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Princeton Offers New Digitized Collection of Revolutionary Texts

Princeton University has announced a new digitized collection that will go perfectly with your July 4th. Materials from the Sid Lapidus ’59 Collection on Liberty and the American Revolution have been digitized and are now available at http://pudl.princeton.edu/collections/pudl0076. The collection contains at this writing 179 items — books, phamplets, etc. There being only 179 items this collection is fairly easy to browse, but a nav on the left allows you to narrow down your browsing by contributor/creator, language (five of the works are in French), subject, genre (including pre-1800 works and “Controversial Literature”), and more.

If you remember history class many of these works are going to look familiar. There’s Thomas Paine’s “The Age of Reason,” and “Common Sense,” Blackstone’s “Commentaries on the laws of England,” and John Adams’ “A defence of the constitutions of government of the United States of America”. (Other notables include John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin.) Item pages include information on the date, printing, physical description, and in-library location, but click on “View Item,” to see the item completely digitized.

I don’t know the name of the solution they’ve implemented to show the digitized works but it’s great; You can view thumbnails of the pages, zoom in on individual pages, and flip page and forth. I never had to wait for items to load. There are some items in the collection that are not books (for example, an image of Benjamin Franklin) and those have a slightly different setup, with panning tools and the ability to do serious zooming (these did take a while to load, but the level of zoom was very high) as well as the ability to download entire prints and also super-zoomed areas.

It is worth noting that in addition to information related to the American Revolution, the site also has an extensive collection of anti-slavery materials, including Ottobah Cugoano’s “Thoughts and sentiments on the evil and wicked traffic of the slavery and commerce of the human species : humbly submitted to the inhabitants of Great-Britain,” The Parliment of Great Britain’s “Report from the committee of the whole House … to consider … measures … for the abolition of the slave trade” from 1792, and many items from the Society of Friends.

Google Launches Web Site to Cover US Elections

Google Elections

Google Elections

I don’t know about you, but I’m already up to my elbows in election coverage. But there’s no avoiding it — there’s a presidential election in November and we’re going to be hearing about it until then. So to make it a little easier to keep up, Google has announced a new election hub at http://google.com/elections/ed/us. (There’s one for Egypt, too, at http://google.com/elections/ed/eg, but I’ll be covering the US version here.)

The site contains news about the elections in general in the middle, with the Democrat and Republican candidates on the left nav. And let me start my rant here.

I don’t care what your politics are. Truly. I strive to keep ResearchBuzz apolitical, because ideally, an interest in well-crafted information pools, organized data, and groovy pinball machines should cross all political boundaries. Right?

But it bothers me that in these times, when dissatistfaction with politics is so intense, that Google is sticking with providing information on only two political parties. It’s not like Google doesn’t have enough newsprint or space in its magazine. It’s not like there aren’t automated mechanisms for gathering information. Yes, there are eight gazillion political parties and maybe you don’t want to include the Tomato Donut Party that has only three members. But you could make a case for the Green and Libertarian parties, which have appeared regularly on many state ballots. You could make a case for the Constitution Party, which is the other “third party” with over 100,000 registered voters according to Wikipedia. And you could point at the many independent candidates in recent history which have managed to get on state ballots despite, um, interesting ballot access laws (that’s a whole ‘nother indignant post) as an indicator of voter interest in choices.

My point is that you could use standards to define political parties and candidates for inclusion that would reach beyond Democrat and Republican. Would you make everybody happy? Good grief, no, this is politics after all. On the other hand, Google could choose to do what mainstream media has often failed to do: let the American voter know they have other choices besides Democrat and Republican.

Okay, I’m done. It’s 3:30 am and I just finished a political rant. I feel all icky.

HOW ‘BOUT THEM WELL-CRAFTED INFORMATION POOLS?

