Saturday, March 31, 2007

Revisiting the NSF Cyberinfrastructure Report

I would like to add in my two cents and concur that the NSF report, Cyberinfrastructure Vision for 21st Century Discovery (March 2007), is a crucial document for our School. I approached it with skepticism, knowing that it’s focus was on science and engineering, and understanding that our work takes us far beyond these domains. Yet, I found throughout the report comments suggesting the need for us to break down bureaucratic and disciplinary (and other) barriers in our School. For example, in the executive summary we find this statement: “Responding to the challenges and opportunities of a data-intensive world, NSF will pursue a vision in which science and engineering digital data are routinely deposited in well-documented form, are regularly and easily consulted and analyzed by specialist and non-specialist alike, are openly accessible while suitably protected, and are reliably preserved” (p. 3). This strikes into a number of our programmatic tracks and specializations. In fact, the report makes overt comments on the knitting together of different disciplines, such as with this statement: “Ongoing attention must be paid to the education of the professionals who will support, deploy, develop, and design current and emerging cyberinfrastructure. For example, the increased emphasis on ‘data rich’ scientific inquiry has revealed serious needs for ‘digital data management’ or data curation professionals. Such careers may involve the development of new, hybrid degree programs that marry the study of library science with a scientific discipline. Similarly, the power that visualization and other presentation technologies bring to the interpretation of data may call for specialized career opportunities that pair the graphic arts with a science or engineering discipline” (p. 39). This is a report worth required reading by all SIS faculty, especially since it might jar all of us out of our little worlds to see the bigger universe that is SIS.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

New NSF report on Cyberinfrastructure

This report from the National Science Foundation should be required reading at SIS.
The five chapters of this document set out NSF’s cyberinfrastructure vision. The first, A Call for Action, presents NSF’s vision and commitment to a cyberinfrastructure initiative. NSF will play a leadership role in the development and support of a comprehensive cyberinfrastructure essential to 21st century advances in science and engineering research and education. The vision focuses on a time frame of 2006-2010. The mission is for cyberinfrastructure to be human-centered, world-class, supportive of broadened participation in science and engineering, sustainable, and stable but extensible. The guiding principles are that investments will be science-driven, recognize the uniqueness of NSF’s role, provide for inclusive strategic planning, enable U.S. leadership in science and engineering, promote partnerships and integration with investments made by others in all sectors, both national and international, and rely on strong merit review and on-going assessment, and a collaborative governance culture. This chapter goes on to review a set of more specific goals and strategies for NSF’s cyberinfrastructure initiative along with brief descriptions of the strategy to achieve those goals.

The five chapters focus on the following four areas and include a "Call to Action":

  1. High Performance Computing
  2. Data, Data Analysis and Visualization
  3. Virtual Organizations for Digital Communities
  4. Learning and Workforce Development

Next September we will have the opportunity to reconsider the Research Interest Groups that we have. I think that it would be useful for us to perform that reevaluation in light of this report, considering that NSF is one of the major funders of the information sciences.

Libraries at the Cutting Edge

Libraries at the Cutting Edge
By Pamela Snelson

The trendiest meeting place on many college campuses these days features a coffee bar, wireless Internet zones, free entertainment and special programs, modern lounge areas and meeting rooms.

And free access to books. Lots of books.

This educational social hub is the campus library, which is beginning to look more like an Internet café than the academic library you remember from your college days.

Far from fading away in the Age of Google, which has begun digitizing millions of books from university and other libraries, and despite the almost universal availability of vast online resources, circulation and visits at college and research libraries are on the rise. Campus librarians now answer more than 72 million reference questions each year — almost twice the attendance at college football games.

In other words, this is not the beginning of the end for campus libraries, but the dawn of an exciting new age.

Strategies for today — and tomorrow

A quick look at two familiar Web sites will demonstrate that academic libraries now play a vital role in how students and faculty find and gather information via the Web as well as in the stacks. Both Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland offer a full range of online library services, from catalogs (formerly known as “card catalogs") to research help to DRUM — the Digital Repository at Maryland, which provides a permanent online address for computer files and eliminates the need to attach them to e-mail messages. The Julia Rogers Library at Goucher College subscribes to services that provide students with access to over 22,000 online titles, while Baltimore City Community College’s library gives students technology support and online access to research materials.

The volume of information available on the Web has led some students to believe that if a resource can’t be found online, it doesn’t exist. This mistaken idea, coupled with concerns about the reliability of information on the Web and the potential for plagiarism from online sources, has led faculty and librarians to team up to teach information literacy skills.

