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The Longest Now

Adapt Now Or Be Disintermediated, says @FakeElsevier

Reed Elsevier’s received a scathing critique by The Street’s Jared Woodward this week, who bets heavily against its stock [RUK] :

We regard the common stock as an implicit naked short put option because, while the upside potential from the publishing division is limited, the downside risk from any revolt by its customers (libraries), laborers (academics), or funders (governments) is not.

Woodward incisively covers everything from the academic-run The Cost of Knowledge campaign countering the Elsevier-backed Research Works Act, the Federal Research Public Access Act proposal to enshrine Open Access as a requirement of all government funders, a similar EU mandate, the UK recruiting Jimbo to help draft a similar policy for all UK-funded research by 2014, Harvard’s faculty memo on deep and broad Open Access support, the stunning successes of PLoS One and Rockefeller University Press, and @FakeElsevier‘s tweets and blog.

@FakeElsevier is a pseudonymous academic who has been sharing satirical posts and tweets about Elsevier since February. The subject above is from one of the more popular blog posts: “Dear Elsevier Employees, With Love, From @FakeElsevier.

Take a look at Woodward’s report: It’s an exhausting and exhilirating read.

Federal Research Public Access Act

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Detroit: pregnant mom bound, kidnapped, set on fire, shot. Everyone survives…
Wednesday May 30th 2012, 8:28 pm
Filed under: Too weird for fiction

say what?

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Awkward deadpan rant: China reviews human rights within the US
Wednesday May 30th 2012, 7:00 am
Filed under: indescribable,international,Not so popular,null,Uncategorized

This document is difficult to read.  It is a Chinese government doc trying with awkward sincerity to review human rights in the US by our own standards, most of which the authors clearly find arbitrary.

It’s like a baby wikipedia article: full of random tidbits that happen to have been published somewhere online.  With a mix of real issues and rumors, minimal context, axe-grinding, and undue weight to whatever attracted media attention.  It lacks the measure and professionalism of the US report it is responding to (though it gets partial credit for making a handwave at its sources, which our reports should do much more of).

But it does point out one oversight in our list of country reports: we do not publish an internal report on developments within the US in the same format — though the relevant data is gathered by other parts of government. This made me wonder: what sorts of reports do we put out?  Could we remedy that?  I was also reminded that plans to set up an umbrella national human rights institution have come and gone… were any still under active consideration?

So I checked: the closest thing we have to such a report is the quadrennial self-assessment of human rights that we compile (as every UN member should) as part of the UNHRC’s  “universal periodic review” process.  What I found was enlightening and surprising, though not always encouraging.  It is worth its own review; stay tuned for a future recap.

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Es Werde Lichtstrom! Germany runs on solar for 2 full hours
Monday May 28th 2012, 8:09 pm
Filed under: Glory, glory, glory,international,metrics,popular demand

The German solar power grid is among the world’s densest and fastest-growing. They have doubled their capacity for each of the last 10 years, and currently average 25% of all their power from the sun.

This has so far led to a 10% drop in the average price of power on their electricity exchange, thanks to the institution of “merit order” power supply: in which the lowest marginal-cost power is used first at any given moment. However the tremendous growth and success of solar power means they will soon have to cope with an unusual problem for modern national energy grids: storing excess renewable power. (Spain and Portugal have faced similar surplusses thanks to their tremendous wind power grids.)

They recently hit a few milestones: they set the world record for national solar generation (22GW), meeting fully half of the national energy demand. And for two hours, around midday Saturday, their solar output exceeded the national energy demand for the first time, for two hours.

National power data (GW): wind, solar, total demand

I’d like to see more detailed data on all of this. The annual doubling of solar generation is fantastic and must involve extensive retooling of many subsidiary systems and capacity networks. How centralized/localized are those solar sources? Some data sources say national power production in Germany averages close to 70GW year-round, others claim a peak power draw of 50GW in the winter.

I’d also like to hear more about the limits of pumped energy storage and other uses of excess generated power. We could certainly generate an annual energy surplus for the planet if we tried to; but where’s that market in energy futures, and how much of an energy reservoir could we build up? What are other denser, more robust long-term ways to store power?

Car Racing Ex-Con meets Orphaned Insomniac: They Fight Crime!
Sunday May 27th 2012, 8:01 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,indescribable,meta

He’s a war-weary devious gentleman spy who knows the secret of the alien invasion. She’s a vivacious mute advertising executive with an incredible destiny. They Fight Crime!

