August 31, 2007

OA for Books vs Journals

Category: Academic,F/OSS,Open Access,Tech — Biella @ 7:24 am

Peter Suber provides a nice summary of the debatesaround Open Access for books vs. journals.

The debate started when Karl Fogel posted a comment on my blog asking about the licensing terms for the recently released Decoding Liberation. Tonight Karl, Scott, and Samir will meet for the first time at my house. I imagine the conversation will continue to be lively!

August 29, 2007

Collective Communications Campus

Category: Academic,Tech — Biella @ 8:10 pm

Collective Communications Campus is a very handy new blog covering news and information on NYC area communication, journalism, and media graduate departments, programs, lectures, and classes.

August 28, 2007

Open Sourcing Books

Category: Academic,F/OSS,Tech — Biella @ 11:03 am

Thanks mostly to David Berry and Karl Fogel, there is a debate unfolding in the comment section of my post on whether it makes sense to open source books and in what ways the model of free software is transferable (or not) to book publishing.

It is worth reading if you are interested in this debate as the back and forth volley is pretty illuminating.

Somewhat independent of the content, Karl Fogel wrote something that I love, mostly because I often try to remind people of this, although I have not said is as eloquently and tersely as Karl:

I do not understand how you can have ‘libre’ freedom without ‘free as in beer’ freedom. While the latter does not necessarily imply the former, the former always implies the latter. If everyone can share X freely with others, than the cost will always be driven down to zero (hence X will have both freedoms); if people cannot so share, then X is, by definition, not “libre” free.

Much more there, so check it out.

Conversing about Open Access

Category: Academic,F/OSS,Open Access,Tech — Biella @ 3:18 am

Karl Fogel’s recent comment asking why Samir Chopra and Scott Dexter did not publish Decoding Liberation with some sort of open licenses, especially since they are such unabashed advocates of open licensing, spurred a flurry of further comments from the authors on my blog as well as some more thought out blog posts and commentary.

I don’t have too much to add except perhaps to state the obvious: the economics of book publishing and software are quite distinct creatures. When it comes to software, one can pull in revenue from support and services, while this is pretty much impossible for most books. Software also has a much shorter shelf life, which is why making it open access, fast, is key.

Books however have a longer shelf life, which is why I am personally not opposed to some sort of limited copyright for books (around 5 years, give or take a couple) so that publishers can recoup their costs (and in academic publishing, no one is making a bundle of money, that is sure) but then it should be made free to the world, never to die that awful death of “out of print” (in so far as it can be thrown on the web, legally).

Journal publishing is another matter and I firmly believe that articles should spread far and wide and quick because of their shorter shelf life, which tends to be shorter mostly because there are just so many articles… As Alex Golub has informed us, my own professional association has really failed not only in providing more open access journals, they are not even allowing the members of the organization any say in the matter.

But thankfully other disciplines and academics are taking open access and the possibilities afforded by new media a little more seriously and here is an edited volume by CT Watch Quarterly The Coming Revolution in Scholarly Communications & Cyberinfrastructure that provides an important node in what is an important conversation.

August 26, 2007

The problem with presentism

Category: Debian,Tech,Wikipedia — Biella @ 7:04 am

A few days ago, Joe Reagle was telling me about the rise of (sometimes very arcane) policies and bureaucratic imperatives that now characterize Wikipedia. A few days later I stumbled across a few interesting posts on the topic, posts (especially Nick Carr’s) seeping with almost celebratory gloom and doom:

‘But, given human nature, is it really so “incredible” that Wikipedia has evolved as it has? Although writers like Yochai Benkler have presented Wikipedia as an example of how widescale, volunteer-based “social production” on the Internet can exist outside hierarchical management structures, the reality is very different. As Wikipedia has grown, it has developed a bureaucracy that is remarkable not only for the intricacies of its hierarchy but for the breadth and complexity of its rules. The reason Deletionism has triumphed so decisively over Inclusionism is pretty simple: It’s because Deletionism provides a path toward ever more elaborate schemes of rule-making – with no end – and that’s the path that people prefer, at least when they become members of a large group. The development of Wikipedia’s organization provides a benign case study in the political malignancy of crowds.”

It is without question that a problem has arisen in Wikipedia, a problem composed of a thick web and net of rules that can be helpful as guidelines but often are often confusing and clearly work to ensnarl new users.

But can we so quickly put blame on so-called human nature? Or is it not a problem of human organization, which as the anthropological and sociological record shows, can take many forms? And is it not just that: a problem begging for a solution instead of an opportunity to declare the fundamental nature of wikipedia (and that of human nature?). Not only may history prove him wrong, other large scale collaborative projects at least prove that solutions can be found to deal with problems of growth and scale.

It is as if Carr just wants to see a project like Wikipedia fail, which somehow, this morning hit a raw nerve. What I find exciting about large scale projects of (at times unwieldy) collaboration are not just the explicit outputs of the projects (an encyclopedia or operating system) but the social worlds they create. And there is no inevitable path they *must* follow. These groups have a choice to react to and respond to these sort of problems and enact solutions that will hopefully solve them and allow these projects to change.

Debian, a slightly older project than Wikipedia, has gone through many growing pains and there was even a period when the the whole process of integrating new Debian developers was shut down and if my memory serves me correctly, for 2 years! At the time, it could have been possible to say: “This signals the end of Debian” but eventually a solution was found, the New Maintainer process, which while not perfect (what is?) allowed the project to grow and produce a great operating system for years to come.

