Monday, July 31, 2006

Boston Wi-Fi: New idea for city wi-fi

I can't decide if I'm really ticked off and disappointed in Boston or if I believe the mayor when he claims he is helping to lead a new direction for city wireless connectivity. Hizzoner, Tom Menino, has been roundly criticized because Boston, which claims to be a hi-tech city, has not yet offered the free city-wide wi-fi that other cities like Philadelphia already have. This article from the Boston Globe of July 31, 2006, discusses the current plan and the report that underlies the plan.

Briefly, the city plans to create a non-profit organization to oversee the construction of a city-wide wi-fi infrastructure that it will lease to a competing group of internet service providers. They expect that greater ownership of the infrastructure will keep more control in municipal hands. The taskforce concluded that broadband prices are due to lack of competition. They hope that this structure will foster more competition among the ISPs and will thus drop access prices to less than half the current broadband prices we see in the U.S., about $35 -$42/month. The taskforce report also anticipates that many niche service providers will spring up in the marketplace created by this non-profit holding of the wi-fi infrastructure. First, however, they have to raise funds.

You can see a brief and more objective analysis of the Boston experiment discussed here, at the website. Here is a short snippet of their synopsis:

Main points in the report:

(1) The city will grant the nonprofit access to light-poles, traffic lights, and city buildings, but will not spend any money to deploy the network. The nonprofit must raise funds (estimated between $16 million to $20 million).

(2) The network should be designed to bring the wireless signal up to the periphery of buildings. Users will be responsible for bringing the signal into their homes and businesses for example, by purchasing a wireless bridge. Some ISPs may choose to offer this device for free and assist those who need help.

(3) The city should be able to use the network for municipal purposes and to purchase access on a wholesale basis from the nonprofit.

See why I can't decide if we ought to shower the Mayor with praise or with contempt? Boston, the Hub of the Universe...

Friday, July 28, 2006

Bad News From the Lilbrary of Congress

Frankly, this has been a lousy day. One reason is this article about changes at the Library of Congress. When I read the article, I became livid. Apparently, a report commissioned by LC recommends sweeping changes in cataloging procedures, including redefining the "gold standard of quality service" to mean "fast turnaround and delivery of library materials to users...not the fullness of catalog data." The report also recommended that LC dismantle the Library of Congress Subject Headings system. One change that has already been announced is that LC catalog records will no longer indicate when a book is part of a series; no series authority records will be created in the future. Most academic libraries in the United States rely on LC records as the backbone of their cataloging operations. The changes in LC policy would have far-reaching implications for the scholarly community and are deplorable.

More News on Open Access

The Federal Public Research Access Act, which is currently under consideration by Congress, would "require federal agencies to publish their findings, online and free, within six months of their publication elsewhere," according to a story in today's edition of Inside Higher Education. The story further reports that the provosts of a number of major universities have jointly released "an open letter that strongly backs the bill and encourages higher education to prepare for a new way of disseminating research findings." Not unexpectedly, the Association of American Publishers is opposed to the bill, citing potential problems such as the cost of electronic publishing possibly diverting money from actual research, the possibility that the government might not create good databases, and the fear that after driving some commercial journals out of business, the government might lose interest in the databases and stop maintaining them. The provosts acknowledge that a new system of scholarly publishing might present a challenge for traditional journals, but state in their letter that the move toward open access is a "challenge to us all to think about how best to align the intellectual and economic models for scholarly publishing with the needs of contemporary scholarship and the benefits, including low marginal costs of distribution, of network technology."

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Redefining Peer Review: GAM3R 7H30RY

From Print: The Chronicle of Higher Education: 7/28/2006: Book 2.0: a few pertinent excerpts:

While most scholarly books are reviewed by a few carefully chosen experts before publication, McKenzie Wark's latest monograph is getting line-by-line critiques from hundreds of strangers in cyberspace, many of whom know absolutely nothing about his academic field.

Mr. Wark, a professor of media and cultural studies at New School University, has put the draft of his latest book online in an experimental format inspired by academic blogs and the free-for-all spirit of Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Each paragraph of Mr. Wark's book has its own Web page, and next to each of those paragraphs is a box where anyone can comment — though readers are not permitted to alter the original text....

Welcome to what is either an expansive new future for the book in the digital age, or a cacophonous morass that will turn scholarship into a series of flame wars — or both.

Scholars like Mr. Wark, who are as comfortable firing off comments on blogs as they are pontificating at academic conferences, are beginning to question whether the printed book is the best format for advancing scholarship and communicating big ideas.

In tenure and promotion, of course, the book is still king — the whole academic enterprise often revolves around it. But several scholars are using digital means to challenge the current model of academic publishing.

Thanks to the Internet, they argue, the book should be dynamic rather than fixed — not just a text, but a site of conversation. Printouts could still be made and bound, but the real action would be online, and the commentary would form a new kind of peer review....

Mr. Wark's book is called GAM3R 7H30RY (pronounced "Gamer Theory," and rendered in a code-like language style popular among computer geeks). It offers a cultural critique of video games and argues that popular culture increasingly casts life itself as a kind of game — where you're only truly a survivor if you can avoid being voted off the island.

Mr. Wark originally planned on sticking with the old-fashioned peer-review model — and he has, in fact, submitted the book for publication by a traditional academic press (Harvard University Press). But as he was finishing a draft, he was approached by Ben Vershbow, a researcher at the Institute for the Future of the Book, an unusual academic center run by the University of Southern California but based in Brooklyn....

One of Mr. Wark's inspirations for the e-book form is Wikipedia.

"That is the literary work of our time," he said. "It's the Shakespeare of 2006. It took a traditional form, which is an encyclopedia, and completely rethought it. It rethought what authorship is. It rethought what collaboration is. It rethought textual form."

