Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Search: The Final Frontier

Search as we know it now is based on words and text, but this is limiting in many ways.  Merely searching the web of links and URLs no longer works in the sophisticated evolution of the Web.   How do we push out of those traditional boundaries of search?   Bing Director of Search at Microsoft's Bing Stefan Weitz has come out with an excellent book called simply Search predicting the world of search engines in the future, particularly when "every device, every object that surrounds us, and every person is connected and we have systems that can distinguish patterns from the noise."

Of course, when we think of  search, it is language-based.  The problem of our current search is the "low resolution" approach of describing things.  The statement a picture is worth a thousand words in this aspect is really apt: it literally takes at least a thousand words to precisely to define the attributes of even the most basic object as a table (such as dimensions, materials, country of origin, date of purchase, etc).  This is for a simple object, too!

According to Weitz, searching and describing the world required a method that both search engines and humans could process: words mapped to pages, and those same pages mapped to information.  Even audio-visual information are associated through text.  

What if search is described by very fine details not by human language but by things?  What if  sensors through a billion connected devices become an Internet representation of a physical object?  No longer do we have to rely on language as a universal descriptor, but suddenly the world can be modeled in seemingly endless detail using facets that have little relation to language.

The boundaries between digital and physical worlds blend into each other and complement one another.   In this new search world, the increasing digitization of the world means that everything can be described at higher resolutions than ever before.

Timing is everything, too, as the Web has moved away from being an information repository to a bridge that transports data and enables services to happen in real life.  Weitz likens this transformation of search from a large library into a digital proxy for the physical world.   Just as humans are unable to think about things isolation, the Web needs to perceive the world holistically, away from a Web of words to a Web of the world.  When search understands every characteristic of every object on the planet, it will be finally able to make those connections.  I've written about this in previous posts about the current evolution of the technology and how it shapes our thinking as information professionals.

These connections are called graphs.  By linking these disparate graphs, the commonalities that emerges will assemble a complete picture of the world and everything in it.  Every person and object can be described in hundreds of ways, from photos from Facebook to your personal weight when you're on a scale, to the energy consumed by your smartphone.  In this smart-world, machines build models that re-create reality, becoming aware and sensitive to our needs and inquiries.

Such machine learning - an area of artificial intelligence (AI) - allows search systems the capability to make sense of the world.  Whether we call this brave new world a Web of Things, Web 3.0, smart web, or intelligent web, is still to be determined.  But the potential for for the interconnectedness of this system that will change the way we search is almost as exciting as when the Web first became ubiquitous.  The future of search feels bright indeed.  

Monday, January 05, 2015

Class Hierarchies and the Ivy Leagues

In Excellent Sheep, the author, essayist, and literary critic Bill Deresiewicz writes about the state of American education: the the entitled and the elite.  Examining the decaying state of education in the United States, the author pulls no punches in his disparaging assessment of how Ivy Leagues have shaped American higher education for the worse.

A professor of English at Yale University, there is no other with such insider knowledge of the intellectual factory than Deresiewicz himself, who ironically is himself a product of the Ivy league privileged class (whom he comfortably acknowledges) before he decided to abandon his faculty position in favour of freelance writing.

In 2008, Deresiewicz published a controversial essay in the The American Scholar titled The Disadvantages of an Elite Education which criticizes Ivy League and elite higher education institutions for supposedly coddling their students and discouraging independent thought.  Deresiewicz asserts elite institutions ultimately produce students who are unable to communicate with people who don't have the same background as themselves.

Fast-forward to 2014 and in Excellent Sheep, he continues the argument:
. . . the problem is the Ivy League itself - the position it and other schools have been allowed to occupy.  The problem is that we have contracted the training of our leadership class to a set of private institutions.  However much they claim to act, or think they're acting, for the common good, they will always place their interests first.  They will always be the creatures of the rich.  The arrangement is great for the schools, whose wealth and influence continue to increase . . .
Credentialism -  Colleges have become inundated with job fairs and the two most coveted: consulting and finance.  It seems as if the number of degrees and the most prestigious jobs have curtailed society's sense of worth - and this has crept up and in fact this mindset is being cultivated early in the student's mind.  

Corporatization - In many ways it is the fall of Humanities and the rise of a technocracy which thirsts for fame and wealth.   The results of this has been further monetization and privatization of  higher education; whatever cannot be measured as an "outcome" for the institution's bottom line is cut and slashed in the name of efficiency and global competition.  What are MOOCs but further watering down of quality instruction, less face-time with professors, and further reduction of adjunct instructors altogether?

