Joho the BlogMarch 2007 - Joho the Blog

March 31, 2007

DOEP (Daily Open-Ended Puzzle) (intermittent): The speed of a crawl

During a speech a couple of weeks ago, I characterized the crawl on the bottom of CNN as “news delivered at 4 mph.” I made up the speed, but it seemed like a reasonable approximation, since it seems to go at about walking speed.

This morning I was watching a news channel on the little TV in our bedroom: It took about four seconds to go across a screen about 15″ wide. If I were watching it on, say, a 60″ wide TV, it would have taken four seconds to cover four times the distance and thus would be traveling four times as fast. If it were a 4 mile wide screen, it’d be travelling at a mile per second.

So, how fast does a news crawl (if a news crawl could crawl news)? And why doesn’t it look faster on a big set?

I know it’s so elementary that it’s embarrassing, but I’m sick, ok? Slightly feverish. Really. [Tags: ]


March 30, 2007

Why is IE7 different?

Paul English blogs a plausible theory about why Microsoft drastically changed the placement of controls in the IE7 tool bar:

…maybe Microsoft is trying to quickly (even if painfully) retrain its large market share to use control layout of IE7, so that when that mass-market first tries Firefox (and they will), they will find Firefox the one with the “odd layout”, and thus be more likely to stay with IE7

Is it a conspiracy or just canny marketing? And why is it so often so hard to tell those two apart?

If I had to guess — and I don’t have to but I’m going to anyway — I’d guess that Microsoft did usability studies that favored the new design (once we unlearn the old way, as Paul points out), and they were aware that it’s an opportunity to de-train us on the Firefox UI.

(Yes, someone could and probably has done a Firefox skin that makes it look like IE7. But Microsoft’s ploy — if that’s what it is — is aimed at people downloading the out-of-the-box version of Firefox.) [Tags: ]


How it looks from the other side?

Rev. Lou Sheldon and Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition spammed me with a warning that the House is considering a bill that “begins to lay the legal framework to persecute and prosecute those who refuse, for moral and religious reasons, to agree or teach their children that certain unbiblical behaviors are normal and desirable.” A look at their flyer makes it clear that “unbiblical behaviors” means “being gay.” HR 1592 is a “serious threat to free speech and freedom of religion,” the email warns. The headline of the flyer takes it up several notches:

Pro-Homosexual/Drag Queen Hate Crimes Bill Will Move Quickly!
Begins to Lay the Legal Framework Whereby Bible-believing Pastors,
Business Owners and Individuals can be Persecuted and Prosecuted.”

“Ultimately, a pastor’s sermon concerning homosexuality could be considered an incitement to violence and punished with a fine or prison,” it concludes.

You can read HR 1592, “Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007.” It provides federal technical, forensic, and prosecutorial assistance to local authorities when it comes to hate crimes. Does it extend hate crimes to include pastors condemning gay marriage? Nah. It says anyone who “willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of any person” can be sentenced to up to ten years, or more if the victim dies.

It makes me wonder: Am I this wrong about the things that I care about this strongly?

Yikes. [Tags: ]

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March 29, 2007

The knot in my stomach is CNN

CNN just interviewed me for a 3 minute segment they’re doing on cyberbullying. Why me? Because they called the Berkman Center and I was around. They’re likely to take a few seconds from the 15 minute interview, and use it as something like color commentary. It’ll air on Monday morning.

I told the producer in the pre-interview yesterday that I wouldn’t comment on the awful specifics of the bullying of Kathy Sierra— the case that’s prompted them to do a “Dark Side of the Net” piece — because I know people involved in it. Also, (I told the producer) I’m not a good resource for telling the story of what happened because I didn’t know what was going on until Kathy posted about it. But the producer apparently liked what I said about the lack of norms of behavior on the Web. So, they asked me to do the interview anyway. And, true to their word, they didn’t ask me directly about Kathy, although several times in context I said how badly she was treated.

