Joho the BlogJanuary 2012 - Page 3 of 5 - Joho the Blog

January 16, 2012

[2b2k] Jeff Jarvis’ review

Jeff Jarvis’ review of Too Big To Know is not only lovely and complimentary (aw gosh, Jeff!), but he pulls the right quotes and does a great job explaining what I’m trying to get at in the book.

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Berkman Buzz

This week’s Berkman Buzz

  • Dan Gillmor explores the role of the news ombudsman[link

  • danah boyd is “Generation Flux” [link]

  • Ethan Zuckerman liveblogs Wael Abbas’s talk on video and social media in pre-revolution Egypt [link]

  • metaLAB reviews Jeffrey Schnapp’s new Electric Information Age Book [link]

  • Herdict needs help with a mystery [link]

  • Weekly Global Voices: Kenya/Somalia: Twitter War: Kenyan Army Versus Al Shabaab [link]

(This was scraped from the Berkman page via ScraperWiki)

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January 15, 2012

So you think you can scrape?

If you’re thinking about scraping a web page to extract the delicious data bits from it, ScraperWiki looks like a great place to start. It’s got tools, examples, and a community. Right now the tools are in Ruby, Python and PHP, but they’re thinking about adding Javascript.

If I have time this weekend, I’m going to give it a try scraping the weekly Berkman Buzz post. Until a couple of weeks ago, I was fairly routinely posting the Buzz on this blog, because I had written a little scraper and formatter that let me go from the email version to the blog markup I prefer. But then those bahstahds at Berkman went all HTML on the weekly email, which completely broke my scraper. But the Berkman page that lists the Buzz looks like it’s ripe for trying out the ScraperWiki tools. Looking forward to it…

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Lincoln on Shakespeare

Douglas L. Wilson has a lovely article that tries to make sense of what we know about Lincoln’s love of Shakespeare. He argues that one fact about the performance of Shakespeare at the time illuminates comments Lincoln made to actors and friends. (No spoilers here, my friends!)

BTW, we learn early on in the article that Lincoln thought Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy was outdone by the one in which Claudius wonders whether forgiveness is possible for his murder of his brother.

Oh, my offence is rank. It smells to heaven.
It hath the primal eldest curse upon ’t,
A brother’s murder. Pray can I not.
Though inclination be as sharp as will,
My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent,
And, like a man to double business bound,
I stand in pause where I shall first begin,
And both neglect. What if this cursèd hand
Were thicker than itself with brother’s blood?
Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
To wash it white as snow? Whereto serves mercy
But to confront the visage of offence?
And what’s in prayer but this twofold force,
To be forestallèd ere we come to fall
Or pardoned being down? Then I’ll look up.
My fault is past. But oh, what form of prayer
Can serve my turn, “Forgive me my foul murder”?
That cannot be, since I am still possessed
Of those effects for which I did the murder:
My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen.
May one be pardoned and retain th’ offense?
In the corrupted currents of this world
Offense’s gilded hand may shove by justice,
And oft ’tis seen the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law. But ’tis not so above.
There is no shuffling. There the action lies
In his true nature, and we ourselves compelled,
Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults,
To give in evidence. What then? What rests?
Try what repentance can. What can it not?
Yet what can it when one can not repent?
O wretched state! O bosom black as death!
O limèd soul that, struggling to be free,
Art more engaged! Help, angels. Make assay.
Bow, stubborn knees, and, heart with strings of steel,
Be soft as sinews of the newborn babe.
All may be well. (kneels)

[(SparkNotes’ translation is here.]

I’ll stay away from the cheap psychologizing about Lincoln’s interest in the forgivability of unforgivable crimes during a war waged at least in part against slavery. Instead I’ll offer cheap psychologizing about the theme of the doubleness of self — with the attendant heightened perception of one’s self as always at issue — that seems to go through Lincoln’s favorite passages.

Finally, I might note that articles like this one show the value of experts, something we dare not lose in the networking of knowledge (in case anyone was wondering).

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January 12, 2012

[2b2k] [berkman] Alison Head on how students seek information

Alison Head, who is at the Berkman Center and the Library Information Lab this year, but who is normally based at U of Washington’s Info School, is giving a talk called “Modeling the Information-Seeking Process of College Students.” (I did a podcast interview with her a couple of months ago.)

