June 2003 Archives

geek humor

You know you're really a geek when this Clay Shirky line makes you laugh:

If you thought that all that was wrong with RSS 1.0 is that RDF didn't make it confusing enough, attach the twin boat-anchors of OWL and the Semantic Web to Echo and see what happens.

From Sam Ruby's wiki on the emerging Echo RSS replacement project. (And yes, I know that just reading that wiki is enough to push me way too high on the geek-o-meter.)

woohoo! i'm official!

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NSF Award Abstract - #0305973
ITWF: Understanding Gendered Attrition in Departments of Information Technology

And as my husband points out, the only thing better than seeing your name in an official NSF award notice is seeing it while you listen to Allison Krauss singing on Austin City Limits. Damn, that woman can sing. (Oh, man. That's going to trigger the filtering software again, isn't it?)

blogs worth re-reading

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Most blogs I read lightly. The list of blogs I find interesting is so long that I skim them, looking for nuggets of information and entertainment. Blogs tend to lend themselves to that sort of light reading--skipping from post to post (images of video games come to mind, complete with picking up useful items and "content points" along the way).

But every now and then, I stop short on a blog post, forced into a deeper level of reading and consideration than I expect. I tend to go back to the posts to read them again, trying to understand why they interrupted my breezy progress through the 'roll.

Timothy Burke's post "Living in a Historical Time" was one of those. Here's a bit from the end:

Some things cannot be cured, and must be endured. Or if not just endured, instead changed for the better and faced with responsibility and a principled understanding of what the limits and possibilities of action are. We can know, learn and grow in wisdom, and even fight back against the burdens of our time, looking for and making the miracle of progress in a world that has ceased to believe in it. But grief is grief. It is right and just that we feel loss from which there is no restoration. I can raise my daughter, and try to move back from grief. I can try to find again my sense of joy in the world and reconnect to friends and life. My father is dead and will always be, and everything that depended on the changing possibilities of his life in the world is gone. A ruin is broken stone and scattered metal forever, no matter what gets built on it later.

That's why I don't take Burke off my blogroll, despite the fact that he doesn't ping when he updates, doesn't update often enough, and doesn't allow comments. :)

speaking at supernova

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Looks like I'm going to be part of a wrap-up panel at Supernova next month, along with Anil Dash and Dan Gillmor. Ack. A-list bloggers. And me. Kinda scary. :)

Kudos to Kevin Werbach, who's made a serious effort to include women's voices in his conference program.

banned blogs

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Last night, after working out, I went out for a beer with my friends Weez and Cathy. We were standing in the front hallway of The Distillery, waiting for a table on the patio, when I noticed the "free Internet" kiosk. To kill time, I tried pulling up my blog to see if there were new comments.

Instead of my blog, however, I got a dialog box that said "Access to this site has been restricted at the request of this organization." Hmmm. Tried my main page--no problem. But the blog had been banned.

By whom? Wrong question. Not a person, but the filtering software that the bar was using. I'm guessing it was the "Shut the F*** Up" reference from Tuesday's post that triggered the filter, but there's really no way to be sure, since filtering companies won't tell you what their algorithm for restriction is based upon.

This is particularly worthy of note given Monday's Supreme Court decision to uphold the CIPA (Children's Internet Protection Act). The CIPA "forbids public libraries to receive federal assistance for Internet access unless they install software to block obscene or pornographic images and to prevent minors from accessing material harmful to them."

One of the reasons that libraries were among the most vocal critics of the CIPA is that filtering software is notorious for its "false positives"--web sites with valid constitutionally protected speech that it mistakenly bans.

A real person evaluating my blog for suitability in a library setting would probably not choose to ban it based on the context in which the suspect word was used. But filtering software isn't that smart, and as a result, someone in a public library looking for information on my grant research, or the ala programs I attended, is out of luck. (My husband, reading over my shoulder, says "And rightfully so!" ;)

I think I'll take a little trip to the public library next week and see how many of the blogs on my blogroll are also blocked by filtering software. Scary stuff, isn't it?

supernova/blogger party in dc

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The Supernova conference is fast approaching (just made my plane reservations! yay!), and so is Joi's party. The party's not just for Supernova attendees, however. It's open invitation to bloggers generally, and I'm surprised to see the (relatively) short list of attendees on Joi's wiki.

