Beki Grinter

Archive for the ‘European Union’ Category

The Right to be Forgotten and the Right to be Equal

In computer science, empirical, European Union, social media on July 16, 2014 at 4:48 am

I’ve said this before, the Internet can be a mean misogynistic place. Could the Right to be Forgotten help with this?

The Right to be Forgotten is an EU ruling that gives people the means to ask search engine companies to remove data from their searches if it is irrelevant. Its sparked a lot of controversy as well as questions.

The controversy could be characterized as pitting freedom of expression and information against individual privacy rights. Additionally, people have argued that it creates an unfair burden on intermediaries such as Google.

While I am open to these arguments, I find myself thinking about how freedom of expression and misogyny interact. Some of the things that are written about women on the Internet are vile, abusive, full of bile and hatred. Freedom of expression has always had limitations: libel (making false and damaging statements) and obscenity. Freedom of expression on the Internet seems never to have had these limitations, and so obscene libelous statements directed at women exist in perpetuity on the Internet. Perhaps some might argue that its the responsibility of the person they are targetted at to take it up through the courts. But how, when the authors of these remarks are hidden. Which makes me think there is a role for corporations. Or at least a responsibility.

Some advocates for the right to be forgotten have argued that it reflects a social value of forgiveness. We all have the right to make mistakes and then over time have those mistakes disappear into a forgotten history. I agree.

But what I am asking and suggesting here is that the Right to be Forgotten maybe a means to finally have an Internet that is fair to all. For a long time visions of the Internet have championed it as a platform welcoming anyone and everyone. The right to be forgotten may have a role in actually ensuring that it welcomes minorities by proving for once and for all that it will not tolerate discrimination.

That Facebook Study

In academia, computer science, discipline, empirical, European Union, research, social media on July 8, 2014 at 8:07 am

Following Michael Bernstein’s suggestion that Social Computing researchers join the conversation.

Facebook and colleagues at Cornell and the University of California, San Francisco published a study in which it was revealed that ~600,000 people had their Newsfeed curated to see either positive or negative posts. The goal was to see how seeing happy or sad posts influenced the users. Unless you’ve been without Internet connectivity you likely have heard about the uproar its generated.

Much has been said, Michael links to a list and some more essays that he’s found. Some people have expressed concerns about the role that corporations play in shaping our views of the world (via their online curation of it). Of course they do that everyday, but this study focused attention on that curation process by telling us, at least for a week how it was done for the subjects of the study. Others have expressed concern about the ethics of this study.

What do I think?

I’ve been dwelling on the ethical concerns. It helps that I’m teaching a course on Ethics and Computing. And that I’m doing it in Oxford, England. So I’m going to start from here.

First, this study has caused me to reflect on the peculiar situation that exists in the United States with regards to ethical review of science, and the lack of protection for individuals that participate in it.

In the United States, only institutions that take Federal Government research dollars are required to have Institutional Review Boards (IRBs). The purpose of an IRB is to review any study involving human subjects to ensure that it meets certain ethical standards. The IRB process has its origin in the appalling abuses conducted in the name of science like the Tuskegee Experiment. Facebook does not take Federal research money, and is therefore not required to have an IRB. The institutions by which research gets published are also not required to perform ethical reviews of work that they receive.

I find myself asking whether individuals who participate in a research study, irrespective of who funds that work, have the right to be protected? Currently there’s an inconsistency, in some research the answer is yes, and in others it is no. It seems very peculiar to me that who funds the work determines whether the research is subject to ethical review and whether the people who participate have protection.

Second, most of the responses I’ve read have been framed in American terms. But social computing, including this study, aspires to be a global science. What I mean is that nowhere did I read that these results only apply to a particular group of people from a particular place. And with the implication of being global comes a deeper and broader responsibility: to respect the values of the citizens that it touches in its research.

