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March 17, 2011

New York Times uses Canada as beta for US

The email from the NYTimes about its new digital subscription service notes: “Today, we are rolling out digital subscriptions to our readers in Canada, which will enable us to fine-tune the customer experience before our global launch.” [Also here]. Really? The entire nation of Canada is just a beta tester for the US and the rest of the world?

How do you find out what version number is Canada up to, anyway? Click on the maple leaf?


March 16, 2011

Episcopalian Rector prohibited from adopting Muslim rituals for Lent

According to an article at St. Louis Today by Cynthia Billhartz Gregorian of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Steve Lawlor, a part-time rector at an Episcopal church took up elements of Islamic ritual for Lent.

On Wednesday, the first day of Lent, he began performing salah five times a day, by facing east, toward Mecca, and praying to Allah. He also started studying the Quran and following Islamic dietary restrictions by abstaining from alcohol, pork and fish. During Holy Week, he planned to fast from dawn to sunset as Muslims do during Ramadan.

He avoided rituals that would have conflicted with church doctrine; for example, he skipped the prayers declaring Mohammed to be G-d’s prophet.

Steve did this as a way of understanding Islam, especially in the light of the McCarthyite hearings being held by Rep. Peter King.

But, Bishop George Wayne Smith considered it to be a forsaking of his Christianity, and to be play-acting. The Bishop forbade Steve from continuing, saying:

“I believe what he’s trying to accomplish or says he’s trying to accomplish, which is to deepen his understanding of Islam, is admirable,” he continued. “But you dishonor another faith by pretending to take it on. You build bridges by building relationships with neighbors who are Muslim.”

Not an unreasonable statement, nor an islamophobic one (although we could have done without the “or says he’s trying to accomplish” statement of distrust). But, it’s a false disjunction. You can build bridges both ways. More important, what Steve was doing was not quite pretending. Rather, it was enacting the rituals and finding in them similarities of meaning. I can understand the Bishop’s discomfort with this. For example, as I understand it, Jews are forbidden from kneeling while praying, and thus could not perform the five daily prayers the Muslim way, for ritual has meaning. That’s why performing — enacting — another religion’s rituals can help in understanding that religion. Performing another religion’s rituals thus is subject to contradictory objections: (a) The performance of empty gestures is mere play-acting and thus disrespectful. Or, (b) the performance of ritual is never mere play-acting because ritual always carries inner meaning, so performing the rituals of another religion is transgressive of one’s own religion.

Yet, between these poles of negativity there can be respectful intent, the possibility of genuinely furthering one’s understanding, and make a statement of shared humanity in the face of the shameful fear-mongering of Rep. King and his followers.

Two references, of very different sorts. First, there’s Stephen Colbert’s bit about giving up Christianity for Lent. Second, Islamicate mentions (in the post where I found the link to the “Muslim for Lent” story) that s/he has spent the past six weeks in an Episocpal seminary. Fascinating.


March 15, 2011

Can there be too much information? And what would it be too much of?

As PR for an upcoming appearance by James Gleick, whose new book The Information I am greatly looking forward to reading, Zocalo Public Square asked four or five folks “Can there be too much information?” It’s an interesting collection of responses. (Well, mine excepted.)

And underneath these interesting-in-themselves essays runs a different question when they are taken together: What the heck do we mean by “information” anyway? I’m not sure any of the respondents is defining it in the same way. The ways include: opinions, raw data, words, ideas, photos, switches and dials, and books. Of course, some of these are containers of information or examples of information. But they do not reduce to a single definition. (I believe Gleick’s book is at least in part about this ambiguity about information. It’s also something I’ve been researching for the past couple of years.)

As far as my contribution goes, I had to decide whether to provide an Everything Is Miscellaneous answer (we are learning to organize info in new ways) or a Too Big to Know answer (the quantity of info is changing the nature of knowledge). I went with the new book rather than the old, if only because I wrote the tiny essay within minutes after finishing revising the book manuscript.

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March 14, 2011

Too Big to Know: The Bibliography

Last night I sent my editor, Tim Bartlett, the next rev of Too Big to Know. It took me a few weeks of solid work – somewhat obsessive, perhaps – to respond to my editors’ comments because they were challenging at the level of my arguments (such as they are). Then, after going through it once, I spent another week reading through the entire manuscript to get a better sense of the flow. That quick read-through actually got me to make some fairly substantial changes. It also reminded me once again how easy it is to miss obvious errors. In fact, even after sending it in to my editor, I doscovered an “it’s” that should have been an “its” … on the first page. Yikes.

