Archive for the 'kids today' category

Reading Diary: Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy by Gabriella Coleman and This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things by Whitney Phillips

Gabriella Coleman's Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous is largely a laudatory history of the Anonymous hacker activist movement with some anthropological and political analysis. Whitney Phillips' This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture on the other hand, is much more geared towards an analytical and philosophical analysis of past and present (and even future) of how online trolling relates to contemporary culture.

Neither book is perfect, and both tend to falter where it comes to how closely the author identifies with the community being analysed, but both are very solid entries into two very new areas of study.

The best parts of Coleman's book is the detailed description and account of the Anonymous movement/phenomenon. For sure, there are numerous misconceptions about Anonymous, some understandable since the movement itself is so diffuse and decentralized, some which seem to be more a case of willful misconceptions on the part of media and political classes. Coleman's step by step history of many of the various Anon campaigns -- like the anti-Mormon church one, for example -- really clarify that there is no one Anon, just a loose aggregation of fellow travelers. There was some central control at the beginning but as becomes clear, that also began to be harder to enforce as the movement gained in size and popularity. Coleman's anthropological and ethnographic approach also served to humanize the movement. What might have been a simplistic "angry dudes in their parent's basements" we see in mainstream media was complicated and clarified by Coleman, both in terms of demographics and motivation.

On the other hand, the way she embedded herself in Anon communities and built personal relationships with activists -- and her own identification with the kind of activism they were doing -- sometimes left me with the feeling that she could have been a bit more detached in how she approached the ethical and legal implications of how Anon operated. There were a couple of spots where I thought she might dive into those sorts of issues at the end of a chapter or section, but then the story just continued on as before. She certainly deals with a lot of those sorts of issues at the end of the book, and deals with them fairly well, but dealing with those sorts of issues as they arise would have been better.

That said, overall I quite enjoyed the book and learned a lot about a topic I thought I already knew a fair bit about. There were some parts that could have been edited a bit for length, but that's a small complaint. I would recommend this book for any academic or public library collection that deals with the social aspects of technology or the interface of technology and politics.

By contrast, Whitney Phillips' book This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture could have suffered from the same ills as the Coleman book but it didn't. In fact, a recurring theme in the book is Whitney's struggles to distance herself from her anthropological/ethnographic subjects and not be tempted to identify with them. Is she completely successful in distancing herself from the trolls, of not identifying herself and sympathizing with them even a little bit? Not completely, but she is very aware of the temptation, especially as it relates to some trolling tendencies in her own family.

Phillips' main point is the book can be summarized as this: "Trolls are asshats. But they way they are asshats and how their asshatery manifests itself in our media-drenched contemporary society is useful for understanding that society." It's clear that she has no love for trolls but rather seeks to understand them as a way of understanding the society they reflect. And while it would be nice to think that the reflection is a carnival mirror reflection, one that is untrue or exaggerated, Phillips I think really wants us all to understand that what trolls represent in a genuine and authentic part of our society. As ugly as that reflection is, it's more true than we would like to acknowledge.

Trolls are the symptoms of a mean, cruel, misogynistic, racist, exploitative society, not the disease itself. And while treating the symptoms is unquestionably important, the underlying disease is even more important to recognize.

I have no hesitation recommending this book to all libraries that collect in technology and society. Any academic library would find this useful and probably most public libraries as well. Even high school libraries could find this a useful addition.

Coleman, Gabriella. Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous. New York: Verso, 2014. 464pp. ISBN-13: 978-1781685839

Phillips, Whitney. This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture. Boston: MIT Press, 2015. 251pp. ISBN-13: 978-0262028943

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Friday Fun: 30 things to tell a book snob

I'll admit, I'm a bit of a book snob, a strange thing to say for a lifetime comics/science fiction/fantasy/horror/mystery fan, but there you go. Perhaps more precisely, I'm a snob about books versus other media.

But in my defense I'll maintain that I'm getting better as I get older -- more tolerant and accepting and less snobby. Perhaps not coincidentally, I think my takes in reading material are getting more diverse too.

In any case, let's all enjoy 30 things to tell a book snob.

1. People should never be made to feel bad about what they are reading. People who feel bad about reading will stop reading.

2. Snobbery leads to worse books. Pretentious writing and pretentious reading. Books as exclusive members clubs. Narrow genres. No inter-breeding. All that fascist nonsense that leads commercial writers to think it is okay to be lazy with words and for literary writers to think it is okay to be lazy with story.