The focus on the IRB is uniquely American. Meanwhile I am in Europe. I’ve been learning more about European privacy laws, and my understanding is that they provide a broader protection for individuals (for example, not distinguishing based on who pays for the research), and also place a greater burden on those who collect data about people to inform them, and to explicitly seek consent in many cases. I interpret these laws as reflecting the values that the 505 million European Union citizens have about their rights.

I’ve not been able to tell whether European citizens were a part of the 600,000 people in the study. The PNAS report said that it was focused on English speakers, which perhaps explains why the UK was the first country to launch an inquiry. If Europeans citizens were involved we might get more insight into how the EU and its member nations view ethical conduct in research. If they were not, there is still some possibility that we will learn more about what the EU means when it asks “data controllers” (i.e. those collecting, holding, and manipulating data about individuals) to be transparent in their processes.

I’ve read a number of pieces that express concern about what it means to ask people to consent to a research study. Will we lose enough people that we can’t study network effects? How do we embed it into systems? These are really good questions. But, at the same time I don’t think we can or should ignore citizen’s rights and this will mean being knowledgable about systems that do not just begin and end with the IRB. Its not just because its the law, but because without it I think we demonstrate a lack of respect for other’s values. And I often think that’s quite the point of an ethical review, to get beyond our own perspective and think about those we are studying.

Hello from Oxford

In European Union on July 7, 2014 at 5:50 am

As many of you know I’m teaching in Georgia Tech’s Oxford Program at Worcester (say Wooster) College. We compress a semester into six weeks, its very intense, but also very enjoyable. Here are a few musings about this experience.

1) Oxford is not like Cambridge. In 2000, I lived in Cambridge for six months. I assumed that Oxford would be similar to Cambridge. Perhaps the Universities are; not the towns. In Cambridge I never saw or heard any town v. gown (University) conflict. I’ve only been here a week and I’ve already overheard conversations that underscore a tension between the two. I don’t worry about a repeat of the Oxford riots of 1991, but I see and sense more active conflict here than I ever saw in Cambridge.

2) Walking. I’m walking more here. The weather makes a big difference. Its humid but much cooler in Oxford than Atlanta. There are a number of trails and footpaths in Oxford which people use, and judging by the posters, are actively fighting to keep. I could buy any number of walking guides of Oxford, but my favourite are the free walk maps provided by CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) that mark pubs worthy of a stop. Yes, you can have non-alcoholic drinks at a pub too.

3) No Sugar in my Bread. Just before leaving the US I went to the grocery store, to the “Industrial Bread” section as the French would call it to buy a loaf of bread. All of the loaves contained either sugar or high fructose corn syrup. In bread! Why? Here the loaves, whether hand made or mass produced don’t. I don’t often buy industrial bread in either country, but it was a reminder to me of the role corporations play in our foods. And I was pleased that not forcing sugar on me here was acceptable.

4) Inspector Morse and Harry Potter. Colin Dexter, who wrote the Inspector Morse novels, lives in Oxford. Needless to say Morse, and the sequel (Lewis) and the prequel (Endeavour) are all set in Oxford. Everywhere you look there are scenes from a Morse. Worcester College has been used three times (Last Bus to Woodstock, Sins of the Fathers, Deadly Slumber). But I expected this. What I didn’t expect was the presence of Harry Potter. I’ve traveled in Northumberland prior to this, and there I visited a castle (Alnwick) in which the Harry Potter films took place (I traveled their from London’s Kings Cross but didn’t use platform 9 3/4). But apparently they also took place in Oxford and even the choir I went to see on Saturday night (performing Handel’s Coronation songs) sung on one of the Harry Potter sound tracks. There have been lots of films, and I am beginning to think that Harry Potter might be to the UK what Lord of the Rings is to New Zealand. This I did not expect.

5) Hand Drawn Ales. I used to be a member of CAMRA (see above). I love, and miss, hand drawn local ales. I pay attention to the sign that says Cask Marque. I look for ales that are hand drawn at the bar. In the last couple of years I’ve begun to feel that its getting harder and harder to find a good local ale. Of course, the cost of the pint may well be a factor. Ouch.

