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The Longest Now

Not a Paper (of the totimorphous) – an audio L.S.*
Sunday September 16th 2012, 2:01 am
Filed under: Blogroll,indescribable,Seraphic

Listen and enjoy.

* Here written S.L., but no less superterrestrial

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Translator’s Joys: Global Voices amplify the Declaration of Internet Freedom
Saturday August 18th 2012, 6:37 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,chain-gang

Global Voices translators speak out about why they do what they do.

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If “Interactive Interactive-Fiction Non-Fiction” Then: Club Floyd
Thursday July 05th 2012, 9:32 am
Filed under: Blogroll,meta

Club Floyd collects collaborative IF meta-stories. via Jacqueline A. Lott Ashwell.

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Hawking on the Higgs: It’s a pity in a way… I just lost $100.
Wednesday July 04th 2012, 2:11 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,Blogroll

Responding to the announced discovery of the Higgs particle, superhero physicist Stephen Hawking said in a BBC interview:

“The results at Fermilab in america, and CERN in switzerland,
strongly suggest we have found the Higgs particle,
the particle that gives mass to other particles.

If the decay and other interactions of this particle are as we expect,
it will be strong evidence for the so-called Standard Model of
particle physics, the theory that explains all our experiments so far.
This is an important result, and should earn Peter Higgs a Nobel Prize.

But it is a – a pity in a way, because the greatest advances in physics
have come from experiments that gave results we didn’t expect.
For this reason, I had a bet with Gordon Kane at Michigan University
that the Higgs particle wouldn’t be found.
it seems I have just lost $100.”

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Higgs boson confirmed! World’s media mass At CERN in celebration.

Today CERN and FERMILAB announced 5σ confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson [1], inspiring a burst of heady live coverage from the Guardian. (CERN had leaked a video about the discovery the day before, so everyone knew what was coming, and turned up for today’s Higgs seminar. All of the scientists who had worked on early versions of the theory that pointed towards such a boson also flew in the the seminar, which continues tomorrow.)

CERN has posted and archived beautiful 360-degree photos of the day, a video of the press conference (rather dull), and will soon post a recording of the day’s seminar (which was live-streamed and amazing; come back for it tomorrow).

The media as usual tries valiantly to explain things in a down-to-earth way that is both simplistic and true, but is generally failing. As with a few other recent scientific breakthroughs, I am grateful that Wikipedia offers solid explanations of the topics at hand, and through the magic of hyperlinks (which news agencies are still struggling with 🙂 allows exploration of the topics in as much depth as you like.

Related reading: supersymmetry, scalar field theory, htlhcdtwy.

[1] Note the careful, conservative trend in particle physics: the labs making the discovery are all quick to say they’ve discovered the existence of at least one new particle, which matches the profile of the Higgs boson; it could be one or more of its sibling bosons that have been discovered – supersymmetry suggests there could be 5 of them.

Sudo make me an Internet
Monday July 02nd 2012, 5:09 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,gustatory,international,Uncategorized

Over the past year, in the US, Italy and other countries, Internet communities have flexed their muscles and demonstrated their popularity and capacity for organizing public opinion, by convincing lawmakers not to pass bills that would have made life difficult for ‘Net service providers and site owners.

Recently, two US Congressmen who were important opponents of SOPA in the House and Senate, Darrell Issa and Ron Wyden, called for and then published a draft Digital Citizen’s Bill of Rights, which they opened for public annotation and comment.  (Kudos for the concept and quick turnaround – that’s a more direct engagement of readers than any other political effort I’ve seen recently. But I hope they keep developing the platform, or move it to something more refactorable.)

This week a more global network of organizations that strive for open access to knowledge and the Internet have published a “Declaration of Internet Freedom“, calling for governments and institutions and people everywhere to support a similar set of principles that support what we have come to think of as a free (and adaptable) Internet.  I support that effort, as do the EFF, Public Knowledge, Free Press, and the Cheezburger empire.  Even if the ‘declaration’ is more a proposition of principles to uphold.

You can sign on to the declaration online.

P.S. for an explanation of the subject, see this.

Librarians v. interdisciplinary existential threats
Friday June 22nd 2012, 10:20 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,fly-by-wire,poetic justice

Existential threats don’t scare us.  We’re librarians.

Bethany Nowviskie on the arc and glory of digital humanities, interleaved with modern creative work.

via Jacob Rus

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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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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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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.

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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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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Duolingo: double your pleasure?
Tuesday May 08th 2012, 6:36 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,international,Uncategorized

Big Lou at CMU is working on a language-learning and web-translation project, known in the lingo as Duolingo.

Class this with Meedan and livemocha under “facets of global collaborative translation that need to happen”: it’s one of a long line of shared translation efforts that I admire and follow; though I’ve yet to see one that was able to take a deep breath and just let the process unfold naturally.

