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Archive for March, 2007

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What Shakespeare meant

At, I’ve posted about the joy of reading an edition of Hamlet that surfaces hundreds of years of scholarly disputes about the meaning of Shakespeare’s words, disputes that often are without resolution. We don’t know what the old bird/bard meant, but that’s all the more reason to love him! [Tags: ]

What Shakespeare meant

I’ve been having an unnaturally good time going through the Hamlet Variorum (Horace Howard Furness, ed.), which annotates the play with the commentary and disputes that have gone on for hundreds of years. For reasons I don’t understand, I’m made quite happy by reading that the great scholars have suggested that when the Gentleman in Act IV, Scene 5, line 101 says “The ratifiers and props of every word,” there are reasons to think that Shakespeare might actually have meant the last word to be ward, weal, work, worth or wont. Likewise, I am brought joy by the nearly two pages of fine-print dispute over the line “He smote the sledded Polacks on the ice” (I,i, 63). “Sledded Polacks”? Sliding Polacks? Sleaded battle axe, although we don’t know what “sleaded” meant? A pole-axe lined with lead? And if he meant Poles on sleds, what the hell were they doing on sleds? What with three folios to choose from, and the possibility that errors were introduced in transcription and by compositors, not to mention the lack of spelling standards, there’s no shortage of ways the existing texts could misreflect Shakespeare’s intentions.

I truly don’t understand why I enjoy this so much. It is not a devilish delight in finding that we really don’t understand a prominent member of the canon. I love Hamlet all the more for having its ambiguity exposed. Truly. Obviously, the richness of Shakespeare’s work has always meant there are an indefinite number of ways a performance can make sense of the script. A performance can always surprise you. The fact that Hamlet can either be indecisive or a man of action, crazy or feigning, a person of feeling or reason — and, yes, I have my own preferences — is not a weakness of the play. It means there’s always more to discover. And each successful interpretation thrills us with sense-making as the ultimate creative act. But finding that there are historical ambiguities that are simple matters of fact — Shakespeare meant something by “sledded Polacks” — should diminish our enjoyment of the text, like finding out that Bach spilled coffee on the original score of one of his cantatas so we can’t be sure what some of the notes are.

But it doesn’t feel that way to me. Perhaps it’s because the difficulty of Shakespearean language has always meant that I can’t understand it word by word. The meaning has always had to emerge line by line, scene by scene; the language’s distance requires work on our part to hear it at all. Discovering a set of possible meanings for words adds clarity without determination: Here are five different things Shakespeare might have meant by a phrase I didn’t understand, didn’t pay attention to, or had projected the easiest meaning onto: Poles on sleds.

The Hamlet Variorum comes in two volumes. The first contains the full text of the play, including notes on the differences in the quartos and the critical annotations. The second contains source materials. I only have the first volume. It’s a Dover reprint so it’s even moderately priced at $13. I highly recommend it. [Tags: ]

NewAssignment’s new assignment

Jay Rosen’s well-thought-through project in citizen journalism has posted its first assignment. Jay doesn’t suggest that NewAssignment is the only way citizen journalism will proceed. Rather, it’s one attempt to take advantage of one of the opportunities a networked citizenry affords. Are there stories that a crowd could cover that an individual journalist could not? (But this is a well-organized crowd, with editors, assignments and collaborative tools.)

The first assignment is a self-referential one: What’s going on with crowdsourcing, and with peer production in general? If you want to participate by investigating, reporting or writing, Amanda Michel tells you how.

It’ll be fascinating to see if Jay and his group have gotten the weights and balances right to enable this thing to take off. If not, they can always nudge it this way or that. (Disclosure: I’m an advisor. It’s a non-profit.)

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Blog researches research

Michael Hemment’s new blog, Research Forward, looks at the latest in how researchers are researching and sharing research. It’s chockablock with good stuff.

For example, there’s a post about a Harvard course using social tagging to build info about the Middle Ages, a consideration of the future of tag clouds, and Chinese political history as revealed by mapping data. See, I told you it was good stuff! [Tags: ]

[berkman] John Mayer: Legal education commons

John Mayer, the Exec Dir of Center for computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI), is giving a Berkman Tuesday lunch talk called “Subclassing the Commons.” CALI is 25 yrs old, incorporated by Harvard and the U of Minnesota Law Schools. 204 US law schools and 23 international law schools are members. So are more than 100,000 law students. CALI makes lessons available on line. This year, there will probably be a million lessons run.

