Joho the BlogAugust 2013 - Joho the Blog

August 29, 2013

Innovation at Countway

The Countway Library at Harvard Medical School today held a forum/seminar on what they’re working on. What they’re working on is pretty great.

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 peoples ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Griffin Weber – “Discovering Expertise using research networking websites”

In 2008 Countway built Catalyst, a site with faculty profiles. Passive networks, shown on the right, are the existing networks. Active networks, shown on the right, grow over time. It provides a set of visualizations, including of co-authors out two degrees, topics, people with similar interests, physical neighbors, etc.

Last year they extended this to the entire university with the Faculty Finder. It’s a search site with links back to the faculty members school or departmental website.

Then they decided to link up the instances of this open source software being used at 30 universities, via federated search.

The data in the system can be used to do interesting visualizations of various relations; Griffin shows some examples.

Internally it uses the VIVO ontology.

Emily Gustainis, Head of Collection Services for Center for the History of Medicine – “Collaborative Content Building Using Omeka”

Omeka, from George Mason University, has had a big effect. It’s a “free, flexible, open source web-publishing platform for the display of library, museum, archives and scholarly collections and exhibitions.” It combines the cataloging and exhibiting of content, enabling users to self-curate their collections.

They are collaborating on the Our Marathon site that Northeastern is building, as well as with other institutions on other projects, including a collection of historical embryo photos. They’re also working on the Harvard Library Interoperability Initiative [yay!] on making cross-institutional collections available through Omeka without requiring local instances of all the content. (Here are some of the collections.)

Jonathan Kennedy: ASHE (Automatic Subject Heading Extraction)

Jon works with Countway Library and CBMI (Center for Biomedical Informatics) on semantic technologies. They’re working on semantic search, so that searches for, e.g., cancer return results about tumors, neoplasms, etc..

ASHE uses automated processes to try to generate the sort of subject headings for medical articles that a human would apply. They developed a tool and tested it on 50 books that had already been categorized by humans so they’d have something to compare the algorithmic results to. The results have been very encouraging. The system’s top ten suggested headings quite consistently contain the human-generated headings, and about 25% of the time the human-generated headings are way towards the top of the suggested ones. Also, ASHE does a good job supplying secondary headings.

They would like to expand beyond the medical domain. Criteria: Well-supported ontologies that provide dictionaries of synonymous terms, with parent to child relationships. Also, the granularity has to be right. The Library of Congress Subject Headings generally aren’t hierarchical enough for the project. But the Getty Thesaurus might be good, as well as an astrophysics ontology.

Julia Whelan: “Research in Medical Education: A bibliometric study of scholarship”

Harvard Medical School and the University of Pittsburgh Medical School are partnering to address a set of questions including: Is scholarship about medical education growing? Which journals publish it? What’s it growth compared to other medical topics? Which topics in medical ed are covered? etc. They use MeSH headings (Medical Subject Headings) to track studies and articles. They looked at 72.5K articles from 1960-2010 in 3,869 different journals. They saw growth in the number of articles and substantial growth in the number of journals. These grew faster than other medical articles and journals. They’ve also analyzed topic coverage over time, and which journals publish the most on particular topics. E.g., 80% of articles in medical education are not published in medical education journals.

Future projects: studying topics by the gender of the authors, medical specialities, medical school culture, promotion criteria, and making data available to historians on the Web. Here’s a paper on this project.

David Osterberg: “Strategic Planning at Countway: Innovation and Collaboration from the Bottom Up”

(David gives a highly condensed version of his talk because a tour of Countway is about to start.) Countway has a very flat organization. The staff is small enough to meet in one room, which they do every month. At one meeting, they brainstormed what they can do to make Countway better, and lots of great ideas arose. They formed working groups on everything from the use of space to a set of in-depth training videos to e-special collections that pull together info from all across the spectrum…


August 26, 2013

Clocks make us late

I’ve started reading Revolution in Time by David Landes, a history of clocks and time. It’s delightful.

