August 2004 Archives

technology doesn't make moral choices, humans do

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From Judges leave technology's moral choices to humans:

Excerpt:
The court's decision doesn't condone the theft of copyrighted material. That is wrong and will always remain so. Peer-to- peer networks have other uses, however, particularly for the many lesser-known bands, artists and filmmakers that embrace file-sharing for its distribution power.

The court's ruling rightfully recognizes that technology doesn't make moral choices, humans do.

Searching for work: The challenges and concerns

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Current situation
As I have mentioned in my previous blog entry regarding my current status as a Ph.D. student, I just finished my coursework towards my doctoral studies in Information Science (minor in Media Studies) at SCILS – Rutgers University. My plan going forward is to start a full time job and continue working on my qualifying exam and dissertation on part time basis. I would love to concentrate full time on the rest of my Ph.D. studies, however, my personal situation does not give me the luxury to do so.
Thus, by April of this year, just before the semester was about to finish, I started looking very actively for a full time job (including here consulting / contracting / or short term projects). It is almost the end of the summer and I'm still looking for a job. I've had a number of interviews but was not prepared to hear the reasons why I didn't get the jobs that I thought and still think I was a good match.

In continuation, I will try to describe my experiences with the search process, and would appreciate any comments from fellow readers with similar experiences and challenges, as well as those that care to share an advice or point to a resource that can be helpful to individuals in similar situations.

The two sides that ought to meet (and do meet) – but recruiters and HR staff don't seem to see how, where, what and why
Before I continue, here is a short description of my industry experience as well my recent academic training as part of my Ph.D. studies. I have extensive experience as information systems analyst / engineer / architect, working with various systems primarily in the telecommunication industry [more detailed description]. My deliverables usually have consisted of specifications and requirements writing in the form of requirement documents used as inputs to the developing and testing teams, as well as architecture slides. In addition, the systems analyst position most often requires one to act as a facilitator between the business / user side and the technical side of the product lifecycle development. This role as a facilitator usually requires the understanding of the 'big picture' in order to better asses the feasibility and deliver-ability of a product or subcomponents (features, functionalities) in line with the business needs and tasks. As far as my academic experience is concerned, my interests have evolved around the interplay between information systems/structures and the social structures within which information systems are embedded. More specifically, I'm interested in digital libraries, system design, open source software, actor-network theory, the concept of openness, the social construction of IT and IS, etc.

The challenges
I believe there is a tremendous and unique value in the conjecture of the type of industry experience I posses and the type of academic training I have recently gone through as part of my doctoral coursework. One would think that HR staff, and recruiting and consulting companies would be able to see the advantage and be able to leverage such experience coupled with theoretical / academic knowledge. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. What follows are some specific experiences and challenges I have faced in the job searching process:
  1. Overqualification / underqualification. The most frequent comment I hear back from recruiters and HR folks is that I'm overqualified for the types of jobs I used to do before (i.e. Systems analysts / eng / architect), or that I'm not ready yet for the type of jobs that require an earned Ph.D. While I can understand the 'not ready yet' argument and it does make sense since I'm not done with my Ph.D. yet, it is hard to fathom that more education and more knowledge would be a barrier to finding a job, especially when this education is very closely related to the previous industry experience. I've tried to make sense and it could be argued that companies are afraid to loose individuals who aim at getting their doctoral degrees; this would make sense if one is looking for a permanent position within a firm. But, shouldn't the companies be less concerned with retention if the job is consulting / contract position?

  2. The wrong time to be looking for job. The additional challenge in my case I think is that this is the wrong time to be looking for job since the economy is not what used to be few years ago, and this is further made harder by the fact that HR folks consider this type of change as career change. Even though I don't see it that way.

  3. Must have exact experience. Moving to another industry and away from telecommunication in order to expand the possibilities is a real challenge. Companies seem to want an exact experience in every sense of the word, including here relevant industry experience. Looking at current job requirements makes you wonder who are they writing those requirements for. Most of the times it is not possible to get everything in one individual. I guess companies can do that nowadays considering the number of people looking for work. It is a managers job market.

  4. Recruiters and placement agencies unable to link my industry experience and my academic training. More than often HR folks concentrate on my working experiences as a systems analyst forgetting the value I bring to the table I have gained through my coursework as part of my doctoral studies. At the end of my resume I list all of my courses. The following courses (Human Information Behavior, Experiment and Evaluation in Information Systems, Quantitative Research Methods, Qualitative Research Methods, Towards a model of open source digital library system) are directly relevant to the type of work I have done during my industry experience, and yet recruiters and HR folks don't seem to make the link.

  5. Lack of Information Science / Studies job searching websites and tools. What are the online resources one can turn to for help? Many sites related to LIS type of job search list library jobs and lack substantial listings of Information Science / Studies related job openings.

  6. Lack of recruiting and placement agencies who are specialized in placing professionals with Information Science / Studies backgrounds. There is a lack of recruiting and placement agencies that can understand the potential an Information Science / Studies professional brings to the table. Few agencies I have spoken to have been helpful, but even they are not able to properly articulate the benefits an Information Studies professional can bring to a company.

