Libraries, Digital Advertising, and the Machine Zone

Librarians are an underused, underpaid, and underestimated legion. And one librarian in particular is frustrated by e-book lending. Not just the fact that libraries have to maintain waitlists for access to a digital file, but also that the barriers to checking out an ebook are unnecessarily high. As she puts it,

“Teaching people about having technology serve them includes helping them learn to assess and evaluate risk for themselves.”

In her view,

“Information workers need to be willing to step up and be more honest about how technology really works and not silently carry water for bad systems. People trust us to tell them the truth.”

That seems like the least that can be expected by library patrons.

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Hobby Lobby, Facebook, and SPORTS

This week’s super important great big news:

The Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby and other private, closely-held companies can use religious belief as a reason to deny coverage of certain contraceptives for employees.

Here is the decision described in plain english by SCOTUSBlog: “The families that own Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties are deeply religious and do not want to make four of those twenty kinds of birth control – IUDs and the “morning after” pill — available to their female employees because they believe that it would make them complicit in abortion.  Today the Court agreed that they don’t have to.”

Here are some quotes from Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent, which starts on page 60 of the PDF of the Supreme Court decision linked above.

For a personal reaction, The Hairpin has republished a great personal essay/history about the importance of bodily autonomy for women.

The New Yorker calls on history to identify the Hobby Lobby case (and the Harris case, about required union contributions) as the latest representation of a trend the Supreme Court has been following for years:
“in confronting a politically charged issue, the court first decides a case in a “narrow” way, but then uses that decision as a precedent to move in a more dramatic, conservative direction in a subsequent case.”

An additional New Yorker article does a great job of addressing these potential threats in further depth:
“Women’s health is treated as something troublesome—less like other kinds of health care, which a company should be asked to pay for, than as a burden for those who have to contemplate it. That is bad enough. But the Hobby Lobby decision is even worse.”

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Masculinity, AIM, Ads, and Cops

Here’s what was important this week…

I treated myself to ice cream last night (from the freezer, not a lonely ice cream shop date with myself) and it was delicious. While I gained weight from starting an office job after college, I still have the privilege of avoiding most body policing placed on women.

However, men suffer their own share of body policing. In Hollywood, this manifests itself as an obsession with fit bodies, and fitness. Mens Journal examines the issue, speaking mostly to trainers and talking about the pressure for actors to get “fit” in order to land coveted roles. It’s so important to the industry that:

“There are dozens of hormone-replacement clinics in and around Hollywood, and their business is booming. But there are significant risks: Hormone therapy accelerates all cell growth, whether healthy or malignant, and can encourage existing cancers, especially prostate cancers, to metastasize at terrifying rates. Testosterone supplements can lower sperm counts. For many, the risk is worth it.”

Fitness is just one aspect of a narrow set of masculinity standards imposed on men. For many men, high school is one of the more painful places that these standards are enforced. Well-documented in this great book by sociologist C.J. Pascoe, an essay in The Walrus gets to the heart of many of the standards. A new sex ed program in some Canadian schools works on teaching these high school boys not only aspects about sex that are often glossed over in traditional sex ed courses, it also focuses on relationships, gender identity and expression, and explores these things in a safe space. Importantly,

“Teaching young men to trust, communicate, negotiate, and empathize does not undermine or threaten their manliness. It expands their humanity. It reclaims men’s possibilities.”

Something else that helps men reclaim their possibilities is by supporting women, becoming advocates for them in the workplace, being feminists… Shanley, a writer on diversity in tech, wrote an essay about what men can do to help women if they are in a position of power (in her case, speaking directly to white men in tech). It’s a bit profanity-laden and not completely generalizable, but makes some great points.

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The Evolution of Music Listening

Pitchfork recently published a great longform essay on music streaming. It covered the past, history, and present of music streaming, and brought up a lot of great points. These are my reactions.

The piece discussed how “the “omnivore” is the new model for the music connoisseur, and one’s diversity of listening across the high/low spectrum is now seen as the social signal of refined taste.” It would be interesting to study how this omnivority splits across genres, age groups, and affinities. I find myself personally falling into omnivore status, as I am never able to properly define my music taste according to genre, and my musical affinities shift daily, weekly, monthly, with common themes.

Also discussed is the cost of music, whether it be licensing, royalties, or record label advances. Having to deal with the cost of music is a difficult matter. I wonder if I would have been such a voracious consumer of music if I hadn’t grown up with so many free options with the library, the radio, and later, music blogs. Now that I’m older, I make the effort to purchase music when I feel the artist deserves it, but as I distance myself (incidentally, really) from storing music on my computer, that effort becomes less important to expend.

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Identity on the Internet

Anonymity is valuable to the structure of the Internet, but as the identity of a person becomes fluid, the reputations and identifiability of someone’s online presence becomes increasingly valuable. While jobs rely on user-submitted references, as do academic applications, many also turn to your social media presence or to your search results to gauge reputation. Privacy by obscurity, as records are digitized and indexed, is no longer as viable. But, there is no consistent form of identification across the web. Each service relies on its own username as identifier, with character limits abound, and your ability to hold the same username across services relies on both the uniqueness of your username as well as the date you joined the online service. But are usernames outdated? A self-selected identifier, varying from service to service and format to format? As Mat Honan puts it, ““One of the best things about the online world is how it lets us be whoever we want to be. We shouldn’t have to sacrifice that just because someone else got there first.”