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Project Information Literacy is a research project that reaches across institutions. They’ve (Michael Eisenberg co-leads the project) surveyed 11,000 students on 41 US campuses to find out how do students find and use information. They use voluntary samples, not random samples. But, Alison says, the project doesn’t claim to be able to generalize to all students; they look at the relationships among different kinds of schools and overall trends. They make special efforts to include community colleges, which are often under-represented in studies of colleges.

The project wanted to know what’s going through students’ heads as they do research. What’s it like to be a student in the digital age? “How do students define the research process, how do they conceptualize it” throughout everyday school life, including non-course-related research (e.g., what to buy).


Four takeaways from all five studies:

1. “Students say research is more difficult for them than ever before.” This is true both for course-related and everyday life research. Teachers and librarians denied this finding when it came out. But students describe the process using terms of stress (fear,angst, tired, etc.) Everyday-life research also had a lot of risk associated with it, e.g., when researching medical problems.


Their research led the project to come up with a preliminary model based on what students told them about the difficulties of doing research that says in the beginning part of research, students try to define four contexts: big picture, info-gathering, language, situational. These provide meaning and interpretation.


a. Big picture. In a focus group, a student said s/he went to international relations class and there was an assignment on how Socrates would be relevant to a problem today. Alison looked at the syllabus and wondered, “Was this covered?” Getting the big picture enables students to get their arms around a topic.


b. Info gathering. “We give students access to 80 databases at our small library, and they really want access to one,” says Barbara Fister at Gustavus Adolphus.


c. Language. This is why most students go to librarians. They need the vocabulary.


d. Situational. The expectations: how long should the paper be, how do I get an A, etc.? In everyday life, the situational question might be: how far do I go with an answer? When do I know enough?


Students surveyed said that for course related research they almost always need the big picture, often need info-gathering, sometimes need language, and sometimes need situational. Students were 1.5x more likely to go to a librarian for language context. For everyday-life, big picture is often a need, and the others are needed only sometimes. Many students find everyday-life research is harder because it’s open-ended, harder to know when you’re done, and harder to know when you’re right. Course-related research ends with a grade.


2. “Students turn to the same ‘tried and true’ resources over and over again.”. In course research, course readings were used 97% of the time. Search engines: 96%. Library databases: 94%. Instructors: 88%. Wikipedia: 85%. (Those are the 2010 results. In 2009, everything rose except course readings.) Students are not using a lot of on-campus sources. Alison says that during 20 years of teaching, she found students were very disturbed if she critiqued the course readings. Students go to course readings not only to get situational context, but also to get big picture context, i.e., the lay of the land. They don’t want you critiquing those readings, because you’re disrupting their big picture context. Librarians were near the bottom, in line with other research findings. But “instructors are a go-to source.” Also, note that students don’t go online for all their info. They talk to friends, instructors, etc.


In everyday life research, the list in order is: Search engines 95%, Wikipedia 84%, friends and family 87%, personal collection 75%, and government sites 65%.


Students tend to repeat the same processes.


3. “Students use a strategy of predictability and efficiency.” They’re not floundering. They have a strategy. You may not like it, but they have one. It’s a way to fill in the context.


Alison presents a composite student named Jessica. (i) She has no shortage of ideas for research. But she needs the language to talk about the project, and to get good results from searching. (ii) Students are often excited about the course research project, but they worry that they’ll pick a topic “that fails them,” i.e., that doesn’t let them fulfill the requirements. (iii) They are often risk-averse. They’ll use the same resource over and over, even Project Muse for a science course. (“I did a paper on the metaphor of breast cancer,” said one student.) (iv) They are often self-taught and independent, and try to port over what they learned in high school. But HS works for HS, and not for college. (iv) Currency matters.


What’s the most difficult step? 1. Getting started 84%. 2. Defining a topic 66%. Narrowing a topic 62%. Sorting through irrelevant results 61%. Task definition is the most difficult part of research. For life research, the hardest part is figuring out when you’re done.