Landes notes that in the mid-eighteenth century, a clerk to the Chinese Emperor acknowledged that Western clocks were “finer than the old methods used in China.” But, the clerk adds, Western clocks need to be maintained and repaired. “Therefore among the court officials there are some who possess these things, but they still forget meetings.” The clerk concludes, “…those in the court who never miss meetings are the ones who do not own clocks.” (pp. 50-1.)

(I’m truly sorry to say that David Landes died a few days ago.)

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August 24, 2013

Unknowing v. Lessig

Not since the NFL sent a takedown notification to Wendy Seltzer because she posted the NFL’s copyright notice has a takedown notice been so unknowing. Wendy is a law professor and the head of the Chilling Effects archive of takedown notifications. The new Notification of Unknowingness went to Lawrence Lessig for using a short clip to make a point in a video of a talk about the overreach of copyright:

A co-founder of the nonprofit Creative Commons and author of numerous books on law and technology, Lessig has played a pivotal role in shaping the debate about copyright in the digital age. In June 2010, Lessig delivered a lecture titled “Open” at a Creative Commons conference in South Korea that included several short clips of amateur dance videos set to the song “Lisztomania” by the French band Phoenix. The lecture, which was later uploaded to YouTube, used the clips to highlight emerging styles of cultural communication on the Internet. [source: eff]

When YouTube forwarded the DMCA takedown notice to him, Lessig did what so few people do: he counter-notified that his use of the clip was an instance of Fair Use. [More details here.] Fair Use is an exemption to copyright that lets reasonable extracts be used in cases just like Larry’s video. [Better explanation here.] The copyright holder then said they were going to sue Lessig for infringement. Lessig took down the clip and is now taking the issue to court with the help of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. (Did you remember to donate to the EFF?) Their aim is to get the judge to issue a declarative judgment that the the clip is covered by Fair Use, and to get damages as specified in DMCA clause 512f:

(f) Misrepresentations. Any person who knowingly materially misrepresents under this section
(1) that material or activity is infringing, or
(2) that material or activity was removed or disabled by mistake or misidentification,

shall be liable for any damages, including costs and attorneys’ fees, incurred by the alleged infringer, by any copyright owner or copyright owner’s authorized licensee, or by a service provider, who is injured by such misrepresentation, as the result of the service provider relying upon such misrepresentation in removing or disabling access to the material or activity claimed to be infringing, or in replacing the removed material or ceasing to disable access to it.

Since what exactly constitutes Fair Use is determined by courts, a declarative judgment would help clarify that uses like Larry’s are definitely ok, and the awarding of damages would help discourage organizations from issuing automated takedowns that give no heed to the circumstances in which the content is being used. (But I am not a lawyer, so do not believe me.)

The final irony: The name of the copyright holder is Liberation Music.

Go, Larry! Go EFF! And thank you!

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August 23, 2013

Game of Thrones, Season 4 Episode1 [NO SPOILERS]

Valyrian steel spun sparks from the iron shield emblazoned with a red sun pierced by a golden spear. Rhaegar Targaryan pivoted left with the blow, causing the sword to rebound to the earth. Victarion felt his wrists twist with the strain, which only caused him to grasp the mighty two-handed sword more firmly.

As he pulled the tip from the loam it had pierced, the keen-edged weapon shed soil the way his wife had shed tears the day Tommen Baratheon, Lord Paramount of the Westerlands, had thrown their daughter Janna into the Karhold where she vanished beneath the waves without having time to scream for help or mercy. On that day a silence had descended between Victarion and his wife, broken only by the most necessary of exchanges.

His memories must have slowed him, for Rhaegar was now upon him, his double-bladed battle axe carving Victarion’s arm from his elbow as cleanly as a butcher preparing a lamb for his lord’s name day. The blood pulsed red-black from what remained of his limb. “Send a white raven to my wife Doreah,” he said with what breath remained.

“This I shall do,” Rhaegar promised as Victarion slumped to the ground. “But first I must ask you…”

“Be quick, for I shall not be quick for long.”

“I’ll do my best. But I’m just wondering why you have a shield emblazoned with a red sun and a golden spear.”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“Because, unless I’m very much mistaken, you are a Greyjoy, and the Greyjoy sigil is a golden kraken upon a black field.”

