroism and Horror," of the original report (which may be found in its entirety here.) One might argue that an image like that of the final panel on page 89—which depicts two people in the South Tower of the world Trade Center looking out their window at the burning wreckage of the North Tower, not knowing that their building is about to be hit—captures some of the human drama of the situation. Indeed it does. However, one could also argue that its need for verbal and even visual brevity prevents it from communicating some of that drama. It is only from the original report that one learns, for instance, that some people who had evacuated the South Tower immediately after the North one was hit decided to re-enter the building and return to their offices, where they were killed just minutes later when their building was hit or when, a short time afterwards, it collapsed.

Moreover, even when the "adaptation" is dealing with matters that should be amenable to being pictures, it makes relatively poor use of the powers of graphic display. A timeline showing the progress of the four hijacked planes—the two that hit the World Trade towers, the one that crashed into the Pentagon, and the one that passengers forced down in rural Pennsylvania—extends over several pages of largely blank space. Had this been compressed onto two facing pages we readers could have taken in at once the progress of each flight in relation to all the others. The statement that Osama bin Laden's "network extended to the United States" illustrates that claim with the mapped outlines of the state of New York, Boston, Tucson, Atlanta, Brooklyn—isn't Brooklyn in the state of New York?—and Chicago. These figures, which offer very little information, occupy an entire page. This makes them, in Tufte's terms, extremely "low resolution" graphics: a lot of drawing for very little informational payoff.

What seems to be at work here is a determination to avoid too much text, which in some cases can be commendable, since many people who need to know about the events of 9/11 are intimidated by books as big and dense as the original report. But it would have been nice to see the creators of the "graphic adaptation" think more imaginatively and creatively about how to employ the unique resources of visual imagery to compensate for the relative paucity of words. The person who reads this "graphic adaptation" will get the general outlines of the narrative of events leading up to and following 9/11—along with a few visually striking scenes of blood and gore, which is almost de rigeur for graphic narratives today—but will only get scraps of the serious analysis and the detailed recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. This is better than nothing, I suppose, but not what it could have been. Or so I think—but then, as previously noted, I have been Tufteized. Beware lest it happen to you.

Alan Jacobs is professor of English at Wheaton College. He's at work on a history of original sin.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Technology Obsolescence and the Archival Mission

This is from my own blog, but a book I thought is interesting for many faculty. . . .

I remember a decade ago trying to persuade my 84 year-old mother-in-law that she needed to toss her toaster because it created a situation where the bread would burst into flame. Since she lived in my house, I was particularly concerned about resolving the issue. When I told her we would simply replace it with a new and better one, for a very little bit of money, she struggled with the idea. Could we not take it to the repair shop and fix it? And I then proceeded to explain how not only was it probable that it could not be fixed, but that it might cost more money than simply acquiring a new toaster.

Most of us have experienced such conversations and, as Giles Slade in his new book, Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006), ISBN 0-674-02203, suggests, this is merely a common event for those of us living in the United States. As Slade writes, “Deliberate obsolescence in all its forms – technological, psychological, or planned – is a uniquely American invention” (p. 3).

Slade examines the origins of the acceptance of technological obsolescence, considering automobiles, weapons, computers, cell phones, transistor radios, razors, watches, clothing, manufacturing shifts, and the notion of branding for marketing. Slade slowly builds the background for the current problem in e-waste plaguing our society. “Now more than ever,” he writes, “end-users of new technology need to pursue higher levels of technological literacy in order to negotiate the complex interactions among technology, society, and the environment. Ignorance of these interactions effectively grants a permission slip for technological hazards to persist” (p. 263). At one point, Slade describes 250,000 tons of discarded cell phones in our waste dumps, along with other computer waste, as being the “industrial challenge” of the 21st century.

Made to Break is another compelling book about the downside of technology in society, but it also provides some interesting insights in why the role of professionals involved in preservation (archivists, librarians, historic preservationists, museum curators, and others) often has a difficult job in trying to convince the public about why old stuff should be saved. If we are so accustomed to throwing everything out, even when much of it is still usable, it may be a greater challenge convincing those with the necessary resources to save an old building, preserve a historic site, and put historic archives into an acceptable repository.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


You might find this site interesting. There are some cool visualizations possible using the world’s data (I don’t vouch for the quality of the data, though). Put it in the category of time wasters?

Virtual worlds ...

One of the many recent developments in the Internet economy are the emergence of virtual worlds (like Second Life). In these worlds, people can "live", trade and interact with others.

There were a few articles of interest regarding this particular virtual world.

  • In this article, Nicholas Carr performs a computation that shows that an average Second Life avatar consumes as much electricity as an average Brazilian. Thus, it may not be as "green" a hobby as one might otherwise have expected.

  • These virtual worlds have been discovered by real world organizations. This article reports that PA Consulting has opened an "office" in Second Life:
    The consultancy is already looking into new business applications in virtual worlds such as Second Life, where like many other enterprises, it has a virtual branch - in this case, though, all of the negotiations around building the virtual HQ have been done through avatars in Second Life itself.

    Godfrey said: "It was done by someone paid in Linden dollars, whose real name we don't know and who looks like an enormous rabbit."

  • Then, there are the potential tax implications, as reported here:
    Game publishers may have to send forms to individuals who receive nonemployee income they trade for valuable items like Ultima Online castles, EverQuest weapons or Second Life currency, even when those players don't convert the assets into cash.

Virtual worlds may thus be more real than you think ... maybe we need to open a SIS branch on Second Life ... would these enrollments count?

Ethics and Publishing

December 7, 2006 Inside Higher Education

Promoting Ethics in Science
About 10 years ago, Sheldon Krimsky was giving a talk to a group of researchers about money’s influence on science. When he was done, he says, a dean hosting the talk jumped up and tried to downplay the discussion.

Krimsky, a professor of environmental policy at Tufts University and author of Science in the Private Interest, said that he recently discovered that this person has been receiving money from a major corporation for research that might help sell its product. “A dozen years ago, any discussion about conflicts of interest in science was seen as McCarthyism.”

Increasingly, journals are appearing in front page scandals that expose undisclosed industry support of research and scientists who have faked results. Blackwell Publishing, trying to prevent such problems, recently released a comprehensive guide on publication ethics to the editors of its 805 academic journals. These principles provide practical advice to inform policies on a broad range of topics such as conflicts of interest. While the guidelines will not be mandatory, experts seem pleased and expect the move will help to clean up academic publishing.

The guidelines state, for example, that readers have a right to know who supported the research or the publication of a paper. Further, Blackwell advises editors to publish financial disclosures for letters, editorials and commentaries. And the specific role of the funders should also be revealed, whether in gathering data, analyzing results, preparing the manuscript, or controlling publication decisions.

“This sets a high standard for publishing in the journal field,” said Merrill Goozner, director of the Integrity in Science project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. For the last couple years, the center has been running a campaign to get academic publishers to tighten their ethical policies, particularly in disclosing the financial sources of authors and their research.

