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HIPAA Might Not Protect You

I thought I’d just spread a little (hopefully) useful knowledge from my virtual reality research paper, both for you and your students. Here’s the GitHub link to my full paper.

First, if you or your students are using consumer tech that collects biometric or health data, like FitBit or Garmin (or virtual reality), then HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) generally does not cover you. There are ongoing legal challenges to this, but as of now, these companies are allowed to do almost anything they want with data about your heart rate or sleep patterns, within the parameters of their user agreements. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the “third-party doctrine,” which means that if you voluntarily give up data to a third party then you cannot expect that data to remain private. Fortunately, the third-party doctrine doesn’t apply to anyone 12 years old or younger, thanks to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Once you turn 13, though, it’s pretty much open season.

Second, data can only be anonymous up to a point. For example, the New York Times recently reported on how much personal information could be discovered from anonymous location-tracking data on smartphones. Even when your identity is “removed” from the location data, if that data shows you coming and going from your house, then it’s not tough to figure out that it’s you. This data is generally for sale to anyone with enough money.

Third, advertising and propaganda are much easier to slip into virtual reality than into two-dimensional computer screens. It’s often difficult for an ad to be smoothly displayed on a computer screen – it usually seems to be flashing annoyingly or obviously separate from the site’s content. However, if you’re in a virtual 3D environment that feels like a city street, it’s natural to have billboards or advertising posters around. If another character hands you a virtual drink, it could naturally be a particular brand. These ad spaces could easily be sold to companies.

And always remember that you might have friends on Facebook, but Facebook is not your friend.

Thanks to everyone for an interesting class! If I don’t see you again, good luck with all your future studies.

Project Proposal: Mapping a digital gallery and sharing to social media

Hi All,

First and foremost, congratulations to Patrick!

Second, I realize that my in-class presentation was a little short, so I want to clarify some things about my project proposal here. Below is an excerpt from my proposal that I hope will answer some questions. Anyone please feel free to ask more questions and let me know if you would like me to share the entire paper. Thank you all for an amazing semester and I’m looking forward to working with you in the future!

“I propose that we create two digital tools that can be used as an alternative to a typical digital management software such as Luna Imaging, which is often used by libraries and archives. The digital tools that I am proposing will improve the collection search process and increase social media presence. Ideally these tools will reach a broad audience and facilitate traffic to archives and cultural heritage institutions, whose community is normally limited to scholars and researchers. These tools will make searching collections fun, smooth, and easy in the form of a mobile application (known as an app), and a “Publish to Social Media” button on the upload page on the back end of Luna.  Throughout this proposal I will be using the terms “front end” and “back end”. Front end refers to the presentation layer of a software, website or app, and back end refers to the data access layer, usually where code is written [1].

I’m proposing these very different tools as one project because they are in fact intertwined. To reach the general population, who have a fairly untapped interest in history, we must make reaching out to them through social media, as well as their experience searching archive websites easier.

As it stands there are problems with searching archives’ digital collections. If the digital archivist uploading material is not proficient in web design, or if the archive’s collections are unorganized on the back end, the front end of the archive’s website can be tricky to navigate. I hope to tackle this problem with the app by creating less freedom on the back end, which will create a more concise and easy to understand digital gallery.

In addition to creating an app with a digital gallery, I would like to propose partnering with the New York City Municipal Archives (NYCMA) to create an interactive map of New York City.  This map will showcase images of every building with its associated address from the 1940’s, courtesy of the New York City Municipal Archives recently completed tax photo project. The map will also showcase any digitized images associated with an address or area in New York City, such as a crime scene photo from the year 1927 at 125 Mulberry St.

Creating the mobile app alone would tackle the learning curve needed to view different archives’ digital collections, which many researchers and scholars are already familiar with. It is important to reach out to the greater population, many of whom are unaware of the fascinating resources that with the app could be right at their fingertips.

Reaching this larger population could be done right from the source with a “Publish to Social Media” option on the upload page of Luna. This would make it easier for NYCMA to reach out to its potential patrons in such a way that keeps up with the fast-paced ways of the internet, and without the need to publish separately on multiple social media platforms.”

Marxism, Sexism, and Racism

Hi all, many congratulations on completing the semester to all of you. A special shout out to Patrick Smyth, I apologize I can’t make your party tonight. But I wanted to write a blog about my final project. As you may recall, I am doing a textual analysis project based on letters written between Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in the latter half of the 1850’s. I am largely interested in how these letters influenced their other published works, such asCapital. But that isn’t what I am interested in blogging about today. There was one area of my proposal that I submitted yesterday that I wish to discuss now, and that has to do with the inclusiveness of my work.

