Monthly Archives: May 2005

Radio and New Developments

Playlist: Interview: KGO radio’s Karel
At least, it’s not condescending. Like the part about looking at what younger people are doing and following those trends. Some interesting things are happening with younger generations.
The world’s changing, as always.


Merci!

Comme le dit le proverbe arabe: «Remercie ta femme une fois par jour. Si elle
ne sait pas pourquoi, toi, tu le sais.»


Open Source Beer

Beer Recipe Under Creative Commons
Speaking of "free as in beer" and "free as in speech," this one was mentioned on the HomeBrew Digest tonight.
Yes, beer and geekness go together well.
And, for this homebrewer, it's a good way to wrap up ramblings about Creative Commons, academic freedom, and references. Well, as good as any. Linking to a site describing the probability of seeing a man with a paddle and a jar of Tremclad hitchhiking on the highway would only have been mildly more entertaining. Musing about the effects of a warm bath with sea salt and cayenne pepper would have been slightly more confusing. Ranting about how underused "Twéla" is as an official first name in Quebec would have been too specific. And not posting anything would have been irrational.
😉


Marshall Sahlins and Open Publishing

Creative Commons: Education
Interview with Sahlins on “Prickly Paradigm Press” which publishes pamphlets under Creative Commons licences.
Sahlins isn’t necessarily known to mince words and he seems to like controversy. In this case, though, it’s mostly a well-articulated version of views that appear to be quite common in academia.

Two excerpts:

My position is that once we’re even, it can go free. None of our authors and none of our publishers and certainly not me, above all, are in this business for gain. I mean, I write a lot of things for academic journals for which I never see a penny. And I’ve written books that I do see a penny for, but it’s literally about a penny for an hour of hard labor. None of us is making a living off of this. Most of us feel that our ideas for the most part come from other people, and it’s certainly the case that we want them to be disseminated among other people. So free distribution seems to me correct. The only constraint I put on it is this one that I would like to be able to break even so that we can continue to function.

You know, this seems to run counter to the old “I’ve worked a lot on this (album, software, book) so I think I deserve money for its use by you, the lowly listener/user/reader.”

I truly support the idea of the free dissemination of intellectual information, and that I truly lament the various forms of copyrights and patents that are being put on so-called intellectual property. I also lament the collusion of universities in licensing the results of scientific research, and thus violating the project of the free dissemination of knowledge that is their reason for existence. So I consider it an important act to release these books under a Creative Commons type of license. I’m happy, and also a little proud, to do so.

More polemic and underlining a real issue with contemporary academia. Some research institutions aren’t so much about creating the ideal context for reflection, thoughtful communication, or innovative ideas, but markets for intellectual property. This could be expected from “R&D” groups in corporate contexts but the contemporary university is becoming less and less of the place where ideas and knowledge are thriving.
It’s probably one of the most pernicious problems in the whole Publish or Perish scheme. Well, along with the academic version of payola, the dramatically rising costs of academic publishing, the abuses on author rights, the reliance on publication prestige instead of usefulness, the new barriers to dissemination of ideas, the effects of publish-oriented profs on the teaching role of universities, the diminishing advantages of the tenure-track system, the tendency not to replace retiring faculty, the view of tenure as sinecure, the linear ranking of universities, the reliance on test scores, the obligation for faculty to “produce” even while exploring new possibilities…
P. or P.? Nah! P2P? Sure!

Now, if it were possible to convince academic departments that relying on the old model of academic publishing is detrimental to academia as a whole and that there should be better factors of academic success, we’d be on the way to a much better academic situation overall.

Ah, well…


RefWorks, Reference Software

RefWorks
A "Personal Web-based Database and Bibliography Creator"

Apparently, people at IU South Bend asked several users for comments about different tools and ended up with RefWorks. Can see why. In terms of ease-of-use, it's very good. And it has many interesting features, including some that aren't found in the typical dedicated desktop applications.

I must admit, I'm rather impressed with their rate of release. They seem to follow the typical open-source model of "release early, release often."
In fact, although it's proprietary/closed-source/commercially-distributed (through CSA) and not necessarily inexpensive/free-as-beer, it's almost open-sourcesque in its approach. At least, much more so than Thomson/ISI products.
Funnily enough, CSA integrates with Endnote (made by ISI) better than ISI products do. 😉

Of course, there are several good bibliography solutions around. A cool open-source one is BibDesk. Originally meant for BibTeX data, it now does much more and serves as a cool solution to autofile PDF versions of academic articles (realising part of the dream of an "iTunes for academic papers"). What's neat about RefWorks is that it can be shared. Not only is it possible to make any number of accounts for specific projects (very cool solution for classes) but it has a specific tool for reference sharing. Didn't use it yet but the rest of the program is good enough that RefShare can't be all bad.