Numerous peer-reviewed studies have reported a funding effect in science. For instance, an article released last summer in the America Journal of Psychiatry analyzed 10 industry funded trials that compared antipsychotic drugs. Nine of the 10 trials found that the best drug was the one manufactured by the company paying for the study. And a survey of literature also found a publishing bias in studies on the plastics chemical Bisphenol A, which is used to make products such as baby bottles. Fred vom Saal , professor of biology at the University of Missouri-Rolla discovered that 109 of the 120 papers published on Bisphenol A reported that minute levels of the chemical may be harmful. However, 11 corporate sponsored studies found no effect.

“The best practice guidelines issued by Blackwell sets a new standard for the big journal publishers,” said Krimsky. “Even though it is advisory, it may raise awareness and change some of the cultural attitudes against taking conflict of interest seriously.” In a 2001 study, Krimsky found that only 16 percent of the top 1400 science and biomedical journals required authors to report conflicts of interest.

Diane Scott Lichter, vice president and publisher for medical journals at Blackwell said that the company is interested making certain that people who purchase their journals know where the money came from for the study and who did the research. On occasion, journal editors have even discussed punishing researchers, such as banning authors from publishing for a specified period, after failing to disclose financial ties. Lichter said that Blackwell will not enforce punitive measures and will leave that up to the individual journal editors.

Mark Seeley, senior vice president and general counsel for Elsevier, said the best thing journals can do is investigate charges of misconduct and then make the results public. “From my personal perspective, the most serious thing you can do to punish someone in science who has broken ethics is to publish that,” he said. Elsevier is the largest publisher in science and medicine and ethical guidelines vary among its 1,800 publications. Seeley said that Elsevier released conflict of interest procedures last year, and is working now on a general guide for ethics. While it may seem that science is facing a rising tide of ethical misconduct, he said, the truth is quite different.

Krimsky, however, disagrees. He said that publishing companies must also address books funded by corporations to support and protect their products. “This is not going to slow down,” he said. “We are looking at the tip of the iceberg because universities have turned themselves into zones of entrepreneurship.”

— Paul D. Thacker

You can find the guidelines at

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

ITU Telecom World 2006 conference

This article in BuisnessWeek reports on this ITU conference being held now in Hong Kong. While you might find some of the details interesting, I think the big picture is what matters most to this School. That would be that excitement (and investment) around the telecom industry are up. It is in a very optimistic place these days, which, hopefully, bodes well for enrollments in our programs. Quoting from the article:

At the last ITU Telecom World confab held in Geneva back in 2003, the mood was decidedly grim. After all, the industry was still reeling from overcapacity problems, a deep profit recession, and massive layoffs from the bursting of a global telecom bubble in 2000. Only a year earlier, the U.S.'s No. 2 long-distance carrier, WorldCom, had gone bust under the weight of $40-billion plus in debt in the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history and had been nailed for massive accounting fraud.

This time around, for the 2006 ITU global gathering that kicked off Dec. 2, the world's biggest telecom companies, handset purveyors, equipment makers, and government regulators have shifted the venue for the first time from Geneva to Hong Kong.

The Geneva-based ITU (or International Telecommunications Union) is the United Nations agency focused on information and communication technology issues. And the industry outlook is far brighter, what with the rise of China and India, big spikes in global mobile phone usage, and the recent rollout of wireless technologies and next-generation, high-speed networks.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Security as School-wide opportunity

In a recent email, John Unsworth (UIUC i-school dean) brought up an interesting idea:

"I propose that the I-Schools begin a deliberate campaign to develop education and licensing for people who will, as a part of their employment, be entrusted with the management of personal information. Moreover, as we develop this education and licensing, I think we should also campaign (with corporate and government bodies) to develop and focus demand for people with this education and license, and to develop funding for research and teaching programs in this area."

He cites this as one interesting reflection on the state of affairs, and goes on to say:

"It seems to me that LIS is the profession that already has appropriate values and traditions in this area (protecting library patron privacy on the one hand, ensuring appropriate access to information on the other), and we are well positioned to deal with the reality of a world in which technical and human systems and factors interact to create the problem-space. Social engineering is the easiest hack, so CS-based programs that just look at how to harden systems are overlooking the weak link. And so on: you see how this unfolds.

"If we were to embark on claiming this territory, we could not do it as one school, or two or three--but 20 of us, nationally and internationally, could do it. We could also become the experts to which reporters turn every time one of these stories surfaces, and we could use this problem-space as an entree into the broader world of people/information/systems and what information schools have to offer there."

I think he is on to something here, and it reminded me of the conversation among the GIST faculty last Friday about their perceived asymmetry between IS and LIS.

IBM and services education

This article in the NY Times (free registration required) should be required reading for most SIS faculty. The article is a Q&A with Irving Wladawsky-Berger, IBM VP for technical strategy and innovation. In it, he discusses efforts by IBM to partner with universities for what seems to be very much in the traditional bailiwick of the IS programs.

International Telecommunications Union report

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is an organization that is familiar to people interested in telecommunications and technology standards. It is the oldest extant international organization and is today a branch of the United Nations. In 1997, the ITU began to pay attention to the Internet. This effort has had two components. One is the World Summit for the Information Society (I have blogged about this elsewhere); the other has been to issue a series of reports, the latest of which Digital.Life was released in the past few days.

As we consider topics of broad interest to the school, reports like this might be good fodder for discussion.

St. Isodore and the Internet

From the Chronicle's Wired Campus blog comes this story, in case you're interested in the intersection between religion and technology ...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Home Movies

Here is an interesting story from today's NY Times

From the Desk of David Pogue: Saving Home Movies From
Disappearing Formats

Well, it's all over. The first six episodes of "It's All Geek
to Me," my new TV series, are in the can. I've spent the last
couple of months writing and shooting it, which explains why
there haven't been any Pogue videos at for
awhile. (Never fear -- they'll return shortly.)

Now, I've done TV *segments* for years, but this is my first
actual series, in which I'm the writer, creator and host. The
show will air next spring on three relatively tiny Discovery
Network channels: Discovery HD, Discovery Times (which will
have a new name), and Discovery Europe. I tell myself that
there's a silver lining: if the show tanks, at least it will
be on a quiet corner of the cable dial, so I can learn from
the mistakes and do better the next time.

One episode was especially educational -- for me, I mean:
Rescuing Old Memories.

In this show, we wanted to cover the increasingly important
problem of decaying or disappearing formats: home movies on
film, VHS tapes, vinyl records, data on floppy disks, and so

Turns out you can transfer audio records and tapes yourself,
with terrific results, using a CD recorder, Ion's iTTUSB
turntable, or a preamp directly into your computer. (Those
solutions produce far better-sounding copies than the Teac
all-in-one turntable I reviewed recently
VHS tapes aren't so hard, either, especially if you buy a
combo VHS-DVD deck.

Old reels of film, however, seemed like a tougher nut to
crack. My plan was to demonstrate, on the show, the old
"mirror box" gadget that's designed to bounce the light from
your old projector into the lens of a modern camcorder, thus
transferring the footage--except we couldn't find one. The
manufacturers told me they stopped making these things about
five or ten years ago.

We finally did find an old used one on eBay, though. It was
actually in great shape. But good grief, I pity anyone who
thinks that it's the solution to the decaying-reels problem.
It took an hour to get the projector lined up with the mirror
box, the box lined up with the camcorder, and everything in
focus and adequately bright.

