Tuesday, September 24, 2013

MediaWeek (V7, N38): John D. MacDonald, Banned Books Reviews, Google & edX, Author Franchises + More

Random House if bringing back a load of John D. MacDonald books. (WSJ)
He had in fact a grand theme, which he nibbled at in book after book: the ruinous postwar overbuilding of the Florida Gulf Coast. (It even runs, much subdued, through the McGee series.) MacDonald knew the landscape well; it was where he lived for most of his adult life, and he was horrified by what he saw happening to it. He wasn't a passionate environmentalist, and he spared his readers any laments for drained swampland. He had no objection to sensible development as such. But he saw the mechanics of the Florida land boom from the inside; he was able to write knowledgeably about county boards and real-estate investment trusts, building codes and rezoning applications. He was fervently certain that the countless petty instances of greed and corruption and fecklessness and indifference and incompetence were sooner or later going to add up to a disaster, and he was right. When Hurricane Andrew destroyed a large swath of Florida in 1992, six years after MacDonald's death, the catastrophe was multiplied several times over by the astonishing shoddiness of the housing there, of whole communities constructed in open defiance of the building codes, almost exactly as MacDonald had described.
The New Republic is publishing reviews of banned books (New Repub):  Here is Slaughterhouse 5 reviewed by Michael Crichton
Only the commercial explanation, which is really no more than a simple observation of verifiable fact, holds water; the others are demonstrably wrong. For example, nearly all fictional forms have come from pulp, or its equivalent in previous generations. The majority of "classic" authors were very popular in their day. And when one surveys the great triad of pulp writing—science fiction, westerns, and detective fiction—from the early part of this century, the results are interesting. Westerns, being closest to the heart of American mythology, have been almost entirely absorbed by the ubiquitous tube. Detectives have done well in films, less well on television; in straight fiction their standards have been raised markedly, partly because "real" authors like Conrad and Graham Greene have dabbled in the form and partly because talented writers have been drawn to it—Raymond Chandler, David Cornwall, and Georges Simenon. But science fiction has remained impervious to such influences. It is still as pulpy, and as awful, as ever.
 Inside Higher Ed considers a A Google E-Learning Ecosystem (IHEd)
Up until the edX - Google deal it would have been difficult. Smarter people than me were able to get Course Builder (the platform that Google is putting into maintenance) to work, but for mere mortals (read non-programmers), Google never really had any platform that was workable for online course development and teaching.  Now the edX Open platform is going to evolve and improve, as Google is putting developer and infrastructure resources behind the project.  Nobody from edX is saying that edX open or MOOC.org is intended to be an LMS replacement. Why pick that fight? But it makes perfect sense.  Why wouldn't a school want to use the same platform for their campus (private) courses as their open courses?  Wouldn't it make sense to easily be able to designate some parts of a course that are open (such as the course content, formative assessment or public discussion boards), and wall-off other parts of the course (such as internal discussion boards or graded assignment areas) for only those matriculated (and tuition paying) students?
Is there a lesson for big name authors in the actions of the All Things D staff? (CJR)
These new franchise raise the important question of whether and by how much power is shifting in journalism from publishers to authors.  I’d argue that these franchises are to a large extent sui generis and not indicative of a generalized power shift in journalism. In fact their high visibility tends to distort our view of the author-publisher, that is to say, labor-management, power balance.  First, it’s important to note that these particular franchises were (for the most part) all nurtured within big, traditional news organizations, which provided salaries, health insurance, tech support, legal backup, etc. etc., plus and importantly the imprimatur of their brand names built up over decades. So these are not autonomous operations, but in fact highly dependent ones.  It’s significant, for instance, that when Nat Silver moved his Fivethirtyeight franchise in July (which prompted Jay’s post), it wasn’t to go off on his own but to join another big company, in this case, Disney. In that sense, his move wasn’t so different from past jumps by media stars such, as, say, in 1984 when Mike Royko left the Sun-Times after Murdoch bought it and joined the Tribune. True, Silver was already a success before he went to the Times in 2010—he was on one of Time’s most influential of 2009. But the Times’s perch certainly helped to propel him to new prominence, and his next destination, even if it’s not his last, turns out to be within the MSM.   People wonder if Andrew Ross Sorkin will ever make his DealBook independent. Not only is there no sign of that, in order to expand his influence, he took a second job at another MSM outlet.
From twitter this week
Conan Doyle estate seeks to preserve US copyright of Sherlock Holmes's 'complex personality'  
Netflix looks at pirate sites to decide which shows to buy
Fairfax County libraries under fire after 250,000 books are tossed

Friday, September 20, 2013

Pisa 1961

I should ask my parents why they chose Milan and Pisa for their honeymoon.  I've never visited but I should before the tower falls down.  This is the Duomo, the medieval cathedral of the Archdiocese of Pisa in 1961.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

CHORUS Update from AAP

From the AAP website, an update on the CHORUS initiative. The link to the proof of concept is to a 47 page pdf deck describing the status of the project.

