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

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