12.28.2009

Why Education Isn't a Key Factor in Decision Making

What population of educated people are making poor decisions? The answer? Most of them.

The anti-vaccination community boasts that its level of education proves it is making rational decisions. That claim is solid. Solidly wrong.

We all make poor decisions but I am wondering why mothers who refuse to vaccinate their children make decisions like high school students.

I asked my students why our H1N1 vaccination rate was so low. We talked about the flu. We talked about spreading it. We talked about mortality and chances of side effects. We talked about spreading it to elderly relatives and younger siblings. What key piece of information did I miss?

After thinking about it, one of my students volunteered what he thought should have been obvious to me. Staying home sick is a plus, not a negative. He has utmost faith in his doctor to cure whatever comes. The rest of the class nodded and looked at me like I was dense (which I am) and I realized once more they are not living in my head.

When a person's heuristic fails, he or she may not realize it. Education can't help when you don't have adequate information and don't realize it. If a decision is "good enough" to give comfort, it's the one you keep.

Looking at each step in the decision and objective measures of confidence is the only real way to do it. Sometimes this takes too long which is why we satisfice. But there is no excuse when there is ample time and ample good quality advice available.

So why, in the face of advice to the contrary do people hold tight to decisions that are poor?

The controversy surrounding climate change may provide some insight into why people deliberately ignore evidence. Better yet, let me recount a sales technique that is useful to persuade people to make decisions they will hold despite evidence to the contrary.

Probing for social attitudes in a friendly manner that has nothing to do with the goal, you find a common enemy. Then all you have to do is connect the common enemy to the decision. Finally provide a way to take advantage of or injure the common enemy by persuading the person you wish to manipulate that what you want them to to is smart, cool, or acceptable.
Everybody knows that big insurance companies are out to screw you right? You have paid unreasonable premiums to them for many years, right? Then why not tell them your stolen computer was a Mac and not a lousy e-Machine?

When you talk to a climate sceptic, you will find they dislike Al Gore. It doesn't make any difference that Al Gore has nothing to do with the global warming community, you will find that he is strongly connected emotionally in the person's opinion. If you ask an anti-vaccination nutcase about pharmaceutical companies, you will find that they are one of the reasons vaccinations are bad. Because they make too much money.

12.16.2009

When is it Religion and When is it Prejudice?

A story in the Guardian describes:
Judges today ruled that one of Britain's most successful faith schools had racially discriminated against a 12-year-old boy who was refused admission because the school did not recognise him as Jewish....M's mother converted from Catholicism to Judaism under a non-Orthodox authority, meaning the Chief Rabbi does not recognise her as Jewish...."The majority held that JFS had directly discriminated against M on grounds of his ethnic origins."...the judges did not consider the Chief Rabbi to be racist.
It happened in Great Britain and not in the U.S. so there is nothing here to speak of, legally. But having read _Holy Hullabaloos_ recently I was left with a vacant spot in the dialog. And when I read this story I was reminded of it.

When does religion become prejudice? The panel of judges deliberately stuck in a disclaimer to stop people like me from yapping about it. I don't think it should stop me. Largely because it doesn't make sense.

The parents got married and to keep her husband happy, the woman became an official member of her husband's faith. But when they sent their child to a school run by a similar-but-not-identical faith group, he was judged racially-cum-religiously impure which is OK if you're of the similar-but-not-identical faith group.

It reminds me of the job application process at several conservative Christian schools that asks you to "Describe how and when you were saved." It isn't part of Christian doctrine that adults have a non-baptismal-saving (I love hyphens tonight) ordeal in order to be Christian. The official description of Christianity is described by the Nicene Creed as "one baptism for the remission of sins..." so the job application contains an odd requirement. Perhaps even un-Christian.

Sorry.

What bothers me is that in the U.S. we must allow the free exercise of religious beliefs when they interfere with inculcating the faculties of reason and judgment in our young. Luckily, the young are able to withstand most of it the way they withstand the onslaught of education in general.

12.15.2009

Open Letter to Senator LeMieux

Dear Senator LeMieux,

This statement from your recent letter disappoints me.
"I have talked with Floridians from Pensacola to Miami and without exception, people are concerned about this bill's proposals to raise taxes, increase health insurance premiums, and cut access to quality care. Citizens tell me they want Congress to scrap this proposal and start over. I agree. We cannot afford the government we have, much less the government this bill seeks to create. We need to be smarter about approaching health care reform and target those areas where we can reduce costs and expand access to health insurance."
I'm sure you are listening to people. The question is, "Who?" Your language is not conciliatory. Your language does not look the way it should after hearing the arguments for universal health care over the last few months. In fact it looks combative. Do you really need to mirror the angry white guys who yell at their TV sets? Are they the citizens whose wants and needs you are representing?