He points out that there are sites that aggregate material put into the commons via Creative Commons licenses. But there’s not a lot there for law students. The commons by itself isn’t granular enough for communities of users, he says. People post on their blogs, “I’ve posted a paper at SSRN and would appreciate any comments,” or “I’m working on a project and was wondering if anyone else had,” or “Where can I find…?” John says, “If we aggregated all answers to those question across all institutions, would that be a commons, and would it have amazing value?”

“We’re best known for our lessons,” he says. He shows a flow chart of a question. Law professors throw out a question, he says, knowing the ways the students will get it wrong. If one gets it right, the prof branches differently. It’s a “pruned tree.” CALI’s authors write questions as a tree. There are about 600 lessons. Their model is to get 5 profs to write 5 lessons (25 mins each) over 8 months; the profs are paid.

He describes another project: Classcaster , a blog network using open source software. It’s built on top of PBX software (!). “With classcaster, you can make a phone call, you can leave an hour message. Then it instantly podcasts it.” But it was expensive paying for the phone call and the recording quality is crappy. Instead, they gave authors $1000 and a free digital recorder. There are now 60 faculty members doing podcasts that way. They’re available for free as part of the commons. As a result, “students started to tell us that they have this crappy evidence teacher so instead they listen to this other evidence teacher’s podcast.” And faculty noticed in listening to themselves that they’re skipping over some things, so it’s helped them improve. Other faculty learned teaching techniques by listening to others. On the other hand, in some courses (e.g., family law) it can suppress class participation.

Lessons are tagged according to a “topic grid,” based on how faculty describe their lessons, the “elevator pitch” of what a course is. CALI took a first cut at the taxonomy by looking at syllabi and then letting faculty refine them. They’re now going back and tagging the podcasts.

Another project is Access to Justice. CALI designed an interface that asks one question at a time (audibly asks) to help people find the right legal forms. It uses avatars because otherwise you get hung up on providing avatars of every race and gender, in a wheelchair or not, etc. Instead, it provides a non-racial — “blank” — male or female avatar. [Looks pretty white to me.] It shows the avatar on a path to a jall of justice. There are people in eigh states working on the navigators for all the forms, but they reuse one another’s work because the forms are generally 90% the same in the states. One of the federal courts is interested in doing it and sharing it with the rest of the fed courts. (It’s all XML data and is written in Flash.)

ScholarshipPulse is in alpha. On the left it shows a paper. On the right is a comment system. It distinguishes comments as peers, professors or students. They’re experimenting with having the font size reflect one’s standing in the system. “I know we’re playing in ego space here.” But, John says, we not let people comment on their own blogs? Press a button and it’ll take a capture of the paper and one’s post, and post it straight into your blog. (named after Langdell Hall at HarvardLaw) pools syllabi, cases, podcasts, etc. so you can dynamically create case books and other course materials. You can print out your own materials via AALS, CLEA ande Counseling Central do something similar, he says.

Q: Are you doing anything to help people who are not in law school?
A: At CALI’s lets you pay for access to the CALI lessons.

Q: What’s your business model?
A: 200 schools pay us $5K year. For that they give everything we produce, but I’m trying to give away as much as possible. Not the lessons. If gave them away, the law schools would stop paying us. Everything else, just about, is open and free.

Q: (Charlie Nesson) MIT’s open courseware opens up syllabi. They’ve just started videoing classes — 21 of them. They’ve raised the question for us about whether there’s an opportunity for Harvard Law to step into the video YouTube space, recognizing the Law School’s mission as offering a legal education — not necessarily for credit — to the world. You’ve been at this for a long time Somehow there’s a relationship between the profit and non-profit. Suppose a company came to you…
A: We don’t need profit but we do need sustainability. The case book market is about $90M. Suppose you came in with uber casebooks that you could mix and match. We’d pay faculty to write those. That would put pressure on faculty to use the free PDF (or $18 lulu version) case book. A $90M market would become a $20M. That’s what eLangdell is.

There are hard problems doing this, he says. One is metadata. “People just drop stuff in.” They’re going to have to make the contributors do it. “Maybe we can hire students,” but for now they have to make it easy. In addition to the taxonomy, they’ll allow tags. Charlie points out that tagging might be the fastest way to get it done and usable. I mention freebase as a model for mixing a starter-set taxonomy, a mechanical Turk approach, and a wiki for metadata schema. John says that with a critical mass, it’ll get done.

Q: (Gene Koo) Charlie, you have a paper-based text book. Would you switch?
A: (Charlie) I’d love to. Unfortunately, my publisher owns the copyright.