Class Privilege - In conspiratorial fashion, the system is fixed (but not flawed) in that it's designed specifically to sustain the class hierarchy, mirroring many of current society's problematic income gaps.  Deresiewicz points out an appalling fact: the majority of American presidential candidates since 1984 had been educated from the Ivy Leagues.  On the surface it appear as if the "best of the best" rise to the top to be a nation's leaders; however, the underpinnings of how the structure of such a rigid class system sustained by the (wealthy) elite for the elite is troubling to say the least.

Cynical, you say?  The situation is more pronounced in America than it is here in Canada (although Deresiewicz praises Canada, Finland, and Singapore for their egalitarian systems not yet tainted).  However, I already do see symptoms of this higher education vortex.  Each year as funding is reduced is one year closer we move the needle to the meritocratic hierarchy that Deresiewicz so despises.   We can only hope that Deresiewicz's early warning signs are just an exaggeration.  I fear not.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Welcome to New Beginnings, and New Endings in 2015

This site started as an experiment in 2006 during a professional practicum with my now colleague and mentor Dean Giustini at the Biomedical Branch Library at the University of British Columbia.  My first assignment?  To create a blog and keep track of my experiences through concise and succinct written reflections.

An exciting time 2006 came to be -- Web 2.0 emerged as a force to be reckoned with and the possibilities and opportunities for implementing these new technologies had just begun.  New positions within organizations were ripe within a booming economy and the rise from the ashes of the dot-com crash.  It seemed like the right time for the beginning of many things.

Well, nine years later, and we find that the evolution of social media has not quite changed the world, but it's certainly made a difference.  Mobile technologies, semantic web, and Internet of Things, have all surfaced as potentially game-changing technologies that will impact the world.   My site has attempted to follow these important trends and help me keep abreast of these rapid changes.

But when does one begin to turn the corner?   I have found that a passion to connect and inform with my audience has waned at times and the quantity of posts has dipped to levels that I am not comfortable to continue the site.  Has it become a hobby or a burden?  

2015 is a new start.  A re-branding is in order.  Here are three things I pledge to work on for my resolution in this upcoming year:

1. Focus on liaison, reference, and collection building work. This site will be situated as a canvas on which to paint new ideas, experiment, and synthesize experiences together on a coherent and continual basis.  The convergence of technology and demographic shifts has brought librarianship into uncharted territory - open data, open education, digital humanities (just to name a few of many) mean the landscape of academic libraries will be shifting tectonically in the next few years.  There's much listening and watching to do.  This site will aim to follow those trends and conversations.

2.  Curriculum - speaking of which, there is also an Asian Canadian & Migration Studies program in development at UBC - a unique program that encourages students to explore the rich history, culture, and contemporary development of Asian communities in Canada by supporting co-creation of knowledge with community-based organizations.  In a multi-culturally diverse country we live in here in North America, it's one of many that are evolving in the academic ecology.  Where is the academic library's place in this knowledge creation, especially in community-based research?   I hope to add to this developing discussion with my own experiences and insight throughout the process.

3.  The Personal & the Professional - I've been asked why this site doesn't show more of me.  It doesn't, but it should.   There are book reviews to be written; film reviews to be articulated; news stories to analyze.  So onward and so forth.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Telling Everyone What A ‎Serious Attempt to Analyze What Change Really Means #Socialmedia

I've followed UBC Journalism professor Alfred Hermida, who's known as a "news pioneer, digital media scholar and journalism educator," for a number of years.  So when his latest book Tell Everyone: Why We Share and Why It Matters came out, I couldn't resist from taking a look look at this title.  Indeed, it is packed with progeny of insight about the different angles of social media.   Hermida is often quoted in the media and cited in academic circles for his research about the evolution of digital journalism.  The book certainly doesn't disappoint in its analysis of the transforming media landscape - one where citizen journalists and bloggers blur the line between what is reporting and rumour.  Audiences have become editors and emotion often drives the primeval urge to share and be social.  As Hermida puts it, social media
. . . requires a different mindset from the way we approached things like the newspaper.  The daily paper was finite.  It had a set number of pages, column inches and words.  And even then, most didn't read every single story and perhaps ignored some sections altogether.  Social media is the ambient music of the every day.  Much of what is shared consists of the mundane details of life, the small talk and casual exchanges that are important in fostering societal bonds.  It is flowing in attention.  Like ambient music, we know it is there, but it is unobtrusive.
This book is a real game changer - it's no coincidence it's on best sellers lists and at the front of bookstores.