6) Private Eye. I purchased the current Private Eye the day after I arrived in London. I love Private Eye, because it is at once both very funny but very serious. It takes up issues such as hypocrisy in politics, corruption and lack of ethical conduct in sports (e.g., FIFA) but through biting humour. I read it and think about Kate Fox, who explains a lot about humour in her book “Watching the English”—the use of humour to be serious. It can and has been controversial in the past but the first one I picked up featured a front cover with the England team getting off the plane in Brazil, with a cartoon bubble of the pilot asking whether they should keep the jet engines running. Their ability to predict England’s dismal performance in World Cup 2014 was nearly as good as Paul the Octopus.

7) World Cup. I was excited about watching the World Cup in the UK. Pubs have divided into two, those showing the games and those as a place for those who don’t want to watch the games. And then England crashed out. England wasn’t expected to win, and polls suggested that the British didn’t think they would. But there were lots of England flags out. Some even had England written on the St. George flag just to ensure that there was no confusion as to what the flag represented. I felt sorry, and also a bit awkward in my Mannschaft t-shirt, which I’m wearing on game day, and given the German performance I’m having to wash regularly.

8) Washing Machine. I have a small front loading washing machine in the US. Yes, front loaders have made it to the USA. Also they don’t come with 8 bazillion options. Hot, warm, cold. Fast, regular or slow spin. This is pretty nice. I don’t need to decide on temperatures or RPMs. I say my washing machine is small, and it is, but it can actually hold a week’s worth of clothes from two people. I’m missing this as I do laundry twice a week, especially since laundry is a walk away from where I live. That said it is an excuse to walk more. So perhaps that’s a good thing.

9) Being here. A colleague here has been asking his class of students (who are all from Georgia Tech) whether they’ve been in any setting where they’ve been alone or with one other person and a lot of the locals. Most of them go out together in groups, and I can understand that, especially as a woman abroad. Safety in numbers and all that. His point is that if you haven’t been alone or outnumbered then perhaps you’ve not really visited Europe, not in the sense of meeting the locals. I think this is related to the position that Rick Steves’ advocates in his books, about doing things that put you into more situations where you are likely to be among the locals or engaging in activities that people who live here do. Inspired by my colleagues suggestion I was reflecting on my own travels. I’ve had the company of my husband, but other than that we’ve been in a number of situations where it’s just us together with the locals.

But what does it mean for me to be with the locals of a place I was born and grew up in? I’ve been away for 23 years now, which is longer than I lived in the United Kingdom. Things change. I realize that its important for me to spend time being here in order to have a sense of what has changed. Not to become a local again (absolutely impossible in six weeks), but at least to understand what it is that I don’t know about the country by chatting with people who live here. I’m still working this all out in my mind, but the idea of really being here in the UK has been given a new type of form for me. Love to hear from other ex-pats about what going “home” means for them.

10) My Accent. I’ve been surprised on this trip that people have asked me what part of England I’m from. Over the years this was happening less and less. Initially (first 5-10 years of being away) people often asked me if I was from South Africa, Australia or New Zealand — I think because they thought I was a native English speaker but not sure where from — so perhaps they assumed accents that were less familiar to them? Then it shifted over to American. I’d gotten used to English people thinking I was American. So, this trip was something of a surprised. A good number of people have asked me where I am from, I’ve said Atlanta, GA, and then they’ve asked me where in England I’m originally from. Can it be the case that my accent has shifted back? I don’t really know, but I am surprised.

Ubicomp and the Maginot Line

In computer science, discipline, European Union on September 19, 2011 at 10:32 am

When I moved to Metz to teach at GT-L for the Fall 2009 semester, I lived very close to the Maginot Line and consequently had an opportunity to learn more about it. The Maginot Line was a series of defensive fortifications built by the French after the first world war to protect themselves in the event of invasion by the Germans. What I had known about the Maginot Line was that it was not successful. The invasion of France occurred through the Ardenne forest, a place that had not been protected by the Maginot Line.

