Category Archives: Media

MIT does the right thing: tells SAE to take their DRM and shove it!

Kudos to MIT! Here’s the gist of the article. SAE decided to protect their content with DRM. MIT did not like it so they decided to stop providing access to SAE’s database. Most interesting is the reaction of the faculty:

In addition to Professor Cheng, the MIT Libraries consulted with other faculty members who publish or use SAE content. The responses were uniformly against accepting DRM, even if it meant losing ready access to SAE papers. When informed that the SAE feels the need to impose DRM to protect their intellectual property, Professor John Heywood, the Director of MIT’s Sloan Automotive Lab, who publishes his own work with the SAE, responded with a question: “Their intellectual property?” He commented that increasingly strict and limiting restrictions on use of papers that are offered to publishers for free is causing faculty to become less willing to “give it all away” when they publish.

Publishers cannot bite the hand that feeds them without risking their very livelihood.

Universal primate?

From this article:

Bathersby said the issue of a universal primate also attracted differing opinions, with some Anglicans believing only Jesus Christ can be the head of the church.

Granted that humans are primates but calling the Pope a universal primate? What kind of monkey business is this?

Peter Gabriel gets it!

Peter Gabriel really gets the electronic age. I’ve said it before (but not here) and I’m going to say it again. Peter Gabriel is one artist that other artists in the music industry ought to emulate. I’m not saying they should imitate his musical style. However, they should find the courage to experiment like he has experimented throughout his career. I don’t think everything Gabriel has produced has always been particularly successful but I can hear him think when I listen to his stuff. At the end of the day, I’d rather have more of him and his likes (David Byrne, also mentioned in the article, comes to mind) than the insipid crud the music industry normally promotes.

So hurray! Hurray for Peter Gabriel being who he is! We need more like him!

Blaming video games for bad school performance

Arstechnica has a news piece on a study that apparently correlates bad performance at school with playing video games. Read the article for the details. In summary, they found that any playing on school nights and more than 4 hours per day on weekends is bad. The article also notes that:

The study also took different parenting styles into account, but did not look at specific household rules covering homework, gaming, and watching TV.

Can you spot the problem?

That study blames playing video games for bad performance at school. What about watching TV? What about spending the evening reading adventure or Sci-Fi novels, or playing outside, rather than studying? (Oh my god! Can playing outside be detrimental to a kid? Really?) The problem is not playing video games per se but rather that time that should be devoted to study is devoted to something else. A good headline for this revelation would be: “Study finds that not doing homework is detrimental to school performance; arbitrarily singles out video games to sex up its results.” Actually, that’s a bad headline.

Dubious claims

The recent Associated Press write up on how Macs are vulnerable to virus attacks is dissected on the Daring Fireball blog. A nice and funny analysis. (The post is sarcastically called “Good Journalism”.) Yet another example of junk journalism.

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…

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!

Seductive exotica

There is probably no easiest way to give an exotic air to some object than to print something in a foreign language on it. By “easiest”, I mean that it is fairly easy to get a “X to Y” dictionary at the local bookstore or to scrounge up some phrase in a foreign language. Now, what is easily done is not necessarily sensible or accurate. This is fortunate for us since the ill-informed attempts at seductive exotica make for good laughing matter.

Hanzi Smatter is “dedicated to the misuse of chinese characters in western culture” (to quote the site). Most of the reports deal with tattoos but some of them also cover broader issues. A recent example is Tian’s open letter to Cosmopolitan. The notion put forth by Cosmopolitan that a tattoo in “Asian character[s]” (sic) indicates love of the mysterious and such other nonsense is utterly ridiculous. It’s just as likely that the guy couldn’t care less about Asia and the mysterious and just got his tattoo on a dare or because he lost a bet or some other harebrained situation. (I’m not saying that people who get tattoos are idiots, only that a tattoo by itself says nothing of a person’s character.) Nice example of media spin. exhibits the same kind of phenomenon but flips perspectives: misuse of Western languages (mainly English, hence the name “Engrish”) in an Asian context. For Asian marketers, a few words in English printed on their product is the way to give them an aura of prestige and exotica. Too often, however, the language used is blatantly incorrect or has unintended connotations.