Latest CHORUS Updates (posted 9/10/13)

Read the complete CHORUS Proof of Concept as presented to signatories, agencies and other stakeholders beginning August 30. This conceptual design report, presented by CHORUS Director of Development Howard Ratner, was the first milestone met in the rollout plan. Any questions, email info@publishers.org

Want to know How CHORUS Works? Check out this infographic.

Monday, September 16, 2013

MediaWeek (V7, N37): New Zealand, College Bandwidth, Google Translation, Flipped Classrooms + More

Could New Zealand be the first country to go entirely self-publishing?  Here's a reflective article about the state of New Zealand's publishing industry after several large publishers pulled out. (Stuff)
So, take out Hachette’s 30 titles, cut HarperCollins’ list by half and factor in the likely rationalisation of Random House and Penguin’s publications following their July global merger, and it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that fewer Kiwi writers will end up in print. Unless they slap a self-published text on Amazon and embark on the difficult task of self-spruiking. “I think it will mean that,” says International Institute of Modern Letters director Damien Wilkins. “The idea that you could become a writer is absolutely mainstream now and that’s been a huge change over the past 20 years. But you have that at the same time as these eroded outlets and potential for getting your work to readers. So it’s a very curious paradox.”
The need for bandwidth  is stressing out many college campus CIO's (IHE)
Howard’s experience is far from the norm. Many CIOs, facing tight budgets and pressure to keep costs from rising, are using their funds merely to replace aging hardware once it powers down for good or is rendered technologically obsolete.  “I have an adequate budget to replace 20 to 25 percent [of access points] every year,” Rowe said. In other words, if she spends part of her $90,000 budget to increase the number of access points on campus, fewer will be replaced. “In the meantime, I expect bandwidth demand and drain on the access points to continue.”
Google has long been looking at ways to eliminate the language barrier but their efforts may be intesifying (DerSpiegel)
For now, however, the company's goal is to perfect the service, and its path leads through the smartphone. The Translate team has developed an app that transforms smartphones into a talking translation machine, with the ability to handle about two dozen languages so far.  The app works very well, as long as sentences are kept relatively simple. For instance, someone who wants to tell a taxi driver in Beijing that he urgently needs to get to a pharmacy simply has to speak into his smartphone in, for example, German, and it promptly repeats the sentence in Chinese, correctly but in a somewhat tinny voice: "Qing dai wo qu yijia yaodian."  Och feels that the application is still "slightly slow and awkward, because you have to press buttons." The quality of the translation is also inconsistent. But only a few years ago, people would have said he was crazy if he had predicted what Translate could do today.
The Altantic wonders in the 'post-lecture' classroom how will students fare?
A three-year study examining student performance in a “flipped classroom” — a class in which students watch short lecture videos at home and work on activities during class time — has found statistically significant gains in student performance in “flipped” settings and significant student preference for “flipped” methods.  The study, provided exclusively to The Atlantic, is one of the first to examine a “flipped” classroom in the current state of its technology. Russell Mumper, a Vice Dean at the University of North Carolina’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy, conducted the study, and two separate articles based on its findings are now in press in the journals Academic Medicine and The American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. The education technology company Echo360, whose technology was used in the classes examined, funded the study with a $10,000 grant.
An obit from The Economist on Elmore Leonard:
For years Elmore Leonard had a recurring dream that he was falling down a flight of stairs, never reaching the bottom. After some professional success, this changed: he continued to fall from great heights, but somehow survived. Leonard associated great heights with visibility, with vulnerability. It was better to be at ground level, amid the flow of people, unseen and observant. Meanwhile his bad-guy characters fell from balconies, through windows or drove over cliffs.
Like a jazz musician, he returned to familiar scenes and motifs in his work, discovering novelty in the repetition. “I begin with characters … and see what happens.”
In fact Leonard began with westerns. He thought it would be easy to write a good one (“when I picked up Zane Grey, I could not believe it was so bad”), and he swiftly infused this moth-eaten genre with a new psychological tension. But television killed the market for westerns, so Leonard turned to crime writing.
From Twitter:
Fairfax County libraries under fire after 250,000 books are tossed

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Cairns & The County Hotels 1972