I hope this one is different. I want it to be a pillar of our multilingual Web, not just one piece among thousands. They need some design help for an amazing poster campaign to Free Language Learning — see their latest blog post for an example. If you have a brainstorm on the topic, post up!

Universal feelings
Wednesday May 02nd 2012, 6:30 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,Blogroll,indescribable

On running a startup.

Have your own feelings?  Share them!

Malagasy, Yoruba, and Amharic wikipedias are growing rapidly
Sunday April 29th 2012, 11:16 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,international,popular demand,wikipedia

A few updates from the African-language Wikipedias, courtesy of Ian Gilfillan’s blog. [HT to Don Osborn]

The last year has seen tremendous growth in Malagasy, Yoruba, Amharic. Malagasy is a popular language among linguists and historians, who make great Wikipedians; and both Yoruba and Amharic have extensive historical literary cultures.

Swahili and Afrikans projects are still quite solid, but their growth has slowed somewhat. And among the very small languages, Setswana grew from almost nothing to over 400 articles as well, thank to the Tswana Wikipedia challenge suppoted by Google. So if you have been looking for an afrophone wiki to get involved with, now is a great time to start.

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Taking the Steel Blogger Challenge
Thursday April 19th 2012, 12:29 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,chain-gang,citation needed

Much of my work recently has been about community creation, capacity, identity, energy, and relation to partnership-building and vision-setting. And how to listen carefully and plan well for that hindsight-enabled possibility-space we call the future. This affects everything from how we define the future we want to live, how we chart our own course in groups of all sizes, to how we raise funds, forge volunteer or sponsor relationships, and enable those around us to do work we’d like to see done.

I got excellent feedback on these ideas at last week’s OER meeting, where most projects wanted to be community-driven or maintained. A few people asked if I was writing a book, with varying levels of arm-twisting. So I’d like to get into better writing shape. Inspired by Cool Cat Teacher’s tireless blog and ideastream, I have been thinking about ways to publish thoughts and essays dozens of times a day. I enjoy writing short essays, and linking them to practical works or implications. I do this in some format – often on email lists or in response to private requests – every day. But I don’t currently do it methodically, publicly, in an archived or editable way. And there is a backlog of practical thoughts in my unintentionally-private tomboy notes about how my current communities could work better / internally and together.

So in the spirit of doing ten thousand times whatever you want to eventually do well, I am taking on a personal Steel Blogger Challenge – publishing a post for every day this year. Retroactively. That gives me a bit of catching up to do. I don’t know quite how to coordinate this with tweeting and writing essays of various lengths – the ideal length here would be 100-200 words to capture the idea, with a few links, but editable. And I’m not sure how to make my writing editable, though I would like to let you all make revisions and post updates and links and cross-references.

And for the first time recently I feel let down by my blogging platform. I want a better way to publish many times a day, in many formats at once. Including quick personal notes, 140-char summaries, blog posts, longer monographs. Preferably with wiki-style versioned editable backend for every format. If you have toolchain suggestions, please let me know.

Primary sources matter. How do we convince journalists to cite them?
Wednesday March 14th 2012, 3:18 am
Filed under: %a la mod,Blogroll,citation needed,indescribable

Some legal and political bloggers have written recently about an Arizona bill which reportedly “legalizes firing employees because they use contraceptives”. That’s the sort of claim which I always read with an invisible “citation needed” tag floating in the air next to it. But it took a frustrating few minutes to track the bill down; no posts linked to it, and few bothered to mention it by name.

Even the page about the bill on VoteSmart (a lovely site which focuses on tracking the progress of a bill and its changes/votes over time) has only a tiny, obfuscated link to the actual bill text. (I know that the raw bill isn’t the primary focus of that site, but I still expect it to be clearly linked from the top of the page about it.)

At any rate, here is the text-with-diffs of Arizona House bill 2625, “an act amending sections 20-826, 20-1057.08, 20-1402, 20-1404 and 20-2329, Arizona revised statutes; relating to health insurance.” The changes start at page 8.

It does not in fact legalize “firing employees” or other discrimination; but it does redact a special clause expressly prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of using contraceptives, which former lawmakers saw fit to include next to every description of how religious institutions should be allowed to opt out of providing coverage for them. I am certain that the history of the inclusion of that clause would be interesting; I also find it unlikely that every state has such a similarly explicit reminder embedded in their healthcare laws.

So: deep linking to primary sources is important; not just to better inform readers, but also to find out if what you are writing is true. When most modern journalists were cutting their teeth in their first newsroom, deeplinks to source material within an article were impossible. Now they are a matter of a few minutes’ research. How do we reemphasize the value of this work?

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