The results looked reasonably close in quality to the film
reels--but the problem was the quality of the film reels! The
home movies from the 70's were red, red, red, as though shot
on Mars. (As film deteriorates, red is the last color to go.)

That's what's wrong with the drugstore and cheap mail-order
transfer places, too: they transfer the footage, but don't
color-correct or fix it. We actually got to see the machine
they use. It's called the Elmo, and it looks like a projector
except that, in essence, it has a camcorder sensor built
right in. You can connect the video output to any recording
device, like a DVD recorder. But the results, again, can be
really disappointing.

There is a way to restore old movies to their original color
and brightness, though: send your reels away to a
professional transfer house.

Later in the episode, we visited such a place. There, the
reels are first inspected by hand to make sure the actual
film is intact. Then they're run through this amazing, ten-
foot-tall cleaning machine that gently, gently lifts off dust
and particles.

Finally, a technician at a huge, NASA-style bank of video
computers in a darkened room watches every part of every
scene, color-correcting as he goes. He can program color and
brightness changes that fluctuate, even within each scene;
later, at the moment of transfer, his computers replay his
adjustments in real time.

It's jaw-dropping to see the kind of restoration they can do-
-but jeez Louise, it's pricey. About $700 for an hour of

I was amazed to learn that the target format for many of this
company's customers is VHS tape--not DVD. Yes, people will
pay $700 to have their movies transferred from one old,
obsolete format to another one with even less quality!
Even when transferred to DVD, though, the news doesn't get
any better. Home-burned (or transfer company-burned) DVD's
have an unproven longevity record.

They're not the same thing as commercially *pressed* DVD's
from Hollywood; recordable DVD's instead have patterns etched
into organic dye on the underside. And nobody knows how many
years they'll last.

"Eight to ten years," is what the transfer company told us.
Of course, the company has a vested interest in triggering
panic (and repeat business).

But it sure is depressing to realize that, even with all the
technology in the world, we still have no truly permanent
storage format for our data, audio and video. Think about it:
punch cards, tape drives, music cassettes, Zip disks,
floppies--how long does a typical recording format last
before society abandons it? Usually less than ten years.

Ten years from now, maybe I'll have to do another show:
"Rescuing Memories from Your Old, Decaying CD's, DVD's and
Hard Drives."
here is another blick on a wiki: This one counts MIT and the Wharton School at Penn among its sponsors....and uses a wiki model to create a textbook in business. Hmmm? Be sure to click on the link for the wiki itself: We Are Smarter Than Me


CRS report on "sensitive but declassified" information

Several of us have an interest in information policy. As a result, this report written by the Congressional Research Service might be of interest. These reports are not available directly from CRS as a matter of (their) policy. The Center for Democracy and Technology has created the Open CRS project to make these reports available to the public (which is how I came across this report).

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Academic blog portal

The Wired Campus Blog posted a reference to the Academic Blog Portal. You might find the listings interesting and useful. Since this portal is done Wiki-style, you can create an account and log in and add your own (I added mine ...).

Technology Matters

I read over last weekend a book that I believe could be used profitably in the undergraduate service course we have been discussing. Below is the publisher's blurb about it.

Technology Matters: Questions to Live With
David E. Nye
MIT Press, 2006

Technology matters, writes David Nye, because it is inseparable from being human. We have used tools for more than 100,000 years, and their central purpose has not always been to provide necessities. People excel at using old tools to solve new problems and at inventing new tools for more elegant solutions to old tasks. Perhaps this is because we are intimate with devices and machines from an early age--as children, we play with technological toys: trucks, cars, stoves, telephones, model railroads, Playstations. Through these machines we imagine ourselves into a creative relationship with the world. As adults, we retain this technological playfulness with gadgets and appliances--Blackberries, cell phones, GPS navigation systems in our cars.

We use technology to shape our world, yet we think little about the choices we are making. In Technology Matters, Nye tackles ten central questions about our relationship to technology, integrating a half-century of ideas about technology into ten cogent and concise chapters, with wide-ranging historical examples from many societies. He asks: Can we define technology? Does technology shape us, or do we shape it? Is technology inevitable or unpredictable? (Why do experts often fail to get it right?)? How do historians understand it? Are we using modern technology to create cultural uniformity, or diversity? To create abundance, or an ecological crisis? To destroy jobs or create new opportunities? Should "the market" choose our technologies? Do advanced technologies make us more secure, or escalate dangers? Does ubiquitous technology expand our mental horizons, or encapsulate us in artifice?

These large questions may have no final answers yet, but we need to wrestle with them--to live them, so that we may, as Rilke puts it, "live along some distant day into the answers."

David E. Nye is Professor of American Studies and History at the Center for American Studies, Odense University - SDU.

Monday, November 27, 2006

NAS Report: Renewing Telecommunications Research

Take a look at this report from the National Academy of Sciences. In it, the authors make a case for a concerted renewal of research in telecommunications, calling for the creation of a coordinating body (Advanced Telecommunications Research Activity) that takes some of its guidance from DARPA and others from Sematech.

WiFi Phones and access point usage

This article in the on-line NY Times (free registration required) should be of interest to more just me. The article discusses how a new generation of wifi phones make it possible to freely use "open" access points. How would you react if the following happened to you (quote from the cited article):
Gary Schaffer looked out his window here last week to discover a reporter standing on his lawn, pirating his wireless Internet access to test a new mobile phone.

The phone, made by Belkin, is one of several new mobile devices that allow users to make free or low-cost phone calls over the Internet. They are designed to take advantage of the hundreds of thousands of wireless access points deployed in cafes, parks, businesses and, most important, homes.

The technology’s advocates say that as long as people are paying for high-speed Wi-Fi access in their homes, they should be able to use it as a conduit for inexpensive calls and an alternative to traditional phone service.

But, in a twist that raises some tricky ethical and legal questions, the phones can also be used on the go, piggybacking on whatever access points happen to be open and available, like that of Mr. Schaffer.

[stuff deleted]

For his part, Mr. Schaffer said he would mind only if it had an adverse effect on him — which in theory it could, if the voice data caused congestion on his network. There is no clear indication to a network’s owner that a phone call is taking place, so most will not have the chance to object.

Not everyone is so open to walk-by talkers. “I don’t like it,” Kevin Asbra, another San Franciscan, said. “It’s an abuse of the system. I pay my bills. Why should you call for free?”

His wife, Karen Seratti, begged to differ. A Web site usability tester, she says she regularly looks for open access points so she can check e-mail when she is traveling or away from the office.

[more stuff deleted]

“There’s a big debate going on right now,” said Jennifer S. Granick, executive director of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School. Ms. Granick said some people believed that using a connection without permission constituted unauthorized access to computers, which is a crime, while others disagree.

Traditional analogies are hard to come by, she said, adding that she does not believe using Wi-Fi is the same as trespassing, since the signals travel beyond property limits. “People say that you can’t go inside somebody’s house; but I say, you can sit outside and listen to the radio,” Ms. Granick said.

