A Brief History of Apple Apps and Boston Hospitals



Coral Farms and Collaboration: Why There is Still Hope For Coral Reefs


Coral barrier reefs face an uncertain future. Stressors like pollution, disease, and rapid changes in ocean surface temperatures and chemistry can harm coral. The rate of change and the amount of stress can be too much for some species, and they simply cannot survive.

Coral Reef FKNMS
A diver explores coral in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. (Photo credit: NOAA)

“We’re in the middle of a massive extinction right now,” said Dr. John Finnerty of Boston University.

This mass extinction may not mean the end for all coral communities. Some researchers are now looking at corals that are less sensitive to environmental change. For some species there is still hope.

“A lot of people who are trying to understand the future of corals are looking at the corals resilience,” Dr. Finnerty explained. Dr. Finnerty studies coral and their kin at Boston University, and he oversees student research.

Coral growing in coral farm tanks at Boston University. (Photo by Hannah L. Robbins)
Coral growing in coral farm tanks at Boston University. (Photo by Hannah L. Robbins)

Boston University has a coral farm where Finnerty and his students grow generation after generation of coral and perform tests to see which can survive varying conditions.

“Where some of the great hope lies now is that some of the corals themselves are going to prove to be really resilient,” said Dr. Finnerty.

Hope may also come in the form of community action.

Local agencies, for example, partner with Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary partners to manage the world’s third largest barrier reef. And their participation is essential, according to Scott Donahue, Acting Science Coordinator at Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

“The community and the agencies that are managing the resources are more or less wanting the same thing- healthy coral reefs, healthy fisheries, healthy and sustainable uses of those resources. It’s just a matter of talking about the finer points of how to get to the end goal,” said Mr. Donahue.

Nature Conservancy Coral
Coral transplant in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. (Photo by Tim Calver)

One way to get there is to transplant fragments coral into sanctuary waters, where they will hopefully prosper and grow. To date, partnering agencies like the Coral Restoration Foundation and The Nature Conservancy have have transplanted more than 2300 fragments of Staghorn and Elkhorn corals.

They have also engaged local citizens through education and outreach efforts.

“A lot of people are starting to learn more about how the choices they make on a day-to-day basis affect the health of coral reef systems,” said Mr. Donahue.

Something as simple as keeping reusable shopping bags can help keep coral reefs healthy.

Mr. Donahue remains optimistic: “the reality is there is still a lot of hope.”

Today I downloaded the BBC News App for my iPhone 5c. With the touch of a button, I have world news in my palm. And I like it.

I may never return to the BBC News webpage again.

The app is definitely sleeker. Free of advertisements, the app gives me  exactly what I want- the news. As I mentioned this in my first post, but when you open the BBC News homepage, the first third of its screen is a rolling advertisement. When I go to BBC I want the news, not gluten free pasta. On the app I see the news right away, no waiting or scrolling.

photoThe layout is sharp and intuitive. The BBC News banner runs across the top. Underneath, a white banner scrolls through the latest news. Every five seconds the headlines on the white banner change. Right now, it rotates through one of five headlines from around the world (two from Europe, two from Africa, and one from the US). A dark gray background creates a clean pallet for the news stories.

Each story is depicted as a picture. Four to six words in white script on a black background underneath each picture describes each story. The news stories are organized into the same categories used on the BBC website, which creates continuity and is helpful for those who frequent the website. Stories within a category, be it “Top Stories,” “US & Canada,” “Technology,” or “Science & Environment,” are organized within rows. All I have to do is swipe my finger across the Science & Environment” row to see the BBC is featuring stories about comets, bats, nature, coal, NASA, volcanoes, quantum physics.

When I tap on the picture, the app takes me to the news story.

The app also has features that allow me to personalize my interactive experience. Within a news story, I can click on the AA button and adjust the size of the font.  I can also post the story to Twitter or Facebook, or email it to a friend. Back on the front page, in the top right corner is an “edit” button. When I press this, I can select which news categories I want to appear when I open the app. I have control over my experience in a way I never could through the webpage. The app is news made for me.

One unique feature is the live radio button on the top left corner of the screen. Riding home on the bus or shopping at the store, I can listen to BBC News radio.

The only limitation that concerns me with the app is the number of stories available to read. Each category supports nine stories. Those nine stories, however, are the nine most recently updated within each category on the webpage. As long as readers stay current and scan the news every day, they wont miss anything.  At least not anything important.