Well, this is getting into a pseudo-review, which would be much more difficult to do. One thing that's rather impressive for an online system is that it accepted a submission of tens of thousands of references from an Endnote file without complaining too much (apart from server delays). So they don't seem to have a limit in the number of references.

Which leads us to an interesting point on reference software. [Start rambling…] A given item, say a reference to a journal article, will be present in many people's reference lists. Most of the data should be standardized for all occurrences of that item: author name, publication date, complete title… Some things are added by the user: date accessed, comments, reading notes… In good database design, RefWorks should only keep one copy of that item (with the standardized information) and have links to that item in people's lists. The customized info could probably be streamlined and will probably not amount to a lot of data. Now, there's an interesting side-effect of this as common references should in fact be standardized. One of the most nonsensical things with online reference databases is that you might have "Smith-Black, John D.," "Smith, J.," "John Daniel Black-Smith," and "Black, J.D.S." referring to the same person. Many programs have ways to standardize references locally but the power is there to have, once and for all, one standardized author ID with all associated info. Sure, the output might still end up as "Smith, J." in some bib formats. But at least the information would be kept. And there could be author pages with a lot of info, from institutional affiliation to publication lists and professional highlights. The main advantage of having a centralised system is that changes could be applied globally (as in "across the system") as opposed to customised by each user. Authors could register themselves and add pertinent information. Readers could send comments to authors (if allowed explicitly). Copies of some publications could be linked directly. Comments by many users could linked to a given publication. Think of the opportunities for collaboration!
And the simple time-saving advantage of having, once and for all, the correct, "official" capitalization of the title.
One important point: reading notes. Bibliographies are great. The maximal information needed for a given item in a bibliography would seem quite minimal (author(s), date(s), title(s)…). Presentation/format became an important issue because some publications are quite strict in their opinion that theirs is the "correct" way to display a reference. Yet there's much more that can be done with a database of academic references.
Yes, including reading notes.
Maybe it's just a personal thing but active reading implies some type of note-taking, IMHO. Doesn't need to be very elaborate and a lot of it can be cryptic. But it's truly incredible to see how useful it can be to have a file containing all reading notes (with metadata) from one pass over a given text. With simple search technology, looking for all things you've read that made you think of a specific concept can be unbelievably efficient in bringing ideas together. Nothing really fancy. Just a list of matches for a keyword. Basic database stuff. But, oh so good!
Again, it might be personal. What I tend to is to create a file for a given text I read and write notes with associated page numbers. Sometimes, it's more about a stream of consciousness started by a quote. Sometimes, it's the equivalent of underlining, for future use. And, sometimes, it's just a reminder of what's said in the text. This type of active reading is incredibly long but the effects can be amazing.
Of course, we all use different systems. It'd just be nice to have a way to integrate these practices with reference software. And to PDAs, of course! And PDFs!
The dream: you read an article in PDF format on your PDA, you "enter" your reading notes directly in the PDF, and they're linked to your reference software. You could even share some of these notes with colleagues along with the PDF file.
Oh, sure, many people prefer to do their readings offline and few people have the inclination to type the notes they scribble in the margins. But for those of us who do most of our reading online, there could/should be ways to make life so much easier. Technologically, it should be quite easy to do.
[…Stop rambling. Well, for now, at least.]


Google, Keywords, Lawsuits

Google ensnared in a war of words
A few interesting things to note.

  • Google may not have been extremely careful in the legal issues associated with some of its practices, which seems a bit awkward.
  • We’re talking about Big Money here. In the context of Big Money Google’s good overall reputation and relatively careless practices seem somewhat more surprising.
  • French opposition to Google may take the typical legalistic approach found in the US.
  • There’s still a type of culture-shock between the geek-friendly Google and luxury markets such as the ones mentioned in this piece.

User: Friendly

Hello World!
I’m your friendly user!


Freedom Fighters

Freedom Fighters: Fighting freedom wherever they find it.


suoni per il popolo

suoni per il popolo
Un festival de musique très cool qui commence bientôt.

Cool music festival coming up soon.


R�éaliser le Qué�bec de demain! – Les deux grands dé�fis que le Qué�bec a entrepris de relever

Réaliser le Québec de demain! – Les deux grands défis que le Québec a entrepris de relever:

  • réduire nos dépenses;
  • éliminer les inefficacités dans le fonctionnement de l’État;
  • conjuguer les ressources publiques avec celles du secteur privé;
  • rétablir l’équilibre fiscal avec Ottawa.