But, while in Metz I learnt far more about the Maginot Line. The Maginot Line had been a site of significant innovation as well as engineering. It had air conditioning for example. It had a communications infrastructure that was secure, connecting each of the fortifications to each other and to the national telecommunications network. It had underground railroads, used pressure differentials to avoid having gases enter the tunnels from outside, contained hospitals, and had its own power system even though each fort was connected to the national grid. Visiting the Maginot Line was something I’ll never forget.

There is going to be a panel at this year’s Ubicomp conference about the Vision of Ubiquitous Computing (Ubicomp) from the perspective of 20 years later. The panelists will reflect on the original vision that proposed a world of Ubiquitous Computing, what resulted, and whether (and if so what) role Ubicomp has going forward. I wish I could attend. This panel is another point in what has become a series of reflections by various people including Yvonne Rogers, Paul Dourish and Genevieve Bell about the original vision and the world today.

I can’t help thinking that Ubicomp’s vision, like the vision that created the Maginot Line, inspired a lot of innovation and in that sense it was incredibly successful. But I agree with the advocates for moving on and away from that original vision. The Maginot Line despite its successes is widely understood as a product of an imagination (made manifest in the vision) that was shaped in the First World War and unprepared for what would happen in the Second one. That innovations in warfare would ultimately leave defensive structures designed for a war fought by soliders in trenches less ready and able to fight a war that would involve planes and tanks. So while the Maginot Line became a site for innovation, it was simultaneously one that was blind to the innovations all around it that would render it obsolete. And that I think is a lesson for Ubiquitous Computing.

Libraries and Possibilities

In European Union, France on August 16, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Richard Barke recently blogged about his experience of being in Oxford. In the libraries of Oxford he eloquently describes the experience of feeling connected to a set of possibilities. Libraries as temples of knowledge, places of possibilities.

I remember when I gained my resident pass to allow me to enter various buildings at Cambridge. One of the things I did, rather surprisingly, was attend a Sunday service in Kings College Chapel. I’m not religious. I went because I find that when I am in buildings like that I find my perspective altered. I was reminded of that same perspective altering in Richard’s post. His thoughts turned to education and learning. As I sat listening to the choir, mine turned to engineering. Kings College Chapel has the most amazing roof and walls that seem to breathelessly hold it up there. Cathedrals (include Abbeys, Royal Peculiars, Chapels etc…), particularly Norman-Gothic, also bring this sense of wonder to me. When I taught in Metz France, I would enjoy going into the city to do battle using my poor French to acquire those super nice shoes or boots I wanted. And then I would also go to the Cathedral and just wonder at the construction.

I am not religious but, beyond marveling at the engineering, if I have a moment of belief it is in those buildings. I like Cathedrals. I like their perpetual dampness. I like the retreat into their dark coolness on a warm day. In winter I like watching the muted winter sun attempting to project the colours of the stain glass windows onto the floor or pews. I like their silence outside of service. I like taking off my shoes and putting my feet on the floors and feeling the cool of the stones. I like the smell of hymnals and candles in combination with the mustiness of the old building.

All of these bring an inner peace in me. If I feel any inklings of religion its there and only there. It’s a place that I stop. And in that I was reminded of one of Genevieve Bell’s talks about boredom and about how stopping is a time for the brain to be creative, unfettered by the chains of the mobile nag that reminds you of the million unfinished things.

Large megachurches, an object of my research, just don’t invoke the same response in me. For me, megachurches don’t smell right, they don’t feel right, and their climate control while ideal isn’t as sensory as the experience of discovering that cooler damp air. There are lots of things I miss about Europe. But way up there on my list is the sensory experience of old buildings. Richard’s post reminded me of that. Actually it did better than that, it got me really thinking about this. And here it is, for what it’s worth.