3. If something is popular it can still be good. Just ask Shakespeare. Or the Beatles. Or peanut butter.

4. Get over the genre thing. The art world accepted that an artist could take from anywhere he or she wanted a long time ago. Roy Lichtenstein could turn comic strips into masterpieces back in 1961. Intelligence is not a question of subject but approach.

5. It is harder to be funny than to be serious. For instance, this is a serious sentence: 'After dinner, Alistair roamed the formal garden behind this unfamiliar house, wishing he had never betrayed Lorelei's trust.' That took me eight seconds to write. And yet I've been trying to write a funny sentence for three hours now, and I'm getting hungry.

Go read all the rest of the suggestions. Then fire up your reading device and/or dig deep into your bookshelves and read any damn thing that gives you pleasure. (Me on Goodreads plus my 2012 reading.)

Now, at the end of the day, I tend to think music snobs are just as bad. It would be fun to see a
"30 things to tell a music snob" post somewhere. Of course, most of the points would be similar, but slightly different.

Maybe we can invent one in the comments?

I'll start:

1. It doesn't matter whether or not the musician is living or dead, young or old, it's all just music. If you like it and it gives you pleasure, that's all that matters.

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Friday Fun: Lines from The Princess Bride that Double as Comments on Freshman Composition Papers

Mar 02 2012 Published by under education, friday fun, kids today

Personally, I find it inconceivable that any writer could come up with such a wonderful list.

Lines from The Princess Bride that Double as Comments on Freshman Composition Papers.

Here's a few to refresh your memory:

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

"At a time like this that's all you can think to say?"

"Nonsense. You're only saying that because no one ever has."

The Princess Bride (memorable quotes) is one of my favourite films and I'm sure it's one of yours. There are no doubt lines from other films that could be re-purposed as essay comments or even lines that could be slightly altered and would make terrific sense as essay comments.

I can think of one from TPB: "Hello. My name is Professor Montoya. You massacred my essay. Prepare to fail."

Or perhaps from another film that's been a source of a lot of sayings, "Of all the classes, in all the universities, in all the world, you walk into mine."

There's got to be more...let's see what we can come up with in the comments!

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Call for Posts and Papers: Librarianship by Walking Around

A project I heartily endorse on a topic near and dear to my heart, launched by the Library Society of the World, Librarianship by Walking Around:

The Library Society of the World is putting together an online and print-on-demand anthology of weblog posts, essays, articles, and other material entitled Librarianship by Walking Around, patterned after the successful Hacking the Academy project.

Librarianship doesn't just happen in the library! Librarianship happens wherever information exchange happens--that is, just about everywhere. Librarianship by Walking Around celebrates librarians who leave their libraries and their comfort zones to ply the library trade.

Submit your work or suggest another's by commenting here, tweeting the link with the hashtag #libwalk, or posting to the Library Society of the World's FriendFeed group by Friday, October 21. Themes may include (but are not limited to):

  • Serendipitous encounters (and how to engineer them)
  • Joining patron communities
  • Walking around online
  • Walking around non-library literature and non-library conferences
  • Embedded librarianship (in all its forms)

All on-topic submissions will appear on the project's web page. The LSW will select from these for the anthology, expected to be available in free .epub and low-cost print-on-demand versions. All authors whose pieces are chosen for the anthology will be asked to license the piece as CC-BY. Authors unwilling to do so will not appear in the anthology.

Walk around the information world with us!

I've already submitted a couple of older posts to the project and I'd encourage everyone else out there to consider submitting as well.

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Around the Web: Scholarship in the Public Eye: The Case for Social Media

I'm doing a short presentation later today on using social media as a researcher. It's part of the York University Faculty of Graduate Studies' Scholarly Communications Series. This one is titled Scholarship in the Public Eye:

The Faculties of Graduate Studies and Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, along with the York University Libraries, are collaboratively facilitating a series of information sessions focused on scholarly communications intended for all graduate students and faculty members. The series will address issues related to research skills and research dissemination, including panel presentations and discussions on: literature searching and research mapping; proposal writing; participating in and organizing conferences and poster presentations; publishing monographs and articles in scholarly journals; intellectual property and open access considerations; and, communicating scholarship within nonacademic settings.