Trust the Liar

Nearly sixty-five years have passed since the end of World War II, and still Jewish survivors struggle with their painful pasts. Filmmaker and holocaust survivor, Marian Marzynski travels back to Warsaw where he retraces his journey from the ghetto, to a catholic orphanage, to post-war Poland, and all his stops in between in the Frontline documentary “Never Forget to Lie.”

The visit is, as you can imagine, conflicting. Marzynski acknowledges that revisiting these memories is a “self-inflicted pain,” and yet he is asking the audience to take this journey with him. He invites them into his story, folds them into his experience, and ultimately provides them access to intimate details and emotions without alienating the audience.  He is able to accomplish this by foraging a deep connection, which is cultivated and then reinforced by subtle choices he made while directing the documentary.

Two screen shots from Marian Marzynski's documentary "Never Forget to Lie" aired March 2013.
Two screen shots from Marian Marzynski’s documentary “Never Forget to Lie.”

Footage of the environment does more than establish setting in Never Forget to Lie- it fosters a connection between the documentary subject, Marzynski, and the audience. For example, in an establishing shot of Warshaw ghetto the camera focuses on a dilapidated, brick wall with a larger-than-life-sized poster of a boy. The camera then pans up, past a poster of a young woman, and comes to rest on a black and white photo of a boy in old fashioned clothes (pictured to the right, top). In the next shot, we see Marzynski facing that wall, looking at what we just saw (pictured at the right, bottom). His eyes flick up. The movement is small, yet significant. By paralleling these two moments, Marzynski creates a pact with the audience. He promises that what he sees the audience will see, and by extension what he feels the audience will feel.

Marzynski maintains that connection with his audience, even as he incorporates the stories of other survivors. “We are left with a few facts, and lots of raw emotions,” Marzynski explains. And Marzynski is talented at capturing those raw emotions in his interviews. He uses voice overs to give background stories, but when it comes to the moments where the survivors are most consumed by memories and emotions, he lets them tell their own story in their own voice. Yet, he is not entirely absent from the interview. The camera angles are such that part of Marzynski’s face or body are still in the shot, at least for parts of the interviews. Because he is visually present, he maintains that connection he has already created with the audience. The audience remembers that they are not just hearing a compilation of survivor stories; they are still with Marzynski on his journey.

Four screen shots of Marian Marzynski interviewing holocaust survivors in his documentary Never Forget to Lie.
Four screen shots of Marian Marzynski interviewing holocaust survivors in his documentary “Never Forget to Lie.”

This style is not universal to all of Marzynski’s interviews. But for those interviews where he is not visually present, Marzynski reminds the audience that he is there in other ways. When he accompanies Zofia Shulman to a ghetto courtyard, he is behind the camera and not in the shot. Though Marzynski is not seen, he maintains his presence via voice over. With Shulman’s story, Marzynski prefaces her account not only with background information on her story, but also with a clear statement that he is there with her: “she takes me to her ghetto courtyard.” She is taking him. This is still his experience, his odyssey, and he is extending the invitation to come along.

Marzynski never leaves his audience alone during his documentary, never isolates them. Instead he takes them by the hand and gently guides them through the heart-breaking emotional fallout that haunts holocaust survivors. By the end of the documentary, the audience is ready to witness and to honor this really important moment of transparency for someone whose survival depended on lying about who he was.

To view the entire documentary visit: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/never-forget-to-lie/

A Growing Number of Internet Users Repost Images: Should We Be Concerned About Copyright Infringement

According to a poll from Pew Internet Project, the percentage of internet users reposting either images, video or both has increased from last year.

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 7.03.07 PMOver half of internet users ages 18-29 repost pictures originating from somewhere else on the  web. Of all internet users surveyed, 47% have reposted both video and images.  This is 6% more internet users than in 2012 (though the margin of error is +/- 4%).

Additionally, both the percentages of internet users posting pictures and the percentage of internet users posting video increased from last year. These users are called “curators.”

The poll, administered October 2013 by the The Pew Internet Project, surveyed 1000 English-speaking adults ages 18 and older, of  which 852 were internet users. The Pew Internet Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan project supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts, an organization funded by seven individual trusts.

The availability of internet technology, the wide spread use of social media, and the growing reliance on phone apps may be making internet users who are more internet literate in 2013. This may or may not account for the growing numbers of people who repost. With a growing population of internet users who use these technologies, sometimes on a daily basis, to repost content they did not author,  the question must be asked: how much do these users know about copyright law and copyright infringement.

