Kolob Reservoir, Utah (August, 2012).

For this edition of my occasional “five things” series, I’m trying out a twist on the usual theme (ideas, places, people, or things that I’ve run across in the preceding week) by discussing five things I’ll learn about next week.  So, without further ado, here are five things I am excited to encounter in the coming days…

  1. CHI and CrowdCamp – I’m headed to Austin, Texas at the end of the week to present at CHI and participate in the CrowdCamp workshop. The lineup and agenda for CrowdCamp look incredibly exciting – the plan is to rapidly brainstorm, design, and (if possible) implement crowdsourcing projects. Given the past accomplishments of many of the other people who will be in the room, I’m excited!
  2. New Zion Missionary Church (no website) – As part of my Austin trip, I hope to make a pilgrimage or two to as many of the regional holy sites of barbecue as I possibly can. In the case of New Zion Missionary Baptist Church (link points to a 2010 review on the Full Custom Gospel BBQ blog), I have heard that the slow smoked brisket can sometimes resemble a religious experience.
  3. May Day Occupy actions in New York – Tuesday marks the first of May and, so it seems, a day of rebirth for the Occupy Movement. A few friends will be attending the New York actions and I’ll try to remember to link to anything they write or photograph.
  4. The Onyx Boox M92 – Perhaps as a result of the extra attention that went to Mako’s setup a couple of weeks ago, I’ve succumbed and ordered my own e-book reader. I chose the Onyx Boox M92 because it checked all the boxes that mattered to me (linux based, large E-ink screen,  file format agnostic, vendor agnostic, and not reinforcing the Amazon empire) and because it seems to compare well against similar devices.
  5. Calibre – Mako and Alan Toner kindly introduced me to Calibre – a very widely adopted and popular piece of free software to manage e-reader libraries -  this afternoon, but I won’t really start playing with it until my reader arrives next week.

Twisted logic

October 22, 2008

From the stranger than fiction department:

  • Microsoft decides that the middle of a financial melt-down is a good time to punish Chinese users of unlicensed copies of Windows by turning on some really annoying spy-ware.
  • The folks who use the unlicensed software react virulently to Redmond’s latest (and long-predicted) move in their Quixotic crusade against piracy.

I hope some Linux evangelist somewhere is capitalizing on this opportunity.

Hardly news at this point. IP Watch has the story and a link to the ISO’s press release (PDF).

Nevertheless, the NY Times coverage is noteworthy if only because it takes such an uninterested, bland stance on such a live controversy. The article, by Kevin J. O’Brien, conveniently overlooks the “irregularities” of the vote and the composition of the voting committees in favor of a Fox-esque “fair and balanced” critique of the lobbying done by all involved:

The tally reversed a loss by Microsoft in first-round voting before an 87-nation panel in September, a process that involved blunt lobbying by both sides toward members of national standards committees — typically made up of technicians, engineers and bureaucrats.

No mention of the Norweigian controversy, no mention of Jomar Silva’s revelations, no mention of the wave of last-minute abstentions, and absolutely no concern as to whether or not Microsoft may have run roughshod over ISO member opinion in getting OOXML “fast-tracked”, broken multilateral treaties, or duplicated an (approved and transparent) standard like ODF in the process. Nope, none of that is important to the Times. That kind of hard-nosed analysis should win an award for mediocrity.

 Use ODF Today!

Liberate your documents today for Document Freedom Day. It’s a great time to make the switch away from software that only saves your files in proprietary formats. After all, you never know when that next software update might suddenly render all your old work “incompatible” with that shiny new word processor you just got.

Instead of risking the high costs and wasted time of converting those old files to the new proprietary format (that will probably screw up their formatting anyway), take the chance to learn about document formats that embrace open standards like ODF.

I liberated my own documents about two years ago and never looked back. These days, I use a combination of NeoOffice, TextEdit, and Google Docs to meet all of my office productivity needs.

Everybody and their cousin’s got a link to Duncan Watt’s recent NYTimes Magazine piece on cumulative advantage. It’s a nice bit of public sociology and an interesting application of experimental methods to understand how social networks function.

