Summer Reading is a Game (that sucks)

Over the last few days I reacquainted myself with the YouTube channel Extra Credits.  The folks over on that channel have spent years doing analysis of video game systems and doing 5-8 minute videos that explore why some games are amazing and some games are deeply flawed and breaking down the exact reasons why.

However, it was when I got to the video about intrinsic and extrinsic awards that a lightbulb went off in my head.  Here watch it.

Now, as intelligent people we know the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic reward systems.  But when thinking about the summer reading program a lot of times we default to making the program solely about the act of winning your prizes along the way.  Reading is a means to an end, and that end is a personal pizza (or whatever your end prize is).

As the video above demonstrates, sometimes people grind through a game (that means doing something boring and repetitive for hours on end) only to get the super fancy widget at the end of having done all that nonsense.  Then, once the player has acquired that object there is a fleeting sense of accomplishment and then “now what?”

A lot of summer reading programs are set up in exactly this way.  They are a grind quest.  “You child must read 16 hours and then you will win this prize!”  “Fill in all the bubbles on this sheet and you will win this other prize!”

While for many kids the yearn for cool prizes is certainly a motivating factor, the means to achieving that goal is not necessarily in and of itself interesting.  When we set up summer reading programs as a grind quest the message we are pushing is not that reading is fun in and of itself.  It’s that you MUST read, because this thing is super cool.  This is the real world equivalent of being tasked with slaying x number of creatures so that you can make a new set of armor from their hides.  The act of doing it is a mindless repetitive thing that you are not entirely invested in doing.

That is what we’re saying about reading.

But it doesn’t have to be.

In another video they talk about how the video game “The Secret World” has embedded in it meaningful puzzles that require the player to explore things in their environment, and in some cases in the real world.

“Missions can either be boring and routine, or a magic entry point for your world.”

Something like The Secret World encourages people to keep exploring.  Looking for clues, and looking for meaning in things.  There’s nothing that says we can’t imbue a summer reading program with the same level of exploration, discovery, and wonder.  This helps build an intrinsic desire in the player (reader) to want to read.  If the game mechanics encourage you to read so that you discover new and exciting things along the way, and gives you enough branching pathways to find things in your own time in your own way.  That makes reading itself something more valuable to the player (reader).  You’re not reading for the sake of reading to win a pizza.  You’re reading because there is a mystery to solve, or a puzzle to break.

I think we can redevelop the summer reading program to be less about cranking through a specified number of books or hours of reading to win a prize, and more about reading as a joy in and of itself.  By shifting focus to developing an intrinsically rewarding experience (with occasional prizes, because people still love prizes) and making the act of reading more meaningful experience in the game I think we can help build a love of reading as a personal interest.

There are a TON more videos over on Extra Credits, and I would strongly encourage you all to go take a look over there. I would also love to hear from you all about ways that you’ve explored creating meaningful gameplay in your summer reading programs.


DRM = Lost Sales

Today I had my first big hairy encounter with why Digital Rights Management software is the worst idea that has ever come out of the tech sector.

It’s a snow day here in DC, well, more like a slushy rain, and the fear of driving has closed everything down.  So, I’ve got the day off.  This leads me to start scrolling through Netflix looking for something good.  But Netflix has next  to nothing good right now, because none of the major film companies want to play with them.  So, I figured I’d look through iTunes and see what I could find in their movie selections.  I decided it was finally time for me to see Looper.  And streaming at $4.99 was reasonable.  So, I pay my money, and start the download to buffer and I get the sign that it’s ready.

Now this is where I tell you that I have my MacBook connected to my television.  I use it as a media console and I sometimes move windows over to the television and blow up things like YouTube videos or Netflix movies or anything else that would just generally look better on the bigger screen.  I’ve got the screen split between my laptop’s built in monitor and the television.

So, I move my iTunes window over to the television to play that movie for me and my partner and my roommate so we can all watch it together.  And then it stops playing.  It would hiccup for a second and then black screen. Then I got this popup window.


The text of it reads “The selected movie won’t play on one of your selected displays. This movie can only be played on HDCP (High Bandwidth Digital Content Protection).  Try moving the iTunes window to a different display. Make sure the entire window is in the supported display.”

And it’s true.  When I would move the movie over to my desktop it would play, but even if it would be just a hairs breadth in the television display it would seize up.

This was not something that I knew before I paid my money, and had I known in advance that this was going to happen I wouldn’t have bought it at all.  The purpose of renting that movie was to have a nice little snow day in with my partner and to pass the time.  So, I reported this to iTunes and demanded my money back.

