Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

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19 September 2004
Filed under:About the Internet,Academia,Personal at11:17 pm

The first day of the “AoIR conference”:http://www.aoir.org/2004/ didn’t start until the afternoon but already I’ve met several stimulating people and am really looking forward to the next few days. It’s so nice to be surrounded by smart people who care about the social implications of the Internet and think in academic terms. The LSE has a fair number of these as well of course but it’s nice to meet new faces to bounce new ideas off of and to meet face to face the people whose work I have admired.

Today’s keynote speaker was “Ted Nelson”:http://xanadu.com.au/ted/, who certainly dreams big dreams (but maybe tries to dream too many at once)! I had hoped to give you a picture of him in full flow but discovered that my camera’s batteries are flat. Maybe tomorrow…

18 September 2004
Filed under:About the Internet,Academia,Personal at10:00 pm

I’m off tomorrow to Internet Research 5.0: Ubiquity? the “Association of Internet Researchers”:http://www.aoir.org/’ 5th annual conference – my first major academic conference, in fact. I won’t be delivering a paper there, alas, but I look forward to meeting many of my fellow Internet-studing academics over the next four days.

I may even take some pictures, but don’t expect instant blogging as there is no wireless access.

P.S. A reminder – please if you read this and are British and have a home page or weblog go “take my survey”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_best_of_blogorg.html#001250!

14 September 2004

If you are based in the UK and have a personal home page (this includes weblogs and journals), please visit this home page creation survey and fill it in – it should only take you ten minutes.

If you are an academic I would also be interested to know what you think of it as a survey and how I might improve it (bearing in mind it is only a very rough pilot at the moment!), and if you have a weblog or home pages (anywhere but particularly one that might be seen by Brits) please publicise this survey on your site. The survey will only be up for a month (or less, if I get enough respondents before then).

I don’t expect to publish anything from it as the sample size will be too small and it is very open-ended at the moment so I can get some idea of the kinds of answers people give, but if anything interesting comes out you will hear about it here.

P.S. I am using “QuestionPro”:http://www.questionpro.com/ to do this survey, which from what I have found appears to be one of the best options around for serious surveys (I did some earlier “investigation of survey software options”:http://blog.org/archives/001183.html). If you want to try it out too, please “contact me”:http://davidbrake.org/contact.htm so I can invite you (I would get $10 if you end up using it).

31 July 2004

If the “description of Cybergypsies I gave earlier”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_arts_reviews.html#001171 piqued your curiosity there is an interview with the author of Cybergypsies, Indra Singha on “The Well”:http://well.com in a part of it that is open to the public – “inkwell”:http://engaged.well.com/engaged.cgi?c=inkwell.vue where lots of author interviews take place (his is number 52). It turns out that the promotional website he created for the book has been (incompletely) captured via the “Internet Archive”:http://web.archive.org/web/20010610025144/www.wiseserpent.com/cybergypsies/menu.html and what do you know – the multi-user dungeon he spent much of his time in is “still running”:http://games.world.co.uk/shades/!

19 July 2004

The Cybergypsies : A True Tale of Lust, War, & Betrayal on the Electronic Frontier by Indra Sinha is yet another book about unusual experiences online but with several key points of interest. Many such books were written by over-excited US journalists who just dipped into that world. This was written by someone based in the UK who had a life outside the online world (a responsible job, wife and child) but who got very involved in online communities. It’s also of some historical interest because he was writing about the pre-Internet online world where being online 24/7 wouldn’t just cost you time but a considerable amount of money.

He gives an interesting, colourful and personal glimpse of what life online was like back then for some but though the book appears to be an autobiography it is written in a deliberately poetical/impressionistic style leaving the reader uncertain how much of what they’ve read they can believe.

If there is someone out there reading this blog who was around online in the UK back in the early to mid 90s, hung out on Shades or the Vortex, met ‘bear’ there and has read the book I would be interested in your comments (public or private). How was he seen in those communities after he published? I have a feeling I have met one or two people who were there…

15 June 2004

I wish I had the time to do a proper write-up of the NotCon session I attended featuring Brewster Kahle, the man behind the Internet Archive whose mission is nothing less than to provide universal access to all human knowledge. Here is some stuff I noted instead.

