Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Kindle and Reading

I've got a Kindle, but use it mostly when I'm travelling so that I can have access to reading material without having to haul around lots of books in my suitcase.  I hate running out of books. During more than one foreign vacation, I have been forced to track down bookstores that stock English-language titles and then pay exorbitant prices for them.  With the Kindle, this problem goes away.  Most of what I read on my Kindle is fiction, which is why I was interested to learn that researchers have found that readers using the Kindle were "'significantly' worse than paperback readers at recalling when events occurred in a mystery story."  This conclusion comes from a recent study of fifty readers who read the same short story (half on a Kindle and half on print) that was reported in The Guardian.  The readers were tested on "aspects of the story including objects, characters and setting," and the "'Kindle readers performed significantly worse on the plot reconstruction measure.'"  The researchers can't explain their findings, but speculate that it has something to do with the tactile quality of paper and the physical unfolding of the book as the reader progresses through the story.  "Perhaps this somehow aids the reader, providing more fixity and solidity to the reader's sense of unfolding and progress of the text, and hence the story."  The study doesn't address the issue of reading nonfiction works on a Kindle, but the results might carry over--the same researcher has found that "'students who read texts in print scored significantly better on the reading comprehension test than students who read the text digitally.'"  More research is being conducted to determine which devices (print, iPad, Kindle) are suitable for which types of content, and this research should help educators deal with the impact of digitization on learning.         

Monday, August 11, 2014

Amazon versus Hatchette, round 3 or 4

Wow. The gloves are off! It was reported a while ago that the trade press Hachette was negotiating with Amazon on pricing. This happens each year as contracts come up for renewal. But this year is being different. According to some observers, Amazon is pressing harder for more profitability (due to shareholder pressures?). And also according to some observers, the Hachette negotiation is becoming something of a test case for other publishers. The chief executive of the company, Michael Pietsch is something of a hero to literary editors, having been the guy who out-bid everybody (by a huge amount) for David Foster Wallace's novel, eventually titled Infinite Jest. Pietsch spent years mid-wifing Wallace through the final re-writes and cutting process to produce what is considered a modern classic, published by Little, Brown a subsidiary of Hachette. Pietsch is an editor-hero, and apparently a good executive, now to the parent company. Other industry insiders are watching the negotiations intensely:

“In a sense, Michael Pietsch is like ‘Horatius at the Bridge,’ ” says the literary agent and former Amazon executive Laurence J. Kirshbaum, referring to the soldier of legend who single-handedly saved ancient Rome by fighting off an invading army. “He is carrying the rest of the industry on his back.”
(from NY Times article June 2, 2014, linked above)

But after several efforts on both sides, things are breaking down big time. On Sunday, August 10, 2014, 900 authors banded together as Authors United, signing a open letter, and taking out a full page ad in the New York Times. Authors United is the brainchild of author Douglas Preston. But many authors have signed, and a number of high profile authors helped pay for the Times ad. The letter complains that Hachette authors are being squeezed in the battle between Amazon and Hachette in the following ways:

--Boycotting Hachette authors, by refusing to accept pre-orders on Hachette authors' books and eBooks, claiming they are "unavailable."

--Refusing to discount the prices of many of Hachette authors' books.

--Slowing the delivery of thousands of Hachette authors' books to Amazon customers, indicating that delivery will take as long as several weeks on most titles.

--Suggesting on some Hachette authors' pages that readers might prefer a book from a non-Hachette author instead.
The list of signatories includes many authors who are NOT Hachette authors. They just feel the practices are unfair to authors and to the consumers as well. Read the complete letter which calls on Amazon to resolve its differences with Hachette without further hurting authors or blocking or delaying shipments and sales to customers. (Over the weekend, it became known that Amazon was engaging in the same blocking/delaying tactics with another producer/publisher in negotiations with the sales giant: Disney. Might be an interesting fight, and one with a little more equal weight.)

The New York Times ad from Authors United was a little more in-your-face than the letter. The ad included the e-mail address for Jeff Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon. It reproduced the open letter, but the inclusion of Bezos' e-mail address implicitly encouraged readers to contact the man with readers' opinions on the matter.

