Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Netvibes: Research tools for students and scholars

Netvibes is a great research tool for scholars and a news tool for people alike. There are various types of RSS feed dashboards, but this one has the features and ease of use that works for me. Coupling this tool with the PagetoRSS functionality, creates a one-stop research location.

I have the Netvibes dashboard load as one of my homepages, making sure that I see the headlines in my research areas of interest. Because the dashboard is full of RSS feeds (as well as other widgets), it automatically updates, making my research time more efficient and easy. As opposed to an iGoogle homepage, the Netvibes dashboard allows for tabbed feeds, where dozens of tabs organize feeds by topic area. The set-up and organize of each tab can be changed in terms of columns and how many headlines the feeds draw. The site advertises "limitless personalization" from background art to widgets and apps, custom layouts, and RSS feed options.

This is the homepage of my dashboard, which has a weather app, general news feeds, a to-do list, and notepad. Each tab has a different research interest and toggling between tabs brings up new feeds and apps that I've loaded to the page. Adding the feeds are as easy as copying the link to the RSS feed on a website and pasting it in the "Add Content" tab at the top left corner of the dashboard. This adds a box to the page that updates with headlines and articles. I primarily use GoogleNews, JSTOR updates, and professional blogs to populate my tabs. My background is a nice, relaxing beach as a personal touch to the dashboard. 

The benefits of this tool (similar to other dashboards) are multiple. I find Netvibes the most convenient and intuitive to use, but the salient point is that these dashboard and RSS feeds can deliver relevant news and journal articles in various topics to one location.
  • With minimal set-up, the RSS feeds automatically pull in information
  • Dashboard can be accesses anywhere with an internet connection
  • Apps and widgets, such as weather, notepads, and to-do lists (with hundreds of others) are easily added through the "add content" link
  • Tabs organize and separate different research topics with no limit in the number of tabs
  • Adding content is as easy as copying and pasting links
  • Easily delete and modify feeds
  • PagetoRSS makes sites without RSS feeds easily accessible on a dashboard
The Netvibes's dashboards are automatically private, but people can publish their dashboards or share them with others. Additionally, premium features are available for those who are willing or for some reason need extra features and functionality.

There is an overwhelming amount of information online. Checking one location instead of multiple locations helps save time and sanity for scholars of any discipline. Whichever dashboard works best for you, make sure to update it and routinely check it, so you will always be up-to-date on timely, important, and relevant news for your research interests.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Climate Change and Health: Carnegie Mellon Panel

I had the opportunity to attend a panel at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) over the summer while interning at the City Council's office. The panel topic was specifically about climate change and its consequences that directly impact the health of humankind. Though some panelists extended the topic to more than just physical health and discussed general well-being, this focus was a fascinating addition to previous research I've done on the consequences of climate change as economic, political, and environmental.

The first speaker was Terry Collins, a professor at CMU. His presentation linked climate change and environmental protection with moral and ethical obligations. Noting that everyone is responsibility for the future of the environment, he encouraged everyone to engage in "transgenerational justice". Not only are present concerns important (e.g., the economy and war), but also the future environment for our human successors. His term of choice was "Sustainability Knights" which harnesses the ethical actions of medieval knights and the long-term vocabulary of sustainability. Though he only mentioned religion briefly, I find connection with his arguments and my current research on the relationship between religious rhetoric and climate change. Appealing to morality and ethics are values associated with religion, as they are persuasive according to biblical and religious hierarchy and authority. Religious members are traditionally associated with anti-environmental in accordance with White's 1967 theory of "dominion". From biblical passages, humankind is given dominion and power over the environment, undermining preservation and sustainable importance. Currently, there has been a slow but steady movement of religious groups and organizations that have begun to support the Evangelical Climate Initiative. This changes are only in their infancy, but I agree with Collins that this religious appeal to morality and values are an important part of the solution to mitigating climate change.

The next speaker was Gary Cohen, a representative of Healthcare without Harm. His arguments were incredibly fascinating and discussed the personal, current effects already being linked to climate change. 150,000 deaths have been attributed to climate change, most of them directly related to the rise in daily temperatures causing heat stroke. Vulnerable populations such as children and elderly are most susceptible to the changes, but as they become more severe, average people will also be affected. Cohen imagined a world, though perhaps only a distant reality, where the environment is destroyed, animals are becoming extinct, and all forms of food are coveted and expensive a la Soylent Green.

The final speaker with Noe Copley-Woods who worked at McGee Hospital in Pittsburgh. She documented a practical change that could be implemented to combat climate change. In the presentation, she showed the audience photographs of the waste produced by one birth. The trash bags were filled with hundreds of pieces of gauze, dozens of disposable medical tools, towels, bed sheets, and various other paper waste. For one child, over 30 pounds of waste was produced that became hospital trash. Worries about infection stop many hospitals from re-using and sterilizing equipment. Estimates place annual hospital waste at 50,000 pounds which Noe says contributes heavily to the pollution of our environment. Personal tips and changes are important, but making changes to larger institutions is a more effective and meaningful way to address pollution and environmental damage.

