Saturday, September 24, 2005

A reflection ...

Thank you, Marc, for saying something I've been thinking about for a very long time! I sometimes feel "shouted down" when I try to defend edited and validated texts by those who espouse "informational freedom."

Hey, I *believe* in free information, freeware, and open source, and I have helped to make I-don't-know-how-many free resources available in my work with education, the arts, and public health in particular ... both online and in traditional publishing.

I have also developed more than my share of for-fee materials, and I know about the unseen work in developing a really high-quality text (which can take years with costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases).

I first started working with internet-based technologies because I saw the potential to make access to publishing more democratic ... as a self-publisher of an arts magazine and a developer of educational resources for poverty-stricken regions, I'd often been stymied by cost limitations in regards to printing, video, audio - and *especially* distribution. And multimedia projects were only available to nonprofits who could get funding.

In fact, when I encountered the early web, I got so excited that I sat down and learned the first version of HTML immediately the moment I saw it... and I wrote my first web page out by hand that very night (I didn't have a home computer at the time). The next morning I burst into the publishing office of my non-profit organization.
"This," I said, thrusting the scrawled page of code under the director's nose, "is going to change the world." (Yup, I honestly did this.)
And then a bit later (after the director had checked to make sure I hadn't missed taking some kind of psychiatric medication), I started to think about the implications.

"OMG, Everybody can publish!" turned into "OMG, Everybody can publish?? - who on earth is going to catalog, organize, cross-reference, vet, edit, and proof all this stuff?"
During the 500 years or so between Gutenberg and Project Gutenberg, the world of print publishing worked on developing processes and procedures for ensuring quality and efficiency, and public education professionals worked to counter printed myths and misinformation. And we weren't done with this when the Web came along and changed everything.

While I understand the utility of wikis - and in fact am very jazzed about the way the community in wikipedia is trying to negoatiate ways of socially vetting and developing reliable content while keeping access to it, I also know about the damage that can be done if material that hasn't been vetted gets into the wrong hands or if mistakes creep into materials that are considered to be sound.

In one of my very first text books (an expensive hard-cover legal text for a for-profit company), I didn't catch the fact that the word "not" had accidentally been omitted from the last content page until after distribution. This was in the days of hot-metal type and very controlled production processes with multiple reviews by editors and two sets of proofreaders. (Correcting this error was a very expensive lesson that I've never forgotten.) And I got a lesson in humility the time that I let a daily newspaper (with circulation of 30K) get by me with a headline bearing the name of "President Regan."

What concerns me in this regard is something that seems to happen most in the case of the people most desperate for information and education ... something I've seen, for example, when manuscripts from pre-publication stages of surgical and public health texts get translated and printed as finished before all of the mistakes have been caught (and almost always with new mistakes accidentally included in the new version)just because someone thought the vetting processes for these much-needed materials was too slow.

The consequences can be tragic. And the damage doesn't stop with the original text, which gets cited, quoted, and repeated. And I'm talking about the relatively easy to control field of print publication here.

And on the Internet? ... To quote the old TV show, NewsRadio: "Trying to get something off of the internet is like trying to get pee out of a swimming pool."

Find-A-Human - Phone system shortcuts

OMG is right.... how have we all lived through the last 20 years without something like this?!!!!

Thanks, Isaac

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


See the link for an interesting explanation for this phenomenon:

If you do a Google search on the word [failure] or the phrase [miserable
failure], the top result is currently the White House’s official biographical
page for President Bush. We've received some complaints recently from users who
assume that this reflects a political bias on our part.

Monday, September 19, 2005

From my cell phone...

this is an audio post - click to play

My reason for being here...

All right.... I'm keeping this blog because SOMEONE had the bright idea that everyone in this darn class had to keep a blog at ... and because we're supposed to be some kind of learning community or some such nonsense, I guess that means that we ALL have to do it.

Well, OK, I'll do what I can... but I already have two (yes, two) Movable Type blogs lingering in some dusty corner of the internet waiting for me to get around to posting again...

Let's see if I can do better this semester with Blogger...