Interesting: Social Media and Higher Education

From Mashable: “How Higher Education Uses Social Media

Looking at the infograph below, the overall trend is, unsurprisingly, upwards (the numbers are from 2012). Section #2 and and the first portion of #3 were most interesting to me. Personally, I am heartened to see the new ways universities are putting social media to good use. “Lack of Features” jumps out as an area for improvement, or opportunities for improvement, depending on how one looks at it.

(Click on the image below for an even larger version):

infographic: social media use in higher education

Interesting: How to Read Faster, by Bill Cosby

billcosby4What a neat post, from Brain Pickings: “How to Read Faster: Bill Cosby’s Three Proven Strategies” –

“Bill Cosby may be best-known as the beloved personality behind his eponymous TV show, but he earned his doctorate in education and has been involved in several projects teaching the essential techniques of effective reading, including a PBS series on reading skills. In an essay unambiguously titled “How to Read Faster,” published in the same wonderful 1985 anthology How to Use the Power of the Printed Word (UKpublic library) that gave us Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 timeless rules of writing, Cosby offers his three proven strategies for reading faster. Apart from their evergreen application to the printed word, it’s particularly interesting to consider how these rules might translate to the digital screen, where structural factors like scrolling, pagination, hyperlinks, and adjustable font sizes make the text and the reading experience at once more fluid and more rigid.”

The three tips boil down to –

1. Previewing: Read the first two paragraphs, the last two paragraphs, and the first sentence of any paragraphs in between.

2. Skimming: Read very quickly, to pick up a few key words at a time and get the general idea, like so:



3. Clustering. The most important of the three — “word-by-word reading is a rotten way to read faster. It actually cuts down on your speed.

Clustering trains you to look at groups of words instead of one at a time, and it increases your speed enormously. For most of us, clustering is a totally different way of seeing what we read.

Here’s how to cluster: Train your eyes to see all the words in clusters of up to three or four words at a glance.”


billcosby1Reading on the screen doubtless brings its own unique challenges. I’m starting to think about hyperlinks differently — Nicholas Carr makes a compelling argument about the hyperlink as a distraction technology. From Wired: “The Web Shatters Focus, Wires Brains

Nowadays it feels like avoiding distractions are our biggest hurdle when it comes to how fast we read. How well do we avoid distractions while reading?

(I love this picture by the way).

“How to Use a Kindle as a Bookmark”

874b3a668b4011e29a9c22000a1fbe09_7GalleyCat posted a collection of Twitter responses to the image in question.

Perhaps books and ebooks can live in peaceful coexistence after all.









On Writing: Standing vs. Sitting


I love writing while standing up. Sitting at a desk all day might conjure up a romantic, monkish sort of image; but it’s unnatural to me. And apparently, standing is probably healthier for you than sitting all day, every day anyways.

Ernest Hemingway was perhaps the most famous proponent. Here’s an excerpt from the classic Paris Review interview

“It is on the top of one of these cluttered bookcases—the one against the wall by the east window and three feet or so from his bed—that Hemingway has his “work desk”—a square foot of cramped area hemmed in by books on one side and on the other by a newspaper-covered heap of papers, manuscripts, and pamphlets. There is just enough space left on top of the bookcase for a typewriter, surmounted by a wooden reading board, five or six pencils, and a chunk of copper ore to weight down papers when the wind blows in from the east window.

A working habit he has had from the beginning, Hemingway stands when he writes. He stands in a pair of his oversized loafers on the worn skin of a lesser kudu—the typewriter and the reading board chest-high opposite him.”

The whole interview is well worth the read by the way. Hemingway’s reflections on writing are timeless.

I think the bookcase is an inspired desk choice. And here’s a great photograph of Hemingway’s standing desk from, who also notes: “Other famous users of standing desks included Winston Churchill, Lewis Carroll, Donald Rumsfeld, Charles Dickens, Otto von Bismarck, Henry Clay, Thomas Jefferson, John Dos Passos, and Virginia Woolf.

For the multitasking sorts, there’s also treadmill writing. (Example: GalleyCat, “Do You Write While Standing Up?“) Too distracting for my tastes, though.

Does Facebook Make Us Rude?

rudeness and FacebookYes — and so does online communication in general, as it turns out.