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World’s Tiniest World
Sunday May 27th 2012, 12:33 pm
Filed under: indescribable,meta

A simple little puzzle, that will charm you blind.

Graffitors beware: counter-vandalism patrol has come to Brookline
Friday May 25th 2012, 7:47 pm
Filed under: fly-by-wire,indescribable,Too weird for fiction

Graffiti is being wiped out across the city of Brookline by a wave of hyperrealist art. If you’ve ever wanted ‘tattoo removal’ for that Banksy your overpass got when it was young and carefree, or want to know which bricks match Textured Rusted Umber, this Tumblr’s for you..

It’s like The Man Who Planted Trees for a smooth, unblemished urban landscape.

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24-hour awesome circus brunch bar, free, for everybody
Thursday May 24th 2012, 11:57 am
Filed under: chain-gang,metrics

AFP breaks down her successful kickstarter project to support an album:

it means i’ll probably buy an abandoned church somewhere and turn it into a free 24-hour circus brunch bar for everybody.

we’re all investing, dollar by dollar, pledge by pledge… not just in the future of my little record and band, but in an idea whose time has come.

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Objectivist-C: an Aristotelian programming language
Wednesday May 23rd 2012, 1:24 am
Filed under: Blogroll,indescribable

A nutshell guide to the language by the floating-point divide.

Google’s Knowledge Graph: connecting structured knowledge from diverse sources
Tuesday May 22nd 2012, 2:12 pm
Filed under: citation needed,Glory, glory, glory,metrics,SJ

Stefano Mazzochi and other former MetaWebbers now at Google have turned out another beautiful structure in the garden of human knowledge: the Knowledge Graph.

This helps visualize one key aspect of information meshes, though it has many limitations still. (It is only a graph, as the name suggests; as defined within Google it is only the part of the universal knowledge graph that they choose to bless as ‘clean’; it doesn’t include any data that they choose not to make publicly visible; and there is no higher level of structure to support a metric, or a multi-dimensional space).


Copyright failure: terms are much much much too long; solution needed
Monday May 21st 2012, 6:28 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,chain-gang,international,meta,SJ,wikipedia

David Gerard recently pointed out that despite recent expansion of the global commons of “freely-licensed knowledge”, all license terms still last for much too long. “Free licenses” still rely on copyright laws which impose restrictions on reuse for unreasonably long term lengths: currently “Life of the author + 70 years” in most countries — roughly 10-50x as long as the average commercial lifespan of a new work.

Economists and researchers studying copyright have often noted that copyright terms have been extended with little justification, always on the request of the publishing industry, since the first copyright term (14 years) was set centuries ago.  And that there is no data to suggest that longer copyright terms are good for society or useful in encouraging creative work.

The social memes of “free culture” and “free knowledge” have been shaped in large part by a community that bought into the idea of copyleft in the past decades: a derivative of copyright law which defines the copyrights the author wishes to exercise in a way that lets people reuse their work, as long as they release the result under the same license.

We should figure out a reasonable maximum term for the sort of rights that are currently covered by copyright – say, something no more than 14 years – and embed that term into the most-recommended free culture licenses. That includes all Creative Commons and free-culture and other FOSS licenses. All of these licenses should explicitly transition to the Public Domain before the ultralong default term enshrined in international law.

(In practice this could mean automatically switching to a CC0 license at the end of the shorter term.)

Related discussions about license reform

David’s comments started a recent discussion on the Wikimedia-l mailing list, about whether Wikimedians should help push for a saner copyright term.  Mike Linksvayer noted similar discussions on the Creative Commons licenses list from last December – part of brainstorming how to improve those licenses.

Two people made comments along these lines: “Shortening the copyright term is totally infeasible in the near term; instead we should encourage people to switch to free licenses.

This misses two key points. Firstly, free culture groups are now some of the largest around; they include major content providers and platforms; and Creative Commons itself is a powerful global brand. Secondly, while convincing slow, conservative national governments to change their laws is hard, almost everyone who is not working/lobying for content publishers — including the vast majority of content creators — feels copyright terms are too long.  So this is an obvious place for citizen innovation to come first, and legislation second.

