Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Technology of Books

Nicole Howard, The Book: The Life Story of a Technology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009)is a no-frills, compact history of how the technology of printing and the notion of the book has evolved from clay tablets to the e-book. "By examining the book as a technology," she writes, "we get the best example of how profoundly information and media technology affect culture and history, and how vital the technology of the book has been to cultural and intellectual change" (p. ix). Howard does not get bogged down in debates about the future of print or that of the book, but provides excellent examples of how the notion of the book has persisted and the various technological changes have built one on the other.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Libraries: "the most commercialized academic area within universities"??

from the Chronicle of Higher Education, for October 17, 2010:

Library Inc., by Daniel Goldstein

here is the first paragraph as a teaser; go to the link and read the article and the comments!:

From industry-backed research to CEO-style executive salaries and perquisites, the influence of corporate America on universities has been the subject of much popular and scholarly scrutiny. University libraries have largely escaped that attention. Yet libraries, the intellectual heart of universities, have become perhaps the most commercialized academic area within universities, with troubling implications for the future of higher education…


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Modelling human communications

This recent paper should be of interest to many at SIS. The authors studied a corpus of text messages (SMS messages) between users to test (and build) models that are useful for characterizing human communications. The authors write:

Our findings reveal that there is a generic Poisson process in individual human behavior which is connected to the power-law-like bursts through the interaction with other individuals, resulting in the interplay between the cut-off time τ0 and the characteristic Poisson interval 1∕β which are generally influenced by the network topology and the processing time tp in various human activities. This picture has significantly changed the current competing views of human activity, either following Poisson or power-law statistics. Our findings open a new perspective in understanding human behavior both at the individual and network level which is of utmost importance in areas as diverse as rumor and disease spreading, resource allocation and emergency response, economics, and recommendation systems, etc. For example, treating the events as independent bursts would allow quantitative analysis of phone line availability and bandwidth allocation in the case of Internet or Web use, which should be significantly different from the assumption of power-law tails which allow very long silent periods.

I wonder how a study like this might apply to more broadly to areas of study within SIS ...

Common As Air

Another excellent contribution to the growing bookshelf of studies on intellectual property is Lewis Hyde, Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010). Hyde, a writer with affiliations with several universities, looks at the members of the founding generation of the United States to see what they have to say about what later became known as intellectual property. He finds men like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison to be against exclusive control, wanting knowledge to be available for supporting “democratic self-governance, encouraging creative community, and enabling citizens to become public actors, both civic and creative” (p. 77). He notes that the Founders were always worried about the use and abuse of power when it came to the issue of information and knowledge. Hyde examines a variety of interesting recent case studies, such as Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, Jr. images and materials, and the Human Genome Project. Hyde also addresses the role of universities in this, noting that “If the proper mission of a university is to preserve, create, and disseminate knowledge, and if that mission conflicts with values from other spheres, then propriety demands resistance” (p. 225).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Visualizing network structures

Visualizing network structures has been quite a challenge for most researchers who find themselves having to do it. If you find yourself having to do this, you might consider the approaches proposed in this website:

Friday, October 15, 2010

These are (or will be) our students !?!


• Average teenager sends more than six texts per waking hour
• Teen females send an incredible 4,050 text per month
• In every age bracket, the number of texts sent has increased when compared to last year
• Twenty-two percent say SMS is easier than a phone call

(Mashable) -- If you needed more proof that texting is on the rise, here's a stat for you: the average teenager sends over 3,000 texts per month. That's more than six texts per waking hour.

According to a new study from Nielsen, our society has gone mad with texting, data usage and app downloads. Nielsen analyzed the mobile data habits of over 60,000 mobile subscribers and surveyed over 3,000 teens during April, May and June of this year. The numbers they came up with are astounding.

The number of texts being sent is on the rise, especially among teenagers age 13 to 17. According to Nielsen, the average teenager now sends 3,339 texts per month.
There's more, though: teen females send an incredible 4,050 text per month, while teen males send an average of 2,539 texts. Teens are sending 8 percent more texts than they were this time last year.

Other age groups don't even come close, either; the average 18 to 24-year-old sends "only" 1,630 texts per month. The average only drops with other age groups. However, in every age bracket, the number of texts sent has increased when compared to last year. Texting is a more important means of communication than ever.
In 2008, the main reason anybody got a phone was for safety, even among teenagers. That's not true anymore. 43 percent of teenagers now say texting is the #1 reason they get a cell phone. Safety is #2 with 35 percent, while 34 percent of teenagers say they get cell phones to keep in touch with friends.

Texting is also supplanting voice calls -- 22 percent say SMS is easier than a phone call and another 20 percent say it's faster. Voice usage has decreased by 14 percent among teens and is decreasing in all age groups under 55. 18 to 24 year olds use the most minutes, but every age group between 18 and 55 talks on the phone more than the average teenager.

While voice may be on the decline, data and app usage is on the rise. According to Nielsen, data usage among teens has quadrupled, from 14 MB to 62 MB per month.
In a role reversal, teen males use more data than their female counterparts: 75 MB vs. 53 MB of data. App and software downloads also increased by 12 percent among teens in the last year.