Some food for thought, from The Wall Street Journal: “Why We Are So Rude Online.” Some new research suggests that lower self control coupled with an inflated sense of self esteem could explain the rudeness –

“According to soon-to-be-published research from professors at Columbia University and the University of Pittsburgh, browsing Facebook lowers our self control. The effect is most pronounced with people whose Facebook networks were made up of close friends, the researchers say …

Most of us present an enhanced image of ourselves on Facebook. This positive image—and the encouragement we get, in the form of “likes”—boosts our self-esteem. And when we have an inflated sense of self, we tend to exhibit poor self-control.

Think of it as a licensing effect: You feel good about yourself so you feel a sense of entitlement,” says Keith Wilcox, assistant professor of marketing at Columbia Business School and co-author of the study. “And you want to protect that enhanced view, which might be why people are lashing out so strongly at others who don’t share their opinions.” These types of behavior—poor self control, inflated sense of self—”are often displayed by people impaired by alcohol,” he adds.

More interesting to me was the suggestion that perhaps online communication just seems less consequential; we think with our fingers and thumbs online and therefore are less likely to weigh the emotional consequences. Sherry Turkle (whose book is on my to-read list) weighs in:

“We’re less inhibited online because we don’t have to see the reaction of the person we’re addressing, says Sherry Turkle, psychologist and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of the social studies of science and technology. Because it’s harder to see and focus on what we have in common, we tend to dehumanize each other, she says … 

kwch-news-jlr-online-manners-social-media-20130202Astoundingly, Dr. Turkle says, many people still forget that they’re speaking out loud when they communicate online. Especially when posting from a smartphone, “you are publishing but you don’t feel like you are,” she says.”

“Dehumanizing” seems almost too strong a way to put it — but I have been wondering about whether the way we relate to people online could be similar to our emotional engagement with fictional characters.

But hey, it’s just a hypothesis. And here’s another, from Scientific American: “Eye Contact Quells Online Hostility” (and this makes sense to me).

None of that is to suggest that blaming technology is a good excuse for our own bad behavior, of course.

chicken or the egg? videoHere’s a fun way to pass 4 minutes, thanks to Brain Pickings for sharing the video: “The Science of Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg, Animated” –

“[P]hilosophers have pondered which came first, the chicken or the egg, as a causality dilemma exploring grander existential inquiries into the origin of life and the universe. But, it turns out, science has an answer that bypasses the metaphysical and dives right into the nitty-gritty of the tangible and concrete … like much of science — the solution may have more to do with semantics and nomenclature than with actual scientific evidence.”

AsapSCIENCE, the folks behind the video, do some excellent stuff. Definitely checking out their YouTube channel here.  (Click on the image below to find out if you’re a Team Chicken or Team Egg proponent).

Screen Shot 2013-02-12 at 1.01.39 PM


google world brain trailer

In case you missed it, “Google and the World Brain” (a reference to the H.G. Wells essay collection of the same name) is a new documentary project that made a few waves recently. It just screened at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, and this is one I am quite keen on seeing.

The Google Book Scanning project is an incredibly interesting, complicated — and important — part of the near-future of books, all books. I’ve read a few early reviews on World Brain, alternating between vilifying and exalting, so it’s hard to form an opinion without being able to watch it firsthand.

In the meantime, The Hollywood Reporter (“Google and the World Brain: Sundance Review“) offers a few things to ponder –

Google Book Scanning Project

“Beyond questions over how to deal with copyrighted work — manageable, one imagines, however tricky the negotiations — lie bigger worries. There’s privacy, obviously (a universal online library will always know what you’re reading) and unintended consequences, like the reshaping of global culture: If searches for Proust and Goethe prioritize English translations, will the originals fade from view? Like anyone acquiring great power, Google trusts itself to handle these issues wisely. But observers note a tendency within Google (seen in the Wi-Fi-collecting scandal tied to Street View) of building tech first and worrying over consequences later.”

And, here’s a useful review at Film School Rejects (the Kevin Kelly clarification made me laugh, because it was my first reaction):

‘Unfortunately, Google didn’t participate in this documentary other than to allow the filmmakers to speak with them about their Google Search function. Google Books was off-limits, and the only video from inside their scanning operation is just six seconds long, and it doesn’t show much. In an effort to try and draw you into the conversation, the film uses extensive video from other book scanning facilities around the world, notably at universities and large collections.

The main argument presented here is whether or not Google’s usage of the scanned book is ethical or not, given the fact that they were offering copyrighted works for free online and were also using the scanned books to improve their own search algorithms, and by extension, improve their business.”

