Archive for August, 2008

Digital Media and Learning Competition

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

As some of you know, much of my recent work has been funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation through their Digital Media and Learning Initiative. Last week came the announcement about a new competition for projects on participatory learning. Compared to last year’s competition, it’s an expanded initiative thanks to a new Young Innovator’s Award for those ages 18-25 with grants up to $30,000. The Innovation grants will be up to $250,000. The Web site lists last year’s winners, a fascinating mix of projects by academics and non-academics alike. This year, institutions and organizations from some countries other than the U.S. are also eligible (Canada, China, India, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, UK).

While it is obviously great to get funding for work one wants to pursue, being a MacArthur grantee has come with other benefits. First, the people at the Foundation are very knowledgeable about the areas they fund so they are an important source of information about the substantive questions of interest to one’s work. Additionally, they do a remarkable job of connecting people. Thanks to the folks at MacArthur, I’ve not only made numerous important professional connections, I’ve also developed some wonderful friendships over the years.

Note that MacArthur isn’t administering this competition directly, it’s an initiative of HASTAC. See details here.

Herr Professor Daddy? I didn’t think so.

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

I love my MommyAnyone who thinks male and female professors are treated equally by students is clueless. Just recently I came across a couple of examples that are very illustrative of this point. A friend of mine told me that her undergraduate advisees gave her a photo of themselves in a picture frame that says: “I love my Mommy”. (Apologies for the pathetic illustration accompanying this post, but given the time I put into it, I’m posting it.) Then just a few days later, I came across the following note on Twitter:

A friend of mine just bought this (as a gag) for her diss. director

Yes, click on the link. I’ll tell you where it leads, but you’ll appreciate it better if you see the image. The link is to a children’s book called “My Beautiful Mommy”. Raise your hand if you’re a male professor and students have given you similar gifts “as a gag”. No one? Shocking.

I can see the comments already: “If female profs are more caring then what’s wrong with students expressing their appreciation for that?”

First of all, students demand much more emotional work from female professors than they do of male profs. If the women don’t provide it, they are often viewed as cold bitchy profs that don’t care about students. Although I don’t know of any systematic studies of what types of topics students bring up during interactions with professors by gender, I have heard plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that female profs get approached much more by students wanting to talk about life issues than male profs. (More generally speaking, there is literature on how gender influences teaching evaluations, here are some older references.)

Second, there are plenty of ways to express appreciation that don’t involve putting the female prof in a mothering role, a role that certainly isn’t emphasizing her academic strengths and credentials. As my friend noted, a gift of this sort makes her feel as though her only contribution to the students’ success was in shepherding them through their projects and not in providing intellectual stimulation, helping them professionally, or contributing to the creation of new well-trained researchers. Maybe, just maybe, she’d like to be recognized for her intellectual contributions and the part of mentoring that involves the research aspects of her job. And while it would be neat if mothering was equated with all of those things, don’t kid yourself. Of course there is nothing wrong with being compassionate and caring, but it’s not what tends to be rewarded professionally in academia.

Those were the days…

Monday, August 18th, 2008

Those were the days... If, like me, you’re not quite ready to start a new workweek then I recommend YearbookYouself as an amusing distraction. [Thanks to Techcrunch.]

PS. For anyone wondering, none of those were actually my days, although this seems to come close.

Expert knows best

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

A Ripened Melon - Chef's choiceI just had a deliciously sweet cantaloupe. How did I know how to pick it? My favorite* chef, Chef Susan aka Chef Q posted some advice on the topic recently. Not only is she an amazing cook and baker, she is also an excellent photographer so her posts are illustrated with helpful images. I forgive her for all the pounds I gained last year due to her cooking (hey, at least I finally started a regular exercise regime) and thank her not just for all the great meals I’ve had the good fortune to experience, but also the helpful material she shares online.

[*] It’s actually a tie with my Mom, but she’s not officially a chef. Of course, that hasn’t stopped her from publishing a cookbook (see some of her recipes here).

Photo credit: Susan Beach

The spread and tweaking (?) of misinformation

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

UPDATE (8/13/08 11:23am CST): Google’s cache of the original Information Age piece makes it clear that the report had been altered considerably without any indication of this. (See screen shot here in case link no longer works.) Take-away: Information Age made considerable changes to its piece without indicating this anywhere in the post. That seems problematic. [Thanks to Bigcitylib for finding the cached page.]

Have you heard?! Google removed cities in Georgia from Google Maps! Or so were the claims that started making rounds on the Interwebs yesterday so you may well have heard it. But did you believe it? This incident has been a fascinating example of how quickly some folks will believe and spread something without further reflection. To be fair, random tweets were not the only means by which this information started spreading, more established outlets posted about it as well (see some links below with additional context). Still, how likely was it that Google would do something like this?

When I saw the post about it on the social news site Reddit yesterday (a post supported enough by readers of that site to make it onto a top page), I clicked through to look at the map. While interesting to note that the amount of information on Georgia was much less than many other countries, looking around on Google Maps made it clear that some parts of the map are simply less detailed than others. I also thought about the assertion for a moment. It didn’t sound very plausible. While Google may do all sorts of things that annoy various constituencies, it has been quite consistent in not wanting to block information even when people’s preference is that it would do so suggesting the claims to be unlikely. (Yes, I’m fully aware of some blocking in some specific cases on search engine results pages depending on local laws across the globe. Those are not incidents of this type though.) Short wrap-up: the details from the maps hadn’t been removed, they were never there to begin with. Interestingly, that idea did not occur to the many folks who reposted the information.