That sentiment is likely to rile other scholars, many of whom dismiss Wikipedia as full of inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise flawed information contributed by people of unknown background. But Mr. Wark argues that Wikipedia's power is that it brings many thinkers together. And because Wikipedia allows anyone to see the history of who has added what to each entry, he said, it is self-correcting when errors do emerge.

"Wikipedia is based in sound academic practices to do with peer review — it just changes who those peers are," he said. "They're not people who are authorized by Ivy League degrees or anything like that. But there's more of them, and they work faster." ...

"We're kind of talking about open-source development of big-idea books — that go into more depth than a Wikipedia article would, obviously, and that are more perhaps original and more provocative and are less balanced than a Wikipedia article is trying to be."

Mr. Stein chimed back in: "We are suggesting a new idea of peer review that is fundamentally similar, in that it is an exchange among peers, but that is in the open," he said. As it stands, most scholarly presses, and journal publishers for that matter, keep the peer-review process private and anonymous. "We think that the way that peer review in theory enacts scholarship is actually of value, and it's worth being seen, and it might spark further discussion and further critical engagement," Mr. Stein said.

This is an excellent and thought-provoking article; read the whole thing.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Human-Computer Interaction: Cognitive Science, Memes and Evolution

I am fascinated by the concept of how minds work and interact with tools and reading materials. I have loved thinking about this since I was an undergraduate thinking about linguistics. But this really affects my work now as a librarian. What happens when we read? What happens when we use digital resources? Is it different from what happens when we use print-based materials? Do our minds actually re-wire or restructure the brain to accommodate or better integrate with our tools? I think we need to consider these questions deeply to better understand the future needs of information seekers, and to develop new forms, indexes, filters and education for transmitting and sorting information.

The decoration, assuming that Blogger will let me post it, is from, who seem to do special effects for movies. This is their vision of a cyborg.

Jim's post on the Digital Natives/Digital Immigrant theory included mention of a number of interesting cognitive theorists. I followed up several and stumbled into very interesting posts on 3rd Culture Link. My search for Andy Clark on cyborg as currently describing the human-technology link, turned up this link to his essay, "NATURAL BORN CYBORGS?" at Clark, formerly director of cognitive science at Indiana University, and now a professor at University of Sussex, sees the human mind as integrated uniquely with all our tools. He seems to theorize that the recent changes wrought by use of digital tools move our modified brains to a new and distinctive state on a continuum begun with simple tools, and carried through the development of reading, writing and print:

the learning device itself changes as a result of organism-environmental interactions — learning does not just alter the knowledge base for a fixed computational engine, it alters the internal computational architecture itself. The linguistic and technological environments in which human brains grow and develop are thus poised to function as the anchor points around which such flexible neural resources adapt and fit.
Perhaps, then, it is a mistake to posit a biologically fixed "human nature" with a simple "wraparound" of tools and culture. For the tools and culture are indeed as much determiners of our nature as products of it. Ours are (by nature) unusually plastic brains whose biologically proper functioning has always involved the recruitment and exploitation of non-biological props and scaffolds. More so than any other creature on the planet, we humans emerge as natural-born cyborgs, factory tweaked and primed so as to be ready to grow into extended cognitive and computational architectures: ones whose systemic boundaries far exceed those of skin and skull.

... Even granting that the biological innovations which got this ball rolling may have consisted only in some small tweaks to an ancestral repertoire, the upshot of this subtle alteration is a sudden, massive leap in cognitive-architectural space. For our cognitive machinery is now intrinsically geared to transformation, technology-based expansion, and a snowballing and self-perpetuating process of computational and representational growth. The machinery of contemporary human reason thus turns out to be rooted in a biologically incremental progression while simultaneously existing on the far side of a precipitous cliff in cognitive-architectural space.
In sum, the project of understanding human thought and reason is easily and frequently misconstrued. It is misconstrued as the project of understanding what is special about the human brain. No doubt there is something special about our brains. But understanding our peculiar profiles as reasoners, thinkers and knowers of our worlds requires an even broader perspective: one that targets multiple brains and bodies operating in specially constructed environments replete with artifacts, external symbols, and all the variegated scaffoldings of science, art and culture.
Understanding what is distinctive about human reason thus involves understanding the complementary contributions of both biology and (broadly speaking) technology, as well as the dense, reciprocal patterns of causal and co-evolutionary influence that run between them. We cannot see ourselves aright until we see ourselves as nature's very own cyborgs: cognitive hybrids who repeatedly occupy regions of design space radically different from those of our biological forbears. The hard task, of course, is now to transform all this from (mere) impressionistic sketch into a balanced scientific account of the extended mind.

(Clark, p.5)

I find this argument to be very exciting, and it rings true to my own experience and observations. Another essay at, by Dan Sperber, a French anthropologist, "AN EPIDEMIOLOGY OF REPRESENTATIONS" link, mixes easily with Clark's thinking. Sperber considers the interactivity of human communication and thinking. He asks, what happens when we read or receive communication from another? And answers that we do not simply "Xerox" from one mind to another. When we read or listen to another, we are absorbing, not their ideas directly, but constructing our own meaning with the representation of the others' ideas. We may watch, for instance, how Julia Child fixes the turkey on television, but when we fix the turkey following her instructions, it inevitably is a different result! This is as true of our ideas as it is of our cooking:

I've been arguing for a very long time now that one should think of the evolved psychological makeup of human beings both as a source of constraints on the way culture can develop, evolve, and also, of course, as what makes culture possible in the first place. I've been arguing against the now discredited "blank slate" view of the human mind—now splendidly laid to rest by Steve Pinker—but it wasn't discredited when I was a student, in fact the "blank slate" view was what we were taught and what most people went on teaching. Against this, I was arguing that there were specific dispositions, capacities, competencies, in the human mind that gave rise to culture, contributed to shaping it, and also constrained the way it can evolve — so that led me to work both in anthropology—and more generally in the social sciences—,which was my original domain, and,more and more, in what was to become cognitive sciences.