It makes me sad to see you take this stand in opposition to data from countries like Japan that have health outcomes similar to our own but have a mix of public option and multiple payors while maintaining much lower cost structures. These things exist and have been successful. We are in fact one of the last countries in the world with a high standard of living that does NOT include health care as part of that high standard.

You have had access to testimony from public health doctors whose job it is to evaluate and compare health delivery systems across national boundaries, but you have chosen to listen to the voices of special interests. You have had the unique opportunity to hear from a former Aetna manager what he did the last time publicly funded health coverage was brought up in D.C. You have seen the same strategies used a second time, knowing who funded the astroturfing.

I owned a general lines insurance agency from 1974 to 1994 and was among the most profitable independent agents in the U.S. for my size. I understand insurance. I also understand the people. Some of them are generous, smart, and successful. Unfortunately many are fearful and lack the confidence to move into a new economic model.

If we think there is a reason to have national education standards and we want children to grow up to be productive citizens, they must be healthy before they become productive. If we want citizens to be productive, we must keep them healthy and not support a system that by its very design prices out a significant portion of the otherwise productive population in order to keep costs in check. The current system fails to address the more difficult issues, consequently driving a system that has the highest cost in the world.

12.14.2009

Colin Marshall Hits the Nail (School) on the Head

The Humanists: Frederick Wiseman's High School (1968)
More important than any overtly political point is a purely mechanical one, to wit, that our educational machine isn't working as desired, or at least as advertised. The mismatch between large-scale education's declared aims and its actual function should come as no surprise to anyone who's spent any time in the system, but here Wiseman has assembled an effective reminder indeed.


Wiseman's notes and contact information.

12.06.2009

Standup Comedy & Backchannel Intimacy - (informal talk)

We went to see Jamie Kennedy at the Palm Beach Improv on Friday night. He was interesting and pretty good but not as fluid and adaptable as Dave Attell. But if he had been more adaptable, I wouldn't have noticed the parallel between what was going on in the comedy club and what danah boyd and Joe McCarthy said about backchannel snark.

Previous discussions have centered on Internet identity issues and intimacy. I'm thinking that there may be a stronger influence in the speaker-audience member relationship and how it is cultivated by (1.) the venue and (2.) the speaker. In this situation, the Internet acts as an amplification device.

Here is the short version: As audience members got more lubricated, the conversational gambits used by the comedian to increase intimacy with his audience became less easy to resist.

Joe McCarthy -
I'm trying to imagine conferences in which "the audience is of equal importance as the speaker". Speakers are typically paid - or at least invited - to present, whereas audience members typically pay to hear and see what the speakers have to say and show. The relationship is, by definition, unequal, which becomes evident when one considers the relative impacts of an attendee not showing up vs. a speaker not showing up. Attendees in the audience may have considerable expertise and experience in the topic(s) the speaker is talking about - in fact, ideally, there is such an alignment - but that does not give the audience the right to be rude, and certainly doesn't give them the right to gang up to tear down the speaker.


danah boyd mentions she thinks that backchannel snark is to be expected when the presentation is entertainment as opposed to informing. (This from her post about offensive chatter during a Web 2.0 meeting.) However the actual content of her presentation concerns attention in the sense of that which seizes one's attention.
Stimulation. People consume content that stimulates their mind and senses. That which angers, excites, energizes, entertains, or otherwise creates an emotional response. This is not always the "best" or most informative content, but that which triggers a reaction.
Thus, the character of the snarky commentary on Twitter is geared to attract the attention of other audience members which is a separate issue from the speaker/audience relationship.

From the speaker's standpoint, the audience member is competing with her. This stands out in a comedy club where the venue is fairly intimate. The lighting and ability of the comedian to overcome the audience chatter is key.

Jamie Kennedy did something unusual that attracted my attention. In his quest for audience contact, he kept shading his eyes from the stage lighting so he could feel he was making better contact with them. When he did that, he spoke directly to one of us, again to increase interaction.

I want to point out something here. I don't think the audience at a comedy club is supposed to actually interact directly with the comedian. Our job is to provide feedback by laughing loudly enough to satisfy the performer. The alcohol-fueled members of the audience lose sight of this and buy into the illusion that the comedian wishes to stop performing and discuss the commenter's views. The situation degenerates, beefy men appear, and chairs are thrown.

This may be off topic but there are physiological issues going on as well. I'm not sure how to attack it but the degree of intimacy may provide a key to understanding the phenomenon. For instance, have you heard about the way a puff of air on your skin from intimate speech can change your perception of 'b' and 'p' sounds? Although the synergy of sensation is not new, research into how it changes our understanding is. Moreover, the lack of it may provide insight into dysfunction.

In the meantime, let's post a notice at the door. "Intimacy Level Expected" 1-5 where 1 means the speaker wants you to keep your mouth shut and honestly doesn't give a damn what your opinion is and 5 means you can run around naked.