My Grandfather (GrandPND) was a bit of an entrepreneur and owned a number of businesses over his life.  In the early 1970s he had turned to operating bed and breakfast hotels around Manchester and at one time owned four in converted multi-family buildings like the two above.  The hotels were located on Talbot Road about a quarter mile from Lancashire County Cricket Club (where PND Senior is Chairman) and about a mile from Manchester United FC (Champions!).   None of these buildings exist now and were knocked over under an urban renewal project in the 1980s that ultimately resulted in an uninspiring office building.   I drove down this road last weekend with the PND family and if I were to retake this photo now it would be completely unrecognizable.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Ten Educational Start-ups to Watch

Ginkgotree is a web app which aims to completely replace costly, bulky textbooks. It’s not another LMS (a Learning Management System, like Blackboard); it’s a content platform that integrates seamlessly with your LMS, with the goal of giving students and faculty a solution superior to textbooks for much less money.  Faculty create a complete bundle of learning materials for their course, from nearly any source, including published textbooks, documents, websites, and videos. Then, students can read and discuss all the course materials in one place through a simple and beautiful interface. 

MasteryConnect: The Salt Lake City-based startup focuses, particularly, on formative assessments — a type of assessment that involves qualitative feedback (instead of relying on scores) and takes place during the learning process, with the goal of helping educators tweak their activities and approach to teaching with the goal of helping students learn more effectively. MasteryConnect, then, makes it easier for teachers to create these types of assessments and share them with colleagues, parents and students.  (Techcrunch)

Panorama Education: “We’re helping schools measure things, gather feedback and then use that data to improve,” Feuer said in an interview. “The big reason schools use us over SurveyMonkey is that we help them figure out what to ask, and we help them figure out what to do with the information. Tools like SurveyMonkey are great to just tell you the answers to whatever your surveying someone about, but if you want to understand what that actually means and how to interpret it, and you want to look at it in context with other data than you need something like Panorama.”  (Techcrunch)

StraighterLine is focused on bringing price transparency to online education, offering general ed courses that students generally take (and are often required) during their freshman and sophomore years, like Algebra, Biology, Calculus, U.S. History, and English Composition, to name a few — on the Web. If we say the average price for a private institution is about $32K per year, StraigherLine’s pricing compares favorably, with the option to pay $100 a month, plus $39 for each course started, $399 per course, or a full freshman year education for $1K.  Included in this pricing is free live, on-demand instruction, although if students choose to buy a textbook, they have to do so separately. But the cool part is that the startup’s courses are ACE Credit recommended and can be transferred for credit to a number of degree granting institutions. Over 25 grant credit today, with more than 200 universities across the U.S. having accepted post-review. (Techcrunch)

StudyBlue: Today, StudyBlue has become a “digital backpack,” with its web and mobile study tools enabling college and high school students to store and organize their course materials, turning them into flashcards, quizzes and study guides that can be accessed on the go. By allowing students to share the content they create with others, the startup has amassed an enormous library of user-generated study materials — over 100 million in total — which cover a wide array of subjects, from zoology to anthropology.  (Techcrunch)

GroupNotes: To address what educators were looking for, Groupnotes developed a collaborative platform that can get an entire class on board working together on a single topic or course of study. As members of a group browse the web, they can take notes and annotate pages with drawings and text comments, and as other users also browse, they can see and add to those breadcrumbs. It also collects notes in a group dashboard, and information is communicated between group members in real-time, meaning that a prof leading a class could be viewing materials as students in the class comment, note and ask questions on their individual devices. (Techcrunch)

Noodle Education: The startup is on a mission to bring a Netflix-style recommendation engine to the fragmented and noisy world of education. Not unlike Google, Noodle Education wants to organize the world’s learning platforms and aggregate the huge amount of educational info out their on the Web into a learning-centric, personalized search and recommendation engine.  The company announced the acquisition of Lore (formally CourseKit).  Initially focused on building forums around courses with tools designed specifically for teachers, last fall, Lore launched its student-facing platform to let students create academic profiles, follow classmates and professiors and join study groups, clubs, and so on. The network had its first semester live last spring, and since then has signed up more than 600 schools and added thousands of courses across a range of disciplines. (Techcrunch)

Pearson Education acquires Learning Catalytics: Founded in late 2011, Learning Catalytics is a platform that allows teachers to ask their students open-ended critical thinking questions and receive feedback in realtime. But beyond simply being a student response system and allowing teachers to get a better sense of what areas students are struggling with, the startup’s platform allows teachers to split their class into groups of similar ability. (Techcrunch)

Grades.io which launches today as an early MVP, after around six weeks of total development time. While not as feature-complete or as final in terms of design as Lowry plans to make it, even the MVP of Grades.io is worlds better than the bulk of available class management software, and that’s mostly because its design and user experience has been approached with a light touch.  (Techcrunch)

General Assembly, the New York-based education startup that offers classes and mingling space to tech developers and entrepreneurs, has raised $10 million in new funding, via an SEC filing. General Assembly originally launched as a co-working space but quickly evolved into an urban educational facility and event space for the technology and design industry. (Techcrunch)

Monday, September 02, 2013

MediaWeek (V7, N35): The Cassette Tape, Birmingham Library, Google Glass, Economist Newspaper +More

Missed last week. Apologies.

