What you can do in three minutes on DigiPo to make the world better.

The DigiPo mission — to teach students web literacy while they help fix our information environment — is vast. But your involvement with it can literally be as little as 240 seconds.

Here’s an example. I logged into a document today to find that some kind soul had made precisely one edit to one of the documents (which now exist in Google Docs for easy editing). Here it is:

vox

The original article called Vox a “leftist” news source. Someone came in a couple weeks ago and changed “leftist” to “center-left” which more accurately reflects the place of Vox in the online news world.

That’s it. That’s all this person did. But it made the article better.

You, as an instructor or an instructional designer, could go into that article as well, and look at some real student writing. You’d find sentences like this:

More specifically, most Trump voters were lower-class, uneducated, and, white.

And looking at that sentence you’d remember (or perhaps learn) something about students: they really struggle with tone, partially because they have a hard time stepping out of their point of view and partially because they just don’t have access to a semi-academic idiom the way we do.

So you could, in an effort to make that article better, rewrite that sentence as:

More specifically, many Trump voters were white, with lower levels of income and education.

Or something better than that. You’re the person that gets to decide.

Then, over time, with hundreds of people like you writing single sentences like this we would have real examples of profitable revision to share with students as models.

In a minute I’ll post links to some student articles that need work. Edit them by clicking the edit this page link at the top. Log in, for now, with admin as the user and this. Then fix a sentence. You’re done!

If you want credit for fixing the sentence, make sure you are logged in when you access the link, and for best results, add a short comment about what you did. If you don’t want credit, don’t log in (or log out). But fix a sentence. It’s easy!

The change will show up on the website within about 10 minutes.

Here are some articles that need help with style and language:

Are women considered better coders – but only if they hide their gender?

Did the EPA stay silent on Flint’s tainted water?

Does citrus reduce risk of stroke?

Was Mozart’s Sister was just as talented as Mozart?

Is social work more deadly than police work?

Do smart people need more time alone?

Does a new Alzheimer’s treatment fully restore memory function?

Did Southern Illinois College at Carbondale Close Due to Social Justice Warriors?

Do selfie takers tend to overestimate attractiveness?

Do parents need to “nag their daughters to success”?

 

Is a positive outlook good for your health?

Are e-cigarettes as harmful as smoking tobacco?

Did the EPA admit the world’s most popular pesticide is killing bees?

Can Standardized Testing Damage Kids’ Brains?

You can edit just one sentence, right? To improve our information environment? Three minutes of work?

 

Make Servers Dumb Again

After talking with Jon Udell and re-reading an old post of mine on storage-neutral web-infrastructure I realize I can make an old point much easier. So here goes:

Make Servers Dumb Again.

You’ve heard of the Dumb Terminal, right? The idea that a terminal wouldn’t do anything but display stuff composed on centralized servers?

Well, this is the opposite. I want dumb servers. I want smart front-ends hosted anywhere to make basic data queries to servers. I want those two things — data and display engines — to be run by separate folks, like in the original vision of the web. I store the HTML on my server under my rules. You display it in your browser under yours.

Why do this? Because the marriage of front-ends and data creates lock-in, lousy portability, surveillance models, and crappy incentives for a good user experience.

You can get around that by running your own server, sure. Now you’re still locked into something, but the thing you’re locked into is running your own server forever, which is frankly almost as horrifying as being tracked.

I am 100% sure this post will be misunderstood. So I’ll just end with Klint Finley’s list of the freedoms people actually want.

  • Freedom to run software that I’ve paid for on any device I want without hardware dongles or persistent online verification schemes.
  • Freedom from the prying eyes of government and corporations.
  • Freedom to move my data from one application to another.
  • Freedom to move an application from one hosting provider to another.
  • Freedom from contracts that lock me in to expensive monthly or annual plans.
  • Freedom from terms and conditions that offer a binary “my way or the highway” decision.

You’ll notice that the minute the data provider becomes unhitched from the display and interaction provider all this happens automatically. That makes for a more difficult time programming, but it ultimately gets the people what they want.

Make Servers Dumb Again. There, I said it.

We Have a Real Shot to Fix Our Information Environment

I spent some time over the past few weeks looking into Search Engine Optimization. Why? Because we’re trying to motivate students to do their best work for our fact-checking project, and one of the big motivations is knowing that you have a page that people are actually using to get answers to questions. So if we want to make our student’s work meaningful, we should also try to make it findable.

As always, the biggest piece of SEO is getting people to link to you. We don’t have that yet on Digipo. But a lot of SEO these days is making the page load really fast, be legible on mobile, and having a descriptive page names and URLs. And so we made a couple changes to the site — went to quick, static page generation, phrased titles as questions (which is how more an more people are using Google), generated URLs that were descriptive, and used Dave Winer’s excellent and mobile friendly Medium-like template.

And so we did that, and guess what? We just cracked the top 5 Google results on one of our titles:

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Apply all the caveats — we own this space of this phrasing of this specific question. Ask it slightly differently, and you will get another resource. And our rank may float down over time. But this still feels amazing, that a person could ask a question like this and get an answer (in this case) from a WSU student. And the fact that can happen will motivate other students to do their best work.

We can still do more — the pages pull through Google hosted images that are often too big and uncompressed: maybe we can programmatically resize them. Our headers for images need to have less aggressive anti-cache settings. Etc. But to me, this initial success shows it’s really possible for this student project to make a real difference, and shows the value of thinking about optimizing for search.

 

 

 

The Three Who Intervened

I live in the Portland metro area; if the traffic isn’t bad I can make it from my doorstep to Powell’s in about 20 minutes. If the traffic is bad, my family sometimes parks the car at the park & ride at Parkrose, and takes the MAX in.

