January 2004 Archives


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An interesting reading from ShelfLife, No. 140 (January 22 2004), about How to Digitize Eight Million Books:

A robotic scanner, custom built for Stanford University, is systematically digitizing parts of the university library's vast collection -- over eight million volumes. Resembling a giant copier, the 4DigitalBooks robot quickly and automatically scans about 1,000 pages per hour -- a complete 300-page book in 20 minutes. Stanford University Librarian Michael Keller, who oversees the project, says, "It's rigorously consistent -- the page is always flat, the image is always good, and software conversion allows you to index the text so you can search it." Rare books, however, are another matter. "We're very concerned about (them), so we haven't put any manuscripts on the robot. Instead, we use a technology based on the same cameras, (but turn) the pages by hand." In the next 10 to 20 years, Keller believes more and more information will be presented in digital form. "I suspect books will continue to be useful and important, and we'll (still) see them published. But people will find more and more of their information online, and the number of books will decrease." Stanford, for instance, is planning a science and engineering library whose goal is to have no books on the shelves. "We'll still need physical libraries," says Keller, "because people want to meet with one another. They want to work on
projects collaboratively, and they also like to work in clusters and groups." (The Book & The Computer 15 Dec 2003) http://www.honco.net/os/index.html"

Spreading the Open Source Gospel to the Masses

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From Spreading the Open Source Gospel to the Masses:

Some highlights:

  • Make OSS GUI-based
  • Include Everything Needed to Install and Run
  • Turn Applications Into Suites
  • Simplicity is the Key

on meaning making - marks on articles

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The following paragraph is an excerpt from my previous blog entry (Actor-Network Theory and Managing Knowledge), triggered for repetition after I read James Robertson's Making meaning who refers to Denham Grey's share meaning.

The excerpt:

Next, I would like to demonstrate the naming and the power of the semantic tool with two examples reflecting from my personal experience upon embarking on the Ph.D. program. First, I would like to describe the performative power of the marks I inscribe on the pages of articles and books I read for my classes. Usually, at the start of a new article, more so if the article presents concepts that I perceive unfamiliar, my red pen inscribes all sorts of marks (stars, checks, circles, question marks, exclamation marks, underlining, etc.) with their intended and perceived importance. The first run through the article produces a set of marks placed mostly in the sidelines of article’s pages, each of them with their perceived meaning of what I think is important and necessary for me to master the ideas presented therein, or because I believe that a particular quote will be useful later on. At times I wonder if I’m overdoing with these marks as the more I inscribe they tend to loose their relative significance. The topology of the marks on the pages would have been much different (in relations to each other as well as their quantity) had I had some prior understanding about marks’ meanings. Nevertheless, the point I’m stressing is that the marks tell me different things the next time I look at them for just making sure I have understood a concept or for review purposes. Sometimes I even wonder why have I underlined a certain sentence. At other times I discover that I have missed a certain concept. However, the result is that these entities have performed on my knowledge structure and have also been performed upon themselves, as some of them do not carry the same meaning I attached to them at the time of inscription. The topology in this case would be the article with its marks and also my knowledge structure. However, the article is also part of other topologies, such as the set of articles written by the same author, the set of articles contained in the journal it was published, the disciplines or studies it was intended to perform upon, etc. In my case the marks have performed mostly vertically (affecting my knowledge structure). They probably would not mean much to anyone else, unless I write a page of rules and guidelines describing the marks together with their intentions as I perceived them. But this would be a very hard task because they might not be of much benefit to others given the personal performative nature. (Full article)

Ph.D. Dropouts

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An interesting article by the The Chronicle of Higher Education: Doctor Dropout: High attrition from Ph.D. programs is sucking away time, talent, and money and breaking some hearts, too

"If actual attrition is really around 50 percent, then this is a scandal," says Michael S. Teitelbaum, a program director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. "It's a serious waste of resources and a terrible waste of time and energy on the part of students."

(thanks to jeremy for the link)

Interesting development regarding this software. In New 'NBOR' Software to Debut Next Month Yahoo reports:

"A few hundred thousand lines of computer code could revolutionize the way people interact with computers, say its unlikely inventor and his backers."

"... includes an intuitive user interface for writing, drawing, compiling multimedia presentations and other PC tasks. It allows real-time collaboration and sends large files over the Internet at lightning speed."