The argument also has implications for the ongoing debates about the nature of the networked public sphere. Watt’s results suggest that there may be some merit to the position of folks like U Chicago’s Cass Sunstein, who claims that big media has historically promoted civic virtues by exposing us to ideas we wouldn’t encounter by googling alone. If, as Watts says, people’s interests are over-determined by knowledge of what is popular, then search algorithms predicated on popularity (like “PageRank“) could produce a feedback mechanism that stifles diversity in public debate. To adopt Matthew Hindman’s phrase, we’d be left with “googlearchy.”

Yochai Benkler has disagreed with both of these views for a while [full disclosure: I currently work as a research assistant for Benkler], in part because they both idealize the state of public discourse prior to the creation of the Internet. Watt’s data could just as easily be turned around to make the claim that traditional print media and television – much like the recording industry – were giving us a false impression of popularity (or importance) that only reflected the prejudices of a handful of editors and industry executives. By disseminating these perspectives widely, the big media therefore imposed an elitist politics and outlook on the public as a whole.

I’ll have to do some more thinking and reading to figure out where I fall on this issue – but for the moment, studies like Watts’ shed important light on the complex nature of social networks and reputation on the role of information in society.

AdaDigital put out the news yesterday on the Projeto Software Livre Brasil (PSL-BR) mailing list that representative Walter Pinheiro (PT) from the state of Bahia will be the new president (story in Portuguese) of the federal Science, Technology, Communications and Informatics Commission (Comissão da Ciênça, Tecnologia, Comunicação e Informática or CCTCI). The position had formerly been held by Júlio Semeghini (PSDB-SP). Computerworld Brasil also runs the story here.

Orwellian bureaucratic nomenclature aside, this is big news for those concerned with Brazilian telecommunications and the Brazilian Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) Community. Pinheiro has been battling to advance a federal FOSS agenda since back in 1999, when he attended the original meeting of the group that would become the PSL in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul. As described in his online bio, he has an extensive background as a telecommunications engineer and manager – qualifications that enabled him to recognize the technical and political possibilities of non-proprietary technologies early on. Since then, he has remained a staunch ally and leader of the FOSS-advocates within the congress, sponsoring numerous legislative attempts to mandate FOSS adoption and democratize Brazil’s crony-ridden telecommunications system.

The big, obvious question is, what powers does the commission wield? I’m not entirely certain on the details yet, but this recent story in the Folha de São Paulo claims they have authority over radio and television spectrum concessions. Furthermore, from the looks of this file (PDF), it appears that the CCTCI (with a numerous contributions from Pinheiro) sponsored the creation of the FUST (or Telecommunications Services Universalization Fund) way back in 1997. Finally passed in 2000, the FUST imposed a 1% tax on telecommunications revenues throughout the country in order to create a restricted fund that could only be used to pay for national-level telecom access improvement projects (e.g. getting internet access into marginalized communities). By 2004, the fund had accumulated over R$3 Billion. This Global Information Society Watch report, authored by RITS founder Carlos Alfonso, says that as of 2007 the FUST held over US$2.8 Billion.

The FUST has long represented a point of contention within the Congress. Basically, it is a political cash cow for whoever gets to determine its disbursement, a fact recognized by both FOSS advocates and proprietary IT interests. As a result, the fund remains largely untouched. While CCTCI – and by extension, Pinheiro – may not hold final authority over FUST, he may use his new position to bring the issue renewed attention and to criticize ongoing private sector attempts to use the fund to advance their own narrow interests.

If nothing else, Pinheiro will certainly utilize his new post to promote the democratization of the telecommunications sector in general. Following the original announcement, Ada posted another story from the Congressional News Service in which Pinheiro described plans to hold “the first annual National Communications Conference” later this year. While events like this happen all the time in Brasilia and should be greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism, Pinheiro has the connections and the vision to build something bigger.

i’ll try to keep this more or less up to date – until Zotero gets that sharing functionality they’ve promised us…then it’s all over.

geekin’ out.

After struggling with Refworks for about a year, I am now a convert to Zotero – a free and open reference management program that runs right out of Firefox.

That’s why I got very excited when I saw the news at Dan Cohen’s blog that Zotero would be teaming up with the Internet Archive.

Geekin’ out.

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