Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Grand Challenges for Engineering

It seems that there is no shortage of "grand challenges" documents. This one, a project of the National Academy of Engineering may be different in that it seems to be actively engaging the engineering community to contribute. Please take a look, especially at the comments that have been contributed, and consider contributing your own.

Zotero - The Next-Generation Research Tool

You might find this Firefox extension handy in these days of web-based research. I haven't played with it extensively yet ...

Girls in STEM

You might find this article interesting. This article addresses five myths about girls in STEM disciplines.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Six figure IT jobs

This article, referred by Glen Ray, highlights high-paying IT jobs that should be accessible by MSIS graduates. Perhaps this can be used to support our recruitment efforts.

Mind your manners!

You might find this article enjoyable (I did) ... perhaps this is an area where we need to educate our students, given that increasing numbers are coming to class with laptops. Now, we just need to tackle mobile phones!
Quoting the article:
The Microsoft.com Web site even lists seven rules for using laptops in meetings, including “Make Sure There’s a Point” and “Turn Down Bells and Whistles.” In some meetings, especially if the topic is sensitive, it just seems more respectful to leave the laptops closed. On the other hand, if the meeting is covering a variety of areas and the conversation is moving into something I’m not involved in, I don’t feel too bad about catching up on my e-mail. It beats doing so at 11 p.m.

BBC's Tech Lab

BBC's Tech Lab has articles where "the world's leading thinkers give a personal view of future technologies". Among the many articles: one by Vint Cerf on his take on the Internet and one by Dave Winer on future "blog-like" technologies.

Blogged with Flock

Friday, August 24, 2007

Beloit's list: This year's Freshman

This list is always entertaining ... some exerpts:
  • What Berlin wall?
  • Pete Rose has never played baseball.
  • Russia has always had a multi-party political system.
  • U2 has always been more than a spy plane.
  • Fox has always been a major network.
  • Women’s studies majors have always been offered on campus.
  • Being a latchkey kid has never been a big deal.
  • They learned about JFK from Oliver Stone and Malcolm X from Spike Lee.
  • China has always been more interested in making money than in reeducation.
  • They’re always texting 1 n other.
  • They will encounter roughly equal numbers of female and male professors in the classroom.
  • Avatars have nothing to do with Hindu deities.
  • The World Wide Web has been an online tool since they were born.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

2007 OFCOM Communications Review

I posted this item over at my blog, and I thought it might be of broader interest:

The British regulator OFCOM released its 2007 review. The report is worth reading ... here are a few of the report's key points:

  • The availability of broadband to more than half of UK households has driven the development of converged services and devices.
  • Convergence has opened up major revenue opportunities for the producers of many content types. Over the first half of 2007 90% of UK singles sales by volume came from digital downloads to the computer or a mobile handset. The market for computer game playing has also been transformed, with millions of consumers worldwide now engaging in shared online gaming experiences.
  • Audiovisual content, by contrast, continues to be largely broadcaster-funded, although independent producer revenue from new media rights more than doubled to £42m in 2006.
  • The traditional advertiser-funded model of broadcast audiovisual output faces pressures both from the growing popularity of online advertising (it rose by nearly half in 2006 to £2bn) and from the multichannels (which attracted advertising revenue of over £1bn in 2006).
  • Increasingly sophisticated devices are beginning to influence consumer behaviour. Fifteen percent of individuals now have a digital video recorder (DVR) and up to 78% of adults who own them say they always, or almost always, fast-forward through the adverts when watching recorded programmes.
  • Bundled communications services are increasingly popular with consumers, with 40% of households now taking more than one communications service from the same provider (up a third on last year). A majority of broadband customers take it as part of a bundle.
  • Each person now consumes more than seven hours of media and communications services cumulatively per day. However, the tendency to consume some media simultaneously means that the actual time spent on media is likely to be less than this.
  • Digital television penetration broke through the 80% barrier in Q1 2007, taking the total number of homes with multichannel television to 20.4 million (80.5% of the total).
  • Radio reach has been stable over the last five years at around 90%. However, total listening hours fell by 1.4% in the year to Q1 2007, and are down 4.0% on five years ago. Listening hours have fallen furthest among 25-34 year olds, down by 17.3% over five years, and among children, down 8.7%. However, the over-55’s are now listening to more radio, with hours up by 5.5%.
  • Some 58% of listeners say they have accessed radio through one of the digital platforms (up seven percentage points on last year); 41% have listened via DTV, 24% over the internet, and 8% via mobile phone. Twenty seven per cent of UK adults now own an MP3 player, with 5% using them to listen to radio podcasts.
  • Average household spend on telecoms services fell by nearly a pound in 2006 to £64.73 per month. For the first time, average mobile spend fell (by 70p to £31.72) as falling prices more than compensated for an increase in the total number of connections and in the average number of voice calls and text messages per subscriber. Like-for-like prices (based on a basket of services with average usage at 2006 levels) fell by nearly 9%.
  • Total industry revenue in 2006 was £47.0bn, of which £38.5bn was retail revenue (i.e. revenue from end-users). This was an increase of 1.4% on 2005 but represents significantly slower growth than the previous five years as fixed-line revenues declined and growth in mobile and broadband revenues slowed.
  • More than half of UK households had broadband by March 2007. The average (blended) headline speed in June 2007 was 4.6Mbit/s, although actual speeds experienced are often considerably lower, varying according to the quality and length of line from premises to exchange and the number of simultaneous users.
  • Households with a mobile connection (93%) exceeded households with a fixed connection (90%) for the first time in 2006. Average calls per mobile connection rose above 100 minutes a month for the first time, while average calls per fixed-line connection fell below 300 minutes.
  • Local loop unbundling accelerated through 2006 so that by the end of March 2007, 72% of UK premises were connected to an unbundled exchange (an increase from 45% in March 2006). The proportion of premises in unbundled areas taking LLU services rose from 3% in March 2006 to 9% in March 2007.
  • Analysis of time spent online reveals that Britain is a nation of shoppers and social networkers. More time was spent on eBay than on any other web site, and social networking sites Bebo, MySpace, Facebook and YouTube are all in the top ten sites by time spent.
  • Women aged 25-34 spend over 20% more time online than their male counterparts. ‘Silver surfers’ also account for an increasing amount of internet use with nearly 30% of total time spent on the internet accounted for by over-50s (although, as over-50s account for 41% of the UK population, their internet usage remains significantly lower than average).

Monday, August 20, 2007

Will The Response Of The Library Profession To The Internet Be Self-Immolation?

I am posting this item for Ellen:

Will The Response Of The Library Profession To The Internet Be Self-Immolation?
by Martha M. Yee, with a great deal of help from Michael Gorman

There are two components of our profession that constitute the sole basis for our standing as a profession. The first is our expertise in imparting literacy to new generations, something we share with the teaching profession. The other is specific to our profession: human intervention for the organization of information, commonly known as cataloging. The greater goals of these kinds of expertise are an educated citizenry, maintenance of the cultural record for future generations, and support of research and scholarship for the greater good of society. If we cease to practice either of these kinds of expertise, we will lose the right to call ourselves a profession.

*** Read on by following the link ...***

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Perhaps of interest

The "information flood" has a longer history than we suppose.
By Alan Jacobs | posted 08/13/07

Books & Culture

James O'Donnell, in his thoughtful book Avatars of the Word (1998)—there's a supplementary website here,—argues that until fairly recently the role of the university professor was to be "the supreme local authority" on his or her subject. But then university libraries started getting larger, and the most learned professors started writing more books, books with which those libraries could be stocked. (Whether the increasing numbers of books or the libraries' cravings for them came first, I cannot say.) In England especially the late 19th century saw the creation of vast reference projects—the two most famous of them being the Oxford English Dictionary and the Dictionary of National Biography—which would do much to make great erudition available throughout the English-speaking world.

Later came additional technologies that were especially important for newer academic libraries, many of which were in North America: microfilm and microfiche allowed such schools to provide their patrons with old newspapers, magazines, and books that they never could have found paper copies of. More recently came scanning and digitizing: the magnificent high-resolution images of old and rare books from Octavo, for instance; the vast accumulation of plain-text files of public-domain texts from Project Gutenberg; specialized collections of books in various formats, like the Christian Classics Ethereal Library; and so on. Add to this the increasingly wide online availability of the best scholarly articles—though at a price—from Project Muse and JSTOR, and it becomes increasingly difficult to think of the professor, supreme local authority though he or she may be, as the best possible authority.