How do the microprocesses of cultural transmission affect the macro structure of culture, its content, its evolution? The microprocesses, the small-scale local processes I am talking about are, on the one hand, psychological processes that happen inside people's brains, and on the other hand, changes that people bring about in their common environment—for instance the noise they make when they talk or the paths they unconsciously maintain when they walk—and through which they interact.
Just as the human mind is not a blank slate on which culture would somehow imprint its content, the communication process is not a xerox machine copying contents from one mind to another. This is where I part company not just from your standard semiologists or social scientists who take communication to be a coding-decoding system, a transmission system, biased only by social interests, by power, by intentional or unconscious distortions, but that otherwise could deliver a kind of smooth flow of undistorted information. I also part company from Richard Dawkins who sees cultural transmission as based on a process of replication, and who assume that imitation and communication provide a robust replication system.

...Dawkins himself has pointed out that each act of of cultural transmission may involve some mistakes in copying, some mutation. But if that is the case, then the Darwinian selection model isunlikely [sic] to apply, at least in its basic form. The problem is reconciling this macro stability with the micro lack of sufficient fidelity. The answer, I believe, is linked precisely to the fact that in human, transmission is achieved not just by replication, but also by construction.
If it were just replication, copying, and there were lots of errors of copy all the time, then nothing would stabilize and it’s unlikely that the selective pressures would be strong enough to produce a real selection comparable to the one you see in biology. On the other hand, if you have constructive processes, they can compensate the limits of the copying processes.

What happens is this. Although indeed when things get transmitted they tend to vary with each episode of transmission, these variations tend to gravitate around what I call "cultural attractors", which are, if you look at the dynamics of cultural transmission, points or regions in the space of possibilities, towards which transformations tend to go. The stability of cultural phenomena is not provided by a robust mechanism of replication. It's given in part, yes, by a mechanism of preservation which is not very robust, not very faithful, (and it's not its goal to be so). And it’s given in part by a strong tendency for the construction — in every mind at every moment— of new ideas, new uses of words, new artifacts, new behaviors, to go not in a random direction, but towards attractors. And, by the way, these cultural attractors themselves have a history.

Dawkins, of course, is only one of the people who have proposed new ways of modeling cultural evolution. He's important because he brings it down to the simplest possible version — there's a great merit in simplicity. He sees cultural evolution at the same time as being analogous to biological evolution, and as being an evolution almost independent from biological evolution: it has just been made possible by the biological evolution of homo sapiens, which has given us the mind we have, and which, so the story goes, makes us capable indeed of endlessly copying contents. We are supposed to be imitation machines, “meme machines” to use Susan Blakemore's phrase, and this explains that.

Dawkins, in a strange way, presents something very similar to the blank slate view of the mind. The blank slate view, as I was taught it in anthropology, says the human mind is capable of learning anything — whatever content would be provided by culture can be written on the blank slate. Well, the general imitating machine does more or less the same thing. It's capable of imitating just whatever type of content it is presented with, and the relative success of some contents against others, has to do with the selective forces. The idea that the human mind is such a kind of universal imitation machine is hardly better psychology, in my view, than the blank slate story.

Others, E.O Wilson and Charles Lumsden, Rob Boyd and Pete Richerson, have asked to what extent the evolved dispositions that both constrain and make possible culture are, in return, affected by cultural evolution itself so as to yield a kind of gene-culture coevolution. Instead of having two evolutionary scenarios running in parallel, one biological evolution, the other cultural evolution, you get some degree of interaction, possibly a strong interaction, between gene and culture. The general idea has got to be correct. The details, in my opinion, are still very poorly understood.

For a variety of reasons, I believe that memes are not the right story about cultural evolution. This is because in the cultural case, replication is not very successful in explaining cultural stability. I also believe that among the factors we need to take into account to explain cultural attraction of which I was talking before, are evolved aspect of the human psychology. The one type of scholarship and research that has to be brought into the picture, in my view, is evolutionary psychology, as defended in particular in the work of Leda Cosmides, John Tooby, Steve Pinker and taken up in more critical ways by a growing number of developmental psychologists and of philosophers. To understand culture, we have to understand the complexity of the psychological makeup of human beings. We have to go to really deep psychology, understood both in a richly cognitive manner and with a proper evolutionary perspective, to put start explaining cultural evolution. We need a representation of a human mind that's complex in an appropriate manner, true to the empirical data, and rich enough indeed to explain the regularities the, stability, and the variability of culture.

This is them [sic] a different story, but it’s still a Darwinian story. It's a Darwinian story in the sense that it's an application of population thinking, which tries to explains the macro phenomena in terms of a micro processes and properties, and which doesn’t assume that there are types or essences of macro cultural and social things. Macro regularities are always the outcome of distribution of micro features, evolving all the time.

In this Darwinian story however, instead of causal processes in culture as split between robust replication devices and a variety of selection factor, we have a much more promiscuous form of causality. Cultural causality is promiscuous. Constructive processes always interfere with preservation processes. So we need to build models different from standard Darwinian models of selection, in order to arrive at the right way to draw on Darwinian inspiration with regard to culture, that is, we must generalize Darwin to the cultural case, rather than adjust it in a way which twists the data well beyond what is empirically plausible.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Virtual Reality Marketing and Media: Second Life

In Friday's Boston Globe business section, Jenn Abelson had a fascinating report on new developments in Second Life. She looks at the rise of marketing and media firms in the virtual world. The article is very interesting, full of intriguing developments.

I wonder if the American Association of Law Libraries' Sections on Legal Information to the Public (LISP - SIS) and Social Responsibilities (SR-SIS) would be interested in staffing a virtula presence in Second Life. We could build a virtual law library with links to legal information freely available on the web, and explanations of how to use them. According to the article linked above, Second Life now has 340,000 residents and adds 60,000 more are joining every month. What an interesting way to collect and distribute legal information and research skills!

