Sunday, November 16, 2014

Obama and Net Neutrality, not necessarily a total win



I was so happy to see the headline about President Obama speaking out strongly in favor of Net Neutrality! It just made me glad.

But a few days' digestion and articles are trickling out that the FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler had been working hard when I wasn't looking to develop a "hybrid proposal." Wheeler apparently believes his alternative could preserve the free and open nature of the Internet, while addressing the concerns of Internet providers that heavy users will clog the "arteries" and slow down traffic for everybody. Apparently, Wheeler was trying to put together a coalition of major players and convince them that his plan would work. And apparently, he was just starting to get some folks on board, when President Obama opened his big mouth and blew it all apart.

Now, it may not be a bad thing, because I am not convinced that Wheeler's alternative is actually going to preserve those aspects of Net Neutrality that I value. Obama's call to arms moves the parties involved away from compromise, or at least into a holding pattern, according to an in-depth article by the Washington Post.

At the start of this year, AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, among others, announced that they intended to enclose the Internet, and institute "pay to play" and additional fees so that those who were willing to pay more would get faster Internet download and upload speeds. Make no mistake, these large corporations see opportunity and plan to exploit it as far as they are allowed. But there has been a huge push-back, much of it from equally large, well-funded companies like Google, Twitter, Netflix, AOL, but also Bank of America, UPS, Visa and Ford. (Here is an interesting chart listing the largest lobbyers on both sides).

So, I guess it's a good thing that I wasn't spiffy doodle throwing up a congratulatory blog post here about President Obama's speech. I just don't know which way will work out best. But I know I want to preserve a free an open Internet! But it is interesting how some comments to the FCC have more effect than others. As George Orwell wrote in Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

The decoration for this blog post just happens to echo Napoleon the Pig's statement above, though it's about Net Neutrality. The image is signed by Kurt Griffith, 2006. It is featured now on a petition page for Net Neutrality by WatchDog.Net (http://act.watchdog.net/petitions/4565). I believe the petition is active and is in response to FCC Chair Tom Wheeler's negotiations for his hybrid model.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Isaac Asimov on Creativity

A new essay published many years after being written by Isaac Asimov, in this month's MIT Technology Review. Asimov had been invited to participate as part of a government funded effort to imagine the most creative approaches possible for a ballistic missile system (it was 1959). He eventually left the project, but contributed this essay as his only formal input to the effort. His friend, Arthur Obermayer, who had nominated Asimov to participate in the missile project, ran across the essay recently, and contributed it to the journal, with the approval of Asimov's estate. . Entertainingly, and very characteristically, it seems, Asimov's recommendation sounds a lot like taking a small group of scientists out for an evening of drinks and wide-ranging conversation. He suggests a sort of moderator, and avoiding either anybody who might dampen everybody's comfort in brainstorming, or who might overwhelm the group with a forceful personality. Sounds like a very pleasant time, indeed. Interestingly enough, Asimov cautions that scientists will feel very anxious that they might be wasting government funding, or that they might be considered to be doing so. Thus, he recommends giving them reports to write during the day, to ease everybody's conscience.

Considering that the essay was written in 1959, you can only say, that we are continuing to do the same old same old. Asimov was clearly aware that politicians would periodically "make hay" by conducting investigations into how government grants are allocated and then spent. Well, it's all in the news again (or maybe, just still). The Chronicle of Higher Education has a depressing article about a continuing effort by House Republicans who have been scouring NSF grants for suspicious projects, like anything about climate change or anthropology, or anything with a name that sounds funny or odd. (or see in print, p. A4, Oct. 24,2014, by Paul Basken). In this article, Congressman Lamarr Smith of Texas, chair of the House science committee, is sending aides to sift the grants. But when I searched the Internet for the issue, trying to locate the article at first, I located lots of other instances, like Congressman Sensenbrenner and others in similar efforts. (of course all of that is focused on climate change scientists - what a terrible specialty to be in right now! It's so politicized.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

FDA pressuring ICANN over Internet Drug Websites

Oh, my! I don't know what to say. Wall Street Journal reports in depth about the U. S. Food and Drug Administration snarling and grumping (and more foreign regulatory snapping, too), about ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) refusing to clamp down harder on websites that are selling prescription drugs without prescriptions, or knock-off prescription drugs, or prescription drugs that are not pure.

The author, Jeff Elder, reports that this is boiling up at an awkward moment for ICANN. It has been overseen by the United States Commerce Department. But in March, 2014, the Commerce Department declared that it is giving up overseeing ICANN. There has been growing interest in making Internet governance a more international affair. And the author Elder reminds us that the Obama administration has declared that they intend to hand ICANN over to an undetermined international body (see this Washington Post article from March, 2013, tying the decision to international backlash over revelations that the NSA was spying, even on our own allies). Actually, see The Economist report in 2009 on the agreement giving oversight of ICANN in four specific areas to panels staffed from various nations. More recently, in Brazil, NetMundial, achieved some joint agreements.