To me, this raises a number of policy and ethical questions. To some extent, the way in which you resolve these questions hinges on what you imagine the future of the telecom industry to be.

The Digital Ice Age

This article in Popular Mechanics was suggested by Ellen. It does not deal with global warming, but with the evolution of digital storage formats and its challenges for preservation ...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

IT, Speed, and Quality of Life

Here is an interesting essay about the impact of information technology on society, perhaps with some implications about quality of life issues we sometimes discuss. For example, Levy writes, "I will argue that our more–faster–better attitude, which is intimately connected with the striving for technological advance, is driving out slower practices that are essential to our ability to govern ourselves with maturity. Without adequate time to think and reflect, time to listen, and time to cultivate our humanity, and without spaces that are protected from the constant intrusion of information and noise, I do not see how we can respond to the innumerable social and political challenges of the new millennium with the quality of attention they deserve. In order to rectify this state of affairs, I will suggest that we take steps to design spaces and times for reflection and contemplation. Much as the modern–day environmental movement has worked to cultivate and preserve certain natural habitats, such as wetlands and old growth forests, for the health of the planet, so too should we now begin to cultivate and preserve certain human habitats for the sake of our own well–being."

More, Faster, Better: Governance in an Age of Overload, Busyness, and Speed by David M. Levy
First Monday, special issue number 7 (September 2006),

Here is the abstract: While today’s information technologies provide powerful means to connect us to one another and to vast sources of information, there is increasing evidence that they are also having the opposite effect: disconnecting and distancing us from ourselves and the world around us. Indeed, information overload and the accelerating pace of life — conditions the technologies encourage if not determine — appear to be contributing to health problems, decreased work satisfaction and productivity, as well as to the diminishment of our ethical, social, and political faculties. This paper will focus on the ways current conditions may be limiting our ability to control or govern ourselves, both personally and politically, by driving out slower, “endangered” practices, such as time to think and reflect, time to listen, and time to cultivate our humanity. Drawing a parallel with the environmental movement, it will argue for cultivating and replenishing these endangered habitats, designing spaces and times for reflection and contemplation in the service of mature governance.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Internet applications, bandwidth, network neut, etc.

It may not surprise you that I have been following the so-called "network neutrality" discussion with considerable interest (there are numerous posts on my blog on this subject). With the new Congress in January, we might even see revived efforts to regulate the Internet along these lines. So, when Forbes published this article today, it brought this discussion back to mind for me (I posted this item on my blog that contains excerpts from the article).

It seems to me that this article reinforces exactly what the carriers have been saying in this debate ... that network upgrades are necessary and costly, that both content providers and users benefit from this, and that they (the carriers) should have the right to be able to charge any parties who benefits for the service. On the other hand, the article is mum on the concern of content blocking that might arise from vertical integration. But then, this issue has been a matter of concern since the 1860s (no, this is not a typo) when Western Union and AP hammered out an agreement that protected each market from the other. To me, "net neut" is a replay of this discussion. Aside from Madison River, it is very difficult to find a case in which this kind of vertical integration has limited consumer access to applications. So isn't it a bit premature to regulate?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

System science in IEEE Computer

Ian Foster, in his blog, posted this summary of the November issue of IEEE Computer. Given the interest in identity and branding that was raised by the Board of Visitors, some of you might find both his summary and the articles interesting. You should be able get access to the full text PDFs from a Pitt computer (thanks ULS!). Two of the articles in this issue are directly related to our Cyberinfrastructure RIG, and another to the Health Information Systems RIG.

Study on "spectrum harmonization"

You might find this report interesting, written at the behest of the European Commission by the consultancy Booz Allen and Hamilton. In case you're wondering what they mean by "harmonization", you might find this definition helpful:
Harmonisation in this study means defining technical conditions, including spectrum, band plan and technology, at a global and regional level, to ensure efficient spectrum use, seamless services over wide areas including roaming, system co-existence and global circulation of user equipments across borders.

Then again, maybe not ...

Not suprisingly, they find benefits in harmonizing spectrum, though others would argue that a free market approach confers more benefits on the end users in the end. They present some data, like SMS use, to bolster their argument. To me, this is a misuse of the data, since they fail to mention that SMS use is higher in Europe in large part because of high per-minute costs. Similarly, they show rapid growth in mobile usage ... if they are counting telephone numbers in use, they may not account for the fact that many people in Europe have multiple SIM cards to avoid high roaming costs.

Nonetheless, this paper is useful to read ... parts of it do a pretty good job of laying out the issues and at least they are attempting to address the question with some data ... how refreshing!

Could Our Blog Be More?

We have had a number of discussions about "branding" as a way of marketing our program. A number of us, myself included, recognize that the diversity of our faculty expertise is a strength.

What if we started a blog, maybe called Pitt SIS Faculty Reports on the State of the Information Scoeity, where we posted reviews of publications, Web sites, reports, new legislation, media discussion of issues concerning the use of information technology, and so forth?

We could agree about an acceptable length (maybe limited to 500-750 words), pace them out on a daily basis, and have one individual serve as the manager/gatekeeper to keep the blog on track. Maybe this could be a doctoral student working with a faculty member. Maybe it could be a faculty member.

We could discuss this as a mechanism for supporting the development and teaching of the undergraduate course and the work on developing one graduate course (2000) across the programs.

This could be fun, useful, and draw some attention to our school. With 30 faculty members, I doubt that keeping a daily blog going five days (or even seven days) a week would be insurmountable as a problem. It could help bring us across our own boundaries.

We also could report on our own research, publications, that of our students, guest talks by leading experts, and so forth.

What do people think?

Big Brother Technology

This Week in Ubiquity:

Volume 7, Issue 45

November 21, 2006 – November 27, 2006)


In "The Next Step: Privacy Invasions by Biometrics and ICT Implants," Karsten Weber argues that both libertarian/liberal and communitarian arguments necessarily will support a kind of ³democratic² Big Brother scenario. Weber is at the University of Opole, Poland / European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder), Germany.

40 Years of Higher Education
From the issue dated November 24, 2006

After 40 Years of Growth and Change, Higher Education Faces New Challenges
40 Years of Higher Education | By the Numbers | Opinion: 40 Years Later


Winston Churchill, it is reported, would openly weep whenever he heard "Forty Years On," the song of his old school, Harrow. The 40th anniversary of the founding of The Chronicle of Higher Education is a cause not for weeping but for celebration. It is difficult now to imagine the world of higher education without it.

But what of higher education itself over the course of those 40 years, weeping or celebration? That's a more complex question.

Consider, first, the context in which The Chronicle began publication on November 23, 1966. On that day, The New York Times reported that Joe Frazier had knocked out Eddie Machen, that the Soviet Union's emphasis on civil defense reflected concern over China's growing nuclear capacity, that Dick Gregory would travel to North Vietnam, that President Lyndon B. Johnson aimed to reduce federal programs by $3-billion, that the Syrian government and the Iraqi Petroleum Company faced a "crisis," and that the D'Oyly Carte Company opened a run of Ruddigore at the City Center and "delivered it to the avid audience with a sparkling air of wicked innocence."

