The Silicon Tower

BBC News’s Aleks Krotoski has a thought-provoking op-ed piece about how technophilically skewed the bulk of the internet really is. Her observation is based on spending some time with people who simply don’t use the web. She points out that they are not luddites but people who have simply found that the web doesn’t speak their language, doesn’t share their ways of structuring information. She mentions issues with search facilities like Google, but she also points out that even approaches meant to be more democratic (e.g., the semantic web, or facilities based on the intelligence of the masses) fall short for people who are not technologically oriented because the creators of web sites and the presumed intelligent masses are dominated by technophiles. For us 202ers, of course, the differences in how people organize information are nothing new, but it’s good to remind ourselves now and then that, as aware of the differences as we are, we are ourselves members of a particular community of thought. We at the iSchool are, I think, too focused on serving the needs of society to be considered residents of the traditional ivory tower; we live instead in a silicon one.

Comments off

Rural areas reap benefits of telemedicine

16 Aug 2008, 0430 hrs IST, Nirmala M Nagaraj,TNN




Telemedicine (the use of telecommunications to assist in the provision of medical services) is making it possible for cardiologists, neurologists or radiologists to attend to patients in rural India. For the past seven years, through video-conferencing of patients and doctors, 85,595 ECGs and 25,000 teleconsultations have been done, apart from 1,06,000 thrombosis cases by the 56 telemedicine centres in ten states. Even the postal service (Hrudaya Post) is being used where trained postal staff feed the data online (prescription, X-ray, ECG report, angiogram) for specialist consultation, a review report is sent within 24 hours, and the patient collects the report at the counter or at its doorstep (for an extra fee).




2. Issues and Contexts.

27. MULTIMEDIA IR (12/1) – X-Rays as Multimedia retrieved by medical personnel



Comments (1)

“Library of Congress Advances 2 Digital Projects Abroad”

The Library of Congress is working on a plan to “digitize a collection of the world’s rare cultural materials” with a wide range of artifacts. They are also working with Unesco in Paris on a World Digital Library project, which will be available to the public next year.

This new World Digital Library will be modeled after the Library of Congress American Memory project (, which has millions of items on the Web, and other national libraries are joining the project.  Library of Congress librarian, James Billington, commented that the vision of this project is to encourage a “better intercultural understanding of the world”, and one of the goals is to offer the collection free on-line in developing countries.

The World Digital Library project prototype started with material from five other libraries, from other countries, and a $3 million grant from Google and technical assistance from Apple.  This digital library will be searchable in seven languages, and will ultimately be available across platforms such as personal computers, hand held devices and inexpensive laptops.

Comments off

Fixing Broken Ballots

How Design Can Save Democracy
The New York Times, August 25, 2008.

Interactive Feature: Problems/Solutions in Ballot Design

In recent years, there has been controversy about the design of election ballots that cause confusion for both voters and vote-counters. (Remember butterfly ballots?) Unfortunately, voting technology and ballot design are not standardized or consistent, and vary wildly across the country. Ignoring the whole other issue of electronic voting security, there are still many problems with ballots that use confusing language and layout, as well as have difficult to read small print. These are especially problematic for people with visual impairments or those whose first language is not English.

Fortunately, the United Stated Election Assistance Commission created ballot design guidelines earlier this year. Following a guide to improve clarity in both language and design should reduce voter confusion, and will hopefully reduce problems of vote accuracy.

Local governments often have very limited funding, and it’s challenging to design forms that are clear to the hugely diverse population of “Americans 18 and older.” However, it seems to me that this is a case where budgeting for some extra thought and effort in the initial design can prevent many problems and their related costs later.

Relates to lectures:
3. Organization {and, or, vs} Retrieval
7. Controlled names and vocabularies
12. Enterprise/institutional categorization & standards
19. Information organization in user interfaces

Comments (1)

An Army of Ones and Zeroes

“An Army of Ones and Zeroes: How I became a soldier in the Georgia-Russia cyberwar.” by Evgeny Morozov via

As it stands, no one can really dispute that the last decade has brought significant changes to our societal definitions of warfare. Most obvious among these changes is the shift from the nation-to-nation principals of the Clausewitzian era to a new 21st century battlefield of non-state actors and Radio Shack enhanced IT tactics. Meanwhile, our military schools and strategists redefine their tactics and goals as they struggle to keep up.

In Morozov’s journalistic experiment, the author channels Matthew Broderick’s cheekiness from “Wargames” while signing on to act as a cyber-soldier against Georgia in its recent military face-off with Putin’s Russia. Experimenting with simple page-reload scripts and DOS attacks, Morozov describes his exploits against Georgian government information sites using widely available, pre-built tools that made joining the ranks so easy that he was left with “concerns about the number of child soldiers who may just find it too fun and accessible to resist.”

Given that warring countries have always had very different “calls-to-arms” for their citizen militias, I wonder how technologically sophisticated societies will harness the power of their citizens in information warfare over the next decade. While it’s somewhat hard to imagine the United States asking its general population to militarize their home computers for an information assault on China, it’s not unrealistic to envision a war between the Korean states or between China and Taiwan being fought in-part by thousands of teenage, or even elderly patriots recruited and trained in advanced cyber-warfare using an advanced social network that uses internal feedback systems such as quests, rankings, and rewards to promote its soldiers . Warfare 2.0 FTW. Kinda scary.

What struck me about this article is that given the expanding toolkit of tracking and surveillance hardware installed throughout this country, Morozov mentions nothing about nation vs. civilian reprisals. If Georgia discovers you are attacking its infrastructure, how can it strike back? Is this perhaps why he didn’t choose to attack the Russians despite his statement that his “geopolitical sympathies…lie with Moscow’s counterparts.”

I think it is valid to make correlations between this article and concepts discussed by Vannevar Bush and “Operation Clean Data.” When your information is centralized, is it not also weakened from a security standpoint? How are government information systems designed to provide data unification, internal transparency, redundancy, modularization, and useability all at the same time? How do cyber-warfare techniques exploit these systems with automation and retrieval? Surely these issues are being weighed by information and security experts to anticipate the many changes in the future of information warfare.


Comments off

Classifying Terrorism

From: Terror Watchlist is “Imploding,” Legislator Says

According to a letter from the chair of the House Science and Technology Committee, the Terrorist Identites Datamart Enviornment (TIDE), commonly known as the Terror Watch List, is failing miserably. In theory, the list should take the form of a  database that accepts information from a number of government organizations such as the FBI, CIA and National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). It should accept and classify that information in the database, and then allow authorized organizations to query that information.

Unfortunately, the letter says, the database can’t keep up with the data that is being submitted for classification, nor can queries be accurately done on the information already in the system. Furthermore, it lacks the capability to do fuzzy searches, so if my name is on the watchlist, it’s not a big deal because I can just travel under my middle name and get right by. The letter says that the database consists of “463 separate tables, 295 of which are undocumented.” The only way to query it is via SQL commands.

From the lecture: How do people search for information, How can we organize information, What is meaning? Where is meaning? Defining what something means.

Comments (1)