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Archive for June, 2008

Did lord knows how many books just enter the public domain, thanks to Google and some good-hearted folk?

Jacob Kramer-Duffield at the Berkman Center explains the significance of Google’s new ability to search the copyright renewal notices for books published between 1923 and 1963. Publishers of those books had to file a renewal notice to hold on to their copyrights. It’s been very difficult to determine whether those notices were ever filed, so, when in doubt, we’ve assumed that they’re protected, even though most of them undoubtedly are not. This is known as the “orphaned works” problem.

But, thanks to a gargantuan effort by a whole bunch of people — thank you! — that information has been digitized and Google can search it. Google Book Search and The Open Content Alliance will use this list to provide open access to works that otherwise were kept out of the hands of the public because their copyright status just couldn’t be determined.

Project Gutenberg, The Universal Library Project, and the Distributed Proofreaders deserve a lot of credit, praise, and hosannahs for accomplishing this task. [Tags: ]

Traffic regulation by paying attention

From Martin Oetting comes a link to an article in Der Spiegel (in German), which he summarizes:

A small German municipality joined a Euro project in which road signs and all types of visible regulation of the inner-city traffic are abandoned in seven towns across Europe. Instead, all drivers, cyclists and pedestrians are asked (or expected) to more consciously pay attention to everyone else and negotiate the right of way and how and where to park “on the go” – for a more fluid and less rule-driven approach to traffic.

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Long form arguments are over-rated

Stowe Boyd, responding to Nick Carr’s provocation in The Atlantic that argues that “Google is making us stupid,” anticipates some of a piece I’ve been thinking about writing for a few months: The sort of long-form argument that some say the Web is killing is vastly over-rated. It’s actually difficult to find books that are long arguments (not multiple illustrations of one point, but an argument that develops over the course of multiple chapters) that don’t go off the rails relatively quickly. And, yes, I include Immanuel Kant in this. Darwin’s Descent of Man is an exception.

I meant to get around to writing about this. I still do.

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Death by tags

From BoingBoing comes this hilarious set of Amazon reviews of $500 audio cables from Denon. Best of all, BoingBoing points to the tags people have associated with the cables.

Oh, market conversations! What claims and brands won’t you take apart?

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Microsoft says ODF has won

From Slashdot:

“At a Red Hat retrospective panel on the ODF vs. OOXML struggle panel, a Microsoft representative, Stuart McKee, admitted that ODF had ‘clearly won.’ The Redmond company is going to add native support of ODF 1.1 with its Office 2007 service pack 2. Its yet unpublished format ISO OOXML will not be supported before the release of the next Office generation. Whether or not OOXML ever gets published is an open question after four national bodies appealed the ISO decision.”

Of course, Open Document Format winning isn’t exactly the same as OOXML — the 6,000 page standard Microsoft pushed through ISO — losing. Slashdot commentators are right to be plenty skeptical. Still, this is a good thing since it opens a practical path to document interoperability in a public, open format. [Tags: ]

Taking Congress at its word

The Sunlight Foundation has released its latest tool in the struggle for governmental transparency: It scrapes the records and highlights the word used most often that day. For example, “tax” was used 23 times today. Of course, a calendar view is also available,

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History of index cards, part whatever

Kevin Kelly has a terrific piece about edge-notched cards. They’re interesting to me because I’ve been working on a piece that’s part of a piece, that may be part of some other piece that uses the history of the punch card as a way to trace the emergence of modern information. Edge-notched cards have an interesting place because the notches both indicate data and are used as a physical mechanism for sorting.

Kevin’s post was prompted by Alex Wright’s terrific article recalling Paul Otlet as a network pioneer.


Gay rights and differential hermeneutics

In the June issue of Harper’s, Gary Keizer has an article called “Turning away from Jesus: Gay rights and the war for the Episcopal Church” that I kept trying not to like, I think because he’s too right and too good. But the article won me over. Alas, Harper only posts miniature, unreadable images of the pages, so you’ll have to do something primitive like trudge to your local library to read it.

Gary paints a picture of a church traditionally less interested in enforcing doctrinal homogeneity than in ministering to those in need. He personally favors the ordination of gay clergy, but the article focuses a level up from that: How can a church handle disagreement and difference? And he explicitly applies those lessons beyond the church to the country and the world.

It made me think of AKMA’s idea of differential hermeneutics, a theory of interpretation (which is to say, of understanding) that assumes we’re never going to agree. He opposes this to what he calls “integral hermeneutics,” which aims at resolving issues, and thus showing that one person’s interpretation is right and another’s is wrong. And, yes, AKMA is fully aware of the issues that arise from his position. (I blogged about this here.)

I am convinced that Gary and AKMA are raising exactly the right questions, and are answering them the only way that lets us live together in peace, which is not to say in harmony or quietude. And I find what they say based upon their similar religious convictions to be quite in line with what I understand the Jewish attitude toward interpretation to be: The arguing continues all the way into the next life. If you’re so lucky. [Tags: ]

Simple sabotage

At the Enterprise 2.0 conference (which I didn’t attend), Don Burke and Sean Dennehey from the CIA gave a talk on Intellipedia, the CIA’s internal wikipedia. As part of their talk, they cited a manual, including, I think, this:

(1) Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
(2) Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of per­ sonal experiences. Never hesitate to make a few appropriate “patriotic” comments.
(3) When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and considera­tion.” Attempt to make the committees as large as possible — never less than five.
(4) Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
(5) Haggle over precise wordings of com­munications, minutes, resolutions.
(6) Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
(7) Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reason­able” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.
(8) Be worried about the propriety of any decision — raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated lies within the juris­ diction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.

Their point was that these instructions come from a 1944 manual on how to sabotage a business.

The session’s Web page points to the entire, amazing, declassified manual of simple sabotage. [Tags: ]

Britannica tweaks the wiki

Britannica has announced that it’s going to enable some measure of reader participation in the extending of the online version of their encyclopedia. You can see the beta of the new site here.

The detailed overview of the planned site says:

two things we believe distinguish this effort from other projects of online collaboration are (1) the active involvement of the expert contributors with whom we already have relationships; and (2) the fact that all contributions to Encyclopaedia Britannica’s core content will continue to be checked and vetted by our expert editorial staff before they’re published.

Excellent! We needs lots of variations on the theme of collaboration. Editing adds value, as does expertise. They slow things down and reduce the ability to scale, but Wikipedia’s process makes it possible to read an article that’s been altered, if only for a minutes, by some devilish hand. It all depends on what you’re trying to do, and collectively we’re trying to do everything. So, this is good news from Britannica. It’ll be fascinating to watch.

To pick a nit, I’m not as convinced by Britannica’s insistence on objectivity as a value, however. The blog post says “we believe that the creation and documentation of knowledge is a collaborative process but not a democratic one.” It lists three positive consequences of this. The third is “objectivity, and it requires experts.” In a reference that makes you wish they’d at least once use the word “Wikipedia,” the post continues: “In contrast to our approach, democratic systems settle for something bland and less informative, what is sometimes termed a ‘neutral point of view.’” I think it would be reasonable for Britannica to tell us that an expert-based, edited system is likely to yield more articles that are more comprehensive, more uniform in quality, more accurate and more reliable. But haven’t we gotten past thinking that expertise yields objectivity?

Anyway, I think it’s amazing that the Britannica, in its 240th year, is taking this step. Britannica will be better for it, and so will we. [Tags: ]

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