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 7.41.11 PM
Photo courtesy of Wesley Fryer via Flickr

With a growing number of people reposting content, it is essential that these curators understand copyright law in order to protect themselves from unexpected prosecution.  Take, for instance, Stephanie Lenz who’s video of her 13-month-old son was removed from YouTube because a Prince song was playing. Her experience with copyright infringement was detailed in The Wall Street Journal’s In Defense of Piracy, by Lawrence Lessig. Lenz’s experience seems mild compared to blogger Roni Loren, who was sued for reposting pictures on her blog. Loren unknowingly violated copyright  by reposting a picture protected by copyright law.

If a well-seasoned blogger was unaware of how copyright laws are interpreted with internet use, chances are the average users need to know, too. And with a growing number of internet users reposting content, the learning curve is going to have to be steep.

BBC News Fares Well In Spite of Harsh Parody

Science journalists are the literary architects of the scientific world. Our job is to take small units- letters, words, ideas- and stack them, one on top of the other, until we’ve created a written universe that make sense. These letters and words and ideas are our building blocks, and how we choose to rearrange them defines our own personal style. But, in order for us to continue stacking, the foundation must be there. The structure.

Some, however, might argue that science news articles have become so formulaic they are comically predictable.  At least, that’s what Martin Robbins seems to suggest in his blog, The Lay Scientist hosted by The Guardian.

Tim Robbins

His post titled, “This is a news website article about a scientific paper” and published September 27, 2010  is a witty (yet harsh) parody of a science news website article, and Robbins BBC mentiongoes out of his way to indicate that the website he parodies is, in particular, BBC News. (I guess it would be rude to parody ALL science news websites, considering one was graciously hosting his blog at the time).

Given the criticism, I thought it would be appropriate to let BBC News have their day in court.

I started out by distilling Robbins’ list of complaints into 11, scratch that, nine claims:

  1.  Makes a fairly obvious pun in the first paragraph
  2.   States the claim and uses “scare quotes” in the second paragraph.
  3.  Uses the phrase “the scientist says” or some derivation of that in the third or fourth paragraph.
  4.  States which journal the research will be published in without providing links.
  5.  Uses some kind of sound bite from the scientists while giving credit to the university to which they belong.
  6.  Provides a timeline for the research for context.  (This is just good reporting).
  7. Includes a “minor celebrity, historical figure, eccentric, or group sufferer.”
  8. Posts picture near the end of the post. (Pictures can  help viewers visualize a story, not a worthy criticism)
  9. Follows with a paragraph about controversy.
  10. Writes multiple, single-sentence paragraphs.
  11. Concludes with a statement that “some part of the result is still ambiguous, and that research will continue,” in the last paragraph.

The plan was to scrutinize the first three stories with different authors on BBC News (as of October 21, 2013 they were about badgers, baldness, and reversing the ban on Chinese scientists) in order to determine whether or not the article fits Robbins’ mold, so to speak.

The results are not consistent.

Some of Robbins’ more outlandish claims, like using a pun in the first paragraph and using scare quotes in the second paragraph are nonexistent in these three stories.

Other claims held up in some stories and not others. The badger story, for example, does not link to the original study, and the baldness story does, while the ban story does not reference any study at all because it is about a changing US policy.

All three articles are guilty of using multiple, single-sentence paragraphs. For context, BBC’s badger story is made up entirely of single-sentence paragraphs; however, single-sentence paragraphs are used nearly 73% of time within a story run by Robbins’ host site, The Guardian, about the same badger research.

Pie chart

When I compared the use of single-sentence paragraphs in three science articles from both BBC News (bottom row) and The Guardian (top row) we see two very different stories. Clearly BBC News uses more single-sentenced stories, which suggests certain stylistic choices made either by the editors or the writers for the web-page. But it shouldn’t necessarily follow that this is a trait to be mocked.

Readers drawn to BBC News know what they are going to get.

Where BBC News runs into trouble is with the complexity of those single-sentence paragraphs. They tend to be simplistic, perhaps appealing to a wider readership. Whether or not that is a positive or a negative characteristic, comes down to the purpose of the publication and personal preference.

To some I’m sure BBC New’s structure is laughably simplistic. Okay for you; you probably get your news elsewhere. There are many, many, many respectable, maybe more interestingly structured, news websites. You’ll get your information there. That’s fine.

I would argue that BBC News’ structure is a conscientious catering to a wide audience. BBC News draws international readership from multiple cultures. And while I could not find statistics on BBC News’ readers, I think its safe to say that for a portion of their readers English is not their first language. Using a simple structure in this case allows BBC News to reach an audience that would otherwise be marginalized. It becomes a strength rather than a weakness.

So, while some of Robbins’ claims don’t hold up upon examination, others do. And when one does, I’m just not convinced that it is weakness worth poking at.

