SCIENCE! YouTube, the Keystone XL Pipeline, & Not-for-profit Social Media use

Amid promises of, well, nothing, I’ve been thinking about restarting this blog. There are a few problems with this idea. 1) This blog is called The Other Librarian and, well, I am not really a librarian right now in the employment sense. Of course I will always be a librarian because … well, just because. On the other hand, I am more pretending to be a data scientist and researcher instead.

That brings me to some great news. I have two peer reviewed publications that have been released this month. I am excited about both, because finally I have been able to conduct some research about the value of social media to our daily lives.

The first is What Potential for YouTube as a Policy Deliberation Tool? Commenter Reactions to Videos About the Keystone XL Oil Pipeline where I look at comments on YouTube and evaluate the consequences of engaging citizens on social media. The answer is complex of course, but in general, if you use social media to engage the public, you will find 1) people will ignore governmenty videos, 2) topics related to minority groups (eg. First Nations Rights) will tend to be overlooked, 3) the most popular videos will be the ones where the topic is related to some form of identity (libertarianism, environmentalism etc.) 4) on the whole, the aggregated content will be somewhat “wise” in the sense that it generally covers the main issues that researchers pay attention to (with the caveat of #2). Overall, I am really proud of this paper because it was great fun to produce.

The second paper I wrote with Kathleen McNutt and it looks at social media use by not-for-profits. Using Mark Granovetter’s classic paper,  we argue that strong social media engagement requires attention to “strong” (emotionally intense) and “weak” (interest-based) connection strategies.

Beyond this, I have been doing a heck of a lot of writing for my dissertation which is about policy agenda setting and online engagement. I am also *very* excited about Podcamp Halifax coming up in January which will happen at the new and AMAZING Halifax Central Library. If you ever chatting to me about Podcamp, you’d know that my evil master plan was that the meeting could happen in the new library where it could expand to a much grander audience. That’s happened thanks to the lovely people who’ve taken the baton and improved on it year after year. Hopefully there will be a facilitated program about the future of Podcamp: whether it will keep going the way it is, or changing to something new given that the opportunity for growth is now quite grandiose. With the right partners, perhaps there could be a South by Southwest sort of program or a Winter arts & business somethingorother? I don’t know – the great thing about Podcamp is that it uses the wisdom of the crowd in such a way that whatever gets decided, it is likely to be smart. Obviously, we wouldn’t want to use the free aspect to put other conferences out of business – but on the other hand, there is plenty of room for community-based learning and sharing which helps everyone in the end!

Anyway, what are you excited about with social media?

Facebook and Rapport

Ryan Deschamps:

This came up in previous discussions recently, so I thought I’d share them. This blog is pretty much closed, but maybe I’ll bring it out again for reblogs.

Originally posted on The Other Librarian:

Facebook appears to be the latest and best thing in the World Wide Web right now. This poses a challenge to libraries.   For instance, while many libraries are exploring library search applications, others are concerned that students do not want their librarians in their social space.

While some critics will tell you that Library 2.0 is no different from previous service models, others will say that services like Facebook pose a problem largely because of library culture. I concur with the latter view, not because I think Library 2.0 strategies are always better, but because Library 2.0 strategies require librarians to unlearn certain things in order to be truly effective.

Ok. So let me start with the Facebook library search application. It is fine, but my opinion is that few people besides librarians are going to add the applications to their profiles. The technology is Web 2.0, but…

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Part I: Is There a Such Thing as Real World Haskell?

Part II:   How not to Start Your Haskell Program >

Here’s a bit of sardonic code, that I’d like to propose to any Haskell advocate out there.

data Works = Works | Does_not
computerApp a ::  Maybe a -> Works
computerApp a
     | isJust a = Works
     | otherwise = Does_not

I have been playing around with functional programming in Haskell.    I have to say that it has more than certainly improved my ability to code in other languages, and probably has reduced the number of bugs I have to fix after the fact.    On the other hand, it has driven me absolutely batty.

To be fair, I need to say that I am not a computer engineer.    I have a BA in English.    My Masters are in Public Administration and Information Management.      I engaged in Haskell code simply as a curiosity and a challenge.    I love math, and became curious about Monads and Lambda calculus.    I am probably not smart enough to be a great Haskell programmer.   However, I do understand two things.    1)  Not-smart-enough people can and want to participate in application development   2)  Coders, while making apps that do what they expect them to do, do not always understand (or care) about the sustainability and/or scalability of their code.