These stats are eye-popping, but what's even more amazing is that these numbers only keep rising. Texting, data usage and app downloads are nowhere near their peak, but one has to wonder: how many texts is the average teenager actually capable of sending? What's the limit?
© 2010

Should colleges teach students how to be better Googlers?

Searching For Better Research Habits
[September 29, 2010, from Inside Higher Ed via Library Link of the Day]

Should colleges teach students how to be better Googlers?

Educators who see the popular search engine as antithetical to good research might cringe at the thought of endorsing it to students. But they might not cringe nearly as hard as did attendees of the 2010 Ithaka Sustainable Scholarship Conference when Andrew Asher showed them what happens when students do not learn how to use Google properly. “Students do not have adequate information literacy skills when they come to college, and this goes for even high-achieving students,” said Asher, the lead research anthropologist at the Enthographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries (ERIAL) Project, which recently studied the search habits of more than 600 Illinois students spanning a range of institutions and demographic groups.

Asher moved swiftly through a few slides featuring excerpts from interviews with students, each eliciting both chuckles and gasps from the audience of librarians and technologists. “I’m just trusting Google to know what are the good resources,” responded one sophomore biology student.

“Of all the students that I interviewed, not a single one of them could give an adequate conceptual definition of how Google returns results,” said Asher. Not even those “who should know better,” like computer science students. The word “magic” came up a lot, he noted.

Asher pulled quotes from other students evidencing how the expectations and ignorances bred by habitual, unthinking use of Google had affected how students use other search engines, such as those built into the scholarly archive JSTOR. The students in the ERIAL sample seemed oblivious to the logic of search or how to generate or parse search results with much patience or intelligence. “I just throw up whatever I want into the search box and hope it comes up,” a junior nursing major told the researchers. “…It’s just like Google, so I use it like Google.”

This Google effect does not bode well for students who manage to make it as far as a scholarly database, said Asher. “Student overuse of simple search leads to problems of having too much information or not enough information … both stemming from a lack of sufficient conceptual understanding of how information is organized,” he said. Those libraries that have tried to teach good search principles have failed, he continued, because they have spent “too much time trying to teach tools and not enough time trying to teach concepts.” It would be more useful for librarians to focus training sessions on how to "critically think through how to construct a strategy for finding information about a topic that is unknown to you," Asher said in a follow-up e-mail to Inside Higher Ed.

[click on the link for the rest of the story....]

Networks, Crowds, and Markets

The increasing complexity of networks today, require the development of a systematic framework for their study. The classic graph theoretic approach provides only structural information for the underlying network. What are the "laws" that dictate the evolution of the latter? How do the individual decisions of every network entity affect this evolution?

Professors D. Easley and J. Kleinberg, provide a thorough investigation of the above fundamental questions in their very recent book entitled: "Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning About a Highly Connected World". They borrow ideas from a set of disciplines that span a huge spectrum of knowledge, ranging from applied math to sociology. Going forward needed is a holistic view of complex networks and a new paradigm of thinking in network analysis, and this book definitely works towards this direction.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Documentary Fundamentalism

Well-known historian Jill Lepore has tackled the sticky issue of how the Tea Party adherents are using and distorting American history in her new book, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010). She tackles head on the notion of "historical fundamentalism" where founding documents are to be read with reverence and historical research, analyzing evidence is a conspiracy, and the writings and archival sources of the Founding Fathers are sacred texts (except, of course, for those disagreeing with the Tea Party's notions of history and what the Revolutionary leaders were doing). Based on her own archival research into aspects of the Revolutionary War and interviews with Tea Party leaders and adherents, Lepore seeks to get a sense of what this group thinks it is about (a task that is difficult at best to accomplish). What we get is a first-rate analysis of the view of past when we cut ourselves loose from archival sources and build on legend, myth, rumor, and gossip.

Friday, October 08, 2010

"Libraries is where they go to sleep in between classes"

Here is an article that should be familiar ground to many within SIS, but it is worth noting because it isn't librarians talking among themselves.

Today, many of us understand and appreciate the overwhelming abundance of information available at our fingertips. There is too much content to consume and crucial educational resources can get lost in the pile. Librarians have a wealth of knowledge and specifically know:
  • How to research & evaluate content
  • How to use different resources for different purposes
  • How to determine validity and appropriation
  • How to think critically

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Was Ptolemy the first researcher to use social media?

This item in Der Spiegel (English) describes how researchers used Ptolemy's ancient map to date some of Germany's cities. What caught my eye was this:

It seems surprising that an academic living along the Nile had such detailed knowledge of northern Europe -- and it's certain that Ptolemy never took his own measurements in the Germanic lands. Instead, researchers believe he drew on Roman traders' travel itineraries, analyzed seafarers' notes and consulted maps used by Roman legions operating to the north.

So basically, Ptolemy was doing what these researchers in public health were doing:
Culotta and two student assistants analyzed more than 500 million Twitter messages over the eight-month period of August 2009 to May 2010, collected using Twitter’s application programming interface (API). By using a small number of keywords to track rates of influenza-related messages on Twitter, the team was able to forecast future influenza rates.

What was once old is new again!