In that year, Medicare was introduced, the FDA declared "the Pill" safe, a first-class stamp cost 5 cents, and the Oscar for the best movie was awarded to The Sound of Music. Like the present, the country was engaged in a widely unpopular war, but, unlike the present, there was also a student draft. To those who lived through them, the 1960s will always be remembered not only as a time of educational change, but also as the great age of campus disruption. Protests convulsed the campuses.

It is easy to forget just how tumultuous those days were. Led by Berkeley, Columbia, and Harvard, campuses across the nation erupted in strikes, protests, and building takeovers. "Nonnegotiable demands" were presented on an almost daily basis. In 1969-70, at the height of student protests, there were, according to research by Helen Horowitz, a professor of history at Smith College, "9,408 outbreaks; 731 of them led to the intervention of police and arrests; 410 of which involved damage to property; and 230, physical violence." What a time to create a newspaper devoted to the coverage of higher education.

The scene in 2006 is vastly different. In retrospect, it seems remarkable that the nation's colleges and universities emerged relatively intact from those contentious days. But institutions have changed, and it is worth noting some of those changes.

Colleges and universities have continued to multiply to accommodate the nation's expanding population. In 1966 the total U.S. population was 196,560,338; this fall it hit 300 million. In about the same time, the number of colleges and universities rose from 2,329 to well over 4,000, including branch campuses. Each category of institution has seen a growth in newly created campuses.

The net addition of more than 900 four-year campuses and more than 900 two-year campuses represents a remarkable national commitment to higher education. That increase in overall numbers of campuses involved the closure of some existing institutions, as well as the creation of new ones. Some 583 colleges and universities closed their doors during this period, 48 of them public and 535 of them private. Natural selection, it seems, exists in higher education no less than in nature.

For-profit institutions have gained prominence. They now account for about 8 percent of student enrollment in colleges eligible for financial aid. That has been one of the biggest changes in the educational landscape. In 1966 such institutions were largely unknown. Today there are some 908, and the largest, the University of Phoenix, has an online enrollment of almost 116,000 students.

The proportions of students enrolled in public and private institutions have shifted. The percentage of students at private institutions has dropped from about 32 percent in 1966 to 25 percent — a trend that has persisted since the end of World War II.

The demographics of the student body have changed, and access has improved. Female enrollment has increased almost four times as rapidly as male, and the representation of women and underrepresented minority groups continues to increase, especially in fields in which they had earlier been seriously underrepresented.

For example, female degree recipients now outnumber men at every level except the doctorate, but even there women now earn 48 percent of the new Ph.D.'s, compared with 12 percent in 1966. Indeed, the growth in the proportion of women in both graduate and professional schools has been especially marked. In 1966 women earned just over 4 percent of all first professional degrees awarded; this year it is estimated they will receive almost 52 percent.

Minority groups have also made significant gains. African-American students have grown from 5 percent of the freshman class at four-year colleges 40 years ago to more than 11 percent today. We have no adequate data from 1966 for Latino students in the freshman class, but they now make up 7 percent. Asian-American students make up 8 percent, compared with 0.7 percent; American Indian students 1.7 percent, compared with 0.6 percent.

Colleges and universities are becoming increasingly international. More than 500,000 international students — about a quarter of all international students worldwide — were enrolled in American institutions in 2004, although other countries now outpace the United States in growth in that market. The number of American students studying abroad has exploded from fewer than 25,000 in 1965-66 to nearly 206,000 in 2004-5. American institutions offer degree programs in at least 42 other countries.

An increasingly well-educated population has arisen from those changes in enrollment patterns. Between 1960 and 2000, the percentage of the population age 25 and older with a bachelor's degree or higher more than tripled to almost one-fourth. By 2005 more than 18 percent of American adults held bachelor's degrees, and about 10 percent held graduate or professional degrees.

Developments in information technology have transformed colleges and universities. The rise of computers has had a huge and largely beneficial impact on instruction and learning, research, student life, and countless other aspects of higher education. The world and all its knowledge are now literally at the fingertips of today's undergraduates. The relationship between such computerization and the quality of learning is not easily quantified, and the impact on college costs continues to be a matter of debate. Distance learning, however, is here to stay and will only continue to influence our institutions in the future.

Student backgrounds and attitudes have shifted. The survey of freshman students at four-year institutions conducted each fall since 1966 by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles depicts in strong relief the gains that women have made in higher education. The percentage of freshmen whose mothers had college degrees grew from just over 20 percent to more than 52 percent, and the percentage with mothers with graduate degrees increased more than fivefold to 18 percent. Such trends have been accompanied by a striking decline, from 35 percent to less than 10 percent, over the last 30 years in the percentage of students who listed their mother's occupation as homemaker.

Similarly, the aspiration of freshman women to pursue graduate and professional work shows a fourfold increase between 1966 and 2005 in the percentage of women aspiring to law degrees, an almost fivefold increase in interest in medical and dental degrees, and an almost threefold increase in doctoral degrees.

Student attitudes show striking changes over the past 30 years, with declining support for laws prohibiting homosexual relationships and for those who believe the activities of married women are best confined to home and family. Today's students appear to have more intellectual and social self-confidence and a greater belief in their abilities in many areas, including leadership and motivation. Fewer expect to be satisfied with college, but more expect to graduate with honors and more expect to work to support themselves in college.

The numbers of students applying for admission to three or more colleges has more than doubled since the mid-60s. Meanwhile, the reasons for deciding to go to college have changed in emphasis, with many more students attending because they are following their parents' wishes or hope to make more money.

The percentage of students expressing enthusiasm for cleaning up the environment has waned by half since the early 1970s, to 20 percent, while the percentage of those saying they desire to develop a meaningful philosophy of life has plummeted from 86 percent to 45 percent, and of those wishing to keep up with political affairs has fallen from 60 percent to 36 percent. Meanwhile "being very well off financially" has become far more important (75 percent of students compared with 42 percent in 1966). In terms of political views, somewhat fewer of today's students than their predecessors in the early 1970s characterize themselves as liberal (27 percent compared with 36 percent) and rather more as conservative (23 percent compared with 17 percent).

Few data are available that allow us to compare the broader cultural landscape in higher education over a span of 40 years. There are, no doubt, marked differences between various types of colleges and universities, and even perhaps within them. But a number of continuing trends seem to raise general concerns.

The public universities — especially the flagships — have suffered from a prolonged period of shrinking state support as a portion of their revenues. The University of Michigan, for example, now receives only about 8 percent of its total annual revenue from the state, and the University of California at Los Angeles only 15 percent. Although the situation has somewhat improved recently, the long-term tightening of state budgets has led increasingly to what several writers have called the privatization of public universities. But that "privatization" is one-sided: The universities have been required to raise more of their support from private sources, including tuition, but are still not allowed much freedom to manage their own affairs. The fate of the flagships should be a matter of public concern because their contributions to higher education — graduate and professional, as well as undergraduate — are major. It is time for the states to give them the freedom they need to develop their programs and to then hold them accountable for reaching specific goals.