(Well, maybe less surprised than I would be if I didn't have such a bad attitude about wikis... )

At any rate, if you're in or close to the DC area on Monday July 7th, I hope you'll come to the party. Just add yourself to the list!

ala conference: top tech trends panel

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For the past several years, I've been mostly an in-name-only member of the Library & Information Technology Association's "Top Technology Trend Experts." Since I was actually at ALA this year, however, I participated in the panel discussion. The first time I did this, 4-5 years ago, it was a lot like a committee meeting, and there were more experts in the meeting room than audience members. This year, however, we filled our 300-person meeting room in the convention center, then opened the panels to the room next door and filled it, as well. Guess people are hungry for information on new technologies!

As predicted, there was no wifi to be found, so I didn't bother bringing my computer. Instead, I took notes the old-fashioned way, on tiny pads of paper stolen from hotel meeting rooms.

a radical process

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I'm back from Toronto, and about to retrospectively blog some of the best sessions. But before I do, as a followup to my "women's voices" post (which, as I predicted, has far more men's voices than women's), I'd like to thank xian for pointing me to Dan Spalding's "An open letter to other men in the movement: Shut the Fuck Up (or, How to act better in meetings)."

This essay is about how men act in meetings. Mostly it's about how we act badly, but it includes suggestions on how we can do better. Men in the movement reproduce patriarchy within the movement and benefit from it. By patriarchy I mean a system of values, behaviors, and relationships that keeps men in power. It relies on domination, claiming authority, and belligerence.

[...]

What's to be done? I've come up with a little idea I like to call, "Shut the fuck up." It goes as follows: Every time someone...

  • Says something you think is irrelevant,
  • Asks a (seemingly) obvious question,
  • Criticizes your proposal or makes a contradictory observation,
  • Makes a proposal
  • Asks a question, or
  • Asks for more input because there's a brief lull in the discussion. . .
Shut the fuck up. It's a radical process, but I think you'll like it.

Along those lines, I'd like to thank all the men who didn't post a response to "women's voices"--including those who sent me private notes of support. :) You guys rock. Thanks for listening.

ala conference: govt info tech

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A colleague and I have been talking recently with people at the US Government Printing Office (GPO) about using technologies like XML, XSLT, and OpenURL to enhance archiving of and access to government publications. That's why I had several govt document related meetings on my ALA schedule.

The GITCO meeting included a discussion led by the GPO Superintendent of documents, Judy Russell, on the growing problem of "aging and aged" CD-ROM products. While this includes aging media, the larger problem is aging software. Many (if not most) early CDROM products used proprietary disc-based software to provide access to data (like dBase, for example). But as OS environments evolve, these programs stop working. Emulation of older OS's is a short-term solution, but that doesn't scale or endure well.

Clearly, the current move towards separation of content (data) and presentation (software/access) in publishing will help to prevent this in the future. But the problem of what to do with what's already out there is a big one.

women's voices

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Yesterday before I left for ALA in Toronto, I went to the awards ceremony at my kids' elementary school. I stood in the "cafetorium" (the combined cafeteria and auditorium) watching smiling kids go up to collect their reading certificates, safety patrols standing to be recognized, and my son Lane receiving a prize for his "honorable mention" in the Toshiba Exploravision contest.

As I looked around the room at the happy children, proud parents, and last-day-of-school-relaxed teachers, I blinked back tears of gratitude. I take the safe, comfortable world that my family and I live in so much for granted on a day-to-day basis. It's seldom that I can step outside of that world and see it as the privilege and gift that it is.

That's true for all of us, I think. There are certain privileges that most of the people reading this post have grown up with, and over time we become blind to how lucky we are. Often when we encounter people who don't have what we have (intelligence, education, enough money to survive on) it makes us uncomfortable or angry. "It must be your own fault," we think, "because if I could do it, you could do it. You just need to try harder."

But what the privileged often don't understand is how much the deck is stacked in their favor. Money, is an obvious example. Sure, a kid with limited financial resources can go to college. But s/he has to work a lot harder to get there--just the application process alone for financial aid is a daunting process. And once they're there, they're the ones holding down two or more part-time jobs, constantly doing calculations in their head as to whether they can afford that book--or that beer. It change the entire experience by adding a layer of stress that financially well-off students never have to deal with.