Web Development is an important test case.      Just about anyone, with a reasonable amount of time and effort, can learn to develop a website in PHP, probably supported by some content management system as Drupal or ModX.    Somewhere, their development goes overboard, the system does an upgrade to support some security risk or vulnerability, and ‘pop’ –>  all that likely un-documented and messy code goes nowhere and wheels need to be reinvented.

That’s why learning Haskell is probably a good idea.    Without getting into the code itself, it insists that a function always causes the same result to happen with any given input(s).    Once developed, the documentation pretty much always exists in a minimal form (via Type declarations).    So many bad habits would disappear if only people were forced into developing this way.

The problem, unfortunately, is that Haskell coding is confusing.     There is no popular development framework to use it.     Once you try to apply the examples provided in text books to real world development, things go wonky.    I won’t go into the many reasons why, but I do have an observation based on what I’ve seen in responses from various gurus to newbies like me.

It’s this ->   Users think computers do things.    Computer engineers think computers solve problems.     In Haskell terms, any interaction between users and engineers results in a type error.    Somewhere along the line, an IO() monad needs to be created to turn what engineers like about Haskell into something that users will like about it.

I would like to propose a management framework, similar to extreme programming, to manage the development of functional code for regular people.   While Programming it in Haskell is not a bad start, it uses a problem solving model, rather than a ‘how do you make the software do x’ model.    It focuses on mathematical abstractions rather than simple actions.     For instance, I would like to see a book that uses the development of a rogue-like rpg game in Haskell as an example.    Instead of worrying about efficient computation, abstractions about ‘laziness’ and recursive factorial examples, the writer would have to focus on managing complex (a tuple of a lists of tuples) types, worrying about random numbers and IO issues that are inherent to Haskell.   In approaching such a game, should I worry about creating newtypes first, or work from what I want main to do and fill in the gaps?

But while I make this suggestion, I really have no idea of what kind of advice I can offer your typical new-to-haskell coder.     But I have some hypotheses:

  • work from the main :: IO() first and build a framework of functions to develop your outputs.
  • possibly create type variables for each of your functions, making it equal in Type to a typical output you would like to see.    Then work backwards from there to create a lazy output, then involve possible recursion and so on.
  • use generic types (eg. Int, String, Char etc.) with comments first, then develop types to make your code more clear.
  • unit tests should include the System.IO.Unsafe module (cheating should be allowed when you are testing your code – let the learning happen when you are developing real code)

I’ll add what I can as I continue to learn more about coding in Haskell.    The bottom line is that I think more people should be coding in a language like Haskell, but they are unlikely to work with it if they end up spending a bajillion hours just to get it to choose randomly from a list of monsters (for example).   Especially when they can learn how to do the same in three minutes using an imperative language like Python.

For the greater good and more sustainable code overall, what high-level tips or approaches can you offer any newbie coders of Haskell, so they can develop without becoming absolutely bogged down in failure with their Haskell programs?

UPDATE:   After writing this, I found a great powerpoint tutorial by Graham Hutton that uses Hangman as an example of interactive Haskell code development.

My Big Day Downtown

On July 31st, 2010 I took Mr. 6 out with me on my Big Day Downtown.   Needless to say that was an Adventure we would remember for a long time.   It was great to explore many of the nicks and crannies that the downtown has to offer while trying to find some of the geekiest objects known to humans.

Mr. 6 was a great moderator on my geekiness.   I guess he’ll have to grow into his Dad’s obsessions.   But, by way of intro – here is us going into Strange Adventures:

I wanted superheros, zombies, weird star trek stuff.   Mr. 6 wanted Calvin and Hobbes.   I think our final purchase is a testament to the level of flexibility both of us had to display during this trip.

The next stop we made was to The Loop Craft Café on Barrington Street where I was kindly helped to find a nice baby alpaca light-blue wool for a scarf idea I have (I will share it when it’s done.   Clue:  it will be of interest to people who use Twitter.)    The product they offer is very high quality, and great for very special projects – like the stuff you might find on Etsy.  We chatted about yarn bombing, knit-ins and that sort of thing.   I also took a look at some drop spindles and raw wool.   I have carders to help me spin my own yarn – i’d love to try it sometime.   Mr. 6 was also impressed with their balling machine.