 

I was struck earlier in the semester reading Lauren F. Klein’s “Distant Reading after Moretti.” It really brings to light issues of inclusiveness in the Digital Humanities and academia as a whole. I realize I am a white male working on a project of the work of two other white males, so I wonder what biases I have just from the beginning in terms of race and gender. I also question if there is inherent racism or sexism in Marxist thought as a whole. What must I do to avoid such biases and to find any instances of racism or sexism in the texts I analyze?

 

Textual analysis, or distant reading, is as Klein says, “unwelcoming to women.” What can I do in my work to be inclusive of feminism and gender thought (and of course race) as I analyze these letters throughout next semester? How can I create a project that invites people of all backgrounds to engage with my work? I don’t think I will be able to answer any of these questions in this blog, but I want to stress how important it is that I think about them.

 

Marxism, in general, boils down to equality, but is that enough to be void of any of the issues I highlighted? Marx and Engels, as I’ve said were white European men, and perhaps have a Eurocentric mindset. I’d be very interested in reading of racism and sexism in Marxism if anyone has article or book suggestions. There is so much to read on the topic, and in my landscape audit I didn’t really see anything regarding these issues. I wonder how female, gender non-conforming, and people of color interact with Marxist thought differently than I would. Has anyone come across something troubling in their own readings of Marxism?

 

Digital Humanities is evolving and growing, as is academia with movements like #metoo and #blacklivesmatter. But when working with products from the canon, we can be sure to encounter ways of thinking that differ from the norms of today. Not to say there is no value in these works, they just need to be interpreted from their own time. I guess the best thing I could do for now is to read works on Marxist thought written by women and people of color. I know they are out there, one of my professors this past semester was female, Marxist and feminist. Is anyone else considering their own inherent biases in the work they are planning on doing next semester?

 

Again, congratulations on a finishing the semester. It’s been a true pleasure for me working with all of you over the course of the term, a major learning experience to be sure. I hope you have the happiest of holiday breaks, however you choose to enjoy it.

Final Project: DH in Prison

Here are excerpts from my project proposal. If you want to read the whole proposal let me know and I’ll share it with you.

Photograph from Vera Institute of Justice Reimagining Prison Report

In view of the devastating effects of mass incarceration in the United States and in an effort to address the needs of incarcerated people as they rebuild their lives, I propose to design and develop an undergraduate college-level course in digital skills and digital humanities to be taught in prison. Although education is a powerful tool for successful reentry, only 35% of prisons in the United States offer college courses at the present time.[1] Digital humanities are hardly taught at all. An environmental scan of college programs in prisons shows a low occurrence of digital humanities courses in curricula largely due to a scarcity of hard and soft infrastructure to support digital work and because incarcerated people are generally forbidden access to the internet. This gap, or digital divide, presents us with an opportunity to build a course that does not exist at the present time and to innovate through exploring ways to teach specific digital skills without an internet connection. By developing minimal computing software we will create course materials easily exportable to low-tech environments around the world. We will produce a course curriculum, syllabus, lesson plans with datasets, open source documentation and a project website.

This project comes at a time when the field of Digital Humanities is turning from seeing itself under a big tent to being under no tent. Teaching digital humanities and digital skills in prison is an opportunity to share the work we do in the field of digital humanities with a population that on one hand, given its disadvantages, will benefit greatly from having a digital edge and on the other hand will add new perspectives and contributions to the field of digital humanities, expanding its scope by bringing the interests and concerns of communities traditionally underrepresented in digital humanities to the fore.

Photograph from Vera Institute of Justice Reimagining Prison Report

Photograph by anonymous

[1]Bender, Kathleen. “Education Opportunities in Prison Are Key to Reducing Crime.” Center for American Progress, March 2, 2018.

See also Reimagining Prison Report. Vera Institute of Justice, October 10, 2018.

Final Project: “Nonprofit News Board”

Hi everyone,

You all already saw Jennifer and I present, but here are more details about our final project — in a blog post format. We also tentatively selected a name for our nonprofit news curation tool/website — “Nonprofit News Board.”

