A blog about information, politics, philosophy and power (also pretentiousness)

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Some thoughts about Sports Analytics and if Art is reducible to Science

Been awhile since I’ve blogged so here I go:

In the past decade or so there has been an outpouring of sport analytic data. With the “Big Data” wave and films like Moneyball, sports have begun to use advance statistics. Things such as player tracking and efficiency rating. Teams are beginning to rely more and more on math and analytics to win games instead of “heart” or “determination”. Of course, “heart” and “determination” are still important and still are an important factor in making teams work. Heart is the art, and the analytics is the science. Knowing what to do is different from having the ability or wanting to do it.

But is motivating players to give them this “heart” or determination” really an art? We have studies and focus groups showing the proper way to motivate. We can do analysis of what motivating techniques provide the best results. Same thing with mental states. What happens when we have studies showing what the coach should say in a time-out for the best results? What happens if art is reduced to psychology?

Let’s take the coach time-out example. This example will be riddled with holes and ridiculous simplifications, but the point of it is just to convey an idea so please be patient (If you want to claim this as a sort of Intuition-pumping, and that using simplistic and impossible hypothetical examples is the exact problem with theoretical analysis, well suck it up for now. That’s a topic for a different blog post)  Let’s say that a research organization has done a study that shows that over-all if a coach says themes A, B, and C during time-outs in the last 5 minutes then the team will have an over-all increase in wins.

Do coaches start doing this? Or would they argue that “this wouldn’t work for their team” or that “this only produces over-all wins and doesn’t take into importance the context.” Also what happens when every coach starts doing this? Wouldn’t that lessen the affect? Also as years go by and players mindset change, wouldn’t this technique work less and less?

Sports analytics can answer all these questions. They can adjust the measure to take into account the context and they can do monthly new studies to determine changing mindsets. If a motivation theory becomes widely adopted then they due new studies and find out new ones. Everyone can always be acting on the best analytic data available.

Ok. At this point I don’t know where I am going with this blog. I was going to say that everyone acting on the best analytic data available may cause teams to be very similar. But analytic data will become a desired thing and so it probably won’t be freely open and teams will have their own measures and protect them secretly while trying to steal others. So Sports League turns into Wall Street? Will you have research teams working for each team collecting data and trading it and stealing it? That’s interesting. But really far fetched.

All my speculation so far has been building around the idea of a dystopian world where every action is calculated and based on studies instead of random or heartfelt. I’ll start writing the young adult novel now… Of course such a world is ridiculous, because such a world always favours the innovators. The coach that can discover the current motivation phrase before everyone else does will win. And what fuels innovation or big shifts? Creativity. Being able to see or do the right thing before there is tangible data to prove it is the right thing.

I believe I just went in a nice circle. I distinguished between art and science. That which is done without objective knowledge and that which is done with it. I then went on to claim that science might swallow art. That as it fills in more and more of the realm we thought belong to art – When writing a best-seller can be mathematically calculated based on current trends without needing the genius of a great author- what happens to art? What happens when creativity becomes a science? Well what happens is the science needs creativity in order to get rid of creativity. Ugh.

At -what you and I both hope- is the end of this blog, I have reached a very simple idea. In the process I hope I made you think about some bigger ones.

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The “Human Trace” of Illegal Uploaders and Scanners.

Ok. So I download a lot of comics illegally via the Pirate Bay. (Let’s not get into the ethical issues of illegal downloading right now….) Now scanning is a lot of work. One of my professors, Sarah Roberts, has done research on how for the Google Book project sometimes a finger is accidentally scanned in with the images of the book. This reminds us that there are workers, human beings, scanning and making digital copies of these books. Somebody is doing the endlessly repetitive and boring task of turning the page, scanning, turning the page, scanning, turning the page…etc.

