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 June 2004

Ethan Zuckerman “posts”:http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/ethan/2004/06/13#a222 about a thought-provoking lecture by “Guido Sohne”:http://sohne.net/ on the limitations of open source development in Africa. It’s worth reading his whole post but I will just note that Guido suggests open source development is limited in Africa because African programmers are too busy trying to earn a basic living to donate their time to creating open source code. Similarly, providing free wireless Internet access as many are doing as a volunteer effort around the developed world is much more difficult when the cost of providing that access relative to income is much higher in Africa.

In other words a lot of the benevolence we often take for granted online and consider part of the Internet culture actually relies on a certain economic base where programmers have free time and energy to work on projects they consider worthwhile and bandwidth and computing resources are ‘too cheap to meter’.

For a more optimistic view check out Dan Gillmor’s eJournal – Open Source a No-Brainer for Developing World.

Thanks to “Boingboing”:http://boingboing.net/2003_09_01_archive.html#106356200472733745 for the latter link

18 June 2004
Filed under:Email discoveries at9:47 am

I like Seb’s idea of giving Gmail in exchange for “random acts of benevolence”:http://ming.tv/flemming2.php/__show_article/_a000010-001169/ but I would not be averse to receiving payment for my invitation either – I haven’t earned a penny from four years of producing this blog (though it was not produced for profit). If you can provide installation and hosting of a WordPress weblog that would be particularly interesting to me.

(Cartoon notwithstanding I am not looking for a date!)

17 June 2004

Seb Paquet references an “interesting paper”:http://www.arl.org/arl/proceedings/138/guedon.html on the history of scientific publishing and the impact of ISI ranking. It points out how assigning numerical rankings to measure academic quality distorts the way that academic research is published.

What that paper doesn’t mention – at least not in ch 6 which Seb highlighted – is that because high citation ranking = $ many journals end up “gaming” their impact factors by choosing the kind of papers they publish in order to maximise it, which has unintended consequences. If a journal has 10 papers that it knows will be highly cited it may limit the number of other papers it accepts for example to try not to ‘dilute’ its impact factor.

It’s the same with the ranking systems used by Google and by weblog ranking search engines. If there are benefits to being scored highly, human nature being what it is people will try to maximise their scores. Yet because the ranking is ‘automatic’ it is often assumed to be value neutral and therefore above criticism.

16 June 2004

“David Wilcox”:http://partnerships.typepad.com/civic/2003/02/about_david_wil.html, consultant on ICT use by the community and voluntary sector, talks about a new review of the literature on community informatics in the UK by veteran UK academics Barry Loader and Leigh Keeble.

It makes disturbing (though not surprising) reading, indicating that despite the Government’s best efforts these programmes often don’t reach the most excluded and rarely increase civic engagement (except among the already engaged). Take a look at the “summary of the report”:http://www.jrf.org.uk/knowledge/findings/socialpolicy/584.asp or “download it as a PDF”:http://www.jrf.org.uk/bookshop/eBooks/1859351980.pdf

In amongst the gloom and doom there are some suggestions for better practice in future – siting internet access centres in the community rather than in libraries or colleges and organizing training around people’s perceived needs rather than forcing them into formal courses for example – both designed to attract people who have had negative experiences with formal education.

Underlying my own research is a belief that ICT can have an emancipatory effect – for some at least – but that mere provision of the technology (closing the ‘access divide’) is not enough. Community informatics programmes must lean much more heavily towards the ‘community’ in their titles if they are to succeed.

Also see “this earlier blog posting”:https://blog.org/archives/000990.html on similar research. Some there suggest that while library access may not be a good way for new people to access online resources long term it may have a useful role in introducing people to online resources. I still have my doubts but take a look at the two reports cited there and let me know what you think…

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.

14 June 2004

The Guardian has a new weekly “Improbable Research column”:http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/research/improbable which is introduced by the hyper-active editor of the “AIR”:http://www.improbable.com/, Marc Abrahams (he gives a potted history of his involvement in the first column). So now there’s a “paper magazine”:http://www.improbable.com/navstrip/subscribe.html a “website”:http://www.improbable.com/ the “Guardian column”:http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/research/improbable and, of course, a “weblog”:http://improbable.typepad.com/, all dedicated to the discussion of amusing stories to do with the stranger reaches of the pursuit of science.

And if you like that you might also take a look at “Feedback”:http://www.newscientist.com/opinion/opfeedback.jsp;jsessionid=DJEHNEAGEIKH?id=ns244999 from a fine magazine I used to work on – “New Scientist”:http://www.newscientist.com/.

13 June 2004

It promises ‘almost 200 television and radio channels and interactive services’ (I’m guessing mostly radio channels and time-shifted free channels) for £150 including installation starting later this year. The press release is “here”:http://www.corporate-ir.net/ireye/ir_site.zhtml?ticker=BSY.UK&script=415&layout=0&item_id=580035.

The part I find particularly interesting is the fact that Sky’s boxes have a modem. As they point out, ‘All Sky digiboxes contain an integrated modem and therefore are capable of accessing online services including e-mail, SMS text messaging and public service information from Directgov.’ I wish them every success since the government foolishly failed to mandate modems for terrestrial DTV set top boxes (see “a previous blog.org posting”:https://blog.org/archives/cat_digital_tv.html#000924) and thereby missed a chance to tackle the digital divide.

Thanks to Tech Digest for the news

12 June 2004
Filed under:Academia,Personal at1:29 pm

School’s out for the summer/ School’s out for ever? Yesterday I took the last exam I ever expect to take. In a sense, my life as a student is over and my life as a teacher is beginning.

Of course, the transition is not as clear as that – on the one hand I am still a PhD ‘student’ – but the supervisor/student relationship is very different to the student/teacher one. And on the other hand I have already been teaching this year at the “London College of Communication”:http://www.arts.ac.uk/253_257.htm (though I hope to do a lot more teaching next year there and at my own institution, the “LSE”:http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/pressAndInformationOffice/aboutLSE/information.htm).

Still, I feel different now. And I look forward to the exciting challenges ahead!

11 June 2004

US radio show “The Connection”:http://www.theconnection.org/ had an hour-long “show recently”:http://www.theconnection.org/shows/2004/05/20040517_b_main.asp about gun violence in the US which kills more Americans than the war in Iraq. The main guest was a middle-class black guy who chose to remain in the wrong neighborhood and whose son (who wasn’t involved with gangs) was senselessly killed by one. An LA Times reporter who covered the incident was also on the programme – the story she wrote about it is here.

She revealed some interesting facts on the programme (though without references it is difficult to vouch for their accuracy).
* The homicide rate for white women across the US is 2-3/100,000 but for young black men in LA it is 275/100,000.
* For all the concern about gun violence generally in the US, white people there are as safe as Europeans – it’s predominantly black people in poor neighborhoods who are dying.
* It isn’t just about teens killing teens either – black men in their 40s have a higher homicide rate than under-18s.
* Deaths due to gang violence are predominantly a problem for blacks – not nearly so much of a problem for whites or latinos even when they are in gangs.

10 June 2004

Want to check up on yourself? FutureMe.org will send you an email with whatever text you want at some future date. So you can remind yourself not to eat that chocolate bar or to start studying for that test or whatever.

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