We are proposing the creation of the tentatively-named “Nonprofit News Board,” a website that will aggregate and curate the news produced by nonprofit media outlets. By gathering the links to their work in one location, and offering different ways of presenting the stories — including through the use of visualizations — we seek to facilitate access to and awareness of this sector, especially at a time when the news media in general face dire circumstances: financial insecurity, the proliferation of inaccurate information masquerading as news, newsrooms facing cutbacks and layoffs if not being shuttered altogether, and hostility from those in power. In the last 10-15 years, numerous nonprofit news startups emerged, in many cases to fill in the gaps left by the closing of many local newsrooms and produce in-depth, critical and nonpartisan coverage of government, education, health and other issues that serve the public interest. These outlets, many of whom represent a particular region of the country or focus on specific topics, aim to inform and educate readers.

Through building a structure that presents these kind of stories, we strive to spotlight and promote work that has undergone extensive research and verification. The site would serve as a remedy for the spread of misinformation and give visitors an innovative one-stop alternative to news that is produced by organizations driven by the need to turn a profit and to be the first on a story. Visitors will find in one location the not-so-breaking news; stories about the aftermath of so-called breaking news; and the investigations months and years in the making.

By driving traffic to nonprofit sites and ideally helping to establish a following for them, a greater number of people will, story by story, be better informed about the news they consume. We will examine sites that aggregate and curate the news and consider how to build on those examples to best produce a unique product in a time of heightened public awareness of the media industry.

While journalism and the humanities are considered two distinct fields, the principles of nonprofit journalism overlap with those of the humanities. At the core of both, practitioners engage in observing and documenting human societies and experiences through critical thought, research and communication. Through the study of arts and culture, the humanities inform students and scholars of the similarities of seemingly disparate people and communities, or at least encourage them to observe and understand societies and see the many sides of the human experience. In a similar fashion, the mission of most nonprofit media outlets includes giving a platform to the issues and voices often ignored by mainstream news entities. This can stir up empathy in readers and help them realize the experiences shared between different populations. In this regard, highlighting the nonprofit media sector effectively also promotes the principles of the humanities and establish connections between the two disciplines.

Project T.R.I.K.E – Principles and Origin Myths

Hannah’s already provided some use cases that I hope help to illustrate why we think that Project T.R.I.K.E will be useful, and to whom.  I wanted to backtrack and give some context. Although, as Hannah’s post suggests, it’s quite difficult to suggest a specific starting point for our thought processes, which have developed iteratively until we’re not sure whether we’re trapped in a time loop or not.  However, I think I can trace through some of the things I think are important about it.

We really wanted to do something that would be useful for pedagogy. Again, if you want to know how it’s useful for pedagogy, please see Hannah’s post! But we were specifically interested in a resource that would teach methodology, because all of us were methodological beginners who really felt the need for more tools and resources that would help us to develop in that respect.  During our environmental scan, we were impressed by the efforts of the DH community to produce a number of useful guides to tools, methodologies, and processes (in particular, please see Alan Liu’s DH Toy Chest and devdh.org), although none of them were doing exactly what we want to do. There are plenty of dead resources out there, too, and we should take that as a warning.

We really wanted to take a critical stance on data by creating something that would highlight its contingent, contextual, constructed nature, acknowledging that datasets are selected and prepared by human researchers, and that the questions one can ask are inextricably connected to the process through which the dataset is constituted. Our emphasis on a critical approach does not originate in this class; I believe all of us had been exposed to theories about constructedness before this. What’s curious about our process is that we went out seeking datasets and tutorials with this in mind, thinking about what we hoped to do, and this conversation ranged far from the class readings, focusing on our own work and also Rawson and Muñoz’s “Against Cleaning”   but eventually brought us back to Posner, Bode, and Drucker.  None of them, however, came away with exactly the solution we did; we decided that the constructed nature of data is best represented by making transparent the process of construction itself! Project T.R.I.K.E. will provide snapshots of the data at different stages in the process, highlighting the decisions made by researchers and interrogating how these decisions are embodied in the data.

Finally, we really wanted to ensure that we could produce something that could be open to the community. Again, a lot of work in the DH community is openly available, but we also came across some datasets behind paywalls.  One repository aggregating these datasets not only made it difficult to access the databases but also had a series of stern lectures about copyright, occupying much the same space on their website that instruction in methodology would occupy on ours! While it is true that some humanities data may invoke copyright in a way that other kinds of data usually don’t, we’d much rather host datasets that we can make available to a wide variety of users with a wide variety of use cases. Limiting access to data limits research.