One of the largest takeaways from the panel was how to make these effects and consequences of climate change meaningful for the general public. Cohen's and Copley Woods's presentations in particular showed me how persuasive personal and drastic images can be for motivating action and interest. Although some of the more extreme and severe consequences are farther in the future, there are enough present day examples that can serve to incite progress and response. The danger in entering this conversation, however, is inviting similar persuasive tactics by those who argue for current examples as counterarguments to global warming. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Conference Pros and Cons

After going to three conferences so far in my academic career (a limited number compared to some of my prolific colleagues), I have already noticed some stark differences between the larger, medium-sized, and smaller conferences. The differences between the Eastern Communication Association, International Communication Association, and the Visual Communication Association conferences left me with much to think about for future conference planning, scheduling, and budgeting.

What is most surprising is that across the board, conferences cost around $700 each. Some of us are lucky enough to receive university funding to help subsidize these costs, but for most unfunded students, post-docs, and recent hires, these prices are restrictive in how many conferences it is feasible to attend. Using the ICA conference as my large conference and VisCom as my small conference, I have listed the pros and cons that I have experienced as a conference novice.

Large conferences - ICA as exemplar
  • great variety
    • I was thrilled to see all of the variety in panels that I could attend. From early morning to early evening, there were dozens of panels that interested me in a variety of topic areas and disciplines. There were even panels in different formats, from posters to panels to speed sessions, to keep my attention.
  • overlap in panels
    • Although the number and variety of panels were great, there was a lot of overlap where I was interested in multiple panels and had to chose which to attend. This is an obvious converse to the above point, but I still felt rude for leaving panels early and had difficulty choosing between panels of interest to me. A few times I felt that I had chosen incorrectly, but felt obligated to stay and be respectful to my fellow scholars.
  • large amount of people
    • This aspect is half green and red simply because for some, this is a positive attribute. For me, however, I felt quite overwhelmed by the amount of people at the conference, resulting in my clinging to the few people I knew and meeting very few new scholars. Surprisingly, for the conference being so large, I had only a dozen people present at my panel.
  • major city
    • Although I didn't explore Phoenix, I knew many of my colleagues who took time to visit the Grand Canyon, go on local tours, and simply wander the city. Next year the conference will be in London, so ICA offers even more sightseeing and travel opportunities. The major city also helped keep prices for flights and hotels down due to competition.
Small conferences - VisCom as exemplar
  • great variety
    • Although the conference was only about visual communication, a small subset of communication, the variety of presentations was astounding! From discussions of the body to politics to memorials to evolution, the panels did not disappoint in variety!
  • small amount of people
    • The small amount of people made for an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere. There was only one panel scheduled for each time slot, so everyone at the conference attended everyone else's panel. Not only was I presenting to many more people than at ICA, but I was having the same scholarly experience that my colleagues were having as well.
  • price for value
    • The registration fee for VisComm was more than double ICA's registration, which was surprising to me. One good aspect of this was that the food was included, so I did save some money there. Although I normally do not spend a lot of money on food anyway, it was a nice change to feel well-feed (and how good the food was!) at the conference.
  • location
    • This is in part related to the price issues above. The VisCom conference was in Midway, Utah, the closest airport being Salt Lake City, which was 1 hour away. The location was inconvenient and the prices to fly into Salt Lake City were expensive and the traveling complicated. The hotel site was beautiful, with a crater, mountains, and landscaping, but the high cost of the flight and hotel caused me to leave without venturing too far from the conference room.
View outside of the Homestead Resort in Midway, Utah

Poster Presentations - ECA as exemplar
  • genuine interest in project
    • People who stopped by to read more into my poster were genuinely interested in my project. Additionally, we had more in-depth and nuanced conversations about the specific aspects of my project that was particularly interesting. I was not talking to an entire room, answering a few generic questions, but was having a personal conversation with a fellow scholar. There was opportunity for sharing, brainstorming, and more intimate discussion.
  • repetition
    • Within those intimate conversations, though, I found myself repeating the basic tenets of my piece over and over again. In a larger panel discussion, I could have answered the questions for everyone a single time. For individuals, however, it was necessary to give my five minutes spiel for everyone who came around. For a two hour poster session, I was hoarse by the end of it.
  • chaotic/loud
    • The ECA's poster session was the first that it had put on for the undergraduates. They apparently had more interest than expected because the room was quite small and posters barely had enough space to stand beside without standing in front of someone else's. If the posters I were sandwiched between each had visitors, it was hard to even see my poster let alone have a conversation about it. These issues may have been alleviated with a different set-up and space, but it is an issue to consider when applying for a poster session.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed my conference experiences this year and look forward to my upcoming year of conferences, which is already being filled by my planned attendance at the National Communication Association conference in Orlando, Florida in November.