Reçu par la poste, dans un dépliant touffu et peu explicite. On peut quand même comprendre:

  • couper dans les programmes sociaux;
  • «rationaliser» la fonction publique;
  • privatiser;
  • quémander au fédéral.

Subtil?


Canadian Microbreweries in 1985

Designer beer – Selling Suds: The Beer Industry in Canada – CBC Archives
Part of a series of archived clips on the beer industry in Canada. Relatively little has changed in the last 20 years for the macrobreweries (except for the fact that they've been bought or have merged). Microbreweries and brewpubs still have a long way to go in terms of market share but there's certainly more beer diversity now than there was in 1985. Also, awareness of craft beer seems to have increased quite a bit.
Other clips are quite interesting too.


Monetizing Podcasts?

Playlist: Podcash: Follow the money
For any idea/concept people may have, others are spending inordinate amounts of effort to link them to money. Of course, it doesn’t solve any problem, but hey, we each have to fight on our own, right?
Ah, well…

This one is from Playlist (owned by Macworld and announced on the same site) about the possibility for transforming “podcasts” (downloadable blog-like radio shows) into either a revenue stream or at least a way to raise “brand awareness.” At least, it’s an honest way to put it. They’re not hiding behind big principles.

Just listened to Macworld’s second podcast. Apologies to those involved but if that’s the model they have in mind, there’s a thing or two that they didn’t get.
Funny how “old media” (even relatively small tech-oriented outlets) are still clueless about the changes that are happening.

Ah, well…


CRIA and Artists

Macworld: News: Canadian Court rejects appeal on tune swap suit

we will be able to act in the interest of artists

Oh, nice! Will they eventually ask actual artists?
It’s kind of interesting that an association which represents the recording industry (i.e., the people musicians have to deal with and protect against) uses “artist interest” as a motto. Oh no, it’s not new. And the RIAA does it. But, in this case, it’s just too funny.


Grocery Store Wars | Join the Organic Rebellion

Grocery Store Wars | Join the Organic Rebellion
All this talk about Evil Empires makes me hungry. Of course, this is a perspective in which everything is a constant fight. Let us to wars. Rebellion?
Ah, well…


Google et l’Empire

Google et l’Europe
Situation assez intéressante. Oui, il y va d’identité nationale et «continentale». Oui, la France et les États-Unis ont un rapport très particulier. Mais il y a plus.
Les opinions que diverses personnes ont au sujet de Google sont assez intéressantes. Plusieurs ont déjà peur (à tort ou à raison) de l’influence que Google peut avoir sur le ‘Net ou même sur la vie hors-ligne. L’article discute de l’aspect américain puisque Google est (au moins jusqu’à la construction du Googlunarplex) installé aux
États-Unis. Mais il y a aussi, pour certains, la crainte d’une domination exclusive.
Pour certains, Microsoft est “evil” (le Mal incarné). Leurs tactiques d’affaires ont visé à écraser les autres, ce que plusieurs tolèrent mal.
Google bénéficie, jusqu’à présent, d’une réputation assez enviable auprès de la plupart des gens. Ses fondateurs semblent accorder beaucoup d’importance à la technologie pour elle-même. Leur moteur de recherche n’a pas été imposé par pur marketing, les gens ont commencé à l’utiliser quand il était en version bêta et l’ont apprécié pour diverses raisons. Un peu comme si le succès de Google n’avait pas été
calculé. Comme si Google était “the geek next door” plutôt qu’une entreprise monstrueuse à la Microsoft.
Une partie de la différence entre Google et Microsoft tient à la stratégie d’innovation que Google met de l’avant.
Google a donc la possibilité de conserver la cote chez ses utilisateurs. En fait, ce doit être assez agréable de travailler là-bas. Mais l’opinion publique change vite…


Cinematic Analogy

Darth Vader, Bush, Republic, Empire
Similar articles elsewhere.
People often see parallels after a film has been seen or a book has been read. Usually, these parallels become meaningful in a specific context which may or may not have been the target of the author. With those ideas often comes the notion that such a text (movie, book, etc.), which can be interpreted differently by different people, has a richer significance than a similar item too directly tied to its original context.
Here, Lucas draws on parallels between the period during which he first wrote “his story,” and the current period of time, with political overtones. A type of self-analysis which goes well with the practice of having a “commentary” track on a DVD. Does it take something away from the text if the author spells what s/he saw in the work? Does it preclude other interpretations?
It surely helps to spark rather intense discussions.
Buzz, you say?