Debian today faces new problems and is working to find solutions. I hope that Wikipedia can and will do the same. And instead of declaring its death, why not wait and see, and offer something a little more constructive and illuminating, than destructive?

August 24, 2007

Decoding Liberation… Available

Category: Academic,Books/Articles,Ethics,F/OSS,Tech — Biella @ 11:26 am

It is nice to see books on free software finally get their day under the sun and today, Samir Chopra and Scott Dexter have announced the release of Decoding Liberation. Because it is a bit on the pricey side, try to get your library or work to order it and then when you get it, enjoy. I know I did and had the pleasure of reading early versions during an informal reading ground held in NYC 2 years ago and final versions more recently.

Among other great chapters, the one on the aesthetics of code, is, well beautiful. I can’t wait to re-read it.

If you are in the city, make sure to catch one of the book events that will be happening; your very own will help lead a discussion on October 3rd and I might write something up more formal about the book (and of course post here) then.

August 19, 2007

The Lingering Memories of War

Category: Alzheimers — Biella @ 5:22 am

As many readers of this blog know, I tend not to shy away from writing about my mother’s struggle with Alzheimers. But in the last 6 months and especially since I paid my last visit to my mother, I have found it much harder to sit and write about her current state of affairs. If we think of Alzheimers as a journey to a new place, she is almost at the point of reaching that place of great loneliness and inhospitality, which is not only new and different—both for her and those around her—but is a virtual prison, for it rarely allows you to leave and visit the places of your past.

More than ever, her memory and understanding of her life as she (as I and many others), once knew it, is fading fast; Of course, this was to be expected but it is quite difficult to imagine what it will be like until the actual experience unmistakably knocks on the door of present time and unfortunately, when it knocks, you can’t do anything but open the door and let it in.

Unsurprisingly, it is incredibly difficult to witness and interact with a person who is losing most all recollections, the stuff of which, you come to realize, is what defines a person and allows you to more or less have the opportunity to seamlessly interact with him or her.

In the last number of months, I have perhaps been more silent than usual because there is only so much I can and want to think about when it comes to my mother’s decline. I talk to her nearly every day and I have decided for now, that is enough.

But I am retreating out of my silence after reading a refreshingly honest, though still somewhat timid piece on Alzheimer in the NYTimes, entitled Zen and the Art of Coping With Alzheimer’s

The piece is striking because it offers a more realistic portrayal of the disease than most mainstream media accounts and it provides some really sound advice about the importance of just letting go and going with the flow when interacting with those with Alzheimers.

At the same time, it lacks a certain window into just how disheartening and hard it can be to witness the decline, and how hard it can be to manage those conversations and interactions.

On the whole, I try to go with the flow. For example, I recently returned from a visit and soon after I left, my mother forgot I was even there. She started to ask me over and over again when I was coming home for a visit and when I told her I was just there, her semi-humorous reaction was “well, why didn’t anyone tell me?” (and then proceeded to castigate her caretaker for not telling her!!).

Perhaps I did not stay long enough, or perhaps her lack of recall would happen no matter what. To hear she forgot shook me hard and deeply. The first time I realized she could not remember I had just visited, I was able to jog her memory by listing off all that we did together. Finally, when I mentioned that I bought a new refrigerator while in PR, something clicked. She is still worried about money, so buying a refrigerator was enough to remind her I had spent a lot of money.

But after it was clear that she felt quite bad about not remembering, I knew that was the first and last time I would try to “jog” her memory. Instead, I will merge and mold my reality to her reality, as much as I can and assure her that I will soon visit.

August 10, 2007

For those in .nl and interested in pedagogy

Category: Academic,F/OSS,Teaching,Tech — Biella @ 10:08 am

Pedagogical faultlines, being held in Amsterdamn in mid-September, re-examines pedagogy in light of new media technologies as well as traditional institutions…. Hopefully they will have the programme up soon, but it certainly looks quite intriguing.

August 4, 2007

F/OSS projects as educational institutions

Category: F/OSS,Research,Tech — Biella @ 9:10 am

Free software projects are informal (though becoming more formal) institutions that function in multiple capacities. Foremost, they are sites that facilitate the production and distribution of technology but they certainly allow for and produce all sorts of other social facts and processes. And one of the most important is that free software projects function as quasi-educational institutions that are structured quite differently from formal educational institutions. And this blog entry by Justin Podur that reviews a book by Alfie Kohn of alternative eduction, reminded me just how much F/OSS projects are informal educational spaces but deviate significantly from traditional learning.

I have more thoughts on the type of “schooling” F/OSS allows but since I am moving to my new apt. in a few hours, it will have to wait until later.

August 3, 2007

Puerto Rican Folk Music

Category: Music,Puerto Rico,Tech — Biella @ 12:30 pm

The downside of NYC is that it is pricey but the upside is that there are a lot of free events to balance out the equation. Last night, I went to one of such free events at Lincoln center to see one of my favorite Puerto Rican folk singers, Roy Brown who was opening for Arlo Guthrie

During Roy Brown’s last song, he called out another folk singer who I had never heard of Tao Rodriguez-Seeger to join him and I think that was probably one of my favorite songs of the night.

Tao who comes from a family of folk singer types, usually performs with The Mammals and less frequently with The Anarchist Orchestra.

His voice, at least in Spanish, is resounding and overpowering yet at the same time sports a certain type of gentle softness. It is striking and beautiful. If you like folk music, in English or Spanish, I would check him out. Here is a clip of a song recorded with Tito Auger and Roy Brown and a link to their recent complilation CD.