I came to Argentina with my girlfriend to visit her family and friends, and to spend here some disconnected days during my winter^Wsummer vacations. And so it was, we had some very nice, relaxing days, with everything running smooth and with infrequent but enough sessions of mail access to withstand the disconnection without pain.
Of course, I didn't anticipate that the Network Operations Center of my university would break my institute's connectivity while performing their planned maintenance on December 23. After some days, I was able to talk with one person in the university, but connectivity was not restored. Nobody with knowledge to look at the firewall's screen is available.
So, as of today (happy new year 2012!), I have been mail-less for over a week. I will be back in my office soon now, so I'll get mail connectivity within the upcoming week.
Meanwhile, everybody who mailed me for any reason (job, Debian, holiday greetings, whatever)... Well, I'm sad to tell you that the mails were lost. But worry not, I will act as if nothing like that happened and I received all of your best wishes.
I recently started getting mails from firstname.lastname@example.org. Usually, a mail from no-reply@whatever is enough to make me believe that the admins of said whatever are clueless regarding what e-mail means and how should it work. And in this case, it really amazes me — If I get an invite to Diaspora*, right, I should not pester a hypothetical email@example.com to get me off his list, but I should be able to reply to the person mailing me — Maybe requesting extra details on what he is inviting me to, or allowing me to tell him why I'm not interested. But yes, Diaspora* has fallen to the ease of requiring me to join their network to be able to communicate back with the "friend" who invited me.
Some of the (three?) readers of this site might not be familiar with the Diaspora* project. It is a free reimplementation (as far as I know) of something similar to Facebook — Free not only in the sense that it runs free software, but also because it is federated — Your data will not belong to a specific company (that is, you are not the value object they sell and make money with), but you can choose and switch (or become) the provider for your information. A very interesting proposal, socially and technically.
I find that a gross violation of netiquette. I should be able to reply to the mail - Even if in this case it were to (and sorry – As you are spreading my name/mail, you will excuse me if I spread your name ;-) ) firstname.lastname@example.org. Such an (fictional FWIW) address would allow for mail to reach back the submitter by the same medium it was sent, without allowing open spamming into the network.
Now, what prompted me to write this mail (just before adding email@example.com to my blacklist) is the message I got (in an ugly HTML-only mail which erroneously promised to be text/plain, sigh...) is that Fernando sent me as the inviting message, «So, at least are you going to give Diaspora a chance?»
The answer is: No..
But not because of being a fundamentalist. Right, I am among what many people qualify as Free Software zealots, but many of my choices (as this one is) is in no way related to the software's freeness. I use non-free Web services, as much as many of you do. Yes, I tend to use them less, rather than more (as the tendency goes).
But the main reason I don't use Twitter is the same reason I don't use Identi.ca, its free counterpart — And the reason I'm not interested in Facebook is the same reason I will not join Diaspora* — Because I lack time for yet another stream of activity, of information, of things to do and think about.
Yes, even if I care about you and I want to follow what's going on in your life: The best way to do it is to sit over a cup of coffee, or have some dinner, or to meet once a year in the most amazing conference ever. Or we can be part of distributed projects together, and we will really interact lots. Or you can write a blog! I do follow the blogs of many of my friends (plus several planets), even if they have fallen out of fashion — A blog post pulls me to read it as it is a unit of information, not too much depending on context (a problem when I read somebody's Twitter/Identica lines: You have to hunt a lot of conversations to understand what's going on), gives a true dump of (at least one aspect of) your state of (mind|life|work), and is a referenceable unit I can forward to other people, or quote if needed.
So, yes, I might look old-fashioned, clinging to the tools of the last-decade for my Social Web presence. I will never be a Social Media Expert. I accept it — But please, don't think it is a Stallmanesque posture from me. It is just that of a person who can lose too much time, and needs to get some work done in the meantime.
(oh, of course: Blog posts also don't have to make much sense or be logically complete. But at least they allow me to post a full argument!)