“That can’t be right. I’m definitely a Greyjoy,” said Victarion. “But I’m pretty sure the Greyjoy sigil is that sun and spear rigamarole. I remember thinking it looks like someone eating a pancake with a chopstick.”

“No, that’s House Martell. I’m right about this. Trust me.”

“Really? I bought it from Petyr Baelish. I definitely told him I was a Greyjoy.”

A crooked smile passed over Rhaegar’s face. Victarion shrugged, sending waves of pain down his frayed arm.

“Ok, if you’re so smart,” said the dying warrior, “which is your sigil, Targaryan?”

Rhaegar did not have to think before responding to the challenge. “Three black dogs on a dark yellow background. Our motto is ‘Cut us and you will cry.'”

“Hah! That’s the Cleagne sigil. And the motto belongs to the House Seaworth,.”

“No, I’m pretty sure Targaryan is the three dogs. And I never even heard of the House Seaworth.”

“Oh, it’s a real thing, alright. You don’t hear about Seaworth because it’s ruled by a landed knight, which doesn’t make a lot of sense.” Brightening, Victarion asked, “You know what they call that guy, Ser Davos Seaworth?”

“I have no idea.”

“The Onion Knight,” said Victarion before Rhaegar had even finished. “Wow, you really don’t know your houses!”

“You’re one to talk,” Rhaegar replied, idly kicking at Victarion’s severed arm. “Your entire backstory doesn’t make any sense.”

“The hell it doesn’t!”

“Alright then,” Rhaegar challenged the fallen knight. “Tommen Baratheon isn’t Lord Paramount of the Westerlands. Lord Paramount of the Westerlands is another name for Tywin Lannister, and Tommen Baratheon isn’t even a Lannister at all. He’s a Baratheon.”

“I thought a Baratheon was just a name, not a clan thing.”

Rhaegar burst out laughing. “Really? Really?? You thought Tommen Baratheon might be a Lannister.”

“Baratheon could be his middle name,” Victarion replied testily. “Tommen Baratheon Lannister. It could be!”

“We don’t have middle names!”

“Oh yeah? How about Tyrian Lannister the Imp?”

“What are you talking about, Victarion? ‘The Imp’ is an epithet, not a middle name.”

“‘The Imp’ is at the end. That puts ‘Lannister’ in the middle. In the middle, middle name.”

“By the Old Gods, you are an idiot. I don’t even know where to start.”

“Because you know my logic’s right.”

“You are so wrong. And even if you were right about the name — which you’re not — Tommen Baratheon is like eight years old. He wasn’t even born when your daughter Janna drowned.”

“I was pretty sure it was him.”

“I’m pretty sure not. And another thing, Janna wasn’t your daughter. She was actually the sister of Mace Tyrell, who grew up and married Ser Jon Fossoway.”

“Ah, to learn that she survived the waves and lived to the age of ripeness eases my passing. Thank you, sir.”

“You’re not listening. Jenna wasn’t your daughter. Couldn’t have been. She wasn’t killed by a boy who wasn’t even born yet. And the sea that you say she drowned in — Karhold — is actually a castle. It’s not even particularly close to water. And, sorry to break this to you, but Doreah isn’t your wife. She was just a handmaiden to Daenerys Targaryen.”

“The hot one with white hair and dark eyebrows?” Victarion said, perking up.

“Hey, she’s my relative, so don’t get all creepy on me. But, yeah, that’s the one. Anyway, Doreah was just a minor character who bedded Viserys, the guy with the white hair and dark eyebrows. Talk about creepy guys!”

“You got that right.”

“So, Doreah: not your wife. Right?”

“Fine. But I’ve got one for you,” Victarion said, his strength fleeing him like his blood seeping into the patient earth.

“What is it?”

“Fun fact: Rhaegar Targaryan was killed in Robert’s Rebellion before this whole series began.”

“No way!”


“Then who am I?”

“How the hell should I know? Why don’t you do what everyone else does? Keep a tab open to Google.”

With that, the might Victarion’s spirit fled. And then the hot one with the white hair and dark eyebrows strode firmly, proudly, nakedly, into her bath.