And best of all, you can customize your avatar, to either spruce yourself up, or reinvent yourself. How would you take to being a winged librarian, or trying on a different gender, race or look? It sounds like fun! The image above shows a fairly true-to-life avatar and a comparison photo of Second Life reporter Wagner James Au, from his blog.

Bush Administration Changing Justice's Civil Rights Division

Another excellent piece of investigative reporting by The Boston Globe's Charlie Savage! He reports on the results of an FOIA request to the Justice Department for records showing their hiring practices in 3 important sections of the Civil Rights division. See the full story at the link above. Here is a key snippet that also explains the story:

Beneath the political appointees, most of the work is carried out by a permanent staff of about 350 lawyers. They take complaints, investigate problems, propose lawsuits, litigate cases, and negotiate settlements.

Until recently, career attorneys also played an important role in deciding whom to hire when vacancies opened up in their ranks.

``We were looking for a strong academic record, for clerkships, and for evidence of an interest in civil rights enforcement," said William Yeomans , who worked for the division for 24 years, leaving in 2005.

Civil Rights Division supervisors of both parties almost always accepted the career attorneys' hiring recommendations, longtime staffers say. Charles Cooper , a former deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Reagan administration, said the system of hiring through committees of career professionals worked well.

``There was obviously oversight from the front office, but I don't remember a time when an individual went through that process and was not accepted," Cooper said. ``I just don't think there was any quarrel with the quality of individuals who were being hired. And we certainly weren't placing any kind of political litmus test on . . . the individuals who were ultimately determined to be best qualified."

But during the fall 2002 hiring cycle, the Bush administration changed the rules. Longtime career attorneys say there was never an official announcement. The hiring committee simply was not convened, and eventually its members learned that it had been disbanded.

Driscoll, the former Bush administration appointee, said then-Attorney General John Ashcroft changed hiring rules for the entire Justice Department, not just the Civil Rights Division. But career officials say that the change had a particularly strong impact in the Civil Rights Division, where the potential for political interference is greater than in divisions that enforce less controversial laws.

Joe Rich , who joined the division in 1968 and who was chief of the voting rights section until he left last year, said that the change reduced career attorneys' input on hiring decisions to virtually nothing. Once the political appointees screened resumes and decided on a finalist for a job in his section, Rich said, they would invite him to sit in on the applicant's final interview but they wouldn't tell him who else had applied, nor did they ask his opinion about whether to hire the attorney.

The changes extended to the hiring of summer interns.

If you care about protecting minority group's civil rights, apparently the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division is no longer a group to count on. The article details statistics about the most recent hires of long-term staff, morale problems among careerists and buy-out programs to lure them out. Savage also includes 3 snapshot cases considered or prosecuted by the division since 2002, when the changes began. Makes you want to take out a membership in ACLU or National Lawyer's Guild. Somebody has to tend to business!

The article notes that the hiring changes open the posts to students from midwest and southern schools whereas the previous policy pretty much limited hiring to elite eastern schools. I don't mind the geographic diversity, and probably applaud it. What is troubling is the profound changes in the decision-making that is being wrought. And these changes will be as long-lasting as W's appointments of federal judges. Yipes!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

"Digital natives"?

I'll admit, I've used the "digital natives" terminology to indicate the ease with which kids these days (read: incoming law students) use technology in their daily lives. But I had not thought of the down side of such labels:

From the Times Online: The next step in brain evolution. Let me summarize: young people, who have lived with the internet all their lives, are digital natives. If you’re over 30 and didn’t grow up with text messaging, MSN, and Google, you’re a digital immigrant.

This particular bit of rhetoric really gets to me, and I’ll tell you why. It’s a broad-swath excuse, apparently designed to make those over 30 feel safer about their own current knowledge base. As long as new communication technologies are something your brain is or is not hardwired to comprehend based on your experiences while a preteen/teenager, the rest of us, who don’t understand this new-fangled email thing (or whatever it is people don’t want to understand) can relax and not feel behind the times or missing out. We’re just different, that’s all. This line of reasoning has the added effect of underscoring that which we feel is already true; each generation is a radically new product, and history is based on a set of processes built upon the last that lead to greater and greater progress. Standing on the shoulders of giants, and all that. We can happily let the kids do their internet stuff, knowing that our own smug little land of postal service and telephones is the giant they’re standing on.

Read the whole thing.

More good news on the ebook front

Last week Marie Newman posted here about the digital return of Rice University Press. Now I'm finally getting around to adding this, posted on the same day at info NeoGnostic:

Springer is launching its own e-book platform ... a publisher finally getting a clue about e-books. Some bullet points:
  • Mixed content: journal articles, e-books (reference works, textbooks, monographs, atlases), and an e-book series organized into 12 subject categories.
  • Pricing that is highest for larger research-intensive organizations and scales down from print list price to 66% less than list price (consortial pricing is available and encouraged!).
  • An ownership model for libraries. You buy it, you own it. Put it in a repository, print a preservation copy. You sever the relationship with Springer and they will give you the XML files, including metadata, or let them continue to host the content for a very small annual fee.
  • Standards compliance: COUNTER compliant usage statistics; title and chapter level digital object identifiers; metasearch compatible with Z39.50 and SRW/SRU access; linked references in OpenURL format.
  • Available online in HTML and RSS format, or downloadable as a PDF
  • Partnerships with middleware providers are maintained. If you want to buy it from netLibrary, eBrary, Myilibrary, EBL, go ahead.
  • A usable (albeit beta) search interface, that even has Guided Navigation powered by Endeca
  • And finally...wait for it...wait for it...
    No Digital Rights Management
Color me optimistic. I would not be surprised to see significant changes in other publishers' pricing and licensing structures coming along pretty soon. After all, everyone who can afford Making of Modern Law has already bought it, and I'm not interested in considering it under the present, anachronistic "just in case" licensing model.

Happiness is...

Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, often spoke through Snoopy, the dog, to define various paths to happiness: Happiness is a warm puppy, for instance. The Boston Globe, in an article this spring, included a short piece on a course at Harvard on positive psychology -- happiness, noting that happy people tend to go farther in politics and business, as well as living longer. link.

My thoughts about happiness:

* Happiness isn't increased by ambition or lots of money and goods. I think after you have enough to be secure about your food, housing and health, extra money actually decreases your happiness. For one thing, you get used to the amount, and quality of stuff you have, and it stops being a kick -- sort of like using cocaine the first time is a real high, but it's never that good afterwards, and gets less good with use.

* Comparing yourself to others is a sure road to unhappiness (unless you focus on your reasons for being grateful). The more you compare yourself to others, either in terms of recognition or wealth or status, the more unhappiness you pile up for yourself.

* Happiness is increased by:

# Having good and healthy relationships; friends and significant others; feeling a sense of community and support;

# Finding meaning in life, either through personal philosophy or religion;

# Having interesting, exciting and fun goals to work towards. If you have some challenge in your life, not overwhelming, but enough to make you stretch, I think you end up being a lot happier;

# Cultivating gratitude. Notice the little things like blue skies, sunshine, raindrops, flowers and beautiful sunsets. Pay attention to happiness in the moment, rather than looking always to the future;

# Happiness. Being happy increases happiness in several ways. It's a state of mind that I think you can practice and cultivate. But also, happiness draws others to you. People like to be around happy people, so your sense of community, and maybe even your personal relationships and success will improve when you "put on a happy face."

In snooping (hah!) around the Internet, I found several interesting sites about happiness:

Authentic Happiness (Penn) Link. Cool site from the director of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center. Features a number of questionnaires you can take, or just examine, and helpful, free resources. A reliable-seeming site, from an academic source.

BBC Happiness Report (June 8, 2006) Link, including a number of video clips, news shorts, reports on happiness surveys in Britain. Bibliography, too! The videoclips are not terribly clear, but the sound is good and the reports and interviews are interesting, if somewhat shallow (TV can't go as in-depth as print media).

World Database of Happiness (really!, run by a guy at Erasmus University in the Netherlands, and presented, happily, in English: Link. Seems to mostly be designed for researchers who want to design questionnaires to test people's happiness. Interesting questions, though, such as:

"On the whole how satisfied are you with the life you lead?"
4 very satisfied
3 fairly satisfied
2 not very satisfied
1 not at all satisfied

Code: O-SLL/u/sq/v/4/b
Used in Euro-barometer surveys, bi-annual general population samples in all EU member states, since 1973
Reference: Website Eurobarometer:

There are also fascinating graphs showing happiness from questionnaires over the past 30 years for European countries and the U.S. (we are slightly happier now than 30 years ago, but happier numbers are higher here than in Italy, which experienced a greater increase in happiness measures over the same period. Not quite as happy as Denmark and Belgium, and happier than Japan and France. Who knew? I wonder how happy happiness researchers tend to be?

An article about an India-born neurologist in the U.S. who counsels striving for non-medicated happiness. (please take his recommendations with a grain of salt, because anti-depressants are GOOD if you are clinically depressed!). Link. Dr. Pasupuleti says in the interview, sparked by his book Change Your Mind: A Neurologist's Guide to Happiness" (Synergy Books):

"Learning to be happy is not a mystical pursuit," says Pasupuleti, who lives in Flint, Michigan, with his wife and four children.

"In my years as a neurologist, I have noticed that people who are happy meet their problems with a positive attitude, even in the face of suffering." ... Pasupuleti's practical guidance is rooted in his study of psychiatry, neurology and various world religions.

Through these experiences, he has found that people who keep an open mind are better equipped to deal with problems because they maintain higher levels of happiness in the face of turmoil.

Pasupuleti's tenets include the belief that material possessions are meant to be enjoyed but don't ultimately create lasting happiness.

He calls on readers to understand where negative emotions come from as this will help control and overcome them.

And finally, The Happy Guy Link. This site has articles, a poem, free advice and links to buy this guy's book, The Get Happy Workbook, or sign up for nine e-mail classes. The site seems helpful and harmless, but I have not signed up for anything, so think hard about receiving advice on your e-mail from somebody you don't know -- either bad advice, spam or possibly, viruses could result! That wouldn't make you happy, would it?

The decoration for this page is from, which seems to be an order site in Japanese for Snoopy items.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Tech Giveth and Tech Taketh Away: Skype in China

A Chinese company claims to have reverse-engineered Skype Voice Over Internet protocols. There are 2 points: 1) The unpatented software used by Skype is not illegal to crack, and thus open the company to Chinese competition; 2) The Chinese government can use the information to block Skype telephony in their country. If you look at the blog that scooped this story, link, you find a note that the blogger has investments in a competitor VOIP company, VOZIN. It is an interesting note, though.

Don't relax yet! NSA Wiretapping continues: SAFE ACT (Security and Freedom Ensured Act of 2005)

Follow the link above to an excellent Washington Post editorial about a new compromise bill in Congress that appears to require judicial evaluation of National Security Administration wiretaps while actually authorizing the current practices and opening up further abuse:

The bill would, indeed, get the NSA's program in front of judges, in one of two ways. It would transfer lawsuits challenging the program from courts around the country to the super-secret court system that typically handles wiretap applications in national security cases. It would also permit -- but not require -- the administration to seek approval from this court system, created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, for entire surveillance programs, thereby allowing judges to assess their legality.

But the cost of this judicial review would be ever so high. The bill's most dangerous language would effectively repeal FISA's current requirement that all domestic national security surveillance take place under its terms. The "compromise" bill would add to FISA: "Nothing in this Act shall be construed to limit the constitutional authority of the President to collect intelligence with respect to foreign powers and agents of foreign powers." It would also, in various places, insert Congress's acknowledgment that the president may have inherent constitutional authority to spy on Americans. Any reasonable court looking at this bill would understand it as withdrawing the nearly three-decade-old legal insistence that FISA is the exclusive legitimate means of spying on Americans. It would therefore legitimize whatever it is the NSA is doing -- and a whole lot more.

