Thursday, April 28, 2011

On The Media: Transcript of "Newspapers vs. The Internet" (April 22, 2011)

A perverse distortion of the notion of “information responsibility.”

We've discussed display advertising, classified, online ads, paywalls, even donations. But here’s one we hadn't thought of, litigation. In the past year, a company called Righthaven has filed more than 250 lawsuits against blogs and websites that have reproduced some or all of a piece of newspaper content – article, photo, illustration, whatever – without permission.

Here’s how it works: Newspaper publishers like Stephens Media, owner of The Las Vegas Review Journal or Media News, owner of The Denver Post, agree to work with Righthaven. They sell some copyrights on their articles to Righthaven, which then trawls the Web looking for people who have posted all or part of copyrighted content online. Righthaven then sues those people, usually for 150,000 dollars, plus it often demands the infringing party give the entire site over to Righthaven. No warning letter, no takedown request, just a lawsuit.

Reporter Joe Mullin of has been closely following Righthaven. He says that many Tom, Dick and Harry defendants, lacking the resources to fight in court, quickly settle for thousands of dollars.

On The Media: Transcript of "Newspapers vs. The Internet" (April 22, 2011)

‘Birthers’ Fanned Flames of Conspiracy for Years -

Why do these times call for conscious attention to information responsibility?  Because these times make it so easy for those who would cynically use information irresponsibility to manipulate a credulous public. 

Mr. Todd said on NBC that “the ability to get a conspiracy theory into the mainstream, it’s so much easier today than it was even 20 years ago, 10, 5 years.”

‘Birthers’ Fanned Flames of Conspiracy for Years -

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Book Review - Beautiful and Pointless - A Guide to Modern Poetry - By David Orr -

The reviewer (David Kirby) starts his book review with an anecdote that illuminates a perverse form of information irresponsibility—namely, the insistence that something cannot possibly mean what it says and must have a deeper, hidden, waiting-to-be-deciphered meaning.

Some years ago, I wrote a poem called “Broken Promises,” which was adopted by the Poetry Out Loud project for its annual competition, meaning that high school students can recite it or one of several hundred other poems and maybe advance through regional and state competitions to the nationals, where some serious money is at stake. “Broken Promises” deals with just that: the promises we break and how they limp around and gaze at us reproachfully while enjoying an immortality denied to the promises we’ve kept.

Recently, I spoke with a group of high school teachers who wanted to discuss my famous poem — rather, to tell me what it meant. “It’s about your own poems!” said one teacher, and another shouted, “I think it’s about your children!” They seemed a little crestfallen when I said, no, the poem is about the promises we break, as the ­title and, as far as that goes, the poem itself says.

Book Review - Beautiful and Pointless - A Guide to Modern Poetry - By David Orr -

HP Gets With the (Developer) Program. CEO pimps PaaS, NoSQL – James Governor's Monkchips

Some bass-ackwards logic in here…  (“Leo” is HP CEO Leo Apotheker)

“But back to Leo: he also made an extremely aggressive anti-Oracle statement, which any modern web developer would absolutely recognise:

‘traditional relational databases are becoming less and less relevant to the future stack.’ 

“The call to NoSQL is a wakeup call because unlike IBM, Oracle and Microsoft, HP doesn’t have a relational database franchise to protect.”

Huh?  Let me get this straight.  A company that does not compete effectively in the relational DBMS market dismisses such products… and that that’s some kind of wake-up call?  And it’s a wake-up call because (?) that company has no stake in that market and every incentive to discourage further spending in that market? 

To be clear, it would be a wake-up call if Oracle said that relational DBMS’s had no future.  When HP says it, its barely distinguishable from marketing claptrap.

HP Gets With the (Developer) Program. CEO pimps PaaS, NoSQL – James Governor's Monkchips

Yes, We Will Still Have Bananas, Radiated or Not -

Dumbing things down in frivolous, smart-alecky ways probably costs you more in trust than it earns you in converts to your way of thinking.  Here, a journalist comments on the comparison of radiation in bananas to the radiation leakage from the Japanese nuclear power plant recently damaged by earthquake and tsunami.

“Bananas are radioactive,” he went on soothingly. “Everything is radioactive, including the food we eat and, for many people in this country, the water we drink. There is a point at which we say there’s no more than Mother Nature out there.”

Is there a point at which we say the urge to reassure people might get in the way of straight answers? A point at which, for instance, a reporter might think that if one more person brings up bananas, she herself will melt down, or, with all due respect, giggle.

“It’s very bad risk communication to communicate in ways that make people feel as if you think they’re stupid,” he said.

He said he had worked with nuclear scientists who were irritated by the public’s ignorance about radiation, but were also proud to be recognized as experts. Pride plus irritation, he said, can be a recipe for pronouncements that come off as pompous and condescending. Mix in an agenda — whether it’s the urge to reassure people, or to stir them up — and the message can really backfire.

“People smell it,” Dr. Sandman said. “And they don’t trust you.”

Yes, We Will Still Have Bananas, Radiated or Not -

Miss G.: A Case of Internet Addiction -

Don’t worry; tweet happy.

There are certain popular diversions — television, video games, the Internet — that we pursue so deliriously we end up hating ourselves for loving them. Others we brightly recast as the duties of citizenship: newspapers, public radio, sports.

All the while, cottage industries crop up to freak us out about our every last cultural pursuit. In recent years, it’s Internet use that’s been styled as potentially sick, and “Internet addiction” a new reason for self-hatred.