Collegiality within academe seems to be a vanishing trait. Instead "the university community" has become a euphemism for an assemblage of conflicting interests. Perhaps "community," like youth, is never what it was, but the practical effects of the loss of meaningful dialogue and collegiality are serious. In education, the increasing departmentalization and fragmentation of the curriculum represent a growing threat to the quality of the undergraduate experience. Meanwhile, the great overarching challenges of our time — climate change, energy supplies, sustainability, poverty, hunger, conflict and war, health and disease — sprawl across the boundaries of the disciplines. With faculty appointments and awards jealously preserved within the confines of traditional departments, the academy is ill equipped to bring the full weight of its expertise to bear on such vital issues.

Faculty members' allegiances to their institutions have eroded. Such loyalty has been replaced by a greater commitment to the invisible scholarly guild: the professional associations, scholarly societies, and online scholarly conclaves. Some will argue that this change is an inevitable reflection of the scholarly fragmentation I have just described and of the relative reduction in the proportion of tenured or tenure-track faculty members, which has slipped from 57 percent to 35 percent of the academic work force over the last 30 years. Perhaps. Others will claim that it is less of a problem in liberal-arts colleges than in research universities. I hope that is so. But if I am right, both our institutions and our students are the poorer for the change.

Structural reform remains elusive in the academic culture. The structural imbalance between goals, tasks, and resources seems to have shown little improvement since 1966. The rigidity of departmental structures of faculty appointments continues to limit the ability of colleges to adapt and respond to new circumstances. Any change tends to be laboriously incremental, with a significant time lag between the decision to make it and the ability of the institution to carry it out.


Respice, prospice. Surveying the landscape over the past 40 years, we can find much to celebrate, much to praise. But looking forward, our celebration must be calibrated against both the situation within our own society and the achievements of the rest of the world. Against that background, recent commentators have found little about which to cheer.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, commenting on the report of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, for example, has declared:

"Our universities are known as the best in the world. And a lot of people will tell you things are going just fine. But when 90 percent of the fastest-growing jobs require postsecondary education, are we satisfied with 'just' fine? Is it 'fine' that college tuition has outpaced inflation, family income, even doubling the cost of health care? Is it 'fine' that only half of our students graduate on time? Is it 'fine' that students often graduate so saddled with debt they can't buy a home or start a family? None of this seems 'fine' to me. Not as a policy maker, not as a taxpayer, and certainly not as the mother of a college sophomore.

"The commission drew a similar conclusion. In their words, 'Higher education has become at times self-satisfied and unduly expensive.' In fact, times have changed. Nearly two-thirds of all high-growth, high-wage jobs created in the next decade will require a college degree, a degree only one-third of Americans have. Where we once were leaders, now other nations educate more of their young adults to more-advanced levels than we do."

The four major issues raised by the Spellings commission — accessibility, affordability, accountability, and quality — have all increased in significance since 1966. They will never be "solved" but must continually be confronted if colleges and universities are to play their fullest role, continue to enjoy the public trust, and retain their independence. Although there will be federal and state efforts in each of these four areas, real change, if it is to come, must come from within institutions.

Distinctively American Aid

Do past events encourage hope for such change? Consider, for example, the closely linked concerns of affordability and access. Looked at over a 40-year time span, America's higher-education institutions are now as accessible as any in the world to all students, providing they can afford the tuition charges and demonstrate their competency to perform the work required. Virtually all our colleges charge for their services and require certain minimal standards of academic preparation, in contrast to countries with free tuition and open admission. Over the past four decades, that has produced a pragmatic and distinctively American pattern of financial aid, with a mixture of grant aid and student self-help in the form of loans and work.

Tuition and fees have been steadily rising, which is scarcely cause for surprise. What is a matter of public concern is that they have risen so sharply. Over the last quarter-century, average tuition and fees have increased more rapidly than rates of inflation, per-capita personal income, consumer prices, prescription health care, and health insurance. And that has a direct bearing on access. The unmet financial need of students from the lowest family income group (less than $34,000) has grown by 80 percent since the early 90s.

Colleges are quick to respond that higher education is labor intensive, that at public institutions those sharp increases reflect substantial losses in the proportion of state support, that at private institutions the fastest-growing expense has been financial aid. All that is true. But there is also nagging public concern, forcefully expressed in the Spellings commission report, about what seems to be declining teaching loads, a growing emphasis on buying bright students with merit awards, and an increase in the proportion of students taking more than four years to graduate.

We in higher education would be unwise to ignore such concerns. We shall see a steady increase in the number of high-school graduates over most of the next decade, but the changing geographic distribution; age range; racial, ethnic, and economic characteristics of those students; as well as their level of preparation, will place substantial new demands on higher education. We should respect warnings and complaints from colleges about ill-advised demands for increases in efficiency and productivity, but the problem of costs is real and will not go away.

Closely related to the issue of access is the academic preparation that students need to enter college and succeed there. If that is to improve, the states, the federal government, businesses, and colleges must all play a role. We can argue forever about who is responsible for failing schools, and there is enough blame to cover all of the players. But the urgent task facing the nation is to improve school performance. Better teacher education, partnerships with elementary and secondary schools, cooperation in curriculum planning, distance learning, remedial programs, and advanced placement will all enhance academic preparation. And improving that will, in turn, improve all levels of work in the schools.

Accountability is the other big "A." The Spellings commission urged institutions to make graduation rates, time to degree, and other performance measures available to the public. There will be legitimate debate as to the wisdom and effectiveness of using various assessment instruments, but the call for greater academic "transparency" is not one that colleges should neglect.

What about quality, the fourth issue the commission raised? Although no simple test can compare the achievements of the graduates of our 4,216 colleges, there are troubling signs. In surveys employers have raised questions about the critical abilities of recent graduates, and whatever surveys of student ability that do exist are also cause for concern. America has some of the world's best colleges: The sweep of the "scholarly" Nobel prizes this fall by our nation's faculty members confirms that. But we need to take seriously the call for quality and accountability. If we in higher education do not find some way to demonstrate the effectiveness of our programs and represent the abilities and skills of our graduates, others — for instance, the federal and state governments — may determine to do it for us.

Finally, we are constantly reminded that we live in a global economy, in which science, technology, invention, and innovation are the keys to survival and success. Thirty-five to 45 years ago, we led the world in the proportion of our adult population holding both high-school diplomas and college degrees. No more. We now rank seventh internationally in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds holding college degrees.

Of special concern is the lack of a significant increase in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology graduates. According to The Economist, India graduates 400,000 engineers and 200,000 IT professionals each year, and the cost to employ an Indian graduate is about 12 percent that of an American one. Talent, as it has been remarked, is now the world's most sought-after commodity. Ranking in international educational comparisons may well indicate future rankings in national economic success.

Even as we celebrate the achievements of higher education since The Chronicle's founding in 1966, we should also confront the issues the Spellings report has raised. Our national interest and our people's well-being, our growing population and its rapidly changing demography, our depleted planet and its changing climate, all create an added sense of urgency.

"The task of a university," Alfred North Whitehead once declared, "is the creation of the future, so far as rational thought, and civilized modes of appreciation, can affect the issue." Forty years on, we should welcome, embrace, and reaffirm that high calling.