ICANN would like to remain independent and operate without oversight. Here is a short, accessible essay that may help explain why the FDA and other law enforcement agencies are thinking the wrong way about ICANN. There is no central control for the Internet. It was designed that way. There is no boss of the Internet, with any authority to enforce rules.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

EQUALITY - aka RESPECT



Massachusetts is struggling with a problem that keeps popping up in the news. And people keep being stunned and amazed.

Women in this state make 70 cents for every dollar that men make.

And that is in this bastion of education, liberalism, and progressivism. Massachusetts had the first law in the country about equal pay, in 1945, according to several of these articles and posts. Here is a little blurb about the activity that may well have led to that law - concern about the women who stepped into industrial jobs for the WWII effort. At that time, (and still in many minds), jobs were classified as male and female. Some employers cut the pay for welding or other "male" jobs when women took those jobs during the war. The AFL-CIO was concerned that returning veterans would find their pay remained cut after they took back their pre-war positions. When vets came back from the war, Massachusetts passed what has become known as the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (MEPA), M.G.L. Chapter 149, §105A.

Here are a series of articles and blog posts through the years, starting with the most recent, where the press alert the public to this startling piece of news and call for action:

Wage Gap For Women Persists Despite Some Progress (Boston Globe 9/28/14)

Massachusetts Women and the Wage Gap (Fact sheet 4/2013 from National Partnership for Women and Families)

Mind the Gap (Boston Magazine 2/2013)

The Importance of Fair Pay for Massachusetts Women (Fact Sheet 4/2012 from National Women's Law Center)

It's striking that the 2012 fact sheet mentions the gap as 81 cents to the dollar. The 2013 fact sheet says 77 cents to the dollar. And the 2014 article says 70 cents to the dollar. Women seem to be losing ground, even as these articles, fact sheets and conferences are flailing away at the problem! Just in 2 years, we've dropped from 81 cents to 70 cents, or lost 11 cents to the average man's dollar! Hmmph.

There are a number of federal and state laws in place that are supposed to prevent discrimination or unequal pay on the basis of sex (or race, for that matter). A handy, publicly available pamphlet from the law firm Foley Hoag is one of the links on this state web page about Massachusetts Laws About Wages. (scroll down on the page to "Other Web Sources" to find "Massachusetts Wage and Hour Laws: What Every Employer Needs to Know, Foley Hoag.") According to the pamphlet, employers can justify differences in wages based on

* a merit system
* a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production
* a seniority system
* differences in training, education, experience
* any factor other than gender or race

It all sounds so benign. And yet it works like this. A woman may take time off when she has a baby. She may even stay out of the workforce a few years, while her children are little. During those years, the cadre of men or childless women who entered her profession at the same time she did, move along, gaining experience, and moving up the professional ladder. This can work just the same for a woman who takes time off to care for aging parents or in-laws, too, of course. The individual who dropped out to take care of child or parents is falling behind their cohort.

The mother, later, comes back to the workforce, as if she had been in stasis, professionally. She may not have been able to keep up with new developments, and new technology. The mother has been quite busy doing other things that are very important, not just to her and her family, actually, but also to society as a whole. We should value and recognize the importance of parenting and care-taking, no matter which gender is taking time to focus on this task. Perhaps as more men become stay-at-home fathers, this might start to change.

But the return to work, unless the individual can buff up skills with some courses, is tough at best. The worker has fallen behind on developments and skill sets. Even if she/he can make up through training courses, those years of wage growth and professional networking, ladder-climbing have been missed. While the entry cohort has advanced 5 years, the mother has remained at the professional level where she stepped out of the workforce to parent. One more way in which women, on average, fall behind in pay levels.

There are lots of others ways. Just a week ago, the CEO of Microsoft explained how women should allow karma to help them get pay raises, rather than being so bitchy as to actually ask!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Can you be a librarian without a library?


So, I have been teaching and nothing else for a while, and working on identity issues.

Am I still a librarian?

Hell, yeah.

Always and forever, baby.

I can't stop. I can't drop it.

My students are my patrons now, I guess.

Don't get me wrong. I am enjoying very much being able to focus on my teaching. I am also liking the lower stress -- I don't have to worry about budget or cutting materials that I love, or telling a faculty member NO, or disciplinary matters, or problem patrons....

Plus there are the perks of being a faculty member. What's not to like?

Well, how do I fit my librarian suit under my law professor uniform? Can I still wear a bun in class?

Maybe I need to get a librarian tattoo.

The image decorating this blog post is the cover of an intriguing-sounding book, http://books.infotoday.com/books/YouDontLookLikeALibrarian.shtml from the SLA, You Don't Look Like a Librarian.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

FCC says Conference Centers & Hotels May Not Block Visitors' Wi-Fi Hotspots


The FCC has reached an agreement with Marriott to pay a $60,000 penalty to resolve their investigation into a complaint that employees of a Marriott-managed conference center were sending de-authentication packets to prevent exhibitors and attendees from using their personal Wi-Fi hotspots. Marriott was then charging them $250 - $1,000 per device to connect to the conference center's Internet!

