Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Change Comes to the O.E.D.

The venerable Oxford English Dictionary, usually referred to as the O.E.D., is working on its third edition.  The last edition was published in 1989, and the editors had hoped to bring out the third edition in 2005.  The current guesstimate is that the third edition will come out in 2037!  A new editor, Michael Proffitt, has taken the helm of the O.E.D., and he has a different vision of the revered dictionary; he sees it as less "the heavy volumes of yore," and more "as a trove of invaluable data."  The New York Times recently interviewed Mr. Proffitt, who was very upbeat about the future of dictionaries, declaring in the article that "their time has come ... [p]eople need filters much more than they did in the past."  Some of the changes that he is contemplating include links to O.E.D. entries from digitized literature; more use by students (although he doesn't state how he would accomplish that); licensing O.E.D. data to other companies; more aggressive pricing; and "less stuffy definitions" pulled from blogs, Twitter feeds, and other untraditional sources.  One of the most interesting parts of the article comes at the end when the author, Tom Rachman, lists some words in common use today that have actually been in use for some time.  Some examples are OMG (first used in 1917) and Unfriend (first used in 1659).  

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Archives Torched in Canada

Climate change has been in the news a lot lately thanks to the extreme severe winter weather that has affected most of the United States and Canada over the past several weeks.  Researchers investigating changes in weather often seek out archival materials in order to glean historical evidence of patterns in weather events and temperatures.  Canadian environmental researchers will be out of luck in the future thanks to the decision of the Canadian government to destroy a number of archives relating to climate research.  In 2012, the government announced it was going to close down national archives sites around the country, but promised to digitize any materials that were going to be discarded or sold.  It turns out that only a small part of the archives was scanned, while the balance was sent to landfills, burned, or otherwise disposed of.  According to this report, archives relating to climate change fared the worst because of the Conservative government's hostility to climate research.  Among the archives destroyed were the environmental research materials of the St. Andrews Biological Station in New Brunswick, the Freshwater Institute Library in Winnipeg, and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John's.  The report goes on to state that no records were kept of what was discarded, sold, lost, or burned.  The materials that were destroyed are priceless and irreplaceable.  They contained nearly one hundred years' worth of information related to Canadian fisheries, freshwater ecosystems, and oceans.  The savings generated by closing the archives is small--$443,000 dollars (Canadian) a year.  Critics of the closures maintain that they were driven by the Conservative government's war against science and evidence-based climate research. 

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Follow up on Fundraiser for Food For Thought Books

Some time ago, I wrote a post here about a small bookstore in Amherst, Massachusetts, Food For Thought Books, which was trying a crowdsource fundraiser to keep itself open. I just thought I would report briefly that they made their goal and a bit over. So Yay! for crowdsource and for small, community-based, socially conscious bookstores. Congratulations to Food For Thought and many thanks to all of those who contributed.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Click Farms - diluting social media

The Associated Press did an investigative report on all those Facebook Likes and it turns out (I am Shocked! Shocked I tell you!) that they are not all genuine.

The Boston Globe has a nice version of the story. It does not seem to have run in many papers - I found lots of little "Five things to Know About Click Farms" but this is an in-depth story about the pervasive problem and how it undermines the value of Google Plus and Facebook Likes, Retweets and other methods that social medias have developed for users to how how much play either they, individually, or a particular bon mot are getting. And the story is interesting, not just to see what the various players are doing in the weapons race on each side to outwit each other, but to discover WHO is using click farms.

For instance, would you be interested to know that the U.S. Department of State dropped $630,000 in 2013 to boost its Facebook numbers? It stopped after an inspector general (thank you, thank you!) criticized this use of tax dollars. I mean, who are they competing against?!! It's not as though I can choose a different country's state department! Or maybe choose a different government agency to represent me to the world? Sheesh! Should we lay this at John Kerry's door or is this some individual agency wonk run amok? The result was that the U.S. Dept. of State was a fave in Cairo.*
Ta Da.

*(click on the LIKES and it will take you to a page that will analyze the numbers behind it. This week, for instance, the numbers dropped from a recent high Dec, 5 - 11. But the most people who "like" the DOS are in Washington, DC which seems more believable, unless there is a click farm there, too). The image is the Facebook page this day for Dept of State, showing the Likes.

Gone with the wind -- burning the archives

Wow. Ran across a blog post about 160 year old legal documents destroyed... apparently this is becoming a genuine web phenomenon as more and more bloggers pick it up. The North Carolina Dept of Archives summarily destroyed a room's worth of legal documents dating from the early to middle 1800's, after it was discovered by a county clerk. Local folks and a local historical society had been enthusiastically working on sorting and preserving them until they made the mistake of contacting that department to ask for professional help in conserving the documents. Whoops! Apparently that's where politics may have reared it's ugly head. The author, Grace, supposes,
After the Civil War (after emancipation), a lot of large land-owners deeded out substantial tracts of land to their former slaves. These former slaves had demonstrated to their masters that they were loyal, hard-working, and would continue to farm and contribute to the plantation collective as they always had. The only difference is that they would own the land they worked, and earn a somewhat larger income as a result of their efforts.

During reconstruction, a lot of land holders, both black and white, had difficulty paying very high property taxes imposed by Federal Occupiers. In swept speculators and investors from up North (these people have come to be known as “Carpet Baggers”.) They often forced white land owners to sell out at a fraction of the actual value of their property. In the case of black land-owners, sometimes all the Carpet Baggers offered was threats. The effect was the same – a vast transfer of wealth from titled property owners to new people who became, in the decades of the late 19th and early 20th century, among the wealthiest people in the South.

How do I know this? Some of my own ancestors were Carpet Baggers from Maryland. They made a small fortune after the war, stealing land, setting up mills, and effectively re-enslaving two or three generations of both poor-white and black natives of Halifax County, North Carolina.

My suspicion is that in and amongst all those now destroyed records, was a paper trail associated with one or more now-prominent, politically connected NC families that found its wealth and success through theft, intimidation, and outrageous corruption.

Prove me wrong. You can’t. They destroyed the records.

See a series of posts following the original where the archives folks reply with lame excuses that the blogger blows away. If you come to this late, and using that link is not helpful, the dates are late December, 2013 - early January, 2014. The destruction of the documents happened on Dec. 6, 2013.

The image is from the original blog, and is captioned, "Boxes of documents from the Franklin County Courthouse seized and burned by the North Carolina State Archives." Found at written by Grace.