If you’re inclined to worry about your habits, you may have already stumbled onto a strange and influential self-evaluation questionnaire by Dr. Kimberly Young, a professor of business at St. Bonaventure University. Though Dr. Young developed the test in 1998, early in Web life, it still dominates the Google returns for “Internet addiction” and steadily stirs up anxiety.

Miss G.: A Case of Internet Addiction -

Ahem! Are You Talking to Me? (Or Texting?) -

“You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talking... you talking to me?”

William Powers, the author of “Hamlet’s BlackBerry,” a book about getting control of your digital life, appeared on a panel at South by Southwest and wrote that he came away thinking he had witnessed “a gigantic competition to see who can be more absent from the people and conversations happening right around them. Everyone in Austin was gazing into their little devices — a bit desperately, too, as if their lives depended on not missing the next tweet.”

Ahem! Are You Talking to Me? (Or Texting?) -

Font Size May Not Aid Learning, but Its Style Can, Researchers Find -

This is astonishing.

New research finds that people retain significantly more material — whether science, history or language — when they study it in a font that is not only unfamiliar but also hard to read.

Font Size May Not Aid Learning, but Its Style Can, Researchers Find -

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Poetry for Everyday Life -

If you are serious about information responsibility, you need to understand how metaphor works, including how pervasive it is in ordinary discourse.

In his fine new book, “I Is an Other,” James Geary reports on linguistic research suggesting that people use a metaphor every 10 to 25 words. Metaphors are not rhetorical frills at the edge of how we think, Geary writes. They are at the very heart of it.

When talking about argument, we use war metaphors. When talking about time, we often use money metaphors. But when talking about money, we rely on liquid metaphors. We dip into savings, sponge off friends or skim funds off the top. Even the job title stockbroker derives from the French word brocheur, the tavern worker who tapped the kegs of beer to get the liquidity flowing.

Two cheers to David Brooks for writing about his from his influential perch at a regular columnist for the New York Times. 

Of course, two cheers is one cheer short of what is customary.  My problem is the headline (Poetry For Everyday Life), which tacitly supports the mistaken belief that metaphor is at its heart poetical.  A thorough grasp of metaphor acknowledges that metaphor is a cognitive function, not merely a figure of speech, not merely the purview of poets and lyricists.  Brooks gets this mostly correct in the body of his column, but I sure wish the headline didn’t mention poetry.

Poetry for Everyday Life -

License Plate Cameras Aid in Police Investigations -

The latest in “You have zero privacy; get over it.”

Yet the strategy for the use of the license plate readers has raised questions about whether they represent a system for tracking driving patterns, said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. She said it was hard to tell whether interest in “effective and efficient law enforcement” was being balanced with the “values of privacy and freedom.”

“We don’t know how much information is being recorded and kept, for how long, and by which cameras,” Ms. Lieberman said. “It’s one thing to have information about cars that are stopped for suspicious activity, but it’s something else to basically maintain a permanent database of where particular cars go when there is nothing happening that is wrong and there is no basis for suspicion.”

License Plate Cameras Aid in Police Investigations -

For New Mass, Closer to Latin, Critics Voice a Plain Objection -

A frequent theme of information responsibility:  Good writing must honor what we know about how the reading/listening mind functions.  Any writing whose syntax imposes an unwarranted cognitive burden on the reader/listener must be considered bad.  Distancing a pronoun from its antecedent is one example.

“The problem is not vocabulary, though critics will point out words like ‘consubstantial,’ ” Father Ruff said in an interview. “The problem is syntax and word order. The sentences are too complicated, the pronouns are so far away from their antecedent you can’t even tell what the pronoun refers to.”

Two paragraphs later in the same article, we have evidence of what is perhaps failure of information responsibility (although we cannot whether it is a failure to write clearly or to read carefully):

The missal has already had a test run in South Africa, where the bishops said they mistook the instructions and introduced it a year too early. 

For New Mass, Closer to Latin, Critics Voice a Plain Objection -

Saturday, April 9, 2011

When Specialists Appropriate Words

When specialists appropriate words, the rest of the world is not obliged to notice.  Consequently, specialists should not forget the “civilian” meaning of their specialized vocabulary. 

For example, software professionals distinguish data from information.  The distinction is both useful and simple; any bloke on the street can get the gist of it after a brief explanation:  Data is raw, piecemeal, free-standing, with little or no context.  Information, by contrast, is data that is enhanced, typically with additional processing (e.g., summarization, statistical analysis) or with supplemental annotation (e.g., addition of narrative text, graphical formatting).


But not everyone makes the distinction.  Here is an excerpt from a description of environmental data on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website:

Environmental data are any measurements or information that describe environmental processes, location, or conditions; ecological or health effects and consequences; or the performance of environmental technology. For EPA, environmental data include both primary data (i.e., information collected directly from measurements) and secondary/existing data (i.e., data that were collected for other purposes or obtained from other sources, including literature, industry surveys, models, data bases, and information systems).

Furthermore, even people who do make the distinction might not use the words data and information to express it.  For example, in the New York Review of Books last month, Freeman Dyson reviewed The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick.  Here is one sentence from that review.

Information, otherwise known as data, pours into memories of that size or larger, in government and business offices and scientific laboratories all over the world.

Let’s not forget, Freeman Dyson is a physicist, a man whose livelihood and professional standing depend on his recognizing the differences between raw data and interpreted data.  But even this man can write “Information, otherwise known as data…”

The lesson for information-management (and data-management) professionals: When discussing strategy with clients, do not assume that those clients will appreciate the subtleties you mean to convey when you say “data” rather than “information” or vice versa.  When your presentations make fine distinctions between, say, information lifecycle management and data lifecycle management, you are almost certain to befuddle your clients/customers.