Friday, December 19, 2014

From Crisis to "Revolution"? The new paradigm of collection management in university libraries

As a liaison librarian in Asian Studies, I'm still in the learning stages of collection development - the nuances of balancing purchases with budget constraints.  Approval plans amidst the restructuring of firm orders.  E-books versus print titles.  DDA packages that no longer seem to be to the advantageous to publishers who pass on the costs to academic libraries.  It's sometimes feels like a whirlwind tour of changes.

However, after coming across Blanca San Jose Montano's "The new paradigm of collection management in university libraries: from crisis to revolution," it helps contextualize the current chaos of collection management.  Montano positions collection management in an historic timeline, one with a very long process where "internal" and "external" factors interact to transform the collection and its management activities.  Libraries are living organisms in continuous change that adapts to the context where they exist and which is the cause of their progress. It is formed by “vital elements” such as the collection – which is its basic element and the nucleus of its activity.

We can look at then, Thomas Kuhn, whose theory of the "paradigm shift" in science views science as ultimately a product of human activity – and being a social product, it is formed by processes where internal and external factors interact - a theory that divides science evolution different (altogether five stages).  This article puts things into focus with three salient points for us academic librarian selectors who are often too steeped in our work that we can sometimes forget to take a step back and look at the greater picture.  Here are three takeaways:

1. Libraries adapt to their historical context.  Libraries live and breathe on the technological, social, cultural and political transformations that converge and interact, with a cause – effect correlation that is difficult to establish for its rapid evolution. In the past decades, the developments in the digital fields have gained momentum, the library maintains and increases the relevance of its fundamental mission to organize and preserve that has neither changed nor has been deprecated. The library is no longer a static place and becomes a space; the collection remains a tangible possession deposited in a place and becomes a material network with value-added services, and the user becomes an active element of conversation.

2. University libraries are information systems. They have transformed their aims and functions to become a unified university information system, enlarging their mission of conserving and preserving the teaching and researching collections to make them more useful and competitive. These libraries seek to facilitate learning and academic communication, adapting to the digital world, their institutions and their users.

3. The tools for conventional “collection management” have changed.  In fact, they have gone through a "revolution." The new model of “cooperative collection management” should be configured so as to provide the library and its community with a balanced, homogeneous and standardized view of its purposes, strategies and good common practices.

Thus, it is important to reflect (and breathe) when doing collection management work.  It's not easy, particularly with the barriers and constant barrage of seemingly shifting priorities and moving targets.  Collection management is a continuum - if we aren't careful to move along with the changing profession, not only will it remain stale, we risk becoming obsolete to our users.  

Thursday, December 04, 2014

How Not to be a Digital Zombie

You know who I am, what I do, and more importantly, whether or not I can help you or someone you know.

Author and management consultant Bernard Marr offers excellent advice on how to introduce ourselves in the often chaotic world of small talk and cocktail party conversations.  It's not as easy as it looks - looking and sounding like an intelligent human being while not nervously cracking under the pressure.   

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Asian Canadian Archives - a Window Into the Past

I recently had the good fortune to work with a prominent community organizer in donating his archives to the UBC Library.  Wong-Chu was born in Hong Kong and described himself as nomad for many years. He didn’t settle in Vancouver until 1965 when he was an adult. A writer, photographer, historian, radio producer, community organizer, activist, editor, as well as a literary and cultural engineer, Wong-Chu kept meticulous records which include his work with:
  • Canadian cultural and literary communities; 
  • Asian Canadian writers; 
  • social justice and historical issues related to discrimination of Chinese and other Asian ethnic groups; 
  • Canada and Vancouver's Chinese and other Asian cultural communities

As Centre A: Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art puts it,
 a persistent activist and cultural producer Jim co-founded the Asian Canadian Writers Workshop, Ricepaper Magazine, Pender Guy Radio, the Asian Canadian Performing Arts Resource (ACPAR), literASIAN: A Festival of Pacific Rim Asian Canadian Writing and the Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Festival. With the sheer girth of his activity Jim has been instrumental in creating a cultural scene inclusive of Asian Canadian talent.
As an academic librarian, community engagement has been an important part of my role in the library.    The recent creation of a program called Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies (ACAM) is a new multidisciplinary initiative that provides students with the opportunity to explore the rich history, culture, and contemporary development of Asian communities in Canada. The minor will support the building of a dynamic and sustainable Asian Canadian community initiative at UBC that aspires to build strong peer-to-peer linkages between researchers and provide mentoring and training for students, in concert with supporting collaborative partnerships in the co-creation of knowledge with Asian Canadian community-based organizations.