Nationwide, higher education institutions have developed information literacy instruction to help students understand how to find and evaluate information online and in print — more bang for their tuition buck! Many colleges and universities even provide “personal trainers,” so students can work with librarians one on one, or with a group project team to brush up on the best databases for a particular class or assignment.

Technology training helps students succeed in class, but also prepares them for future careers. Information literacy is critical to a competitive work force, and information-literate people know how to find accurate, useful information that will help them through family, medical or job crises.

Partners in education

College and research librarians are partners with professors in educating students, offering new perspectives, developing curriculums and facilitating research projects, and they lead the library world in digitization efforts and online reference.

Our nation’s college and research libraries are constantly finding new ways to better serve students, faculty and staff, online and in person. More than 90 percent of college students now visit the online library from home.

Yet use of the nation’s physical academic libraries and their collections grew from more than 880 million library visits in 2002 to more than a billion in 2004, according to the most recent data from the National Center on Education Statistics — an increase of more than 14 percent. Circulation of library materials in the same period was up by 6 percent, to more than 200 million items.

In short, if the classroom is the first stop in the learning experience, the library is the next, and great libraries continue to be a key to a great education.

Pamela Snelson is the president of the Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association, and college librarian at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. The ACRL is holding its National Conference in Baltimore March 29-April 1.
The original story and user comments can be viewed online at

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Service Science

You might find this article in the NY Times interesting and of relevance to SIS. It seems, with our focus and expertise, that this is an area for exploration, perhaps for a RIG when we reconsider our current constellation of RIGs this coming September. From the article:
The creation of the organization, the Service Research and Innovation Initiative, will be officially announced today. It represents the latest step by technology companies and some universities to promote an emerging field that is being called “service science.”

The early academic programs are a blend of computing, social sciences, engineering and management. The aim of service science is to try to improve productivity and accelerate the development of new offerings in services, which account for about 80 percent of the United States economy and similarly large shares of other Western economies.

In the last couple of years, more than three dozen universities in several countries have added service science courses, and the National Science Foundation has begun financing a few service research projects.

Among corporations, I.B.M. has been a leader in promoting service science programs in universities, and it has reoriented its own research laboratories to focus more on services.


For better or worse, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a central piece of US information policy. So, you might find this article of interest, which summarizes a recent audit by the National Security Archive of the 1997 e-FOIA extensions. Quoting the article:
A recent audit by the National Security Archive--an independent, nongovernmental research effort at George Washington University--paints a bleak picture of governmental noncompliance with E-FOIA a decade after its enactment.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Chronicle: Teaching "Feral Librarians"

Recommended by Ellen:

A teaser from the article:
If you work in an academic library and are under 35, you probably don't have a lot in common with your older counterparts. You are far more likely to work in areas beyond the confines of traditional librarianship, often in information technology. You are less likely to hold a degree in library science. You are more diverse in ethnic and racial terms. And while those of you in nonsupervisory jobs generally earn less than your comparable older colleagues, some of you in high-tech jobs earn much more.

Does this suggest an opportunity for an "MLIS Essentials" program, perhaps as part of a CAS?

Technology Review: A Smarter Web

Recommended by Ellen:

Friday, March 23, 2007

Carr: Are CIO's Dead Weight?

This item is engaging reading on the function of CIOs. Carr reports on an exchange between Chris Anderson (of "Long Tail" fame) and the CIO community. In the end, Carr observes:
... what’s most interesting is that, once you peel back their rhetorical differences, you find that [Anderson and Koch] are largely in agreement. They both believe that most CIOs serve mainly a control function rather than one of innovation.

That's a big change from the prevailing view about the direction of the CIO job at the dawn of this decade, when it was commonly assumed that the IT department would become the locus of not just IT innovation but business innovation in general.

An economist's take on tenure

You might find this item engaging:

Yes. Unproductive old people are not, in academia, a huge problem. Most of the research value comes from a small percentage of creators in the first place, and many of those people have done their important work by age 45 in any case. To put it bluntly, the tenure system works because for many people their "output" doesn't matter in the first place; tenure is however wonderful for the stars. The goods produced in academia are often symbolic goods anyway, such as prestige.

And what is the market trend? Private universities strengthening the real value of tenure by raising salaries and lowering teaching loads. That's what the market test says. Superstars are becoming more productive, in part because of the Internet and the greater ease of disseminating quality work. For-profit universities, which typically don't have tenure, have failed to take over the sector, once again showing there is usually competition between different organizational forms.