New England Aquarium’s Giant Ocean Tank

September 24, 2013 BOSTON, MASS- Visitors leave the New England Aquarium on Tuesday. (Photo by Hannah L. Robbins)
photo 2
September 21, 2013 BOSTON, MASS- New England Aquarium’s Giant Ocean Tank reopened at the beginning of the summer after undergoing 17.8 million dollars worth of renovations. (Photo by Hannah L. Robbins)
photo 1
September 21, 2013 BOSTON, MASS- A view of the spiral walkway around New England Aquarium’s Giant Ocean Tank exhibit. The walkway has 52 viewing bays through which visitors can watch Myrtle, a green sea turtle, and other marine life. (Photo by Hannah L. Robbins)
photo 3
September 21, 2013 BOSTON, MASS- Myrtle the turtle munches on lettuce at the top of New England Aquarium’s renovated Giant Ocean Tank. Myrtle is a green sea turtle. According to on New England Aquarium educator, lettuce is one of Myrtle’s favorite foods. (Photo by Hannah L. Robbins)
photo 5
September 21, 2013 BOSTON, MASS- New England Aquarium educator David Allen scuba dives near the surface of the Giant Ocean Tank. (Photo by Hannah L. Robbins)
photo (1)
September 24, 2013 BOSTON, MASS- Ana (left) and Cristina Delaney, 3, (center) watch fish in the one of 52 viewing bays around the Giant Ocean Tank at the New England Aquarium on Tuesday. Cristina celebrates her third birthday with a trip to the aquarium. “The small ones (fish) are my favorite,” she says. (Photo by Hannah L. Robbins)
photo (2)
September 21, 2013 BOSTON, MASS- A view of the artificial reef inside New England Aquarium’s Giant Ocean Tank exhibit from one of the viewing bays. The artificial reef, made of fiberglass and injected mold plastics, was hand painted by a team of artists lead by Peter Brady. (Photo by Hannah L. Robbins)

On BBC News Comments

A full week has passed since Popular Science announced its resolution to close down the comment threads on its webpage- a decision based off of a study in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication that was reviewed by the New York Times. “Comments,” wrote Popular Science’s online content director Suzanne LaBarre, “are bad for science.”


This action spurred a slew of online magazines to weigh in on the subject. Some agree, some do not. Some worry about anonymous comments, others argue for curated or monitored comment threads, while others bemoan their lack of resources and time to do so. In some cases, opinions are split even within a single publication (see The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson compared to James Fallows). Most of the conclusions are as unique as the sites themselves, and the strategies that they put forward are tailored to their own resources and capabilities.

But this begs the question: what are BBC News’ resources and in what unique ways do they handle their own comment section?

For starters, BBC News does allow comments on some news stories. Some. Not all (a curious choice that I will return to later).

comments 2

To find stories with comment threads attached, look for a little speech blurb bubble followed by a number, presumably the number of comments posted on that particular thread.

Once you’ve clicked on the article title, you can scroll down and click on the “Your Comments” link. This will promptly take you to a window where you can either look at some of the comments hand-selected by the editors, or you can switch tabs and view the whole lot of ’em.

The “Editors’ Picks” section is a curious feature. BBC News Editors chose seven of 2158 comments to highlight regarding an article about the IPCC’s current climate report and findings that humans are a major cause of global warming. At first the selections seemed random and impartial. The chosen comments reflect a spectrum of opinions: three arguing against human impacts on climate change, two arguing for, and two not making a clear distinction either way. However, three of the first four comments challenged the concept of climate change, which got me to questioning the sites impartiality on the subject. On closer inspection, I realized the comments were posted chronologically, which would suggest BBC did not purposefully put those posts first.  On the other hand, the section Editors’ Picks suggests some degree of selection and decision making. I mean, they picked those comments, right? Why put those posts first? Surely three negative opinions would color the article above?

coments 4

The answer may lie in BBC News’ comment voting system.

Readers now have the option to vote on comments. You can either vote up or vote down each comment, giving readers an idea of how popular an opinion is. Voting is safeguarded by a login system that ensures trolls wont click on polemic opinions multiple times, making them seem like a more popular opinion than they really are. One reader, one vote.

The comments chosen for the Editors’ Picks seem to have a larger voting score than many of the other comments. But relying entirely on this voting system as a means of ranking how important a comment is could be dangerous.

While BBC’s voting system seems to tell us whether an opinion is more popular than it is not, there is little else we can glean from this number. Because BBC News does not explicitly tell us what this number represents,  I am left with only  my assumptions. And what I assume is that as readers vote the number changes, and the number represents the difference in favorable versus opposing opinions.

