Archive for: April, 2011

Friday Fun: Arianna Huffington, Queen Alien Facehugger!

Apr 15 2011 Published by under friday fun

Ok, not quite.

But I take my little title image from a post by Eric D. Snider on Arianna Huffington's "hostile takeover" of the "pay people fairly for the work they do" culture at AOL. (Yeah, scare quotes are relevant here, read the post.)

Anyways, the post is called, Leaving in a Huff.

And this is what inspired me to use it for a Friday Fun:

Did you know that when she had her first meetings with the AOL staff, she brought them Greek cookies and regaled them with amusing personal anecdotes?? It's true! Then she taught them traditional Greek folk songs! Then they all danced a tsamiko, drank ouzo, and ate gyros and baklava! Then Huffington emitted a bone-chilling shriek, unhinged her jaw, threw over the conference room table, and devoured everyone present.

It's actually quite a serious post, full of darkly cynical gallows humour. It's well worth reading for the insights it gives into a kind of worst case scenario for popular media business models in the online age, a world where individual bits of content have so little worth that the efforts of people who create it are similarly worth very little, if nothing.

Sobering, to say the least. Let's hope it doesn't all work out this way.

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Interview with The Tweeting Chancellor, Holden Thorp of the University of North Carolina

Welcome to the latest instalment in my occasional series of interviews with people in the world of higher education and scholarly publishing.

This time around it's a bit different with the circumstances being a little unusual. Last week I did a back-of-the-envelope tweet about the Twitter habits of senior academic administrators and my experiences creating a list of those administrators. The uses of social networks in education is an area that really interests me and the habits of those senior administrators was something I'd been wondering about.

Well, my old blogging buddy Stephanie Willen Brown saw the post and tweeted it in her capacity as the head of the UNC Journalism and Mass Communications Library, copying the Twitter handle of Holden Thorp, the chancellor of UNC. Well, to make a long story short, Chancellor Thorp saw the tweet and he and I ended up connecting for a short interview.

I'd like to thank Chancellor Thorp for agreeing to this interview and also props to Stephanie for making the connection.



Q1. When did you start tweeting?

In December of 2010. Here's a blog entry that explains a lot of my interest and approach to Twitter.

(JD: Here's Chancellor Thorp's handle: @chanthorp.)

Q2. What was your initial rationale for getting into the whole social media arena, Twitter especially?

We have a few students who are very interested in higher education - @elizakern, @kkiley, and @cryanbarber. They were putting a lot of interesting student perspectives about events in higher ed on Twitter. I was lurking reading their stuff, because it was less formal than what would end up in the student newspaper, and I thought very insightful. I got tired of typing their names in all the time and decided to set up an account for myself. As described in the blog post mentioned above, I didn't want to set up a phony account.

Q3. How do you decide what to tweet? How do you balance promoting your institution and it's activities with the kind of authentic, personal touch that this kind of platform really requires?

I try to create a balance. Certainly sending out links of positive news about the university or the students is a winner. Innovation is my area so I send out stuff about that and follow a lot of people who write in the area like Steven Johnson, Atul Gawande, Steve Case, Lesa Mitchell, Rick Florida, Dan Pink, Maureen Farrell. I retweet a lot of their stuff. I retweet stuff from the students, but only if I have time to go through the links that are in the tweet carefully. I send out things about our sports teams, but try to stay positive (see below). If I'm at a non-revenue sporting event and there is no other person tweeting, I will live-tweet the game. On the personal side, I send a little bit of stuff about my kids out and a few family events from time to time.

Q4. The Internet can be a bit of a rough and tumble place at times. Have you had any less than wonderful experiences and what's your theory on how to handle such things?

Sports offers a lot of possibilities for getting in trouble on the internet in general, and on Twitter in particular. I sent out a tweet on the day of the Duke-Carolina game that was over the line in kidding Duke students. I shouldn't have done it and I apologized, although I did get a lot of new followers that day. Unfortunately, controversy gets you a lot of attention online and that is a big danger that everyone should be aware of.

Q5. Finally, would you recommend getting on Twitter to other senior academic administrators?

Yes. I cannot think of a better way to stay in touch with the students and understand their perspective. @kstate_pres and @ are both doing a really good job.