Sarah calls these fingers, these mistakes, “human traces”. For they forcefully remind us of the human being who allowed us to view this book. Now imagine if other items we bought had more human traces? There is already a huge market for ‘fair trade’ and other more independently produced items like hand sewn sweaters, candles, or more charity or ‘ local bake saleish’ items, that make their sales purely based on the fact that they have human traces. But imagine if there were human traces for mass produced items like cars, fast food, cell phones…etc.

It would change how we experience them. How we consumed or used them would change drastically.

The human traces Google Books allows us to get past the mass delusion we have that, as Sarah says, that machines create everything, and allow us to remember there is a human life behind this who may be being exploited or may as well be flourishing (though the former is probably more likely).

We have all come across those viral photos of notes or messages in cheap dollar store crap that factory workers somehow got by their employers. These human traces remind us there is a human cost for everything we buy.



Now, illegal comic book scanners aren’t getting paid to scan. They do it for a whole host of reasons: to promote, to be recognized, to gain status…etc. When you scan comics illegally though, you often don’t get much acknowledgement. So comic book scanners have taken to including their names or logos in their scans.

These aren’t their real names of course. But they often design a cool logo or picture that allows scanners to identify them and appreciate the scan job. Hell, some scanners even use scanning as a chance to promote their own art and creations. I’ve come across multiple comic scans where this happens. It’s really freaking cool.

The ‘human trace’ that got me to create this bog post was a memoriam to dead friend. The comic scanner included a page at the end of his illegally scanned reproduction with a picture of a dock on a serene lake and a profound quote. They dedicated this scan to a close friend who just died and had been a fan of the comic.

Illegally uploading and scanning has become an art form in its own right. Remember that Seinfeld episode where Jerry becomes an artistic bootlegger? Illegally filming movies in such a way that his copyright infringing copies are in high demand?

I don’t really have time to examine the implications or revelations that these “scanner logos’ or added creations bring. But hopefully you can see just how academically fascinating this is.

A few more examples. (I dug into this as much as I could). There is a big market for illegal streaming of events. Especially sports. Most of our younger generation doesn’t have cable and there is still no affordable or inclusive way to stream most sports online, so often we turn to illegal streams. There are some pretty popular illegal streamers who do interesting artistic things with their streams.

For instance, often during commercials many streamers will change their stream to something more interesting for the viewer to watch. Some streamers have become very popular for their choice of movies or TV shows they choose to play during their stream. Watchers keep coming back to these streamers because of the content and experience they offer.

One more example. I recently downloaded (illegally again, sorry) the Childish Gambino album “Because Internet”. Now on it there is a song called “Life: The Biggest Troll”. While I was listening to it, it all of sudden went silent halfway through, out of nowhere, and remained silent for the last 3 minutes or so of the song. I thought at the time Gambino was ‘trolling’ us here because of the name of the song. I thought, “Oh that’s pretty cool I guess, kind of annoying, but funny”.

A few months later I discovered that the song does not cut out at the point. The uploader who I downloaded from had made it cut out there. Thus I got trolled pretty hard (and pretty perfectly) by an uploader. The name of the song had just made me assume in was part of song. Brilliant. Best example of trolling I’ve seen.

Of course, I wanted to complain! But I had downloaded this song illegally and trusted an anonymous uploader to give me the exact copy. I had no right to complain.

By trolling me, the uploader had gotten me thinking about how we treat illegal anonymous uploaders. Shouldn’t they be allowed to experiment creatively when they are providing us a free service? Aren’t such creative endeavors worth the price of getting a free copy? Shouldn’t the price of such creative endeavors perhaps be necessary?


But yah. Cool stuff here. Hope you all agree. Hopefully I will be coming back to this topic. If anyone has experienced similar “pirate human traces” please share your experiences below



Interesting interview with an illegal comic scanner here

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The Library Showdown Smackdown: Abram versus Buschman

Ok. So in the past few weeks I’ve seen two of the leading voices in librarianship speak, both Stephen Abram and John Buschman. Both are fascinating speakers, charismatic individuals and, without doubt, brilliant individuals. However, I couldn’t help but notice some fundamental differences between the things they were saying. I’ve been thinking this through for a while and thought it might help to try to get some of these thoughts down on paper. So be warned. These ideas are extremely half baked and maybe should have stayed in the oven for a while longer. But what are blogs for? So here we go.