This is an update to my last post regarding the «Construcción Colaborativa del Conocimiento» book.
But holding a printed book in your hands is just a different experience, isn't it? :-) Anyway, I said I would give here an update on how to get your hands on it. The main venue would be through my University's e-store. I recommend it to anybody interested in buying the book in Mexico. The book's list price is MX$300 (around US$27), but it is currently sold at half price — I don't know how long will that price be offered.
On the other hand, we also uploaded it to the lulu.com self-publishing service. Of course, given I have not seen the printed results, I cannot assure you the resulting product will be of the same quality as the one we got here, but I have a couple of books I have bought at lulu, and their quality is quite acceptable. So, you can also buy it from lulu.com. Note the 20% discount it shows will be permanent — That's what I would get as an author, a payment I decided to forefit given we are 11 authors and it would be unfair to collect it all myself. So, the price at lulu.com is US$12.64 plus shipping — Very similar to the price at UNAM.
Last Friday, after two years worth of work, I finally got the first box of books for the Construcción Colaborativa del Conocimiento (Collaborative Knowledge Construction) project I worked on as a coordinator together with Alejandro Miranda (pooka), and together with a large group of 11 authors:
Translating over from the back cover text (and this is just a quick translation from me — It reads better in Spanish ;-) ):
What defines us as humans is our ability, on one side, to
create knowledge, and on the other, to share or communicate it with our neighbors. Both features have worked together over tens of thousands of years, and, working together, have led the knowledge to transcend the individual, avoiding the need to rediscovery or reinvention of is already known. Sharing knowledge is what has taken our species to the dominant role it occupies today.
But knowledge creation and sharing has seen a deep transformation in recent decades, thanks to the quick evolution of telecommunications, specially the massification of Internet and cellular telephony. We are transiting towards the so desired –and at the same time so feared– knowledge society.
In this book, eleven authors from very different disciplinary backgrounds and geographic origins ellaborate on how a hyper-connected world has modified the basic rules of interaction in areas as diverse as artistic creation, social organizations, computer code development, education or the productive sector.
This book is the result of a year worth of work for in the "Collaborative Construction of Knowledge" seminar, during which we
used the same new forms of knowledge production we have studied.
The videos of the sessions, electronic participations and the full contents of this book are available under a permisive license at
We will soon have the book ready in IIEc's e-store (which is mostly meant for national requests). I am also uploading the book to the lulu.com self-publishing service, and we are working on a epub-like edition. Right now it is still not available, but it should be there in some days. I will keep you posted.
Meanwhile, the full contents can be read online at http://seminario.edusol.info/seco3
There's something brewing, moving in Jalisco (a state in Mexico's West, where our second largest city, Guadalajara, is located). And it seems we have an opportunity to participate, hopefully to be taken into account for the future.
Ten days ago, I was contacted by phone by the staff of UDG Noticias, for an interview on the Universidad de Guadalajara radio station. The topic? Electronic voting. If you are interested in what I said there, you can get the interview from my webpage.
I held some e-mail contact with the interviewer, and during the past few days, he sent me some links to notes in the La Jornada de Jalisco newspaper, and asked for my opinion on them: On September 23, a fellow UNAM researcher, César Astudillo, claims the experience in three municipalities in Jalisco prove that e-voting is viable in the state, and today (September 26), third generation of an electronic booth is appearingly invulnerable.
Of course, I don't agree with the arguments presented (and I'll reproduce the mails I sent to UDG Noticias about it before my second interview just below — They are in Spanish, though). However, what I liked here is that it does feel like a dialogue. Their successive texts seem to answer to my questioning.
So, even though I cannot yet claim this is a real dialogue (it would be much better to be able to sit down face to face and have a fluid conversation), it feels very nice to actually be listened to from the other side!