Our next stop was to share a root beer at Just Us Coffee on Barrington Street very close to a few other community-minded businesses that I love very much:  The Halifax Hub and Splice Training.     I realize that business is ultimately about making a profit, but the community does alot also to help make that profit happen (everything from roads, police, education, social services and so on), so I always appreciate a business that gives back.   Just Us serves fair trade coffee, helping to decrease the impact my caffeine addiction has on the third world.   Mr. 6 loved the ‘South at the Top’ map they have there – it’s a great reminder to me that ‘up’ is relative to where you are standing.   Splice training helped me out with some USB drives when I put on a ‘geek guys’ program last year.   In the end, about 8 young men (don’t know where the young women went) learned a whole lot about coding in Python and were able to keep their copy of Python so they could continue learning on the library computers!   Maybe in a few years they’ll be able to up their learning to some Objective-C coding with the help of Splice’s iPod/iPad development courses.

Splice also supported this year’s iphone Hackathon hosted at the Hub Halifax via Apps4Good.   The Hub, if you didn’t know, is a great co-working space in the middle of downtown.   They are always helping to support groups with their whatever-camp and know a heckofalot more than I do about such things.

Now back to my spending.    The next stop was Rock Candy – where there were all kinds of crazy Hard-rock and Punk periphernalia for sale.

Sculpture Outside Rock Candy shop

Mr. 6 is a great fan of the Ramones (as am I) – his favorite song by them is “I Don’t Want to Grow Up” – although he says he likes the original version by Tom Waits a bit more.

Doin' the Blitzkrieg Shop!

I have to say that I was really impressed with the selection and quality of Rock Candy’s offerings.    My hat is excellent and fits really nicely.   I’ve had a hard time keeping it off my head this summer.

The last part of our trip was food – Lunch at The Bluenose II Restaurant, Candy at Freak Lunch Box and ice cream at Cows.    The fun is probably best told in pictures:

Chicken Fingers FTW!
HULK WANT CANDY!!!!111111!!
Our Last Visit was Ice Cream

Neither Libraries Nor Information is Free

Oh The Future of the Library is still in question.   This time it’s Seth Godin weighing in.   I actually agree with most of what he has to say.   I think alot of what he thinks is shaped by an aged or narrow sample of libraries.   I find it kind of like saying ‘It’s over for Restaurants’ after getting poor service from an old-style greasy spoon that’s been around for 50 years.   It’s the future of ‘restaurant’.   Not ‘restaurants’.

Librarians have weighed in as well.   One of them is Sarah Glassmeyer.    I have to say I am disappointed in her response.    When it is fairly obvious that Seth is talking about Public Libraries, her response is to refute by reminding that we also have academic, legal and special libraries.   That’s pretty weak.   The latter libraries serve a specific purpose and are available for a specific audience.   I would not expect Seth to have a beef with Academic libraries, unless he had a beef with academics in general (which might be the case, but it’s kind of a different story).    Public Libraries have to stand on their own two feet, thank you.     We need to comfortably explain what we do in very specific terms.   We have to envision a future of service that meshes with reality.

For instance, Seth speak in particular about offering DVDs for rental and how this is a fairly uninspiring use for public libraries.    It’s a bit of a sham argument, actually because it offers flawed anecdotal evidence.   DVDs may circulate more often than other items, true, but they also have shorter borrowing times (they used to have 1/7 the allowed borrowing time at MPOW;  we just changed that to 1/3.) and tend to have larger fines when they are late.    In short, by nature every DVD we circulate will have the opportunity to be borrowed 7 times before a book gets returned.   Not to mention that DVDs tend to be on hold, so they are un-renewable, and so-on.

DVDs also act as a catalyst for other library uses.   It’s plain good old fashion solid business practice, like offering a coupon for Prime Rib Roast knowing that people will also pay full price for the horseradish, potatoes and string beans to go with it.   And, well, some of those DVDs are the popular renditions of Pride and Prejudice, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy and encourage reading (re-reading, even) just as well.

But enough about DVDs – we need to talk about the future of libraries.