Amazon has responded. They created a counter organization, Readers United with a web page attempting to present the history of publishing's antagonism to the introduction of the paperback book. Unfortunately for Amazon, they did a sloppy job of research, and quote George Orwell, of all people, trying to implicate him as one of those opposed to paperbacks, and trying to show that he was promoting collusion of the publishers to suppress publication of paperback books. (I think they are trying to remind folks that Hachette is among the publishers called to task by the Justice Department recently for colluding with Apple to increase pricing of e-books on the Kindle.) The web page also gives readers the e-mail address for Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch (who actually had nothing to do with the Authors United ad, as far as I know), and offers a number of rather aggressive suggestions for e-mails to him:
We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
Lowering e-book prices will help — not hurt — the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon's offers to take them out of the middle.
Especially if you're an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.
As to the quote from George Orwell, though Amazon's Readers' United page asserts that he advocated suppressing paperbacks, that simply misunderstands what he wrote:
When Orwell wrote that line, he was celebrating paperbacks published by Penguin, not urging suppression or collusion. Here is what the writer actually said in The New English Weekly on March 5, 1936: “The Penguin Books are splendid value for sixpence, so splendid that if the other publishers had any sense they would combine against them and suppress them.”

Orwell then went on to undermine Amazon’s argument for cheap e-books. “It is, of course, a great mistake to imagine that cheap books are good for the book trade,” he wrote, saying that the opposite was true.

“The cheaper books become,” he wrote, “the less money is spent on books.”

Instead of buying two expensive books, he said, the consumer will buy three cheap books and then use the rest of the money to go to the movies. “This is an advantage from the reader’s point of view and doesn’t hurt trade as a whole, but for the publisher, the compositor, the author and the bookseller, it is a disaster,” Orwell wrote.
(from NY Times article of 8/11/14.)

But the Orwell mis-quote has boomeranged on Amazon in the Internet world. To mis-quote and mis-represent a hero of TRUTH, mis-using his words for your own commercial purposes is a pretty bad move in the cyberworld, I think. It's especially ironic coming from the company that brought you the 99 cent 1984... and then took it away again. Actually, Orwell's original essay is pretty darned apposite. He was balancing the interests of readers, who are naturally pleased to get cheaper books (I know I am -- sorry), against the interests of authors, and all those who work in publishing, who are getting (despite what Amazon asserts), a SMALLER PIE, when books cost less. People really don't spend the same amount or MORE on books when they cost less. They buy the same number of books they were going to get in the first place, and pocket the money they saved, to buy something else. This is very nice for Jeff Bezos and Amazon, who have spread their marketing into LOTS of new areas. Amazon sells nearly everything on earth now. So they really do have a bigger pie. But for authors, and publishers, compositors, type designers, etc. -- all those folks who in print or digital worlds still are needed to produce books --- cheaper books translate to a smaller pie. No matter how Amazon wants to cut it.

There are a few voices out there supporting Amazon. Hugh Howey, Damien Walters. It's quite true that there is a balance point in the market where if you charge too much for e-books, or make them too hard to get, you will lose your market, which is the point of some of these folks. People will not pay above $9.99 or so for most trade e-books, apparently. Don't know why. But despite the fact that you save on printing and paper, and delivery, there are still sunk costs to an e-book. The author's time and the compositor still has to lay out the book in an attractive way. Anybody who has tried to read an e-book from Project Gutenberg will quickly see the difference in a nice modern lay-out compared to the less effective layouts from the books at Gutenberg that are out of copyright!

The image decorating this post is bare knuckle boxers from the 1820's - evidently a collectible print. See for the original site.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Purge? WTF?! Yet another form of cyberbullying

Wow! Social media has spawned a new form of cyberbullying, and surprise, surprise, it tends to focus on females. Purge happened worldwide on Facebook between July 17 and 19, with supposedly anonymous posts saying whatever folks liked about anybody they wanted, tagging and posting images. I think it started as a promo for a new movie that was just being released, "The Purge: Anarchy." The Purge for some may have been about anarchy and fighting power, from a few posts I saw. But apparently it quickly turned into a misogynistic woman-bash, posting and trading nude images and videos. Instagram was involved in the Purge as well. The Guardian is on the story. Their story focuses on Twitter, and the use of images as "revenge porn" where exes post nude images of their former lovers on social media.

