Friday, May 11, 2007

Cheating and collaborating

OpinionJournal has a story today that takes a recent case of collusion on a Duke University Business School exam and turns it into an indictment of "postmodern learning, wiki style." The incident is clearly cheating, and by presenting it and "wiki style" learning as exclusive alternatives, author Charlotte Allen gives us a classic false choice. She concludes:

One way to instill an internalized standard of honesty is to put in place external standards that discourage dishonesty. Many professors and administrators are quietly doing exactly that: abandoning take-home tests and their temptations and devising cheat-proof exams (multiple versions of the same midterm, for example) or requiring students to submit their term papers through, a Web-based plagiarism screener. Stanford (its design school notwithstanding) has an honor code dating to 1921, but many professors nonetheless ask students to stash their electronic devices in their backpacks during tests. The Stanford Law School shuts off wireless Internet access at exam time.

I would suggest that constant connectivity changes the sorts of organizational behaviors and resources on which students can expect to draw once they move into the workforce. Perhaps the professors in question should diversify the ways in which they certify knowledge in order to encourage, monitor, and scaffold the skill sets needed in an always-connected workplace. That doesn't mean eliminating exams, but it does mean lessening their importance in favor of exercises that teach these other increasingly vital and valuable skills.

OpinionJournal - Taste

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Why we need institutional review boards

TechCrunch reports:
According to a study presented by a 17-year-old high school student to a meeting of heart specialists on Thursday, iPods can cause pacemakers to malfunction and even fail by interfering with the electromagnetic equipment monitoring the heart.

If you believe that animal testing is cruel, try waving iPods in front of 100 old folk with a mean age of 77, all fitted with Pacemakers.

iPods Could Kill: Study

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Update 2007.05.13: Mayer-Schönberger responds in the comments.

I've seen a few links to this:

The rise of fast processors and cheap storage means that remembering,once incredibly difficult for humans, has become simple. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, a professor in Harvard's JFK School of Government, argues that this shift has been bad for society, and he calls insteadfor a new era of "forgetfulness."

This notion is not new, of course: Bowker and Star discuss "organizational forgetting" in their 2000 book Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences. But Mayer-Schönberger takes the argument further, according to the gloss on Ars Technica:

Why would we want our machines to "forget"? Mayer-Schönberger suggests that we are creating a Benthamist panopticon by archiving so many bits of knowledge for so long. The accumulated weight of stored Google searches, thousands of family photographs, millions of books, credit bureau information, air travel reservations, massive government databases, archived e-mail, etc., can actually be a detriment to speech and action, he argues.

"If whatever we do can be held against us years later, if all our impulsive comments are preserved, they can easily be combined into a composite picture of ourselves," he writes in the paper. "Afraid how our words and actions may be perceived years later and taken out of context, the lack of forgetting may prompt us to speak less freely and openly."

In other words, it threatens to make us all politicians.

I've been talking about this same phenomenon for a few years, including in my plenary session at Computers and Writing 2006, but I've tried to differentiate between the panopticon and what I've called the agora, the state in which anyone can review anyone else's actions. Note that some people are embracing the idea of reunifying the diverse factors of their online identities through things such as lifestreams, and these include things more intrusive and personal than what you might find in Google searches: software usage through Wakoopa, music choices through, browsing through Clutzr. That is, a segment of the online population does not fear the consequences of archiving knowledge, they actively seek and embrace it as a way of textualizing and preserving their identities. They don't want the sort of forgetting that Mayer-Schönberger describes. They want the ability to create what Latour calls "oligopticons," narrow but detailed views of specific experiences that are open to multiple people.

The panopticon is an easy metaphor here, but it is not the appropriate metaphor.

With that in mind, Mayer-Schönberger's solution seems hamfisted:

In contrast to omnibus data protection legislation, Mayer-Schönberger proposes a combination of law and software to ensure that most data is "forgotten" by default. A law would decree that "those who create software that collects and stores data build into their code not only the ability to forget with time, but make such forgetting the default." Essentially, this means that all collected data is tagged with a new piece of metadata that defines when the information should expire.

The law -- especially the kind of law proposed here -- is too much of a blunt instrument here. On the one hand, this is not going to be perceived as a benefit to those lifestreamers and others who have embraced the notion of the oligopticon. Yes, it provides an opt-out clause for those who want to preserve their data, but it assumes that the default should be forgetting -- which is an assumption I would question, especially after reviewing the lifestreaming literature.

On the other hand, the law is almost guaranteed not to work well. It overlays the already considerable requirements on service providers with other requirements that could be difficult to interpret and implement. It imposes an additional burden on service providers operating lawfully in countries that have embraced this law. It does nothing to address countries that have not embraced the law.