"Folding at Home" and Sony's PS3

Not a course for geeks on doing laundry ... Folding at Home is a peer-based computational project that simulates protein folding, similar to what SETI@home is doing for extraterrestrial intelligence. The idea is that you donate your computer to a project like this when you aren't using it by running their screen saver.

Recently, Sony developed software for its new Playstation 3 to support the Folding At Home project. This report, from the gadget blog Gizmodo, illustrates just how powerful the computation of this system is.
... a small legion of 13,000 PS3s running the Folding at Home app account for most of the computing power in the project, amounting to about 56 percent (PS3s = 316 measured TFLOPS) of the total.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

CS enrollment troubles

In contrast to the Money article, check out the continuing difficulties CS departments are having here

CNN/Money's "Best Jobs"

You might find this article interesting (thanks, Ellen!). Note that Software Engineer and IT Analyst are both on this list ... how can we spin PR around this? Note also that College Professor is #2!

Update: You might find this item from Slashdot interesting. Please read the comments ...

Why the Semantic Web will fail

You might wish to read this blog post, opining that the semantic web cannot succeed because of the coordination costs between enterprises. Coordination costs (also called transaction costs) can indeed become significant and lead to hierarchy, as the economist Oliver Williamson famously argued in his book Markets and Hierarchies. However, it need not be that way. Incentives to cooperate are large and can lead to standards, which reduce transaction costs and lead to markets. This could be an interesting student project ...

Monday, March 19, 2007

UNESCO on the Ethical implications of Emerging Technologies

Given the interest in ethics at SIS, this report, produced by UNESCO, might be of interest. From the report's Foreword and Introduction:

The quickening speed of technological evolution leaves little time to decision-makers, legislators and other major stakeholders to anticipate and absorb changes before being challenged to adapt to the next wave of transformation. Lacking the time for lengthy refl ection, the international community is often faced with immediate policy choices that carry serious moral and ethical consequences: Increase public infrastructure or permit preferential use by investors? Allow the market to oblige people to participate in digital systems or subsidize more traditional lifestyles? Let technology develop as it will or attempt to programme machines to safeguard human rights?

-- 8< -- snip -- 8< --

To that end, this survey analyzes certain UNESCO goals in light of emerging technologies that will usher in the future Information Society – in particular:

  1. The Semantic Web and Other Metadata – Metadata, or data about data, enables greater automated analysis of information; the Semantic Web promises to use metadata to create an environment in which computers can serve as intelligent agents rather
    than mere tools.
  2. Digital Identity Management and Biometrics – Digital identity management allows the amassing and automatic processing of personal data; biometrics provides means by which human beings can be uniquely identified.
  3. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and Sensors – These technologies monitor the physical world, using communications technology to distribute information about a specific location.
  4. The Geospatial Web and Location-Based Services – Both of these technologies serve to associate digital data with physical locations.
  5. Mesh Networking – Mesh networking facilitates the formation of networks across areas without existing communications infrastructures. As such, it can help connect underserved areas.
  6. Grid Computing – This technology may allow the world’s computing power and data storage resources to be pooled for people to access as needed.
  7. New Computing Technologies – Combined with the technologies listed above, a powerful mix of optics, quantum computing, and other new technologies has potential to bring about a “global brain.”

Because choices in their design and use carry moral consequences, these technologies pose significant infoethics challenges.

This survey considers these choices in the light of key UNESCO infoethics goals - in particular:

  1. Fostering the application of human rights and fundamental freedoms in cyberspace;
  2. Extending the public domain of information;
  3. Enabling diversity of content in information networks; and
  4. Promoting access to information and means of communication.

Taking these objectives as a given, the survey employs them as measures in assessing likely consequences of different technological choices.

While considering the moral and ethical aspects of emerging technologies has value, to do so in the absence of consideration of commerce and prosperity (implied by the second question in the first paragraph) can lead to faulty conclusions, in my opinion.

Turnitin in BusinessWeek

Pitt subscribes to the service Turnitin, whose goal is to help professors address plaigarism. Some of us have used this service in the past. You might find this article especially interesting in that context. Here's a teaser ...
In an effort to help students and teachers achieve that understanding, Oakland (Calif.)-based iParadigms founded a service called Turnitin in 1997. Now being used by more than 9,000 schools, Turnitin uses software to help educators know whether a term paper includes previously published material that has been improperly cited. IParadigms says its membership has doubled each year for the past seven years. "[We're in] a beautiful market position," says Chief Executive John Barrie. He expects the company to sign up an additional 100,000 clients in the next 10 years.

But lately, iParadigms has hit some speed bumps that underscore the difficulty of thwarting plagiarism and other forms of cheating in the digital age. Critics say Turnitin's methods compromise copyright protections and foster a climate of suspicion between students and educators. Some also question its effectiveness in rooting out plagiarism.