Think carefully, though. As part of the environmental scan, we came across an article that argues, on the basis of a report partially sponsored by Elsevier, that researchers seldom make their data available, even when they are required to do so. While I expect this is true, I am also suspicious of claims like this when they are made by major publishers, because their next step will probably be to offer a proprietary solution which will give them yet more control over the scholarly communication ecosystem.  In a context in which major publishers are buying up repositories, contacting faculty directly, and co-opting the language of open access as they do so, I’d argue that it’s more and more important for academics to build out their (our) own infrastructure. Project T.R.I.K.E. has slightly humbler ambitious, for time being, but it’s an opportunity for us to begin building some infrastructure of our own.

Project T.R.I.K.E. will not trap you in an infinite time loop

Hello, fine classmates.

Word on the street is we didn’t do a great job explaining Project T.R.I.K.E. during our presentation.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  So here is Take 2 – below please find some vignettes highlighting different ways that Project T.R.I.K.E. can help students and professors.

Graduate student A:
Grad student A is named Hannah. She learned a little about data critique and bias during her summer data visualization course and she wants to learn more. After reading Raw Data is an Oxymoron and Data Feminism she starts googling for examples of data critique on datasets and comes across Project T.R.I.K.E. – the first attempt at putting critique into practice alongside real datasets. Looking at the various datasets in various stages and being able to read statements about the biases and choices at each step gives great real world examples of the things she’d only read about data transformation and the meanings behind it. She goes on to co-found Project T.R.I.K.E. Wait a minute… oh no, she’s stuck in a time loop!*

Undergraduate student B:
Undergrad student B is taking an Intro to DH course at a large public university on the left coast. As an optional extra credit assignment, the professor suggests students go on the T.R.I.K.E. website and write a report about decisions made in one of the lesson plan datasets, including suggestions on how different decisions could have been made with the data and how that would have impacted analysis. Student B does a great job on his extra credit, which pushes his grade just into passing, saving him the thousands of dollars he expected to have to pay to retake the course. He invests those savings wisely in renewable energy and gets really rich.

Professor C:
Professor C provides their own datasets to undergraduate students to clean up and work with in order to build a network analysis in Gephi, but wants to give them example of process and how the data needs to be structured in order to be fed into Gephi. They points their students to T.R.I.K.E., where they have posted a sample dataset and a tutorial taking the demo dataset through steps of cleanup and preparation for Gephi. The students still need to go through the whole prep process with their own datasets.

Professor D:
Part of Professor D’s course for graduate students is an assignment to find a dataset and perform an analysis. Professor D prefers to leave the assignment unstructured so that students have maximum freedom of interpretation, but he does provide Voyant and Mallet as examples of textual analysis tools that can be used, and does include a link to T.R.I.K.E. as an optional project resource. About ⅓ of Professor D’s students check out T.R.I.K.E., which is totally fine. Nobody has to use it. It’s just an optional resource.

Humanities Librarian E:
Humanities Librarian E maintains a DH community website with an extensive list of resources and tools for performing various types of DH work. He adds T.R.I.K.E. to his site. He gets stuck in a time loop too.*

Professor G:
Professor G is teaching a graduate course on working with data and wants her students to learn how to think critically about the decisions they make when working with data. As a term project, she breaks her students into groups and has each group produce a dataset and “clean” and prepare it for analysis.
The groups post all their work to T.R.I.K.E., where they use T.R.I.K.E.’s built in discussion feature to discuss the decisions behind why they collected data they way they did, potential biases introduced at each stage of cleaning and reduction, and a critical meta-analysis of what their data analysis can and can’t be relied up to explain.
All of the students give Professor G reviews as good as they would have given an equivalent male professor.

Professor H:
Professor H is teaching an undergraduate intro to DH course. He need to find humanities datasets for his students to work with, from which he knows they will be able to draw meaningful conclusions when analyzed. Professor H finds many options on T.R.I.K.E., and downloads his favorites to distribute to students for projects. The file downloads impressively fast, and the zip he receives is well organized with all parts clearly labeled. He smiles.

Graduate Student I:
Grad student I is pursuing a PhD in history but is increasingly interested in DH tools. They want to just try some things out for themself before committing to taking any classes. They find a link to T.R.I.K.E. on Humanities Librarian E’s DH site, download the original dataset from a T.R.I.K.E. network analysis lesson plan, and follow along with the transformations shown on T.R.I.K.E. to prepare the data for use in Cytoscape. This scaffolding well prepares Graduate Student I for his next attempt at network analysis using data he collects and preps himself.

*There is a statistically insignificant chance that using T.R.I.K.E. will imprison you in looped time forever.