So instead of textbook-focused program, the collection of these courses focuses on the local history, providing students opportunities to connect and learn from the pioneers that made the community the diversity it is today, and creating course materials through archival research and new documentary approaches such as oral histories - something which brings in the experiential component that academia sometimes misses the point on.

Over the next decade, it will be fascinating to see the rise of this grassroots approach to teaching and learning - the library in many ways is the focal point of this process.  I'm looking forward to reporting back on our progress.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Horizon Report 2014 - The Academic Research Library Edition

It’s that time of year when the NMC Horizon Project, a 12-year effort established in 2002, unleashes what it identifies and describes as the emerging technologies likeliest to have the largest impact over the coming five years in every sector of education around the globe. 

As I’ve written in previous postings about Horizon Report, it’s always like Christmas Eve anticipation. This year is even more exciting and interesting as this version of the NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Library Edition examines six key emerging technology trends for their impact on academic and research libraries worldwide. 

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: One Year or Less

Electronic Publishing
If the first revolution in electronic publishing was making publishing platforms accessible to anyone, the next phase is now to link these platforms together in producing new combinations and new types of content. New concepts such as responsive design and open access will allow that content to be archived as well as ported to any device, making it easier for libraries to publish resources that assist and reach people outside of the physical buildings.
  • Academic and research libraries are currently focused on growing their activity around the creation of original publications through e-journals or e-books, research data, and learning content that supports their institutions
  • As a growing amount of educational content becomes readily available via the Internet, libraries have a major incentive to more seamlessly connect people with their resources and scholarly information
  • Well-established initiatives include the publishing of a range of scholarly content, such as conference proceedings, monographs, and theses and dissertations libraries have adapted to publishing content, rather than simply purchasing content to share with their constituents. 
  • For example, University Library System at the University of Pittsburgh, for example, now publishes more than 35 scholarly online journals, developed through an online workflow that enables content to be consumed by students, faculty, and researchers across a variety of devices
Mobile Apps
For several years now, a revolution has been taking place in software development that parallels similar shifts in the music, publishing, and retail industries. Mass market is giving way to niche market, and with it, the era of highly priced large suites of integrated software has shifted to a new view of what software should be. 
  • Mobile apps embody the convergence of several technologies that lend themselves to use in academic and research libraries, including annotation tools, applications for creation and composition, and social networks.
  • Mobile apps continue to gain traction in academic and research libraries, because they are particularly useful for learning as they enable people to experience new concepts wherever they are, often across multiple devices.
  • As academic and research libraries begin to understand the potential of external apps, they are going beyond providing searching and reading tools by developing their own apps to create greater awareness of how libraries can assist students and faculty.
Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Two to Three Years

Bibliometrics and Citation Technologies
Viewed as a set of mathematical and statistical methods to quantitatively analyze citations and content of academic literature, the technology has advanced rapidly in the age of computers as new algorithms are being developed to better gauge an author or journal’s impact in the field, and help researchers efficiently filter through research databases or select the most appropriate journal for publication.
  • Bibliometrics encompasses citation count, journal impact factor (JIF), and h-index, among other metrics that can be used to support grant applications, attainment of new and tenured positions, and requests for raises or promotions. 
  • Bibliometrics is crucial to quantitatively demonstrating the quality of an institution’s research, and these measures
  • Advances in bibliometrics are helping academic and research libraries maintain a competitive edge by maximizing the influence of their scientific outputs, and thus reinforcing their effort to gain funding.
Open Content
Open content uses open licensing schemes to encourage not only the sharing of information, but the sharing of pedagogies and experiences as well. Part of the appeal of open content is that it is a response to both the rising costs of traditionally published resources and the lack of educational resources in some regions. 
  • Increased use of OER in higher education has made academic libraries the coordinators of campus units in the development of open content
  • Institutions that are implementing large-scale open content initiatives are relying on their libraries to lead the charge
  • OSU Libraries of Oregon State University embarked on a pilot program that manages OSU Press and OSU Extended Campus in the creation, review, and support of open textbooks
  • The movement toward open content reflects a growing shift in the way scholars in many parts of the world are conceptualizing education to a view that is more about the process of learning than the information conveyed. 

