Two causally unrelated events which fit in together in the greater scheme of things ;-)
In some areas, the world is better aligning to what we have been seeking for many years. In some, of course, it is not.
In this case, today I found our article on the Network of Digital Repositories for our University, in the Revista Digital Universitaria [en línea] was published. We were invited to prepare an article on this topic because this month's magazine would be devoted to Open Access in Mexico and Latin America — This, because a law was recently passed that makes conditions much more interesting for the nonrestricted publication of academic research. Of course, there is still a long way to go, but this clearly is a step in the right direction.
On the other hand, after a long time of not looking in that direction (even though it's a lovely magazine), I found that this edition of FirstMonday takes as its main topic Napster, 15 years on: Rethinking digital music distribution.
I know that nonrestricted academic publishing via open access and nonauthorized music sharing via Napster are two very different topics. However, there is a continuous push and trend towards considering and accepting open licensing terms, and they are both points in the same struggle. An interesting data point to add is that, although many different free licenses have existed over time, Creative Commons (which gave a lot of visibility and made the discussion within the reach of many content creators) was created in 2001 — 13 years ago today, two years after Napster. And, yes, there are no absolute coincidences.
I got word via the Electronic Frontier Foundation about an act of injustice happening to a person for doing... Not only what I do day to day, but what I promote and believe to be right: Sharing academic articles.
Diego is a Colombian, working towards his Masters degree on conservation and biodiversity in Costa Rica. He is now facing up to eight years imprisonment for... Sharing a scholarly article he did not author on Scribd.
Many people lack the knowledge and skills to properly set up a venue to share their articles with people they know. Many people will hope for the best and expect academic publishers to be fundamentally good, not to send legal threats just for the simple, noncommercial act of sharing knowledge. Sharing knowledge is fundamental for science to grow, for knowledge to rise. Besides, most scholarly studies are funded by public money, and as the saying goes, they should benefit the public. And the public is everybody, is all of us.
And yes, if this sounds in any way like what drove Aaron Swartz to his sad suicide early this year... It is exactly the same thing. Thankfully (although, sadly, after the sad fact), thousands of people strongly stood on Aaron's side on that demand. Please sign the EFF petition to help Diego, share this, and try to spread the word on the real world needs for Open Access mandates for academics!
Some links with further information:
- Diego's own account on the matter in Compartir no es delito
- Why are we prosecuting students for sharing knowledge? (Timothy Vollmer, on Creative Commons' weblog)
- Science is not a crime (David R. Koepsell, Center for Inquiry)
- Fuller story on the EFF
I still consider myself a newbie teacher. I'm just starting my fourth semester. And yes, I really enjoy it.
Now, how did I come to teaching? Well, my training has been mostly on stages for different conferences. More technical, more social, whatever — I have been giving ~10 talks a year for ~15 years, and I must have learnt something from that.
Some good things, some bad habits.
When giving presentations, a most usual technique is to prepare a set of slides to follow/support the ideas. And yes, that's what I did for my classes: Since my first semester, I prepared a nice set of slides, thematically split in 17 files, with ~30 to ~110 pages each (yes, huge variation). Given the course spans 32 classes (72 hours, 2¼ hours per class), each slide lasts for about two classes.
But, yes, this tends to make the class much less dynamic, much more scripted, rigid, and... Boring. From my feedback, I understand the students don't think I am a bad teacher, but still, I want to improve!
So, today I was to give the introduction to memory management. Easy topic, with few diagrams and numbers, mostly talking about the intuitive parts of a set of functions. I started scribbling and shortening the main points on a piece of paper (yes, the one on the picture). I am sure I can get down to more reduction — But this does feel like an improvement!
The class was quite successful. I didn't present the 100% of the material (which is one of the reasons I cling to my presentations — I don't want to skip important material), and at some point I do feel I was a bit going in circles. However, Operating Systems is a very intuitive subject, and getting the students to sketch by themselves the answers that describe the working of real operating systems was a very pleasant experience!
Of course, when I use my slides I do try to make it as interactive and collaborative as possible. But it is often unfeasible when I'm following a script. Today I was able to go around with the group's questions, find my way back to the outline I prepared.
I don't think I'll completely abandon my slides, specially for some subjects which include many diagrams or pictures. But I'll try to have this alternative closer to my mind.