At the very beginning of his lecture Abram stated flat out that being a Librarian is no longer about books. That you should not be in this program if you want to work with books. When it comes to things like recommending and helping individuals find books. “Chapters does it better.” Gasp! I looked back at the audience when he said that and saw a lot of these faces:


“The Book” still has a place of prominence at Western Library School. We are a program of History and English graduates Who speak in fond terms of the smell of a book and the feel of an old Book Store. We engage in a kind of snobbishness, fetishization, and nostalgia when it comes to the whole e-books versus physical book debate. “E-books just don’t produce the same experience” “They can’t match the feel of a book” “You can’t cuddle up and read an E-book like you do an actual book” Etcetera.

No pitchforks came out on Saturday though. He won us all back talking about the profound importance of the Librarian’s job and how we were extremely undervalued. Librarians, he argued, can do anything (I’m paraphrasing there, but that was the gist of it). He talked about his career as working as a librarian, which went from such impressive things like changing a school systems start time – so the kids could be more rested and pay more attention in class – to even more impressive things like changing the Constitution (!) to more inclusive of people with diverse sex and gender identities.

Impressive no? We all thought so. This was the main point of his presentation. That Librarians are no longer tied to the idea of libraries as places to find books. Libraries should be centers of learning. He gave the example of how libraries should have filmmaking resources for local filmmakers and how they should also work closer with the local school system. A lot of his lecture was focused on how ‘Change’ was a good thing.


A couple of his slides


He probably wouldn’t enjoy this analogy (and a lot of you probably won’t either) but what he wanted from Libraries was to be like Google. For Libraries to be involved and taking part in every form of learning that happened within a community. For Libraries to focus on public relations, marketing, and research. Libraries need to know their user’s needs and wants before they do and be there to provide them.

Yah. I know…. Libraries need to be like Google….. without the profit driven motive that Google has. That’s what he was saying. They also need to be more local and community driven rather than international. This is perhaps where we get a leg up on Google.


Just one more thing about Abram and then we will get to Buschman. I promise. Abram was also very positive on the idea of libraries partnering and working with private companies. That libraries are not an island of information but need to network with other non-profit and profit based companies. That partnerships are the way of the future for libraries (more on this later)

Now where would Buschman stand in regards to all of this? I think ultimately he would agree with a lot of the ends that Abram had in mind. The idea of libraries moving past the book and becoming more involved in the community. However Buschman would do some serious slight head-shaking and mouth-tightening (His facial response when he disagrees has a kind of Christopher Hitchenest look) at means proposed by Abrams to getting to these ends.

Buschman is of the old left politically (New left? Neo-left? Post-left? Sigh. Whatever the label for “not a Marxist but isn’t offended being called one” is these days). And so has some very nostalgic ideas about the libraries place as being part of the public sphere and working closely with lower classes and unions. He thinks neo-liberalism is bringing about the death of the public sphere and replacing values with profit. That companies like Google are destroying public live and making everything corporate and greedy.

[We were talking about Google with Buschman and (to attempt to quote him from memory) he said this interesting quote about google: “the thing about Google is that once you realize just how far and how ingrained they are, you realize it’s too late to do anything about it. It’s like a one-two punch. You realize the problem and then right after you realize there is no solution”]


Buschman believes that things are seriously changing for the worse when it comes to community engagement, class warfare, and public libraries. That all this marketing, PR, and relentless entrepreneurship will continue to expand the digital divide. Libraries and Librarians then have duty to fight against these trends and continue to give the left and the public sphere a voice.