And then I went to Amazon.  And at least Amazon is up front about it.  They give you a giant list of all the compatible televisions on which you are allowed to watch their movie.

But seriously, I have to have a specific kind of television to watch a goddamn movie?

This is why piracy is rampant.  Artificial barriers to access result in people not getting the product they want the way that they want it.  Watching a movie on a television should be a no-brainer.  You stream your movie and you watch it on a television in your home.  You shouldn’t have to have a special television that is DRM compliant just to be “allowed” to watch a movie.  It’s completely stupid.

So, I didn’t get the movie on iTunes or Amazon.  I was perfectly willing to pay for it.  But I want to watch that movie on my television.  If I can’t do that, I’ll just keep my money.

To learn more about this kind of stupidity check out

Universal Media Coverage & Our Sense of Place

handsThere are two horrible things that happened in the last week.  The first being the tragic events at the Sandy Hook Elementary school, which I will not repeat.  The second being a group of professional trolls who seeks to exploit this tragedy for their own religious-litigious ends in their usual fashion.  I do not name them, because I do not wish to increase their notoriety.

Both of these incidents brought me back to thinking about my November entry about the racist teens on Twitter*.  In that post I talk about how beneficial this new, deeply connected world is, and how ultimately this can lead to the dissolution of racism by popping the bubbles of isolated places.

In light of this last week of events, I can also see the flipside.  Over at Quartz, Lenore Skenazy wrote an excellent piece comparing the abundance of media coverage now to that of an incident that took place in Michigan in 1928.  The salient piece of her article is this:

“In 1928, the odds are that if people in this country read about this tragedy, they read it several days later, in place that was hard to get to,” explains Art Markman, author of “Smart Thinking” (Perigee Books, 2012). “You couldn’t hop on a plane and be there in an hour. Michigan? If you were living in South Carolina, it would be a three-day drive. It’s almost another country. You’d think, ‘Those crazy people in Michigan,’ same as if a school blows up in one of the breakaway Republics.”

Time and space create distance. But today, those have compressed to zero. The Connecticut shooting comes into our homes–even our hands–instantly, no matter where we live. We see the shattered parents in real time. The President can barely maintain composure. This sorrow isn’t far away, it’s local for every single one of us.

For good or ill, she’s right.

On September 11, 2001 I lived in Seattle, Washington.  My mother called me at 6:00 a.m. and me, being a graduate student, had been out till the wee hours at the pub.  I was groggy, and asked her if she remembered the three hour time difference between Washington and Ohio.  She told me to turn on the television, and I did.  Every channel was playing the video.  I don’t even need to tell you what it was, because we all saw it. Every single person who was alive at that moment in the United States remembers that moment.  And for three solid days I couldn’t tear myself away from the coverage.  I was shaken, traumatized, and I was 3,000 miles away.  When Fox finally broke the 24/7 coverage and played a commercial I broke down in tears.  A truck never made me so happy.  Reruns of Friends came back on and I felt like I wasn’t going to die of perpetual grief.

We are becoming more and more deeply interconnected on a global scale.  This amplifies the experience of tragic events to national and international proportions.  With Twitter reports from people at the scene of these events, something will come to you immediately with the cache of personal experience.

In thinking about the trolls, I have been telling people time and again, don’t feed the trolls. The more you try to fight them, the stronger their resolve. And this latest iteration of their trolling made me long for a media blackout.  Such a thing is no longer possible, if it ever really was, because now everyone is the media.  Again, for good or ill.

All this makes me feel that yes, we are one. Your flaws are everyone’s flaws, your pain is everyone’s pain, and your joy is everyone’s joy.  We are one people, on one planet.  Different as snowflakes, but all connected.


* In the wake of the Connecticut event, the President pre-empted Sunday night football coverage to deliver a message to a grieving nation.  Racist jerks responded on Twitter and Deadspin (a sister blog to Jezebel) had that coverage.

8 Deadly Words

There is a phrase that I have heard over the last few years, and every time I hear it my brow furrows, and my mouth gapes.  I stand there dumbstruck and incredulous, not believing that someone in my field, who I respect, would say such a thing.

It goes like this:

What does this have to do with libraries?

My God, I think to myself.  Do you really have so little imagination that you can’t envision how this could benefit our customers?  Do you not see where we are going as a profession that this is something that we should be exploring?

What this phrase says to me, every time I hear it, is that this individual has a preconceived notion about what libraries should and should not do.  Where she has drawn that line means that anything that crosses that line needs to be justified within the context of her preconceived notion.

