Shortly after the 2010 earthquake and hurricane that struck the country, Haiti was (and is) deeply immersed in an outbreak of cholera. Amazingly, social networks accurately tracked the spread of the disease, faster and more accurately than traditional tracking methods. As Rumi Chunara of Harvard Medical School details in CHE:
The social media matched the official reports very closely right at the start of the outbreak, in October 2010, and right after another surge when the hurricane hit, in early November. But the reports were ahead of the official records by two weeks. And with Twitter in particular, they identified the geographic locations of the cases “because a lot of people were Tweeting from their phones, right where they saw patients” in villages, Ms. Chunara said. Not all cholera patients go to hospitals to be counted officially, she noted.
It’s safe to assume that tracking a disease by social media alone wouldn’t be perfect, and further studies will be required to prove that this is a reliable method by which to base the distribution of medicine and supplies. Even a few days advantage can make a huge difference in an outbreak like this, though. By tracking real-time data, patients could be located and catalogued before they even saw a doctor.
I’m fascinated by the blossoming uses of geographic information coming out of Twitter’s API. Just this week, these infographics by Eric Fischer showed up on FastCo.Design.
You can practically re-draw traditional maps based on the density and geography of geotagged tweets. The possibilities for real-time information tracking seem endless (for good and evil). Any ideas?
(via The Chronicle of Higher Education, photo by AP)
Making money working from home of the day
Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff has signed into law a bill allowing employees to request overtime pay for work emails answered from home.
The legislation recognizes emails sent to employees by their employers as “direct orders.” Responding to those orders after work hours would therefore constitute overtime.
With the prevalence of smartphones and their role in conducting business, Brazil’s new law may set a precedent for other countries. Some companies, including Volkswagen, are pre-emptively reacting by announcing plans to stop sending emails to employees outside of regular business hours. [ap / tvnz.]
We don’t have to remember phone numbers or addresses anymore. Instead, we can just hop on our email or Google to look it up. According to a study by Science Magazine, “the Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves,” and our brains have become reliant on the availability of information.
Remember all of the history lessons that required you to remember dates, names, and finite details? Kids don’t do that nearly as much as they used to. With online libraries, “rote memorization is no longer a necessary part of education” according to Read Write Web. Educators are beginning to understand that information is now coming at us through a fire hose, quicker and faster than we can digest it, and memorizing facts wastes valuable brain power that could be used to keep up with more important information that can’t be quickly Googled.
Have you ever updated your Facebook while listening to music and texting a friend? If so, you’ve experienced the phenomenon of continuous partial attention and its impact on your brain. It remains to be seen if partial attention is a distraction as most believe, or an adaptation of the brain to the constant flow of stimuli.
In a study by Science Magazine, students were asked to type in pieces of trivia, and depending on their group were told that their information would either be erased or saved. The group that was told their data would be saved were less likely to remember. This study indicates that people have lower rates of recall when they can expect to be able to access information in the future.
Although we can’t remember it all, we’re getting better at finding the information we need. It seems that the brainpower previously used to retain facts and information is now being used to remember how to look it up. Professor Betsy Sparrow reports, “We remember less through knowing information itself than by knowing where the information can be found.” She indicates that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and may even be “kind of amazing,” as we’re adapting to new technology and becoming highly skilled in remembering where to find things.
When faced with a difficult question, people rarely consider the encyclopedia or history books, but rather, think about computers. It’s a brand new impulse that exists in our brains. For many, this means we don’t have to trek to the library, or, with the ubiquity of smartphones, even go much farther than our own pockets. It’s no longer a big deal to find an old classmate or remember the name of an actor in a movie — all you have to do is Google it.
In the age of MTV and video games, parents and experts worried that the new and flashy technologies would fry our poor brains into oblivion. But the exact opposite has happened: after MTV, after video games, after Twitter, Facebook, and Google, we’re getting smarter. Are we smarter because of technology, or in spite of it? No one’s answered that question yet, but it’s interesting to think about.