My prediction: This notion may gain some traction, but not for long. It will be fought by most of the industry and opposed, at least passively, by a significant minority of users located in democracies. Instead, people in democracies will develop new strategies to manage their online personalities, perhaps becoming "politicians," perhaps developing plausible deniability. Those unfortunate enough to live in totalitarian countries will have to develop alternate strategies for navigating this landscape.

Escaping the data panopticon: Prof says computers must learn to "forget"

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

The warrants have changed

That's the gist of Ann Althouse's recent blog post on the so-called "CSI effect," in which juries are demanding more scientific evidence from prosecutors.

Althouse: Don't call it the "C.S.I. effect" and complain. Call it the "tech effect" and adapt.

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Austin wifi

Austin's a great place for wifi -- I remember driving past the Dairy Queen on Burnet once and noting that the marquis advertised free wifi. Now it's even better, with a big chunk of East Austin covered:

“The expansion of the Austin Outdoor Wireless Mesh Project is yet another example of using technology to improve the quality of life for our residents,” said Mayor Will Wynn. “This outdoor wireless network will provide a benefit to our citizens by providing greater access to the Internet and to our city by helping to attract and retain businesses and promote tourism.”

Austinist: A Chicken in Every Pot and Your Gmail on Every Block

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Custom tracks on Guitar Hero II

You knew it had to happen. GH2's songs are not as strong as the original GH's -- my theory is that they had to select songs that also had relatively complex bass lines so that the game was worthwhile in two-player mode. In any case, it's quite probable that some of your favorite artists aren't in either game. Where's the Led Zeppelin, the Bob Wills, the Skinny Puppy? Not there, my friend.

But there's at least a chance that you'll get some of these authors on your GH2, courtesy of a complex hack. The poster remarks:

If there's anything more metal than breaking multiple copyright laws at the same time, I've yet to see it in my lifetime.

Totally metal hack allows custom Guitar Hero II songs :: DESTRUCTOID :: Hardcore video game blog

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Five publishing opportunities re writing and technology

Many of you are probably wondering: after I submit a paper on computers and writing for SIGDOC, what next? How can I develop those ideas into a journal article?

There are at least four special issues in related areas:
With those opportunities for publishing on writing and technology, you have a pretty good shot at publication. So submit something!

Google Reader for the Wii

Maybe I'll get my news from the TV after all.

» Google launches Google Reader for the Wii | Googling Google |

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007


ShareOffice is yet another Web 2.0 based office suite, with the additional wrinkle that it is "the world's first open standards online office suite."

ShareOffice Launches - Open Standards Based Web Office Suite

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The British are like me

... since they apparently prefer text messages to voice calls. This article also claims that they have 120% mobile phone subscriber penetration. And "We have been observing that the American SMS usage per cellphone subscriber mirrors almost exactly the UK numbers with a 4 year lag, so this is a very likely future scenario for the American market for example."

The mobile phone market is where we can expect to see the most market penetration of technology and connectivity, so I expect a continuation of the sharp trend of Internet-SMS integration and new innovations in the mobile/small device arena. Including writing innovations.

Communities Dominate Brands: UK replacing voice calls with SMS text messages

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Making persuasive arguments about user-centered design

Is the Return on Investment argument not enough to persuade people to change the user interface? This article ties UI changes to rhetoric and (Toulmin) argumentation.

When ROI Isn’t Enough: Making Persuasive Cases for User-Centered Design :: UXmatters

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ThinkFree encroaches in Scribd's territory

ThinkFree, one of the Web 2.0 word processors that (along with others such as Zoho Office and Google Docs) are competing in the collaborative word processing market, has introduced community features that turn it into the "Flickr of documents." Of course, there is already a service that aspires to be the Flickr of documents: Scribd. But ThinkFree allows you to create the documents, not just show them. ThinkFree also steals a march on Google Docs and other competitors, which do not offer a public face or public tagging a la Flickr. All in all, an interesting development.

ThinkFree to Add Flickr Style Community Features

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Using apostrophes

A potentially useful page for teaching students about this (apparently) difficult to use punctuation mark. But I really have to point out that the story linking to this resource contains another common error:
I think we could start calling it the newspapers’ apostrophe [note correct use of apostrophe] because of the amount of errors print editors seem to glance over.

How To Correctly Use Apostrophes -

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Gossip in a distributed workplace

It's hard to gossip at work when you're no longer colocated with your fellow workers! Enter Corporate Gossip 2.0

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