The Personality of the State: Computers, Flags, People and Experience

In computer science, European Union, women on June 24, 2011 at 7:27 pm

Jeremy Paxman, when commenting on the difference between a monarchy and a Presidential system said that a key difference was personality. In the United Kingdom there’s a person who represents the state, the Monarch. In the United States that representation is wrapped up in the flag. His theory about why you can’t burn the flag is that it stands for the nation state. The advantage of an object is that at times it maybe more trustworthy. The advantage of a person is that when it works, it’s a rich multi-faceted entity. It was notable that the current Australian Prime Minister is suggesting that the next best time to discuss Australia becoming a republic is when there’s a change of Monarch. A change of person.

What’s this got to do with the day job. In Computing we’re frequently in the business where one thing stands for another. The machine, and it’s encoding of responsibilities, of “duties” if you will, stands in for a part of the business or education or volunteer or domestic world that it has been tasked for. A computer represents something that is bigger than its place as an object might imply. I have often thought that programming the computer is a form of expression of the world, it’s a set of statements about how some aspect of the world works, whether it be bank transaction processing, the game of scrabble, or email. Through what is made possible for the end-users, so the machine becomes more than just an object but an experience. And that it seems to me is somewhat similar to the idea of a flag or a person representing a state.

Battle of Britain

In European Union on September 16, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Yesterday was the official “70th anniversary” of the Battle of Britain. Of course it lasted more than one day, but the Royal Air Force decided to pick yesterday.

Well this is a day late, but on behalf of my family thank you. One member lived, during this time, near Bexley Hill in Kent. In other words on the flight path for the London bombing raids. And for her, for a woman who spoke with passion about the fear and relief, I think the Royal Air Force.

More on an Academic Blog

In academia, academic management, C@tM, computer science, crafts and craftiness, discipline, empirical, European Union, France, HCI, ICT4D, research, social media, wellness informatics on September 14, 2010 at 9:27 pm

I’ve written about academic blogging before, but recently I was asked some questions.

1) How did you get into doing a blog?
It was quite by accident. A colleague of mine created a private blog to capture her experiences of conducting fieldwork. She was using her blog to create a forum where she could get feedback from others and reflect on what she was learning. So I received an invitation to create an account and I did, and then I thought it would be an interesting experiment. It’s turned out to be an interesting experiment indeed.

Early on, my blog was unread and largely just a private (although entirely public) experiment. When I started pushing my posts to facebook and twitter it got more public. Another way I acquired audience was through timely posts where I just happened to have an early hit in Google searches. Another way, and this turns on my research interests, was to prepare a commentary on a Facebook meme. Using my research expertise I commented on the importance of this.

2) What is your blog about?
My blog is a mixture of topics. I’m aware that this is rather different from other blogs and I wonder whether it affects the readership. On the other hand, it’s a creative outlet and also within the scope of my research, so exploration is important.

Two persistent non-work themes:

  • Cross cultural adventures, for example, being British in the U.S. and encounters with my accent and living in France and coping with culture shock.
  • My family from whom I learnt skills that have morphed into my off-script crafting hobbies and a passion for family history and the way it transforms history from monarchy and war into ones of poverty and survival.

Work-related topics fall into four categories.

3) How much work is doing a blog?
As much as you want it to be!

When I’m writing about non-work related topics, the posts come pretty quickly and the only thing they do is share something with colleagues and friends. Although, like facebook, they start very interesting conversations. For example, the one about the convict in my family started discussions with several work colleagues at Georgia Tech and beyond. I’d written about it partially to document the journey of discovery and detective work that is genealogy, but by sharing it broadly I got not just advice on how to learn more, but also on literature that would help set context.

The work related ones take longer. Some of them do double duty, for example, I needed to synthesize the literature in ICT4D, and I was going to give a report about the workshop so I needed to have some means to collect all that information together. My blog helps me think about making arguments, it complements and extends my two decades of research experience. It’s not just a set of notes I draw on, but because it’s simultaneously unreviewed but read by scholars it improves my arguments.