11.21.2009

Phil Jones Hadley CRU admits hiding data of temp decline

When I want a laugh, I go to the comedy club like I did last night.

Believe it (sic) if you wish, but I normally do this:

1.) Do a search for a significant string of quoted text at which point I see the sender got it at DIGG. If you think Kevin Rose ever did anything worthwhile in his life, I guess you can use it but I happen to think DIGG encourages serious methodological errors to happen because of the way it is built. If it were human, DIGG would have every social disease known to man.

2.) Look at the story and then search for repeats in Google to see if there are any stories matching it in mainstream news. NONE. Delinpole of the Telegraph thinks there is a "greatest scandal in science ever" at least once a month because he doesn't understand how science makes progress.

3.) Go to a website I consider reliable to see if the story has been picked up and discussed. in this case:
http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/11/the-cru-hack/#more-1853

If you read that link, you can see that there are some folks at RealClimate whose emails are in the released archive and they are very nice and normal people who have been screamed at and insulted at meetings for years by the some of the same people who show up at town hall meetings screaming stuff about the president being a alien who wants to eat our children.

Let's forget the specifics for a minute and concentrate on method and how I filter crap.

Here is a link to an article by a friend, Howard Rheingold. Howard is the guy who identified the way people in other countries were using their pagers to enable civil disobedience. Later he coined the term "flash mobs" of which you may have heard.

Please read this:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/rheingold/detail?entry_id=42805
Howard has included some of my own material in this article, but it is insignificant.

It is important to note that if you compare SlashDot and DIGG, you can see that DIGG's information is essentially unfiltered. It is my belief that Rose's sense of humor is at the root of this because he is entertained by watching idiots. Slashdot has a three level filtering system attached to its ranking system that prevents morons from becoming important community members. No such protection at DIGG. That is not to say that bad stories don't get published at SlashDot, but they aren't the norm. Bad stories at DIGG are common. Why? Entertainment, not evaluation.

Howard posted a link to this totally cool Firefox extension I haven't tried yet:
http://disputefinder.cs.berkeley.edu/

One of the things he doesn't go into in the article is the ecology of information. There is a definite issue of timing that reveals a lot about the motivation behind revealing a story. Obviously pushing an event story such as a political speech or a fire resulting in death is done in the normal course of journalism as quickly as possible. But stories from researchers who normally publish in peer reviewed journals who have chosen instead to tell the newspaper FIRST are pretty common. These stories often turn out to be about poor science because the researchers' work would never make it to a reviewer's outbox.

Then there is the issue of reliability. Let's use the Huffington Post as an example. Ariannna Huffington uses a system of unpaid volunteer bloggers as a significant source of copy. She gets the benefits of inflammatory language to attract visitors and deniability against critics, plus it pays her bills. It's a win-win for her pocketbook but a huge "lose" for readers who have no crap filters.

More subtle is the think tank problem. The social ecology of think tanks is only beginning to be studied. Their social function appears to be as a source of rapid response for government committees because thinking that goes through peer review is too slow. Thus, think tanks attract academics whose work has been slow to be accepted in their own communities. Their funding comes principally from industry but is not disclosed as is required by academic journals. Danger Will Robinson!

Have you considered that the conservative sites you are visiting are deliberately publishing lies? That is another issue entirely. My own thoughts are that there are BOTH deliberate lies and paranoid delusions evident. I'm not saying there are no bad people trying to manipulate political events on the pro-global warming side. Much like the presidential elections, there are entities that fund both sides as well.

I noticed that Coca-Cola is a big mover in the global regulation scene. I would guess that it's pretty obvious they have a huge stake on account of their global distribution system and sourcing of things like sugar. But did they hire people like John Milloy to coordinate and publish lies like Exxon did? We can prove Exxon paid a network of think tank academics as "contractors" in their annual reports. Those people's utterances were picked up by a network of bloggers and low quality news sources like Fox and the Telegraph within minutes across multiple timezones which indicates there was coordination.

If you think the global warming issue had liars on both sides, you are of course correct as they are all human. But when it comes to making "fine" distinctions between people who shoplift and people who release saran sarin into a subway, I think I will go with the shoplifters.

Next time you find something amazing that reveals the black hearts of the evil liberal climate scientists, do what I do. Run it through crap detection.

11.15.2009

Open Access, Federation, and Why it's Like Healthcare

Let's look at access to research like access to healthcare.

I hope there won't be many dissenters if I posit an increase in GDP resulting from a healthy populace.

I'm not just talking about outsiders being admitted to the community. I'm saying that information as an ecology has resources that if opened to the community, could provide insights that are unlikely to happen in the current situation. So access is a generally healthy thing, but access for all will be unpredictable in terms of productivity.

Federating all data, irrespective of scale will happen in the near future. Denying access is something I wouldn't want to be remembered for.

