Peter Suber points out that FaceBook, Yahoo, Elsevier and Yahoo have joined the NetChoice.org lobby that has issued a clarion call against open access that blurs the line between lies and gibberish. Peter blows the statements apart, leaving nothing but clean air and a whiff of ozone.
NetChoice.org is publicizing its monthly “iAWFUL” (Internet advocates watchlist for ugly laws) list of policies that it doesn’t like. The list has little to do with advocating for the Internet, and everything to do with supporting the interests of Internet businesses (“committed to tearing down barriers to e-commerce”). For example, this month’s iAWFUL list includes data breach notification bills and a CT bill that “would force publishers to sell digital books at ‘reasonable” prices to state libraries.” That’s in addition to opposing actions (including the recent epochal White House Memorandum) that support public access to research — often research that the public has paid for. But they have it all bollixed up.
What makes it more distressing, then, is that reputable journals, including Computerworld, CIO and PC World, are running NetChoice’s iAWFUL PR puffery.
Ryan Carson [twitter:RyanCarson] of Treehouse at the Mesh Conference is keynoting the Mesh Conference. He begins his introduction of himself by saying he is a father, which I appreciate. Treehouse is an “online education company that teaches technology. We hope we can remove the need to go to university to do technology.”
NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.
Treehouse “treasures personal time.” They work a 4-day week, 8 hours a day, although they pay for a full 40-hour week. He asks how many people in the audience work for themselves or run their own company; half the people raise their hands. “We have a fundamental belief that people can work smarter, and thus faster…We use a lot of tools that decrease drag.” E.g., they have an internal version of Reddit called “Convoy.” It keeps conversation out of email. “We ask people to never put anything in email that isn’t actionable.” A 4 day week also makes recruiting easy.
“As a father, I realize I’m going to die, sooner rather than later. If I work four days a week, I can send 50% more of my life with my wife and kids.”
Q: Why not a 3 day week?
A: It’s a flag to say “We believe personal time is important.” We’ll do whatever we have to. I’ve told people not to send email over the weekend because it makes work for others.
Q: How about flex time instead?
A: We have tried that, and we let people work from home. “People are smart and motivated and want to succeed. We presume that about people.” We’re demanding, and we’ll fire people if they don’t perform. But you have to institute practices, and not just say that you believe in personal time.
Q: Do you have investors? How do they respond?
A: We have $12M in investment. But we didn’t raise money until after we were profitable. I used my experience running 3 prior companies to give investors confidence. And no one asked about the 4 day week. It doesn’t seem to matter to them. My prior company was an events company and it got bought by a company that worked 5 days a week, and it was messy. I think our team there is now working 5 days.
Q: How do you provide 7 day a week support?
A: Our support team time shifts.
Q: How do you control email so that it’s only actionable?
A: It’s a policy. Also, we use Boomerang which lets us schedule when email is sent.
Now Ryan talks about the tools they use to facilitate a distributed team: about 30 people in Orlando, 8 in Portland, and the rest are distributed in the US and UK. “We don’t have a headquarters.” We are an Internet company. We use Convoy: part water cooler, part news distribution. Notes from meetings go there. It took a dev about a day to create Convoy.
We also use Campfire, a chat program. And Trello for task management. And Google Hangouts. (He notes that you have to be wired, not wifi, and have good gear, for Hangouts to work well.)
Q: Do you have to work over the weekend when there’s a hard deadline? And do you put more of an emphasis on planning?
A: Yes, we sometimes have worked over the weekend. And we’ve sometimes had a problem with people working too much. I think some people work without telling us, especially developers and designers. But if they have to work, their managers have failed. And it does mean we have to plan carefully.
Q: What are your annual meetups like?
A: It’s a full week. No agenda, no working. Pure get drunk, have fun. People work much harder if they like each other and believe in each other.
Now on education. By 2020, there will be 1,000,000 jobs in tech than students. Nine out of ten high schools don’t even offer computer programming classes. [Really? Apparently so. Wow.] Treehouse tries to address this, along with Udacity, CodeAcademy, Code School. In a video, Ryan says that Treehouse will cost you about $300 for an entire course of tech education, making you ready to enter the workforce. “The education system is a racket. Universities have milked us dry for ten years.” 40% of jobs in STEM are in computer science, but only 2% of STEM students are studying it. “In 41 out of 50 states coding classes don’t count toward high school graduation math or science requirements.” “In the future, most students won’t get a four year degree, and I think that’s a good thing. We are moving toward a trade school model.”