People don’t realize how small Portland is, and, consequently, how much the recent killings here hit people. Everything is connected here. As an example, my wife works at an art market selling her art on weekends, and a weekly paper (The Portland Mercury) just reported that the assailant in the killings, Jeremy Christian, may have been one of the people who sets up just outside the market (at Skidmore fountain) selling wares illegally off of blankets.

I’m not 100% sure that is true, but some of the artists at the market have been complaining that the police have not taken the risk involved with these unauthorized street vendors seriously.  If it is true, it changes how we think about that quirky market, and the laissez-faire attitude of the police in this town toward street activity. And it makes me worry about her, breaking down her art tent as that market empties out at night, surrounded by the homeless the city turns a blind eye to, never knowing if the person yelling obscenities and slurs at her or someone else is simply mentally ill, or mentally ill and dangerous. Or maybe just dangerous.

There are other connections, but suffice it to say Portland is really just an overgrown town at times. And a lot of what people idolize — Keep Portland Weird, after all — has a corresponding dark side, an unwillingness to confront what happens when you mix a deep historical racism with a Western left-libertarianism that sees “live and let live” as a sufficient solution to complex social problems.

On a national level, people want the killings to tell a simple story for their side, but I’m not entirely sure they do. According to Buzzfeed, the killer was not a Trump supporter, but a passionate Bernie Sanders supporter. Even as a white supremacist, he couldn’t bring himself to vote for Trump, and, like a number of Sanders supporters, sat the election out. How do we process this — the Bernie Sanders-supporting liberal-hating white supremacist?

Of the two people who gave their lives to stand up against hate and bigotry, one of them was an ex-military man, a Republican who ran for the office of county commissioner. I don’t know the political leanings of the two other heroes, the one that died and the other one who very nearly did, but of course we’re not looking to compute partisan percentages here. When the time came, people from various walks of life stood up and did the right thing, paying the ultimate price.

What do we say about this killing in supposedly-but-not-actually tolerant Portland of a virtuous Republican by a Nazi-supporting Democrat? Is it, as Noah Smith says, an indictment of the “shouting class“? Of the idea that every battle must be apocalyptic? Is it a reminder that the world does not sort into the categories we want it to? Is it ridiculous to tie this event to the performative anger we practice in the digital world, or is there something there?

I don’t know. I only know that I’m horrified to live in a city that fosters people like Jeremy Christian, but also so proud to live in a city that holds heroes like those that stood up against the hate.

So maybe the best thing for the moment might to be to shut up, and contemplate them, the three who intervened:

  • Ricky John Best, a ex-military man and current government employee. Republican. 53 years old, father of four. Was travelling back home to his family after work when he saw a man harassing two young women with violent rhetoric. He was the first to intervene, and tried to defuse the situation, while putting himself between Christian and the women. We don’t know what his last words were, but we do what he said in 2014 when asked why he was running for county commissioner. He said simply: “I can’t stand by and do nothing.”
  • Micah David-Cole Fletcher, 21, an autistic poet and PSU student who was heading to his job at a pizza shop. In high school, he won a Portland-wide poetry slam with a poem criticizing bigotry against Muslims. He would sometimes read his poetry on the MAX to other passengers. He joined Rick Best in shielding the women, and but for a millimeter’s difference in where the blade struck would be dead as well.
  • Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23 years old. Recent Reed College graduate, working as an intern for a sustainability consultancy firm. Son of Asha Deliverance, the owner of a company that sells portable geodesic domes. He may have initially been trying to tape the encounter at the urging of his aunt, to document it for the police, but as things escalated, he joined the other two in suggesting it’d be best if the attacker left the train. For that, he was stabbed suddenly and without warning.

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“Community makes everything beautiful.” — Asha Deliverance, who lost her 21 year-old son Taliesin to a white supremacist four days before. Her son’s last words, as he lay dying on the train, were “Tell them, I want everybody to know, I want everybody on the train to know, I love them.‘”

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Activity: Evaluate a Website

tim-gunn-gay-rights

This is Tim Gunn, the star of the Project Runway series, and a gay rights advocate. But is that message he is holding up for real? It looks like it might be another example of sign-faking, where the content of pieces of paper held up by someone are digitally altered.

Now the first step of this project is to find a site where Tim Gunn himself reveals whether the image is real, and whether he actually said that. But that will lead to the next problem — is your source a trustworthy site? So track down Tim Gunn talking about this, then read laterally to determine whether the site you are reading is a legitimate journalistic enterprise or a hoax site. In the comments mention the site you used and the site you used to confirm that site’s legitimacy.

Ready… set… Go!

 

 

Activity: Confirming the Nixon Witch-Hunt Headline

A fun one for today. President Trump made a comment about a witch-hunt, and then this showed up in my Twitter feed. So, is this a real headline or a fake?

DAHZHXxUMAAzMNW

“Nixon Sees ‘Witch-Hunt’ Insiders Say” by Woodward and Bernstein.

Did this article really run, with this headline? If so, how did you verify it? If not, how did you debunk it?

(This one makes me think we should have a chapter in the book’s field guide about finding old newspaper articles. )

As always, leave your answer in the comments, along with how you got there. For this particular case, if the headline is not fake, write the first line of the newspaper story as proof you found it.

Innovation vs. Invention

As everyone is aware, I delete my tweets on a rolling basis. But over my morning coffee I had an great discussion with Rolin Moe, David Kernohan, and Maha Bali about innovation which is probably worth snapshotting here.

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And, while I’d love to say I just have the greatest instincts, it turns out that Audrey Watters found that graph before in a piece I read three years ago.

watters

It’s sad, really. I suppose I could turn it into a lesson about how Twitter’s quick and unresearched writing is practically a factory for misattribution. But instead I’ll just say All Hail Audrey Watters! and leave it at that. 😉