  7. The industry appears blind to the knowledge and potentials that Information Studies / Science professionals can bring to the table. As I have mentioned above, the lack of helpful tools and recruiters that understand what Information Science / Studies education can do is perhaps directly related to what appears to be a blind spot in the industry as far as the abilities and expertise of an Information Science / Studies professional are concerned. More specifically, the people (interviewers, managers, recruiters, etc.) I have spoken do not seem very aware that system design strategies can be enhanced through various Human Information Behavior studies and thus yield better systems in the long run. This is even more true for those systems that directly interface with people and other social structures in the work place. An effort should be undertaken by Information Science / Studies school and departments to establish connections between theory and practice, between theoretical knowledge and how it can be utilized in practice.

Needless to say, the above experiences are those that I have encountered, limited by the information and resources available to me and performed by my previous experiences, my understanding of the current job market, my (un)luck with finding the right recruiters and placement agencies that understand the value of information Science / Studies doctoral education, and the limited knowledge of how all things should work especially in such tough and volatile times.

Why I wrote this entry?
In order to help, share and learn from each other, I would love to hear from others that are in my position or face similar challenges, especially those that have previous industry experience and are currently pursuing a doctorate degree in Information Science / Studies. Even better if I hear from potential employers; here is my resume. :)

(Update on 9/19/2004: I have accepted an offer and will be starting work in few days.)



Fewer students major in tech reports on the declining number of students entering and graduating in IT related degrees, including here information science/studies.

"In the University of Pittsburgh's information science program, which combines the study of information technology and how people use it, the number of students majoring has dropped to 200 for this school year, said Bob Perkoski, IS undergraduate program director. Last year, 229 students were majoring in IS and the year before, 260, Mr. Perkoski said."

It is interesting to see the effect of the declining graduates in the field of information science/studies with the ever increasing utilization of information technology around us. This isn't to say that information science/studies professionals are the only graduates/experts that can elucidate the interplay of IT and IS and the social structures within which they are embedded. However, who else is better positioned to study and explicate these relations? Computers science/engineering graduates traditionally have concentrated more on the technology rather than its social significance and implications. On the other side, social sciences do not emphasize enough on the technology as an important determining actor in the complex web of socio-technological interconnections.

Nevertheless, the decline might not have any immediate effects in real life due to the fact that in practice it is rarely recognized that information science/studies graduates are the best positioned to deal with the interplay of IT/IS and the relevant social structures.

paper superior to digital technology for archiving

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From "Digital Information Will Never Survive by Accident”:

"Beagrie: In the right conditions papyrus or paper can survive by accident or through benign neglect for centuries or in the case of the Dead Sea Scrolls for thousands of years. It takes hundreds of years for languages and handwriting to evolve to the point where only a few specialists can read them.
...
In contrast, digital information will never survive and remain accessible by accident: it requires ongoing active management. The information and the ability to read it can be lost in a few years. Storage media such as paper tape, floppy disks, CD-ROM, DVD evolve and fall out of use rapidly. Digital storage media have relatively short archival life-spans compared to other media. As the volumes, heterogeneity, and complexity of digital information grows this requirement for active management becomes more challenging and more critical to a wider range of organisations."

I already have a problem reading/opening some papers/files that I wrote during my undergrad studies using WordStar (or something similar) in a school computer lab.

Justice is served! Court: Grokster, StreamCast Not Liable

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From Court: Grokster, StreamCast Not Liable:

"SAN FRANCISCO - Grokster Ltd. and StreamCast Networks Inc. are not legally responsible for the swapping of copyright content through their file-sharing software, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday in a blow to movie studios and record labels.
...
The panel noted that the software companies simply provided software for individual users to share information over the Internet, regardless of whether that shared information was copyrighted.
...
"The technology has numerous other uses, significantly reducing the distribution costs of public domain and permissively shared art and speech, as well as reducing the centralized control of that distribution," Thomas wrote"

Finally, justice is served!

mind-mapping tool ... use of ANT apparent

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A brief overview of Mayomi (an Online mind-mapping tool and community) reveals that ANT can be used to analyze and trace the connections between various elements/actors. As it can be observed from the first page, the elements are human and non-human, some task oriented, others action oriented, as well as social and information structures, etc, making it a good fit to be analyzed by the ANT framework, unless they were designed and developed based on the ANT framework and methodology. Hope to write more about this once I use the tool. A similar tool is FreeMind which I just installed.

Who benefits from the digital divide? is a very informative article regarding the digital divide discourse. One would think that such discourse arises with the aim to help the people on the have nots side of the digital divide, by closing the digital divide gap. In this article for First Monday Brendan Luyt shows that the people on the negative side of digital divide are surely NOT the people benefiting from the discourse.