I do not, however, know how many total people weighed in on a particular post. Maybe over 1,000 people commented on martiniqueen’s post, but there was only a disparity of 133 votes between pro and con.The comment could have been wildly popular in polarizing opinions or evoking readers’ reactions. Maybe only 200 people read it.

So while martiniqueen’s comment might seem popular, I actually have no idea how many people commented on it, let alone read it. 

The Atlantic, which has a similar voting system, handles this by clearly posting how many people up-voted and  down-voted each comment- a model BBC News should look into.

Reader comment from theatlantic.com
Reader comment from theatlantic.com

Add this convoluted voting system to the fact that you can only vote on some topics, and you’ve got a system which is highly suspect. Why can I comment on global climate change issues and not on an article about mapping planets outside of our solar system? Perhaps BBC News can only dedicate a limited number of resources to the maintenance of their comments section. Or maybe they allow comments on more controversial subjects in order to drum up website traffic.

Either way, some transparency is needed. BBC News may want to follow suit, and explain its own policies on how they regulate comment threads.

BBC News Interviews Stephen Hawking

On the advent of the release of his movie, Hawking, Stephen Hawking sat down with BBC News correspondent Tim Muffett for a video interview posted on BBC News Science & Environment webpage.

aThe video can be accessed through the Watch/Listen feature I mentioned in my last  post. 

The interview itself had successful elements.Tim Muffett’s first question is phenomenal. He gets right to the heart of matters and asks Hawking about his motivation for making the film in light of Hawking’s past criticisms of media and how they intrude on his life and privacy. Muffet’s subsequent questions continued to reflected his knowledge of both Stephen Hawking’s career and his movie.  Tim Muffett himself was well-informed, concise  and professional. 

My only criticism is that Muffett  lacked the charm of an easy conversationalist. His questions were so direct and pointed that they left little room for tangential anecdotes or real exploration into Hawking’s character and personality. I only mention this because Hawking admits that because of his physical disability he sometimes “get’s left behind in the conversation,”  in reference to verbal dialogues with his academic peers. Though Hawking uses these moments as an opportunity to get lost in thought and to ultimately advance his science, his response leaves the audience wondering what a real conversation- not a Q &A, but a real exchange of ideas and stories- would sound like.  I think it was a missed opportunity by BBC.

The video editing had also had stronger and weaker moments.

sh and son

There is a montage around the 2:15 mark with videos of Hawking surrounded by the media, photos from his childhood and as a young man, video of him playing with his child accompanied by a voice-over of Hawking talking about his life. I think this short, less than 30-second segment offers nice insight into different parts of Hawking’s life over the years. 

bWhere the editing breaks down are in these few moments during the video when the words “‘Hawking’ Vertigo Films” flash across the top of the screen. It is unclear to me whether these segments of the video are produced by BBC or are clips from the Stephen Hawking’s movie. Are the following action sequences meant as a teaser for the audience, a short trailer of sorts? Or were they filmed by the BBC crew as an introduction to the BBC interview? I don’t know.

The most disturbing elements, however, are the title of the story, Stephen Hawking on death, disability, and humour, and the brief synopsis written below the interview. From the synopsis, which reads:

c                                                                    BBC News

you might think that assisted suicide and “controversial issues” were the only subjects addressed. In fact, Hawking devoted approximately 30 seconds (of about 223 seconds total) to his response on assisted suicide. That is only about 13% of his speaking time. For some reason BBC News latched on to the most controversial topic and splashed it across the headline for this interview.

The reaction in social media is evident. Boing Boing- a “zine devoted to the weird, wonderful and wicked things to be found in technology and culture“- created a discussion board titled “Stephen Hawking Backs Assisted Suicide” roughly two hours after this interview was posted. The discussion board was viewed 86 times in it’s first  two hours.


The controversy has also spilled into twitter with news outlets posting catchy headlines and hyperlinks back to articles on their own websites. Stories are popping up in Reuters, Fox News, NBC News, The Times (UK), and The Guardian, to name a few. Each focuses on Hawking’s stance on assisted suicide and cites the BBC interview as its source for its Hawking quotes.

The real question is whether or not some disservice has been done to Professor Hawking. Even though assisted suicide is not necessarily the focus of the interview, he was not misquoted or misrepresented. In fact, he may have something to gain from such speedy media coverage. The nature by which Hawking’s comment shave permeated throughout many of the major news outlets has also insured news of Hawking’s movie will travel as far, as fast. With the premier of this movie only three days away, maybe it’s a win-win for everyone.