So, where do they go when they’re having difficulty in course research? They go to instructors, but handouts fall short: few handouts the project looked at discussed what research means (16%). Six in ten handouts sent students to the library for a book. Only 18% mention plagiarism, and few of those explained what it is. Students want email access to the instructor. Second, most want a handout that they can take with them and check off as they do their work. Few hand-outs tell students how to gather information. Faculty express surprise at this, saying that they assume students know how to do research already, or that it’s not the prof’s job to teach them that. They tend not to mention librarians or databases.


Students use ibrary databases (84%), OPAC (78%), study areas (72%), check library shelves (55%), cafe (48%). Only 12% use the online “Ask a librarian” reference. 20% consult librarians about assignments, but 24% ask librarians about the library system.


Librarians use a model of scholarly thoroughness, while students use a model of efficiency. Students tend to read the course materials and then google for the rest.


Alison plays a video:



How have things changed? 1. Students contend with a staggering amount of information. 2. They are always on and always being notified. 3. It’s a Web 2.0 sharing culture. The old days of dreading group projects are ending; satudents sometimes post their topics on Facebook to elicit reactions and help. 4. The expectations from information has changed.


“Books, do I use them? Not really, they are antiquated interaces. You have to look in an index, way in the back, and it’s not hyperlinke.”

[I moderated the Q&A so I couldn’t liveblog it.]
TAGS: -berkman

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January 11, 2012

Order of magnitude puzzle: Android sign-ins

One of the security options with Android lets you sign in by dragging you finger to trace a pattern you’ve chosen on a 3×3 square numbered 1-9. The codes have to be at least 4 digits long, you can’t repeat any digit, and you can’t lift your finger off the pad. To my always-wrong intuition, that seems like it affords too few possibilities. So, your task is to guess (or, if you must, figure out) roughly how many choices there are.

[Semi-Spoilers] You start with with the following range of numbers: 1,234 to 987,654,321. That is a boatload of numbers. But you remove all the numbers that have repeated digits. For a 9-digit number, there are only 362,880 numbers (9 factorial) without repeated digits, so that’s like subtracting 100 million numbers from the mix. Our son Nathan says that it’s the same number for all the 8-digit possibilities, because 8 factorial x 9 is the same same as 9 factorial. (I’m lost. Ask him.) After you do all of them down through 4-digits, you have to subtract the sequences that have non-contiguous numbers (based on the 3×3 square). So, it’s a big number, especially since the Android UI puts in a time-out after 10 wrong tries. But it’s not an astronomical number. I’m guessing it’s under a million.

But I fully expect to be shown to be wildly wrong.

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January 10, 2012

Going dark for SOPA

Reddit is going to go dark for 12 hours to protest SOPA. The community is going to decide what will be on the page. Well done, Reddit! I hope other sites join in. (Reddit is claiming some credit for moving Paul Ryan from neutral to anti-SOPA. It’s fascinating to watch what Reddit is becoming.)

BlackOutSopa.org lets you paste a “Stop SOPA” banner across your Twitter photo with just one click. They also let you remove it once we’ve won.

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January 8, 2012

Megan Ganz meeting notes

Megan Ganz is a writer for the TV show Community that I started out not much liking until I had seen a few episodes and now sort of love. Except that it’s on “hiatus,” never a happy word in TV land. Megan is undergoing community interrogation over at Reddit, and one of the comments linked to her “meeting notes.” You should take a look.

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[2b2k] Why Is Open-Internet Champion Darrell Issa Supporting an Attack on Open Science?

I’ve swiped the title of this post from Rebecca J. Rosen’s excellent post at The Atlantic. Darrell Issa has been generally good on open Internet issues, so why is he supporting a bill that would forbid the government from requiring researchers to openly post the results of their research? [Later that day: I revised the previous sentence, which was gibberish. Sorry.]

Rebecca cites danah boyd’s awesome post: Save Scholarly Ideas, Not the Publishing Industry (a rant). InfoDocket has a helpful roundup, including to Peter Suber’s Google+ discussion.

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January 7, 2012

Made me laugh

This photo (via Reddit) made me laugh:

Free shrugs

(Here’s some context.)

This comment, from lerxstlifeson also at Reddit, made me laugh louder:

At my school there is a four way intersection with high foot traffic where “free hugs” people stand. One day on the opposite corner, a kid walked out with a sign that read “Premium Hugs $1”.

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