I agreed to the interview because I wanted to try to counter the fear-mongering story I’m pretty sure CNN wants to produce about the Web. So, I tried to simultaneously acknowledge the seriousness of the bullying that happens (including the reprehensible battering of Kathy, of course), and dispute the idea that the Net is all bullying all the time. But, in trying to steer them from their Fear Mongering story, I ran the risk of minimizing the awfulness of being bullied, so I tried to keep interjecting how serioius and unacceptable it is. It’s all up to how they edit it. And also how well I put it, of course.

They asked me about anonymity (me: we shouldn’t remove it just because it’s abused by some cowards), the need for regulation (me: real world laws apply, and the Web is constantly evolving ways to manage bullying and obnoxiousness…although none works perfectly), and whether this is a gender issue (me: that accords with expectations and intuition, but we need actual data). I also talked about the fact that we don’t yet have well-developed norms guiding behavior on the Web, and the Web brings people together from different backgrounds, although death threats and bullying are never ok; I’m afraid I’ll come off as sounding like I believe that bullying is really just a difference of opinion about acceptable levels of aggression. Ack.

Afterwards I realized that I should have made clear that I was talking about adults bullying adults. I have no idea what the level of bullying is among children online. Also, in talking about the ability to steer clear of sites that are nastier than you’re comfortable with, I should have appended something about it being different when the bullies are coming to your site. Damn.

The producer interviewed me over a speaker phone, but they had me face forward and talk to an intern seated in front of me, to give the illusion that the producer was in the room with us. After the interview was over but the camera was still rolling (foolish me), I turned sideways to face the speaker phone so they couldn’t use the footage, because I wanted to have a meta-discussion with the producer. (The producer promised me that he wouldn’t use it, and he seems to be a straightforward and honest guy.) I told him that I thought the CNN story was seizing on one case — a nasty, disturbing case without doubt — and using it to generalize without further evidence or research, because the media likes conflict and likes to raise fears about the Net. A serious piece would do some serious research about just how prevalent bullying is: It might be quite widespread, it might be unevenly distributed, it might indeed be usually gender-based. All that would be truly interesting and important to know. But I don’t think that’s the story they’re doing. Maybe I’m wrong. I hope so.

I left feeling crappy, afraid that as I tried to maintain two positions — bullying when it happens is shameful and wrong, but it’d be wrong to characterize the Web as dominated by bullying — the editors will use the juiciest quote from just one of those two points. It’s no fun to lose control of your words, although I knew that going in. [Tags: ]


March 28, 2007

Harvard Forum on Social Tagging

I’m at [well, I was yesterday when I wrote this] a session at Harvard’s Lamoint Library (one of the 90+ libraries here) about Web 2.0 and social tagging. I just gave a 20 minute opener on why tagging matters.

Michael Hemment, the host, begins by showing tag clouds from 50 students who were asked to tag some particular resources. The group quickly guesses that the first tag cloud refers to the libraries, the next is Google, and the next is Jon Stewart. Very amusing,

Michael talks about why slocial tagging matters to libraries. He mentions some initiatives, including PennTags , Stanford IC, and the Steve Museum. Harvard has the CRT (Collaborative Research Tool) and EdTags initiatives. He also mentions iCommons (exploring iSites metadata and tagging) and ARTStor .

He takes a closer look at, showing how easy it is to enter titles, organize them, tag them, and get suggestions.

PennTags was created by the U Penn library to enable university members to tag books. (The site is open to anyone, but only U Penn members can add tags.) It begins with a tag cloud of tags used at least 58 times, Users can also create folders to organize bookmarks into projects. [I blogged about it here.]

The Stanford Library Information Center combines tags, blogs and wikis. It includes tagging by librarians who organize resources in a somewhat more orderly way.

Harvard could, Michael says, enable tagging of the libraries’ resources, and the Lib-X tool (a browser add-in that gives you access to Harvard’s onloine resources) could be used to tag sites, adding to what Harvard knows.

Carla Lillvik, Research and Distance Services Librarian at the Gutman Library of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, looks at “social tagging and bibliographic management.” She says you want not only to find resources and organize them, but also to cite them.