And you can visit the documentary’s official website here.

Neat. Haruki Murakami App

From Publishing Perspectives: “Love Haruki Murakami? There’s An App For That.” The calendar/diary app is U.K.-only which is too bad, because it’s exactly the sort of thing I would spend £1.99 on.

norwegian-wood uk book cover

Vintage Books and Aimer Media have joined forces to create a Haruki Murakami inspired diary app, Murakami Diary, containing six new exclusive short stories by the acclaimed (and often rumored Nobel Prize candidate) Japanese author as well as quotes from earlier works … Quotes and images are found within the diary format. For example, accompanying the diary page for Sunday March 31 is a quote from the novel Norwegian Wood:“[The letter] was dated 31 March. After I read it, I stayed on the porch and let my eyes wander out of the garden, full now with the freshness of spring. An old cherry tree stood there, its blossoms nearing the height of their glory.”

Since I can’t get the first-person experience, I will live vicariously through The Guardian’s review (“Haruki Murakami? There’s an iPhone and iPad diary app for him…“) –

“Nor is it pure marketing content, although its release has been timed to appear alongside the paperback release of Murakami’s last novel 1Q84 and the repackaging of his backlist. Instead, Random House and its developer partner Aimer Media are part of a welcome trend for promotional apps that actually fulfill a useful function. In this case, it’s a calendar, which pulls in entries from Apple’s iCal system, while peppering the year with quotes from Murakami’s backlist of novels and short stories – all sharable via Facebook, Twitter and email.

… The geek in me (both literary and technological) would love to see what Random House might do with a fully-fledged interactive version of one of Murakami’s novels, more around contextual notes and perhaps the musical references.”

BookRx, and Book Recommendations … from Twitter?

books from twitterI’m always interested in new ways that people are using data to gain insight into readerly behavior. So here’s a neat idea: BookRx is a recently launched experiment from the Knight Lab, which crawls a Twitter feed (assuming one tweets about books), to make book recommendations.

The Huffington Post has a good interview, with some additional information –

How does it work?

BookRx works in two phases. In the first phase, it analyzes your tweets (in terms of the words, Twitter usernames, and hashtags you use) and compares them to terms that are correlated with book categories. In the second phase, it looks within those categories to find specific books to recommend, again based on correlations with the terms in your tweets. The first phase is very fast but the second takes a few seconds.


What can people’s Twitter word usage tell us about their personalities?
That’s a really interesting question. We’re really interested in how Twitter can hold up a mirror to ourselves, and seeing BookRx’s recommendations might be one way to do that. That’s one of the reasons we show you the terms you used that made the system think you might be interested in a book it’s recommending to you — to make its operation a bit more visible.”

The Secret Sauce of book recommendations has always been rather mysterious, so I do like the BookRx approach. From Mashable,New Web App Recommends Books Based on Your Tweets” – 

…  For some, there is something innately unsettling about AI predictions. It is even more disturbing when the computer is accurate. Unlike sites like Amazon and Google, however, BookRx shows you the exact words you tweeted that led to its various recommendations.”

I think the idea for the experiment is very clever. It’s something to keep an eye on, particularly if they have good luck growing their user base — if BookRx is something that catches on, it’ll be interesting to see what kinds of information it can tell us about reading recommendations (and how good, or bad, those recommendations are).

Who Reads eBooks?

random house ebooksRecently, Random House shared some of its insights into ebook reading habits: (“Who Reads eBooks?“). Younger, well-educated, higher-income women seemed to represent a healthy slice of the ebook reading population. I was surprised at how strong a source word-of-mouth (81%) remains for ebook discovery –

“Over a fifth of American adults have read an eBook. EBook consumers are likely to be book enthusiasts who read across digital and print formats. Most eBook consumers are women, are younger than forty-five, have college degrees or have had some college education, and have upscale incomes. EBook consumers are over 20 percent more likely to have household incomes over $100,000 per year than non-eBook consumers. Preferred genres include mystery/suspense/detective fiction, general fiction, and romance.

When compared to all Americans ages sixteen and up, they tend to rely more heavily on word-of-mouth (81 percent versus 64 percent for all Americans ages 16+) and bookstore staff (31 percent versus 23 percent for Americans ages 16+) for book recommendations.” 

Here is the infographic breakdown below, and you can click on the image for more information from Random House.

random house: who reads ebooks?

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