I believe the bill referred to above is the SAFE ACT (Security and Freedom Ensured Act of 2005), S. 737 Link and H.R. 1526 link from It is difficult to be sure, but I think this is the bill referred to in the Post editorial. A related bill, S. Res. 398, is a censure of President Bush for his wiretapping excesses lnk. The image is from

Chips and Dips: News on the Hardware front

Looking at news stories about developments with memory chips:

Price-fixing Scandal
Multi-state antitrust suit against many DRAM (dynamic RAM) chip makers for price fixing: link, and here, and here.

New Development
At the same time, a new break-through from Hewlitt-Packard, who created a rice-sized wireless-enabled memory chip that needs no power source. It could be attached with adhesives to documents for sound files, verification or updating, for instance. Cool. link and here.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Scholarly Publishing--A Breakthrough

Rice University has announced that it is reconstituting Rice University Press, which was disbanded in 1996. The big news is that it will publish all of its books exclusively online. Readers will be able to access the books for free and to download them for a modest charge. The Press will be like traditional scholarly publishers in that its "editors will solicit manuscripts and peer reviw panels will vet submissions." In addition to scholarly monographs that might not otherwise be published, Rice will also publish print-on-demand textbooks at a very reasonable price. A story about the new venture appears in today's edition of Inside Higher Education. This is a big step forward for the open-access movement.

More on Law School Libraries

Another law professor heard from, similar to the comments on the Volokh Conspiracy I posted earlier. On the TaxProf Blog yesterday, Paul Caron questions the necessity of print state codes.
Given the increasing frequency of such questions, it seems to me that the current conversation taking place among academic law library directors concerning revising the statistics we collect is coming at a very good time.

ABA Accreditation Questioned

Interesting posting today on the Volokh Conspiracy by Ilya Somin of George Mason questioning the wisdom of allowing the ABA to accredit law schools. Among other provocative observations, the author notes

Similarly, the requirement that schools have a variety of expensive, but redundant library resources and other programs that most students do not need (discussed in Prof. Morriss' article linked above) greatly increases the cost of establishing a new law school and thereby further reduces competition.
I think this reflects an attitude that is becoming common among our colleagues in legal education. The Morris article linked to in the original posting on Volokh questions the need for print resources in this day and age. More and more, I think we have to reconsider traditional delivery of legal information and measures for evaluating our collections and services. If we appear to be defending the status quo, rather than moving our libraries into the electronic age, I'm afraid we'll be perceived as having forfeited all credibility.
Anyone agree or disagree?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Law Firm Library Survey

One of the things I enjoy about the AALL convention is the opportunity to interact with law firm librarians, if only on a very superficial level. As someone who teaches Advanced Legal Research, I find that it is helpful to know what the research environment is at law firms these days so that I can better prepare my students to function in this environment. In his story "Law Librarians Look Beyond Books," Alex Cohen reports on the American Lawyer's fifth survey of law firm librarians, and provides some interesting insights about what firm librarians are now being asked to do. One law librarian, Thomas Fleming of Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro, says that only about fifty per cent of the information he deals with is law related today; in the past, it was about ninety per cent. He also spends a good deal of time on client development and marketing, a new responsibility for librarians. Firm libraries are now billing for their time, a fairly recent phenomenon. However, according to a panelist at a session I attended at AALL, a librarian bills at less than a legal assistant, so perhaps our skills are still not valued as highly as they should be. The survey also showed that firm library budgets are up and that many firm libraries are adding staff. Most libraries at firms are shrinking, with West reporters being good candidates for cancellation because case research works so well online. Other types of research, though, are less well suited to the online environment, and firm librarians find that attorneys still like to use treatises and other analytical material in hardcopy. Most firms are not realizing cost savings when they migrate to online materials because in many cases online sources are more expensive than their hardcopy equivalents. Librarians find that the Internet is not yet a solution to the high cost of information provided by commercial publishers because of the variable quality of what is available.

There are individual charts dealing with the Librarian's Expanding Role, Electronic Research, Staffing, Resources, and Finances; all in all, the charts and Cohen's narrative tell an interesting story about what is happening at law firm libraries today.

Gender Wars: Transgendered Scientist Weighs in

Dr. Ben Barres, a physician and neuroscientist (M.D. Dartmouth, Ph.D. Harvard) has published an article in Nature (link) on his experiences as a woman in science. Dr. Barres brings a unique perspective to the gender wars debate. He was Barbara Barres until 1997, when at the age of 42, he underwent sex change operations and hormone treatment to become a man. He published a very courageous opinion piece bringing his experiences as woman to the debate begun by Larry Summers at Harvard, over women's absence from science and math departments in universities.

In his article, Barres offers several personal anecdotes from both sides of the gender divide to prove his own hypothesis that prejudice plays a much bigger role than genes in preventing women from reaching their potential on university campuses and in government laboratories.

The one that rankles him most dates from his undergraduate days at MIT, where as a young woman in a class dominated by men he was the only student to solve a complicated math problem. The professor responded that a boyfriend must have done the work for her, according to Barres.

Barres also wrote to Nature in response to an editorial on Why Harvard needs Larry Summers, link, possibly in response to the interview with Professor Stephen Pinker here in the Harvard Crimson, reprinted in Nature.

There is an interesting blog on Sex Differences and Academic Performance here, that references articles in Salon here and in Slate here, with opposing viewpoints.

Barres also gave interviews for the book, The Riddle of Gender: Science, Activism, and Transgender Rights by Deborah Rudacille. (New York, Pantheon, 2005), reviewed here in the New Englad Journal of Medicine. You can see the politically and legally charged nature of the discussion between transgendered individuals at NTAC website (the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition - is a §501(c)(4) civil rights organization working to establish and maintain the right of all transgendered, intersexed, and gender-variant people to live and work without fear of violence or discrimination). Another website that may be helpful to those seeking more information on transgendered folks here.