It is new enough as a term that it's hard to search for online, but you can find Instagram links and there is a Twitter hashtag #stopthepurge. I stumbled on this sad new phenomenon because a Taunton, Massachusetts 14 year old (girl, of course -- did you have to ask?) committed suicide this summer, apparently after something like a purge attack. See story here from the Patriot Ledger. There seem to be several local purge attacks that boiled along after the big Facebook one. There was a Brockton Purge, for instance (a small town south of Boston), and I found a reference to a Kansas City Purge as well.

Apparently, ex-boyfriends (ex-girlfriends, too, I suppose, though I haven't seen an example) who received nude images from women while still in a relationship take revenge by posting them after the relationship breaks up. Then they post the nude images widely, with ugly commentary. Classy move.

Too late to learn this important lesson: You are going to go through a number of relationships in your life, before you (hopefully) end in a long-term happy marriage. Don't hand out nude images to everybody you link up with along the way! You might think he's the ONE, but there is just no hurry to supply him with nude images (no matter what he says). If he is Mr. Right, he won't be badgering you for nude pix, honey!

There are a number of posts claiming different numbers of suicides, arrests, homicides connected with "The Purge." It is not clear how many, if any really happened. It is true, however, that many teen suicides have been connected to sexting, which is basically what much of the Purge harassment turned into. It's easy to say that a suicide in response to such public shaming is an over-reaction. But on the Internet, you cannot get the image back. Once it's out there, it's out of your control. And even if the first poster regrets his action and removes the post. Even if Facebook removes all the posts that can be found, these images proliferate and scatter beyond recall. That image really is out there, forever.

What a hateful, misogynistic thing.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Facebook, Secret Experiments and the Belmont Report

Facebook is eating some crow. Again.

Most OOTJ readers will have read about Facebook's data scientist, Adam D.I. Kramer and two academic partner running an experiment using Facebook users. The results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, (PNAS), "Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks." But what got people riled was the inflammatory language used in the abstract and press releases:
We show, via a massive (N = 689,003) experiment on Facebook, that emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness.
People reacted with outrage, feeling that Facebook had (once again!) abused their membership in that social media giant. They did NOT like being manipulated without their knowledge. The experiment was really fairly benign, with a tweak to the algorithm showing a selection of users more positive newsfeed content, and others reduced positive newsfeed content. The experimenters then monitored the types of posts the various users made and judged whether they became more positive or more negative.

The woman who edited the paper for the PNAS, Susan Fiske, has been quoted as finding the experiment creepy and troubling. She did interview the researchers and found that they had cleared the experiment with an Institutional Review Board. Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) are mandated by several federal agencies for any organization carrying out research on human subjects. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Health and Human Services' Office for Human Research Protections (HHS' OHRP) are the two main agencies, and CFR main sections are 21 CFR Part 56 (FDA regulations on Institutional Review Boards), and 45 CFR Part 46 (the Common Core or Common Rule, from ORHP) are the most important and useful regulations.

The impetus for the development of IRBs and the protection of human research subjects was a series of high profile, cruel medical research projects through the 20th century that shocked the conscience of the nation. The Belmont Report was the crystallization of a series of meetings by a group of physicians, scientists, ethicists, lawyers and lay leaders on the problem of how to protect human subjects of all types of research in the future. It is the basis for all future regulations and for decision-making by IRBs, who are supposed to keep the interests of the research subjects at the center of their deliberations, while balancing the interests of researchers. There is also some thought for the interests of the organization they represent as well. But three principles are supposed to be the primary concern of the IRB:

1. Respect for Persons (requires the researcher to both acknowledge the individual as an autonomous person AND to protect individuals who may be diminished in their autonomous capacity)
2. Beneficence (will the research benefit the research subject?)
3. Justice (who bears the burdens of the research and receives the benefits?)