She uses as her example the site Five Weeks to a Social Library. She adds it to her page at Connotea and tags it. She could also post it to But what about resources she finds in research databases, e.g. EBSCO Host? She could add it to Connotea, even though the URL doesn’t look persistent. But Connotea doesn’t pick up any of the bibliographic info from the database. (Connotea has agreements with a long list of such systems, including BioMed Central, PLoS,, and, but not with all of them.) She can instead make a folder in EBSCO, which does indeed pick up all the info. [Sounds like we need a standard API for university e-research systems.] Harvard’s RefWorks has the advantage, Carla says, of enabling batch tagging [LibraryThing does too] and enables output in a variety of bibliographic styles [yay!] RefWorks folders can be shared, even with people who don’t have an account; they can be shared as an RSS feed, too. (RefWorks works with Google Scholar — you can set a preference so that results can be imported into RefWorks.)

Michael Hemment presents Prof. Dan Smail’s Collaborative Research Tool (CRT), a social tagging tool that works within Harvard’s e-environment. In Smail’s course on Medieval Europe (History 1122) , students are put onto teams (e.g., “France, Germany and italy”) and are assigned sources. They create virtual note cards that are tagged, annotated and entered nto a database. Class discussions, lectures, and final papers are based on these cards.

The cards tend to include the passage, comment, related links, and tags. It’s easy to navigate by tag.

Pedagogical implications, according to Michael: Students have to reflect on their tagging schemes. [meta learning] They cards “form the basis of complex intertextual discourse on a broad range of medieval topics.” E.g., you could see how Ulysses appears through multiple literatures. Also, tagging develops a personal relationship to the source material.

[Excellent. But we still need a way to write a document based on cards, so that adding info from the card automatically creates the right footnote and bibliographic entry in the document, and notes where the card has been used. I blogged about this here.]

Adam Seldow, a grad student at the Harvard School of Education, works on It’s a social network to connect people who share interests in education. It’s open to anyone. You can tag a site, vote on bookmarks, email them, blog them, or find related blog postings. You can upload your papers, photos, presentations, etc.

Q: How does tagging fit with scholarly resource? Is there a way to cite where and how a resource is tagged?
A: (Michael) Not in the major tagging sites, e.g., The lack of rules has been one of the advantages of these sites.The noise introduced can often be negated at least in part by the good rising to the top.

Q: How about privacy?
A: (Adam) EdTags lets you set the level of privacy. And it’s an actively managed site.

Q: What types of resources does EdTags tag?
A: (Adam) Mainly “gray literature” — blog posts, preprints, Web sites, course-generated papers.

Q: (me) What do we do about the fragmentation of the tagging space? I can tag in, Connotea, EdTags…
A: (Adam) A condition when we built EdTags was that it has to be able to talk wth or export to an XML file. Personally, I use different tagging sites for different types of research.

Q: What are the patterns of use at EdTags?
A: EdTags has been live for a little over a year. (It started as TeacherShare.) First year doctoral students, who were trained on it, use it. It’s being used in some specific courses and teacher education programs, plus a community of faculty members interested in emerging trends in education technology. The person who uploads the most bookmarks is a woman from Slovenia. There are about 400 users. About 100,000 hits/month.

Q: Did you build it from scratch?
A: It’s a mashup of Scuttle, an open source platform, with lots of custom work.

Q: HW and SW behind it? How did you finance it?
A: (Adam) A Harvard Provost Innovation Grant financed it.

Q: How to encourage the use of social tagging at a library?
A: (Michael) I don’t know that we want to encourage it. We’re exploring. [Tags: ]


March 27, 2007

Death of a President: A waste of a scandal

Death of a President bills itself as a thriller, but it got known first as the movie that shows George Bush being killed. No, no, the producers declared as some in the media protested before the movie was released. It’s not some cheap, sensationalistic revenge movie for rage-addled Liberals, said the producers. It’s about bigger issues.