"In this article I have described four groups that have an interest in the promotion of the digital divide issue. Information capital achieves a new market for its products as well as an educated workforce capable of producing those products in the first place. The state in the South benefits through the legitimation conferred through programs designed to combat the divide. Not only do these offer new accumulation opportunities for its elite, they also hold the possibility of defusing discontent over poor economic prospects for the middle class, a volatile section of the population. The development industry, suffering from a neo–liberal attack that views development as irrelevant in the modern world, also benefits from the digital divide. Another gap has been opened up that requires the expertise these agencies believe they can provide. And finally, the organs of civil society are also winners, as they attempt to capture information and communication technologies for their own increasingly successful projects."

Paradoxically, the digital divide discourse does not appear to be helping those it is supposed to help.

In The 'digital divide' and the rest of the population & the digital divide: more than a technological issue I have tried to show that the digital divide discourse might even further increase the existing digital divide gap.

Culture of secrecy hinders Africa's information society covers few interesting ways the mobile telephone technology is being used in Africa. It is evident in the article that the use of mobile technology is being redefined and continually socially constructed by the social and monetary resourced available.

Among the other interesting paragraphs, this one is really revealing:

"The worst thing is that it is a short step from a culture of withholding information to that of becoming information-blind. In other words, when we keep on withholding information, we end up being unable to produce information. We lose the culture of surveying, assessing, classifying – in brief, collecting as much information as possible and storing it in a standardized manner, making it available for use, not only to cater for current specific needs, but also for potential and future ones."

Along the lines of this article's argument, it can also be explained why text messaging is lagging in the US behind Europe and Asia. Most cell/mobile phone service plans in the US come with certain amount of 'free' minutes included in the plan. So, if you have free minutes to use, you use them first before sending any text messages, but also because the mobile telephone devices in the US market are less 'text messaging' friendly. In contrast, in Europe you pay for each minute you talk, and you use text messaging because it is cheaper than talking; thus the social co-construction of the mobile telephony service and the technology, and its use.

open source for hardware

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The following article Try open source for hardware is a clear explanation of the potential benefit of implementing open source to hardware. While we see the open source hardware implemented in various PC technologies (via open protocols and open standard interfaces), the printer and printing industry is not there yet. The article clearly articulates the benefit to the consumers if printer cartridges are made standard across various vendors. It should drive the crazy cartridge prices down.

Rights Management and Digital Library Requirements

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From Rights Management and Digital Library Requirements:

Introduction

It is common to hear members of the digital library community debating the relative merits of the two most common rights expression languages (RELs) - the Open Digital Rights Language (ODRL) and the rights language developed for the Motion Picture Expert Group (MPEG) and recently adopted by the International Organization for Standardization [1] - and which is preferable for digital library systems. Such debates are, in my opinion, premature and should be postponed until this community has developed a clear set of requirements for rights management in its environment, including rights expression, the encoding of license terms, and file protection.

This article is intended to provoke discussion of those requirements, and it attempts to do so by illustrating aspects of the current developments in rights management that may be problematic for digital libraries. This does not mean that the digital library community will need to develop its own rights language and rights management solution, separate from the existing standards in this area. It means that at this moment in time we do not have sufficient information about our own rights management needs to evaluate any particular solution nor to negotiate for extensions to accommodate digital library functionality.

States Warn File-Sharing Networks quotes attorneys general of 40 US states as saying:

"In a letter to the heads of Kazaa, Grokster, BearShare, Blubster, eDonkey2000, LimeWire and Streamcast Networks, the attorneys general write that peer-to-peer (P2P) software "has too many times been hijacked by those who use it for illegal purposes to which the vast majority of our consumers do not wish to be exposed.""

There is no doubt that P2P networks are perhaps used for the distribution of copyrighted material. However, the problem with the argument that they could be shut because they are also used to distribute copyrighted material stands on shaky grounds.

Here are some issues with the argument:
- Why stop with the P2P Networks and P2P software? How about the Internet as the enabler of the P2P activities?
- P2P activities are also used by independent artists and other activist to distribute various materials without any copyright infringements
- Nobody seems to have a problem with physical CDs, video tapes, DVDs and other carrier technology (including roads and highways) as an enablers to carry content (copyrighted or otherwise) from point A to point B.

So, the issues on how to deal with the distribution of copyrighted materials should be looked from a different perspective. I think it is more of a social issue rather than technology. The P2P technology is an innovative way for content distribution and it will be very sad if it is destroyed because some people decide to use it in a manner contrary to the pertinent laws.

ph.d. status update (Summer 2004)

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Well, with the finishing of this past semester (i.e. Spring 2004) I completed the required coursework for my Ph.D. in Information Science (with minor in Media Studies).

Right now I'm concentrating my efforts towards getting ready for my qualifying exam and trying to concentrate further and deeper into the issues I like to treat in my dissertation (obviously the proposal comes first:)).

Not sure if I'll be taking the qualifying exam this coming semester (Fall 2004). If not, then my plans are to take the exam in early Spring 2005.

In the meantime, a lots of reading, reflecting, mental summarizations, re-reading of article that I read early in my coursework, making new connections between theory and practice, further indulging and trying to understand the explicit and implicit theories and frameworks that guide my thinking and research pertinent to my Ph.D. studies, etc.

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

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