The IRB then looks at three main issues in the proposed research:

1. Informed Consent (This may be waived in very narrow circumstances: The principle of Respect for Persons requires in most cases that research subjects know what is being proposed to be done to them and have a chance to voluntarily choose to participate or withdraw with no consequences. 45 CFR Part 46.116 lays out the basic requirements for Informed Consent. More on waiver below.)
2. Assessment of Risk and Benefits (The principle of Beneficence requires that the research balance the risks to subjects against the potential benefits, either to the subjects or generally.)
3. Selection of Subjects (The principle of Justice requires that the selection of subjects for the research be done equitably, so that, for instance, not all research ends up being done on poor subjects unless there is a reason related to the topic of research.)

Waiver of Informed Consent

45 CFR Part 45.115 (d) allows IRBs to approve research with consent procedures that alter or waive some or all of the general requirements if they find:
(1) The research involves no more than minimal risk to the subjects;

(2) The waiver or alteration will not adversely affect the rights and welfare of the subjects;

(3) The research could not practicably be carried out without the waiver or alteration; and

(4) Whenever appropriate, the subjects will be provided with additional pertinent information after participation.
This was probably the provision under which the IRB approved the waiver, although the response of Facebook to user outrage is that users had consented to the research by clicking the "agree" when they signed up for their accounts. I do not think such click amounts to any such consent for IRB informed consent purposes, and it certainly has not mollified any outraged users. Kramer has said that the research was undertaken because they wanted to test "the common worry that seeing friends post positive comments causes people to feel left out or negative, or that seeing too many negative posts might stop them from using the site." Yet people felt manipulated and that their trust was violated. The research probably does meet IRB/Belmont standards, but the reporting of the research was done in a ham-handed and inflammatory style that left Facebook users feeling used and disrespected. Ideally, after a secret or deceptive research project, subjects are supposed to be informed about the research, in a way that helps them, not makes them feel used or deceived. This is the Respect for Persons principle.

This is not the first time that Facebook has manipulated and experimented with its users. In September, 2012, Facebook reported on an experiment that boosted voter turnout in a mid-term election. They divided users 18 and older into three groups.
About 611,000 users (1%) received an 'informational message' at the top of their news feeds, which encouraged them to vote, provided a link to information on local polling places and included a clickable 'I voted' button and a counter of Facebook users who had clicked it. About 60 million users (98%) received a 'social message', which included the same elements but also showed the profile pictures of up to six randomly selected Facebook friends who had clicked the 'I voted' button. The remaining 1% of users were assigned to a control group that received no message.

The researchers then compared the groups' online behaviours, and matched 6.3 million users with publicly available voting records to see which group was actually most likely to vote in real life.

The results showed that those who got the informational message voted at the same rate as those who saw no message at all. But those who saw the social message were 2% more likely to click the 'I voted' button and 0.3% more likely to seek information about a polling place than those who received the informational message, and 0.4% more likely to head to the polls than either other group.

The social message, the researchers estimate, directly increased turnout by about 60,000 votes. But a further 280,000 people were indirectly nudged to the polls by seeing messages in their news feeds, for example, telling them that their friends had clicked the 'I voted' button. “The online social network helps to quadruple the effect of the message,” says [James] Fowler, [political scientist, University of California, San Diego].
(from online journal Nature, doi:10.1038/nature.2012.11401, link above). The report notes that only close real-world friends had the effect of increasing voting activity. The researchers also used real world voting data to check for those who simply clicked the "I voted" button, but didn't vote. This research did not cause the backlash that the recent experiment did. It did not seem as manipulative to people, or as deceptive. There are a few comments in media considering what would happen if a social media giant were to decide to use such tactics to nudge an election to one side or another, as opposed to simply increasing voting generally, or how it could impact elections just by increasing voter turnout. (New York Times sort of mention Sept., 2012, and Comment from Hiawatha Bray in Boston Globe July 3, 2014, bringing the old research up in new context of the new one).

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Authors Guild, Inc. v. Hathi Trust

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a ruling in the case of Authors Guild v. Hathi Trust. See Justia for full text of ALL pleadings including the decision.

See Assn. of Research Libraries' posting here for some partisan explanation and hyperlinks to amicus briefs.