You can't turn your back for an instant!

What's a blogger to do? Sheesh! I go to the AALL annual meeting, and am gone for 6 days. I come back to Big Dig collapse, weather disasters and who knows what else! The connecting tunnel to the Logan Airport, (built with our tax dollars!) dropped a big piece of its ceiling on a poor, hapless passenger (Milena Del Valle, RIP) traveling through, and killed the person. Traffic was snarled to heck and gone for several days and air traffic in and out of Boston was disrupted by hailstorms and tornado watches. Wow! This place literally falls apart when I leave. Read stories in the Boston Globe from the last several days here. It's also the source of the appalling photo of the collapsed ceiling.

After a flight delayed 2 and half hours by weather and air traffic piled up from the weather, I was kind of nervous getting out of the airport, and apparently I am not alone. The T this morning was jam-packed, riding the Red Line from the south. Of course, there are criminal investigations under way. And politics as usual -- Mitt Romney even interrupted his vacation to come back to Boston and make a few statements, score a few points in his battle against the Big Dig administrator, Matt Amorello. They had already indicted a group of cement contractors for delivering non-fresh cement to the worksites. I think they are investigating anybody who ever signed off on the Big Dig.

Hey, Boston, I'm back! You can breathe easier and stop with the disasters. I promise I won't go away again for a long, long time.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

FBI vs. Libraries!

Another Chronicle of Higher Education article, linked above, reports on the struggle between the FBI and a Connecticut library consortium over a "national-security letter." This was the FBI attempt to require the consortium to turn over e-mail records from one of its members, St. Joseph College, where a student allegedly sent a terrorist threat by e-mail from a campus account. The ACLU assisted them. See ACLU story link. The ACLU website also has helpful links to the security letter itself: NSL link, and background reports on the matter.

The decoration is a thumbnail of one of 2 ACLU posters about the PATRIOT ACT.

A happier story about a publisher

The Chronicle of Higher Education also reports in the July 7, 2006 issue that the publisher Springer announced at the ALA meeting this year a gift of free e-texts worth more than $1 million to academic libraries in the Katrina flood zones. This very generous gift is such a terrific gesture of goodwill from the Springer folks. Good for them! The gift tends to be scientific, technical and medicine materials, according to the article. Happy to report some glad news about publishers rather than just always complaining!

The image is from the Springer website,

States passing laws on textbook pricing practices

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports in the July 7, 2006 edition (link above in title) that "many state legislatures are passing laws designed to help students save money on course materials." The author, Ann K. Walters, cites to GAO and PIRG reports, without giving any more citation than that. Here are links, if you want to read the reports:

GAO Highlights Link

GAO Full Rpt. Link

PIRG Rpt. Link

I am reprinting a few snippets from those reports if you want a teaser before deciding to go to the links.

From the website summarizing the PIRG report:

Textbook prices are increasing at a fast rate.

* Textbook prices are increasing at more than four times the inflation rate for all finished goods, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Producer Price Index. The wholesale prices charged by textbook publishers have jumped 62 percent since 1994, while prices charged for all finished goods increased only 14 percent. Similarly, the prices charged by publishers for general books increased just 19 percent during the same time period.

New textbook editions are costly and limit the availability of used textbooks.

* The most widely purchased textbooks on college campuses have new editions published every three years, on average.

* New editions of the textbooks surveyed cost, on average, 45 percent more than used copies of the previous edition.

* When issuing new editions, most publishers raise the prices of their books. Of the textbooks surveyed, new textbook prices jumped 12 percent on average between the previous and current edition, almost twice the rate of inflation between 2000 and 2003 (6.8 percent).

* Three-fourths (76 percent) of the faculty surveyed in our 2004 report said that they found new editions justified only “half the time” or less.

Bundling drives up textbook costs.

* Half (50 percent) of the textbooks in the survey were sold “bundled,” or shrinkwrapped with additional instructional materials such as CD-ROMs and workbooks.

* When a bundled book is available for purchase unbundled (without the add-on materials), the bundled book is, on average, 10 percent more expensive than its unbundled counterpart. Some bundled textbooks are substantially more expensive. For example, a Thomson Learning chemistry textbook was 47 percent more expensive bundled ($223.75) than when sold as a separate textbook ($152.00).

* More than half of the bundled textbooks surveyed (55 percent) were not available for students to purchase a la carte, in which the textbook is available without the add-on materials.

* Two-thirds (65 percent) of the faculty surveyed in our 2004 report said that they used bundled items “rarely” or “never”.

Textbook publishers charge American students more than students overseas for the same textbooks.

* The average textbook surveyed costs 20 percent more in the United States than it does in the United Kingdom.

* Some textbooks were dramatically more expensive in the United States than in the United Kingdom. For example, Pearson’s Calculus textbook, selling for about $100 in the U.S., costs only $38 on the U.K. website, just one third the price. Freeman’s Chemical Principles textbook, priced at $185 in the U.S., is available in the U.K. for only $88—half the price.

* Some publishers display overseas prices on their websites. For example, Thomson Learning’s website lists the prices charged to students in the U.S., U.K., Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. According to this website, for the books included in our survey, Thomson Learning charges U.S. students 72 percent more, on average, than it does students in the U.K., Africa and Middle East. Some books are priced even higher. For example, Thomson Learning charges U.S. students $108 for its Biology textbook, but charges students in the U.K., Africa, and Middle East only $51 for the same book.

This report is a renewed call to the publishing industry to reform its practices. Publishers should:

* Produce and price textbooks to be as inexpensive as possible without sacrificing educational value;

* Produce new textbook editions only when educationally necessary;

* Offer faculty and students the option to purchase textbooks unbundled; and

* Provide faculty with more information on the company’s textbook materials, prices, intended length of time on the market and substantive content differences from previous editions.

