Sunday, February 28, 2010

Inventing the Information Age

Kurt Beyer, Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009) is a highly readable biography of Hopper's career as an academic, businesswoman, programmer, and Naval officer. According to Beyer, her "career mirrors the rise in prominence of the programming profession" (p. 313) Using extensive, older oral histories, rich archival sources, manuals, and other materials, Beyer has given us an engaging story of the emergence of computer programming as we follow Hopper's life and her interaction with colorful personalities. While we take it for granted now about the critical role of programming, Beyer's study reveals that it followed a bumpy road.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Twitter statistics

According to this study, half of Twitter messages are not in English.

English messages account for only half of the messages on Twitter, a study of 2.8 million tweets has revealed. The analysis, carried out by Semiocast, showed that the top 5 languages used on Twitter are: English, Japanese, Portuguese, Malay and Spanish.

The study was conducted on messages gathered over a period of 48 hours, from February 8 to February 10, 2010 to establish Twitter’s most used language ranking. The messages were processed with Semiocast’s analysis tools which can identify the language used in short messages among 41 languages in all major writing systems (including Greek, Hebrew, Chinese, Korean, Tamil, Devanagari, …).  
English is still the most used language on Twitter, with 50% of messages, reflecting its high penetration rate in English-speaking countries and the tendency of Twitter users that are non-native English speakers to tweet in English. This is nonetheless a sharp decline from the two-third share English was representing in the first half of 2009. In the near future, English’s share should drop even further as the strongest growth for Twitter is expected to come from non-English speaking countries.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Job prospects for CS

Information science often tracks computer science in enrollment and hiring trends. This article from Network World describes a favorable trend for these programs:
Leading universities report that enrollment in computer science and engineering courses is up significantly this year among students pursuing computer science majors as well as those studying other subjects, particularly science or business.

"I think the job market is what's driving the growth," says Professor Bruce Porter, Chair of the Department of Computer Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, which has seen its enrollment increase more than 5% this year. "The government has made it clear that computer science is a growth field, and I think that message is getting back to students and their parents."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

There was an intriguing article published this week in Slate, commenting on the history of information technology: "Don't Touch That Dial! A history of media technology scares, from the printing press to Facebook."
By Vaughan Bell

"A respected Swiss scientist, Conrad Gessner, might have been the first to raise the alarm about the effects of information overload. In a landmark book, he described how the modern world overwhelmed people with data and that this overabundance was both "confusing and harmful" to the mind. The media now echo his concerns with reports on the unprecedented risks of living in an "always on" digital environment. It's worth noting that Gessner, for his part, never once used e-mail and was completely ignorant about computers. That's not because he was a technophobe but because he died in 1565. His warnings referred to the seemingly unmanageable flood of information unleashed by the printing press.

Worries about information overload are as old as information itself, with each generation reimagining the dangerous impacts of technology on mind and brain. From a historical perspective, what strikes home is not the evolution of these social concerns, but their similarity from one century to the next, to the point where they arrive anew with little having changed except the label. .."

for the rest of this essay from the February 15, 2010 issue of Slate, go to:

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Website: Patientslikeme

I was listening to this podcast yesterday, and thought that there were numerous topics that would be of interest to SIS. The podcast describes a social networking-based website ( that has proved useful for managing certain diseases. Among the notions that were interesting to me were:
  • Thinking about privacy as a goal
  • Problems of selecting variables that are useful for recording
  • For which diseases are sites like this useful

Food for Thought

Here is a quotation from A Taste for Language: Literacy, Class, and English Studies by James Ray Watkins, Jr., cited in a review by Scott McLemee in today’s Inside Higher Education ( "On the one hand," Watkins writes, "we must accept our students' vocational goals as legitimate expressions of their desire to maintain or strengthen their economic position; on the other, we must seek out ways to persuade them that the contemplative, reflective traditions of the academy are important to their professional and social futures. Indeed, our goals ought to be even larger: to convince students that in spite of their apparent impracticality, the critical methodologies of the school have immediate professional application. Alertness to injustice isn't simply helpful in 'society in general'; it is necessary in the immediate, specific context of the work site."

Monday, February 15, 2010

Future of books?

This is an interesting vision about the future of books, Internet-wise. He lays out the notion of "infinite editions" which change the economic model that publishers have.