The Authors Guild website does not offer documents, but does have statements.

And the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) offers another point of view, placing the lawsuit in the context of the Google Books project law suits.

The clearest, most succinct summary of the ruling comes from a business lawyer blogger who runs Recording INdustry vs. The People, who posted a report on Friday June 13, 2014, "Second Circuit OKs Scanning Whole Books." He summarizes the background that the Hathi Trust members began scanning books, participating in the Google Book Project (The Trust members are very large research libraries, mostly at large, research universities). The books are owned, in the libraries' collections. The trust began making a searchable database of the full text of the books available to 3 groups of people:

1. The public may search with key word searches. The results come back, showing no text of the works, but only showing the frequency of the words, and page numbers on which the words occur.

2. People with disabilities which prevent them from holding or manipulating books, turning pages may have access to the full text of the books. [note from Betsy: This is a different population than those usually served. Most disability programs are designed for visually impaired readers, and they are well served. Those who cannot hold print books or manage them with their hands have no programs that I know of.]

3. Members of the Hathi Trust (that is, the libraries) could replace lost, stolen or damaged books with a copy made from a digital version, IF they could not purchase a replacement on the market at a "fair" price.

The 3 judge panel ruled that the first two uses by access groups do not violate the copyrights of the Author Guild rightsholders. They ruled that the Authors Guild does not have standing to challenge the 3rd use.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Heartbleed 2 only affects Android users - but it's a wake-up call

I don't know if OOTJ readers saw the news about the new problems spotted in OpenSSL code. Dubbed at first, Heartbleed 2, it has later been called the Handshake Bug, because it affects how your computer performs the "handshake" protocol when it contacts a server. See News at CNN here. The author at CNN refers to an earlier article which brought up the issue that this critical piece of software, used by businesses worldwide, is maintained by a small band of volunteers, only one of whom can devote full time attention to the task. This is a different take on the matter, which I saw turned in a different light. But according to the more recent article, businesses are suddenly seeing the importance of this software which they have used for free for years, and are donating mazoodles of cash to help fund some better maintenance of the program.

Can you say Tragedy of the Commons? Only sort of. Like most things tech, there is not a limited amount of pie. Everybody using the program is not degrading the program, or using it up like a finite resource -- the grass on the commons eaten by everybody's sheep. However, you had a problem of everybody being free riders and the volunteers who were [happily, one supposes] maintaining the program, only had so much free time to give to the effort. Interesting problem of the modern world.

So, in the emergency moment, at least, large corporations are making donations to the OpenSSL Software Foundation, in response to an open letter from Foundation president Steve Marquess. This organization underwrites the voluntary, collaborative efforts to maintain and improve OpenSSL. Marquess is looking for both donations of money and of staff time.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Origins of Memorial Day

So my husband and I were discussing whether Memorial Day started after WWI or the Civil War. He was really certain that Decoration Day (as his mother used to call it) really begin after the Civil War. I rather thought it started after World War I.

Lo and behold, a Suffolk colleague, Prof. Frank Cooper, sent me an e-mail stating:
Memorial Day was started by former slaves on May, 1, 1865 in Charleston, SC to honor 257 dead Union Soldiers who had been buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp. They dug up the bodies and worked for 2 weeks to give them a proper burial as gratitude for fighting for their freedom. They then held a parade of 10,000 people led by 2,800 Black children where they marched, sang and celebrated.
Wow! I thanked him, but before I ran to OOTJ to post this for your edification, I felt obliged to check it out.

First, I went to the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs website. This provides quite a lengthy history of the dispute over when and where the first Memorial Day celebration was held. It was definitely held shortly after the end of the Civil War, so my husband has won the argument, hands down. However, the VA does not repeat Frank's story at all. There are lots of competing first celebrations, but none involving freed slaves or people of color at all.

So, then, I searched for details from the e-mail Frank sent me. That actually turned up a couple hits, but I followed the link to Snopes lists Memorial Day Origin and pretty much repeats Frank's e-mail. They credit the story to David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press), 2001, pp. 69-71. (ISBN 1-674-00332-2 for your convenience.) Snopes also includes all the details (and more) from the VA website, so it's a very detailed source on this topic. They conclude that, it's quite clearly true that the event occurred, with newspaper reports of the re-burial at a Charleston racetrack, carried out by the congregations of all the black churches of Charleston. But it is not so clear that this powerful public statement actually led to the spread of Memorial Day celebrations in other areas of the country.