Too bad, because it’s got nothing interesting to say about the bigger issues.


It is certainly true that the movie doesn’t dwell on the actual shooting of Bush. Since the entire movie pretends to be a documentary made a few years after the event, you see some chaotic video of “Bush” crumpling as he’s shaking hands in a crowd. That’s all. And yet, the movie’s premise is that Bush is an awful president who has brought us to the brink of totalitarianism. Nothing good comes from the assassination, so it clearly isn’t a call to arms. But it is an anti-Bush movie. That makes the fantasy of Bush’s death disturbing in the wrong way.

After Bush is killed, we learn that the Patriot III Act was quickly passed, further limiting our rights. But, unlike the underrated movie The Siege, the movie’s not interested in following the consequences of those limitations. In fact, we barely learn what they are. And a Syrian is arrested and falsely accused of the crime. The movie makes it clear that the system was stacked against him because he was a Syrian. Except that this is a Syrian living in America who, a few years earlier, accidentally (!) happened to go for terrorist training in Pakistan…which vitiates the theme that we’d take any Arab as the bad guy.

It took me three nights of viewing to get through the movie, so I guess that doesn’t make it much of a thriller. My favorite part were the interviews with the filmmakers in which we learn that the Chicago demonstration consisted of footage of a real protest march and some staged scenes.

I have to say that I was also bothered by the fact that although this is told entirely as a documentary, with interviews with “participants” and news reelish footage of the “events,” it is not a documentary that actually would have been made after the assassination, for it explains things that wouldn’t have needed explaining, and relies on a sense of suspense that no one would have had. It’s as if a documentary were made after JFK’s assassination that depended on viewers not knowing if he’d be assassinated while addressing the crowd or driving in the car.

I’ve seen worse movies for sure. But I’ve seen a lot better. (Disclosure: The film’s publicists sent me a free copy of the DVD. Thanks.)

[Tags: ]


Stop cyberbullying

Andy Carvin has had two good ideas. First, he’s set up a site to talk about the cyberbullying issue.

Second, he suggests that Friday be “Stop CyberBullying Day.” (Let me save you writing the first comment: Of course every day should be Stop CyberBullying Day.)

This is an important issue that stretches messily from free speech to etiquette to gender issues to assault. There are cases where bullying is too gentle a word and cases where it is the wrong word. But, unless we want to spend our time arguing about the word, it’ll do.

FWIW, I’d be willing to post a “No bullying” sign on my sites, announcing that I will remove comments that I deem (yes, my judgment) to be out of line. It’d be good to have some semi-standardized language to use to express what the line is; not everyone will agree, so a pick list would be helpful. (Ack. I have to run to an event.) [Tags: ]


March 26, 2007

Some would say…

Here’s a YouTube of Katie Couric’s negative questions in her interview of John and Elizabeth Edwards, including her cowardly use of the “Some would say…” locution. Take some responsibility, Couric!

On the other hand, Couric’s husband died of colon cancer at age 42. Who knows what’s going through her mind.
Here‘s a six-minute clip of the interview; I found it moving. Here‘s Elizabeth answering Couric’s question about “staring death in the face.” Here‘s Couric saying she was moved by the Edwards’ initial announcement of the return of Elizabeth’s cancer. (Disclosure: I’m doing a little volunteer work for the Edwards’ campaign.) [Tags: ]


Google Docs and CSS: Why not?

I’ve been using Google Docs to write documents that are collaborative. It’s a good first gen product, and I enjoy using it, but it would take a giant step forward if it let me apply a CSS style sheet to the docs I’m composing.

This is such an obvious idea that there must be something obviously wrong with it. [Tags: ]


Campaign conversations

Newt Gingrich is calling for nominees to agree to holding an open, 1.5-hour conversation once a week from Labor Day 2008 until the election.

Great idea. Of course they won’t do it…unless some of them just start and it goes YouTubular and then there’s pressure on the front-runners to drop in, and the front-runners look all pat and programmed, and we end up electing someone actually good.

Why wait until Labor Day 2008?


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