Now Tim has to read through the rev, come back with more changes for me to work on or pass it on to copy editing. As far as I know, the book is still scheduled for a Fall release.

As part of this rev, I worked on the bibliography. I’m planning on not including it in the book itself, although I’m open to Tim’s advice. In any case, I will put it up at the TooBigToKnow website (which currently consists of nothing but posts tagged here). If you want to see the current version of the bibliography, it’s available as a Google Docs spreadsheet here. I’m thinking that making it available as a spreadsheet online makes it more useful. Also, I plan on annotating it.

Putting it together made me wonder if the ease with which we can do research online is causing the average length of bibliographies to increase…


March 13, 2011

Former philosophy majors

Here’s a list of famous people who started out as philosophy majors.

You can take this either as evidence of the utility of majoring in philosophy, or as evidence that if you want to succeed, you should flee from your background as a philosophy major.


March 12, 2011

Berkman Buzz

Weekly Berkman Buzz:

  • Christian Sandvig adds context to “Internet freedom” debates: link

  • Ethan Zuckerman blogs an “informal conversation” with U.S. State Department’s P.J. Crowley: link

  • CMLP asks for help with “Software Best Practices and Open Source Derivative Works”: link

  • Weekly Global Voices: “Cameroon: Netizens React to SMS-to-Tweet Ban”: link

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  • March 11, 2011

    Why so little blogging?

    It’s been a slow week on this blog because I’m doing a final read-through of the second draft of “Too Big to Know.”

    Last week I finished accommodating my editor’s comments. He gave it an extraordinarily helpful reading, focusing mainly on making sure my arguments make sense and are clearly expressed. So, it was a challenging rewrite.

    Then, having focused on the arguments, generally at the paragraph and occasionally at the section level, I really wanted to re-read the entire thing to check for page-to-page flow — and to have more of the reader’s experience of the book. (Reading it the way readers may read it is the greatest challenge writers face. Or maybe I’ll just speak for myself.)

    I’m about two-thirds of the way through and hope to finish this weekend, although I have a family event on Sunday that may keep me from that goal. Also, as I’ve been giving it a supposedly quick re-read, I have stopped in a few places to undo the revisions I’d made, which is a little discouraging.

    Anyway, within a few days I hope to have unloaded it back into the arms of my patient editor. Then for me it’s a three-week binge of sensual over-indulgence. Or, possibly, working in my office in the basement of the Law Library.


    March 9, 2011

    Robin Chase tells Congress why we need an open, neutral Internet

    Robin Chase, the founder of ZipCar, testified in front of Congress. She argued that Congress ought not remove the FCC’s authority to prevent access providers from deciding which information moves fast, slow, or not at all. [pdf]


    Tog + 17 years = Corning

    Corning has put out a video vision of a future in which we spend most of our day running our fingers over glass interfaces. Very nice. Very slick. Very reminiscent of Bruce Tognazzini’s 1994 Starfire video envisioning of how we might live with documents.

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    March 7, 2011

    Imperial College in showdown with closed-access journals

    Felix Online, the online news of Imperial College in the UK, reports (in an article by Kadhim Shubber) that Deborah Shorley, Director of the Imperial College London Library, is threatening to end the library’s subscriptions to journals published by Elsevier and Wiley Blackwell, two of the major publishers in the UK. Rather than giving into the bundling of journals with 6% annual subscription prices (well above inflation, and in the face of a growth in profits at Elsevier from £1B to £1.6B from 2005 to 2009), she is demanding a 15% reduction in fees, as well as other concessions.

    Says the article: “…if an agreement or an alternative delivery plan is not in place by January 2nd next year, researchers at Imperial and elsewhere will lose access to thousands of journals. But Deborah Shorley is determined to take it to the edge if necessary: ‘I will not blink.'”

    As the article mentions, in 2010, after a 400% fee increase, the University of California threatened to boycott the Nature Publishing Group, including not engaging in peer review for NPG’s journals. (NPG claims that the rise in fees was due to the reduction of a discount from 88% to 50%. UC disputes this.) In August of 2010, NPG and UC made nice and announced “an agreement to work together to address the current licensing challenges as well as the larger issues of sustainability in the scholarly communication process.” [more and more]

    Wow, we’re in a painful transition period. Open access will win.


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