My answer to the first note:
El tema de las urnas electrónicas sigue dando de qué hablar por acá en Jalisco... nosotros en Medios UDG hemos presentado distintas voces como la del Dr. Gabriel Corona Armenta, que está a favor del voto electrónico, del Dr. Luis Antonio Sobrado, magistrado presidente del tribunal supremo de elecciones de Costa Rica, quien nos habló sobre los 20 MDD que les cuesta implementar el sistema por lo que no lo han logrado hasta el momento, pudimos hablar hasta argentina con Federico Heinz y su rotunda oposición al voto electrónico y por supuesto la entrevista que le realizamos a usted.
Sin embargo este día La Jornada Jalisco publica la siguiente nota
nos gustaría saber cuál es su punto de vista al respecto,
quedo a la espera de su respuesta
Pues... Bueno, sé que el IFE hizo un desarrollo muy interesante y bien hecho hace un par de años, diseñando desde cero las urnas que proponían emplear, pero no se instrumentaron fuera de pilotos (por cuestión de costos, hasta donde entiendo). Se me hace triste y peligroso que el IEPC de Jalisco esté proponiendo, teniendo ese antecedente, la compra de tecnología prefabricada, y confiando en lo que les ofrece un proveedor.
Se me hace bastante iluso, directamente, lo que propone el título: «comicios en tres municipios prueban la viabilidad del voto electrónico en todo el estado». Pongámoslo en estos términos: ¿El que no se caiga una choza de lámina con estructura de madera demuestra que podemos construir rascacielos de lámina con estructura de madera?
Ahora, un par de párrafos que me llaman la atención de lo que publica esta nota de La Jornada:
la propuesta de realizar la elección en todo el estado con urnas electrónicas que desea llevar a cabo el Instituto Electoral y de Participación Ciudadana (IEPC) es viable, pues los comicios realizados en tres municipios son pruebas suficientes para demostrar que la urna es fiable
y algunos párrafos más adelante,
“Cuántas experiencias más se necesitan para saber si es confiable, 20, 30, no lo sé (...) Pero cuando se tiene un diagnóstico real, efectivo y serio de cuándo técnicamente procede, se puede tomar la decisión”
Como lo menciono en mi artículo... No podemos confundir a la ausencia de evidencia con la evidencia de ausencia. Esto es, que en un despliegue menor no haya habido irregulares no significa que no pueda haberlas. Que haya países que operan 100% con urnas electrónicas no significa que sea el camino a seguir. Hay algunas -y no pocas- experiencias de fallas en diversos sentidos de urnas electrónicas, y eso demuestra que no puede haber confianza en las implementaciones. Aunque el equipo nos saliera gratis (que no es el caso), hay que invertir recursos en su resguardo y mantenimiento. Aunque se generara un rastro impreso verificado por el votante (que sólo ha sido el caso en una pequeña fracción de las estacione de votación), nada asegura que los resultados reportados por el equipo sean siempre consistentes con la realidad. El potencial para mal uso que ofrecen es demasiado.
And to September 26th:
Disculpe que lo molestemos otra vez, pero este día fue publicada otra nota más sobre el tema de las Urnas electrónicas en Jalisco donde se asegura que la urna es invulnerable.
¿nos podría conceder unos minutos para hablar con usted, como la vez pasada, vía telefónica sobre el caso específico de Jalisco, en referencia a estas notas publicadas recientemente? si es posible ¿podría llamarle este día a las 2 pm?
Quedo a la espera de su respuesta agradeciéndole su ayuda, apreciamos mucho esta colaboración que está haciendo con nosotros
Respecto a esta nota: Nuevamente, ausencia de evidencia no es evidencia de ausencia. Se le permite a un pequeño segmento de personas jugar con una máquina. ¿Significa eso que fue una prueba completa, exhaustiva? No, sólo que ante un jugueteo casual no pudieron encontrar fallos obvios y graves.
Un verdadero proceso que brindara confianza consistiría en (como lo hicieron en Brasil - Y resultaron vulnerables) convocar a la comunidad de expertos en seguridad en cómputo a hacer las pruebas que juzguen necesarias teniendo un nivel razonable de acceso al equipo.