And yes, I'm the designated blog/Twitter/social media speaker. I have a short presentation that I did using Storify which I'll post tomorrow. If were following my Twitter stream yesterday, you may already have checked it out.

In any case, this list of resources is the one I'll be referring to in the presentation itself.

Feel free to add any suggestions in the comments.

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Twitter is clean, expressive and human

Twitterers of the world.

We've all heard the questions. The murmurs. The doubts and whispers.

"Twitter is a waste of time," they say.

"People are just talking about what they ate for breakfast, or what their dog is doing."

"No good can come of it, no way to spend work time, turning us all into ADHD cases."

The mother of all social media doubter articles came out a little while back, The New York Time's Bill Keller on The Twitter Trap:

I don't mean to be a spoilsport, and I don't think I'm a Luddite. I edit a newspaper that has embraced new media with creative, prizewinning gusto. I get that the Web reaches and engages a vast, global audience, that it invites participation and facilitates -- up to a point -- newsgathering. But before we succumb to digital idolatry, we should consider that innovation often comes at a price. And sometimes I wonder if the price is a piece of ourselves.


As a kind of masochistic experiment, the other day I tweeted "#TwitterMakesYouStupid. Discuss." It produced a few flashes of wit ("Give a little credit to our public schools!"); a couple of earnestly obvious points ("Depends who you follow"); some understandable speculation that my account had been hacked by a troll; a message from my wife ("I don't know if Twitter makes you stupid, but it's making you late for dinner. Come home!"); and an awful lot of nyah-nyah-nyah ("Um, wrong." "Nuh-uh!!"). Almost everyone who had anything profound to say in response to my little provocation chose to say it outside Twitter. In an actual discussion, the marshaling of information is cumulative, complication is acknowledged, sometimes persuasion occurs. In a Twitter discussion, opinions and our tolerance for others' opinions are stunted. Whether or not Twitter makes you stupid, it certainly makes some smart people sound stupid.

While I don't necessarily disagree with every point that Keller makes, I think the thing that bothers me the most is the unspoken disdain for different ways of being social and engaged in the world.

I don't think Twitter people are less engaged with in-person socializing -- in fact, my overall social media presence has made me a ton of new in-person friends both in my home city and institution as well as around the world. And Twitter has been a bit part of that in the last couple of years. In particular, I have to say that Twitter has been an amazing tool for building contacts and relationships within my institution. And even real friendships. And I have a hard time believing I'm alone in this.

Twitter has also become an incredible source of ideas and provocation and engagement. Interestingly that engagement and learning usually happens one of two ways.

Either in a short, bursty exchange with one or more people. Or via a link to a more indepth blog post or article. So in a sense, Twitter is quick and superficial but it often leads to something deeper and more meaningful -- but not on Twitter itself.

Sure, Twitter is the source of an awful lot of shinyshinyshiny distraction for me. Is it something I have to work at keeping in check? Of course. But that's not Twitter's fault, it's my fault.

So, where did I get the wonderful title for this post?

A wonderful and subtle defense of Twitter in particular and social media in general, Thoughts on Twitter.

Here is my experience, and what Twitter has done for me: I have never been as well informed or strategically connected in my life. I have never been as current with those I care about and are interested in. I have never been able to identify what people are talking about, across the world and a universe of possible topics, as quickly or easily as I can today, through Twitter. I have never been as consistently entertained or amused, by the regular observations of some very smart people who are now, effortlessly, in my orbit. It is as fundamental a communications tool for me as e-mail and one that, in many ways, is much more powerful.


Twitter is clean, expressive and human. 140 characters, right there. Things to know, reasons to laugh, thoughts or notions to share, updates to consider, information that is helpful or silly, exchanged on your own terms, with people you have chosen to hear from. A link to the most moving or intelligent blog post you've ever read, right down to word that some guy on a plane just ignominiously broke out a tuna and onion sandwich, pre-takeoff, which makes you smile.


That's another great and fundamental thing about Twitter, you build your own experience, to suit your interests and needs. As I've said before, in a Tweet, it's like the most interesting room in the world, because the whole world is in the room - and you can hear the conversations you want to, talk to the people you choose... Twitter is the frame, not the picture, what's inside is largely up to you.

That's another key line: "Twitter is the frame, not the picture, what's inside is largely up to you."

