Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for July, 2011

Where Is the Mango Princess? A Journey Back from Brain Injury

Posted by nliakos on July 19, 2011

by Cathy Crimmins (Vintage Books, 2000)

I had already read this a few years ago, but I picked it off my shelf recently and couldn’t put it down, so I reread the entire book. The story of Crimmins’ husband’s traumatic brain injury and its aftermath is an amazing window into TBI and its far-reaching effects on the patient and his family. It is also a scathing criticism of our American (non-)system of healthcare. Alan, Crimmins’ lawyer husband, is injured in Canada, where he receives excellent care.  However, all his American health insurance company can think of is how to deny him adequate care in the United States, starting with their refusal to fly him back to Philadelphia from Ontario and continuing on through a too-early hospital discharge and grossly inadequate rehabilitation benefits.  It makes the reader want to scream. When people are dealing with a healthcare crisis, the last thing they need is to be forced to fight for the care their loved one requires.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of the book, for me, was the devastating effect the TBI had on Alan’s relationship with his young daughter, Kelly,  who witnessed the accident and was thereafter subjected to extremely inappropriate behavior and language from her father.  Crimmins was not very available for her daughter post-accident either (too busy fighting with the health insurance company), and she (daughter) spent a lot of time with very kind friends. Not until Chapter 11 does Crimmins finally step in to protect Kelly from her father’s erratic behavior. When she finds out that he has actually kicked Kelly, she threatens that if he ever harms her physically again, she will take Kelly away from him forever. But the emotional abuse continues unchecked–perhaps because Crimmins is equally abused by Alan, whose personality underwent a huge change after the accident (apparently a common result of TBI). But she’s a grownup, and presumably could leave if she wanted to. It is to her credit that she stands by Alan despite the hardships–but I thought she should have done more to protect Kelly from her disinhibited father. This is not to say that Alan’s bad language, fits of rage, or just plain weird behavior were his fault; they were not.

A fascinating read. which makes the reader pray that s/he and his/her loved ones never experience a TBI.

Posted in Learning Disabilities, Non-fiction | Leave a Comment »

The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You

Posted by nliakos on July 18, 2011

by Eli Pariser (Penguin 2011)

Since 2006, as a member of the online Community of Practice Webheads in Action, I have been pretty devil-may-care about my web presence.  Sure, I am careful about what I say and what information I divulge.  But I sometimes shop online (frequently for books; I bought this one from; I have countless blogs and wikis, mostly connected to my ESL classes; I have a rarely used Flickr stream and lots and lots of Picasa Web Albums; I have accounts (many of them dormant or never used) at countless free websites, some of which have probably gone under since I signed up (like Bubbleshare). I have three email and two Facebook accounts.

I knew kind of subliminally that all this stuff was eroding my privacy. Now, having read The Filter Bubble, my subliminal awareness has become very conscious. Eli Pariser is very concerned about the effects of personalization on Internet users.  Personalization is the tailoring of each person’s Internet experience to that person’s individual taste and personality. I knew Google was somehow tailoring my results to me: I noticed the targeted ads in my gmail (if I mentioned teaching, there would be ads for EFL teachers; if I mentioned babies there would be ads for baby stuff) but figured, well, this is not a person reading my emails; it’s just some kind of automatic word recognition algorithm. And I noticed that if I searched for information, the information that was likely to come up was local, more often than not (if I searched for Montgomery County, Google showed me results from Maryland, although there are Montgomery Counties in many other states as well).

On the other hand, I had no idea that Facebook was using an algorithm to decide which of my 366 friends’ status updates to show me and which not to show me (I assumed that I just missed updates because I do not check Facebook that often, or that some people just weren’t posting updates.). Pariser, however, who makes a point of friending conservatives because he wants to know what they are thinking, noticed that Facebook, having figured out that he is a liberal, was not showing him his conservative friends’ updates anymore.

Pariser is concerned that when what we see on the web (from Facebook, Google, Yahoo, the New York Times, the Washington Post…) reflects our own worldview, we will have no incentive to explore new ideas. In fact, we will not even be aware that these ideas exist. The Web, which was supposed to bring us together by enabling equal access to information to all, is set to snare each of us in our own little world of preconceptions and prejudices and to dumb down what we see to what we like and easily understand, at the expense of what we should know (in order to be educated consumers and citizens).  To make his point, Pariser dips into psychology (how we learn), biography (Mark Zuckerberg’s ideas of what we should and should not know) and computer science (how algorithms manage what we see). He shows us how fragile our contract with Facebook is, as FB continually keeps changing the rules about what it can do with all the personal information we share on its site.

I think everybody should read this book. It really makes you think. For me, as someone who has exclusively used free websites to build my online presence, this Andrew Lewis quote says it all: “If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.” (On the other hand, even if I am showered with targeted online ads, I don’t look at, click on, or buy because of those ads. I barely even notice them.)

This would be a great choice for the University of Maryland’s FirstYear Book.

Posted in Non-fiction, Web Technology | 1 Comment »