Yes, I've been bragging about the Operating Systems book all over... Today, a colleague handed me a phone call from somebody at Editorial Patria, a well known educational editorial in Mexico. They are looking for material similar to what I wrote, but need the material to be enfocado a competencias — Focused on skills, a pedagogic fashion.
I was more than interested, of course. As it currently stands, I am very happy that our book is being used already at three universities in three countries (by the different authors) and have heard other people saying they would recommend it, and of course I'm interested in making our work have as big an impact as possible. Of course, we'd have to modify several aspects of the book to cater to the skills focus... But it would be great to have the book available at commercial bookstores. After all, university editions are never as widely circulated as commercial ones.
I had just one hard request to accept this: Our work must be distributed under a free licensing. Explicitly allow book photocopies and electronic distribution (didn't get into the "and modification" part, but I would eventually get there ;-) )
And... Of course, the negotiation immediately fell down. Editorials, this person says, live from selling individual books. She says she was turned down by another university professor and for another subject this same week.
So, yes, I took the opportunity to explain things as I (and the people that think as I do — Fortunately, not so few) see them. Yes, of course, editorials have to make a living. But text books are often photocopied as it is. Who buys a book? Whoever needs it. On one hand, if somebody will be using a book throughout a semester and it's reasonably priced (say, up to 3×cost of photocopies), they will probably buy it because it just works better (it is more comfortable to use and nicer to read).
If a teacher likes the explanation for a particular topic, it should be completely legal for him to distribute photocopies (or digital copies) of the specific material — And quite probably, among the students, more than one will end up appreciating the material enough to go look for the book in the library. And, as I have done throughout my life, if I read (in copies, electronically or in a library) a book I like... Quite probably I will go buy it.
So... Of course, she insisted it was against their corporate policy. I insisted on my explanation. I hope they meet many stubborn teachers refusing to distribute books under a non-free licensing. I hope I contributed to making a dent in an industry that must change. Yes, a very very small dent, but one that helps them break free from their obsolete mindset ;-)
(But yes, I don't know how long I will regret not being part of their very nice catalog of science and engineering books) ;-) )
Today I finally submitted our book, Fundamentos de Sistemas Operativos, for the Editorial Department of our institute. Of course, I'm not naïve enough to assume there won't be a heavy editorial phase, but I'm more than eager to dive into it... And have the book printed in maybe two months time!
Of course, this book is to be published under a free license (CC-BY-SA). And I'm talking with the coauthors, we are about to push the Git repository to a public location, as we believe the source for the text and figures can also be of interest to others.
The book itself (as I've already boasted about here :-} ) is available (somewhat as a preprint) for download.
[update] Talked it over with the coauthors, and we finally have a public repository! Clone it from:
Of course, it was not a hacking contest. Some of the speakers were invited on stage as players in the Developers bowl (a Jeopardy-like game) at Software Gurú Conference & Expo 2014. I happened to be in the winning team :-)
Yesterday night, we had the opportunity to have –for the first time– my friend Kaz as a guest in my Operating Systems class. We are about to finish the semester, and he took the opportunity not just to show how the Ext4 filesystem is structured, but how it is implemented in a current Linux release.
Kaz took a very different approach from what I do: He did it really hands-on, starting with the explanation on how a hello world module would be created, and then digging in following the code of the ext4 module in Linux 3.14 (and some bits in the general filesystem-related includes).
Of course, for a ~2hr session, he did not go into the full details, but did show where the main structures of a filesystem are defined, including a general walkthrough on the general kernel coding style.
The class was very enjoyable and clear. We had the bad luck of the projector's lamp burning out at the beginning of the class, but still, you can see in the pictures the students were really into his exposition. I think the exposition did make it through and got the students involved and interested — And that makes it really worth it!
Now... Sadly, due to a (most probably) human factor, I tried to record this talk but lost most of it :-( I have only the first part, but lost most of the second one. I have some bits recorded by a second camera, but have to check if they make sense by themselves, or do need the whole context. Anyway, I'll be reviewing those bits, and will update this post when I get around to cleaning+fixing+integrating them.
After the projector blew up at the beginning of the class, all of the exposition had to be directly in Kaz's laptop screen...