11.08.2009

Universal Health Coverage - Why and Why

Yesterday, Saturday 11-08-2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a landmark bill that starts the nation on the trek toward universal health care.

At the same time, I encountered this article by Greg Miller at the AAAS site:
An Infectious Problem for the Brain
In which he says "...immune system signaling molecules--like those triggered by infections--can muck with the brain and cause memory deficits and mood alterations."

It gives me permission to speculate on what a healthier citizen might achieve.

Certainly Hans Rosling's provocative statements regarding the effects of good public health allowing a population to create economic value faster than a country without it are an indication that health care has profound economic effects.

On one hand we have the costs of poor health and on the other we have increased productivity caused by more time working. But Miller's article seems to indicate that we may have improvements in general cognitive condition as well.

9.24.2009

On the Moving of Cheese

A colleague has taught word processing, spreadsheet, bitmap editing, and presentation skills as a basic computer course for freshmen in high school for fifteen years.

A couple of times, the course title has been changed. This year, it was changed yet again. But this time, the curriculum code was moved into a different department/certification code. The teacher can no longer qualify as "highly qualified" under the state's legal guidelines. As a result, a letter "warning" parents that an unqualified teacher could be messing around doing something bad with their babies may be sent out because the Legislature wants to protect you from this kind of danger. Even though the teacher may be quite good.

No doubt there are far too many schools employing unqualified personnel in Florida. What I AM saying is that the link between what a teacher actually knows and what a teacher is allowed to teach are disconnected.

I am allowed to teach a range of subjects, doing some of which might be a bad idea. A biology teacher is allowed to teach physics, for instance. Can all biology teachers really do it well? Can physics teachers teach biology well?

Perhaps teaching licenses should be based on what you have actual experience doing. Right now, I can teach subjects I took in college - OR - I can teach subjects I took state licensing exams to actually perform for the public. "Either or", not "both and". How odd.

I'm sure there are perfectly good reasons for this. The state would probably have to hire a couple of people to look after this. Maybe even merge licensing databases and push a button.

How about improving professional knowledge? That's a sore spot with me.

I have NEVER EVER gotten credit for any of the money or time I have spent improving the quality or depth of the subject matter I actually teach. I have taken plenty of courses that I received credit for, they just haven't included knowledge that was relevant to my own.

Reason: Classes offering credit are elementary.
Reason: If I take a college course, I won't be compensated.
Reason: If do my own research, I won't be compensated.
Reason: If I go to a professional meeting, I have to log every single item of knowledge, photocopy all of the catalog, and incorporate it into my courses.

Not that I don't actually do these things. I (unreasonably perhaps) object to trying to explain it to someone who doesn't understand what I do. The meeting I attend every year includes over one hundred symposia and workshops. I have learned amazing things and shared them with my students. How do they value keynotes delivered by Nicholas Negroponte, Susan Soloman, Peter Agre or James Gates? The system doesn't value anything it doesn't create. That's the soft gooey center of credential obsession. We make it, therefore we value it. If you make it, we don't.

I don't get professional credit for doing it.

Do you think this generally discourages public school teachers?

9.05.2009

Google Reader

Google Reader's new look includes a message when you open the page:
New! Want to see what Huffington, Boing Boing, or Lifehacker read?
Why would you wish to see a feed from the Huffington Post?

Isn't using a news reader *by definition* expressing a desire not to be dumped on by the idiots of the world? SORRY! Meant to say "the indiscriminate" of the world, as in those who can't tell fact from fiction.

Boing-boing is overwhelming and LifeHacker is trivial, but the Huff-Po is like a 10 year-old in the back seat. There, I've said it and I feel better already.

9.02.2009

Kudos to the reading department

http://www.collegeboard.com/press/releases/206201.html

eSchool news interpreted it:
Average SAT scores were stable or rising most years from 1994 to 2004, but they have been trending downward since. That's likely due in part to the widening pool of test-takers. That's a positive sign that more students are aspiring to college, but it also tends to weigh down average scores.


The parents-didn't-attend-college group went up a bit and they said it was important, which is probably is but it was only four percent of test takers. The CB attributed it to multiple changes. But from a state Dept of Ed perspective, the increase in ELL student numbers is way up:

Language diversity is increasing as more 2009 SAT takers report that English is not exclusively their first language compared to previous years — 25.2 percent versus 18.3 percent in 1999.

It amazes me that reading didn't fall more than it did. Kudos to the reading department.

7.26.2009

Twitter Followers & No Notifications

Every day I get a couple of followers I end up blocking. Today I got five.

They all have names like Buffy5782, that is "girl"+"numeric" username.
They never have a link on their Twitter profile. A normal 20-someting at least has FB.
They have few commercial Twitters during a week in their hisotry.
They have twitter streams that indicate more or less that they have nothing interesting to say.

AND when they follow me, I NEVER get an email from Twitter.com telling me about it even though I get notified when normal people follow me both before and after these mystery followers.

