Monthly Archives: April 2006


Comments have been temporarily turned off. I’ve been hit by blog spammers. Once I find an efficient solution, I’ll turn them back on.

UPDATE: I’ve turned comments and trackbacks back on. Let’s see how well that works…

The site has also been upgraded to dotclear 1.2.4.

2ND UPDATE: I’m still fine tuning this thing. Sorry for the spammy trackbacks that passed through.

What roles still remain for publishers?

Most of what I’ve read and heard about the recent Kaavya Viswanathan case addressed the issue of authorial responsibility regarding plagiarism. However, I think a more interesting inquiry would center on the role of publishers in assuring the quality of books they publish. Those who’ve been reading my posts here already know that I think the traditional paper-centered publishing model is mostly obsolete. For instance, I see a future in which scholarly journals and books are produced by teams of scholars who might perhaps contract out some steps of the production process outside to “publishing services” companies but share none of the decisional power with a publisher. Now, although this is mere speculation about the future, I’m seeing signs that there is a slow movement towards that. JIATS is a case in point. The journal is not published through traditional channels. It exists only in electronic format. It is free of charge. It is driven by scholars and made for scholars.

I have also speculated that there may be forces that will prevent publishers from becoming totally obsolete in academic publishing. They may transform into what I termed “publishing services” above. JIATS seems fairly self-sufficient but I’m thinking that there will be a market for scholarly organizations that want to use the new scholar-powered electronic model but do not have the knowledge or inclination to deal with setting up a server to host the journal. They might also want to have outside editing or clerical services. At any rate, I see a future for publishers, albeit a future in which their role is drastically reduced and in which power has shifted away from them.

The future relevance of publishers will depend largely on how many roles in the publishing process they are able to fulfill. This is where the significance of the Kaavya Viswanathan case lies. One of the roles of publishers, I thought, was to ensure the quality of their product. One aspect of quality, when it comes to publications, is to ensure that the work is not plagiarized. We’re not talking about some piece of rarefied scholarly work here, just a relatively accessible work of fiction. I realize that mistakes happen but publishers are supposed to be THE specialists when it comes to books. Moreover, Viswanathan’s case is not isolated but just one of a series of very public cases of plagiarism or authorial dishonesty uncovered in recent years. These cases casts some serious doubt as to whether publishers can keep for themselves the role of ensuring the quality of what gets published.

Closing note: I realize that in the case of scholarly publications, a lot of the QA cannot be outsourced since it involves specialized knowledge that resides with the scholars themselves. So the Viswanathan case does not specifically impact the domain of scholarly publishing but the larger domain of publishing in general.

Edit: fixed the author’s name… beh…


I’ve discovered naps a few years ago. Or perhaps I’ve rediscovered them, since it is likely I napped as a child. If I find myself dozing off in front of the computer, I find that it is better to just take a quick nap than force myself to work through the sleepiness. I set an alarm so that I don’t nap for more than 30 minutes. It often happens that after about 20 minutes I find myself refreshed and can resume working.

Nervous glances…

I waited two hours for a Greyhound bus today before giving up and going back home. (Thanks Greyhound!) After the scheduled departure time had passed, I started looking expectantly towards the direction the bus would be coming. But I noticed that I was also increasingly shooting quick glances in other directions. Like maybe the bus was going to pop out of a garbage can or a vent!


So it’s the end of the semester and papers are soon going to be due. In other words, writing season is upon us again. You’d think that after a while this whole ordeal would get easier. In certain obscure ways, it has. I know I’m definitely not writing like I wrote some three years ago when I returned to school after working for five years. Still, producing a paper is just as much of a gut-spilling experience now as it ever was.

So I have a draft due on Saturday. Earlier this week I was in this eminently familiar mode where I sit down to write, fire up the word processor and then get distracted by email, a passing breeze or an article that I just must read now. Basically, I’d sit down to write and immediately find a reason to not write. Fortunately, I’ve now moved on to the next phase of writing: I write whatever comes up even if it is shit. Experience has shown me that this is better than sitting around hoping for inspiration since it is often while I write shit that find the organizing principle around which I can write my paper. This does not seem to happen if I just wait for inspiration.

Alright, back to the shit…

Linux snobs are not only barriers to entry; they are also repelling old-timers

Walter V. Koenning has an article (Linux Snobs: Real Barriers to Entry) on the condescending reaction prospective and new Linux users sometimes get when they seek help in online forums. I think Walter’s observations are right on.

This kind of snobbery, however, not only erects barriers to the use of Linux but also has the effect of repelling experienced Linux users who are fed up of having to deal with buggy or poorly documented software. Bad documentation in particular is rarely acknowledged as being a manifestation of snobbery (the rationale for bad doc being: “they can just read the code”) but is just as common as condescending comments.

Related post: My next laptop: a Mac?

Doubtful journalistic generalization…

A quote from this article:

Whoever came up with the waiter observation “is bang spot on,” says BMW North America President Tom Purves, a native of Scotland, a citizen of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, who lives in New York City with his Norwegian wife, Hilde, and works for a German company. That makes him qualified to speak on different cultures, and he says the waiter theory is true everywhere.

Sure, that makes him qualified. Never mind that natives of Scotland are automatically citizens of the United Kingdom. Ditto for Nothern Ireland: if you are a citizen of Northern Ireland, you are a citizen of the UK. That’s some achievement! Moreover, the author of the article does not seem to consider the fact that one can be a citizen of a country without having set foot there. I’ve known people that were considered citizens of countries only on the basis that their parents are citizens there: basically the children are considered citizens because the parents filled out some paperwork. So you could have someone having Indian citizenship without having been in the country even once. The degree to which these children of immigrants are able to absorb the culture of the distant ancestral land is highly variable. It is not rare, for instance, for people of Indian or Japanese ancestry who have been raised outside their respective ancestral land to experience just as much cultural disorientation (and sometimes shock) upon visiting their ancestral land as tourists do. Even more striking, I knew a girl that was a citizen of England only because her parents, who are Canadians, were temporarily in England when she was born and there was a rule that someone born on English land is English. Consider this: she is Canadian and English but she has spent only a relatively short time in England as a baby, her parents are only Canadian and her sister is only Canadian. Just how “multicultural” does this make this girl?

The guy has a Norwegian wife but that does not mean that he has spent any substantial time in Norway. Nor does that mean that his wife is a particularly accurate window on Norwegian culture that he can just tap. (Talking from experience, I don’t think I’m a particularly accurate window on French-Canadian culture for my wife.)

He’s the president of BMW North America so presumably he has close contacts with the German headquarters. This is the most substantial evidence provided here but even here, the degree to which this translates into a representative understanding of German culture remains unknown.

But the howler is that this guy who has some possible personal acquaintance with 4 cultures (Scottish, Northern Irish, Norwegian and German) is qualified to talk about culture “everywhere”. Yep, he’s qualified to talk about Chinese culture, Indian culture, Japanese culture, Peruvian culture, French-Canadian culture. You name it, baby!