Abram, on the other hand, believes libraries should jump to the front of this trend. That we should be leading the charge of this wide and diverse change.

Now hold up here. If you had to put Abram and Buschman in the same room, you would discover that they have very similar value systems. Both think libraries should be more engaged in the community, both think freedom of information should be the most important value of any library, and both think librarians’ talents and skills are severely underutilized.

Is the difference then solely a political one? That one has embraced capitalism and the other fights against it? But they both want such similar things…. It’s just the methods they would go to get them is different. Abram wants libraries to copy and work with private companies, while Buschman thinks we should look more toward public institutions for guidance and fight off the private sector.

Now Abrams articulated something very interesting in his talk about the private and public divide. He stated how they both have very messed up views of each other (See my blog post about the public/private divide in library school). That, particularly, the private sphere isn’t driven by profit. Yep. He mentioned how when he worked the private sphere when they talked about producing and selling a new product, they never focused on how much money it would make, but rather how much influence it would have. Profit is just a means to an end for private companies. And you can call the “end” influence or status, but what it really is is power.

Power also drives the public sphere, they just have very different ideas on how to get to it. Instead of using profit as a means there is more of a focus on community engagement, democracy and engagement. But, of course, this private/public divide is waayyy to simple of a binary. It’s more complex. Sometimes public institutions are driven by profit and sometimes private companies are driven by engagement. The public sphere and private economy are a lot more entangled then we think.


Whoa. So getting a bit to theoretical and off topic there. I just think this public/private divide is exactly what the Buschman/Abrams divide is. Which means they are both more complex and intertwined then we give them credit for.

So that’s a pretty lame conclusion right? Who wins the debate between Buschman and Abrams? “Well…they both kinda win…it’s complex…” Ouch. Sorry. But it’s true. I think maybe putting them against each other is a mistake in the first place.

BUT the thing is I really feel like Buschman and Abram would have a “Rumble in the Jungle” if put in the same room. They make up two political trends of librarianship that are very evident in our profession. I feel you could very easily have a whole 9001 class debating between their points of view and which one is right about librarianship. It would be interesting to do a survey of our program and see who took what side. I feel like it would be evenly split.

There. I took the Buschman and Abram dispute and used it as a metaphor for Librarianship as a whole. That’s a much better conclusion. I’ll end there.

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Fisking How “Libraries Are Failing America”

Originally posted on Agnostic, Maybe:

Last week, a column by David Harsanyi entitled “Libraries Are Failing America” appeared in the online version of The Federalist. In this fair but meandering article, Mr. Harsanyi makes some good points about how libraries can do better as well as some wonderfully awful points about the modern library. Since his focus wanders around through the piece, I’m going to chop it up into sections.

A new Pew Study claims that libraries “loom large in the public imagination,” with 90 percent of Americans ages 16 and older saying that closing down their local libraries would have an impact on their community. The public may imagine that libraries are dynamic centers of learning and community, but the Pew data seems suggest that they’re mostly places where your prosperous neighbors borrow books and movies without having to directly pay for them. And as Pew points out, adults with “higher…

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Google, Power and Profit

Ok. Sooo Google is totally  starting to build Military robots

Scary right? Talking about the ramifications and benefits of Google is always one of my favorite discussions.

Perhaps the best article I’ve ever read about Google, that lays out why Google is what it is and how it has kind of become an almost necessary evil is this article entitled The Political Economy of Google by Christian Fuchs:


[It might seem like I breaking some copy-right laws uploading this. But it does appear to have a creative commons licence and is available freely and widely online. (I found it using Google)]

Check it out. It’s worth the read, especially for the more Marxist sympathetic of my readers.

google even though youre

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POLAR VORTEX and Libraries

Ok. So the winter weather has been crazy this year. It’s even resulted in a new phrase, Polar Vortex, being adopted. Which, of course, has been mocked relentlessly on twitter.