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From the Archives: Super Crunchers: Why thinking-by-numbers is the new way to be smart by Ian Ayres

I have a whole pile of science-y book reviews on two of my older blogs, here and here. Both of those blogs have now been largely superseded by or merged into this one. So I'm going to be slowly moving the relevant reviews over here. I'll mostly be doing the posts one or two per weekend and I'll occasionally be merging two or more shorter reviews into one post here.

This one, of Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-By-Numbers is the New Way To Be Smart, is from April 12, 2008.


You know how I'm always complaining about business-y buzz/hype books & articles? How they're 1/3 repetition, 1/3 hype and 1/3 real ideas?

Like I commented to Michael not too long ago: "I find these tendencies very true of a lot of cases where I look to the business literature to understand something important about the way our culture is changing."

The book under consideration in this review, Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-By-Numbers is the New Way To Be Smart by Ian Ayres, is a business book. It says something important about the way our culture is changing. On the other hand, it is also very profoundly a popular science book about the mathematical and statistical analysis of large datasets. Yes, indeed -- this is a popular math book about data mining. And it is a very good to boot. Thankfully, not so much plagued by the repetition and hype of many of the pure business books. I suspect it may have originally been aimed at a popular science audience as much as a business audience, accounting for a slightly different emphasis.

So, what is super crunching? (p.10)

It is statistical analysis that impacts real-world decisions. Super Crunching decisions usually bring together some combination of size, speed and scale. the sizes of the datasets are really big -- both in the number of observations and in the number of variables...And the scale of the impact is sometimes truly huge. this isn't a bunch of egghead academics cranking out provocative journal articles. Super Crunching is done by or for decision makers who are looking for a better way to do things.

In other words, data mining. To it's credit the book doesn't really talk about the hows and whys of the actual mathematical analysis; it mostly concentrates on the applications and implications of these powerful tools. The core theme of the book is how do you make decisions in the data mining (I've decided to to not bother with Ayres's cutsie term and just say data mining) world: evidence or intuition? Evidence wins every time.

Some interesting points to consider: the rise of data mining tools is in large part to the drastic decrease in storage costs the last number of years, far more than any increase in processing power. On the other hand, the use of neural network technology has also contributed to better and better techniques.

The book basically goes through a bunch of applications areas and shows how each are affected by data mining -- basically showing that the evidence provided by statistical evidence beats out human intuition every time. It's an interesting examination of the nature of expertise: what does it really mean to be a human expert when math wizards can transform large data sets into much more accurate predictions about human behaviour. What's left for us to do? Of course, the human role is to decide what data to collect, what questions to ask in the analysis and how to apply the results.

Ayres looks at recommendation systems (like Amazon), data mining applications in the entertainment industry (yes, scripts and box office data are data mined, resulting in, apparently, Will Farrell), economics and government policy and evidence-based medicine (perhaps the best chapter).

To his credit, Ayres doesn't duck the hard questions all this brings up. He deals with privacy concerns, the dangers of over-reliance on programmed creativity and other interesting areas. It's a powerful technology, and while balance is needed in some respects, understanding is a far preferable reaction to change.

Instead of a Luddite rejection of this powerful new technology, it is better to become a knowledgeable participant in the revolution. Instead of sticking your head in the sands of innumeracy, I recommend filling your head with the basic tools of Super Crunching. (p.191)

A good reaction to any new technology. And I like the way he ties it in with the general innumeracy of our times, especially the media and chattering classes. A tool can be used for many purposes. Let's all be

Passionate about the need to inculcate a basic understanding of statistics in the general public. "We have to get students to learn this stuff...We have to get over this phobia and we have to get over this view that somehow statistics is illiberal. There is this crazy view out there that statistics are right-wing"...One can crunch numbers and still have a passionate and caring soul. You can still be creative. You just have to be willing to put your creativity and your passions to the test to see if they really work. (p. 215)

I recommend this book without reservation. Any library that collects math or popular math books would find it a terrific addition to their collection. Business libraries would also find it appropriate. Collections that are looking at the way technology is changing our culture would find that Super Crunchers belongs alongside books like Wikinomics or Everything is Miscellaneous.

Ayres, Ian.Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-By-Numbers is the New Way To Be Smart. New York: Bantan, 2007. 260pp. ISBN-13: 978-0553384734

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Librarians are universally the most collegial professionals on campus

Hey, it wasn't me that said that. It wasn't even another academic librarian.

It was Joshua Kim in his post from today's Inside Higher Ed, 5 Reasons Librarians Are the Future of Ed Tech.