Here's how Turnitin works: Students at participating schools and colleges submit most or all of their written take-home assignments to their teacher through the service's Web-connected application. It then compares the work for sentence or phrase matches against three databases: a comprehensive Internet snapshot, a library of published articles, and a pool of millions of previously submitted student papers (about 120,000 papers are submitted daily). The teacher receives a "Similarity Index" for each submission—a measure of what percentage of the work contains plagiarized material—as well as instant access to the sources in question. From there, it's up to the educational institution, which pays about 80¢ a student per year, to mete out any punishment that may be warranted.

Anyone want to take a crack at discussing some of the ethical questions that might arise out of such a service?

JCR Licklider and "Man Machine Symbiosis"

I thought that you might enjoy reading this article, which discusses Licklider's famous paper "Man Machine Symbiosis". Here is a teaser from this short note:
The sad truth is that several candidates could make a strong claim for ... [the] title [of the most important computer theorist you never heard about]. But when you consider the impact J.C.R. Licklider had on the technology industry, it's hard to square his impact with his subsequent near-anonymity.

Forty-seven years ago this month, Licklider published a 12-page essay with the offputting title "Man-Computer Symbiosis." I'd love to know what kind of impact he thought it might have.

Licklider passed away in 1990 but I did get to know him--a little--through the powerful vision in his writings. Similarly, Rick Rashid, who runs Microsoft Labs, recalled that "Man-Computer Symbiosis" is "an amazing piece to read--even today. It described aspects of what would become elements of personal computing and the Internet long before even the beginnings of either."

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Google's revised privacy policy

In light of the discussion at yesterday's LIS faculty meeting, you might be interested in this item. Quoting the article:
It's not actually deleting that data, only making it for all intents and purposes anonymous. Why keep the data at all? Various legal reasons, but also to help Google offer services, such as those spell-checking tips when you do a search with a misspelled word, and reduce spam.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Information Technology and productivity

The link between IT investments and productivity has been debated over the last 20 years. Many studies have shown a tenuous link at best between the two. This study, released yesterday, is the latest in this discussion. The authors write:

In the new global economy information and communications technology (IT) is the major driver, not just of improved quality of life, but also of economic growth. Moreover, there are strong indications that IT has the potential to continue driving growth for the foreseeable future. Yet, most policymakers do not adequately appreciate this fundamental reality. In fact, after the post-2000 economic dip many concluded incorrectly that the IT economy was smoke and mirrors.

The reality is that while the benefits of new technologies are often exaggerated at first, they often turn out to exceed initial expectations in the moderate-to-long term. This is exactly what has happened with the digital revolution. The digital economy is more than fulfilling its original promise, with digital adoption rates exceeding even the most optimistic forecasts of the late 1990s. The integration of IT into virtually all aspects of the economy and society is creating a digitally-enabled economy that is responsible for generating the lion’s share of economic growth and prosperity.

Notwithstanding the centrality of IT to economic growth, there have been surprisingly few attempts to catalogue what is known about IT’s impacts on the economy. This report attempts to do just that by collecting, organizing, and surveying studies and examples of IT’s impact in five key areas: 1) productivity; 2) employment; 3) more efficient markets; 4) higher quality goods and services; and 5) innovation and new products and services.


Importantly, the “IT engine” does not appear likely to run out of gas anytime soon. The core technologies (memory, processors, storage, sensors, displays, and communication) continue to get better, faster, cheaper, and easier to use, enabling new applications to be introduced on a regular basis. Moreover, the adoption of digital technologies by organizations and individuals continues to grow.


IT boosts productivity in a variety of ways. It lets organizations automate tasks, freeing workers up to create value in other tasks. IT also has widespread complementary effects, including allowing organizations to fundamentally reengineer processes and lets organizations more efficiently use capital and natural resources. IT also has a number of indirect effects, which in turn spur higher productivity,
including enabling larger markets and better organizational decision-making.

In addition, IT boosts economic output by enabling more people to work. The IT industry itself creates jobs, on average paying 84 percent more than average jobs. Moreover, IT appears to be playing a key role in reducing the severity of the business cycle, allowing the economy to run at full capacity more of the time. Additionally, IT makes it easier for more people to join the workforce, including disabled people and people who cannot work full-time, but who can work part-time or from home.

Monday, March 12, 2007

PA open records law?

This item in today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette may be of passing interest to a few people here ;-). Quoting the article:
[Governor Rendell's] office, with the help of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, is drafting an open-records proposal that would apply to every level of government, including departments, municipalities and courts.