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It has also (apparently) slowed down the economy. With Wall Street claiming it is the reason for the economic slow down. In other news, it’s also the reason for my drop in grades and my inability to find a female companion. Of course, some companies have actually benefited from this weather, but they are far and few between.

The Winnipeg Public Library Millennium Branch is apparently suffering though (according to this article). Colder weather means more people, who don’t have homes to really go back too, are now seeking out public places for warmth. According to the Winnipeg Free Press, this has resulted in an increase of gang members and violence in Millennium. An alleged drug dealer was arrested there and later returned to threaten library staff. Two teenage girls were also charged with assault following a confrontation with a security guard.

Now, obviously, two incidents does not mean we are on the verge of a total gang war within the library and, this being more local newspaper, it does kinda sensationalize the issues at hand and lead to some maybe unfair speculation.

However, such incidents do bring us back to all sorts of questions about the roles of public libraries and their staff. With more and more emphasis being put on libraries as public spaces rather than places of information, do librarians need to learn better ways of dealing with such issues? Function more in the role of a counselor or social worker and less in the role of a librarian.

Or what about libraries functioning within extreme weather conditions as places of shelter or emergency services? If we seriously want to get in-depth into discussions about libraries functioning as a public sphere (which at library school we totally do. It’s pretty established here that Libraries should really be ruling the world) we need to talk about how the roles of library staff and libraries themselves need to change.

Yah. That’s about it. Just some off-the cuff and back of the refrigerator thoughts there.

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Librarians Shmarains

Ok. So I watched this video for class:

 Let’s just quickly by-pass the whole “Whoa. They were so sexist back then” and the “Whoa. I wish librarians actually looked like dainty 1940s actresses all the time” ….bad joke. Moving on.

The video is a recruitment and explanation of what it means to be a librarian. A career profile that says it is meant for kids who “love books” and “love people”…. Those are really the only two interests and qualifications needed (unless one wants to be an administrator or reference librarian, which seems to require a college education or, as it was called back then, having a penis). It did get me thinking though. I do love books. Everyone in my program loves books. In fact, sometimes all they do is share Facebook statuses about how much they love books.

Do I love people? Well, of course I love you dear reader, but I never ever considered myself a ‘people person’. Though I guess being an extroverted social person is not the same as loving people. Maybe that’s where I got confused. I do love me some people (even my parents, no matter how much they tell me they don’t feel the same about me), even the non-caucasian people who aren’t shown in this video. So I guess I am pretty fit for this career.

this is me


Being a librarian isn’t that simple though. Librarians are already seeing themselves functioning in bookless environments. The job divisions they give within this video of; reference librarian, circulation librarian, children librarian…etc. Now all seem incredibly simplified. There are also hundreds of more designations and labels for librarians now. Most of which involve functioning in some technology based field.

This video does romanticize the role of the librarian. The long shots of shelves of books, the efficiency of the librarians query responses, and the architecture of the libraries. Such ideas were the reasons I got in to library school in the first place. I wanted to be a gatekeeper to knowledge. Be the Librarian from Pagemaster. Or the Librarianish God of neutrality from Dragonlance, Gilean (if you get that reference….I don’t ever want to talk to you.)

I don’t think such ideas have fallen to the wayside. But my dreams of revealing whole new worlds to kids or helping someone discover a book that they can never let go of, are now in a kinda limbo. I am considering being a non-library librarian. Something this 1940s video would have never considered possible. And I kinda sorta feel like I might be selling out my dreams.

But ehhh. I like what the future holds. Can’t hold on to dreams just for mostly nostalgic reasons right? Right.  Sorry. Maybe too personal.

Anyways, Libraries have (obviously) changed a lot from the 40s. But honestly, this 1940ish idea of what makes a librarian is still around. There is still that immediate female connotation too. Should we go the ultimately self-defeating way of the “male-nurse” label? I hope not.

One more Mitchell and Webb Sketch for the hell of it


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