Beyond the obvious factors like money, however, are the more insidious privileges. For example, the privilege of being in the majority. Of never feeling like you're being expected to speak "for your group," of never feeling as though everything you do is being scrutinized more carefully because you stand out, you're different. To be able to be anonymous, or to know--without having to analyze it--that you're accepted in a community.

Every time someone like Shelley, or me, posts about our frustrations with trying to participate in white-male-dominated technical contexts, a whole bunch of white males immediately point out to us that of course it's not about gender. Of course women are treated exactly the same as men in this brave new gender-blind internet world. And if they aren't, it's clearly their own fault. They aren't trying hard enough to get along, they're not "team players," they don't "play well with others."

Along those lines, I fully expect that 90% of the comments I get to this post will come from white men, most of whom will want to tell me just how hard they had it, how their dominant status never bought them anything, how women and men face the same challenges, the same problems, yada yada yada. I'm not accusing those men of lies or hypocrisy. I believe that many of them are genuinely committed to gender equality, and that they believe that they're "gender blind" in their interactions with others. But like me taking my safe, suburban school for granted, they're taking their male-dominated work environments for granted.

Don't agree? Before you argue with me, I highly recommend reading Peggy McIntosh's essay "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack." Here's an excerpt:

To redesign social systems we need first to acknowledge their colossal unseen dimensions. The silences and denials surrounding privilege are the key political tool here. They keep the thinking about equality or equity incomplete, protecting unearned advantage and conferred dominance by making these taboo subjects. Most talk by whites about equal opportunity seems to be now to be about equal opportunity to try to get into a position of dominance while denying that systems of dominance exist. It seems to me that obliviousness about white advantage, like obliviousness about male advantage, is kept strongly inculturated in the United States so as to maintain the myth of meritocracy, the myth that democratic choice is equally available to all. Keeping most people unaware that freedom of confident action is there for just a small number of people props up those in power, and serves to keep power in the hands of the same groups that have most of it already.

I spend a lot of time watching the conversations that are taking place these days in weblogging, social software, and other technology contexts. Yes, there are a few women involved in the conferences and meetings. But their voices aren't the ones we usually hear about from the men. To be heard--to really be heard--a woman has to break the rules. She has to be outrageous. Halley does it by throwing in a little sex. Shelley does it by throwing in a little ass-kicking. Only when they do this do people stop and really pay attention.

Yes, sometimes Halley's heavy emphasis on sexuality makes me uncomfortable. Yes, sometimes Shelley can be prickly and difficult. But I cannot overstate my admiration for both of these women...for their willingness to break rules, to take big chances, to shout out loud enough to be heard. That's exhausting work. Risky, too...because, as Shelley in particular has found on numerous occasions, when you break the rules, you make people feel uncomfortable. And when they feel uncomfortable, most of them will push you away and/or shut you out.

So what's a woman to do? Play by the rules, and hope that she'll stumble into a place at the table with the guys? Make some noise to get noticed, and hope that she won't be blacklisted in the process?

I'm particularly interested in hearing from women with strong voices out there in the technology landscape. I know there are a few of you out there. (Not nearly enough of you, but a few.) What worked for you? What do you wish you'd known earlier? What do you think women should be doing to start getting their voices heard more clearly in technical discussions?

live from toronto

Moblogging on my Sidekick from the ALA conference. No WiFi to be found outside of coffeeshops, alas. Will probably switch to offline notetaking for sessions, since I hate thumb-typing.

Nearly done with my latest women and tech rant. Will post it later today.

multiple dimension described

Weez has posted her "nerd word" for an upcoming taping of her radio show What The Tech! The word (well, phrase) is "multiple dimensions," and she does a lovely job of providing a non-nerd's version of this complex space-time continuum concept.

(Something about upcoming trips seems to throw me into link-and-comment mode, it seems...)

writing on/by women

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Halley on women and weblogging:

Although the three women on the cover of Time Magazine were not bloggers, the women using blogging tools are doing a variation on daily whistle-blowing as they blog. They are using weblogs to tell their truth. Much of their truth has been silenced and not allowed to appear in main stream press which is dominated by men. I honestly don't believe this is any conspiracy by men, but rather a shocking disconnect from the reality men live in and the reality women live in. Weblogs are not controlled or controllable by any one group. Weblogs are a no-barriers-to-entry publishing phenomenon. Weblogs are giving women a publishing platform unparalleled in history. Women are not self-editing their voices out of existence. With weblogs, women are telling their truth without even noticing. Weblogs are creating a level-playing field for women.