Q: Many companies use college degrees as a filter. How do you filter?
A: In 5 yrs there won’t be enough graduates for you to hire anyone because Google and FB will pay them $500,000/year. At Treehouse we apply points. You can see someone’s skills.
Q: What will people miss out on if they don’t go to college?
A: People will miss out on the social aspect, but people can’t afford to go into debt for that. College as the next step is a new idea in the past 15 years. [Really?] You’ll have free liberal arts education available through free online courses. You’ll pay for trade school training. “We’ll just have to have faith that people can be responsible adults without going to university.”
Q: How do you help people who complete your courses find job?
Q: How are you going to mesh these ideas into traditional education?
A: Sub-par universities will die. Education will be completely different in 10 years. We don’t know what it will be.
Ryan says that he’s not doing this for the money. “People who need education can’t afford it.”
[Judy Lee tweeted that Ryan should have asked us how many in the audience have a university degree, and how many of us regret it. Nice.]
I had a lovely time at the University of Toronto Faculty of Information yesterday afternoon. About twenty of us talked for two hours about library innovation. It reminded me: how much I like hanging out with librarians; how eager people are to invent, collaborate, and play; how lucky I am to work in an open space for innovation (the Harvard Library Innovation Lab) with such a talented, creative group; how much I love Toronto.
I was in National Airport in DC yesterday and came upon this scene. The vets are being welcomed by passengers waiting for planes and by people who came especially for the event. It’s a trip sponsored by the Honor Flight Network, a non-profit that brings vets to DC for free to see the memorials and sights. It was a genuinely heartwarming scene. For all the books I’ve read about WW II and the movies I’ve seen, I still can’t imagine what it took to serve.
BTW, Honor Flight’s page — HonorFlight.org — warns us not to be confused by HonorFlight.com. That’ll teach you: If you’re a .org, grab the .com for another $15/year.
About twenty of us spent the day talking in the Rooms themselves, and we also got a tour of some of the inner offices on Secretary Clinton’s floor. I don’t know how much the day helped the State Department, but it was certainly an interesting day for me. I think my only contribution was suggesting (along with Martin Kalfatovic) that State give the DPLA its spreadsheet of objects + metadata, which I think they are getting close to doing.
The Rooms are ornate and even palatial, which strikes a discordant note for a humble democracy. On the other hand, are we supposed to pretend to visiting dignitaries that the U.S.A. can’t afford to do up a room real nice? And, most important, the rooms are filled with 5,000 museum-quality pieces of furniture, paintings, ceramics, and bric-a-brac, many with particular historic significance, such as the desk on which the Treaty of Paris was signed. You could spend days there just admiring the objects on display…if you were lucky enough to be invited to a workshop held in these rooms. Or, I suppose, if you were a visiting head of state with a surprisingly light schedule.
Treaty of Paris desk (cc) Martin Kalfatovic
But what’s perhaps oddest about the Rooms is that they are stuck inside the Harry S. Truman Building, the State Department’s headquarters.
The building was designed in the 1950s, was dedicated in 1961, and from the outside looks like an upscale high school. Its large open lobby is quite pleasing, and must have been more so before all the security machinery was installed. Then the elevators open onto the 8th floor and you’re in a dream of the 18th century.
So, last night I went to a reception in the Rooms for people who had contributed to them. Very much a pinstripe and wingtip affair for the guys, and whatever is the suitable generalization for the women. There were perhaps 100 people there, and I can guarantee that every person there contributed far more to the Rooms than I had. Many had donated very substantial sums of money, for the Rooms are paid for and maintained entirely by donations; no tax payer money was harmed by these rooms. Other people have put in considerable time and effort. Not me. But I was in DC for the morning, so I had accepted the invitation.
It was a big enough occasion to rope Secretary Kerry into attending. He appeared about twenty minutes after it began, and the experienced handlers at State immediately had us form a line. As you approach Sec. Kerry, you hand a card with your name on it to an assistant; you were given this card when you went through security. You approach the Secretary as your name is read, alas, with no trumpets. The Secretary says something placeholdery to you if he doesn’t know you from Adam, puts his arm around you, and smiles for the camera. What a job.
To me the Secretary pleasantly said — having just heard my name announced — “Dr. David Douglas Weinberger. That’s a very long name.”
I’d say that that was the most insipid thing I’d ever heard, but I’m afraid I topped it. “I voted for you many times,” said I.