Social networking job trends

You may find this item interesting. This graph "compare[s] the frequency of job titles, companies, skills and industries in the US employment market. This Myspace, Facebook, Linkedin, "Social Networking" trend data is derived from millions of jobs indexed by Simply Hired, a job search engine."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Great American University

Nothing like a week of snow to help you plow through a 600 page book on the university. Jonathan R. Cole, The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence; Its Indispensable National Role; Why It Must Be Protected (New York: Public Affairs, 2009) is the best book on the research university I have read. It provides a history, examines the characteristics of great universities, considers the nature of research, and provides considerable information about funding trends and implications, how innovation happens, academic freedom issues, political matters plaguing the university, global competition, and discoveries in the medical, physical sciences and engineering, and social science and humanities areas. Cole also provides a good balance between science/technology and the humanities. Worth reading.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

I couldn't resist....

Check out
9 awesome uses for dead tech products - PC World-

"You probably have an attic, closet or garage stuffed with unused, outdated tech junk. Wouldn't you like to do something useful with them? These are some good and some goofy ideas for DIY projects."

with a hat tip to MLIS alumna Heidi Patterson....

Monday, February 08, 2010

Librarians in Society

Those of you tracking the image of librarians in society will want to read Marilyn Johnson, This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All (New York: HarperCollins, 2010). Johnson, the author of a book about writing obituaries (a great read, by the way), tackles how librarians are making a transition into cyberspace. “In a world where information is a free-for-all, with traditional news sources going bankrupts and publishers in trouble,” Johnson writes, “we need librarians more than ever” (p. 7). As you can tell by this quotation, this is a positive description of what librarians do (and there is a little also about archivists). She describes the efforts by librarians to go online, library blogs, and examines in detail the changes going on at the New York Public Library (and in doing the latter she provides a glimpse of David Ferriero, then the head of the library and now the new Archivist of the U.S.). This is a popular book for a popular audience, and, in my estimation she both confronts and falls prey to stereotypes of librarians. But many of our future students may have read this (I am sure the bookstores will put it in the career sections), so get a leg up on them.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Microsoft's Future

Today’s NY Times has an interesting op-ed by Dick Brass, “Microsoft’s Creative Destruction.” Brass was a vice-president at Microsoft from 1997 to 2004. In his op-ed he notes that “America’s most famous and prosperous technology company, no longer brings us the future. . . .” Why? “Microsoft has become a clumsy, uncompetitive innovator. Its products are lampooned, often unfairly but sometimes with good reason. Its image has never recovered from the antitrust prosecution of the 1990s. Its marketing has been inept for years. . . .” “What happened? Unlike other companies, Microsoft never developed a true system for innovation. Some of my former colleagues argue that it actually developed a system to thwart innovation. Despite having one of the largest and best corporate laboratories in the world, and the luxury of not one but three chief technology officers, the company routinely manages to frustrate the efforts of its visionary thinkers.” Brass adds, “Part of the problem is a historic preference to develop (highly profitable) software without undertaking (highly risky) hardware.” “As a result, while the company has had a truly amazing past and an enviably prosperous present, unless it regains its creative spark, it’s an open question whether it has much of a future.” I guess there are some lessons in this for us to reflect upon.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Playing It Safe

January 31, 2010 Chronicle of Higher Education

When Scholars Weigh Publication Options, Tradition Counts
By Jennifer Howard
Although more and more scholars are interested in trying out new technologies as a way to share or publish their research, the traditional cultures of their disciplines and the high regard accorded to peer review still tend to have the strongest influence on them, according to a substantial new report on scholarly communication from the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California at Berkeley.

The report, "Assessing the Future Landscape of Scholarly Communication: An Exploration of Faculty Values and Needs in Seven Disciplines," focuses in depth on the fields of archaeology, astrophysics, biology, economics, history, music, and political science. Produced with the help of a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the report draws conclusions from interviews conducted over several years with 160 scholars from 45 "mostly elite" research institutions.

Although the seven fields surveyed have very different cultures, which are explored at length in the 733-page report, the executive summary points to the persistence of doing scholarly business as usual. "Experiments in new genres of scholarship and dissemination are occurring in every field, but they are taking place within the context of relatively conservative value and reward systems that have the practice of peer review at their core," the report states. It found that young scholars "can be particularly conservative" in their behavior, perhaps because they have more to lose than senior scholars, who "can afford to be the most innovative with regard to dissemination practices."

If that's the case, younger scholars may just be heeding advice to play it safe.