It's a great post, talking from an outsider's perspective about what librarians bring to the educational process. Kim concentrates on the role that libraries and librarians can play in moving into campus educational technology roles but really, the list he gives applies to the roles that we can play all across the various functions on average campus. Especially those we play as librarians.

Not as explicitly part of educational technology departments or, perhaps, research or outreach offices. But as explicitly part of libraries. Those roles of course encompass facilitating and advancing the institution's educational mission, research activities, governance, outreach, educational technology, the whole enchilada.

The five reasons are, with Kim's full explanation for the one that needs that context the most:

  • Service Orientation
  • Strong Relationships
  • Multilingualism: People trained in information science enjoy the benefits of a broad set of skills and perspectives. Some librarians are trained in the disciplines of the faculty and courses they work with, and all librarians have the baseline of skills to relate to the full range of academics. Librarians speak the language of research, are familiar with its tools and practices, and can connect specialists with the databases, journal and articles they need to accomplish their work. The training and practice of librarians encourages a comfort with a wide range of disciplines, ensuring a common language (and worldview) across the academy. Where technologists might thrive with specialized knowledge (networking, server administration etc.), librarians being largely client facing need to speak many languages.
  • Technology Experience
  • Collegiality

I like the way he ends his post:

The discussion about Library / IT campus mergers is, I think, largely besides the point. Formal mergers may or may not happen, either way the future of academic technology belongs to the librarians (and those most like them). Us non-librarians would do well to learn from and emulate our colleagues from the Library.

So, to the librarians out there reading this, stand a little taller today.

To the faculty members and researchers out there reading this, take a moment and think how you could collaborate with a librarian to advance the goals of your institution.

Thanks, Joshua. We appreciate it.

(Some of this is also inspired by the general academic librarian angstiness going on right now. I'll do a bit of a focused "Around the Web" on that next week, probably Monday.)

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Friday Fun: Time Between Thing Being Amusing, Extremely Irritating Down To 4 Minutes

Apr 08 2011 Published by under friday fun

This seems to be the trajectory for absolutely everything now, from music, to film, to internet memes, everything.

That doesn't mean it's not funny, of course.

From The Onion, Time Between Thing Being Amusing, Extremely Irritating Down To 4 Minutes

PROVIDENCE, RI--According to a study released this week by Brown University's Department of Modern Culture and Media, it now takes only four minutes for a new cultural touchstone to transform from an amusing novelty into an intensely annoying thing people never want to see or hear again.


"The results are the same for everything from TV news bloopers to professional ad campaigns, with only a handful of exceptions," Levinson added. "For example, it takes, on average, less than 90 seconds to go from feeling delight to active enmity for anything that involves talking infants."


"We project that by 2018, the gap between liking something new and wishing yourself dead rather than hearing it again will be down to 60 seconds," Levinson said. "And by 2023, enjoyment and abhorrence will occur simultaneously, the two emotions effectively canceling each other out and leaving one feeling nothing whatsoever."

Sometimes The Onion is the wisest cultural commentator of all.

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College and university presidents tweeting

...Or not?

Not surprisingly, one of my professional interests is the use of Twitter and other social networks/media in higher education. And not just for educational/classroom purposes but also for outreach.

In other words, people who work at a college or university using Twitter in an official capacity to reach out to other people outside their organization. Of course, this applies to using Twitter to recruit students, to reach out to parents, to connect to similar external departments or organizations.

It also applies to outreach within an organization. For example, we use twitter at my library to connect with students, faculty and other campus units. We answer questions, monitor traffic and respond to issues, retweet interesting stuff, make announcements. It's not so much for looking outside York's walls as building relationships within.

Now university presidents are an interesting case. Presumably they want to do both: enhance their institution's reputation with the external world, attracting attention, funding and students. They also want to forge bonds and build relationships with internal stakeholders and units -- faculty, staff, students, parents of students, etc.

So I decided I would start building a Twitter list of senior academic administrators on Twitter, mostly presidents but also deans and provosts. I just wanted to get a sense of what they're talking about, how they're engaging, how personal and authentic their persona's seem.

And I'll admit to being a bit surprised at what I found.

Sure, I found a couple of lists of twitter handles for presidents, mostly fairly recent. I also found a few just with simple Google searches. There are quite a few that are active tweeters, with various levels of personality in their tweets. Some are quite formal, some almost folksy. I'm really pleased so many are finding Twitter to be a useful tool in reaching out.