In this context, O'Donnell thinks, who needs professors to provide information? Rather, "the real roles of the professor in an information-rich world will be … to advise, guide, and encourage students wading through the deep waters of the information flood." And O'Donnell is moved to think in this way largely because, as a scholar of the late classical world, he has worked primarily on thinkers whose problem was a scarcity of information, not an overabundance. Much of O'Donnell's work has been on Augustine, a man who, as O'Donnell's rival biographer Peter Brown has noted, was "steeped too long in too few books." And his first book was about Cassiodorus—you can get the full text of the book on O'Donnell's homepage—a man who devoted the latter part of his life to collecting what we would think of as a very small monastic library and teaching monks how to use it.

So for O'Donnell the contrast between the current scene and the world of his own scholarly expertise could scarcely be greater. But there are other scholars who remind us that we are not the first to wrestle with the problem of "information overload"—and there may be lessons for us in how some of our predecessors dealt with this issue. Perhaps the most interesting of those scholars is Ann Blair of Harvard, who is working on what promises to be a fascinating book about information overload in the 16th century—the early days of the printing press and the Protestant Reformation. (You can find a copy of a preliminary article on the subject here: scroll about halfway down or search for the name "Blair.")

Blair shows that many scholars, starting in the 16th century and continuing for another hundred and fifty years or so, were—how shall I put it?—freaked out by the sudden onslaught of texts. In the 17th century one French scholar cried out, "We have reason to fear that the multitude of books which grows every day in a prodigious fashion will make the following centuries fall into a state as barbarous as that of the centuries that followed the fall of the Roman Empire." That is, "unless we try to prevent this danger by separating those books which we must throw out or leave in oblivion from those which one should save and within the latter between what is useful and what is not."

Blair shows that such alarm was quite common, and indeed can be found in various periods going back to the high Middle Ages. For instance, in the 13th century we hear from Vincent of Beauvais: "Since the multitude of books, the shortness of time and the slipperiness of memory do not allow all things which are written to be equally retained in the mind, I decided to reduce in one volume in a compendium and in summary order some flowers selected according to my talents from all the authors I was able to read." A kind of Culture's Greatest Hits. But after the invention of the printing press books had multiplied so greatly that a project like Vincent's would have been self-evidently absurd.

So what did those poor deluged people do? Well, they adopted several strategies. First, they practiced various ways of marking important passages in books: with special symbols, with slips of paper, and so on. Then they came up with various ways of organizing books: there were now so many that figuring out how to arrange them became quite a puzzle, so the learned began debates on this subject that would culminate in the creation of the great Dewey Decimal Classification.

But there was also the most fundamental question of all: how to read. One of the most widely quoted sentences of Sir Francis Bacon—it comes from his essay "Of Studies"—concerns the reading of books: "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention." This is usually taken as a wise or sententious general comment about the worthiness of various texts, but Ann Blair shows that Bacon was making a very practical recommendation to people who were overwhelmed by the availability of books and couldn't imagine how they were going to read them all. Bacon tells such worried folks that they can't read them all, and so should develop strategies of discernment that enable them to make wise decisions about how to invest their time.

Blair also points out that certain enterprising scholars recognized that this information overload created a market for reference works and books that claimed to summarize important texts—We read the books so you don't have to!—or promised to teach techniques for the rapid assimilation of knowledge. But serious scholars like Meric Casaubon—son of the famous Isaac Casaubon—denounced the search for "a shorter way" to learning, insisting that "the best method to learning … is indefatigable (soe farr as the bodie will beare) industrie, and assiduitie, in reading good authors, such as have had the approbation of all learned ages." No shortcuts!

The correspondences to the present day are pretty obvious—Casaubon might be a professor today warning students against Wikipedia—but perhaps the application of lessons is not so easy. The scholars of the 16th and seventeenth centuries were resourceful indeed as they struggled to cope with the influx of books, pamphlets, broadsides, and so on; but their strategies are tailored to the particular technology of the book, and may not be directly applicable to our current problem of managing not just a torrent of books, but a far greater torrent of digital texts.