Frank H.T. Rhodes is president emeritus of Cornell University.
Section: Special Report
Volume 53, Issue 14, Page A18

Monday, November 20, 2006

Libraries beckon, but stacks of books are not part of the pitch

This article by Christopher Conkey in the Wall Street Journal, October 21st, 2006 issue talks about how university libraries are reshaping themselves to cater to and attract students back into libraries. Here is a link to EBSCO that will point to the full text. You probably need to click on this from a Pitt computer.

Whatever Happened to the Faculty?

Interesting brief interview with author of new book on faculty in higher education; good food for thought.

Nov. 20

‘What Ever Happened to the Faculty?’
Mary Burgan, former general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, is not happy about the trends she sees with regard to faculty rights. Traditional governance models are being replaced with strict hierarchies, and too many faculty members have too little influence in crucial decisions, she writes, in What Ever Happened to the Faculty? Drift and Decision in Higher Education, just published by Johns Hopkins University Press. Burgan recently responded to questions about the themes of her book.

Q: You have a chapter on the “myth of the bloviating professor” and you frequently talk about other misconceptions about professors. What are the most dangerous misunderstandings of the professoriate and why are they so widely held?

A: The most dangerous stereotype is that professors are overpaid and underworked. Such a view focuses only on the faculty in privileged positions where the teaching schedules are gauged to inspire research productivity and the pay, though never so astronomical as pay for outstanding achievement outside the academy, makes for a nice life — especially given the pleasant environment of reasonably well kept campuses. But such faculty are a diminishing group, for the bulk of academicians in today’s environment of downsizing, outsourcing, and unbundling of professional work do not have such cushy lives. Further, under this diminishment even privileged, “full” faculty find themselves burdened with increased administrative and supervisory responsibilities as well as the unending mandate to “keep up with the field.” I don’t want to overplay their pity story, of course; those who manage to get tenure in higher education are indeed fortunate. They can spend their lives thinking and teaching and serving the higher good in many ways; that kind of autonomy is rare.

But I do want to emphasize the fact that the source of the stereotype is a devaluation of intellectual work in general. Our culture tends to think that the only work worth paying for is work that produces some tangible, often short-term profit. And so professors who produce computer scientists, MBA’s, or genetic technicians may be considered worth their salaries. All the others are simply ... overpaid and underworked. Such a devaluation of the complexity of knowledge fails to address the value of such mental activities as puzzling through difficult crises in human history, understanding the diversity of cultures, learning the languages of the rest of the world, or patiently and critically clarifying the values we should live by. Current history shows that failure to honor such work can lead to catastrophic results.

Q: You are quite critical of distance learning. Do you think distance learning is by definition bad, or just that the examples you cite reflect certain programs that may not have been well planned and thought out?

A: I wouldn’t condemn distance learning outright, of course, just as I wouldn’t condemn the book — that older technological discovery that changed education for everyone. Both of these innovations can be lifesavers for those who can’t get education any other way. What I do deplore is the notion that because some students can learn through such resources, they offer the magic key to all learning. I do not believe that higher education can dispense with real time and place contacts — which require campuses and teachers — by turning it over to the Internet, albeit with generous accommodation of chat rooms and the like. That notion is convenient economically; it relieves society of having to provide expensive campuses and professors for everyone, and it facilitates an entry of the profit competition into higher education as never before.

But the hype for distance ed ignores the essential social contract involved in the teaching/learning exchange as enacted in live settings. Most cultures have viewed such an exchange as a sacred, communal duty — one that involves socialization as well as the intake of information. In setting up their educational systems, they have also declared the usefulness of a “moratorium” for learners, especially adolescent learners, so that such novices can test their understanding in environments that permit exploration of individual talents, encounters with unfamiliar personality styles, and the experience of life in the context of communal effort. Further, the presence of teacher and learner in such traditional systems leads to mutual insights that are essential in intergenerational understanding. I don’t think that this rich process can happen in distance education — valuable as individual courses can be for the mastery of particular bits of knowledge or practice. Finally, a pressing concern about distance education is that it has been the tool for entrepreneurs who seek to turn higher education into a corporate enterprise — complete with advertising come-ons, lobbying for access to federal funding and accreditation, and questionable accountability. Such enterprises can’t offer the benefits I value, and don’t think they ought to.

Q: How do distance learning and other trends — such as the quest for research that will produce patents and royalties — play into the relative power (or erosion of power) of faculty members?

A: The conversion of colleges and universities into knowledge factories that produce profit also turns faculty into cogs in the machine, or gigabytes in the hard drive. They can be rewarded fabulously, or course, if they hit the right discovery or win the right patent, but when the only power in the academy is money power, faculty influence dwindles. It’s not just that the money-makers get all the respect, they get all the resources too — colleagues, staff, graduate students. As an English professor, I worry about the eclipse of those core faculty who do the basic, foundational work of undergraduate education — like teaching critical thinking, writing, basic math and science — by those who do graduate teaching and research only. Some faculty members have bought into this system, but many more worry about the way it diminishes their control of educational standards. I share that worry.

Q: One of the major trends in the academic job market these days is the growing use of adjuncts. Does that trend make it impossible for professors to regain more power over higher ed?

A: I believe that the faculty as a whole must address the issue of adjuncts by embracing all their instructional colleagues as integral members of the professoriate. Without incorporating the rising numbers of adjuncts, the faculty is permitting its power to leach out into an increasingly potent mixture of managerial faddism and rank exploitation that is too often characterized by bureaucratic carelessness. As the system has become more and more dependent on adjuncts, “regular” faculty have little contact with them. Tenured and tenure-track faculty members frequently have little idea about the number of adjuncts their institutions depend on, for example, and few confront the stark facts about how much individual adjuncts teach and for how little money. Thus faculty in many schools abet a stratification that blinds them to the inequities of their situation, and so work in a constant state of bad faith. It may be that faculty unionization is the only force that can turn the tide, but such collective action will need to command the respect of faculty at all levels to be really successful.

Q: When administrators hear faculty complaints about governance, a frequent reply is: I’d love professors to be involved, but they hold endless committee meetings and are afraid of making tough decisions. What would you say to those who say professors are responsible for being excluded from decisions because of the way they act?

A: Administrators do find it annoying to have to listen to people who are trained to be suspicious of bureaucracies. But they are frequently right about the faculty’s lack of executive drive or political good sense. I believe that every graduate program, in every discipline, should institute some kind of course in academic citizenship. Such a course, or course segment, would be designed to inform potential faculty members about the basics of self-governance. By “basics,” I mean not only theories about governance, but also practical texts like Robert’s Rules of Order, the local faculty handbook, and the AAUP Red Book. A short survey of the history of American higher education would be useful too. And the course might want to take a look at some Dilbert cartoons to understand how organizations can tangle themselves up in stupidities. Of course, Dilbert also reveals that governance idiocy is not limited to university and college campuses!

Q: What is your advice to faculty members who want to see professors play more of a role in the way academe is run?