Some interesting factoids from his presentation:

* There are 150,000 people using the Internet Archive per day. It stores 3-400Tb of data and recently upgraded to 1Gbps bandwidth.
* There were 300,000 to 600,000 scrolls in the Library at Alexandria. Only around eight of them are left.
* You can store the contents of the Library of Congress as plaintext (if you had scanned it all) on a machine costing $60,000.
* The bookmobile he produced that is connected to the Internet via satellite, travels the world and produces complete bound books from a collection of 20,000 public domain works cost just $15,000 – and that includes the van itself.
* He says that it costs him $1 to print and bind a public domain book – I assumed the books produced would be very rough and ready but he brought some along and they were almost as good as the kind you’d buy in a shop. I suspect he may be stretching the truth a bit – I believe the $1 a book cost he quotes is for an 100 page black and white printed booklet. It’s still impressive though especially as:
* He notes it costs US libraries $2 to issue a book. He suggests they could give people copies of public domain books for $1 instead and pay another $1 to the author to compensate them.

Like many geniuses he just doesn’t know when to stop and thankfully he has a private income from a dotcom or two he was involved with that enables him to try out lots of projects. Aside from archiving the web, movies, books and music he’s:

* taking the US to court to try to get their boneheaded copyright laws changed
* working on mirrors of his San Francisco-based archive in Alexandria and Amsterdam (hosted there by XS4all)
* encouraging anyone to upload anything to his archive (copyright permitting) offering unlimited bandwidth indefinitely (though the site doesn’t make it very easy to figure out how you are supposed to take advantage of this generous offer) including performance recordings of bands that have given their permission.
* Trying to collect and save old software (he got special dispensation from the US copyright office to do this for the next three years but can’t make it available). He does want your old software however so if you’ve got some he would like you to send it to him – in physical form with manuals where available. He’s even
* Trying to provide fast, free wifi across all of San Francisco.

He’s so hyperactive my fingers get sore just typing in all of the projects he is involved with! I worry that he’s taking on too much and that some of it may fall by the wayside if something happens to him. But his enthusiasm and his optimism are infectious. I am pleased to have been able to shake his hand.

P.S. Ironically, I recorded his presentation and have it in MP3 format but because it was 21Mb I can’t serve it myself and so far nobody has stepped forward to host the file. I finally found how to upload it but then discovered I deleted the original file once I passed it on to someone else to upload! So I hope someone still has them – if it does get posted I’ll tell you where.

6 June 2004

I have been rather jealous to read about all the net-related conferences in the US I have had to miss but NotCon in London made up a lot of ground for me – it was the most stimulating nine hours I have spent in ages. I’ll post more about it over the next week I am sure, meanwhile here are few pretty dreadful (but quickly uploaded!) “pictures from the event”:http://community.webshots.com/album/150042801KUvpqS.

I’m sure there will be lots more “weblog postings about NotCon”:http://www.technorati.com/cosmos/search.html?rank=&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.xcom2002.com%2Fnc04%2F&sub=Go%21 (or “here”:http://www.technorati.com/cosmos/search.html?rank=&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.notcon04.com%2F&sub=Go%21) as soon as the rest of the bloggers get home and start chatting about it.

14 May 2004

American NPR radio show The Connection interviews George Packer, who recently “criticised blogging”:http://www.motherjones.com/commentary/columns/2004/05/04_200.html in Mother Jones. Alas it isn’t really a very interesting article or programme. To summarise:
_George_: Political weblogs are addictive but offer little substance – they just offer opinions about opinions off the top of the authors’ heads without editing, thoughtfulness or useful additional evidence.
_Bloggers_: That’s not always true – check out these sites
_George_: Well, OK – some blogs are useful, but most are time wasting.

See “here”:http://www.technorati.com/cosmos/search.html?rank=&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.motherjones.com%2Fcommentary%2Fcolumns%2F2004%2F05%2F04_200.html&sub=Go%21 for lots more blog commentary about George’s Mother Jones piece (much of which seems to unwittingly support his thesis).

5 May 2004

I can’t improve on the Berkman Centre’s blog entry:

An international team of researchers has launched a new program to map censorship of the Internet.  The Open Net Initiative — a partnership of the Berkman Center, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Toronto — has formally begun tracking international filtering of the Internet.  As the Berkman Center’s Jonathan Zittrain explains, “The aim of the ONI is to excavate, analyze, and report censorship and surveillance practices in a rigorous, ongoing fashion.”  Read more about the project in this News Release.

3 May 2004

Eric Lee makes an interesting argument – he suggests virus writers are targetting working class people (because they don’t have the money for anti-virus software and are less lilely to have the time to develop the experience or skills to avoid viruses). I can’t see that virus writers actually bear working class people any ill will but I do think it is worth pointing out viruses as one more reason why use of the Internet is less likely among the working class.

I disagree with his suggestion following on from this that unions and other service organizations should be promoting open source software to the working class as a way for them to avoid vulnerability to viruses. As I have “said earlier”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_open_source.html#000215 because it is still not fully user-friendly it may be difficult to train non-computer literate (or indeed semi-literate) people to use. I also worry about whether the basic skills Linux users learn will be useful if they enter the world of work where the environment is Windows.

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