Google Elections -- Thin Crust Party

Anyway, candidates on the left. Also on the left: political issues! Yes, you can choose from several issues, including Economy, Heathcare, and Social Issues. (That seems somewhat limited, but remember, you can always run your own search, as I did for “Pizza” above. THIN CRUST PARTY!) Choose one and you’ll get news in the middle. You can choose to look just at news, or just at video. Google puts only a few videos on the site put points you to an entire YouTube channel devoted to politics if you want more.

Google also has trends for the candidates, showing volume of search, news mentions, and YouTube video views. (You can break these down to the day, and theoretically look at individual candidate results, but every time I tried that I got an “unresponsive script” warning.) There’s an “On the Ground” section that maps not only news stories but also YouTube videos (including adorable local car dealership ads.) Iowa is the hot spot right now as you can imagine.

This is a good start, but considering the rise of Facebook and Twitter, it felt a little lacking. When reviewing candidate news I could start here, but I would rapidly branch off in other directions.

Yahoo Launches Site for Midterm Elections

Yahoo has announced a new site to cover the November 2010 midterm elections in the United States. It’s called Ask America and is available right now at http://askamerica.yahoo.com.

Once the Flash intro loads (zzzz) You’re asked to choose a topic, and then to vote on a question related to that topic. Once you’ve voted, you’re invited to leave a comment. (You have to log in to Yahoo to leave a comment, of course.) I took a look at a few issues and the comments left. The issues that are most at the center of
partisan debate seem to have the most inane comments (“It’s Bush’s fault!” “No, it’s Obama’s fault!”) while the ones that are not currently in the spotlight seems to have somewhat more articulate comments.

(Here’s my standard: “It’s so-and-so’s fault” is an inane comment. “It’s so-and-so’s fault because of these thought-about arguments” is generally not an inane comment. I might not agree with it, but I won’t consider it inane.)

You can choose states instead, though not every state is represented. I chose Virginia and the first voting card read: “Are stories like the Salahi gatecrashers distracting the public from more important issues?” Apparently it wasn’t distracting the public enough because I had no idea what that card was talking about. However underneath that card there were links to top news stories from sources like Yahoo and The New York Times. So now I know who those people are though I don’t feel like much of an informed American because of it.

I like the design — once it loads — and it’s clear a lot of effort has been put into creating sets of relevant questions both for topics and states. The question is, what is the Yahoo community going to do with this lovely design and potential for deep discourse?

Remix Your Politix With Museum of the Moving Image

Here’s the ResearchBuzz part of why I’m doing this writeup: Museum of the Moving Image has a Web site called The Living Room Candidate, available at http://livingroomcandidate.org. This site contains over 500 commercials covering every presidential election from 1952 on up. That’s quite an archive. The site also has free downloadable lesson plans and the ability to view the commercials by type (biographical, fear, backfire, etc.) or by issue (civil rights, taxes, war, etc.)

The site has been up for a couple of years. I am covering it now because of the newly-launched AdMaker, an editing tool that will allow you to remix campaign ads or make new ones. The new tool is available at http://www.livingroomcandidate.org/admaker.

This page only has a couple of full commercials for remixing (one with John McCain and another with Nixon/Humphrey) but there’s also a feature that allows you to mix your own commercial.

You’re given snippets of media and tools in several different categories, including images, audio, video, transitions, effects, etc. Editing is via a simple click and drag layout; clicking on the end of a snippet and pulling it allows you to edit it down where you want it. (Video is added with audio, but an audio control on the right allows you to control the volume.) You can only add one layer of video at a time but multiple layers of audio are supported.

Don’t see what you like in the available media? AdMaker allows you to easily upload your own and integrate it into your commercial. And that’s how I ended up with video of a bear wandering around the woods with a voiceover of Bill Clinton saying he’d inhale if he had to do over again, all to the background soundtrack of Laurie Anderson’s Sharkey’s Day. And if you registered with The Living Room Candidate, you can save your masterpiece for later perusal.

I had a tremendous amount of fun with this. I hope Museum of the Moving Image expands the number of clips available in AdMaker. I can imagine some talented people making great ads.