"The presumption will be that records of the government are citizens' records," said Donna Cooper, Mr. Rendell's policy director. "If a record is not going to be released, there has to be a clear personal-security or public-security reason."

The burden would be on the government to prove the record should not be released.

That's a shift from the current law, which requires the requester to prove a record is public.

NY Times on digitization

You might find this article in the NY Times interesting and relevant to our research. The following quote captures the gist of the article:

As more museums and archives become digital domains, and as electronic resources become the main tool for gathering information, items left behind in nondigital form, scholars and archivists say, are in danger of disappearing from the collective cultural memory, potentially leaving our historical fabric riddled with holes.

"There's an illusion being created that all the world's knowledge is on the Web, but we haven't begun to glimpse what is out there in local archives and libraries," said Edward L. Ayers, a historian and dean of the college and graduate school of arts and sciences at the University of Virginia. "Material that is not digitized risks being neglected as it would not have been in the past, virtually lost to the great majority of potential users."

To be sure, digitization efforts over the last 10 years have been ambitious and far-reaching. For many institutions, putting collections online, for both preservation and accessibility, is a priority. Yet for every letter from Abraham Lincoln to William Seward that can be found online, millions of documents bearing fine-grained witness to the Civil War will never be digitized. And for every CD re-release of Bessie Smith singing "Gimme a Pigfoot," the work of hundreds of lesser-known musicians from the early 20th century are unlikely to be converted to digital form. Money, technology and copyright complications are huge impediments.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

EU on girls in IT

Here is a website developed by the EU to encourage girls to consider careers in IT. There might be some good recruitment materials that we can take advantage of.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

NY Times on the volume of data being created

You might enjoy this article that discusses a new estimate on the amount of data being created. The article notes:
The report, assembled by the technology research firm IDC, sought to account for all the ones and zeros that make up photos, videos, e-mails, Web pages, instant messages, phone calls and other digital content cascading through our world today. The researchers assumed that an average digital file gets replicated three times.

Add it all up and IDC determined that the world generated 161 billion gigabytes -- 161 exabytes -- of digital information last year.

That's like 12 stacks of books that each reach from the Earth to the sun. Or you might think of it as 3 million times the information in all the books ever written, according to IDC. You'd need more than 2 billion of the most capacious iPods on the market to get 161 exabytes.

The previous best estimate came from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, who totaled the globe's information production at 5 exabytes in 2003. One of the sponsors of that report, data-storage company EMC Corp., commissioned IDC's new look

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Darwin's God

I don't if anyone else caught the fascinating article in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine, called Darwin's God, by Robin Marantz Henig. In addition to the content which is interesting, she does a remarkable job of weaving arguments, theory, and experiments in way that does not shy away from the underlying complexity of the thesis. There is no one conclusion but many possible explanations as to the importance of religion from an evolutionary perspective. It is tied in up in human cognition, anthropology, neuroscience, just to name a few.

I see from her website that she writes on a vareity of topics beyond science. I recall her NY Times article on dying was another great piece that went far beyond the simple arguments that we usually hear.

Google Book and Copyright Issues

Katherine Noyes of the E-Commerce Times discusses the legal implications of Google Book Search and the recent attacks by Microsoft:

Microsoft Copyright Attorney Bashes Google Book Search

Thomas Rubin, Microsoft's associate general counsel for copyright, trademark and trade secrets accuses Google of taking a "cavalier approach to copyright" and of making money off other people's copyrighted creations in a prepared speech to be given Tuesday to the annual meeting of the Association of American Publishers in New York.

See full article for details.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Print and the Web

Interesting essay by Edward Tenner on the relationship between print and the Internet. For the full essay go to

Here is an excerpt --

On a positive note, one recent study implies a surprising strategy for cultivating reading and book buying. Andrew Abbott, a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago and chairman of a task force that studied library usage by all parts of that university, reported in the October issue of the University of Chicago Magazine: "The more an individual uses books, the more he or she uses electronic-research resources, and vice versa. ... At the very least, the survey data provides no evidence that traditional research practices are being replaced by electronic ones. Thus, the replacement hypothesis — a standard idea in library literature — must be rejected."

The possibility follows that the more sophisticated students become as users of search engines and online databases, the more likely they will become readers, and perhaps buyers, of books. The knowledge-hungry person will need and appreciate print, just as many serious readers of traditional books in an older generation became the gurus of today's electronic scholarship. As Abbott observes, "there was no evidence that younger people were somehow 'more electronic.'"