Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Big Brother?

Last week I had a brief, interesting discussion on Bush's surveillance habits in the comments section of my post on the Future of Ordering Pizza. Today, while catching up on my boingboing reading, I found a number of posts pointing to articles about Bush allowing the NSA to surveil more phone and Internet communications than previously thought.

Check out the following articles for more information:

According to the articles, the communications being monitored are those that are international. They eavesdrop on suspected terrorists but mine the data on many more international calls.

As someone who makes international phone calls to a close friend, I don't like the idea that my phone calls may be monitored by the U.S. They are already being monitored by my friend's country of residence, and it is no fun having to watch what you say. It is surprising how much some of the taboo stuff can come up in completely innocent conversation.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

It's False

Apparently, the story about the Federal Agents visiting a student because he had ordered a Chairman Mao book through interlibrary loan is just that - a story. Read the article here.

I wonder what made the student fabricate such an incredible story.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Terror in the Library

Now why didn't my library think of this?

Check out Pac Man re-enacted by humans at U. of Michigan (link directs you to the blog post about it at Boing Boing). At the University of Michigan, students got a study break when Pac Man ran through the library screaming while being chased by a ghost. I recommend watching the short video of the event.

Of course, it was students who did it, but at least they chose the library as one of their locations.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Future of Ordering Pizza

Check out this recent clip from the ACLU. Perhaps a bit exaggerated, but still very interesting.

Found on Burger's Blog.

"Are Colleges Failing?"

If you are teaching in higher education, I recommend an article entitled "Are Colleges Failing?" from the Boston Globe. For someone like me, who is just about to embark on this whole teaching thing, this is a very interesting and helpful article.

I can imagine that those who have been teaching for a long time would be inclined to continue to teach in the same manner they have for years. However, empirical evidence is providing ideas for changing teaching methods to help college students learn better. For example, "studies indicate that problem-based discussion, group study, and other forms of active learning produce greater gains in critical thinking than lectures."

I am lucky because my coworker, who taught in the Fall semester the class I will soon be teaching in the Spring, is very interested in problem-based learning and other forms of active learning. I have a lot of good ideas to draw from. He is also, incidently, the individual who forwarded this article to me. But then again, he is fairly new to teaching as well, and perhaps that makes him, like me, more inclined to come up with new, innovative, and interesting ways to help students learn.

Another quote from the article is actually rather frightening: "Most college seniors do not think that they have made substantial progress in improving their competence in writing or quantitative methods, and some assessments have found that many students actually regress." As someone who proofreads papers for friends and relatives, I can honestly say that while I have seen writing skills improve, it sometimes seems that these skills could have improved more than they did during undergraduate study. I definitely have not seen anyone actually regress, but then again, they've had me (nit-picky English major) to harass them and provide help beyond what they would get in class. And I do know, just from random things I've heard from students, that many of them (myself included, in fact) have figured out how to play the game. They become adept at determining what level of work a professor expects. Then, even if that level is below what they are capable of, they still provide work that only just meets that level.

I also agree with the article on the fact that graduate study does not really prepare one to teach. I realize that I have an MLIS, not the Ph.D. usually required to teach in higher education, but librarians do a lot of teaching. Graduate school did provide guidance on the "reference interview" so that librarians can better interact with patrons/customers to determine what information they are looking for. However, with those of us in higher education giving so many bibliographic/library instruction sessions, there really needs to be more guidance on teaching.

I suppose the moral of the story is that when teaching one needs to evaluate his/her techniques constantly, read literature on recent studies and new developments in teaching, and be open to change for the betterment of the students.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Google's Librarian Newsletter

The first issue of Google's Newsletter for Librarians arrived in my inbox last night (I forgot I'd signed up for that!). Curious about how Google ranks its search results? Read the article here.

If you are interested, you can sign up for the newsletter here.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Are College Grads Less Literate?

A recent article from the New York times discussed the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy. According to the article, college graduates did not perform as well on this test as they did on the 1992 version. Apparently, the percentage of college graduates who scored at the "proficient" level has declined from 40 percent in 1992 to 31 percent in 2003.

Of course, the statistics skeptic in me has the following questions:
1. Are we really less literate than our 1992 counterparts? (I graduated in 2003 so would fall into the less literate category).

2. Is it perhaps due instead to a difference in the difficulty of the test between 1992 and 2003? According to the NCES website which discusses the test, the 2003 version contains "new assessment components and new performance levels". Maybe that was a factor.

3. How was the sample of participants chosen? Was it truly random? According to the report, the sample is representative of "the entire population of U.S. adults who are age 16 and older and live in households or prisons" and is not just college students. I am not seeing a place where it is broken down by education level but it's a long document and perhaps I am just missing something.

The original report is available for download as a PDF at the NCES Website.

Friday, December 16, 2005

For those librarians out there doing either chat reference or IM reference, here's an online glossary of "Net Lingo".

Do people actually use some of these?

ANFAWFOWS - And now for a word from our web sponser
AWGTHTGTTA - Are we going to have to go through this again?
DYSTSOTT - Did you see the size of that thing?
TEOTWAWKI - The end of the world as we know it

Of course, this glossary contains more than just common (or perhaps uncommon - see above) IM acronyms, including such terms as "america offline", "angry garden salad", "newsfeed", "wireless network", "word-of-mouse", and more.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Going to the Dogs

This is totally unrelated to the usual topics covered in this blog, but I just have to post about it. It's so absurd!