Why do I block them?

I guess it's just paranoia because I can't see an advantage for them unless it has to do with gaming some Twitter filter that uses community embeddedness for some reason.

Of course I get my share of "Marketing Professionals" who just happen to have a great application that can monetize my twitter stream and get me "millions of followers" and who can change my life et cetera. Meh.

I wish someone at Twitter would explain what is going on like Mark Cuban did when the spam-bloggers were messing with Ice Rocket.

7.25.2009

Vanish Gives Your Speech Life (A Short One)

Do you desperately need to say something publicly but equally desperately need not to have it associated with your searchable identity?

Enter, Vanish, an application/service that makes it possible for data to self-destruct over a period determined by natural degradation in a distributed torrent network.

The implications for this technology are wide-ranging.

I would like to address the issue of life *before* this happened. Specifically the assumption that students obviously need to be prepared for a totally open life. Bouts of drunken behaviour will haunt them forever. Blah blah.

Is it still obvious?

There isn't much you can't accomplish using the open architecture of the Internet. That's why statements regarding how amazing things are and how little the architects of the Internet appreciated the possibilities of their creation don't just ring hollow. They are themselves shortsighted.

Tim Berners-Lee laid the Web on top of the Internet. Don't forget it.

7.24.2009

Trip to Korea

Korea is charming, historic, and great. It is like North Carolina populated by Canadians.

You know how in the spring North Carolina looks like it was taken over by a gardening show? Well South Korea is like that, but on steroids.

On top of that, everybody we met was really nice and helpful with few exceptions. The one time, an old guy in a market gave us flack that thoroughly confused and embarrassed his friends, it turned out he was a soccer fanatic. Nobody in the group besides me realized that he was ranting on South Korea's soccer prowess. Typical fan. :-D

The Gallery

I took pictures of food, but missed some of the best photos because I forgot and ate it. One of the best examples of this was a "traditional Korean" bowl of mixed barley and rice near a tourist trap. So fluffy, so tasty!

6.29.2009

Environmental Cancer and the Web

It's June and the Palm Beach County television stations have been reporting on a high number of cancer cases in children in a small-ish agricultural/residential area.

After a week of reporting increasing numbers of people, a local mortician spoke up and said he mentioned to a county commissioner that it looked suspicious. The county commissioner didn't do anything we know of.

Why didn't the county health officials have GIS mapping with a historic database? The property appraiser has it, the fire department has it. The property appraiser makes money for the County. The firemen don't want people to die if hazardous chemicals are released by accident.

Sure high mobility communities would be poorly represented, but it would be better than nothing. It isn't rocket science.

Google Fusion Tables

Google Fusion Tables extend data sharing and manipulation in the browser.

Browser based speed is goning to be a lot faster very soon. Take a look at the AMAZING speed of Bespin.

6.20.2009

Twitter in the Classroom

Skeptic's Guide to the Universe had an interview with Professor Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire who had just used Twitter for an investigaiton of "remote viewing," a psychic theory that claims people can see something at a distance from the subject that would ordinarily be obscured by intervening distance or obstacle.

Since this is about Twitter in the classroom and not about the eighteen million Google returns you get if you use it as a search term, I will dismiss remote viewing and urge my reader to do the same.

Wiseman is using Twitter as a quiz engine for remote voting using handheld devices.

If this reminds you of the now ubiquitous "clicker" for embedded evaluation in the classroom, it should! What we need to do is take the twitter stream consisting of a question or series of teacher tweets and a series of student response tweets, parse it, evaluate it, and display it.

6.18.2009

Why Paul Ormerod is Still Cool

My buddy Richard sent me this link today (6-18-2009) Tech Dirt analysis of a Yahoo analyst's analysis of a shambles.

Problem! "Systematic risk" is mischaracterizing risk by generalizing it, not to mention misquoting the phrase "systemic risk" which is what Duncan Watts actually said. The journalists are having a fantasy. The system *is* transparent enough to see what is happening, but it is obscured by distance and not-giving-a-shit.

The issue is understanding systems, in particular how several nonlinear variables that act together produce a solution. If you read Why Most Things Fail which is about cause and prediction and then The Black Swan which is about economic prediction specifically you can see what my point is. Ormerod is an economist and is sometimes on the outs with some of the community. They were in the middle of a pout when the bomb went off.

Measuring risk in a limited area of the economic system is a trivial part of the problem. Journalists are talking about risk and banks but the real problem is risk and the financial system. Libertarian economists say an individual institution should be allowed to fail. Techdirt is saying that there are individual institutions that are so large that toppling one will bring widespread harm. I don't know about that but I suspect that interlinking risk between institutions is what would be the big problem. I don't see people making any distinction between the individual elephant and the herd of elephants.

Which brings me to the issue I pointed out. Inventing a new tool to spread risk in an attractive way that makes it appear palatable may have contributed to the problem.