But a surprising number of them (maybe 10-15%) seem to have deleted their accounts within the last few months since the lists were made or since Google found them.


Good question.

I guess many got on the Twitter bandwagon when it was the hot thing to do, gave it a try and then either lost interest, found it too time-consuming or perhaps even found the rough-and-tumble nature of the open web a bit disconcerting.

Is Twitter well-suited to the kinds of messages that modern university presidents want to communicate to the outside world? Were they trying to fit a square promotional/institutional message into a Twitter round hole?

Here's some of the lists I've found. You can check it out yourself.

Also, if you know of any senior administrators that are worth following, please let me know. I'd love to see what's they're talking about.

Anyways, check out my list and let me know what you think.

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Around the Web: Academia in the age of digital reproducibility, Gender gaps in academic librarianship, Libraries digital direction and more

Apr 05 2011 Published by under around the web

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From the Archives: Ambient Findability by Peter Morville

Apr 03 2011 Published by under book review, librarianship, library web, science books

I have a whole pile of science-y book reviews on two of my older blogs, here and here. Both of those blogs have now been largely superseded by or merged into this one. So I'm going to be slowly moving the relevant reviews over here. I'll mostly be doing the posts one or two per weekend and I'll occasionally be merging two or more shorter reviews into one post here.

This one, of Ambient Findability: What We Find Changes Who We Become, is from May 2, 2008.


Ambient findability describes a fast emerging world where we can find anyone or anything from anywhere at anytime. We're not there yet, but we're headed in the right direction. Information is in the air, literally. And it changes our minds, physically. Most importantly, findability invests freedom in the individual. (p. 6-7)

This is a very good book. If you're interested in the way the web works, you would be hard pressed to find a better book to help you in your researches.

Peter Morville is perhaps best known as the co-author of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, one of the true classics in the web design/development/architecture field. Morville is also a librarian and has great sympathy for libraries as institutions and the problems we face in adapting ourselves to a new information landscape.

So, what's this new book all about? It's basically about how to design your web presence so that people can find your stuff when they're looking for it, even if they didn't know it was your stuff they were looking for. Sound relevant for libraries? You betcha.

The opening chapters deal with definitional issues such as information literacy, wayfinding and information retrieval and interaction. The book goes on to discuss "interwingling" as an important concept -- the idea that everything is everywhere, all bunched up together. But how to find interwingled stuff? Push or pull? Maybe the semantic web has the answers? How do we make informed decisions in a complex, networked culture? What are our sources of inspiration? According to Morville, we will find the clues to these questions in an ambiently findable information landscape. But, interestingly enough, he's not really that fond of a totally miscellaneous world, being quite fond of classifications and controlled vocabularies to help make things more findable. (p. 129) Being one of the tribe, he also has a high regard for the work librarians do and for our efforts in promoting information literacy. (p. 172)

Morville is a great writer -- the writer of the kind of book that stops you in your tracks and makes you re-think

On attention:

We love our cell phones but not the disruption. We love our email but not the spam. Our enthusiasm for ubiquitous computing will undoubtedly be tempered by reality. Our future will be at least as messy as our present. (p. 97)

This book is a classic in the making. It's well worth reading and re-reading as the problems and issues it discusses are both eternal and of immediate and vital importance.

Morville, Peter. Ambient Findability: What We Find Changes Who We Become. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2005. 188pp. ISBN-13: 978-0596007652

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Friday Fun: Librarian Caught in Bed with Book

Apr 01 2011 Published by under friday fun, librarianship

A fun one from the Scholarly Kitchen's Phil Davis to celebrate April 1st. I've seen quite a few amusing bits out there this year but nothing that really slays me. Any suggestions for good ones that you've seen this year?

Anyways: Librarian Caught in Bed with Book

Readers of the UK Guardian and Post awoke Friday to the scandalous photo of a university librarian embracing a copy of "Eat, Pray, Love." Authorities are still investigating whether it was a personal copy.

The photo came to the attention of the press via WikiLeaks. Authorities in the UK and the US are working around the clock to discover the chain of custody that led to the publication of the photo.

"I'm horrified. Absolutely horrified," exclaimed her husband, an employee of ebrary, a purveyor of ebook content. "I absolutely had no idea it was going on. I feel cheated, betrayed."

And, yeah, I can be caught in bed with a book pretty well every night. Currently it's with The Crime on Cote des Neiges by David Montrose, a vintage noir mystery set in 1950s Montreal.

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