Read the whole thing.

Will post more thoughts on this (and on Shelley's frustration with the level of discourse on technical mailing lists, and Janet's comment on my "women and social software" post, and recent social software gatherings, and more) after I get to Toronto tomorrow.

ala plans

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For my use more than my readers', here are my plans for the upcoming ALA conference. (Makes more sense to put it in the blog where I can quickly get to it than to put it on my desktop in yet another text file.)

Saturday, 6/21, 9:30am-12:30pm (Sheraton - Essex)
AGIIG/GODORT Update
How is federal government information reaching the public in the 21st Century?

Saturday, 6/21, 2-5:30pm (Hilton - Tom Thomson)
Federal Documents Task Force Meeting
U.S. Government Printing Office Update with Sheila McGarr, Tad Downing and others, followed by a Census Bureau briefing from Andrea Sevetson. Also: a progress report from the FDTF work group on Permanent Public Access to Government Information and a final hour of discussion on hot topics of the day, including Canadian partnerships and future FDTF activism.

Sunday, 6/22, 2-5:30pm (Marriott Courtyard - Courtyard A)
Gov't Information Technology Committee
GITCO will discussing ongoing projects such as the Census 2000 Toolbox, the "Tech Watch" column, and e-competencies. There will also be a Census update and discussion of future projects.

Sunday, 6/22, 4-5:30pm (MTCC-801B)
Top Technology Trends: A Conversation with LITA Experts
LITA experts discuss current and future top technology trends Panel moderated by David Ward.

Monday, 6/23, 8:30-10am (MTCC-Auditorium)
Cliff's Notes 2003
Clifford Lynch, Director of the Coalition for Networked Information, will highlight technology and information policy trends and developments from his unique point of view.

Monday, 6/23, 10:30-12 (MARB-Forest Hill BR)
The Library as Electronic Publisher: New Models of Dissemination of Scholarship
Many libraries are involved in digital publicaton projects that will help scholars independently disseminate knowledge. These projects rely on sophisticated software and systems architecture as well as the strategic positioning of libraries in the publication process. This program will describe the technological implementation and management of library scholarly publishing programs and demonstrate the challenges and opportunities of different approaches.

more on gossip

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Not everyone agrees with my post in defense of gossip. But I suspect it's as much an issue of unclear definitions as it is differing perspectives.

Let me be clear--when I say "gossip," I mean it in the broad sense of "discussion about other people." Not lies, not innuendo, not (necessarily) trash talk.

If I say to you "Hey, I just found out that Bob got a big NSF grant!"--that's gossip. If I say "It's been over a week since our usually compulsive next-door neighbor cut his grass--I wonder if he's sick," that's gossip, too. So is "Elouise sure looks good...I heard she and Liz are working out regularly at the gym."

Last night, I noticed Howard Rheingold's Smart Mobs on the bookshelf next to the bed, and I had the clever idea of looking in its index for the term "gossip." There it was. Pages 128-130, in the chapter entitled "The Evolution of Reputation." Makes sense, doesn't it?

Rheingold talks about gossip in the context of economic theory games like "The Ultimatum Game":
The Ultimatum Game takes place between two players who play it once and never again. The players can share the sum of money, but only if they agree on a split. A coin flip gives one player the option of determining how much of the total to keep, and how much to offer the other player. The other player, the "responder," can accept the deal and the money is split as proposed, or the second player can reject the deal and neither player gets any money. The result that is not surprising to people who value fairness but puzzles those who see humans as rational creatures who act in their own self-interest is that two-thirds of the experimental subjects offer between $40 and $50 out of $100 total. Only four in in one hundred people offer less than 20 percent, and more than half of the responders reject offers smaller than 20 percent of the total.

What's the relationship to gossip? Read on ...

Why would anyone turn down 20 percent of something in exchange for nothing? Martin A. Nowak, Karl Sigmund, and Karen M. Page of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton propose an evolutionary model. Emotions evolved over millions of years of living in small groups. In such groups, gossip distributed information about who accepts unfair treatment and who resists it passioately. If others learn that an individual is willing to meekly settle for smaller than their fair share, they are likely to make lower offers to that individual in the future. [ ... ] Reputation for being a sucker is costly.