Twitter is what you make of it, for good or ill. There's lots of ill, no doubt, but I think there's way more in the good column.

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From the Archives: Sharing, Privacy and Trust in a Networked World by OCLC

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 Sharing, Privacy and Trust in a Networked World, is from November 19, 2011.


OCLC's newest state of the library world/environmental scan report was published a few months ago: Sharing, Privacy and Trust in a Networked World. This one focuses on the potential roles of social networks for libraries and the implications they might have on our practices and norms.

It's an extremely interesting and provocative report, one that inspires us to move forward with new initiatives while at the same time setting some pretty daunting challenges before us.

The practice of using a social network to establish and enhance relationships based on some common ground--shared interests, related skills, or a common geographic location--is as old as human societies, but social networking has flourished due to the ease of connecting on the Web. This OCLC membership report explores this web of social participation and cooperation on the Internet and how it may impact the library's role, including:

  • The use of social networking, social media, commercial and library services on the Web
  • How and what users and librarians share on the Web and their attitudes toward related privacy issues
  • Opinions on privacy online
  • Libraries' current and future roles in social networking

The report is based on a survey (by Harris Interactive on behalf of OCLC) of the general public from six countries--Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States--and of library directors from the U.S. The research provides insights into the values and social-networking habits of library users.

As it happens, I was lucky enough to receive a print copy in the mail a month or so ago without even asking, no doubt with the idea that I'm some sort of opinion leader in these things. Be that as it may, as with most of the free books (and there's not many) that come through here I feel compelled to comment.

In this particular case, I do have some overall ideas about the implications of the report but I'll get to those later. First off, I think I'll tackle some of the statistics that are presented, highlighting what struck me as interesting, surprising or unusual. I'll also comment on some of the interviews with their librarian panel of experts: a good list, rounding up some of the usual suspects but also quite a few voices that were unfamiliar to me.

The sections include the survey responses (sections 1-3), interviews with US library directors (4), libraries and social networking survey responses (5), interviews with the panel of expert librarians (6), report highlights (7) and conclusion (8).


  • Page 1-6: Interesting that 20% of those surveyed had created content online. A bit larger than I would have thought, but if you include flickr, commenting on blogs, etc., not that surprising.

  • 1-20, 21. People are reading more but increasingly online. Exactly what I would have thought. The web is still largely a text medium and reading text will remain an important part of an increasingly diverse online experience.

  • 2-12 to 2-15. Combining the various language/national groups on the reporting of the favourite social networking site is probably not useful. Comparing the raw percentages for Mixi and MySpace is like comparing apples to oranges.

  • 2-17. No surprise. We use the social networks our friends use. It's like hanging out at the same mall that our friends hang out at.

  • 2-38. In the last two years, it seems only a small percentage of people have actually stopped using a particular social networking site after initially joining in the last two years. Somehow I thought that people would be trying out a bunch of different sites and only sticking with the ones they liked or where they discovered most of their friends.

  • 3-6. It seems that most people use the same password on all the sites they inhabit. There is a significant number (16%) that always use different passwords. I use a small number of configurable passwords over and over and find that the best for me. For example, I never have to write a password down anywhere, I can just remember them all.

  • 3-11. Most people are more comfortable showing their true personality in person while a significant minority are more comfortable showing their true personality online. But what does it mean to share your true personality online. Does it mean that the trolls are totally liberated to be the idiots they truly are? Do they feel constrained by civilized society in person? On the other hand, do shy or awkward people find a healthy and constructive freedom to express things online that they don't in person?

  • 3-36 to 3-38. Really interesting numbers here about how people feel about disclosing their personal information to the library and the trade-offs between privacy and personalized services.

  • 4-13. Interesting. Most people join social networks because they are fun or because that's where their friends are. Library directors join them because they are useful; fun and friends come later.

  • 5-3. Although the population expresses a low level of interest in participating in library hosted social networking activities, I'm not too concerned. After all, a small percentage of a large population can be quite a few people. If only 10% of the 55,000+ population of York publishes creative work or contributes to a discussion group, well, that's 5-6000 people.

  • 5-4 to 5-7. Only 10-20% think the library should build social networking sites. We should be learning or information centres. As if there can be no learning or information in social networking sites...

