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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31 December 2003

More evidence (if more were needed) that search engines like Google have a certain amount of unaccountable power. A satirical site that (among many other things) passed on instructions on how to make a search for ‘miserable failure’ come back with a George Bush page found that “it had been banned from using Google to advertise”:http://www.blather.net/shitegeist/000169.htm. It turns out you can’t place ads using Google for a site criticising an individual unless the site is clearly labelled “satire”. Of course the site still turns up in Google searches…

It’s possible that it wasn’t so much the anti-Bush sentiment that annoyed Google’s ad staff as the encitement to ‘game’ Google.

29 December 2003

A ‘display’ that projects images in thin air? That you can actually manipulate by hand?

It exists, apparently. No word yet from its creators at “IO2 Technology”:http://www.io2technology.com/ about when we might be able to buy this…

28 December 2003

At least according to an article in The Economist which discusses how it still turns up in some surprising places today. I spent three years studying Latin in school and have found it surprisingly useful.

26 December 2003

In the highly thought-provoking The Death of Horatio Alger economist and scourge of the Bush administration “Paul Krugman”:http://www.wws.princeton.edu/~pkrugman/ has found unlikely support for his concern about the increasing stratification of US society in Business Week. The original “Business Week article”:http://www.everyvoice.net/blogs/kevin/archives/000046.html has been copied into someone else’s weblog since BW only provides the current week’s issue online for free.

A recent survey cited in the BW article found sons from the bottom three-quarters of the socioeconomic scale were significantly less likely to move up in the 1990s than in the 1970s – for example among those whose fathers were in the bottom income quartile, only 10 percent were in the top quarter in 1998 compared to 23 percent in 1973.

There’s (a lot) more discussion about equality of opportunity and equality of outcome at “Crooked Timber”:http://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/001040.html (which is where I found this link originally).

25 December 2003

Here’s an uplifting idea for Christmas – Humanitarian Information for All. Some are intent on putting the world’s literature online (copyright permitting) – “Project Gutenberg”:http://promo.net/pg/ and the “million book project”:http://www.archive.org/texts/texts.php for example. Others like the “International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications”:http://www.inasp.org.uk/, “BioMedCentral”:http://www.biomedcentral.com/ and the “Public Library of Science”:http://www.publiclibraryofscience.org/ are attempting in various ways to make the latest in scientific (and particularly medical) research widely available.

The Humanitarian Information for All project has a simpler and more focused goal – ‘to provide all persons involved in development, well-being and basic needs, access to a complete library containing most solutions, know-how and ideas they need to tackle poverty and increase the human potential.’ At the moment because of the cost of Internet access to developing countries they are doing this by producing CD-ROMs. The total budget for the last four years has been around $200,000 – I hope that given the apparent usefulness of the project they get enough funding to complete it.
Thanks to Danny O’Brien’s Oblomovka for the link

23 December 2003
Filed under:Academia,Personal,Weblogs at1:13 pm

me w books.jpg
I have just finished my library run for the holidays and as you can see my stack of material to read is pretty formidable. I have done a quick count and found I have a little over 5,000 pages of academic text to read in less than a month (not counting any of the papers I have downloaded that I may want to read).

Somewhere before mid-January I will also have to produce 10 to 15 pages on how Bourdieu’s ideas of symbolic capital – particularly notions of field and habitus – relate to the production of personal home pages and weblogs, mark six essays and prepare to teach an undergrad course at the London College of Printing.

Of course, I am somewhat exaggerating the travails of this holiday season – I have already dipped into several of the books and some of the others I signed out on the off chance they might be useful and will probably not get around to reading. Above all, several of the books are collections of essentially separate chapters, so I won’t need to read them all (and anyway I like reading – if I didn’t, would I do a “PhD”:http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/media@lse/study/mPhilPhDMediaAndCommunications.htm?)

FWIW the books I have taken home to read are hidden below:

22 December 2003

David Wilcox posts a link to “twelve academic reports about technology and everyday life in Europe”:http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/EMTEL/plan.html recently published by the “European Media and Everyday Life Network”:http://www.emtel2.org/ and suggests given their usefulness that a user-friendly version should have been written. Indeed it should but one could argue that it is not necessarily the role of the academic to produce such a summary.

To some extent the complexity of the language does stem from the fact that the papers are aimed directly at an academic audience and only indirectly at the wider public (as “Prof Roger Silverstone”:http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/media@lse/whosWho/rogerSilverstone.htm, one of the report’s authors, responded).