This is the same sort of argument that people use when “working to rule.”  The parameters have been set to a low standard, and only that standard is required.  There is no need or desire to move beyond it, for to do so means you are doing more work then you need to do.  You meet your requirements and you go home.  The service is solely “at par,” nothing more, nothing less.

Maybe I’m just an overachiever by nature, but this smacks me too hard.  When I hear the 8 deadly words I know that someone’s mind has closed off.  That the ability to convince that person of this vision of the future is an uphill struggle.  That the person is living in a vision of the institution that is in the past, and only getting further and further behind.

As part of the information profession we have a duty to stay on top of how innovation is changing the way people interact with information.  How they access it is only a fraction of that.  The bigger piece of the pie is how this change, changes us all.  How does this shift change social structures.  How does it change culture, and how can we adapt to this new environment.

The future isn’t about eBooks.  It’s about how eBooks are created, distributed, and consumed.  It’s about how this will change the entire paradigm of publishing, and what that in turn will mean for Mega Corporations who own everything we read.  What would happen if the big six (now five, I guess, with Random Penguins) were to just crumble and a thousand little online distributors took their place?  How would we cope with that?  How is having access to 3D printers going to change the way we interact with mass produced goods?  How is localized print on demand books going to affect book stores?  How are albums that are being funded through Kickstarter and Indiegogo going to affect standard music distribution channels? What happens when cable companies dissolve and internet only services take off?  What happens when smart phones and tablets are so cheap that everyone can have one for next to nothing?  What about all of these contributions to free online resources like Project Gutenberg, Wikipedia, and the countless Open Source Software projects that people are working on every day.

This is a global paradigm shift we are living in.

It is touching every facet of our lives, and all of these things have implications not only in how libraries will operate, but what we will actually be in the 21st century.  If you’re not thinking about how to work through these issues, and how that’s going to change our culture, you’re not going to stay ahead of the game.  When your idea of the library is solely as a place where people read books, then you’ve already been left behind.

What we require going forward is a tremendous force of innovation, to overcome the inertia of “the way we’ve always done this.”  I would highly recommend reading Brian Mathews article “Facing the Future” about how libraries can think more like start-ups.  This isn’t just change for the sake of change. This adaptation for the sake of survival.

How Do You Research a Meme?

Fabulous CatThose of us in Library Land know how to track down quotes and texts and books and even images to a certain degree.  But when it comes to memes, it’s substantially more challenging.

In some cases other people have already done the work for you, like the awesome people at “Know Your Meme.”  But sometimes there isn’t a catchy moniker for your meme yet, or if there is, it be one that you don’t know yet.

But you start to see these images, and they just keep coming out.  So, lots of people have seen grumpy cat springing up lately.  He’s been telling people No, Bah Humbugging the holidays, refusing to take part in creation, and today someone put a towel on his head to make him look like a certain sci-fi emperor.  As you can see from the link there, we have a full identity and ownership of who has the grumpy cat and takes these pictures of him.

But grumpy cat isn’t my favorite.

My favorite internet cat is this little guy over there on the right.  So far, I don’t think he has an identity or internet history.  I’ve looked through “know your meme” and poked through places where I found this picture, but no dice.  I’m basically just calling him “Fabulous Cat” because this particular two part picture series was the first instance in which I saw him.

Fabulous cat has very distinctive eyes, jowls, and fur coloration on his head.  I can’t even figure out what breed this must be, but god help me he’s just too amazingly cute for me to contain myself.  Especially when he puts on those Jackie O sunglasses.

There are two more two panel memes of this cat that I must share to round out the evidence.

What you can tell from these images is that this is all the same cat. It has the same eyes, jowls, and head coloration with that white stripe down in between the two ginger patches, where the ginger over the right eye goes farther down the face than it does on the left.  There is a unique fade pattern over the left eye as well.

But what we don’t know is where these images are coming from.  The problem with meme research is that everyone and their brother posts these pictures and so tracing the origin point is like trying to trace your way back to the root of a fractal.

A lot of cat pictures have origins on forums like Reddit or 4Chan.  Once the original pictures find their way online the memes just start rolling out from random creators.

This leads to the second problem with researching memes.  These pictures are edited to add macro text.  And in doing so they lose all of the EXIF data.  Whenever you take a digital photo that photo also has a ton of data encoded with it.  So when you upload it to the internet, a lot of that data trail (like the type of camera used, date, time and if available geospatial location where it was taken) just follows the picture into the internet.  And if the picture were in that raw state we could theoretically open it up and take a look at that data.  However, because these photos are edited, and repackaged, all of that important researchable, backtrackable data is wiped out.