  • Section 6. Lots of interesting commentary here by the panel of librarian experts. Mostly about how libraries have no choice but to engage students in social networks, that if we don't find a role in the 2.0 world we will lose a generation. Also about the conflicts between security and access. Good, thoughtful stuff here, a nice range of opinion, some dissenting voices to what otherwise might have been groupthink.

  • 7-8. Both users and library directors are skeptical about libraries' role in social networks. Not surprising. We're in the middle.

  • 8-2 to 8-3. I like that concept that they mention here, messy participation. Social networks are diverse and chaotic, not interoperable in any meaningful way. But they are also incredibly compelling and engaging, almost as a function of their messiness. Privacy and security are evolving concepts, perhaps even in opposition to the messiness.

  • 8-6 to 8-8. The message? We have a challenge facing us.

The twin challenges we face:

  • My core assumption is that libraries can have something compelling to offer our patrons in social network spaces. Unfortunately, any entry into social networks won't be exploiting a need that that our patrons are clamouring for. We'll be ahead of them here, and that's always a challenge. We need to find a way to make the library messier and looser, to encourage participation, to open the doors and engage these new spaces in a way that our patrons will find compelling. There's nothing sadder than an empty social network. We'll need ingenuity and patience, a willingness to try things, a tolerance for failure. The idea nurture a lot of different ideas, some of which grow into successful programs. We'll need a willingness to find partners on our campuses and within our broader communities. We need to work with those partners to build the social spaces that our students will need and use.

  • The second challenge is privacy. We need to reconcile the clean, secure, private library with the web of messy participation and customized services. We've always seen patron privacy as one of our core, bedrock values but we're going to need to think about putting more of the privacy decisions into the hands of our patrons. If we want them to trust us, to open up to our spaces, we going to need to trust them a little bit too. And we'll probably need to make the first move on this one too.

From page vii of the report:

What is it that motivates, even inspires, millions of users to spend hours online, not searching for information, but creating information, building content and establishing online communities? What drives users to not only contribute information, but to contribute "themselves," creating detailed personal profiles on social sites and sharing that information to establish new relationships with hundreds of new virtual friends?

It's the same thing that motivates people to contribute to open sources software projects. It's fun. They (we) enjoy the "work" we do on the web. We find actively contributing and participating more enjoyable than most TV or films or books or newspaper or magazines that are out there so that's what we choose to spend our time on. How do we make contributing to our social spaces that much fun?

So, read the report. Think about it, engage with it very closely and carefully. There's lots of information to digest and ideas to ponder. The path to the future may or may not be in the report but it certainly has a lot of food for thought about one path forward: making libraries socially networked teaching and learning spaces where students can share and discover. Actually, I don't think that strays too far from what we've always seen as our core mission.

(Review copy of report supplied by the publisher)

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From the Archives: Reviews of Cory Doctorow and Mafiaboy

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 post, from April 4, 2009, covered two books:


I'm reviewing these two books together for two reasons. First of all, I don't feel the need to go on at great length about either of them. Secondly, I think that they're related -- they both touch on the free, open and ungoverned (ungovernable?) nature of the Internet. One is a white hat treatment and the other, black hat. Or perhaps, many will think of both of these books representing a black hat perspective, that perhaps both these books represent the worst that the Internet has brought to modern society. The Web promotes openness and freedom. Generally, we consider both of those qualities to be positive. Certainly, Cory Doctorow would be a prime advocate of openness on the Web. On the other hand, the freedom that the Internet provides can also be cover for those that would exploit weakness and take advantage of others. Certainly, the story of Mafiaboy epitomizes the dark side of hacker culture.

Cory Doctorow's Content is a colletction of Doctorow's various essays on copyright and open content. collected from a bunch of different places, this is a stimulating and thought-provoking collection. Of course, every single essay is available for free on the net. An interesting conundrum, of course, is that if it's all available for free on the Web then why did I buy it? Most of all, I really like the idea of sending a little cash to the artists and thinkers whose work moves and inspires me. So, yes, I still buy books and CDs and pay to see movies in the theatre.

Never mind what you should pay for this book, who should read it? Well, if you're a copyright minimalist it's preaching to the choir. You'll agree that information wants to be free and that you the best business model for artists is to give stuff away that's easily copied and sell stuff that isn't. In other words, in a world where bits can be easily copied for virtually no cost, you have to be able to actually sell something other than pure content to make a living -- like experience. If you're a copyright maximalist, well, Doctorow is the anti-christ and you probably won't really appreciate the book. If, like most, you're in the middle, then this book is for you. Doctorow really makes a very strong and very persuasive case for his point of view, that . It's compelling and hard to ignore. You might not end up agreeing with everything (I certainly don't), but he will definitely win you over on a lot of points.