Poligraft Gives Your Political Browsing Context

Sunlight Labs launched a new Web site last week. Poligraft is designed to provide context into political stories you read and Web sites you visit. It’s available at http://poligraft.com/.

So what exactly does it do? Poligraft comes as a standalone Web site or as a bookmarklet. I’m going to do this writeup using the standalone Web site as it’s easier to show. When you visit a Web page or a news story that contains political content, you can run it through Poligraft. Poligraft will give you the story along with context in a sidebar — which lawmakers have been receiving political donations from whom, where aggregated donations from companies go, etc.

For example, take this article from The New York Times: “Education Department Deals Out Big Awards”. I can take that URL and copy and paste it at Poligraft. (I can also paste the contents of an article if I don’t have access to the URL.)

Poligraft reprints the article, but with an information bar on the left. In this case the information bar is showing where political donations from one individual went, and where aggregated donations from several institutions went — to Democrats or Republicans. The information presented in the bar is just a pie chart, which is a little misleading — you’ll note that all of Cornelia Grumman’s donations were all to Democrats — well, her one $250 donation. Meanwhile Johns Hopkins University has well over a million dollars in aggregate donations listed for the last 21 years, but has the same kind of little pie chart.

Each chunk of data on the information bar has a page with more details. The Ohio State University page shows top politicians donated to, as well as money spent on lobbying and issued lobbied about. Many of the individual names in the report pages are clickable, leading you if you wish down a political wonk rabbit hole.

I myself am enough of a wonk to appreciate this as a tool, but not enough of a wonk to really know how to use it (I had to go through several political stories before I found one that provided a lot of information.) I think as we get closer to the midterm elections it’ll be more useful as there will be more topical stories and more quotes from all sorts of organizations. Sunlight Labs is promising to add more data sets over time, too — look forward to seeing that.

FCC Takes a Stand on Net Neutrality, Opens Web Site

The White House blog isn’t the most gripping read in the world (I think my favorite government blog is either Gov Gab or the Library of Congress blog) but you can get some good announcements on there now and again. I was reading it on Monday and noticed a rather interesting post from the head of the FCC, Julius Genachowski.

The blog proposed two new rules for the FCC. The first was a clear position in favor of network neutrality — “broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular Internet content or applications.” (There are exceptions made for spam, malware sites, and unlawful material.) The second is to support the first, “broadband providers must be transparent about their network management practices.” While these sound like reasonable proposals, and I’m glad to see the government taking a position on this, I’m annoyed that it’s taken so long; Net Neutrality has been a controversial issue for a while now.

In addition to this statement of network neutrality support, the government has a new Web site: OpenInternet.gov. Surprise! It’s in beta. The site doesn’t contain a lot at the moment, but here are some of the highlights:

There’s a speech from Mr. Genachowski about his vision of the Internet as an useful and enduring institution. There’s a place that you can sign up for e-mail alerts from the FCC. And there’s a video of the speech by Mr. Genachowski. But that is not the fascinating part of the site to me.

The fascinating part of the site to me is the forum that’s underneath the video of the site. It’s a pretty basic forum — huge numbers of threaded posts in a big file — but the discussion is excellent. There are plenty of Yay! posts but also many “Hey this is a bad idea” posts. Brett Glass contributes a lot to the discussion. I hadn’t heard from Brett in YEARS … he used to write a … column? for a magazine I read back in the early 90s. I want to say Communications Week but I’m not sure. There were so many industry magazines back then.

The thing this discussion really does is is make it clear how complicated this issue actually is. Network neutrality is a good idea. But what about inappropriate material that’s not clearly defined by law? What about those applications and sites, not even invented yet, that take up so much bandwidth that they endanger the bandwidth of other customers at an ISP? Who’s going to make sure an ISP’s network management practices are actually transparent?

Now that the FCC has taken a position, these discussions had been had. I look forward to seeing them. I just hope that a) the forum is a little easier to peruse than what’s available on OpenInternet.gov and b) OpenInternet.gov gets its own RSS feed (sigh…)

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