A: I would advise them to serve conscientiously on important departmental and school committees (and to know which are important and which aren’t worth their time). I would also advise them to stand for office in their faculty senate and/or to be active in their local faculty union; neither of these instruments of faculty authority can be effective without participation by rank and file faculty. I would urge them to be aware of and support the wider range of civic activities in their professional organizations. And finally, I would say that unless they are deeply concerned about teaching at all levels, including K-12, they will not be able to make much of a difference. Traditional faculty power has derived not only from research achievements but from the American academy’s engagement with our public schools. In turning away from training and supporting school teachers as a primary responsibility in every major department — not just in the School of Education, higher education has lost a lot of its credibility with the public.

My book is titled What Ever Happened to the Faculty? By that title I meant to imply that the faculty have been made irrelevant in many discussions and decisions about education through forces that are almost beyond their control. But teaching is not beyond their control, and so my title also challenges my own colleagues. I am haunted by the image of a first-year student, just out of high school, wandering through some campus searching for a real, live teacher there.

— Scott Jaschik

The original story and user comments can be viewed online at

Friday, November 17, 2006

high school student view of -- maybe we should recruit this one for the BSIS?

This site has a interesting take on, from the perspective of a high school student from the suburban Baltimore/DC metro area:

pokoj, Ellen Detlefsen

Going Postal

I posted this on my own blog today -- but thought it would be interesting to some others here

Most Americans take for granted the daily arrival of mail at their doorsteps. Some may have reflected on the existence of the postal service only because their increasing use of electronic mail has affected how, when, and why they choose to write a letter, affix a stamp, and drop it into a corner mailbox.

Historian David M. Henkin has reintroduced us to the era when the postal system was just becoming established and Americans were just learning how to use the mail in his The Postal Age: The Emergence of Modern Communications in Nineteenth-Century America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), ISBN-10:0-226-32720-5. Henkin leads us through a discussion of the establishment of the postal service and the communications revolution it generates, the emergence of the post office as a local institution, the transformation of the idea of the personal letter, and the rise of the notion of junk mail. Individuals interested in how personal documents changed in the nineteenth century certainly will want to read this book.

Henkin reminds his readers that the old style postal service remains important even in our digitally networked age and that its nineteenth century version laid the “cultural foundation . . . for the experiences of interconnectedness that are the hallmarks of the brave new world of telecommunications” (p. ix). As he demonstrates over and over again in his study, “Before telephones, before recorded sound, before the transcontinental railroad, and even before the spread of commercial telegraphy, postal exchanges began habituating large groups of Americans to new expectations of contact with distant places” (p. x). The postal service was initially established to serve business, but like the later experience with the telephone, it quickly became a critical system for supporting individuals in their personal and family lives (as Henkin richly describes in his chapters on letter-writing in the California Gold Rush and Civil War). Henkin points to the experiences with the post during the American Civil War as particularly important: “None of this intense and enduring interest in solders’ letters is remarkable, and it is hardly surprising that Americans on both sides of the conflict preserved, circulated, and published Civil War correspondence – and have continued to so ever since. What is worth noting, however, is how a national investment in these letters as historically significant and personally poignant served, in the 1860s, the secondary cultural function of dramatizing the role of mail in everyday life. By 1865, the war experience had given most Americans additional reasons to think of the post as the repository and conduit for the sort of epistolary self-representation that united families across great distances and preserved family identity over time” (pp. 145-146).

What Henkin tracks is certainly a major transformation in American life. Over less than half a century, Americans move from being a people who experience the arrival of mail rarely to being accustomed to receiving it daily. Rich with statistical data and embellished with particular examples and cases, The Postal Age is a major contribution both to the origins of our modern information society and our understanding of how individuals created and maintained personal documents. Henkin identifies the rich documentary reserves for such a study: “Despite the exaggerated aura of secrecy and privacy that surrounds personal correspondence (and despite the flimsy materials, ephemeral purposes, and unheeded wishes for self-destruction that attended so much epistolary contact), an extraordinary number of letters have survived, filling historical societies, manuscript collections, and private attics throughout the country. The sheer volume and diversity of this archive is daunting – and potentially confusing – but there is no better repository of information concerning the uses to which Americans put their increasingly accessible postal network and the expectations they brought to it” (p. 6). Henkin also draws on diaries of the period, mixing their discussion about the mail and reading letters in with newspaper accounts, literary journals, government reports, etiquette and letter-writing manuals, and an array of other documentary materials. Using such sources, Henkin reveals how the letter, and mail in general, became such a pervasive and desired item that many social commentators of the day warned of its more pernicious influences on the morals of youth, women, and others, especially as strangers could now interact more freely and threaten one’s privacy, livelihood, and time.

The Postal Age is an important addition to our understanding of both the evolution of personal recordkeeping and the origins of the modern information era. Archivists and other records professionals will learn a great deal about how the common person began to use the increased potential of a postal service to build networks of personal, family, and business arrangements. Those interested in the idea of a modern information age or its particulars, from telecommunications to concerns with privacy and secrecy, also will be illuminated. Too many assume that what we are experiencing today is the result exclusively of computer technologies, but Henkin shows that there were immense social, political, economic and other factors involved in laying the foundation for our presented global networked age. As Henkin concludes, in relating our present era to the earlier one, the “persistence of mail as a slower, seemingly more immanent form of communication in the age of instantaneous electronic exchange is potentially misleading. Despite all the changes that separate us from the postal culture of the mid-nineteenth century, our pervasive expectations of complete contact, of boundless accessibility, actually link us back to the cultural moment when ordinary Americans first experienced the mail in similar terms. The world we now inhabit belongs to the extended history of that moment” (p. 175).

Defending the Lecture


Friday, November 17, 2006

A glance at the current issue of Change: A defense of lecturing

In an essay adapted from her forthcoming book, What Ever Happened to the Faculty?: Drift and Decision in Higher Education, Mary Burgan, a former general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, argues against academic reformers who believe an effective professor should be "a guide by the side" rather than "a sage on the stage."
Ms. Burgan, who is also a former professor of English at Indiana University at Bloomington, says the "honorable tradition of lecturing" has found opposition in recent years because of concerns over student diversity and technology.

The worriers, she writes, believe that lectures may be too rigid to accommodate students from a plethora of backgrounds. They also suspect "that modern students may be so wedded to the shifting imagery of an ever-more-iconic technology that they cannot attend to talking heads," she says. Many reformers, therefore, suggest that universities replace lectures with seminars in which faculty members "facilitate students' exploration of the material," Ms. Burgan writes. This "rosy vision," as she puts it, leaves no room for "the learned expert in charge of a lecture hall." And most faculty members will reject it, the author writes, because they know that "students are apt to slack off without the support of a structure that makes some demands upon them."

Faculty lecturers, Ms. Burgan says, are irreplaceable. At least in a lecture, she writes, it is easier to witness information going over a student's head: "Students can act out their incomprehension and boredom more successfully en masse than in a small group." Another positive feature of lecturing, she says, "may be the student's relief at having an expert rescue him from mistakes a novice might make along the way -- and also save him the irritation of having to spend his precious time listening to the opinions of classmates rather than a clear presentation of known facts and issues."

Most important, she writes, is that because "excellent lecture sessions raise questions in ways that inspire students to seek answers together," they offer "the possibility of being 'plugged in' to a learning process that is shared in reaching understanding."