Part of the problem is that a public library is not specifically about individuals, but a learning community.   Take, for example, the idea that we could just buy everyone a Kindle and be done with libraries.   At this time, the Kindle offers a selection of about 336,000 books.   As an individual, that is a huge collection of books to choose from, and almost certainly bound to improve my learning.   On a community level, 336,000 books is dismal.   We do not want or need a community that reads the same 336,000 books, and probably the same 336,000 books that will be yammered on about in the usual channels.    Maybe Amazon will fulfill this important community knowledge diversification need in the future, but I would suggest that they have no incentive to do so.   On some scale, for a good 25 years at least IMHO, communities will need to share their resources in an organized way for the interest of the community.   Some libraries will fulfill this need very well.   Others will not.   The former will succeed and flourish; the latter will die a slow and painful death (until another model emerges from the ashes).

(Notice that I haven’t brought up the many other issues with things Kindle-ish, like Jessamyn West has previously.)

In other words, this one idea about libraries (which covers about 50% of library work, I would say), while admittedly declining, still has a fairly good shelf-life on it.   I would also remind that no librarian in the 21st century is advocating for a faster horse here.   Public libraries are dropping those reference books like they were no tomorrow.   They’re also getting rid of those old books that no one is borrowing too.   Public Libraries are no archives.    We don’t keep artifacts on any large scale (although it’s a bit of a political thing to admit that we do actually throw books away when they’ve had their time.)

I haven’t brought up the plethora of other things that libraries can, have and continue to do.   For one (shameless self promotion) MPOW is hosting Podcamp Halifax, which (i think) strives to do precisely what Seth suggests is the right thing:  Train People to Take Intellectual Initiative.    Except it’s not really training.   It’s better.  It’s providing space, moments-in-time and opportunities for people to gather and train themselves.   Actually, training is not even the right word.    When a space is designed right, the learning is self-organized.   Learning is a natural human behavior, provided that barriers don’t get in the way.   Oh hell – Angela Mombourquette explains it all much better than I do.   In short, we need more unconferences in communities and public libraries are one avenue to help make sure these happen.

And you know what?   I’ve been talking about this for years.    My very first post (July 2006) is an interesting look at how to help people take intellectual initiative.    Not too long after that, I was talking about Open Space and The Law of Two Feet.   The way I see the future of public libraries then and now is still the same and Seth pretty much hits the nail on the [side of the] head.   It’s not about training.   The public, as a rule, doesn’t want training per se.   They would go to school for that stuff.   What they want are places to learn.    Places that have, among other things, DVDs to borrow.   (It’s always nice to bring a little bit of library home with you. )  Places with a little bit of friendly nudging to keep you motivated about learning.   Sometimes with a bit of facilitation.   Sometimes with a bit of structure.   Other times but just leaving them the heck alone to read in a nice quiet spot.   No one is filling this niche right now on any grand scale.    It’s a market failure.    That’s why we need public funds to fill it.   For now and into the future.

Finally, this article needs a shout out because Erin Downey speaks my mind about information and learning as well.

In My World…

I need to just rant more.    Obviously, I am not keeping up with my blogging very well, although my Twitter account is doing ok.   Anyway, maybe the occasional asinine opinion piece will help me get back into the blogosphere somehow.   Because I miss it.  Truly, I do!

I’ve been noticing quite a few things about the world that really just rile me hard.    So here is a list of thing that would happen if I owned the world:

If I owned the world:

  • Kids under 12 would not be allowed to wear clothes they are not allowed to get dirty.   Their ‘good’ clothes would be as affordable as second hand clothes.
  • ‘Prorogue‘ would be delicious dipped in sour cream and sriracha.
  • Most conferences would be un-
  • Jane Siberry would come to Halifax more often.
  • People would see debate for what it is, and get a life accordingly.
  • Anonymity would be used to benefit humankind, rather than mere internet cowardice.
  • Internet and Tech knowledge would be seen as ‘regular business’ rather than ‘something for techies to do.’
  • Curiosity would trump complaining (yes, yes, I know that I am undermining everything I’m saying here).
  • People would realize that I am actually a technophobe with a sense of responsibility.

That’s it for now.  I don’t want to complain too much on this blog.   Hopefully I’ll get around to putting out something useful and wise.  Until then – what rules would you make if you owned the world?