The advantage of a username is that, at least within a service, it “refers unambiguously to a particular person”. That works fine if you know the username of the person, but often you may only know their name. Luckily, with services like Facebook, a person’s unique identifier is their name, provided they haven’t pseudonymized it. Once you have connected with that person, you expect (within the relevant online service) when you type in their name, you will be returned with precisely the person you were expecting to find. The difficulty with this system is finding out the username of another person, and confirming that the person with their name online is really the person you’re looking for.

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Bitcoin, Security, and Photography

nananananananananananana BITCOINNNN

I had to talk about it eventually, and Thursday’s news was a good impetus. Newsweek had a big “scoop” potentially unmasking the founder of Bitcoin. The magazine saved this story for the cover of their return-to-print issue. The story features stalking masquerading as investigative journalism, as the author tracked down this man through national records, then tracked his interests to a model train forum, where she emailed him purporting to be interested in trains, then began asking about Bitcoin (at which point he stopped responding).
Then she tracked down his home and family members, and interviewed them extensively about the man and itcoin. She finally paid him a visit at his home, and instead of answering the door he called the cops. This surprised her. Read the article in full, if you’d like to know more about the lengths some people will go to find people who don’t want to be found (and who haven’t done anything wrong).(After some sushi and a car chase the man himself claims he is not involved with Bitcoin).

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Protest and Media

Here’s what was important this week…

Are women being infantilized or endangered in the Olympics?

Also, the Olympic medal count gets more interesting depending on whether you look at it in terms of total medalsnumber of gold medals, or medals per capita.

In world news, protests in Ukraine that have been going on for a few months have escalated as the government ramps up its violent response. Just today (overnight for us in the US time zone) a deal was signed between the government and the protestors. Hopefully it will hold. That article (CNN) provides a good overview of the violence, but essentially the protests started as the government aligned itself with Russia, while many citizens wished for more of an EU alignment. Photos (some graphic) of the violence were collected yesterday by In Focus, and the New Yorker is wondering if this protest is the final straw: Will Ukraine Break Apart?Like many of the protests in recent years, the protests have been named somewhat with the square in which they’re occurring. Tahrir, Zucotti, Gezi, and now the Ukrainian protests, combining the word for “square” and the crux of the protests, european integration, to make euromaidan. You can watch four simultaneous live feeds of the park if you like. (The current president of Ukraine also ran for president in 2004 and was “elected” but forced to concede to his opponent after accusations of electoral fraud. One of those protesting the election results also happened to be the sign language interpreter for the state run news channel.)

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Identity, amplification, and ownership on the Internet

Here’s what was important this week…

Facebook now allows you to choose a “custom” gender option and fill in your own gender on your profile–to a point. Rather than being a free-text field, Facebook instead offers options which autocomplete. Slate went through the effort of tabulating all 58 of them. Facebook is likely avoiding a free-text field because it wants to avoid trolling, but more likely they want to maintain the purity of their data about users.

One issue with Facebook (and in my opinion, this could be extended to many other social networks) is that it requires code switching. Code switching, typically associated with race and ethnicity, is even featured in an NPR blog devoted to the topic, which is introduced with this article. As the first essay mentioned, “Facebook’s design—really, the design of public and semi-private virtual interaction spaces on the web—is starting to feel like it’s reached its past-due date.” While I think there is a future for social media, the act and necessity of code switching is a tiring one.

As more media show up, we’re finding different ways to interact on each one and access different groups through our social media channels–ideally, we’d only need to code switch if we app switched. Personally, I’ve found my Facebook interactions have transformed since I started using the service–I primarily interact with a few specific friends on their walls/timelines, engage more broadly with a few Facebook groups, and the content that I share most broadly (primarily links) still excludes some friends.

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What is Old is New Again

Facebook has named its new app offering, which debuted today, “Paper”. As Lev Manovich points out, this naming signifies that “Old media metaphors are not going away” In fact, old media themselves aren’t going away.

Nowadays, fears that e-books and mp3s will dominate the reading and listening landscapes are all over the media. These fears seem somewhat cyclical, with the same old complaints cropping up decade after decade, as documented by the NYTimes more than once, Tom Standage in Wired, and XKCD, among others. Fear of the new manifests itself as dismissal of the digital, or whatever new technology has come to the fore.

Research has proven that not only do books have some staying power, old forms of music media are regaining popularity as well. Millenials are buying more books than other generations, and vinyl records are making a comeback. Cassette tapes, even, have found a resurgence.

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What would I say?

made an effort to the most obnoxious article

What would I say? Something you think when posting on social media sites, when offering up your opinion about something in the news, and now, the name of an app that emerged from HackPrinceton just a few days ago.

So popular the server intermittently goes down, forcing you to access a cached copy of the site or not be able to post automatically to facebook (instead screenshotting the page to share), it was created by Pawel, Vicky, Ugne, Daniel, Harvey, Edward, Alex, and Baxter. However, they didn’t win anything there (per HackPrinceton’s Facebook event).  But now their creation has gone viral. Their creation has been profiled on the Huffington Post, with an article titled, “Your Facebook Statuses are Gibberish. Here’s Proof.“, as well as Slate and BusinessInsider. Even the New Yorker has profiled the app (revealing that Baxter, is in fact, a dog).

But what is so appealing about this app? Friends and I have already used the app, and we’ve all been delighted to discover something that nonsensically “understands” us, by spitting our own words back at us. Others have had the same reaction, posting about it with #wwis or #whatwouldisay, noting how the robot just “gets” them.

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