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Archive for the ‘Op-Ed’ Category

In Defence of Publication Reform

At various stages throughout my career (I am 29 now), myself and others pondered starting a blog about Open Access, Open Data or open research (opening one’s lab, including data, methods, etc.), but since I already spend more time than I can afford advocating GNU/Linux, I ended up spending a lot of my energy fighting against software patents. This is one aspect among several involving the sharing and transparency of the sciences. There is of course also a dimension associated with copyrights and despite its importance I no longer have time to pursue the issue; many people already do so anyway. To put the core argument succinctly, nowadays when we have the Internet and we have a presentation layer such as the World Wide Web (for exchange of inter-connected rich media), we no longer depend on many analogue technologies and the notion of scarcity must cope and catch up with what’s available. To expect people to publish their findings only in paper form with pagination is to pretend that we are locked into legacy, which we should not. Computer Vision is considerably limited by paper. There are much better and faster ways of getting messages across, especially in this age of information overload. Moreover, travelling for presentation to a crowd (conference) is less necessary now that many people’s Internet connections permit video streaming at a good resolution. Romanticising over the nostalgia which is 20th century-esque research is no longer beneficial as it leads to inheriting inherent limitations. I was reminded of this in an IRC conversation last night. It was agreed upon that the theory about publishers exploiting academics to write, review and even edit entire publications for the publishers to profit from at the expense of those academics is something that needs to be stopped. Many academics these days have their own homepages and sometimes their blogs too. They can publish a lot of material there and let the quality/accuracy be determined by citation, e.g. something like the PageRank system which merely inherits the ideas of algorithms before its time (take away Google’s/Stanford’s patent while at it). The issue of course is that people cannot reference papers by Internet addresses, at least not by conventional means. The idea that papers should be accessible through libraries though is outdated as libraries too are going somewhat extinct and the speed of working there is inferior. Other than self pride and honour from peers, what incentive is there really to being heavily involved in the publication industry which benefits publishers and offers writers not so much exposure anymore? Fewer people seem to be searching journals; they use external search engines or Wikipedia instead (it’s multi-lingual). The debate becomes ever more relevant now that Aaron Schwartz is being hounded for just doing his job.

Eventually, prices will converge somewhere around zero not because academic work is worthless but because people’s goal is to share and disseminate their ideas, not to serve someone else’s paywall. The real worth of research is derived from its reach, not its scarcity.

The Scary Face of Free Software?

ONE pet peeve of mine has a lot to do with stereotypes. To give an example, consider an old FUD phrase which says that open source programs are not user friendly. Well, open source is a development method (Free software has more to do with the licences and distribution as well). Buy why on earth does a development method affect user interfaces? It does not. Just because you close your code and take it away from users (who can otherwise bring valuable feedback in the form of patches) won’t necessarily (and magically) fix a broken GUI.

There is no correlation between level of openness and user experience. It is a myth.

The type of FUD mentioned above is just one among many. FUD changes perception. it scares people. Here is a message sent to me by a friend (Harvey) about the fear of leaving Microsoft Windows.

Have you ever written an article about the fear of change?

I think people like myself who have finally become adept at using the Microsoft OS, hesitate to switch. It’s analogous to birthing your second baby, especially if delivering the first was a painful experience.

Apprehension and fear are normal mind blockers. However, I would guess that the younger generation with years of computer expertise is more daring, and therefore more willing to experiment and acquiring something new and better than what they now use. That’s probably why I-pods, Blackberries, games and other devices are still selling like hot cakes.

You might want to expand, correct and add to this gibberish, and to make an article out of it.

Well, many articles have been written about the barriers to GNU/Linux adoption on the desktop. They address the issue of fear as well. It is always important to ask oneself, “am I being told the truth, or is someone trying to manipulate me using scare tactics?” In many cases, it’s the latter. Vested interest is to blame.

Migrating to Linux in the Enterprise via Standards

The State of Massachusetts is nowadays deciding on the issue of open standards and whether to accept or reject a vendor-specific format, namely OOXML. A new article discusses how a decision about choice of format can affect the ability of a business to free itself from the shackles of one single application and platform. From the article: “An impulsive and immediate migration to Linux can sometimes lead to disappointment. Ambitious businesses are sometimes led to believe that their data can merely be be dumped from one platform onto another, but the reality is a little more complex than this.”

Quote of the Day — Why Free Software Suits Business Better

Question: You say that “you can bet your business on Free Software”; how do you back up that statement?

Answer: How can you bet your business on proprietary software? If a company is bought, goes bankrupt or merges or decides to delete a product line you have no choice but to go with whatever product or path they desire. How can you plan when the company keeps changing its licensing terms, and you have no real alternatives? What do you do when the company that makes your software puts its own profits and its values ahead of yours, the customer? When the software company holds back on releasing the latest bug fix so it fits its “release schedule?” When you can’t get that one little feature added that would allow you to streamline your business, save a lot of money and beat your competition to market?

What happens if that company (no matter where it is) is embargoed?

                       — Jon “Maddog” Hall

Multiple SSH sessions
My desktop still serves me well

Novell is SCO 2.0?

Technocrat, which is the Web site where Bruce Perens initially (and correctly) predicted Microsoft’s yet-to-come ‘FUD campaign’, is reporting, through Bruce himself, that the “strong feeling on this issue seems to be very widespread”. Over 2000 people have signed his Open Letter. Meanwhile, ComputerWorld has just published an article titled “Microsoft and Novell pull a SCO”. Below lies a snippet.

The shape of this agreement suggests that Microsoft and Novell have learned from the best, the corporate strategic masterminds at The SCO Group. The scheme there, which you may recall Microsoft championed early and loudly, was to declare that Linux incorporated source code protected by SCO Group copyrights. This declaration gave SCO the power to send out threatening letters to software vendors and customers. The letters said, in essence, that the lucky recipient could pay SCO a license fee now, or risk having its name added to the big list of defendants in its case and pay far more.

As mentioned previously, this type of comparison is intended to stir up strong feelings and reactions. This may be an overstatement that instills fear, if not a case of ‘trolling’ for traffic, so you are advised take it with a grain of salt.

The Trademark/Servicemark Debate

David Berlind of ZDNet argues that, while Novell denies responsibility for or admission of patent infringements, a door remains open on the trademarks front. This is a long write-up which concludes that Steve Ballmer could go for legal pickles rather than major baseless allegations over IP.

That could be in the case. Especially since Novell, in its watershed deal with Microsoft, has taken great care to reiterate that it still believes that it has not infringed on any Microsoft patents. Why then would Novell pay such a huge sum of money (with a promise of longer-term royalities) if it really believed this? Answer? Microsoft may have presented Novell with compelling evidence that Linux (or something that Novell was distributing) infringes on its copyright. Or maybe a trademark (or a servicemark).

Reducing Digital Complexity

Volume controller

The following story has caught my eye.

“For reasons such as this, Maeda is now a “repentant” technowhiz and a leading apostle of simplicity. In 2004 he founded the MIT Simplicity Consortium at the Media Lab, which works with major corporations to design technologies for simplicity-driven products.”

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