November 09, 2004
ETS to measure tech literacy
Today's issue of Edupage has an blurb about a new standardized test to measure technical literacy. Literacy tests aren't new, but this one is particuarly interesting because it is from the folks who do the SAT. Here's the blurb:
Working with representatives of seven universities, the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the SAT, has developed a new test to measure how well students apply information technology skills to solve problems. Students taking the ICT Literacy Assessment exam will be asked to perform tasks such as build a spreadsheet, write an e-mail that summarizes a passage, and evaluate the credibility of online information. ... The test will be given starting in January 2005, and for the first year, results will be provided in the aggregate only. After ETS has developed a baseline for scoring, test takers will receive individual scores.
November 08, 2004
Election good news, bad news
More from JOHO the blog re the election. The good news: folks from the University of Michigan have provided some additional maps for those depressed by the garden variety red maps. Here's their cartogram by county, which adjusts the sizes of counties according to their population and the color by proportion of votes:
Now the bad news: there's already a report that appears to show that traditionally heavily Democratic counties in Florida apparently voted overwhelmingly for Bush. Gay marriage opponents? Or something else? I'm sure we'll never know.
November 05, 2004
Here's the RSS feed.
UX and visibility
Speaking of filing things away, here's part of an email I just sent to the InfoD-Cafe list in response to Loren Needle's email re information design visibility. Many UX fields (usability, graphic design, IxD, IA, tech writing) have this same "why don't they value us?" kind of undercurrent, and I think Challis makes a critical point. Below is a linked version of my response.
Anyways, what I wanted to add to this discussion is to point to Challis Hodge's article titled Design is Broken and Needs to be Fixed. Here's a snippet:
I have listened for decades now as we designers have debated in circles, chased our tails and whined about business not understanding what we do and the value we bring. We talk about making things more usable, about creating brand loyalty, about making the world a better place. We struggle with ROI models, case studies and methods to communicate our value. Still we find ourselves in the same situation, having the same discussion. We just dont get why business doesnt understand.
I also think there's another theory that may be of use in these issues of visibility (for we share them with many, many other professions). It's diffusion of innovation theory (Rogers) aka crossing the chasm (Moore) aka the tipping point (Gladwell). It's a very complex and interesting theory, but I think the point that applies here is this: there is a gap/chasm/space between the point where something is used by the early adopters/visionaries and the early majority/pragmatists. And that space has everything to do with communication of value. The language we use is not the language used by those we would seek to convince. For me, this is exactly in line with what Challis is saying. And this is where we should look to find ways to make progress.
Stupid is as stupid does
Here's a loosely coupled post with some key points I want to refer back to over the next weeks and months as I try and figure out "what next?" First, I'm finding that there's a lot I agree with in Kottke's How George Bush won the election:
I don't think America is that divided. I think most of us are ill-informed in two major ways, "conveniently" split along the lines of the two major political parties available to us. ...
So...while I am as depressed as anyone to be facing four more years of W, I'm pretty sympathetic to the point above. Hell, this is the picture of my family. I'm the bleeding heart liberal, former Catholic turned Unitarian Universalist, who has a brother who was a Promisekeeper and is now a member of some evangelical Christian church in the boonies of Pennsylvania. As Tom Hanks says in You've Got Mail, we are an American family.
For another "the truth hurts?" slap at blue folks, there's this from Camille Paglia:
Progressives must do some serious soul-searching. Too often they are guilty of arrogance, insularity and sanctimony. They claim to speak for the common man but make few forays beyond their own affluent, upper-middle-class circles. There needs to be less preaching and more direct observation of social reality.
That said, when you tally things up like my co-worker Justin did, and you throw in some conspiracy theories a la Diebold, the question of reaching out to the middle and/or "work against the force of intolerant fear-mongering that has swept this country" (JOHO the blog) isn't just an exercise in bloggerbation.
I agree Bush and his people are smart, very smart, but I believe there's a difference between the people who voted for Bush, and the people whose interests he serves. Do the people who voted for him understand that?
To the extent that they don't , reaching out can only be helpful. But in the same way we differentiate between civilians and militia, we need tougher tactics for those who would willingly mislead. (Wanna be further depressed? Read FactCheck.org's piece on false ads.)
And in either case, I think we need to revisit how we organize. In particular, one question I have now is just how much decentralization? The MoveOn folks are rightly proud of the turnout, but was there a backlash because people were hearing from MoveOn, from America Coming Together, from the Kerry-Edwards campaign, from their local dems campaign, etc? Did my writing moms in West Virginia help, or did I come off as pretentious as the Limey Assholes did in Ohio? If there had been some loose coupling between these groups, would the resources used have had more impact?
And we have to find room for religion in our politics. In Salon, Edgar Rivera Colón writes:
That African-Americans were able to forge both an abolitionist and civil rights movement with the resources of the King James Bible and the Constitution of the United States should give Democrats some food for thought about the progressive possibilities inherent in the most widely owned and read book in this country.
Getting better at this isn't key, it's fundamental. After all, Richard Nixon was re-elected too.
November 03, 2004
Well, George Bush got one thing right: "America has spoken" indeed. Over 55 million Americans wanted a change, but didn't get it. And here in the District, where Bush didn't even draw 10% of the vote, the mood is pretty somber.
I credit John Kerry for being dignified enough to avoid drawing us into a repeat of 2000. But boy, is the future frightening. We've got big problems at home and abroad. But this election did something that no other had done...it got me involved for the first time (other than voting). I wrote letters, I made phone calls, I donated money. So what now?
Well, for one, I have joined the ACLU. It may not be ideal, but it's a start. And then, to make myself feel better (even if falsely) that it's not about "us" versus "them", I played around in Photoshop to create my own version of the election map. Instead of coding each state by winner, I've coded them based on percentage of vote (I used the New York Times data for the percentages, with RGB values equal to %Rep*255, 0, %Dem*255).
Nearly half the states had around 10% swing or less. In other words, there are plenty of people in middle America who voted for Kerry, and plenty in the metros who voted for Bush (including 1/3 of my traditionally bleeding heart liberal county voters). Even the right-most leaning state (Utah) had more than 1/4th of its voters go for Kerry. And more than 1/3 of the voters in Texas didn't want to re-elect W.
What we liberals need to do is engage with the moderate Republicans before we find ourselves back in 1950s America. And honestly, if we don't want 8 more years after this, we need to figure out a way to counteract the Karl Rove machinery, 'cause I'm sure he's not done when W is. (Won't John McCain be surprised when he gets railroaded out again.)
We gotta find the middle. 'Cause we're no match for the new GOP when it comes to arguing the extremes.
IDblog is Beth Mazur tilting at power law windmills. A little bit Internet, a little bit technology, a little bit society, and a lot about designing useful information products. Send your cards and letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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