Archive for November, 2012|Monthly archive page
Ebooks are not an improvement; they are an addition. They can’t be used as an excuse to take books away from the everyday world and into the virtual world. We all know that browsing an index is nothing like being in a bookshop or a library. Libraries and publishers will come to an arrangement about ebook lending and that could work very well as a satellite service for library users – providing we keep Planet Library. For kids in particular, ebooks aren’t the answer. Put six picture books of front of a child and she’ll soon find her own way. Give her a library shelf of books and she can pull them out all over the floor. Early reading is physicality – the taste, smell, weight of books.
The popularity of BlackBerrys in Nigeria is partly born of necessity. Erratic internet services and a nonexistent landline network are plugged by unlimited data bundles, costing about £12 a month. Unpredictable phone networks force those who can afford it to own two handsets.
“I already have another smartphone, but I need a BlackBerry pin number to socialise with friends and get babes. BlackBerry has an edge because of the pinging,” George Emeka, a university student said, using the colloquial term for its instant messaging service.
Others are getting more bang for their buck. Yahya Balogun, who lives in a Lagos slum, used eight months of savings to buy a secondhand model. The taxi driver has caught on to the growing number of high-end businesses who advertise and communicate using BlackBerry pin numbers as well as traditional means. “All my clients in [upmarket district] Victoria Island own BlackBerrys. It is a good investment,” Balogun said.
The history of the successful 2012 Obama campaign, and that of the failed Romney, uhm, effort, is being written. It comes down to differing approaches to “reality,” that is, the actuality of people in their milieu–cultural, social, economic. The evidence from the Republicans points to a culture of utter disregard to reality and belief in their own beliefs. But this, I’ve suggested, is simply symptomatic of the right-wing arc since Reagan, whose “morning in America” cheerfully announced that reality did not matter–a point that swirled in the cultural mind with “don’t worry be happy” like thick honey.
More interesting, and as the article I cite suggests, there is in fact an extraordinary change going on in public political commentary–and to a degree, academic, though I suspect that group has been exasperated for some time by the obtuse reticence to meet reality directly of many in the field.
That change is the radical move away from an exegetical tactic of interpretation to a numerical analysis. The former is a kind of interpretive appreciation that invokes the critic’s experience, judgement and basic knowledge to arrive at an assertion whose truth value survived not on the basis of its falsifiability (as Nate Silver has pointed out, being wrong, really really wrong, is not fatal to the career of a pundit) as on the supposed plausibility of the account. Plausibility here would mean something like, “yes, that makes intuitive sense” to the reader. Again, not falsifiable, that is, not provable or disprovable, not even by evidence: after all, errors are always possible.
But why be wrong at all? And what does this supposed interpretation give us that is not given better by a rigorous account and rigorous methodology that provides falsifiable–right/wrong–answers?
About the only thing that the cadre of professional pundits has to claim for itself as valuable is itself. But perhaps there ought to be a reassessment of this claim for value. Because right now, the evidence very strongly suggests that there is a lot more value in looking at the data openly, and with real accountability as to method and outcome, than in gut feelings. Who wants to be wrong when one can be right?
This is very encouraging!
Nature Publishing Group (NPG) today introduces the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license on its 19 NPG-owned academic journals. From December 2012, the CC BY license will be available to authors choosing open access publication options in these journals, in addition to the two non-commercial Creative Commons (CC) licenses currently on offer. This follows NPG’s introduction of a CC BY license option on Scientific Reports in July 2012.
Effective 1 April 2013, Wellcome Trust and RCUK funders will require a CC BY license when they pay open access article processing charges (APCs). NPG intends to offer CC BY options on further open access and ‘hybrid’ journals over the next few months, in keeping with its commitment to author choice and meeting the needs of funders and the research community.
However….. The APCs listed are not insignificant. They are a lot. What it means is that the author pays for the privilege of having her article published in a peer-reviewed journal guaranteed to be tracked by colleagues. This means that the cost of publication and distribution (and all other processing fees) is relocated to the author and more accurately, her employer or granting office. As those tend to be in the public sector or private sector money administered by a public sector or independent body (imagine all the scare quotes you want), it refers cost back to those who are in the end benefiting from the knowledge created: us. But what this finally means is that a recognition (and thus responsibility) of the role the public plays and implicitly assumes must be foregrounded.
And that means moving away from the illusion of the startup market funded by VCs as the source and driver of all value and a more realistic understanding of the complexity of the situation.
But the APC costs:
An APC is levied per article accepted for publication for authors choosing to make their work open access. Authors choosing the CC BY license will pay a premium APC. Full details will be available on nature.com in December and are listed below.
For me, the most interesting point here lies in the acknowledged need to evaluate risk to the populace, even when that risk seems low and costly to diminish. The effort takes the need of communal intervention beyond the valuations the immediate market provides to those that are predicated on very long time scales indeed, as time measures likelihood. It’s an immensely difficult issue to deal with and one that cannot be managed only locally but must be undertaken nationally and even internationally. Thus, international organizations monitor earthquakes and tsunamis, as no one polity can do that alone, and other examples are not hard to come by.
But what about something like nuclear waste? Storing it has been a company obligation, perhaps a sub- or national one, not an international responsibility, at least not that I know of, though nuclear waste is traded, I believe. And what then about carbon waste? Or other byproducts that not only affect the region’s populace and ecology but the globe’s, if not now, eventually?
It’s the “eventually” that needs to be appreciated, for it obviously doesn’t mean status quo until then, nor that prior risk makers are not already affecting us. Just look at global warming and curse our grandparents for not having had the foresight, back when the logic started turning bleak, to prevent the present course.
But governments and communities in general have not imagined their remit has having such a long trajectory. Such future planning is not even taught in graduate schools–at least I don’t think it is. When a building is designed, when a road is paved, a subway tunnel excavated, and so on–is a future of consequence stretching decades ahead imagined?
But it has to be. It need not be a paresis of the present to do so, either. Fairly simple steps and procedures are likely all that are required, as the main point is to build in to any design the probability of its failure under duress, and to create templates of such instances of duress.
This is perhaps the most important lesson for governments. Listen to your users.
It’s not rocket science, but it bears repeating, since so few governments seem to look at how their citizens actually use their websites when redesigning them. The Code for America team in Honolulu did wonderful work prioritizing links on Honolulu’s site by connecting it to Google Analytics to help discover what citizens were actually looking for. It’s clear that using data to design and prioritize decisions sits at the core of gov.uk. This is a conversation that may make many senior public servants and politicians unhappy as their pet projects, photos and press releases get reshuffled, but it will likely lead to happier citizens that spend less time looking for online government services and more time enjoying life.
I know I just posted on this, but the point that Dave makes is important and bears repeating: listen to your users. This is not the same as staging focus groups and presenting sets of selected users with options, with establishing formatted personae that they must perforce identify with to exit the process. No: this is about seeing what actual users do, want; and then providing that.