Nothing new so far. Sound like just a hype... BUT, you never know. One point of skepticism is the claim to 'intuitivety'. Many have said this before... Also, it appears to be an all-in-one solution and so far such applications have not been very successful in being adopted by the wider public. Let’s wait and see...

I had come across few times before on pieces describing the potential of PowerPoint to dumb-down people's way of thinking. The same is suggested in the following CNN article Does PowerPoint make us stupid?.

That technology affects social structures and other social phenomena (personal and/or at the levels of society) is widely acknowledged, and perhaps is hard to argue otherwise. These effects are not necessarily negative or positive. The effects depend on the context, i.e. the contextual imbedness of the technology within the social structures. (more about social constructionism vs. technological determinism)

Does PowerPoint (as a technology) have the same capability? Surely. However, to what extend is it able to effect individual’s way of thinking as far as presentation of information and facts are concerned? Just because it affects an individual it does not mean it has an affect on all faculties of reasoning and thinking of that individual. It can be argued that it does, however, one needs to be cautious not to jump to quick conclusions without the proper research and deeper understanding of the situation.

Like any other technology, PowerPoint tries to simplify 'things'. In the process of simplification the complexity of the context (including the content and the social structures) is usually 'relaxed' and many details are lost. I would argue that this is rather an unfortunate situation because each simplification chips little by little out of the reality which is not necessarily simple. Thus, as a result many complex phenomena are simplified to a great extent, up to a point where a new phenomenon is 'born' because the simplification really dumbed the complex phenomenon to an unrecognizable one.

Whether the above reasoning is true for PowerPoint's ability to dumb us down is another matter. If it is true, I would suggest that the context is also responsible and not PowerPoint alone. Nevertheless, it is important to understand the scope as to how wide is this even practically possible. Theoretically one can argue that an element in a socio-technological context can have extensive effect in terms of time and space/distance. Practically, it should be analyzed whether the element, PowerPoint in this case, is first and foremost able to effect the individual beyond the presentation mode thinking, or does it also effect individual's other intellectual faculties. (more on Actor-Network Theory and Managing Knowledge)

Maybe it is the immediate relevant context (organization, corporation, society, etc) that has been dumbed-down enough that simple presentation tools like PowerPoint suffice? Or is it PowerPoint? I would think it is both to some extend: complex thoughts, ideas, and solutions are hard to present in their complexity in the expected 30-45 minutes timeframe usually allocated for presentation to managers. That is why we have journal articles and research papers.

Researcher tests open source

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In Researcher tests open source ZDNet's Paul Festa provides a very thoughtful report on Walt Scacchi's involvement with open source from research perspective. The article reports the finding of a 10 year long research effort.

"So what does your research say about the effectiveness of open-source development?

One thing we find with respect to participation is that in a couple of other surveys, 60 percent of open-source software developers who show up as core contributors tend to be contributors to two to 10 other projects. Once you've established a reputation of expertise in a certain area, you can take that to another project, or conversely, people seek out your expertise, because you know how to do certain kinds of things. The overall dynamic that starts to emerge is that there's a social mechanism for the creation of critical mass that lets these projects coalesce and come together, so systems can grow and evolve at rates that far exceed what's predicted by good software practice. Software engineering predicts that projects grow by the inverse square law, meaning that initial growth is fast. It then slows down, and then, with a project shift, you get steady growth.

But in the more successful open-source projects, you get a hockey stick (curved line) on your graph--a longer period of slow growth, then critical mass starts to kick in, and the growth curve starts to shoot up in a greater-than-linear growth rate."

socio-technological; actor-network theory, open source

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I just came across some interesting pieces on the social aspects of open source software and actor-network theory as a tool to investigating the socio-technological attributes of information and information structures around us. Felix Stalder presents challenging thoughts in Open Source as a social principle and Theories of Socio-Technologies.

digital flying ... cool service

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TerraFly is just a cool service (with the obvious concerns about privacy).

"TerraFly ® changes the way you view your world. Simply enter an address, and our system will put you at the controls of a bird's view aerial imagery to explore your digital earth."

"A public service of Florida International University sponsored by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the United States Geological Survey, and IBM."

(thanks to jeremy)

By Mentor Cana, PhD
more info at LinkedIn
email: mcana {[at]} kmentor {[dot]} com

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