August 21, 2013

Defining Specialized Services

The FCC’s Open Internet Advisory Committee’s 2013 Annual Report has been posted. The OIAC is a civilian group, headed by Jonathan Zittrain [twitter:zittrain] . The report is rich, but I want to point to one part that I found especially interesting: the section on “specialized services.”

Specialized services are interesting because when the FCC adopted the Open Internet Order (its “Net Neutrality” policy), it permitted the carriers to use their Internet-delivery infrastructure to provide some specific type of content or service to side of the Internet. As Harold Feld put it in 2009, in theory the introduction of “managed services”

allows services like telemedicine to get dedicated capacity without resorting to “tiering” that is anathema to network neutrality. In reality, is great new way for incumbents to privilege their own VOIP and video services over traffic of others.

The danger is that the providers will circumvent the requirement that they not discriminate in favor of their own content (or in favor of content from companies that pay them) by splintering off that content and calling it a a special service. (For better explanations, check Technoverse, Ars Technica, Commissioner Copps’ statement.)

So, a lot comes down to the definition of a “specialized service.” This Annual Report undertakes the challenge. The summary begins on page 9, and the full section begins on p. 66.

I won’t pretend to have the expertise to evaluate the definitions. But I do like the principles that guided the group:

  • Regulation should not create a perverse incentive for operators to move away from a converged IP infrastructure

  • A service should not be able to escape regulatory burden or acquire a burden by moving to IP

The Specialized Services group was led by David Clark, and manifests a concern for what Jonathan Zittrain calls “generativity“: it’s not enough to measure the number of bits going through a line to a person’s house; we also have to make sure that the user is able to do more with those bits than simply consume them.

I’m happy to see the Committee address the difficult issue of specialized services, and to do so with the clear intent of (a) not letting access to the open Internet be sacrificed, and(b) not allowing special services to be an end run around an open Internet.

Note: Jonathan Zittrain is my boss’ boss at the Harvard Law Library. I’ve known him through the Berkman Center for ten years before that.


August 17, 2013

Mark Twain on kindness. Probably not.

Yesterday I clicked on a link to a post and was greeted by a an insterstitial page that said only:

Kindness is a language which the deaf and the blind can read.

This raised a few questions:

  • What was going through Forbes’ head when it decided to show us this pap? Does Forbes think that maybe we’re on the verge of kindness and just need this nudge?

  • Did Twain ever actually say this?

  • Why is there any question about what the deaf can read?

So I turned to Google. Herewith my findings:

1. There are a number of variations, including the more logical

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

2. At Google Books, there are 1,800 results for “mark twain” kindness deaf. The ones I poked at do not provide a source for the quote, although The Gratitude Attitude footnotes it…but Google Books doesn’t show the page with the footnote.

3. If you search Google Books by author for the words “kindness,” “blind,” and “deaf”, you get nine results. None of the four that have the quote cite a source for it.

4. Google Books has an Advanced Search page: It produces a query at plain old Google of the form:

kindness deaf blind inauthor:”Mark Twain”

Two paired über-conclusions:

1. Mark Twain did not say this quote OR Mark Twain said it but it was not recorded in a work indexed by Google Books.

2. My searching skills are inadequate OR I just don’t care enough. (twitter: Quote Investigator) has taken up this case and reports the following (earliest at the top):


August 12, 2013

When Husserl met Heidegger

Here’s a photo of Heidegger talking with Husserl in 1921 in St. Märgen.

Heidegger talking with Husserl

Heidegger was born 1889. He published Sein und Zeit (Being and Time) in 1927.

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August 11, 2013

Summer questions

Hummingbirds come to our capacious feeder, sip for a few seconds, and then leave. But why would they ever leave? Do they have something better to do?

If I set a trigger so that every time a hummingbird lands on our feeder, it plays a sound, can I then use that sound to assemble a hummingbird army? I’ll let you know.

Geese are monogamous, but can they be seduced? What would it take? I’m thinking snails would just be an insult. It’d probably take a flamingo.

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August 10, 2013

Fun fact – Impressionist edition

According to Ross King’s excellent The Judgment of Paris, there was a day in the summer of 1874 when Manet showed up at Monet’s home and painted The Monet Family in their Garden at Argenteuil, a scene of Monet’s wife and son, and Monet puttering around in the garden.