The folks who reburied the Union soldiers in Charleston built an elaborate fence around the graveyard which they created. There was white-washed arch at the entry, with a sign painted on it: "Martyrs of the Race Course." The e-mail Frank sent me did not exaggerate the number of participants in the ceremonies, which is astounding. It did include a photograph, ostensibly of the children saluting the flag during the ceremony. The group of children is certainly not 2,800 children in size. And my husband wondered aloud how they got all those children to hold still long enough for a daguerrotype to be made. It turns out there were about 4 or 5 other technologies floating around to make photographic images. See this history. It may be that some technolgies did not require the subject of the photograph to hold still so long. But the image, used above to decorate this post, is evocative, whether it really comes from this very ceremony or not. I also find it rather chilling that the children appear to be saluting the flag with what would later be a Nazi salute!

The Veterans Affairs website states the General Army of the Republic (the Union Army) celebrated a memorial for the Civil War dead of both sides in May, 1868. There were apparently many local remembrances in 1866 and on, with many different towns and cities claiming to have been the first Memorial Day site. In 1966, a federal law officially recognized Waterloo, New York as the birthplace of Memorial Day. Both the Snopes site and the VA site continue in detail about the various contenders for the first site of Memorial Day and also various first celebrators of Confederate Memorial Days, and current dates for such celebrations. It was not until 1971 (!) that Memorial Day became a federal holiday and was moved to always fall on a Monday.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Handwriting Improves Memory Retention

So, the Boston Globe Ideas section today (May 25, 2014), has an article, "Taking Notes? Bring a pen, skip the computer." The article is based on (and thoughtfully includes a link to) a scholarly article by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, "The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking," (this is an updated version of the article linked from the Globe article). The article has not yet come out in print, but may be in vol. 25, issue 6, June, 2014, Psychological Science. From the abstract of the Mueller/Oppenheimer article:
Prior studies have primarily focused on students’ capacity for multitasking and distraction when using laptops. The present research suggests that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing. In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. We show that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.
The Globe article describes the research from this scholarly paper. The Oppenheimer and Mueller divided their research subjects watch a lecture video. One half were assigned to take notes on laptops, and the other half were assigned to take notes by hand. 30 minutes to one week later, all the subjects were tested on their memory of the facts and concepts in the lecture. Those who took longhand notes performed "significantly better" than those who took notes on laptops, particularly regarding the conceptual elements of the lecture. The Globe author, Ruth Graham does an interesting job of following up this report by bringing together expert quotes and more reports of other research. I recommend reading the article.

Basically, experts are pointing out that those taking notes on computers are making themselves into automatons who take the words in through the ear, and automatically put it out their fingers, without processing it through the brain. An article in The Atlantic of May 1, 2014, also reporting this same research, elaborates that the Mueller and Oppenheimer even warned the laptop users NOT to simply transcribe the lecture, but to make notes in their own words. But the computer users still seemed to fall into transcription mode automatically. Yet somehow, those who handwrote the notes, perhaps because they were significantly slower, and had no hope of transcribing the lecture, engaged in mental processing and summarization in their notes. That mental processing resulted in much greater retention of both facts and concepts from the lecture.

I recall earlier research on the same topic, that adds considerably to the understanding of what is happening when we write by hand. On January 24,2011, Science Daily reported findings by Norwegian professor Anne Mangen and French professor Jean-Luc Velay who surveyed the research literature. The Science Daily report includes a description of research that is not discussed in the publication I link below. This research involved teaching a group of adult research subjects to write an unknown alphabet of 20 characters. Half the subjects were taught using keyboards and half were taught to hand write the characters. Three and six weeks into the experiment, the subjects were tested on their recall of the characters. In both tests, those subjects learning to hand write the alphabet performed better both recalling the characters and recognizing when characters were reversed or drawn correctly. Additionally, fMRI scans on the subjects showed an area of the brain, Broca's area, associated with speech production was activated in those who used handwriting, but not in those who used computer keyboards.