Watts' article in the Globe points out that institutions shouldn't be allowed to extend in certain ways. My way of saying it would be that if a system can't be predicted, it should be dismantled into components that can be predicted. Then we should create an institutional memory that explains why they can't be allowed to do a repeat performance.

6.12.2009

Fear and Loathing in Alaska

Dumbass Wulf Blitzer asked Sarah Palin to explain the economics of the recovery. Then I muted her.

She stook there squinting into the camera spouting her soccer-mom-brand passive-aggressive fear and hate.

Which reminds me that with the centerists becomming less tolerant of creepy attitudes, the nutcases are feeling the pressure of marginalization more than ever before.

Sarah Palin is their representative-in-chief.

5.28.2009

The Summer Job Market Looks Grim

The Summer Job Market Looks Grim for people in Broward County where Fort Lauderdale is located.

This morning, May 28, 2009, the Channel Ten news anchors announced a job fair giving the location, time, and the names of several participating companies.

The outlook is indeed grim if the news report is indicative. We can work for:

Avon
Family Dollar Stores
The Check Cashing Store

A multilevel marketing company that makes money from economic incest, the lowest priced retailer in the universe, or a company that charges outrageous fees for cashing paychecks, taking advantage of ignorance.

Mirable dictu! Horribili visu!

5.22.2009

When to Use a Different Search Engine

On May 21st Deep Web Technologies announced browser plugins for searching the data they have helped make available using federation technique that finds, merges, and presents things Google et al don't give you. What they do involved taking lots of time to understand how data is stored at many different locations and creating a way to reorganize ontologies into a common format in order that *apples can be compared with apples* so to speak.

It's easy to use. Instructions:
Users can easily add any of these portals to their browser's search engine box by going to http://www.deepwebtech.com/open-search.html and clicking on a portal to automatically add it to their search box.
This post however is about *how* and *when* you make the choice.

The browser plugin makes a huge step forward in usability because it brings federated search into one click range for the user.

Unfortunately ALL search choices are conscious while searches tend to make unconscious assumptions. Changing these unconscious assumptions is a process of education and I wonder which markets outside of academic research will have penetration first. Deep Web Technologies obviously has an idea and a plan but users do unexpected things so this will be exciting to watch. If you like watching NASCAR for a week straight.

Break out the beer!

5.16.2009

Conservative Pundits and Cognitive Dissonance

Although every nation has ratified Children Rights as recommended by the United Naitons, only the U. S. and Somalia haven't. That's the background.

Here's the rhetoric: Rep. Hoekstra on the O'Reilly Factor.

Evidently Hoekstra and O'Reilly are proud of the following bit of mental gymnasitcs:

The basis of conservative insistence on stopping abortion is the rights of the community protecting members who are voiceless. Community rights versus individual rights. Period.

Strangely, the basis of the United Nations push to grant rights to children in law is the same.

So what's the difference? In one case Hoekstra and O'Reilly like community rights and in the other, they like individual rights better.

I don't understand and I suspect, neither do they.

5.12.2009

Google Squared

When you see Google Squared in a couple of weeks or months and you love spreadsheets, you will love the juicy goodness of a search arrayed in splendor and ordered in columns and rows. Or rows and columns if you prefer.

An if, as a spreadsheet user, you enjoy surrounding yourself with stacks of building blocks, you will again be content.

But if you think Google will extract structure out of the disorder, you will only be fooling yourself. I may be wrong. I have only seen a brief demonstration.

But it seems as though Google Squared is like looking at the world and seeing intelligent design. And yes, I believe the lead up was worth the punch line.

5.09.2009

Don't Like Open Journal Publishing?

If you think there is something about the Internet that pollutes the purity of journal publishing, think again.

The relationship between big pharma and publishers is perilous. Any industry with global revenues of $600bn can afford to buy quite a lot of adverts, and pharmaceutical companies also buy glossy expensive "reprints" of the trials it feels flattered by. As we noted in this column two months ago, there is evidence that all this money distorts editorial decisions.

This time Elsevier Australia went the whole hog, giving Merck an entire publication which resembled an academic journal, although in fact it only contained reprinted articles, or summaries, of other articles. In issue 2, for example, nine of the 29 articles concerned Vioxx, and a dozen of the remainder were about another Merck drug, Fosamax. All of these articles presented positive conclusions. Some were bizarre: such as a review article containing just two references.

Things have deteriorated since. It turns out that Elsevier put out six such journals, sponsored by industry. The Elsevier chief executive, Michael Hansen, has now admitted that they were made to look like journals, and lacked proper disclosure. "This was an unacceptable practice and we regret that it took place," he said.
As you see, there is ample reason to suspect that this kind of thing is not rare as hen's teeth but rather a bit more common. In fact it might not be newsworthy if a journal publisher hadn't been the one to print it. Consider that if you will.