If there's one thing that detracts from Doctorow's ability to make his case, it's his attitude. Sometimes he's just too cocky, too arrogant, too sure that he's right and you're dead wrong. There's no agree-to-disagree is his world, it's my-way-or-the-highway. Take his opinion of opera:

The idea of a 60-minute album is as weird in the Internet era as the idea of sitting through 15 hours of Der Ring des Nibelungen was 20 years ago. There are some anachronisms who love their long-form opera, but the real action is in the more fluid stuff that can slither around on hot wax -- and now the superfluid droplets of MP3s and samples. Opera survives, but it is a tiny sliver of a much bigger, looser music market. The future composts the past: old operas get mounted for living anachronisms; Andrew Lloyd Webber picks up the rest of the business.

My only reaction is that Doctorow is completely wrong in this. In fact, he really contradicts the main point of the long tail that Internet gurus are so adamant about. The new media landscape doesn't make 60 minute operas less interesting and relevant. It makes them more so -- finally able to find their niche in the long tail of human artistic expression. People that like opera can enjoy and obsess over it. People that don't, well, can listen to whatever they like. The point isn't Doctorow's rather juvenile assertion that some particular type of artistic expression is somehow not worthy, the point is that the Internet enables every kind of artistic expression is a way that was not possible before.

In any case, that was one of the few false notes (all the same kind of thing) in an otherwise excellent book. Read it and disagree, engage and enrage. But it's too important to ignore. I would recommend this book to any academic or public library as well as to anyone interested in the future of content in a fragmented and radically shifting online landscape.

And let's take a look at Michael Calce and Craig Silverman's account of Calce's life as Internet hacker Mafiaboy. Its a fascinating story of a Montreal-area teen and how he got involved in the world of hacking and ended up launching a couple of big denial of service attacks on some prominent web sites like Yahoo! and CNN. Calce tells the story of how he got involved in the hacking underworld as well as how he was caught, the jail time he served as well as how he's reformed and is using his obvious computing gifts for good instead of evil.

A couple of interesting points, though. Especially in his telling of the early part of the story, Calce comes off as a bit arrogant and clueless about the seriousness of his actions, not really showing much empathy. I find this interesting because while the later chapters make it pretty clear that he's grown up and left those feelings mostly behind, there are still glimpses and insights into the teenager that caused the havoc. We see the macho reputation building, the bragging and the power trips but not really from the point an introspective point of view. I guess it's hard to expect anyone to write that kind of book.

A great story, well told, well worth reading and thinking about. I would recommend it to any academic or public library interested in the way the Internet is shaping our society.

Calce, Michael with Craig Silverman. Mafiaboy: How I Cracked the Internet and Why It's Still Broken. Toronto: Viking Canada, 2008. 277pp.

Doctorow, Cory. Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright, and the Future of the Future San Francisco: Tachyon, 2008. 213pp.

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New technology & classroom/campus behaviour

Dec 01 2010 Published by under education, kids today

A couple of really interesting articles in InsideHigherEd the other day:

Should Profs Leave Unruly Classes?

Now two faculty members at Ryerson University, in Toronto, sparked discussion at their institution with a similar (if somewhat more lenient) policy -- and their university's administrators and faculty union have both urged them to back down, which they apparently have.

The Ryerson professors' policy was first reported last week in The Eyeopener (the student newspaper) and then was picked up by other Canadian publications. Two professors who teach an introductory engineering course in chemistry jointly adopted a policy by posting it on the courses' Blackboard sites. The professors vowed to make tests more difficult, to encourage students to pay attention. And the professors said that after three warnings about disruptions such as cell phone discussions and movies playing on laptops, the professors would walk out of class -- and students would have to learn the rest of that day's material themselves. (Sources could not say whether the faculty members followed through on their treats.)

My take: First of all, this is a really interesting case study, so there's a lot of benefit from reading the whole article and comments.