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Four to Five Years

The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of connected objects that link the physical world with the world of information through the web. Embedded chips, sensors, or tiny processors attached to an object allow helpful information about the object, such as cost, age, temperature, color, pressure, or humidity to be transmitted over the Internet. 
  • This simple connection allows remote management, status monitoring, tracking, and alerts if the objects they are attached to are in danger of being damaged or spoiled. Many web tools allow objects to be annotated with descriptions, photographs, connections to other objects, and other contextual information; the Internet of Things makes access to these data as easy as it is to use the web.
  • Connect people’s interactions with library catalogs online with their experiences in the physical facilities. Many catalogs currently offer a “favorite” so users can easily add items to their virtual list of preferences and readings. Through an IoT-enabled app, maps and directions to each of those resources can be provided to patrons upon entering the library.
Semantic Web and Linked Data
Tim Berners-Lee originally envisioned the semantic web as a natural evolution of the web. His idea is that eventually the semantic web might be able to help people solve very difficult problems by presenting connections between seemingly unrelated concepts, individuals, events, or things — connections that it would take many people many years to perceive, but that could become obvious through the kinds of associations made possible when the semantics of the data are exposed.
  • Academic and research libraries are in a unique position to benefit from the increased exposure and contextualization that semantic tools can bring to their collections. 
  • Library catalogs will be a more valuable information resource if their metadata is an interoperable part of the semantic web and not siloed in separate inaccessible databases. 
  • It is no longer enough for libraries to have their own websites with collection data; there is growing emphasis to integrate these collection catalogs into sites and services more frequently accessed by users. Students and researchers need to be able to connect from Google, for example, back to their specific library.
  • As an increasing number of librarians recognize the importance of sharing information about collections across institutions, they are forming communities of practice, such as Linked Open Data in Libraries, Archives, and Museums (LODLAM), a global network of professionals interested in working with linked open data in their institutions.

So there you go - the Horizon Report has been accurate on a number of fronts since it was first released.

Friday, August 01, 2014

How to Be a Quitter and Still Be a Success

I recently came across Jon Acuff's Quitter. Jon Acuff is a New York Times Bestselling author of four books including his most recent, Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work that Matters.  For 16 years he’s helped some of the biggest brands in the world tell their story, including The Home Depot, Bose, Staples, and have spoken at conferences, colleges, companies and even churches.  Probably better known as the humorist who wrote Stuff Christians Like, Acuff has a witty and sharp intellect for being able to synthesize complex ideas into a highly engaging and fun read.  In my recent foray into Quitter, I realized that I stumbled across another great read - one that situates the current wave of literature around self-improvement and self-publishing guides.

Fame is a Burden - Don't be a victim of your own success - Many who go from anonymity to overnight success experience pressure to constantly keep up.  The consequences are often an afterthought when one begins the long road from creating something from scratch and watch it grow to prominence.  But the road to fame has its drawbacks, including the loss of privacy, freedom, and ultimately the chance to be able to innovate and freely fail.  Anonymity is a luxury.  Many stars yearn for the opportunity to test new ideas and experiment without consequences.  But here is the paradox: the greater the fame, the less space there is for risk whereas obscurity's greatest trade-off is the ability to try anything and do anything without much repercussions.  Fame does have its drawbacks doesn't it?

Do Not Burn Out - It's easy after a while to forget about the people around you.  The countless hours of hard work that leads to success oftentimes comes at a price - and that is usually those closest around us.  There will inevitably be a trade-off; sadly, success comes at a zero-sum game.  To achieve success in almost anything, one must dedicate time and energy for a craft - yet, this comes at a price.  Family and friends should be foremost, according to Acuff, as they are a support network in life's ecology.  We need to nurture these relationships and not forget about the bigger picture in life.  It's not all about the money.

Give for Free - Just as important to create is the necessity to give back.  Acuff encourages us that we need to share what we create with the world and give back.  Like a karmic cycle, this giving will reward ourselves further into the future.  Many have written about this concept of giving back, including self-help gurus from Robert Kawasaki to billionaires such as Richard Branson.  There's a reason it's a common theme: it works!  So will you do it?   

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Big Data for Knowledge Workers, Information Professionals, Businesses, and Just About Everyone Else

The emergence of "Big data" as a field of study is a new phenomenon - one which few comprehends immediately despite a vague notion of what it stands for.  As a blanket term, big data encompasses data sets with sizes beyond the ability of commonly used software tools to capture, curate, manage, and process the data within a period of time.   Of course, the challenge is heavy: we need capture, curation, storage, search, sharing, transfer, analysis and visualization of the data.