It isn't so different from whipping up a think tank is it? You want opinion, you buy it.

5.03.2009

Using Ontologies to Change Government

The Knight Commission on the Information needs of Communities has a survey on how you find and use news. Fine and good, but at the end they ask about how government should change delivery to facilitate public engagement.

I suggested they discuss how an ontology could be developed that would give several levels of summary and detail. This sort of data structure would allow most trained data people to mash up and deliver useful information. For instance you could give contributors filtered by standard industry group (SIG) against politicians votes and agenda items filtered by SIG in a Gapminder display.

So far so good.

But this kind of ontology has the potential to replace current bill tracking methods used in house by governmental entities. After a bill passes or a court case is settled, the record would be an adequate way of archiving records for all types issues at law.

5.02.2009

Past Facebook a Hyper-Social Format?

If social media are driven primarily by their ability to facilitate social contact, then we should be moving in the direction of an open social format.

My students like Twitter (speed), Facebook (friends), Myspace (fandom), Digg & Make (interests), Twine and blogging (sharing created content.) Not to mention Geo-location.

I don't see why we couldn't start with a desktop app like Adium to mash it in some way and then move to a cloud app. Then we will be able to see over the walls. Wish list: A sliding indicator for geo-location going from "exactly here" to "nowhere" would be nice.

The move would be invisible to your friends who prefer to stay in a particular comfort zone, yet visible to friends who are shall we say, more adventurous.

It's the heritage of Atlantic City, Las Vegas, and Orlando. The concept of the destination resort with an escape hatch.

Quite a few years ago, a retired judge from Atlantic City gave a talk about the way the city had changed in the wake of casinos. I believe he was trying to warn us that promises of increased tourism from gambling resorts were not reliable. The casinos had captured their tourists and were definitely not sharing them with the rest of the city.

4.18.2009

Social Issues and Online Addiction Among Teens

Sun-Sentinel's Education reporter Andrew Tran did a story on students and technology adaptation. Some of my students are quoted here.

The interview ran an hour and a half with a return trip for video a week later. I discovered some new things about my kids and put some more into new contexts.

There are a few things we need to address separately.

Number one, after viewing the Frontline piece on Korea, I think we can say that addictive behavior is probably limited to less than ten percent (between 5.5 and 10) of highly wired individuals. Let's let that problem plop into the laps of the psychologists. *plop* Now we can move on and not worry about the other ninety percent.

Number two, the remaining ninety percent have to deal with adaptation. Adaptation includes the temptation of addictive behavior. This is a real issue that should be dealt with explicitly. Although they don't end up with addictive behavior, they *are* the actual environment the addicts live in. The addictive behavior is socially immersive. But adaptation is much more than simply avoiding temptation.

The stories my students provided Andrew were about adaptation. It is about how to immerse yourself without drowning.

It seems that this, like every other part of adolescence is about learning. Maybe we can figure out how to help them learn rather than standing to one side screaming.

4.01.2009

Observations on Florida's high school graduation rate

That's misleading. It's really an observation on child abuse by state versus graduation rate and prison population. Gapminder US View of HIgh School Graduation rate, child abuse, number of prisoners.

Observation of other states shows much lower rates of child abuse that *aren't* regionally associated. High school graduation rates *are* regionally associated.

3.16.2009

Incentivize Wellness

The news item this morning from Boston about the "near-universal" health care made me think about wellness. There is difficulty incentivizing behaviour.

As with other things in life, there are probably as many reasons for not taking care of yourself are multitude.

One thing that could contribute would be having your gym count days in attendance each month and granting credit for it in some way. The gym could use RFID on membership cards and you wouldn't get credit if your stay is under 45 min. In essence, you get paid for attending the gym.

3.12.2009

Open Access and Self-Destructive Acts (edited rant repost)

Open access to research funded by the U. S. Government at any level is not really a matter of debate any longer. What we are witnessing with attempts to head off open access may be a DMCA-like act of desperation. In any case, the behaviour of citizens, whatever they do for a living, has changed as they interact with increasingly democratcized channels of information distribution over time. The trend is obvious and resistance is indeed futile. This much is plain and I believe we all agree on the ubiquity of the conversion of these cultural artifacts to digital form.

What we don't agree on is the right of last year's concessionaire to be this year's gatekeeper. Certainly a graceful segue into a different business model is the proper solution, but at whose expense?

As we see in the courts, it will be many years before we see a political body that is prepared and knowledgeable in issues of advancing science and technology. Perhaps it is naive of me to think people who are afraid of the future and unwilling to adapt should admit it. Delaying tactics appear to be the order of the day.