I was surprisingly flustered. When he put his long arm around me, I put mine around his waist, which I think violated both protocol and security procedures. I was not wrestled to the ground, and the Secretary handled it like a pro. Not me. I’m pretty sure I was staring at his collar when when the photo was taken. The man wears a beautiful collar.
Smile. Click. Next.
Click to see a bigger but still blurry photo of Sec. Kerry speaking
After the reception line, Secretary Kerry gave some quite appropriate remarks about the importance of our history despite its comparative brevity, and about the good in the world the US does, pointing specifically to the seven-fold increase in the number of kids in school in Afghanistan, and the rise from single digits to 40+% enrollment of girls. If you’re going to pick examples of US beneficence, that’s a good’un. John Kerry is smart and serious and I am happy to have him as our Secretary of State, although I’ll be happier once Ed Markey wins the election to be his replacement in the Senate.
Then it was time for massive mingling, which is never my strong suit. There was a table of excellent all-American cheeses, and a variety of all-American wines. As the bartender pointed out each wine’s state of origin, she noted that wines are made in every state. “Even Nebraska?” I asked rather randomly. “I didn’t say they were all good,” she replied, thus confirming that she is not a State Department employee and never will be.
I spent a lot of time in the comfort of Martin [twitter: UDCMRK] and Mary Kalfatovic, DPLA buddies and people I am enormously fond of. After about 30 minutes of post-Kerry mingling, we went out for Thai food.
Thus we departed the locale of what certainly should be an upcoming Nicolas Cage movie — National Treasure: Diplomatic Reception — with the Abigail Adams tiara in my pocket and no one the wiser.
Keynote presentation software has what seems to be a needless limitation on how large you can scale an object using their animation capabilities: you can take it up to 200% and no larger. A few years ago I poked around in the xml save files and manually increased the scaling on an object to 1000%, and it animated just fine. So I don’t know what was in the designer’s minds when they limited the user interface. Actually, I’m sure they had a good reason, so I already regret the use of the word “dumb” in my headline. A little.
“Dumb” is appropriate, however, for me, given how long it’s taken me to realize a way around the limitation in some circumstances.
Keynote has a really helpful slide transition called “Magic Move.” If you duplicate a slide and move around the objects in the duplicate slide, and resize them, then when you click from the first slide to the second, the objects will smoothly animate into their new positions and sizes. It is occasionally finicky, but when it works, it can save an enormous amount of manual animation. For example, if you have a slide with a square made up of 64 little squares, and you want to animate those little squares flying apart, rather than animating each of their movements, just duplicate the slide and drag the little cubes where you want.
So, duh, if you want to animate one of those cubes so it grows larger than 200%, just duplicate the slide and enlarge the cube to whatever size you want. Apply the “Magic Move” transition to the first slide, and Keynote will do the deed for you.
This doesn’t work for all situations, but in the ones that it works in, it’s very handy. And, yes, I should have realized it a couple of years ago.
I remember well the first time I heard the word “attitude” used to mean “negative attitude.” It was shortly after John Lennon had been killed. I was in a mall and the poster shop was selling some crappy Lennon memorial posters at jacked up prices. I was devoted to Lennon, and muttered something about it being opportunism. “You got an attitude,” the clerk said, sneering. “I don’t need your attitude.”
I was tempted to say, “Yes, I have an attitude. We all have attitudes.” But I knew what he meant.
Likewise, nowadays I hear weather forecasters predicting that there will be “some weather moving in.” No, there’s always weather. They mean “severe weather” or maybe just “noticeable weather.” I do sometimes correct them, but since they’re on tv, it hasn’t yet had an effect. Except on my wife who finds it charming every time I do it, or so I choose to believe.
This is far from the first time a quality has been taken as denoting a particular value when used unadorned. “He has a temperature.” “You’ve got a reputation.”"He’s in a mood.” I suppose you could even put “a person of color” into that category. So, it happens.
In my continuing series “How to Be an Idiot,” here’s what not to do when installing a new hard drive into your MacBook Pro.
I started off right. I had everything prepared: a new 500gB hybrid drive, a fresh Time Machine backup, and an 8gB USB stick with the Mac Mountain Lion installer on it. I still managed to fail maybe 20 times over the course of two days booting from everything I could find, re-installing Lion onto the stick, backing up from Time Machine, etc. The closest I came was when I installed off the repair partition over a backup drive. The Mac started up its install process, but got stopped with a message that said that Apple was unable to confirm that my computer is authorized for an OS install. At least, that’s what I think it meant; it’s not a very clear message, and, no I didn’t write it down :(
This made me think that the problem was that I was trying to install the wrong version, although I was pretty durn sure that I had upgraded to Mountain Lion a few weeks earlier, having resisted the blandishments of Lion. Maybe Apple was confused, although I couldn’t see why. I installed the prior version of the OS on my USB drive. Nope.