“Consumers who purchase cellular data plans should be able to use them without fear that their personal Internet connection will be blocked by their hotel or conference center,” said Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc. “It is unacceptable for any hotel to intentionally disable personal hotspots while also charging consumers and small businesses high fees to use the hotel’s own Wi-Fi network. This practice puts consumers in the untenable position of either paying twice for the same service or forgoing Internet access altogether,” he added.
(from the FCC press release dated Oct. 3, 2014.) The press release has a handy link directly to the Consent Decree, but I am including it here, in case the press release vanishes.

Remember this next time a hotel or conference center blocks your Wi-Fi hotspot. Now you know what to do.
Superman image credited to Flickr.


Networking Flops and How to Fix Them


One of my fabulous Suffolk colleagues passed along the link to this helpful Mashable post, The 5 Worst Networking Flops and How to Recover from Them. We tell our students constantly that networking is the way to find jobs now... but we don't tell them enough about HOW to network, or how to avoid networking mistakes.

Maybe that's because WE don't know, ourselves! I read this list sort of quivering inside. But not to worry, the author, Jenny Foss, who seems to know my darkest fears and secrets, also offers ways to make it all better!

Great list for any job seekers or anybody who has to n. e. t. w. o. r. k.

The image for this post is from The Littlest Pet Shop Fan Board Tip of the OOTJ hat to Prof. David Yamada for passing this Mashable link along, and for always keeping students' interests in the forefront!

Free booklet from Stephen Pinker & Chronicle on Academic Writing



The Chronicle of Higher Education had a very popular article in their Review of Sept. 26, 2014 from Stephen Pinker, "Why Academics Stink at Writing." Following on this, they put together a free pamphlet on improving academic writing, Why Academics Stink at Writing -- and How to Fix it," that can be downloaded here. I do not think you need a subscription to the Chronicle to get the pamphlet. As far as I can tell, all anybody needs to do to get a copy is enter name, title, institution, and they get a PDF download.

Thank you! The image decorating this post is a mock-up of the cover of the pamphlet from the Chronicle.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

New Ways to Think about Library Statistics


The Chronicle of Higher Education blog has a really interesting post proposing that libraries begin to make their user data (in anonymized form) available to researchers. In a post titled, "A Good, Dumb Way to Learn from Libraries" (really?! geez!), David Weinberger proposes that libraries

1. Create Stackscores for their materials
These get around the current issues of

A. Privacy/Patron Security by offering an annual computation and perhaps blurring that numbers if it looks as though even that might be hackable down to individual patron.

B. Interoperability - that is making the numbers from various libraries comparable regardless of what automated systems the libraries use, or even how they calculate their stackscores.

He offers an example of what the Harvard Library Innovation Hub created as StackLife. Weinberger, who used to develop the Innovation Hub and thus (I presume) helped develop the StackLife app, explains that the darker blue a title bar appears, the more heavily used it has been. He cautions that depending too much on this can create a feedback loop where the more popular items just get more popular, and lesser known but excellent materials remain overlooked. (Librarians know all about this)

Interesting thoughts. I don't know if he really addresses all librarian issues, but it's a thought-provoking post!

The thinking cap decoration is from another thought-provoking blog page, How would we think without language? http://www.eurolondon.com/blog/en/how-would-we-think-without-language/ Interesting to consider how to build search engines!

Monday, September 29, 2014

I'll Just Google It

Everybody knows how to use Google to find information--right?  Wrong, according to Motoko Rich's article, "Academic Skills on Web Are Tied to Income Level," New York Times, Sept. 24, 2014, at A23.  A new study done by Donald J. Leu that appears in the current issue of Reading Research Quarterly (subscription required) showed "a general lack of online literacy among all students..."  Students may be adept at certain tasks (texting, posting photographs, using social media), but they are far less adept at tasks that require them to find and evaluate information.  This finding cuts across all income groups, but is most apparent in low-income students. 

Despite the higher rates of academic Internet use among the more affluent students in the study, a little more than a quarter of them performed well on tasks where they were required to discern the reliability of facts on a particular web page.  Only 16 percent of the lower-income students performed well on those tasks.
Many grade and high schools are not addressing digital literacy.  Perhaps this is because digital literacy is not a subject that is tested by standardized tests.  It could also be the result of teachers mistaking students' comfort with technology for actual ability to use the Internet for educational purposes. 
 
I was discussing this issue with one of the reference librarians this morning.  We have noted the poor quality of results that students get when they Google, how they rely on questionable sources rather than go to reliable sites maintained by educational institutions and organizations.  Her conclusion was that the librarians don't need to teach students how to Google; we need to teach them how to think.