So, I don’t really have an answer as to how to do this yet.  I’m going to poke around for a while, try and find more pictures and data on Mr. Fabulous Cat and let you know what happens.  If you have any additional macros of Fabulous Cat, please share them.  Or if you have a lead on where Fabulous Cat may have come from, do let me know.  Because I want to know.  Primarily because I want to see more pictures of Fabulous Cat.
Update: Within one minute of posting this piece, on my Facebook I got a link from a friend who immediately sent me this link to Catsparella, identifying the cat as Snoopy.  So, I guess the answer to finding data about memes is through lazywebs.  Social searching to the rescue.  Thanks John.

The Politics of Copyright

I’ve been wanting to write this all week.  Last Friday, the Republican Study Committee released a phenomenal white paper pushing for some pretty broad reforms in the copyright law. While I myself am not a terribly conservative person, this paper blew me away.  It’s amazing how progressive a statement you can make within the framework of conservative principles, and that’s exactly what they did.  While the RSC rescinded that report within about 24 hours due to “proper review” concerns,* the Electronic Frontier Foundation has the document in full preserved on their website. And you should definitely read it.

I don’t normally write about politics here, but I want to bullet point some of the necessary methods just to illustrate how this document worked.

Strict Constructionism: The first point that they address has to do with the myth of compensating the creator.  Instead the author turns to the language directly in the constitution that copyright is to “promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”  They use that exact language to highlight the fact that the purpose of copyright not solely to compensate the author, but to provide the author a limited time to profit from his creation, so that we, as a nation could promote progress in Science and useful Arts.  Further in the document they talk about how the perpetual extension of copyright hinders innovation.

Laissez Faire Capitalism: The second point has to do with the breadth of the market.  Because copyright is for all intents and purposes indefinite, this creates state sanctioned monopolies on content.  What we see when works go into the public domain is a vast proliferation on that content.  We don’t have to look very far to see that in action.  From The Wizard of Oz we get Gregory Maguire’s “Wicked” (and the subsequent musical) the Sci-Fi Channel’s “Tin Man” and innumerable costumes and toys.  From Alice in Wonderland we have dozens of movies, cartoons, miniseries, songs, toys, and reprint after reprint with critical editions and leather bindings and all sorts of things.  If you need a visual then you should look at this chart of new books in the Amazon warehouse by decade from the Laissez Faire Blog.  That 1920 line is where Copyright reforms swept in due to Disney trying to protect Steamboat Willey, and it never came back.

Number of new books in the Amazon warehouse by decade

From the Laissez Faire blog. We have a huge blindspot, and it’s copyright’s fault.


Tort Reform: On Page 7 when the author starts into the potential policy solutions one of the first things that he looked at was statutory damages reform.  Right now damage for copyright violations and infringement are orders of magnitude beyond the value of the original work.  This disconnect between penalty and reality is what gives us the ludicrous world of the 8 Billion Dollar iPod.  From the paper:

Further, this system creates a serious clogging of the ourts, because copyright holders now recognize that they can accuse anyone of infringemen, and include the threat of $150,000 awards per violation. But in reality, most people then settle for less than that sum, say $3,000.  Scaring a large number of potentially innocent people into settling should not be an effect of copyright law.

Limited Government: As stated above,the perpetual extension of copyright secures the rights of one individual or one company to be the sole entity to profit from a work.  This means that the government is determining who is allowed to profit, and who not, and the resources of government (i.e. the court system) can be used to enforce this regime.  By limiting copyright we limit the government’s role in enforcing copyright.

While the arguments that lead to these conclusions and proposals are definitely conservative base targets, the conclusions and solutions were really the best part.  And Libraries were not left out. Though they reference Project Gutenberg as a digital library initiative, and it is, with the expansion of the public domain there are entire universes of activities that could spring up among public libraries both on their own, through vendors like Overdrive, or coordinated efforts like the Hathi Trust or the Digital Public Library of America.  Expanding the potential for eBook development on a grand coordinated scale can lead the entire world into a new era of research, development, and entertainment.

As we start to look at the future, we’re going to see more disruption in content, and how people engage with it.  It started with music, moved to video, and surprisingly text has been slow to crack.  But with the growing ubiquity of eReading devices, and some fairly well settled ePub standards based on HTML5 this is going to be blowing up, and fast.  And copyright law will either adapt, or be thrown to the wolves on the internet.  Adaptation, and innovation in the sources of funding for limited times will do everyone a service.  The music industry is finally starting to find out how to make this work and it’s taken some pretty bold experimentation among established musicians to do this.  But today the Future of Music group released a pretty amazing checklist of 42 ways you can gain revenue from your work.  This is the kind of exploratory thinking that needs to be happening in the Big Content world, because maintaining perpetual copyright is only going to last so long as you can’t rip the content from a book the way you can rip a CD.  Oh wait, you can now.