And now for the answer. And it’s not going to make me look smart, that I promise you.
You see, kids, for Apple to verify my machine, it has to get onto the Internet. It turns out that if during the install process you give your Mac a choice of wifi hotspots to connect to, it picks an open one without asking for your say-so. As a result, it happened to pick a hotspot that requires a login on a web site, but there’s no browser available during the install process. Once I pointed the Mac to another hotspot, it was able to connect and authorize my machine, enabling the installation to proceed.
Sure it was dumb of me. But it’s also dumb of Apple to give us an error message that says that it’s unable to authorize, rather than that it was unable connect. (I also didn’t see a relevant message in the Installer log, but I may have missed it.)
Fortunately, each of the things I tried took a relatively long time to fail, so I was able to get a lot done while trying. Still, the moment of victory was definitely a forehead-slapper for me.
I’ll speak for myself, but I actually have good reason to think that I’m talking for many others. I stayed inside because the mayor and governor told me that they needed the streets clear in order to catch the child-murdering bastards who attacked my city. The bombers were being cornered, and on that Friday there was nothing I desired more than they face justice. I never felt in danger, and I am not a brave person.
My evidence that I’m speaking for more than just myself: In the many conversations with people afterwards, not one of them mentioned being afraid, or it being a scary day, although many (including me) talked about it being a very weird day. Our only fear was that they might get away. (It was undoubtedly very different for people in Watertown. Here in Brookline/Brighton I didn’t see any police or hear sirens or gunshots.)
Dave nicely ties it back to a talk he had given the day before to the Boston Globe:
People feel a need to be part of the world they live in. Most of us feel like we’re on the sidelines, spectators, consumers, eyeballs, credit card numbers, and that’s not what we want. We want meaning. We want to make a contribution. We want do do good and have that good make a difference. If you look at what people actually do, not the stories you read in the paper or hear on CNN, this is obvious. The bombings not only worried people, for a short time when the scope of the danger was unknown, but people also saw the opportunity to get some of the precious stuff, meaning and relevance.
Yup. Our participation that day was minimal — stay at home! — but it was what we could do, and it would only work if we all did it together. It was a moment of civic focus and solidarity that palpably transformed the city for one day. Fear had nothing to do with it.
Amanda Filipacchi has a great post at the New York Times about the problem with classifying American female novelists as American female novelists. That’s been going on at Wikipedia, with the result that the category American novelist was becoming filled predominantly with male novelists.
Part of this is undoubtedly due to the dumb sexism that thinks that “normal” novelists are men, and thus women novelists need to be called out. And even if the category male novelist starts being used, it still assumes that gender is a primary way of dividing up novelists, once you’ve segregated them by nation. Amanda makes both points.
From my point of view, the problem is inherent in hierarchical taxonomies. They require making decisions not only about the useful ways of slicing up the world, but also about which slices come first. These cuts reflect cultural and political values and have cultural and political consequences. They also get in the way of people who are searching with a different way of organizing the topic in mind. In a case like this, it’d be far better to attach tags to Wikipedia articles so that people can search using whatever parameters they need. That way we get better searchability, and Wikipedia hasn’t put itself in the impossible position of coming up with a taxonomy that is neutral to all points of view.
Wikipedia’s categories have been broken for a long time. We know this in the Library Innovation Lab because a couple of years ago we tried to find every article in Wikipedia that is about a book. In theory, you can just click on the “Book” category. In practice, the membership is not comprehensive. The categories are inconsistent and incomplete. It’s just a mess.
It may be that a massive crowd cannot develop a coherent taxonomy because of the differences in how people think about things. Maybe the crowd isn’t massive enough. Or maybe the process just needs far more guidance and regulation. But even if the crowd can bring order to the taxonomy, I don’t believe it can bring neutrality, because taxonomies are inherently political.
There are problems with letting people tag Wikipedia articles. Spam, for example. And without constraints, people can lard up an object with tags that are meaningful only to them, offensive, or wrong. But there are also social mechanisms for dealing with that. And we’ve been trained by the Web to lower our expectations about the precision and recall afforded by tags, whereas our expectations are high for taxonomies.