Here is an additional intriguing aspect to all this that I came across as I was looking at sites while writing this blog post. Might one of the reports about the incident been updated without any indication of an edit to the original report? I’m not making any accusations (it would be pretty ironic to do so in this post in particular), I’ll just post what I have found and welcome feedback. This Foreign Policy blog post about the Google Maps Georgia depiction references this piece in Information Age about the incident as follows:

As if Georgia didn’t have enough to deal with, yesterday the country’s cities and transportation routes completely disappeared from Google Maps. Reportedly wanting to keep its cyber territory conflict-neutral, Google removed all of Georgia’s details from its maps, making the war-torn nation look like a ghostly white blob flanked by Russia and Turkey. Georgia, though, isn’t the only country going blank on Google: neighboring Armenia and Azerbaijan–who have their own ongoing terrorital dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region–are coming up empty too.

An NYTimes Bits post also links to that IA piece. (So you can see what these sites looked like when I linked to them, I have posted screenshots of the FP post, IA piece and NYTimes Bits post.)

However, curiously, the IA piece doesn’t refer to tinkering with the maps, rather, it suggests that such reports were incorrect:

Meanwhile, reports that the company removed details of Georgian civil infrastructure from its Google Maps were inaccurate, it said today.

“We have never had local data for those countries and that is why local details such as landmarks and cities do not appear,” a company statement said.

But would writers at both the Foreign Policy blog and the NYTimes Bits blog have linked to this piece as a source for the tweaking if all it had stated was that the reports were inaccurate? Curious. I’m left wondering if an update had been made to the IA piece without any indication of it.

In the end, the ruckus about Georgia’s depiction on Google Maps was big enough that Google decided to respond with a post not only on its LatLong blog, but also the Official Google Blog (with about half a million feed subscribers).

Links for 2008-8-11

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

I guess Delicious isn’t managing to respond to customer service requests within 24 hours (I’ve been waiting for about 72-96 hours now.

Posting links using the Delicious Blog Rescue Tool

Monday, August 11th, 2008

As per the earlier discussion (elsewhere, too), with the Delicious upgrade came the breaking of the post-to-blog feature. Inputting the required info on the site didn’t help, I’m afraid. However, Jacob‘s comment came to the rescue and pointed me to the Delicious Blog Rescue Tool, which fortunately does work. Of course, since it’s not automated, it’s not clear how often I’ll be posting links here. As always, it’s probably best to follow EBlog content using its RSS feed.

To add some color to this post, here’s an image of the tags used on my Delicious links thanks to World:

My delicious tags

Links for 2008-8-10

Monday, August 11th, 2008

Chicagoland & its beaches

Monday, August 11th, 2008

People don’t think of Chicagoland as a bunch of beach towns. It’s common for people to be surprised when I tell them that I live just a few blocks from the beach, one where I actually go to relax and swim (well, more play in the water than swim). Indeed. In the summer (and late Spring/early Fall depending on the weather), Evanston has the perfect beaches. I guess it depends on your preferences, but if you dislike saltwater and sharks then these beaches work very well. Sand, comfy temperature fresh water, all just minutes from where I live. Here are some photos I’ve taken recently. (In case you’re wondering where all the people are in these pictures, I often purposefully try to leave them out since I prefer the calm of the place. But in the past I’ve also taken shots that show the more public nature of these places.)

If you’d like to view the originals (these are cropped photos) then click on the links below the collage. Clicking on this image will simply take you to the Flickr page with this same collage where you’ll still then have to click on the separate links to see the individual images.

Collage of beach photos

1. Feet, 2. Waves on Lake Michigan, 3. Wet sand, 4. Windy beach, 5. Evening on the beach, 6. Enjoying an hour at the beach

Created with fd’s Flickr Toys.

Batch of links

Saturday, August 9th, 2008

The social bookmarking site Delicious (formerly known as has finally gotten a nice upgrade. Unfortunately, upgrades often lead to things breaking. Thus has been the case with the post-to-blog feature that automatically posted links I bookmarked during the day to this blog. Bummer as I *really* liked that feature. I’m hoping Delicious customer service can help.

In the meantime, I thought I’d post – although this time manually, which is proving pretty tedious – the links I’ve bookmarked over the past week. Enjoy, and as always, if you see a site out there that you think I might like, please send it along.

Why Olympics coverage in the U.S. sucks

Friday, August 8th, 2008

I thought I’d get this rant out of the way before the season hits. Watching the Olympics in the US is no fun, because the only thing you can watch is Americans winning. You’d think the U.S. is the only country ever winning from the coverage. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for Americans to win, but I’m happy for other people to win, too. In fact, in some ways it’s much more interesting when you have a diversity of folks competing and this is portrayed clearly in the coverage. It gets boring fast when all you can hear is the U.S. national anthem.

Growing up in Hungary, I remember watching all sorts of sports competitions – and I don’t just mean the Olympics – where people from all over were taking home the gold. Sure, Hungary is a small country (population 10 million, that’s like Chicagoland having its own team) and its athletes are only going to win so many medals so you could argue that by definition coverage would have to feature other competitions as well. But actually, for a small country, Hungary ranks very high on the all-time medals list (whoa, I actually had no idea how high before writing this post) so it’s not as though there aren’t opportunities to feature its own. Also, TV could just show less of the event if there were not enough Hungarian nationals to feature. But that’s not what happens as featuring one’s own doesn’t seem to be the point. I remember hearing plenty of other national anthems and seeing lots of different flags.

This approach of showcasing athletes from all over doesn’t seem to be restricted to small countries. I was in Italy (pop ~ 60 million) recently flipping through channels and noticed the Hungarian national anthem playing on one of them. The station opted to show the end result all the way despite the fact that Italians were not the winners. Then they played another anthem (the Russian one so I could sing along in Hungarian, hah) for another winner, again, not Italians.

I wonder how this works in other countries, especially the ones winning lots of medals (e.g., for 2004, Russia, China, Australia, Germany, Japan, France, etc.).