*Secretly in my heart of hearts I’m kind of hoping that Derek Khanna, the RSC Staff Contact and Paul Teller posted the document for just long enough, and rescinded it fast enough for the Streisand Effect to take hold and drive the conversation forward. A little too Machiavellian?  Maybe.  But it has certainly been the topic of conversation across the entirety of the tech sector.

What You Say Online – Minors Edition

Dude, why did you say that?

Over at my LJ I spent some time recounting this story of post-election bursts of racism, and talking about my own experiences growing up in one of these similar types of towns where it’s 99.999% white people and racism continues to rear its ugly head.  The quick version: Barack Obama wins the national election.  A bunch of racist people take to the internet to voice their racist opinions.  Some of these people saying these racist things were teens.

And that’s where things got interesting.

The folks over at Jezebel recognized that a bunch of these tweets were coming from teenagers, who posted a ton of their personal information online.  Their full legal name.  Their school.  Pictures of themselves in their school uniforms, or team uniforms. Details about potential recruiting for colleges, etc.  So, they started calling up the schools, and pointing out that these students were in pretty much every case violating the code of behavior for their student body, and not serving as a positive role model or representative of the school.  And then they wrote an article about it.  They named their names, their schools, and more.

Today, Read Write Web called out Jezebel for violating journalistic ethics by engaging in public harassment of minors. The argument from RWW is that traditional journalism respects that minors who commit criminal actions or who engage in inappropriate behavior would not normally be named in an article or on a news broadcast.  Juvenile court records can be sealed, and often are, to allow for the mistakes of a young person to not tarnish the potential for a normal adult life.  The salient component from the RWW article:

When a minor commits a crime in the real world, the cops know who the kid is, as do the neighbors and everyone in the community. The journalist covering the crime knows the kid’s name, and if anyone wanted to, they could find out the minor’s name just by pulling up the public police report.

And this is where the internet is different, and it’s a point that I addressed in my personal blog.  Writing something on the internet doesn’t stay in your little town.  It is something that is PUBLISHED.  By putting your name, your location, and your words out there for anyone in the public to see, you are inviting the criticism of the world, and engaging in the very same game that publishers and journalists have been playing in for years.  The internet pierces the bubble of the local domain and expands your influence to the entire world.

This is why a viral video can spark an embassy attack.

What you do online means something, and it has consequences.  Some people are being visited by the Secret Service because they made threats against the President on Twitter.  It’s gravely serious.

So, the question is, should this news outlet publicly state the names of these teens who posted racist tweets?  I am standing by Jezebel on this one.  These teens already put themselves out there.  They may not have realized what they were doing would have such a profound impact, or even be picked up as national news.  And that is a failure of educating kids about how the internet works.  These kids probably thought that nobody read their stuff, and that they were just writing for their friends.  When in reality, what they are saying, however inane it might be, is viewable by anyone.  And that is the wake up call that they all just received.

This is core information literacy stuff right here.  Developing an online reputation, managing your personal information, exercising care and caution in what you say and how you say it to people.  All of these things are important, and kids don’t get it.  And with caching, and archiving, they will be subjected to the words they put out when they were at their most vulnerable.

I recall reading an article about a high school that developed an internal social network for their students.  The purpose of this social network was to give the students a kind of internet training-wheels so that they could experiment in a controlled environment before they went and swam in the deep end of the pool (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)  The student would spend the year in that environment, play around in it, get comfortable with it, and then slowly they would start to slip up, and then have a consultation with one of the faculty members or the principal.  The purpose of this exercise was to develop an understanding of what you say online, and how this can negatively affect you.  This absolutely needs to be incorporated into early education, and I’m talking like children 10 years old or less.  This is not intended to scare the kids, but to teach the kids about the lasting impact they will leave on the world, and the trail of information that may be used against them, even from when they are very, very young.

At the library we see kids on the internet pretty much all day long.  Some of these very young kids are on facebook and they are sharing pictures with each other. I will guarantee you that probably not a single one of them understands the privacy settings.  Hell, most adults don’t understand them.  And beyond that, they’re not thinking about what these pictures may say 10, 20, 30 years down the road.  And they absolutely need to learn that.  Being online isn’t a game.  It’s real.  And the consequences can haunt you forever.