The Science Daily report is based on material from Professor Mangen and an interview with her. The original research appeared in a book, Advances in Haptics, available here as "Digitizing Literacy: Reflections on the Haptics of Writing." The researchers write:
... [T]he visual attention of the writer is strongly concentrated during handwriting; the attentional focus of the writer is dedicated to the tip of the pen, while during typewriting the visual attention is detached from the haptic input, namely the process of hitting the keys. Hence, typewriting is divided into two distinct, and spatiotemporally separated, spaces: the motor space (e.g., the keyboard), and the visual space (e.g., the screen). Another major difference pertains to the production of each character during the two writing modes. In handwriting, the writer has to graphomotorically form each letter – i.e., produce a graphic shape resembling as much as possible the standard shape of the specific letter. In typewriting, obviously, there is no graphomotor component involved; the letters are “readymades” and the task of the writer is to spatially locate the specific letters on the keyboard. Finally, word processing software provides a number of features all of which might radically alter the process of writing for professional as well as for beginning writers. [They are referring to spellcheck and grammarcheck.]

[They refer in section 4 to a list of research about the visual, kinesthetic and auditory interrelationships between writing/reading and the body and brain, referred to as "melodies."] ... the importance of acknowledging the vital role of haptics, and the profound and fundamental links between haptics and cognition, in writing. Our body, and in particular our hands, are inscribed in, and defining, the writing process in ways that have not been adequately dealt with in the research literature. The current radical shift in writing environments mandates an increased focus on the role of our hands in the writing process, and – even more importantly – how the movements and performance of the hand relate to what goes on in the brain. ....

... [F]ocusing instead on human cognition as inextricably and intimately bound to and shaped by its corporeal foundation – its embodiment. In this current of thought, cognition is no longer viewed as abstract and symbolic information processing with the brain as a disembodied CPU. It is becoming increasingly clear that the body is an active component that adds uniquely and indispensably to cognition, and that human cognition is grounded in distinct and fundamental ways to embodied experience and hence is closely intertwined with and mutually dependent on both sensory perception and motor action.
This fascinating article rings all kinds of bells with me, at least. I blogged about this issue of body and tool shaping the mind back in 2008, when I was all excited over the book Proust and the Squid, by MaryAnne Wolfe. I found earlier research on the subject in Science Daily which is referenced in that blogpost as well. We humanists need to stay in touch with what the scientists are saying because sometimes they have some pretty profound things to say about issues close to our hearts! I found it fascinating that some of the research in the Digitizing Literacy article shows that merely watching images of people performing work, of tools, or even hearing or reading just action verbs all can trigger areas of the brain that DOING the task would trigger. (Too bad it doesn't burn the calories, or couch potatoes would all be buff athletes!)

The image decorating this blogpost is the Creation of Adam, from the Sistine Chapel, a Wiki Commons image, at

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Hiawatha Bray responds to the E.U. Court of Justice decision requiring Google to remove "reputation staining" information

May 13, 2014, the European Union Court of Justice ruled in Google Spain SL, Google Inc. v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos, Mario Costeja González that individuals may require search engines to remove links to objectionable information. The Court of Justice ruled that search engines do more than simple search and retrieval:
... the operator of a search engine ‘collects’ data within the meaning of the directive. The Court considers, furthermore, that the operator, within the framework of its indexing programmes,‘retrieves’, ‘records’ and ‘organises’ the data in question, which it then ‘stores ’on its servers and, as the case may be, ‘discloses’ and ‘makes available’ to its users in the form of lists of results. Those operations, which are referred to expressly and unconditionally in the directive, must be classified as ‘processing’, regardless of the fact that the operator of the search engine carries them out without distinction in respect of information other than the personal data. The Court also points out that the operations referred to by the directive must be classified as processing even where they exclusively concern material that has already been published as it stands in the media. ....