A: It’s a Clayton Christensen innovator’s dilemma. We’ll pick off the low-hanging fruit. And, maybe retiring professors will donate their teaching materials into the commons as part of their “legacy.” [Tags: ]

[ctpaa] Cable panel on Net neutrality

I’m at the Cable Television Public Affairs Association meeting to give a lunchtime talk to the marketing folks.

It’s in the Ritz-Carlton in DC, which tells you something about the industry. This is a well-dressed crowd. Maybe one-third are women. I’m the only one in the audience iwth an open laptop. (The Ritz provides wifi everywhere in the hotel for $10/day.)

I come in late to the morning panel. On it are Mark Robichaux (ed., Broadcasting & Cable Magazine), Mark Coblitz (SVP of Comcast), Laureen Ong (Pres, National Geographic Channel), Joseph Sapan (Pres, Rainbow Media), Michael Wilner (CEO, Insight Comms). Unfortunately, I don’t know who is who, except for the woman, and Robichaux, who is moderating. [As always, my live blogging is deeply flawed and more unreliable the closer to quotes and details it gets. Also, in the broad themes and characterizations. Also spelling.]


In response to a question about negative blogs, one of the panelists says that some of their operators actually have blogs. “We embrace it.” Another writes them off as a few people who like to complain. “Everyone in this room should read blogs every day about their companies,” says another. “If we’re not listening as much as we’re speaking to our constituents, we’re not doing our job.” [Then how about symmetric bandwidth up and down, hmmm?] Mark Robichaux, the moderator, says “Sometimes bloggers are canaries in the coal mine.”

Laureen Ong of National Geographic says that bloggers and others online answer questions for them in a useful way.

A la carte tv

How about a la carte TV, asks Robichaux? Josh Sapan (Rainbow Media) praises the diversity of cable offerings, all the way from BET to National Geographic. “It’s a great diversity of voice.” [Hah!] Mark Coblitz agrees that’s lots of diversity. Each person may only watch seven channels, he says, but the seven channels vary from person to person. Michael (?) says we need to argue against a la carte, just as we have to argue against Net neutrality.

Net neutrality

“What’s Net neutrality?”

“That’s easy: People should be able to go anywhere they want to, attach any device, and know what the terms of their service are.” [He’s implicitly citing the FCC’s Four Principles, which isn’t what most people mean by Net neutrality. And I left one out because I couldn’t keep up.] “Isn’t that that the Internet is all about?,” says another. “Anyone get to do anything they want,” he continues, I think sarcastically. The first says “This is all about sharing resouces so everyone gets the maximum out of them.” The task, he says, is to communicate the technical reasons why Net neutrality is bad. “People said in the year 2000 that we need to save the Internet, but we don’t want the Net of 2000. I want the Internet that’s coming,” the one that lets people do the new things they want to do.” [The one that shows Time-Warner movies and requires a company to pay for competitively fast service? Or the one where anyone can create and innovate in any way she wants, on equal footing?]

They complain that they don’t have the anti-net neutrality sound bite. “We talked about Net neutering, but that doesn’t work too well. That’s our own internal, because that’s what it does.” [Cool! “Net neutrality” works! We’re so used to complaining that the anti-NN folks beat us at marketing that it’s great to hear the same sort of whining coming from them.]

“The Internet is beginning to show the strains of its technology,” says another. “We offer 10 meg down and one meg up, which is a lot.” [Only compared to the pathetic speeds in the US, and only down, not up.] The geeks who measure it don’t always get that.” “The infrastructure can’t handle what everyone’s idea of what the Internet is unless someone starts to build it out.” People won’t be able to make the investment to enable, say, Netflix, to use the Internet effectively so that it works all the time and people have a good experience almost all the time.

Robichaux: “So the government would be handcuffing you.”

“Exactly. And it’s not just the last mile. It’s all along the way.”

Another: “Back in the lat 90s, there was a lot of fiber put in the ground. And guess what? We’re using it up.” [Most of the fiber is unused. And see Bruce Kushnick on the $200B of tax money the incumbents took to run fiber to our houses, but then forgot to.] “Net neutrality says everone should be able to go where they want and be able to pay. We don’t diagree with the four principles. But as soon as you put them down in writing, they’re open to interpretation. And that interpretation changes everything.”

“You know who’s making the money and making the NN argument? Little companies like Google.” He cites someone who said that NN would kill innovation. “If you want Net neutrality, it should be Internet neutrality for all the elements.” E.g., Google is too dominant, eBay owns its means of payment. [This is equivalent to saying that if you want free speech, you really ought to enforce all points of view in your dinner time conversation.]