This is a tough one. I don't condone the idea of "collective punishment" of all the students for the behavior of some. The profs in question should definitely try to get the class under control by some other means. On the other hand, if the two parties can't come to some useful working relationship that both allows the students to express themselves and be comfortable in the classroom and at the same time, gives the profs enough respect and an atmosphere that allows them to focus on presenting the material they need to present, well, I'm not sure what the next step is.

Personally, as a librarian, I enter a lot of classroom environments where I have no status. I come in to do my session, sometimes in a hands-on lab setting but often as a guest lecture in front of several hundred students. I've definitely experience the full range of classroom behavior but I have to say 90% of the time it goes off pretty well. Students either give me a good chunk of their attention or they disengage at least without disrupting what I'm trying to do. I obviously try to be as interesting, engaging and interactive as possible, but there are limits.

This is one of those cases I just don't know what the right thing to do is.

Untouchable Cyberbullies

Cyberbullying is back in the news, and some legislators are trying to get it into the books.

Following the suicide of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi -- who jumped off the George Washington Bridge in September after his roommate allegedly filmed him having an intimate encounter with a man and streamed the video on the Internet -- a pair of New Jersey congressmen introduced a new anti-bias bill earlier this month that would, among other things, make it clear that harassment undertaken via electronic media is just as illegal as the old-fashioned kind. (A similar bill has legislative approval in New Jersey and awaits action from Gov. Chris Christie, who said last week he had not decided whether to sign the bill or seek to "improve it").

The Clementi suicide has also prompted action in another legislative body: the Cornell University Student Assembly, which recently passed a resolution calling for a boycott of CollegeACB -- a gossip website where students post anonymous, sometimes vitriolic comments about their classmates. Noting its aversion to censorship, the assembly called boycott on purely moral grounds. "Students, as citizens of the Cornell community, feel a responsibility to protect each other from libel, defamation, and cyberbullying," reads the resolution, which passed unanimously (with three abstentions).

Yet the question remains as to whether these actions, however empathetic, will actually do anything to stop students from using new media to attack their classmates.

My take: Sigh. Human nature sucks sometimes. That's the problem with bullying. It seems inevitable yet also really hard to control and stamp out.

The role of new media in bullying is also a hotly disputed topic, with danah boyd probably being the most well-known commentator in the space with, for example, "Bullying" Has Little Resonance with Teenagers.

I'm not sure what the answers are either but the problems are real and campus communities need concrete strategies to deal with them. Unfortunately, they won't be the same strategies as for "real world" bullying, but will have to be more flexible and more personal. You probably can't really stop cyberbullying in the same way you can at least attempt to stop real world bullying. The approach needs to be much more focused on making sure that, a) the victims won't put up with it and will seek help and advice and b) the potential perpetrators somehow don't feel the need to impose their will on their victims.

Yep, should be easy.

So, what do you think about the problems of student behaviour in higher education?

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Friday Fun: Townies Make Preemptive Strike On College

Oct 22 2010 Published by under academia, friday fun, kids today

Ah, The Cronk News. Always good for a laugh at academia's expense!

I like this one from a few weeks ago, an amusing take on the whole town vs. gown issue: Townies Make Preemptive Strike On College

Town/Gown relations in Norwich, CT deteriorated in record time this year when students returned to campus. For over fifty years, tensions between "townies" and college students have centered around student vandalism of locals' mailboxes, cars and homes. But this year, the townies took matters into their own hands.

"I was sound asleep and heard screaming and yelling," said Patrick Minchoff, a junior living in Vanderbilt House. "When I looked outside, I saw a bunch of old Townies screaming and tee-peeing some trees. I had class the next morning. Don't they know we're trying to sleep?"

The Townies, who have adopted the name "The Rebel Alliance," allegedly stormed the campus between the hours of 4 am and 7 am last Tuesday leaving a wake of vandalism and destruction.

Junior art major Shelby Harris says, "Next time, we'll be ready for them."

"The Townies pooped all over the front steps of our lobby," exclaimed Charity Minster, a sophomore living in Thurston House. "We were totally trapped for hours. We didn't know how to get out. There was a lot of poop."

It's completely hilarious how the "townies" call themselves the Rebel Alliance.

Anyways, enjoy.

(It's worth noting that I work at an urban commuter university with really very few of these types of issues. Also, both universities I attended (Concordia University's downtown campus and McGill University) are located right in the heart of downtown Montreal and as such didn't really have town/gown issues either. As amusing as this issue is, I come at it vicariously.)

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