Wow! As a student, I always suspected some of these facts, but clearly things are more out of control than ever. Pricing is becoming so inequitable that it reminds me of the spiraling prices for libraries. I wonder what it would take to get a GAO or PIRG report for library pricing?

The image of Calamari & Perillo's Contracts casebook, a law school classic, is from

Time for AALL meeting!

Dear readers,

Tomorrow, I will fly to St. Louis for the annual meeting of the American Association of Law Libraries. I think all our co-bloggers will be there as well. The result may be a temporary drop in posts to the blog. Bear with us as we meet with law librarians from around the globe. If you are able to come to AALL (I think many readers are law librarians), I hope to see you there! Safe trips, all!

Whether you are going or not to AALL, you can contribute to the Social Reponsibility Special Interest Section's project. Each year, the SR-SIS sends out a plea to the entire law library community to take part in a project to support a public school library in the town where the meeting takes place. This year, they are collecting books for two of the most needy public schools in St. Louis. Read about it here. This link includes a wish list where you can purchase titles through and have them sent directly to the local school coordinator in St. Louis. You can also send checks and money orders for the project. As a former librarian at St. Louis University, I was acquainted with the Vashon high school, and the level of need at the public schools generally. Ann Puckett, one of my co-bloggers, is coordinating the book project this year, called, "Show Me the Books!" (a joke on Missouri, the Show-Me state, I think).

This decoration is the Social Responsibility banner, from

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Another new thing from is always coming up with cool new features and services. Just a few minutes ago I was searching for a book recommended by Connie Crosby, and I noticed this little annotation:

So I clicked on "I own the rights..." and saw this: offers digital storage and print-on-demand (POD) services through BookSurge. BookSurge provides inventory-free fulfillment services that allow you to make your book available for sale at any level of demand through and other sales channels in just a few weeks. Maintain sales revenue for your book based on existing demand and eliminate the guesswork and need for additional inventory.
How does it work? Depending on your needs, BookSurge can customize services to fit virtually any budget or financial goal--store your print-ready PDF files in the BookSurge Global Publishing System (GPS), or we can convert your hard copy book into a digital file using our sophisticated scanning equipment. It’s that easy.
What a great idea!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Glorious Fourth! Happy Birthday, America.

The Independence Day in the United States, on July 4, commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The National Archives hosts a terrific site with a time line and fascinating links, including the Declaration itself. See NARA timeline link and Declaration link. It's a terrific government site (don't be fooled by the National site that is a separate organization!). You can also visit the National Park Service link to read about the writing and publicizing of the Declaration -- quite a job in an era where there were no telephones, televisions, Internet, radio, etc. They had copies printed and sent to different states. It was read to the public on statehouse steps.

It is a wonderful document that distills a great many philosophers' thoughts into one elegant statement of the basic rights of the governed. The opening two paragraphs especially! See the text:

The Declaration of Independence: A Transcription

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

This transcript is from the National Archives website. The decoration of the "Signing of the Declaration" is also from that site.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Buffalo News: Closing School of Informatics is a terrible mistake

Earlier this week I posted about the impending dissolution of the University at Buffalo School of Informatics. This op-ed appeared in today's Buffalo News.

Closing School of Informatics is a terrible mistake

I am a member of the Founders Committee for the University at Buffalo's School of Informatics. Our committee serves as an advisory panel to the dean, and for the past three years, I have had the privilege of working with Dean W. David Penniman and his staff. I was shocked to learn of Penniman's recent dismissal, and the subsequent announcement by UB's provost that the school will be dismantled.

Closure of the School of Informatics represents a reversal by UB, which established the school in 1999 to focus on the growing field of informatics, of which bio-informatics is an area of specialty. It seems contradictory that UB would be celebrating the opening of the Center of Excellence in Bio-Informatics on one hand, while completely dismissing the broader subject of informatics on the other. This reality can only be reconciled by considering the disparity of public funding between the School of Informatics and the Center of Excellence. As with all things, money talks.

The study of informatics goes beyond the technical aspects of information technology, and focuses on human interaction with information, and information systems. As these systems become more complex, it is critical that we deepen our understanding of the societal implications of how information is disseminated and utilized. This was the school's primary focus. Penniman often describes informatics as the intersection of people, information and technology. It's no accident that he always uses "people" as the first part of this description.

UB's commitment to informatics met with praise from the Western New York community. Its positive impact to organizations has been embraced by prominent national and local businesses through significant corporate financial backing and interactions with the school and Penniman. The school successfully obtained financial support from the likes of AT&T, M&T Bank, Welch Allyn, Rich Products and Inergex, to name a few.

Given its supporters, one may think informatics is a widely taught discipline. However, UB's School of Informatics was one of only two such schools in the nation. Attracted to Buffalo by this program, 15 top-notch research and teaching faculty came to UB. With a vigorous faculty, support from the business community and a new undergraduate degree set to be unveiled this fall, the School of Informatics was certain to play an important role in the university's quest to become a leading research institution, the core of President John Simpson's UB 2020 initiative. Up until last week's announcement, UB and Buffalo were leading the way in the study of informatics.

Administrators may argue that the informatics program is not going away, but will be distributed to other schools in the university. However, without the focus and resources that accompany a school of the university, informatics at UB will die, along with the leadership position our region was enjoying. Indeed, the local private financial support informatics enjoyed will also leave.

Informatics at UB needs to survive, and UB needs to rethink its decision.

Jeff Carballada lives in Buffalo.

One sign of the success of the UB School of Informatics is the lively blogging community to which it has given rise. Students and alumni of the School are posting continuing news and opionion at Library Matters, theory.isthereason, washtublibrarian, LSJ Editors' Blog, and Epa's blog place. The story is also getting national attention via LISnews and Library Stuff.