The Court further holds that the operator of the search engine is the ‘controller’ in respect of that processing, within the meaning of the directive, given that it is the operator which determines the purposes and means of the processing. The Court observes in this regard that, inasmuch as the activity of a search engine is additional to that of publishers of websites and is liable to affect significantly the fundamental rights to privacy and to the protection of personal data, the operator of the search engine must ensure, within the framework of its responsibilities, powers and capabilities, that its activity complies with the directive’s requirements. This is the only way that the guarantees laid down by the directive will be able to have full effect and that effective and complete protection of data subjects (in particular of their privacy) may actually be achieved.
You can read the New York Times' article about the ruling here. It includes several responses from experts considering the potential effects of simply stripping out information from the Internet, and alternatively the power to control your own reputation.

The United States is very unlikely to come up with any similar ruling, largely because of our First Amendment free speech legal tradition. Hence an interesting column from the Boston Globe's technology columnist Hiawatha Bray on alternative ways U.S. residents can modify their search results to improve or maintain their Internet reputations. Some of what Bray offers is common-sense good advice that parents every where are handing out to their teens and college-age kids:

1. Don't do stupid stuff (at least in public)! But some of what he says may be counter-intuitive:

2. Establish your reputation online - and make sure it's what YOU want it to be! A dearth of information could be as damaging as bad reputation because others may fill the gap for you in unflattering ways.
* So use your real name on major social media sites
* Build your sites carefully and with a professional eye.
* Don't post stuff you'll regret (no drinking parties, etc!)
* Publish lots of interesting, but harmless posts (I think you should include things that establish your personality, but that may be after you are somewhat established in your profession -- I just think you should not be too bland!)
* Include a photo & information on personal interests, hobbies & a simple biography in that "about me" link

3. You can set up a personal website in your own name (, for instance) for as little as $30/month, and he recommends it.

4. Bray reminds you that search engines rank social media websites and personal websites very high, so these will come up early in searches for your name, so do think carefully about what you post on these. They will be your first impression on anybody "googling" your name.

5. Link all your social media and personal web pages together. Put your LinkedIn link on your Facebook page, with your Twitter link, and make sure it's all copied on all the other web domains you have.

6. Keep it fresh. Try to post fairly regularly. More often is important when you are first establishing your presence in each social media arena, then you can slack a little as you maintain it, but you still have to keep a regular presence.

7. Use a Google Alert to check what people are saying about you. I never thought of this!

8. He discusses various services that offer to repair your reputation, for various prices.

Interesting to consider! You might notice that I haven't linked everything up... The decoration for this blog post is a dramatic illustration from the Quick n Brite blog about a cleaner for showers and baths: - I just thought it made an excellent metaphor for the new ability of European citizens to clean off one little corner of the Internet!

Facebook Privacy Check-up

The New York Times reported the other day that Facebook is offering a "privacy check-up" to subscribers. Apparently the growth of privacy-friendly services such as SnapChat and WhatsApp has caught the attention of Mr. Zuckerberg. Facebook is acquiring WhatsApp this year, according to the Times article. But Snapchat has a strong privacy policy, where they delete "snaps" from their servers and from users' devices once viewed. Snapchat allows users to more easily control what information the service collects and to control with whom they share information on the site (read the privacy policy).

WhatsApp, a "cross-platform mobile messaging app which allows you to exchange messages without having to pay for SMS," does not fund its service through advertisements that depend on user information. (Read "Why we don't sell ads"). It appears to be free for the first year (at least on the versions I checked), and then 99 cents a year thereafter. WhatsApp's privacy policy is contained in their "legal" or Terms of Service. It appears at the bottom of the page. They make the information clear, easy to understand, and easy to control. They also take some pretty good steps to secure the information users do send them against hacking. The policy includes a warning "in the event of merger, sale or bankruptcy" that the policy may change.

However, the Times article makes it sound as though Zuckerberg is seeing some financial benefit in making it easier for users to control the ways his company/companies collect and use their personal information. Both because European laws regulate this much more closely than the U.S. and because consumer pressure is building for more consumer control in this area, the article makes it sound as though Facebook and Zuckerberg are becoming privacy converts. Time will tell if they stay converted!

The image decorating this blog post is the WhatsApp logo from their home page.