I'm sure we've all heard of the "dog ate my homework" excuse. Thought that was bad? Well, here's a new all-time low when it comes to accusing the dog.

Check out this news story at Andi the Ohio Police Dog Named in Lawsuit. Apparently a drug dealer is suing for $450,000 in damages from "police investigators, Athens County Sheriff Vern Castle and the trial judge", and a dog! Of the dog, he said, "I want him charged with several different felony counts."

If the guy wins, what's the dog going to use to pay his share of the damages? Bones? Can you even really sue a dog? I am surprised they have gone as far as to have the dog "sign" the formal complaint with a paw print!

And, of course the drug dealer is representing himself! What lawyer would take that case?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Radio Ads I'd Actually Listen To!

As I was pulling into work this morning, I heard an ad that caught my attention because of its unusual nature. It sounded like an ad for a movie but without all the background sound effects, character voices, and so on. Then they mentioned Alex Cross and I thought, oh, another one of James Patterson's books must have been made into a movie.

But no! It was actually an ad for James Patterson's latest BOOK! On a regular radio station (as opposed to NPR or an AM station)! And in an area where the biggest bookstore around is the Waldenbooks in the mall, no less!

How exciting! :)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Most Literate Cities in the U.S.

Hey, check it out: America's Most Literate Cities. This study ranked U.S. cities with a population of 200,000 or more. "The main factors used to measure literacy [were] newspaper circulation, numbers of bookstores, library resources, publishing and educational attainment. These five ranked factors combine 22 different variables that form the operational definition of literacy."

Congrats to Ohio!
Cincinnati = #5
Columbus = #11
Cleveland = #14
Akron = #26

Cincinnati ranks high on number of bookstores. Columbus, Cleveland, and Akron have a lot of libraries (go libraries!).

Monday, December 05, 2005

Why is Firefox so great?

I have promoted the use of Firefox several times in this blog but never really gone into detail about why I think Firefox is so great. Based on Nye!'s comment, I think I better justify my love of Firefox.

Some general info: Currently, Firefox accounts for about 10% of browser use (at least, as far as the last statistic I saw). This is actually rather impressive considering Firefox 1.0 was released on November 9, 2004 (according to Mozilla's Firefox release information). There were other versions of Firefox available before then, but all in all, they are still a pretty new browser. Next to Internet Explorer, Firefox is the second most used browser, so they must be doing something right!

My list of 10 reasons for switching to Firefox:

1. It's free! Yes, I know, so is Internet Explorer, but there are other browsers out there that you have to pay for.

2. Firefox is safer. Internet Explorer is by far the most used browser out there. New computers automatically come with it. Therefore, hackers are more interested in exploiting IE than Firefox. Of course, that's not to say that Firefox is perfectly safe, because it's not. And as Firefox grows in popularity, it will probably have more security issues as well.

3. Firefox automatically blocks popups. Now I will admit I have not used IE in a long time, so I do not know if they have created a popup blocker to go with their browser. But when I first switched over, I was very impressed with Firefox's popup blocker. It doesn't get them all, of course, but it manages to block most. And it's very easy to unblock popups that you actually want.

4. Tabbed browsing is awesome! IE used to drive me crazy with the way you had to open multiple browser windows if you wanted to view more than one page at a time. Then, if you had too many open, it would group all of them together and you'd have to try to guess which one you wanted. Tabbed browsing means that only one browser window is open on your desktop. Within the Firefox browser, you can have many tabs open without it grouping them together (and believe me, I'd know. I have probably had as many as 20 tabs open at once). And now, with Firefox 1.5, you can drag and drop tabs to reorder them. There are shortcuts as well: ctrl-t switches between tabs, ctrl-tab opens a new tab.

5. Firefox has awesome extensions. Some of my favorites are Nuke Anything Enhanced, Colorful Tabs, Tabbrowser Preferences, and GooglePreview.

6. You can make Firefox pretty (okay, I'm pathetic. I know this, and I'm okay with it). Firefox has some pretty cool skins, or themes, as they call them. I love the Noia 2.0 theme.

7. Firefox is smaller than IE. It is a 5MB download (see Mozilla). IE is about 12MB for Windows XP (see I know 12MB isn't really that big with the monstrous hard drives out there, but still, IE requires more than double what Firefox does.

8. Firefox has built-in search engines. Firefox has Google, Amazon, Yahoo, and others all built into the search bar. And, you can add more, if you want (click here to do so). I've added IMDB, Wikipedia, and Merriam-Webster online so far.

9. Other cool options I haven't explored yet. Firefox has some other cool things that I intend to look at but just haven't gotten around to yet. The new release allows you to customize Google. You can remove ads and filter out certain search results, along with many other options. There is also supposedly a way to integrate into Firefox but I stopped using and switched to BlinkList, so that will not help me much.

10. Everyone else is doing it. Okay, I'm only semi-joking with this one. Most of the writers of the tech blogs I read seem to love Firefox (as do my techie friends), and if the techies love it, you know it's got to be good.

For more lists of reasons to switch to Firefox, click here and here.

Of course, as I said, I have not used IE in a long time so it may have some of the capabilities listed above. Also, as with any brower (or other technology) switch, you will lose certain shortcuts and other options you are used to. To me, Firefox is worth it, but perhaps others disagree.