In an article for The Atlantic, Nicholas Carr relates his growing difficulty in deep reading. Like so many others, he finds that “deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.” It’s not hard to figure out why. Our time online is often spent scanning headlines and posts and quickly surfing links, never spending much time on any one thing. So of course, when it comes to reading more than a few minutes, or even moments, of information, your mind will often begin to wander.
With so much information, it’s only natural that some of it is junk. After all, we’re no longer in a world bound by printing presses and editors: just about anyone can put information out there and promote the heck out of it. It’s up to us as readers and consumers of information to determine what’s relevant and reliable, and with so much practice, our brains are getting better at this task every day.
Even after unplugging, many Internet users feel a craving for the stimulation received from gadgets. The culprit is dopamine, which is delivered as a response to the stimulation — without it, you feel bored. The wife of a heavy technology user notes that her husband is “crotchety until he gets his fix.”After spending time online, your brain wants to get back on for more, making it difficult to concentrate on other tasks and “unplug.”
In 2007, UCLA professor Gary Small tested experienced surfers and newbie Internet users, asking them to Google a variety of preselected topics. In his experiment, he monitored brain activity, noting that experienced surfers showed much more activity than novice users, especially in the areas typically devoted to decisions and problem solving. He brought them all back six days later, this time having the newbies spend an hour each day searching online in the period before they came back. In the second test, the novice surfers’ brains looked more like the intermediate Internet users. “Five hours on the Internet and the naive subjects had already rewired their brains,” noted Small, suggesting that over time, Internet use changes neural pathways.
Tests at Stanford indicate that multitaskers, such as heavy Internet users, often tend to overlook older, valuable information, instead choosing to seek out new information. Clifford Nass of Stanford observes, “we’ve got a large and growing group of people who think the slightest hint that something interesting might be going on is like catnip. They can’t ignore it.” Instead of focusing on important tasks, or putting information to good use, we’re distracted by incoming email.
Online browsing has created a new form of “reading,” in which users aren’t really reading online, but rather power browsing through sites. Instead of left to right, up to down reading, we seem to scan through titles, bullet points, and information that stands out. Comprehension and attention are certainly at risk here.
When you’re online, you’re frequently attacked by bursts of information, which is highly stimulating and even overwhelming. Too much, and you can become extremely distracted and unfocused. Even after you log off (if you ever do), your brain remains rewired. A lack of focus and fractured thinking can persist, interrupting work, family, and offline time.
Some experts believe that memorization is critical to creativity. William Klemm, a neuroscience professor at Texas A&M University insists that “Creativity comes from a mind that knows, and remembers, a lot.” Although creativity seems to have grown with the use of technology, it’s certainly being done in new and different ways. And Klemm’s assertion is certainly true for creative thinking and brainstorming born out of memorized knowledge, which so many of us now store online.
Passwords not going away any time soon.
“Hot on the heels of IBM’s ‘no more passwords’ prediction, Wired has an article about provocative research saying that passwords are here to stay. Researchers from Microsoft and Carleton U. take a harsh view of research on authentication (PDF), saying, ‘no progress has been made in the last twenty years.’
They dismiss biometrics, PKI, OpenID, and single-signon: ‘Not only have proposed alternatives failed, but we have learnt little from the failures.’
Because the computer industry so thoroughly wrote off passwords about a decade ago, not enough serious research has gone into improving passwords and understanding how they get compromised in the real world. ‘It is time to admit that passwords will be with us for some time, and moreover, that in many instances they are the best-fit among currently known solutions.’” [Source].
Comment: His actions might have been illegal in the US if they had been committed in the US, but as far as I can tell, they were not and this all happened entirely in the UK. But the US is apparently trying (and currently succeeding) to get him extradited anyway.
Extradition is supposed to be about not letting a criminal flee to another jurisdiction to escape justice. It is not supposed to be about making someone in one country guilty of any offence they commit according to the law in any other country with which an extradition treaty exists.