Who knew the lowly cassette tape is celebrating 50 years of age.  Not much chance of making 60 I shouldn't wonder.  From the Guardian 10 Key Moments in Cassette history (Guardian)
Tape for audio storage was first showcased at the Berlin Radio Show in 1935, on the reel-to-reel Magnetophon machine, but it would take another three decades for the stereo compact cassette to arrive. Dutch manufacturer Philips got there first in 1963, alongside the first battery-powered lightweight cassette player.
Albums on cassette arrived in the US in 1966, with Nina Simone, Eartha Kitt and Johnny Mathis among the first artists on tape; the UK followed suit in 1967. Intriguingly, cassettes also made the album a more significant format. As it was harder to select tracks on cassette than on record, listening to an album serially, without skipping, became ingrained in music culture. Cassettes also allowed more time for the album than vinyl. The standard LP length was 45 minutes in total; compact cassettes allowed up to 45 minutes per side.
A lengthy review of the new library in Birmingham. (Guardian)
The new £189m Library of Birmingham, which calls itself the largest public library in Europe, is as grand a civic statement as that city has attempted for many years. It's also a product of the package and wrapping way of building. Its maker, ahead of its architects, is the project management company Capita Symonds. It was on board first, and made many of the decisions that would determine the experience of the finished building. It managed the process that led to the selection of the Dutch architectural practice Mecanoo. Once architects would win a competition with a design, and ways would be found to achieve it, but Mecanoo was partly chosen for the ability to work with a pre-existing process. The question is: can it be "the best library in the world", as was hoped for, and be built in this way?
From the New York Times magazine this weekend a discourse on Google Glass.
Ultimately it’s difficult to assess how a tool like Glass might change our information habits and everyday behavior, simply because there’s so little software for it now. “Glass is more of a question than an answer,” in the words of Astro Teller, who heads Google X, the company’s “moon shot” skunk works, which supervised Glass’s development; he says he expects to be surprised by what emerges in the way of software. Phil Libin, the C.E.O. of Evernote, told me that my frustrations with Glass were off-base. I was trying to use it to replace a phone or a laptop, but the way head-mounted wearables will be used — assuming the public actually decides to use them — will most likely be very different. “This is not a reshaping of the cellphone,” he added. “This is an entirely new thing.” He predicts that we’ll still use traditional computers and phones for searching the Web, writing and reading documents, doing e-mail. A wearable computer will be more of an awareness device, noting what you’re doing and delivering alerts precisely when you need them, in sync with your other devices: when you’re near a grocery store, you will be told you’re low on vegetables, and an actual shopping list will be sent to your phone, where longer text is more easily read. Depending on your desire for more alerts, this could be regarded as either annoying or lifesaving. But as Libin puts it, “The killer app for this is hyperawareness.”
The principal associations for higher ed (The Association of Research Libraries (ARL), the Association of American Universities (AAU), and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU)) announced the formation of a joint steering group to advance a proposed network of digital repositories at universities, libraries, and other research institutions across the US that will provide long-term public access to federally funded research articles and data.  (Press Release)

I know I've asked myself this question; "Why does the Economist call itself a newspaper?" (Economist)
The Economist, moreover, still considers itself more of a newspaper than a magazine in spirit. Its aim is to be a comprehensive weekly newspaper for the world. If you are stranded on a desert island and can have only one periodical air-dropped to you to keep up with world news, our hope is that you would choose The Economist. That goal is arguably more in keeping with the approach of a newspaper than a magazine. The latter term derives from the French word for storehouse and implies a more specific publication devoted to a particular topic, rather than coverage of current affairs.
From Twitter:
CourseSmart Rolls Out Digital Textbook Subscriptions for College Students
Scientific American devotes a special report to digital reading.
BBC News - Elmore Leonard, crime novelist, dies aged 87
Will copyright be extended 20 more years? An old debate returns  

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Sir David Frost on Political Satire

PND Senior was reminising with Sir David only a few weeks ago.  Sad to see him go.