Mark Robichaux: Satellite?

Ong: Brand counts. Viewers know that the facts on our channel are triple-checked.

Sapan: It’s made us better via competitive pressure. E.g., IFC hosts small films, and we let you watch it on-demand simultaneously when it’s released to the theaters

“Congress says the problem with out industry is that we don’t have competitors. But we wake up every day thinking about how we compete in the marketplace. Every business we’re in is extremely competitive on the distriution side.” [Still, most of us don’t have much of a choice.]

“We’re all losing eyeballs to the Internet, and I’d go so far as saying you can lose your phone before you lose your video, and you can lose your video before you lose your online connection. It trumps everything. The younger generation is turning TVs off. They’re on the Internet. They’re watching the same content thanks to some of our friends [sarcastic] making it available.” [Wow.]

User-generated content

Robichaux: “What’s the best idea for using the Internet as a tool for your company?”

Ong: We have a tech savvy audience so the Internet is something we use to promote back to the channel, to put programming out that they can’t see on the linear channel, and we recognize that it’s making us rethink our business because no one is going to watch a full-length documentary on the Internet. [Maybe not, at least this month. But we’ll move it onto our iPod our TV, if we’re able.]

Sapan: The area we’re messing with right now is mixing user generated content with video on demand and linear television. Not much has been done with that.

Robichaux: why is ugc important?

Sapan: The history of TV is you make something, copyright it, put it on TV and the max number of people watch it. Now each of those is violated: There is no owner, there is no copyright. There’s all these people spending all this time looking at user generated content. From a purely mercantile point of view, if there’s a lot of time spent on it, that one way or another will be translated into money. What intriques is how to connect what people are making with video on demand. In the case of indie films, we’re asking people to submit their short films. We curate them. We would like to place those films on the servers of cable companies in the geographic areas from which they come, so there could be “the best of” films in that area, and the “the best of the best of” that would make it onto the channel. [ Why do we need the cable companies to do this for us?] This is good because it gives them the fastest Internet connection to the video, video on demand, and a linear channel. We pursuing this on IFC and We TV.

Coblitz (Comcast): We’ve woven Internet into just about everything we do.


Robichaux: Take-aways: Be honest. Keep it simple. It’s about relationships. For example, when you’re talking to a Congressperson… [And here I thought he was talking about talking with customers!]

Questions from the floor.

Q: What are you doing about Internet safety?
A: (comcast) We provide parental controls to people who want them. Our 12 yr old said, “Dad, block anywhere you don’t want me to go…but then don’t look where I go.”

A: (Insight) It’s up to the parents, but most parents don’t use the controls.The bad experiences are behind us [??]
A: (Rainbow) The computers aren’t in the kids’ bedrooms.

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Here’s a question I try to answer in the latest issue of my (free) newsletter: If too much information is noise, what’s too much meaning?

In fact, here’s the table of contents of that issue. (Note: The answer I come up with is not good enough to count as a spoiler.)


March 9, 2007

The abundance of meaning: If too much information is noise, what’s too much meaning?
The abundance of worthiness and the new relevancy: When there’s an abundance of worthwhile pages on just about any topic, search engines need to evolve. 
Book stuff: (1) Why finishing a book sucks, (2) the new book’s site, and (3) the book’s word cloud
Why do movies suck?: We don’t make that many movies, we invest heavily in them, and yet most of the comedies aren’t funny, the suspensers aren’t suspenseful, the action ones are incoherently edited. Why is that?
Cool Tool: The O’Reilly Hacks series
What I’m playing: Dreamfall and Devastation Troopers
Bogus Contest: Suggest a Daily Open-Ended Puzzle

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Navies are conversations?

Dan Bricklin blogs about a talk given by Admiral Mike Mullen, the US Navy’s Chief of Operations about pooling resources in a trans-national community of trust (The 1,000 Ship Navy). And Dan has a really interesting podcast interview with Vice Admiral John Morgan. Man, there’s a lot going on! (Not to mention Dan notes Paul Carroll’s joke about “pier-to-pier” communications.)

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Navies are conversations?

Dan Bricklin blogs about a talk given by Admiral Mike Mullen, the US Navy’s Chief of Operations about pooling resources in a trans-national community of trust (The 1,000 Ship Navy). And Dan has a really interesting podcast interview with Vice Admiral John Morgan. Man, there’s a lot going on! (Not to mention Dan notes Paul Carroll’s joke about “pier-to-pier” communications.)

[Tags: ]

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