As far as I can make out there are four possible paths from academic research to policy:

  • paper -> policy (rare – as papers are usually not widely read or readable outside their intended audience)
  • paper -> journalist/writer -> policy (here is where hopefully someone like David Wilcox or myself might fit in)
  • paper -> academically-trained civil servant -> policy (does this happen often? I hope so, but lack evidence)
  • paper -> academics -> students who eventually become politicians/activists/journalists etc (the ‘mainstream’ way academic knowledge gets used – rather slow and indirect but, I hope, effective)

I would be curious to hear from my readers which road to academic policy influence is most effective and how academics with interest in policy could help the process along.

Getting back to these particular reports, many academic papers these days come with abstracts – a hundred words or so providing a summary of what the research has found – and often keywords as well, for integrating into databases. It is a shame that the ‘house style’ in this instance seems to be not to have such a summary. There are abstracts for the project reports but these are easy to overlook on the report web page and they are themselves several pages long.

David Wilcox’s observations point to a possible need for a second abstract for academic papers aimed at policy questions – one that tries to give the layman an idea of the paper’s findings without touching on the theoretical background- even if all that does is get the layman to ask an academic friend to take a look at it for them!

21 December 2003
Filed under:Arts Reviews,Humour & Entertainment at3:12 pm


I recently heard this lot in the Royal Festival Hall and you’ve never heard “Kate Bush”:http://gaffa.org/’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ until you’ve heard it played by The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain – take my word for it!

20 December 2003
Filed under:Gadgets,Personal at5:28 pm

Having read Popular Photography’s “buyer’s guide”:http://www.popphoto.com/article.asp?section_id=2&article_id=780 I am now more confused than ever. It “singles out”:http://www.popphoto.com/assets/download/12182003163311.pdf the camera I wanted saying, ‘The Minolta DiMAGE Xt is a wonderful little 3.2MP camera, full of fun features. But for just about the same money these days, you can get Minolta’s DiMAGE S414, a standard compact with all the Xt’s features and more—as well as a full 4MP of resolving power.’ It’s true that the S414 – “reviewed here”:http://www.dcresource.com/reviews/cameraDetail.php?cam=460 – is about the same price with an extra MP of resolution (and seems cheaper than competing 4MP cameras) but is it cheaper for a reason? Having looked at dozens of reviews for different cameras I don’t know what to think any more…

And practical though it might be, it lacks the ‘coo what a neat little camera’ factor as well.

Filed under:Gadgets,Personal at12:24 pm

I’ve been wanting a proper digital camera for a while now (I have a camcorder that can capture 1MP digital images but the results aren’t that great). For a while I was tempted by the “NISIS DV4”:http://www.nisis.com/Products/DigitalCameras/DV4.asp since it can act as a webcam and a storage device and even an MP3 player and is reasonably cheap (£109 from Amazon) but I knew it was what the Brits call a ‘mug’s eyeful’ – lots of features but nothing likely to work terribly well. It only has a 2MP resolution for example which is hardly state of the art these days.

Then I heard about the “Minolta Dimage XT”:http://www.dcresource.com/reviews/minolta/dimage_xt-review/index.shtml via the message boards on “dpreview”:http://www.dpreview.com/ (available in the UK for a little over £200).

It is a 3MP camera small enough to take with you anywhere, has a 3x zoom (surprisingly omitted from some of the low-end digital cameras I have looked at), and works as a webcam (though admittedly a separate webcam would only cost around £25).

A few questions arise, though –
1) Is the Minolta the best small digital camera in this price range or is there another that would be significantly better (without costing significantly more?) Does anyone know if Minolta plans to upgrade it again within a month or two or if some wonderful new cameras are due shortly? The Minolta has been out since the middle of the year.
2) I already have a nice little Canon Elph APS film camera (the original Elph). My wife says it’s a perfectly serviceable camera and a new digital camera wouldn’t give any better images (might in fact be worse) and that we don’t need any more gadgets anyway. Is she right? Should I just get a DV4 to muck about with and wait another year? What other persuasive arguments can I use to justify the purchase of this desireable piece of kit (or its equivalent)? You’ve got to help me out here, guys!

P.S. If you’re looking for a last-minute stocking stuffer, may I recommend the very fine slim volume I wrote earlier this year pictured in the column on the right – “Dealing with E-mail”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0789495392/blogorg-20 – a bargain at £6 or $7?

P.P.S. So far I have received exactly nothing in the way of recompense from the thousands of people who read my site weekly. I don’t do this for any financial reward but if one of you did feel inclined to give me something for Christmas it would certainly encourage me to continue and fill me with the Christmas spirit. The cheapest items on my Amazon wish list start at less than £10 – they wouldn’t arrive by Christmas at this point but I’m not fussy!

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