Weekend Reading: The Midnight Hour Edition

Winter SunriseIt is probably worth acknowledging more often than we do here that a lot of the digital assignments and so forth take time upfront. I lamented this morning that I don’t yet have my syllabuses done for Monday, and my wife reasonably asked, “What are you working on, then, when you work on your classes?” The answer is always, “getting the digital stuff right,” especially if I have to change gears. This semester, for example, one of my classes is probably a bit too small to do my wikified class notes assignment in a reasonable way, so I’ve had to set up a new site, and make sure all the knobs and fiddly bits are set right. Unfortunately, it helps to do that *before* the syllabus is ready, so that you can put real URLs in it, and so you’re sure the material is ready for the first day of class. And then once you change one thing, there’s a cascading effect down the rest of the syllabus.

While ProfHacker exists, in part, to explain how make some of these tools and assignments more practical and manageable, there’s no denying that it adds a layer of work that needs to be accounted for in your own planning, and also that needs to be made visible to others.

On to the weekend’s links!

  • Nothing says “winter weekend fun” during a particularly frigid and snowy January like curling up with . . . a PDF with the math and such behind Gmail’s “Priority Inbox.” Statistical modeling over millions of users FTW: The biggest challenge isn’t necessarily the huge data crunching on the back end; it’s accounting for what the paper’s authors and statisticians call “noise,” and what I call the oh-so-human tendency to do what we want, not what’s most productive. For example, in email, we waste a lot of time and productivity opening silly emails about Lindsay Lohan’s latest escapades while ignoring those from our boss.
  • If the stats behind Priority Inbox don’t do it for you, perhaps the sociology behind Twitter unfollows will: It is not a surprise, then, that the larger the number of common neighbors two Twitter users have, the less likely one is to unfollow the other. From our data, this figure shows, for each level of common neighbors a “follow” relationship had, what percent of these follows became “unfollows”. (You can also see the related slideshare presentation.)
  • Zen Faulkes at NeuroDojo discusses the legitimate challenges of making open science become the norm: Second, there are a lot of incentives and reasons for people not to open up. Some of them are even good reasons. The currency of academics are completed journal articles and books. Not manuscripts, not datasets. And I think that is good in that it encourages projects to move to more logical completion points, rather than sketches and half-baked ideas.
  • Frank Chimero has written the definitive post on tech gear and other objects in your life: “Add things until it starts sucking, take things away until it stops getting better.”
  • Jane Rigby explains how to use “presenter notes” in Keynote or Powerpoint to improve your slides & talks: Why are our slides so wordy? Are we afraid we’ll forget what to say?  That would be bad, because memory-jogging notes for you aren’t words tuned for your audience.  Worse, your audience’s attention will be divided between your voice and your wordy slides. (On a different note, see Dean Dad on giving spontaneous speeches.)

In this week’s video, Nas discusses the importance of the cassette tape in his development as an artist:

Related: John Darnielle, of The Mountain Goats, says that if social media had been around back in the day, he might have just written poems.

Bonus: Craig Finn talks about his favorite iPhone app for life on the road. (Related video: “Rock Problems.”) Also, don’t forget that Apple released The Hold Steady’s installment of the Live in Soho series this week. It’s an acoustic album, with songs from Heaven Is Whenever, Stay Positive, and Boys and Girls in America, plus a new track, “Separate Vacations,” which had been circulating online for a year or so. The gem of the album, though is when Tad Kubler (I think) says, “I’ve seen a lot of people do a lot of things while we’re playing, but I’ve never seen someone buy an iPod while we’re playing. It’s awesome.”

Finally, Steven Johnson said on Twitter this week that the temperature solstice, after which temperatures start trending upward, has arrived. Just a little something to cling to in the middle of winter!

Image by Flickr user scubadive67 / Creative Commons licensed

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