I don't want to draw inappropriate parallels, but look at the way Al Gore was treated publicly over his advocacy on global climate change. You have a situation where a long-term trend is recognized by people you pay to research stuff you don't have the inclination to learn, then ignore what they have to say - or - "Decide for Yourself" the immortal motto at Fox News. Obviously the journal publishing industry has a long way to go before they throw money to the think tank prostitution industry the way ExxonMobil does but it's worth considering. Are we indulging in self-destructive acts?

There is evidence that humans will need every single minute available to them in order to learn to deal with earth's changing systems. Delay in this case (global warming) may end up causing irreparable damage to civilization. Delay in the case of open access holds the potential of hindering the movement of information to places we never foresaw, preventing developments we never imagined.

Some of this perspective comes from attending the open access symposium at the 2005 AAAS meeting in Washington, some from watching what the Department of Energy and others such as Deep Web Technologies, think about the future of collaborative research over the last few years, and some from observing the evolution of knowledge systems online.

I'll admit to being unscientific and indulging in advocacy as well but I have students who need need new systems in place for learning and for advancing knowledge. Not tomorrow, but today.

2.21.2009

Fox News Recipe for Graphics Excellence *wink*

Fox News appears to have obtained the last surviving copy of the "Glitz-o-Matic."
Awesome Fox News Graphics

That was an inside joke for SIGGRAPH attendees in the early 90s but I don't think it really needs elaboration. You can't teach concepts of scale with nothing to compare against.

Inflation, GDP, productivity measures and other countries - all of these things would be at least somewhat useful.

It's a strange Fox recipe:

1. Rip off somebody you don't like.
2. Criticize his presentation.
3. Do something far worse.

2.02.2009

Education and Streaming Video

There are vendors who want schools to transport vast archives of video files over their networks for educational purposes. The idea is that a teacher can have her choice of appropriate material constantly available for curriculum needs. Some Districts have already spent money on it.

I believe that the majority of educational video content should continue to be provided by cable distribution.

Mark Cuban posted a thoughtful rant (possible oxymoron here)about getting video files (1)hosted and (2) transported across the limited bandwidth available to large numbers of folks.

The Broward District School Board in South Florida has about 250,000 students on any given day. There are 134 teachers at my modestly sized high school which gives you an idea of how many classrooms might be viewing something. It has *one* network with equivalent capacity of one or two T1 connections to each location where there may be from 400 elementary to 2000 high school students.

Granted, there are display devices that serve up to 25 students at once. But assuming modest use, this is going to strain the dickens out of the network of people actually use it.

Let's look at an alternative. Each school district has a broadcasting license for television which allows them to become a mini cable provider.

The bandwidth of commercial cable providers is so immense that the content available is pitifully inadequate to fill it. Think of the 490 channels you don't actually watch. The average teenager regularly views from 7 to 12 networks at home. That's from my freshman class survey done annually in the Fall for the last seven years. Yes they're self-selected, but *for* geekiness, not against. The mode is around 9.

Video files can still be delivered on the Internet, but most of the time teachers and students should be able to tune into the content they need with a cable-like service.

1.06.2009

Science Tatoos

There is no longer a question as to whether Scientists have them. The question is, who has better ones?

(a) Physicists
(b) Biologists
(c) Mathematicians
(d) Marine Biologists [cause they're not *just* biologists]
(e) Name your own fav

LINK

1.03.2009

The Next Big Thing Might Not be What You Expected

The Edge Annual Question has stimulated Sam Harris to propose reliable lie detection as a something that would change society. He is entirely correct. But I would like to point out something that may adulterate the overwhelming joy, should it come to pass. I'm not taking issue with Harris. Far from it.

We all understand the concept of social compacts because we are the "law-abiding" and the "good" citizens. The last eight years of extreme conservative rule making should make it clear that there are things the American People hold dear. The "potential for human life" is one of them. Another is our duty to invade another country and change things if we suppose our friends are not being treated right. Harris couches it in terms of tension between absolute morality and moral dilemma.

Absolute standards may label a thief as a bad person. A burglar may not subscribe to the complete social compact as understood by your average minister, but he wouldn't necessarily hurt you on purpose. Likewise, I may not subscribe to the concept that human life begins at the time of fertilization.

Harris imagines it happening thus:
Well-intentioned people would happily pass between zones of obligatory candor, and these transitions will cease to be remarkable. Just as we’ve come to expect that many public spaces will be free of nudity, sex, loud swearing, and cigarette smoke—and now think nothing of the behavioral changes demanded of us whenever we leave the privacy of our homes—we may come to expect that certain places and occasions will require scrupulous truth-telling. Most of us will no more feel deprived of the freedom (to) lie during a press conference or a job interview than we currently feel deprived of the freedom to remove our pants in a restaurant.
What if there is a location-dependent social compact where it is acceptable to smoke or remove your pants? What happens when you leave the area? Do you magically change from being good to being bad?

Harris suggests in a presentation at the Salk Institute that objective measurement is a solution. I agree.

The future might be *squirmy*.