(Several of my colleagues at RIT may see some relevance in those last two lines.)

As the chapter continues, there's more discussion that I think is relevant to what I'm defining as gossip. Rheingold goes on to talk about the role of self-monitoring in defining and maintaining communities, and he quotes sociologist Marc Smith (the first social scientist I'm aware of who did significant study into participant behavior on Usenet):

Effective self-regulation relies upon sanctioning, which relies upon monitoring. If it is difficult to identify either the largest contributors or the most egregious free riders, sanctioning, whether in the form of reward or punishment, cannot function effectively. [... W]ithout the background of a social network of general awareness among neighbors, most neighborhoods become more dangerous and shabby.

I think all of that applies in the context of a work community. We use office gossip to self-monitor, to apply (informal) sanctions to those who violate norms, to reward those who exceed expectations.

Does this mean gossip is never mean-spirited, that it's never based on lies and innuendo and unsubstantiated rumors? No. But my definition of gossip is broader than that. And to dismiss gossip as a "bad thing" because it is sometimes used in bad ways seems to be a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

(So, Tom...yes, perhaps I was dismissive. But it's not because your blog is on LiveJournal. :) It's because you made some pretty strong comments of your own, dismissing gossip--and gossipers--as mean-spirited petty power-grabbers, and I thought that was a very simplistic view. )

happy fa(lls)ther's day

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fallthersday.jpgWe've lived in Rochester for six years now. But until today, we hadn't made the 90-minute trip to Niagara Falls so that Gerald (and the boys) could see our local "wonder of the world."

So today we packed everyone up in the car, and headed east west. It was a glorious day--70s and sunny. Traffic wasn't bad at all, parking was easy to find near the park (the oldest state park in the US...betcha didn't know that!), and we had a wonderful afternoon.

I grew up in Buffalo, so I've been to the falls on many occasions. But as with anything you grow up with, I took it for granted. I hadn't actually been there in at least 15 years, so it was a wonderful trip for me, as well.

So, happy father's day to all the dads out there reading this. Hope you had a great day, as well!

library weblog links

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I'm going to use this post to aggregate links to some library-related weblogs that I'll be talking about at ALA next weekend. Unlike most of my posts, this one will be regularly edited/updated, rather than static--at least until the conference. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list...for that, try the DMOZ list of LIS Blogs, which had 224 listed at last count. Also, links are in no particular order, at present. (That may change.)


The Shifted Librarian (Jenny Levine)

The ∏ber-librarian of blogaria, Jenny Levine is the only "A-List" librarian blogger I know of. She works for the Suburban Library Service outside of Chicago, and blogs about a variety of library and library-tech topics.

Librarian.net (Jessamyn West)

She says she's a "non-librarian" now, but I'm firmly convinced that once you're a librarian, you're always a librarian. "Non-practicing librarian" might be a better description. :) Jessamyn writes about librarianship, though. And she mentions my old LITA friend Karen Schneider in her blog, which makes her okay by me!

Commons-blog (ALA)

From the description: "commons-blog is an American Library Association site collecting news, discussion, and commentary related to the information commons in theory and practice."

The Rogue Librarian (Carrie Bickner)

Assistant Director for Digital Information and System Design at NYPL's Digital Library. Bickner is also active in the web standards arena, working regularly with the infamous Zeldman, and writing for publications ranging from Library Journal to A List Apart.

library tech trends

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The annual American Library Association (ALA) conference is coming up next week, and for the first time in too long I'll be attending. An old friend will be the new president of my "home" division of ALA, the Library and Information Technology Association (LITA), and that alone is reason enough to go. (Of course, spending lots of time with good friends and good wine is a nontrivial consideration, as well.)

It's hard to believe it's been 16 years since I received my MLS from the University of Michigan and left for my first "real" job at the Library of Congress. It's been a wild ride since then. But my connections to friends from library school and my early days in LITA are still going strong.

I'll be speaking on Sunday at the Top Technology Trends program, where I get to talk about what I see on the horizon for libraries and librarians on the tech front. How can I not put blogs at or near the top of that list? And social software more broadly, as well. And the increasingly ubiquitous WiFi that enables the best blogging to take place--but which I suspect will be conspicuously lacking at the conference. (Ever since my buddies and lost control of providing Internet services at conferences, the level of innovation has dropped, and services in the "Internet Room" are about the same as they were nearly ten years ago...)