As for the transformation of a Republic into an Empire, shouldn’t this be the perfect time to look at history? Of course, history repeats itself only partly. Not like a circle, more like a spiral. Or a sine wave, going back to its origin each period. And even those analogies are overworked, but still.
Shouldn’t we re-read Plato’s Republic? And rewatch Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000) or even Denys Arcand’s Le déclin de l’empire américain (1986)?
Then again, maybe not. We’ve been there. We’ve revisited so many things. Maybe Sting wasn’t so far off with lessons of history.


(Spoof) Montreal on the Map

The Onion | Author Dismayed By Amazon Customers’ Other Purchases
The Onion rarely talks about Montreal. This time, it’s about Yann Martel’s perception of his readership.


Bien parler?

C’est plutôt dommage. Certaines personnes semblent encore croire qu’il
y a des bonnes et des mauvaises façons de parler. Qu’une langue peut
être d’une certaine qualité. Évidemment, la bonne langue, c’est la
sienne propre. La langue mal parlée, c’est celle des autres.
Classique! C’est quoi ça? Du «glossocentrisme» par parallèle à
l’ethnocentrisme (prendre sa culture comme mieux que celle des autres)?

Pourtant, il est maintenant rare que les gens aient des propos aussi
désobligeants à l’égard de la culture de l’autre. Pas que les gens ne
se croient pas bien supérieurs aux autres. Mais sans doute à cause de
la rectitude politique, les gens ne diront pas que la culture
écossaise est bien mieux que la culture slovaque. Quoique…

Les gens condamnent des pratiques (culturelles ou linguistiques), en
bloc, sans penser aux ramifications. Leur propre perspective est
suffisante, ils ont tout compris. Peu importe les raisons qu’ils
utilisent, s’ils sont opiniâtres, c’est qu’ils sont au-dessus de tout
et de tous.

La critique, c’est bien, mais faut voir ce que ça cible. Cibler un
discours spécifique, en dénoncer la nature fallacieuse, c’est la
moindre des choses que nous puissions faire. Condamner un groupe de
façon péremptoire parce qu’il s’exprime ou se comporte différemment de
nous, c’est peut-être rassurant, mais c’est absurde et ça a des
conséquences néfastes dans la communication entre individus de
différents groupes. C’est encourager l’intolérance.

Oh, on ne parle pas de caricature. Une caricature efficace provient
d’une compréhension profonde de certains comportements. Biaisée, bien
sûr, mais profonde. Jouer sur les stéréotypes peut même aider à
déconstruire ces stéréotypes. Mais énoncer des généralisations sur un
groupe humain sans se rendre compte que ce ne sont que des
stéréotypes, c’est une façon de renforcer des opinions trop rapides,
des préconceptions.

Pour revenir au langage. La façon la plus facile de décrire la
situation est de parler de perspectives «descriptive» et
«prescriptive» sur la langue. La description linguistique, c’est ce
que les spécialistes en sciences du langage font. Ils décrivent les
caractéristiques spécifiques de diverses langues et diverses variétés
de langues. Cette description est basée sur une compréhension du
langage humain comme mode de communication.

Le mode «prescriptif», c’est le «disez pas ‘disez‘, disez ‘dites‘» (citation réelle). Ça fonctionne très bien dans un contexte spécifique, ce que démontre la citation. En contexte plus formel, la variante «disez» est inappropriée de la même
façon que le mot «néanmoins» est inapproprié dans une discussion
informelle, du moins dans certaines communautés linguistiques.
L’optique prescriptive sert généralement à renforcer les formes
appropriées en contexte formel, les contextes informels disposant de
leurs propres mécanismes de régulation.

Pour certains, il s’agit d’une distinction entre l’oral et l’écrit
mais certaines formes orales (déclaration solenelle, poésie…) sont
plus formelles que beaucoup de formes écrites et certaines formes
écrites (messagerie directe sur le ‘Net) sont plus informelles que
beaucoup de formes orales.

Bien sûr, le degré de formalité n’est qu’une dimension parmi d’autres.
Le type de langage utilisé par des brasseurs entre eux n’est pas plus
ou moins informels que celui utilisé par deux chirurgiennes entre
elles. Les deux sont valables en contexte. Mais ce sont des variétés
très différentes.