4) What impact has it had on your professional life?
My colleagues in Computer Science and beyond have enthusiastically responded to my blog. The strength in diversity of topics has been that people have asked me to write on a variety of issues. I’ve been asked to discuss the disciplinary devolution, and asked to review manuscripts on this topic. I’ve written posts on writing for conferences and had others not explicitly invited picked up by the conference organization. I’ve been tweeted and retweeted. While I have not been asked to write about my cross-cultural experiences, I’ve had face to face conversations about them. This is also true of the sexual harassment post, it generated lots of community support.

5) How would you advise a student concerning the advantages and disadvantages of academic blogging?
I tried to answer this, and then decided that I would answer it in the form of some different questions.

What do I write about?
Things you’d feel comfortable with an audience of a) your Dad whose an academic b) your Mum who started her own business (intelligent layman with interest in “application”) c) your community of practice and d) anyone else reading. Perhaps you could explain a paper in your field? Assume that the authors are in your audience and as its been published the members of your community have not deemed to be serious.

Perhaps you could write about the related work in your area. Synthesis is a challenge in academic writing. Related work is not a stream of text that describes each paper in turn. It synthesizes the results from multiple papers, groupings form pro and con arguments that help make your case. The case is a) the aggregate findings that your research builds on and extends b) the novelty of your approach and c) the contribution of your research. Synthesis is also an exercise in being inclusive and humble, how do you engage and invest a community in your results otherwise/

What about your experiences in graduate school? What are your time management strategies? What do you know about the Ph.D. program at various points in the program.

Anonymous versus known?
There are good reasons to write an anonymous blog. Anonymity supports candor. Career experiences can fit into this category. The downside of anonymity is that no-one knows you. When it comes to your research, it’s good to be associated with it! Academic branding requires being able to associate a name to the research brand.

William Oughtred

In discipline, European Union, research on September 10, 2010 at 4:38 pm

William Oughtred died in Albury, Surrey on June 30, 1660. He had invented an early form of the slide rule and introduced the ‘x’ symbol for multiplication.

He also invented, or should it be “coined the expression” sin and cos for sine and cosine.

He was a member of the English clergy, early post-reformation, and like other scientists (e.g. Newton) he had an interest in alchemy.

Wikipedia tells me that one of his students was Christopher Wren. People probably know Wren for St. Pauls Cathedral. But Wren had a pretty eclectic (diverse) set of interests. He was an individual interdisciplinarian. Or was he a product of his times.

Well for cos, sin, and x, I thank you William. For being engaged with astrology and alchemy, I think it’s an important reminder of the origins of science.

James Norman: Piecing together a Convict Story

In European Union, research on September 6, 2010 at 12:50 pm really knows how to lure me into a project. I’m a keen-ish family historian, only work sometimes gets in the way. Then an email comes from, which is the business side of the Mormon record keeping activities, telling me that I have an opportunity to search for immigrants.

When I was young, there was talk in our family about a convict. That person would be my Grandmother’s Great Grandfather. The rumours were that he’d stolen bread and my family were divided on whether this was a source of shame or something that was a sign of the times. The only “evidence” we had that he was a convict was that his daughter wrote that he was on her wedding certificate. More accurately, since she did not write herself, someone wrote in convict under father’s occupation on her certificate. She signed with a cross.

(One of the things I like about family history is that it turns a history of England from something that’s normally about Kings and wars into a history of people and their struggles. It humanizes and places me within a history that’s not about affluence and expansion, but about poverty and survival.)

So yesterday was an adventure in learning about James Norman.

So the first thing I had to deal with was the fact that there were two James Nomans sent on the Lady Palmira (Palmyra) out to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). One had been tried and convicted the day before the other, both listed as the same age. How to tell them apart. Fortunately while a few records used James Norman 1 and James Norman 2, many used the fact that one had been tried in Dorchester and the other at a place called the C.C.C. Side investigation #1 learn what that is, Central Criminal Court, (a.k.a.) the Old Bailey, and then discover that they have all their records online. Look up the trial of James Norman, and learn that it was for an offense committed in London. This, along with the fact that the other had been tried in Dorchester, which is in Dorset, which is where all my family come from, made me more confident that my James Norman was the Dorchester one. Genealogy is often about ruling out the alternatives, and frustratingly sometimes the alternatives have a lot more information associated with them.