Just to be clear, I am utterly lacking in sympathy for this guy. … But it should be ;our book if he did this in our country. The legal principle that anyone can be extradited from a country when their actions committed in that country were not against the law in that country is very, very dangerous.
This contribution seeks to identify the short and long-term economic and cultural effects of file sharing on music, films and games, while taking into account the legal context and policy developments. The short-term implications examined concern direct costs and benefits to society, whereas the long-term impact concerns changes in the industry’s business models as well as in cultural diversity and the accessibility of content. It observes that the proliferation of digital distribution networks combined with the availability of digital technology among consumers has broken the entertainment industries’ control over the access to their products. Only part of the decline in music sales can be attributed to file sharing. Despite the losses for the music industry, the increased accessibility of culture renders the overall welfare effects of file sharing robustly positive. As a consequence the entertainment industries, particularly the music industry, have to explore new models to sustain their business. [Click the image for the PDF source].
An interesting read.
Slightly off-topic… I always thought that, if it weren’t for people uploading videos on YouTube and sharing music upon various sites, I wouldn’t have later bought from quite a lot of foreign artists I have the CDs of. Of course, things have changed over the past few years, they have official YouTube channels for a lot of artists now… but, before that, people’s uploading of things when they weren’t supposed to was really the only way I could hear or see anything from these international artists before I bought from them!
You may have heard the House has shelved SOPA, and that President Obama has pledged not to pass it as-is, but the MPAA and SOPA-sponsor Lamar Smith (R-TX) are trying to brush off the protests as a stunt, and Smith has announced markup for the bill will resume in February.
Meanwhile, PIPA is still present in the Senate, and it remains a threat.
Click the link to find out more about it and to find out what you can do.
House Kills SOPA!
“In a surprise move, Representative Eric Cantor(R-VA) announced that he will stop all action on SOPA, effectively killing the bill.
This move was most likely due to the huge online protest and the White House threatening to veto the bill if it had passed. But don’t celebrate yet. PIPA (the Senate’s version of SOPA) is still up for consideration.” [Source].
It’s good to see improvement, as I’ve been posting quite a bit about this:
DNS Provision pulled from SOPA.
“Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), one of the biggest backers of the Stop Online Piracy Act, today said he plans to remove the Domain Name System blocking provision. ‘After consultation with industry groups across the country,’ Smith said in a statement released by his office, ‘I feel we should remove (DNS) blocking from the Stop Online Piracy Act so that the [U.S. House Judiciary] Committee can further examine the issues surrounding this provision.’” [Source].
Pretty important so far as the Internet is concerned. As I’ve mentioned, many sites are thinking of staging a Blackout in order to raise more awareness and encourage people to tell their representatives to oppose it.
Slowly, several companies have been withdrawing their support.
Related news: US threatens Spain over lacking SOPA-like law.
US threatens Spain over lacking SOPA-like law
“In a leaked letter sent to Spain’s outgoing President, the US ambassador warned that if Spain didn’t pass SOPA-like file-sharing site blocking law, Spain would risk being put into United States trade blocklist. United States government interference in Spain’s intellectual property laws have been suspected for a long time, and now the recent leaks of diplomatic cables confirm this. Apart from the cables leaked earlier, now another cable dated December 12th says U.S. expresses “deep concern” over the failure to implement SOPA-style censorship law in the country. ‘The government has unfortunately failed to finish the job for political reasons, to the detriment of the reputation and economy of Spain,’ read the letter. Racing against the clock in the final days of the government, Solomont had one last push. ‘I encourage the Government of Spain to implement the Sinde Law immediately to safeguard the reputation of Spain as an innovative country that does what it says it will, and as a country that breeds confidence,’ he wrote.” [Source].
Learn about SOPA and a brief account on the EU’s opposition to it.
Lots of companies (EA, Sony, Nintendo, GoDaddy, etc) have withdrawn their support, others are thinking of doing a blackout to oppose it (Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc) [Indirect source]. S’all very intriguing.