Later that afternoon, Monet painted Manet Painting in Monet’s Garden, showing Manet in a wide-brimmed hat, painting Monet and his family.

Then Renoir showed up, “borrowed paints and a canvas from Monet and started his own work, Madame Monet and Her Son.”

Holy cow. Holy holy cow.


August 9, 2013

[2b2k] Can Bezos beat 1:25?

I am a big fan of Reddit, as a reader, an occasional participant, and as an observer. As a reader, Reddit has gone downhill for me. Or perhaps I should say “as a lazy reader.” I don’t stray much from the home page which shows the top posts from a default set of sub-reddits, i.e., topically clustered posts. These days, there’s usual one post among the 25 on the home page that I find interesting in a way that matters, although maybe a half dozen I find click-worthy. Those half dozen are usually memes, or discussions of something in pop or Internet culture. The one in 25 that matters to me introduces me to an idea I hadn’t considered, with a discussion that goes pretty deeply into it — while always laced with glancing sub-threads and banter. But for a page that can be quickly skimmed, a 1:25 ratio is enough to bring me back several times a day.

One in 25 is probably about the ratio I find in The New York Times when I come upon a printed copy of it. That ratio goes higher if you count the sections that I skip entirely. For example, I apparently entirely lack the sports gene. The articles I read are usually ones that offer an interesting viewpoint on a topic I already care about, or that for some unpredictable reason stimulate my interest in something I didn’t know I cared about. I know this is very different from the behavior I’m supposed to exhibit. As a responsible citizen, I should be reading all the articles the paper tells me are important. But that’s how I am, that’s how I’ve always been, and I think it’s the way that most of us were even during the decades when reading the newspaper every day was our civic duty.

So, it worries me that Jeff Bezos may bring to the Washington Post the theory of reading that he has brought to Amazon. Amazon’s personalization works very well for me. The books it suggests are often in fact very appealing to me. It’s one reason I keep going back to Amazon. The suggestions don’t often take me far afield, but books are such a big investment of time and money that I don’t intuitively react against that. Intellectually I react against it, but my intuition and the finger that clicks the “buy” button don’t seem to mind at all.

Besides, I read most books as a matter of recreation. (Actually, that’s entirely false. In terms of numbers, I read most books as research that’s dictated by whatever project I’m working on. But we’re talking here about discretionary reading.) And here the Washington Post is different. We need it to help us learn what we need to know to be better citizens in a world that is increasingly inhospitable. A newspaper that works like Amazon would be intentionally creating a filter bubble, in Eli Pariser’s phrase. (And Eli Pariser’s book by that name is thoroughly worth reading, especially if you follow it up with Ethan Zuckerman’s Rewire.)

Bezos has a tremendous opportunity with the Washington Post. He can choose to restructure it so that it becomes the first truly networked newspaper, retaining the traditional virtues of a great newspaper while opening it up to the new virtues of our global participatory network. It can become a uniquely well-webbed supplier of news to the networked ecology, although the idea that any newspaper can “cover” all the “major” news has long ago gone pining for the fjords.

But this new webby news platform will miss the big chance to improve the ecosystem if Bezos applies to the Washington Post what he knows about personalization. The world doesn’t need another way to have our beliefs confirmed and our interests titilated. We don’t need The Daily Everyone Sucks But Us, and we really really don’t need The Washington Post and Sideboob.

What we instead need is personalization that doesn’t pander to our interests but expands them. That requires starting from where we are; posting lots of articles that are so outside our interests that we won’t read them won’t help. But the genius of Amazon’s personalization can be tuned so that we are presented with what pushes our interests forward without abandoning them. There’s lots of room for improvement in my current 1:25 ratio. In fact, there’s a statistical possibility of a 24x improvement.

We have billions of dollars’ worth of evidence that Jeff Bezos is one of the great business entrepreneurs of our era. But we also have good evidence that he has interests beyond maximizing corporate value. His taking the Washington Post private is a very good sign. I’m hopeful that something very good for us all is going to come out of his purchase — but only if Bezos can unlearn much of what Amazon has taught him about how to succeed.

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