Tag Archives: Google

Honestly, I’d Be Happy If You Did Some Googling

In a story for NPR, Zhai Yun Tan asks, “OK, Google, Where Did You Put My Thinking Cap?” The story is worth a read and another blog post, but the question that bothered me was, considering how easy it is to look stuff up, why is it that people continue to post erroneous or misleading information on social media, particularly Facebook?

Earlier this month, I described one example of false information being shared on Facebook: the photo of the supposed orphan longing for her mother.

Today, it’s the McDonald’s Happy Meal that refuses to rot.* Again, I’m not trying to be the Facebook police (OK…maybe I am a little) . The story isn’t wrong as much as misguided and, like the photo of the little girl, it’s meant for a good cause, that of keeping kids away from junk food. The meal did, indeed, not rot. What it really did was dehydrate.

Sadly, what’s missing is the education value of really testing what’s going on here: It’s a perfect science experiment, one that would certainly be engaging to students. That’s exactly what J. Kenzi Lopez-Alt did. Recognizing that drawing conclusions based on one burger and fries was not good science, Lopez-Alt set up an experiment that included creating hypotheses, isolating variables and creating controls, all those steps covered in any set of science standards but not always practiced in the science classroom.

And, while he did not wait for five or ten years (he waited 25 days which was about as long as his wife could take it), he discovered that, under similar conditions, even homemade burgers of a certain size don’t rot. They dry out.  Here’s his conclusions as well as his issues with the original post:

Pretty strong evidence in favor of Theory 3: the burger doesn’t rot because it’s small size and relatively large surface area help it to lose moisture very fast. Without moisture, there’s no mold or bacterial growth. Of course, that the meat is pretty much sterile to begin with due to the high cooking temperature helps things along as well. It’s not really surprising. Humans have known about this phenomenon for thousands of years. After all, how do you think beef jerky is made?

Now don’t get me wrong—I don’t have a dog in this fight either way. I really couldn’t care less whether or not the McDonald’s burger rotted or didn’t. I don’t often eat their burgers, and will continue to not often eat their burgers. My problem is not with McDonald’s. My problem is with bad science.

If I were a middle school science teacher, this would be my introduction to the scientific method. Partner with the lunch ladies or the home ec teacher and have some fun with food and science!**

Back to the point about Google interfering with our ability to think: it took me one search on “six year old happy meal” to get to the Snopes article and then it was a matter of following the links to find the original research. So, as easy as Google is to use–to the point that it is sapping our critical thinking–is that even too hard to do? Maybe it’s not Google’s fault that we aren’t critical thinkers any more? Maybe we weren’t to begin with? Maybe we just don’t care about good science? Or, as Lopez-Alt comments, “It seems to me that the only thing that can last longer than a McDonald’s hamburger is an internet meme about them.”

*I LOVE that Snopes has this categorized under “Fauxtography.”

**Of course, the kids could just google it and that gets us back to the NPR story that will end up as another blog entry.

The Problem With Copyright As We Know It

Thanks to John and Tom for pointing me to the new collection of Life photos available through Google Image search.  Both of them ask the same question: what about the copyright? And rightly so since there is nothing on the page itself to help a general user figure it out. The Google blog is excited about the images but doesn’t seem to think copyright is an important enough issue to mention.

My gut reaction as someone who talks to educators about copyright* is that the pre-1920 photographs are in the public domain since their copyright has expired.  Of course, I suppose that Life would claim they own the digital files,  but since they are simply recreations of the original file rather than significant transformations, I’m not sure that argument would hold out.  The newer photos would be covered by traditional copyright so if teachers and students wished to use them for purposes not covered by fair use, they would have to ask for permission.

I decided to test out my gut reaction by seeing what others were saying.  Search Engine Land quotes the press release:

LIFE’s Photo Archive will be scanned and available on Google Image Search free for personal and research purposes. Copyright and ownership of all images will remain with Time Inc.

But, they also point out that the FAQ page offers a different take on possible uses:

What can I do with the images I find from the LIFE photo archive?
You can browse and view the images you find, rate them, and see detailed information about the photographs. There is also a link to buy image merchandise provided by LIFE.

Poking a bit more, I found Slashdot’s report of the images.  It doesn’t talk about copyright, but copyright is discussed in the comments.  At least one commenter agrees with me about the public domain status of the older photos.   But he also points out that proving public domain for the digital images would involve a costly legal battle.

This gets to the heart of the problem with copyright: it’s all grey area.  The US Copyright Office makes it clear: “The distinction between “fair use” and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined.” I generally tell people that their fair use rights end when they post a project to the web.  And the distinction between the photo and its digital image seems a pretty grey area as well.

John recommends that, in order to stay safe and legal, it would be best to use them only for personal use.  And the rational part of me agrees.  But the irrational part is a little annoyed.  Shame on Google and Life for not being more clear about the copyright! These are iconic images and for students and teachers learning about history, being able to use these photos in multimedia projects would be wonderful.   As John also wisely suggested, a Creative Commons license would make this so much easier. Non-commercial uses could be permitted while commercial uses, which is clearly what Life is going for here, could be controlled.  What’s to lose?

*I’ll tell you the same thing I tell my audiences: I’m really liberal and I’m not a lawyer.  I think teachers and students should be able to do whatever they want with materials they find as long as they are using them for educational purposes.

Aren’t These Really Leadership Skills?

Tim over at Assorted Stuff pointed me to Google’s blog post that recommends that students major in learning.  Here’s the short list of skills for which they look in new employees:

  • analytical reasoning
  • communication skills
  • a willingness to experiment
  • team players
  • passion and leadership

As I read the post, I thought about the keynote I’m doing next week in Franklin County.  I’m including a section about 21st century skills.  For awhile now, I’ve been doing a crosswalk between Tom Friedman’s list of skills and the 21st century skills:


It’s easy to see where Google fits right in and I’ll certainly be adding them to my presentation. (Thanks, Tim, for your very timely post.)  By the way, for those who haven’t read Friedman, CQ + PQ > IQ stands for Curiosity Quotient and Passion Quotient which are greater than Intelligence Quotient.

But, I’ve also been taking this a step further.  Google includes “leadership” as one of its skills and I would suggest that all the skills are leadership skills.   Reading the lists reminds me of my favorite leadership writer, Warren Bennis.  I use Bennis for my email signature:  “People who cannot invent and reinvent themselves must be content with borrowed postures, secondhand ideas, fitting in instead of standing out.”  When I started playing with Tumblr again this week, I started by posting more Bennis quotes.

On Becoming a Leader is his classic work. He lists the following characteristics of leaders:

  • Passion
  • Daring
  • Distinctive Voice
  • Integrity
  • Curiosity
  • Adaptive Capacity (essentially the ability to learn)

Note the similarities, and this from someone writing in the 20th century.  Maybe the skills needed to survive in the 21st century are not so different from those needed in the past. I think the major difference now is that we are beginning to understand that these skills are needed by everyone, not just those who are heading to CEO land.  As Tim writes, “That list of factors would pretty much prepare students to work almost anywhere.”

All this thinking about leadership was reinforced for me as I sat at a stop light the other day. I happened to glance at the landscaping truck next to me.  It was advertising employment opportunities and underneath the phone number was the following statement: “We want leader not laborers.”