Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Visualizing Internet "buzz" at Nielsen

This item over at Nielsen is interesting to me for the way in which they have sought to represent "buzz" on social network sites. The topic (General Motors) will likely be of less interest to the community, but this graph should.

Do you find this an effective visualization? Why or why not?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Audit supports integrity of county voting machines

Somehow this does not seem all that reassuring. Doesn't an election seem too important not to provide paper verification of the actual votes cast, as every scientific and computing organization has recommended?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Allegheny County officials said a random-sample audit showed that the software loaded in 18 touch-screen voting machines is what the state certified when it approved the instruments.


The audit, which is expected to cost about $15,000 when the contract is settled, essentially decommissioned the 18 machines that were used for the test, said Mr. Flynn. The county's contract with ES&S stipulates once the seal on a machine has been broken, it cannot be used again until it is recertified.

"This is the first time that any county in Pennsylvania has verified the software on these machines to the extent that we have," Mr. Flynn said.

Hey, you! Cell-phone zombie! Get off the road!

Great article in Slate today on the problem of cellphone zombies.

"Last month, 25 people died and 130 were injured in a train crash near Los Angeles. The cause, apparently, was a cell phone. In three hours of work before the crash, one of the engineers received 28 text messages and sent 29 more. He sent his last message 22 seconds before impact, just after passing a signal that would have alerted him to the disaster ahead.

Scientists call this phenomenon "cognitive capture" or "inattention blindness." The mind, captured by the world inside the phone, becomes blind to the world outside it. Millions of people move among us in this half-absent state. Mentally, they're living in another world."

See the rest at

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

How to Brand a School

Jessic R. Feldman and Robert Shilling, eds., What Should I read Next? 70 University of Virginia Professors Recommend Readings in History, Politics, Literature, Match, Science, Technology, the Arts, and More (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008) is a commendable project suggesting how to reach the public. Each faculty member tackles an interesting area (examples -- media and politics or how computing changes thinking), writes several pages of introduction to the topic, and annotates five significant or compelling books for reading into the topic. Any school, including any professional school could do the same; all that is required is for faculty to work together, to read, and to be willing to exert a little effort. We could transform this blog into such a public device, except that it seems to be dying -- there are just about three, maybe four on a good day, of us contributing to it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Preserving the Books in Goggle Digital Book Project

Jeffrey Young, “University Libraries in Google Project to Offer Backup Digital Library,” Chronicle of Higher Education, October 13, 2008, reports on an effort to “create a stable backup of the digital books should Google go bankrupt or lose interest in the book-searching business.” Young reports, “The project is called HathiTrust, and so far it consists of the members of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, a consortium of the 11 universities in the Big Ten Conference and the University of Chicago, and the 10 campuses in the University of California system. The University of Virginia is joining the project, it will be announced today, and officials hope to bring in other colleges as well.” There is one problem: “Because most of the millions of books are still under copyright protection, the libraries cannot offer the full text of the books to people off their campuses, though they can reveal details like how many pages of a given volume contain any passage that a user searches for.”

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Teaching with and about Technology (K-12 Style)

Matthew Kay, discussing teaching 13 year olds armed with laptops and other technology, at the Science Leadership Academy:

“As important as it is for students to expand their sense of community and learn to collaborate — it is more crucial that they learn how to sift thoughtfully through increasing amounts of information. The Internet presents a unique challenge to scholarship — many of the questions that once required extensive research can now be answered with 10-minute visits to Google. The issue now is distinguishing between rich resources and the online collection of surface facts, misinformation, and inexcusable lies that masquerade as the truth. It will be hard for our students to be thoughtful citizens without this ability to discern the useful from the irrelevant. This is especially clear during this election season. If they are never asked to practice dealing with this new onslaught of information, they will have to practice when the stakes are much higher.”

Matthew Kay, “Putting Technology in Its Place,” New York Times, October 11, 2008, available at

Friday, October 10, 2008

Copyright and Digital Stuff

There is an interesting essay about intellectual property and the digital era in the recent issue of Spiked. Andrew Orlowski, “This Digital Utopianism is Glorified Piracy,” Spiked, October 9, 2008,

Here is an excerpt:

“In polite company, sympathy for copyright is in short supply, while for politicians, the ‘creative economy’ is little more than a platitude. Such attitudes are most deeply held amongst people who consider themselves liberal, forward thinking or progressive.

Which is deeply odd, because for 150 years liberals and progressives have embraced the artistic creator as both an ally and a pathfinder. From William Morris’ Arts and Crafts movement, to the many schemes devised by postwar social democratic governments, the creator was an aesthetic rebel, a political ally and a visionary, an ethos that owed much to Shelley’s view of the poet as the ‘unacknowledged legislator’. What many of these initiatives had in common was a creator’s economic independence, typically supported through the mechanism of copyright.

The progressive’s support of creator’s rights expressed an optimistic view of society and human nature. But ever since digital utopianism swept through the chattering classes in the early 1990s, this positive view has been replaced by one of misanthropy and paranoia.”

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Born Digital Students

Andy Guess, in “Understanding Students Who Were ‘Born Digital,’ interviews John Palfrey and Urs Gasser, authors Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives (Basic Books, 2008). Here is an excerpt:

Q: The intersection of education and technology is riddled with gimmicks that never worked and promises to revolutionize the way students learn. What are realistic expectations for the application of technologies to learning, and what are the potential advantages and disadvantages?

JP: Technology is never a panacea. And technology on its own can do nothing; it’s just a tool for teachers and students to put to work in support of how they want to teach and to learn. A realistic expectation is that technology may be able to help support your pedagogical goals, but it’s not going to (nor should it) do anything on its own.

A key advantage of using technology in education is that, through its use, we can give young people the digital media learning skills that they need. Right now, we are not teaching young people to sort credible information from less credible information online, despite the proliferation of sources and the extent to which we know young people are relying on such sources. Technology can also be very engaging and interactive and — truly — fun for young people to use as they learn.
The disadvantages could be many: over-reliance on the tools to do the teaching, potentially just a distraction, and used at the expense of sometimes better forms of learning (such as reading an entire book).

Q: How should libraries adapt to the changing ways that students (and faculty) do research?

JP: Libraries are adapting every day to changes in research methods. At Harvard Law School Library, we’re just updating our Web site in response to extensive focus-grouping that the reference staff did with students. The site is oriented toward those research tasks that we know start in the digital world, much as a Google search is the first stop for many young people on their way to find information.

There’s much more to be done, of course. One key is to figure out how best to acquire, catalog, and make e-resources accessible to users. Right now, most libraries are set up to do a great job in acquiring, cataloguing, and offering books for use to students and faculty members, but are not organized to handle e-resources. We need to teach students and faculty how to make use of both rivers and oceans of information. A lot of good innovative work is going into solving these issues. I’m sure libraries will adapt.

Another key area of adaptation has to do with the growing interdisciplinary nature of research and learning. More fields are becoming interdisciplinary, but libraries at universities are often stove-piped, much as the schools themselves are. So, we need to be offering research materials but also support for research methods, such as empirical work in law schools.

The original story and user comments can be viewed online at