Academic libraries have only begun to open the pandora's box of creating data curation programs and initiatives to support universities.  Data curation is a term used to indicate management activities required to maintain research data long-term such that it is available for reuse and preservation. In science, data curation may indicate the process of extraction of important information from scientific texts, such as research articles by experts, to be converted into an electronic format.

Wired Magazine's Chris Anderson, as far back as 2008, boldly declared for the end of theory as we know it because big data can predict the future.  A flurry of books have come out the past few years about big data - all with different approaches and viewpoints of it - but all coming to similar conclusions about its transformative approaches.  With that said, there are some excellent published books out there which serve as an excellent prime into this important area of study which not only academics would need to learn about, but also businesses and knowledge workers that deal with the increasingly vast amounts of data captured everyday.

Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise is one of the earliest tomes that explained in laymen's language the gift and power of curating and using big data in solving problems. Now a legend, Silver first became known for building a unique system called PECOTA a system for forecasting the performance and career development of Major League Baseball players. In addition, Silver's accuracy of the November 2008 presidential election predictions—he correctly predicted the winner of 49 of the 50 states as well all 35 U.S. Senate races that year—won him further attention and notoriety.

A fascinating read, the book draws on Silver's groundbreaking work, Silver examines the world of prediction, investigating how we can distinguish a true signal from a universe of noisy data.

The other book worth looking at is The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move?.  Patrick Tucker, Editor of Futurologist, offers a stunning yet disturbing look into how computer-aided forecasting using big data is positioned for rapid growth over the next decade. The rise of big data will enable us to predict not only events like earthquakes or epidemics, but also individual human behaviors.  We already live in such a world when we run a Google search and our results are often personalized without our even knowing it.  In the future, an app on your phone knows you're getting married before you do. Your friends' tweets can help data scientists predict your location with astounding accuracy, even if you don't use Twitter. Soon, we'll be able to know how many kids in a kindergarten class will catch a cold once the first one gets sick.  This is a hauntingly beautiful gaze into what the future of big data will mean for everyone's future.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb's writing really caught me offguard when I had first come across it but helped me appreciate big data within the randomness of this world.  The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable: With a new section: "On Robustness and Fragility" popularized the way in how we understand the influence of highly improbable and unpredictable events that have massive impact, concisely chiseled for a non-academic readership. The book focuses on the extreme impact of certain kinds of rare and unpredictable events (called outliers) and our humans tendency to find simplistic explanations for these events retrospectively. This theory has since become known as the black swan theory, and covers both science and the arts guiding us from a tour of literary subjects in the beginning to scientific and mathematical subjects in the later portions.

MIT Professor Sandy Pentland has often been seen as one of the foremost thinkers and researchers of the area of big data.  Over years of groundbreaking experiments, he distilled remarkable discoveries significant enough to become the bedrock of a whole new scientific field: social physics. Humans have more in common with bees than we like to admit: We’re social creatures first and foremost. Our most important habits of action—and most basic notions of common sense—are wired into us through our coordination in social groups. Social physics is about idea flow, the way human social networks spread ideas and transform those ideas into behaviors.

Ultimately, Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread—The Lessons from a New Science looks at organizational and human behaviours from a physics standpoint.   Pentland's book questions how can we create organizations and governments that are cooperative, productive, and creative focusing on the engine that drives social physics is big data.  Pentland argues that this newly ubiquitous digital data that is becoming available all around us can help us understand and predict almost all facets of human life. By using these data to build a predictive, computational theory of human behavior we can hope to engineer better social systems.

Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie, or Die takes us (and big data) on a whirlwind tour of the subject disciplines, and introduces us to the notion of a new term called predictive analytics, which encompasses a variety of statistical techniques from modeling, machine learning, and data mining that analyze current and historical facts to make predictions about future, or otherwise unknown, events.  For instance, it delves into the relatively new idea of "persuasion modeling," which predicts influence in order to do influence. Barack Obama's campaign used it to influence voters in the 2012 presidential election; marketing uses it to more adeptly persuade customers; and medicine uses it to better select per-patient treatments.