Librarians have always been early adopters of important communication technologies--from online databases to e-mail to gopher to the web, I got my first taste of just about everything technological that matters in library contexts, long before the rest of world was talking tech. My first book was on microcomputers in libraries, and my second book was also the second book written about the Internet.

But somehow in the years since I finished my doctoral program in LIS and took a job teaching IT, I've let my connection to the field become tenuous. And I'm looking forward to getting it back. I've agreed to serve on LITA's education committee for the upcoming year, in part because here at RIT we're starting to look at developing a digital library technology educational program (degree? certification? don't know) at RIT. It always feels good when the separate threads of your live start to weave together in a pattern that makes sense.

I'm encouraged to see librarians listed on Dave Winer's BloggerCon outline. Surprised not to see any librarian names in his "people to invite" list. Jenny Levine, obviously. What about Jessamyn West? Lou Rosenfeld? There are a few of us out there. And I hope to generate a little more library-world blogging interest while I'm there.

what do teachers make?

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Via Loren Webster, this wonderful poem by Taylor Mali:

What Teachers Make, or You can always go to law school if things don't work out

He says the problem with teachers is, "What's a kid going to learn
from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?"
He reminds the other dinner guests that it's true what they say about
teachers:
Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.

I decide to bite my tongue instead of his
and resist the temptation to remind the dinner guests
that it's also true what they say about lawyers.

Because we're eating, after all, and this is polite company.

"I mean, youπre a teacher, Taylor," he says.
"Be honest. What do you make?"

And I wish he hadn't done that
(asked me to be honest)
because, you see, I have a policy
about honesty and ass-kicking:
if you ask for it, I have to let you have it.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional medal of honor
and an A- feel like a slap in the face.
How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best.

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups.
No, you may not ask a question.
Why won't I let you get a drink of water?
Because you're not thirsty, you're bored, that's why.

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:
I hope I haven't called at a bad time,
I just wanted to talk to you about something Billy said today.
Billy said, "Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don't you?"
And it was the noblest act of courage I have ever seen.

I make parents see their children for who they are
and what they can be.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write.
I make them read, read, read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely
beautiful
over and over and over again until they will never misspell
either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math.
And hide it on their final drafts in English.
I make them understand that if you got this (brains)
then you follow this (heart) and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this (the finger).

Let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
I make a goddamn difference! What about you?

in defense of gossip

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My friend Weez has been writing about gossip this week (here, , here, and here) and in response, she's gotten some relatively predictable comments about gossip as a "bad" thing--and the people who indulge in it as "those kind of people."

So, as an inveterate workplace gossip, I felt some need to come to my own defense. And as a former research librarian, I turned immediately to "the literature." I wasn't surprised to find that gossip is a topic that's of great interest to researchers in a number of fields--sociology, psychology, anthropology, and organizational behavior.

(Most of what I found was in proprietary journal databases, rather than freely available on the web, so all I can do is cite and quote, rather than linking.)

The most interesting (to me) and accessible piece was a 1993 article entitled "News from behind my hand: Gossip in organizations," written by Mike Noon and Rick Delbridge, and published in Organization Studies.

Early in the article, Noon and Delbridge quote a 1961 article by J. Loudon entitled "Kinship and crisis in south Wales." (British Journal of Sociology 12: 333-350):

Gossip is undoubtedly the most important channel for constant reaffirmation of shared values about behaviour. Those who cannot join in gossip about their neighbours, friends and relatives...soon find themselves excluded from conversations at local gatherings.

That resonated with my sense of the role of gossip in the organizations I've been in--that in large part, it's about reaffirmation and development of shared values.

The bulk of the article's argument, however, was even more on target (probably since it was focused on "office" gossip). Here are some portions, interspersed with my comments.

For the individual, gossip can be a powerful tool. It provides a person with the opportunity to pass on information about key members of an organization, with the potential to influence opinions and attitudes. One's own position may be enhanced because one is seen as a gate-keeper of 'important' information, and because the gossip might seek to lower the prestige and standing of the 'victim' in relation to oneself as gossiper. In this sense, gossip may be related to careerism within organizations; gossip is a central feature of networking as one seeks self-promotion, information control and the denigration of competitors.