Les locuteurs, surtout francophones, sont conditionnés (si!) par la
notion de «niveau» de langue, qui sont généralement placés dans une
hiérarchie et souvent considérés comme complètement distincts les uns
des autres. Pourtant, le «niveau» scientifique est-il plus ou moins
élevé que le «niveau» littéraire? Et n’y a-t-il pas de pont entre ces
deux «niveaux» dans diverses productions langagières?

Ce sont des principes de base, très simples. Certains de ceux qui
gueulent contre la langue des autres et qui croient «bien parler»
auraient avantage à les comprendre avant d’imposer leur vision du
langage aux autres. Ils se comportent parfois comme quelqu’un qui
parlerait d’équipement informatique en parlant de la qualité des
«bits» que tel ordinateur peut transférer. L’analogie se poursuit même
un peu plus puisque les mots du langage humain, comme les «mots» en
informatique, servent à la transmission d’information et dépendent
tous deux d’encodage et de décodage. D’ailleurs, l’informatique a
largement été influencée par la linguistique. Et vice-versa.

Quoi qu’il en soit, l’idée c’est que les unités linguistiques (tout
comme les «bits») n’ont aucune valeur absolue. Les gens peuvent leur
assigner des valeurs (j’ai le droit de trouver 10010101 plus beau que
11000111) mais la référence d’une unité dépend d’un contexte
spécifique («il y a 10 types de gens: ceux qui comprennent le binaire
et ceux qui ne le comprennent pas»).

Marina Yaguello a publié un livre très facile d’accès qui peut aider
les gens à comprendre ce genre de question: Catalogue des idées
reçues sur la langue
. Il est disponible à la FNAC et
sur Amazon.fr
mais semble épuisé chez Renaud-Bray et sur Amazon.com.


Naive on Economy

To follow on naive ideas about economy…

I tend to pick on the recording industry and others. In my mind, the
RIAA and other big organizations are just too greedy. Not that smaller
organizations are devoid of greed, but smaller organizations have more
reasonable aims and less of an impact. There’s been a lot of “mergers
and acquisitions” in a number of industries (including those I care
most about: music, publishing, beer, computers). International
conglomerates and other merged entities aren’t inherently evil. But
they’re quite dangerous. Many of them are just not doing their job.

I do care about the fact that corporations are pretty lousy at
“listening to what people want.” Creating needs can be an effective
way to achieve short-sighted goals but it’s not a way to help society
as a whole.

One ad for Salon Premium describes the impact of media convergence as
“everybody thinking the same way.” The message is interesting but
Salon doesn’t seem to move in the opposite direction which would be to
allow free (as in speech) movement of information, “readers” being
allowed to compose their own image of reality based on different feeds
(yes, I’m thinking about RSS/Atom as an interesting alternative). On
the ‘Net, it matters fairly little if a “piece” comes from from the
NYT, AFP, or a corporate press release. Those publications have ceased
to be guarantees of “trustworthy information.” The concept of
information itself is slowly transforming, in the minds of several
people. Not necessarily that it’s closer to Shannon and Weaver’s
model, with associated notions of entropy, but not everyone thinks of
“bits of information” as being valuable on their own.

People are now able to look at different pieces of information,
eventually trusting themselves in the final analysis, to contribute to
a broad understanding of the world. They understand that knowledge
isn’t just accumulated information. And they exercise critical
thinking. Yes, there’s such a thing beyond the buzzword. Hopefully,
journalists, marketers, financiers, and politicians will give
<bold>people</bold> (Actual Human Beings) more ways to exercise this
type of thinking.

It might just be an extension of the relationship between Gutenberg
and Reformation: devotees are now allowed to read the texts and don’t
depend on a higher authority to determine the “value of information”
presented to them.

Does this all make sense? In my head it does. At least, the little
voice says that it all makes sense… 😉


(Spoof) Fictionology

The Onion | Scientology Losing Ground To New Fictionology
As is often the case with The Onion (“America’s Finest News Source”), this piece is an insightful take at a social trend. The basic idea is that of a “mythical belief system free from the cumbersome scientific method.” The target is Scientology, but the idea is far-reaching.
Interestingly enough, when I was describing the difference between science and belief systems (the only “belief” shared by scientists is that the scientific method can provide appropriate results), a student asked about Scientology which, unlike science, is in fact a belief system. One could include “Intelligent Design” as a similar system: based on beliefs but adopting some aspects of the scientific method. Lamarck, Buffon, and others have proposed similar ideas, with or without a base in belief. In fact, even Descartes’s Discours de la méthode attempts to prove beliefs using a scientific method. At least, that’s what I remember (I was 13 or 14 at the time I read it, for fun).