The Tasmanian authorities at the time kept a sort of census if you will of convicts. It was done every few years and my luck would hold that James Norman would appear in two. In the 1846 census, the year he was transported, he had made it to Tasmania. There’s a comment in the records about Probation, but I can not read the second word. Another common problem with genealogy (it gets far worse with wills and the further back you go, complete mystery of words).

By 1849, the ledger recorded that my James Norman had died, and gave the name of the person who buried him, in Fingal Tasmania. Wikipedia confirms that Fingal was a convict station. (The other James Norman was still alive, he was still at Darlington Station, which you can visit today if you go to Tasmania. I think he may have been freed in 1850, and then took a journey from Tasmania to Adelaide on the Cape Horn).

The British records were going to prove somewhat sparser than those in Tasmania.

I found a record of his crime. Unlike the very detailed Old Bailey records, what I know about the Dorchester sessions was that he’d been found guilty of a crime of larceny before convicted of felony that got him into all that trouble. That means that he’d been found guilty of some type of theft, but had a prior conviction for a felony. I actually still can’t find that conviction, but I certainly found a long record. He had a previous conviction for larceny, that came with a sentence of three months in prison and a whipping. Then he had two subsequent acquittals, more larceny and aiding and abetting in manslaughter. He appeared almost yearly at the Dorchester courts, recidivist…

So now I have a different kind of puzzle on my hands. He was a repeat offender. I’ll never know, probably, whether it was desperation or a predilection for crime. I can try some other research avenues. Chronically poor people often cropped up in other records. For example, they may have been removed from a parish. Removed meant forced relocation to the parish where the husband/father/man was from. It was that parish who was responsible for taking care of the poor person. I have several ancestors who were removed because they were so poor. I can check wills, chronically poor people didn’t typically make them. I might even find records concerning payments, or lack there of, associated with their homes. But nothing really will probably help me answer the question about James Norman’s motivations. And he is a very very small part of me, I am a direct descendent of his.

Another bright side of genealogy is all the other discoveries you make a long the way. As I searched the English criminal records I encountered some other more distant relatives (almost certainly a part of the same family tree but not my direct ancestors). One lady, who had three illegitimate children also had a record for fraud. Another father and son made counterfeit coins, I presume they were from the clip small pieces of actual coins and when you have enough smelt them and make your own school of counterfeiting. And then way back there was the clergyman who appeared in the parish records due to his smuggling operation.

So, I’ve mostly cleared up one family rumour, the one about James Norman (I would still like to know when he died and whether it was bread) but along the way opened up new investigations and discovered more crimes. When I started I recall reading that you shouldn’t do family history if you want to find your direct connection to the aristocracy. How right. On the other hand, I’ve learnt quite a lot about criminal laws (the larceny act was replaced in 1911), how convict record keeping was done in Tasmania, and about reading convict shipping records. I feel more connected to, and aware of the records that reflect the history of England, particularly the criminal history of England.

Oh and, while searching for convicts I learnt that the United States was previously a destination for English convicts, but then a war in 1776 stopped that flow, and it wasn’t until Australia that the English started transporting their criminals again.

— One day is a life time in genealogy.

Update. This post and other pings have generated new leads.

James Norman did not die. He survived and was granted his certificate of freedom.

Aside: The other James Norman’s fate was far more serious, made so by his tendency to run away, for which he was sentenced to things like 18 months of hard labour in chains and ultimately his “stay” of 10 years was extended to include more time in a Hobart jail). Also, clearly this other James Norman did not take a journey in 1850, because he was being written up for a neglect of duty. The Convict records are nothing if not meticulous.

So James survived. The list, the detailed list, well it almost makes me feel a little sorry for him. Just a little.

The record also has details about what he stole that put him on this list. Not bread, as the family had thought, but hay. Hay worth 3 pence. James Norman, designed to test not just my geneaological abilities, indeed, if only it were that simple.