Yeah, that's probably part of it, much as I hate to admit it. This would be the part of my own gossiping behavior that I'm least proud of. I'd like to think that the power it generates is used for good, not for evil...and I'm relatively certain that many of my colleagues, for whom I've put that power to work, would agree. And my rationalization is that if I don't do it, someone with far less admirable goals and motivations will fill the power vacuum.

Alternatively, gossip might be the only means of influence available for those excluded from the formal power structure within the organization. Kanter (1977) notes the important 'power' positions of secretaries because of their access to information, which had the effect of opening up channels of communication across the organization which were otherwise closed. Moore (1962) suggests that the circumstance of knowledge without formal power creates a 'shadow' organization through which individuals can exert influence. This might undermine the formal hierarchy by denigrating those in positions of authority. Alternatively, it could provide social mobility/influence for individuals who might otherwise direct their energies to confronting and challenging the formal hierarchy, thus the structures of power are preserved, whilst the personnel is in a state of flux. Gossip can therefore help to perpetuate the organization by protecting it from direct challenge and attack.

Ah. Now, that sounds more like what's going on. Few of my colleagues would deny that we have both a formal hierarchy and a shadow organization, and that often more good is done by and with the latter than the former. Gossip, it seems, is the power tool of the untenured. I like that. :)

And finally...

More fundamentally for the individual, gossip can be fun. As with humour, gossip gives an escape from the monotonous drudgery many workers experience for hours on end during the working day. Whilst the effects of such 'lightening' factors as humour and gossip can be over-stated, so too can they be under-emphasized. As aspects of 'play', they may provide 'release' both from routine or stress. Elimination of gossip, were it possible, may therefore not only make employees' lives more boring, but might also give them greater opportunity to ponder the futility and overarching tedium they are often obliged to endure in their work tasks.

Now we're talkin' Yes, yes and yes!

So, yes, I'm a gossip. An unrepentant one, at that. But Weez is still my best friend, so clearly that characteric's not a deal-breaker. I'm glad. :)

help wanted: graduate research assistant

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Looks like we'll be receiving our notice of award from NSF in the next week or two, which means it's time to find the third member of our team--the graduate assistant. It's a two-year full-ride assistantship--full tuition for two years, and a $16,000 yearly stipend, in exchange for 20 hours/week of work on the project. It does not include summers, although summer money may also become available. (Keep in mind, too, that this is Rochester, NY, where the cost of living is very low compared to major metro areas.)

This is a two-year grant to study the experiences of women in undergraduate IT programs. Here's how we described it in the proposal abstract:

The proposed research will study the experiences of undergraduate women in departments of Information Technology (IT). Most research to date into women�s experiences in undergraduate computing programs has focused on Computer Science departments. IT programs have cast themselves as qualitatively different from traditional CS. It is unclear, however, whether women�s experiences in these programs are more positive than in CS, where retention of female students has been consistently problematic. This study will be done in two parts. The first will be a qualitative study of women entering the IT department at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) as freshmen. These women will be interviewed upon entrance into the program, at the end of their first quarter, and at the end of the academic year. Based on the information gained in that study, key factors related to women�s persistence or attrition will be identified. The second part of the study will be the development of a questionnaires for faculty and students intended to identify the presence and influence of those factors in academic departments. The questionnaire will then be administered at departments of IT across the US, in order to determine whether the factors identified at RIT are generalizable across institutions.

The qualitative methodology we'll be using in the first portion of the study is Brenda Dervin's Sense-Making, which is what I used in my dissertation research (on attrition in LIS doctoral programs).

What we're looking for in our "ideal" graduate assistant is someone who has a background in social science research, strong writing skills, and good interpersonal skills (to help with interviewing subjects). They'll also need to meet the admissions requirements for the MS IT program--which are not terribly stringent. (3.0 GPA, and basic programming and web skills, essentially.)

In addition to the opportunity to work with two very fun researchers (myself and Tona Henderson) on an interesting NSF grant (and associated publications), you'll get a top-notch technical education. The next two years will be exciting ones in our program as we begin to expand the range of course offerings and focus on targeted areas like game development and social software, and XML.