Intriguingly, the book moves beyond forecasting to a very granular level, contesting that while Nate Silver made election forecasts for each state as a whole, the Obama campaign was using predictive analytics to make per-voter prediction. Consequently, true power comes in influencing the future rather than speculating on it--the raison d'être of predictive analytics.  As author Eric Siegel argues, while Nate Silver publicly competed to win election forecasting, Obama's analytics team had quietly competed to win the election itself.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Exploring Heritage In the Multi-Digital World

May is Asian Heritage Month in Canada and also the United States since 1979. As part of the Asian diaspora, the month has been established in 2001 as an official celebration of the history of Asian Canadians and their contributions to Canada with organizations in almost every province.  In Vancouver, theVancouver Asian Heritage Month Society (VAHMS) celebrates with a month-long festival called explorASIAN.  This month, it offered a number of workshops on to help Asian Canadians discover their family heritage.

One of the projects I'm working on currently is the formation of a non-profit organization that can serve the needs of those who want to do Chinese family history research. The organization will cover every Chinese genealogical societies globally. Along with Global Research and Archival Management, Inc., this new organization, International Association of Chinese Genealogical Society (IAGS), strives to educate, and serve as a bridge to all Chinese genealogical societies registered globally with the support of the international volunteers specialized in Chinese genealogy research and education.

The accessibility of genealogical research has long been at the margins of those experts who have the time and the money to finance projects on family history.  But with digitization and digital information readily available online, the journey has been made easier.  But birth and death records; pre-modern village records; passenger registries; etc, are often available but waiting to be discovered.  There is a real disconnect for those who want to, but do not know how to get started.  The two videos above show how some of this work is beginning to be handled by community.  I hope to carry through some of this research, and share the the record of my journey with you.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Looking into the Glass Ball and Into the Future

I'm a follower of the Futurist Magazine.  Every year, the editors of the publication identify the most provocative forecasts and statements about the future that it's published.  Each year, it identifies the ten forecasts from that report that paint the most compelling picture of the future as it exists right now.

Far from exhaustive though, they do represent trends that are of wide relevance and futures that are becoming more likely.   Patrick Tucker, the editor of Futurist Magazine and author of The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move?curates the top ten forecasts for 2014 and beyond.

1. Thanks to big data, the environment around you will anticipate your every move

2. Revival of extinct species

3. Populations will shrink, and wealth will shrink with them

4. Doctors will see brain diseases many years before they arise

5. Buying and owning things will go out of style

6. Quantum computing could lead the way to true artificial intelligence

7. Phytoplankton death will further disrupt aquatic ecosystems

8. The future of science is in the hands of crowdsourcing amateurs

9. Fusion-fueled rockets could significantly reduce the potential time and cost of sending humans to Mars

10. Atomically precise manufacturing will make machinery, infrastructure, and other systems more productive and less expensive.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Peking University Library: From Imperial Times to Modern Times

I recently finished reading Portraits of 21st Century Chinese Universities: In the Move to Mass Higher Education, an incredibly insightful glimpse into twelve of China's largest universities, including their vision and mission, their orientation to the world and the innovations in curriculum and research.  I visited the Peking University Library, and astounded by the rich history of the campus, its buildings, and the intellectual depth of the faculties.

Founded as the "Imperial University of Peking" in 1898 as a replacement of the ancient Guozijian Imperial College.  Founded in 1902 by the Imperial Qing Dynasty under the name the Book Depository of the Imperial University of Peking, the current day Peking University Library is among the earliest modern libraries in China. With its long and distinguished history of continuous transformation, PUL today is one of China’s leading research libraries and most important academic libraries, and inarguably the largest university library in Asia. The library has gone beyond its traditional role of a university library. In line with its mission to be a research, teaching and learning partner for its patrons, PUL continuously improves and modernises its technical infrastructure, management and services.
Furthermore it also synthesises its efforts and initiative to fully support Peking University’s position as a member of China’s elite Ivy League universities called the ‘C9 League’ and long-term ambition to become one of the best universities in the world.  Its extensive holdings and resources range from special collections of oriental studies and rare antiquarian books to modern scientific online journals, cutting-edge AV materials and digital resources. The Library’s immense books selection of diverse subjects is especially characterised with its rich collection of written and printed treasures and rare items.
By 2008, Peking University Library held over 8 million books, with 1.5 million Chinese entries including 200,000 most unique and treasured classical books covering the period between 5th and 18th century China which attracts a great deal of international attention. In addition, its comprehensive editions of foreign books, bronze and stone rubbings and pre-1949 publications have become parts of its strongest features and specifically distinguish Peking University Library from its counterparts in China. The library also has carried out massive acquisition of digital resources from home and abroad, totaling several hundred thousand assortments, including databases, electronic journals, electronic books, and theses and dissertations, keeping Peking University Library at the forefront of its initiative to be one of China’s leading and most modern research libraries.
Although it has undergone extensive structural renovation, PUL remains renowned for its exquisite traditional Chinese architecture. Today, the library has an impressive total building area of 53,000 square metres with over 4,000 seats.