We are probably at the beginning of our attempts to manage our own information overload. For instance, though many people today—doctors and other scientists in particular—do much of their reading in PDF files, PDF readers that allow annotation are quite new and highly imperfect. And the habit of tagging digital data, while growing, is also still new. Tags are incredibly useful: services like the free del.icio.us, for instance, allow you to keep your browser bookmarks online, tag them, share them with other people, and see bookmarks that others have tagged similarly. Another web-based service, Stikkit—also free, at least at the moment—provides a free-form repository for almost any kind of data and encourages you tag that data for retrieval later.

Those of us who use Macs—I'm sure there are Windows equivalents—now can choose from among several applications that collect data in a range of formats and feature tagging or something similar: Steven Johnson has written a vigorous commendation [restricted content] of DevonThink, a fine application, though I prefer the more streamlined Yojimbo. Frankly, I don't know what I would do without Yojimbo: I keep my whole brain in it, and relate everything to everything else with tags. And modern operating systems are increasingly building in tagging functions at the system-wide level.

Tagging is coming to replace the "folder" metaphor that has dominated personal computing for twenty years because, while a file can only be in one folder, the same file can be given as many tags as its owner wants, and so can be seen in relation to several different sets of other files. It's a great advance in organizing information. But it's just one step towards coping with a flow of data that can only get bigger. James O'Donnell is absolutely correct when he says that the role of the teacher will be, increasingly, to manage this flow and teach others to manage it—that is, to teach the kind of discernment that Bacon counsels, so that we and our students will better understand what is but to be tasted, and what by contrast should be read wholly, with diligence and attention. But surely this is not just a task for educators and their pupils. In Bacon's time, and in Meric Casaubon's, literacy was still rare, and those who had to cope with books were few. Now information overload is everyone's problem.

Alan Jacobs teaches English at Wheaton College in Illinois; his Bad to the Bone: an Exemplary History of Original Sin (HarperOne) will appear in Spring 2008. His Tumblelog is here.

Monday, August 13, 2007

SIS Librarian in City Paper


City Wants Pedestrians to Turn in Dangerous Motorists

By Violet Law

Pedestrians, especially at the city's busiest intersections, can now report inconsiderate and dangerous drivers by calling 311.
Photo by Heather Mull
Native Manhattanite and San Francisco transplant Alina Del Pino considers herself a seasoned pedestrian, but she says the rude drivers on Bigelow Boulevard have turned her leisurely 10-minute commute into a daily crucible.

Many times Del Pino has found herself stuck between lanes of traffic, waiting for the rare law-abiding driver to stop at the two marked crossings on her way to her office at Pitt's School of Information Sciences, in Oakland.

"Those two crosswalks are the bane of my existence," says Del Pino. "I always have to play chicken with the cars. I've come close to being hit."

Now both Pittsburgh police and planners are urging more pedestrians, bicyclists and other road-users to call so that they can muster sufficient information to monitor the trouble spots, like the one that Del Pino has been contending with. The number to dial is 311, via Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's Response Line. (Cell-phone users should call 412-255-2621.)

While previously some people were irate enough to have complained, city officials say the calls they have received were still too sporadic for them to pin down the hot spots. In a new drive to make the city's roadways friendlier, even for those who aren't driving, city planners are trying to gather as much input as possible to draw up a plan that would improve pedestrian safety. To that end, they are holding a meeting for pedestrians on Aug. 15, at the Brashear Association on the South Side.

"We here in Pittsburgh are very vehicle-oriented. You really don't think about pedestrians a lot," says Amanda Panosky, a city planning department intern working on the pedestrian plan. "We want to change that mindset. We want to make sure the pedestrians are included."

Meanwhile, police brass says officers can be more effectively deployed to catch traffic-law violations if only they know where to go.

"If we get complaints from the citizens, then we can focus our enforcement efforts. We want to do what we can to redirect our efforts to make it safer," explains commander Scott Schubert, of the special deployment division, which includes 26 motorcycle officers in charge of traffic-law enforcement.

Officials say they prefer that 311 complainants be specific about the location and the time of the violations.

Del Pino vows she is going to do her share to make her complaints known.

"I think I will call every opportunity, every time a car doesn't stop for me. I want to claim my right -- the law says the pedestrian has the right of way," says Del Pino. "I just think that people need to be involved."

The pedestrian meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wed., Aug. 15, at Brashear Association, 2005 Sarah St., South Side. For more information, call the city planning department at 412-255-2200.

URL for this story: http://www.pittsburghcitypaper.ws/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A34162