If you're interested, or know somebody who is, please contact me directly, at ell at mail dot rit dot edu.

summer blogs blooming

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Remember how it felt to be a kid at the end of the school year, free of constraints, summer stretching out in front of you like an endless open road? That feeling, my friends, is one of the reasons that so many of us put up with the vagaries and frustrations of the academy.

You can almost hear the chant beginning in the minds of the professoriate as we emerge, robed and grinning, from the commencement ceremonies. No more classes, no more books, no more students' dirty looks! (What, you thought we were more grownup than that? Ha! Ha HA!)

But once we've plowed through a few novels, taken in some movies, soaked up a little trash TV, and caught up on 9 months' worth of lost sleep, many of us start looking around for A Project. Something fun, but with tangible ROI. Something relaxing, but still challenging.

What better time to take up blogging? Apparently some of my colleagues agree. To wit, two of my best friends at RIT, Elouise Oyzon and Cathy Irving, have launched new blogs in recent weeks. With luck, they'll take root quickly and bloom during the summer months! Why not stop by, and extend an encouraging comment or two? Think of yourself as a blog gardener, pouring much needed water (or, depending on how you view your contributions, fertilizer...) on newly planted perennials.

server problems

Apologies to anyone who tried to post comments or send trackbacks yesterday. Our department moved the web server to a new machine, and all my cgi scripts stopped working. Every one of them began spitting out "Premature end of script headers" errors. Just my scripts, mind you, not anyone else's. And without any changes on my part. Don't you just love those kinds of maddening situations?

At any rate, our sysadmin made the extra effort to track down the problem last night, and things started working again around 8:30pm. What was it? Well, apparently with the redhat/apache combo we're now running, if your UID is lower than 500 no scripts will run.

On the plus side, this is the kind of thing that means our students will have job security for the foreseeable future.

honey, i'm home!

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Yes, those of you who've seen me hovering around in AIM--or noticed my recent post to Many-to-Many--have probably surmised correctly that I'm home again.

view.jpgWe had a truly lovely vacation. The Westin Our Lucaya was everything it promised to be. Compare the photo on the left, taken from the balcony of our room the day we arrived, to the one in the previous entry. A good portion of each day was spent sitting out on that balcony, enjoying the view, the sound of the surf, and the breeze off the ocean. (The phrase "Bahama Breeze" makes a lot more sense to me now. There's a constant cooling breeze that makes the heat and humidity much easier to bear, even if you're part polar bear like me.)

We had a really lovely time. Those of you with small children will appreciate how nice it is to have four completely child-free days. Add to that the fact that we brought no cell phones, and no computers, and you've got the recipe for uninterrupted bliss. (We did bring the camera, as evidenced by this entry. But we bough a bigger Flash card so we could store everything 'til we got home.) I did falter once, and briefly check my email on the third day at an internet cafe. But it was so depressing that it took several Goombay Smashes (gold rum, coconut rum, and pineapple juice) to clear my mind again, so I didn't make that mistake again.

So, what did we do? Sat on the beach. Played in the surf. Floated in the pool. Sat on the balcony. (I managed to start--and finish--Cryptonomicon on this trip. If you've seen the book, you know that means I had a lot of time to read.)

In addition to the time spent sitting on the balcony, we wandered around a lot at the Port Lucaya Marketplace, across the street from the hotel. We bought rum there so we could make our own tropical drinks in the room. We ate at a number of restaurants--Fatman's Nephew, Zorba's, Caribbean Caf�--so as to avoid the high prices at the resort. We sat in Count Basie Square and enjoyed the people watching...and, at night, the music.

On our last night, we went on a "Sunset Cruise" on the Bahama Mama. We quickly found out why it's called the "Booze Cruise." We actually had a wonderful time, and I've got a great story to tell about that...but it will have to wait for another blog entry.

So now I'm home--tanned, rested, and with summer vacation just beginning. Expect more blogging, natch. And reading. And swimming. And maybe even some coding. But now...to bed. Parenting calls.

gone swimmin'

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na1459ex1_md.jpg

Wedding over, my sister and her new husband happily nesting. Kids farmed out to friends and family. Flight to the Bahamas leaves in just under 12 hours. Ocean-view room booked at the Westin Our Lucaya (view from the rooms shown above). Back Friday night--hopefully relaxed and tan.

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