Peking University Library provides all of th services such as circulation, digital library portal, resource retrieval, digitizing services, information service and research reference, interlibrary loan and document delivery, user training, academic books on reserve and multimedia services. The document and service sharing system consists of the main library, thirty department libraries, a medical school library and six affiliated hospital libraries. The branch libraries collect more than one million volumes with most of them retrievable through its OPAC.
Throughout its history, the university has educated and hosted many prominent modern Chinese thinkers, including figures such as: Lu Xun, Mao Zedong, Gu Hongming, Hu Shih, Li Dazhao, and Chen Duxiu, all immortalized in the annals of Chinese history.  Much of the buildings is retained from its imperial history.

Inspired by the German model of academic freedom, Peking University recruited Western-trained faculty that included Hu Shih,Chen Duxiu, and Lu Xun, and its students formed the bulk of the protesters of the May Fourth Movement, which ushered in the modernization movement in the country, and subsequently, Peking University influenced the birth of China's New Culture Movement, May Fourth Movement, the Tiananmen Square protest of 1989 and many other significant events.  The history continues to this day.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

#TED2014 Arrives in Vancouver (Finally)

TED finally began on March 17 in the evening 6 p.m. here in Vancouver, BC.  At $7,500 per seat, it's outpriced the majority, including my own, but at least my library the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre has a livestream.  It's remarkable witnessing crowds there immersed in the talks each day.

Each speaker, some of the world’s most inspirational and brightest individuals, are given 18-minutes to deliver their talk to the audience.   As a conference with humble origins, TED has grown from a simple experimental convergence of the fields of technology, entertainment and design to one that encompasses the broadest topics and an intellectual dynamism of some of the world's most in-demand speakers.  Although I might never have a chance to rub elbows with those attending, it's assuring to know the talks are made available online.  Here's some of the highlights so far from TED 2014.  (Oh well, there's always next year).
    Edward Snowden: Here's how we take back the Internet - Appearing by telepresence robot, Edward Snowden speaks at TED2014 about surveillance and Internet freedom. The right to data privacy, he suggests, is not a partisan issue, but requires a fundamental rethink of the role of the internet in our lives — and the laws that protect it.
    Chris  Hadfield: What I learned from going blind in space - Chris Hadfield paints a vivid portrait of how to be prepared for the worst in space (and life) -- and it starts with walking into a spider's web. Watch for a special space-y performance.
    Daniel Reisel: The neuroscience of restorative justice - Daniel Reisel studies the brains of criminal psychopaths (and mice). And he asks a big question: Instead of warehousing these criminals, shouldn't we be using what we know about the brain to help them rehabilitate? Put another way: If the brain can grow new neural pathways after an injury ... could we help the brain re-grow morality?
    Charmian Gooch: My wish: To launch a new era of openness in business - Anti-corruption activist Charmian Gooch shares her brave TED Prize wish: to know who owns and controls companies, to change the law, and to launch a new era of openness in business.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Introducing "Generation C"

"Generation C" is not a new innovation - it has been around since 2004. In 2012, Zoe Fox's
Forget Generation Y: 18- to 34-Year-Olds Are Now 'Generation C' noted that Gen C is a powerful new force in consumer culture, a term describing a generation of people who care deeply about creation, curation, connection, and community.

It's not a question of whether these individuals While some might view them as Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000), researchers define Generation C as a "psychographic" group, or a number of individuals who share a similar state of mind, whether that be certain personality traits, values, attitudes, interests, or lifestyles.  Google assert that 80% of millennials are made up of Gen C, YouTube’s core audience.  Some believe we should treat Generation C as an attitude and mindset.

Regardless, Google describes Generation C as "connected, computerized, and always clicking." A generation of change, these are lofty ideals.   There are traits that characterize this generation:
  • a love of content creation and 'mashing';
  • the tendency to form active communities rather than remain passive;
  • a gravitation toward social media sites where they can participate in discussions about different ideas and get involved in cultural conversations;
  • a desire to be in control of their own lives, and a contentedness with complexity;
  • a desire to work in more creative industries and be less restricted by rigid social structures.