A few publishers are already adopting limited terms.  O’Reilly Books uses a license that switches to CC-BY after 14 years.
Some free culture groups have taken a position here as well: Sweden’s Pirate Party advocates for a maximum term of 5 years.  Richard Stallman of the FSF recommends a maximum of 5 or 10 years (though only for society as a whole; and only if it comes with open source requirements for proprietary software).

What can we do?  Won’t this make free licenses harder to use?

Adding an explicit term after which works become PD should not complicate the “opt-in commons”, to use Mike’s term. This could be implemented with a few simple changes (I am imagining how CC could implement this; as they have great authority to recommend licensing norms):

  • Define “PD-friendly” licenses as those which become PD in at most N years.
  • Define the PD-date of a composite work as the latest of its component sources.
  • Ask people to use a PD-friendly license.

Within that framework, people can use terms that make sense to them; some may want a license with a fixed PD date, so that a large group can collaborate on a shared work which is set to become PD in 2020.  Ongoing collaborations like Wikipedia could use a license set to become PD after 8 years – so the latest version of a project would always be under a CC-SA license, but one from today would become PD in 2020.

Creative Commons and others could then promote the use of PD-friendly licenses.  Collaboratives like Wikimedia communities, and publishers like O’Reilly, could switch to those licenses for their projects and works.  Together we would return to building a true intellectual and artistic Commons — something which in the US has been starved of almost all works produced in the past 35 years.


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Wikimedia: Chapters choose two new Trustees for the Foundation
Sunday May 20th 2012, 8:11 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,international,meta,wikipedia

Via Béria Lima:

The Wikimedia chapters have, by voting, selected the following two people to serve on the Wikimedia Foundation board, replacing Arne Klempert and Phoebe Ayers:

* Patricio Lorente is the current President of Wikimedia Argentina. He had worked as Project Manager of the Association for Social Development in Argentina. At present, he serves as General ProSecretary of the National University of La Plata.
* Alice Wiegand is an IT specialist for system administration in the public sector, and a former board member of Wikimedia Deutschland, the largest Wikimedia chapter. She runs the IT department of a German municipality, and is starting a Master’s program in Public Policy and Governance.

Congratulations to Patricio and Alice, who will join the Board in mid-June; I look forward to working with both of you.

And much gratitude to Phoebe and Arne, who have helped us all to stay focused on what matters, for their amazing work over the past years.

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Ken Liu gets his due: The Paper Menagerie snags a Nebula!
Sunday May 20th 2012, 3:53 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,Glory, glory, glory,poetic justice,popular demand

Congratulations to my friend Ken Liu, phosphorescent fiction shaper whose story “The Paper Menagerie” won a Nebula Award for Best Short Story last night! Next stop: the Hugos (chosen by the Chicon 7 attendees :)).

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G8 Crisis Snapshot
Sunday May 20th 2012, 3:40 am
Filed under: %a la mod,international,popular demand

Can you tell what these vaunted leaders were watching?
(Hint: You should be able to guess down to the second).

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The Chaos: update
Saturday May 19th 2012, 9:34 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,international,meta,popular demand,Uncategorized

Spurred by a discussion of language learning and pronunciation, I revisited my favorite English-language poem this weekend: Gerard Nolst Trenité’s “Dearest Creature In Creation” (a.k.a. “English Pronunciation”, or “The Chaos”). I cleaned up my composite version, fitting in most of the remaining couplets that have appeared in one of the author’s revisions, marking where the various versions start to diverge, and adding pronunciation notes for a few more words.

If you haven’t read it recently, it’s worth a few minutes of your time. And if someone with a melodious voice feels like recording a reading of it, that would be a boon.
Update: Jacob Rus points me to this recording he made of a different version of the poem. Awesome! A British version would be grand too.

Finally, which rhymes with enough:
Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough
Hiccough has the sound of ‘sup‘ …
My advice is: give it up!

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Happy On Birthday: Which Birth Dates Are Most Common? Most statisfying.
Wednesday May 16th 2012, 5:25 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,metrics,poetic justice

A fine heatmap of birthday frequency, in which you can see what country the data comes from, which holidays they celebrate, and even some of their superstitions:

HT to Amitabh Chandraand Matt Stiles.

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Sunday May 13th 2012, 9:39 pm
Filed under: Glory, glory, glory,gustatory

From math teacher Nathan Shields.

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