Además, la seguridad va más allá de modificar los resultados guardados. Un par de ejemplos que se me ocurren sin darle muchas vueltas:
- ¿Qué pasa si meto un chicle a la ranura lectora de tarjeta magnética?
- ¿Qué pasa si golpeo alguna de las teclas lo suficiente para hacerla un poquito menos sensible sin destruirla por completo? (o, ya entrados en gastos, si la destruyo)
La negación de servicio es otro tipo de ataque con el cual tenemos que estar familiarizados. No sólo es posible modificar el sentido de la votación, sino que es muy fácil impedir que la población ejerza su derecho. ¿Qué harían en este caso? Bueno, podrían caer de vuelta a votación sobre papel - Sobre hojas de un block, probablemente firmadas por cada uno de los funcionarios, por ejemplo. Pero si un atacante bloqueó la lectura de la tarjeta magnética, que es necesaria para que el presidente de casilla la marque como cerrada, despojó de su voto a los usuarios.
Sí, se tienen los votos impresos (que, francamente, me da mucho gusto ver que esta urna los maneja de esta manera). El conteo es posible, aunque un poco más incómodo que en una votación tradicional (porque hay que revisar cuáles son los que están marcados como invalidados - no me queda muy claro cómo es el escenario del elector que votó por una opción, se imprimió otra, y el resultado fue corregido y marcado como tal)... Pero es posible.
Sin embargo, y para cerrar con esta respuesta: Si hacemos una corrida de prueba, en circunstancias controladas, obviamente no se notarán los muchísimos fallos que una urna electrónica puede introducir cuando los "chicos malos" son sus programadores. ¿Podemos estar seguro que este marcador Atlas-Chivas-Cruz Azul tenga el mismo índice de fiabilidad como una elección de candidatos reales, uno de los cuales puede haberle pagado a la empresa desarrolladora para manipular la elección?
Y aún si el proceso fuera perfecto, indican aquí que están _intentando_ licitar estas urnas (y nuevamente, si lo que menciona esta nota es cierto, son de las mejores urnas disponibles, y han atendido a muchos de los señalamientos - ¡Qué bueno!)... ¿Para qué? ¿Qué nos van a dar estas urnas, qué va a ganar la sociedad? ¿Mayor rapidez? Despreciable - Media hora de ganancia. ¿A cambio de cuánto dinero? ¿Mayor confiabilidad? Me queda claro que no, siendo que no sólo somos cuatro trasnochados los que ponemos su sistema en duda, sino que sus mismos proponentes apuntan a la duda generalizada.
La frase con la que cierra la nota se me hace digna para colgar un epílogo: "en ese futuro quizá no tan distante la corrupción también ocurre y ésta se debe siempre al factor humano". Y el factor humano sigue ahí. Las urnas electrónicas son programadas por personas, por personas falibles. Sin importar del lado que estén, recordarán la polémica cuando se hizo público que la agregación de votos en el 2006 fue supervisada por la empresa Hildebrando, propiedad del cuñado del entonces candidato a la presidencia Felipe Calderón. ¿Qué evita que caigamos en un escenario similar, pero ampliamente distribuído? Y aquí hay que referirnos a la sentencia de la Suprema Corte de Alemania: En dicho país, las votaciones electrónicas fueron declaradas anticonstitucionales porque sólo un grupo de especialistas podrían auditarlas. Una caja llena de papeles con la evidencia clara del sentido del voto de cada participante puede ser comprendida por cualquier ciudadano. El código que controla a las urnas electrónicas, sólo por un pequeño porcentaje de la población.
Patrick tells about his experience moving from LVM to RAID.Now, why do this? I have two machines set up with LVM-based mirroring, and they work like a charm - I even think they work with better flexibility than setting it up in a RAID-controlled way, as each of the partitions in a volume group can be easily set to use (or stop using) the mirroring independently, and the requisite of having similar devices (regarding size) also disappears. Of course, this flexibility allows you to do very stupid things (such as setting up a mirror on two areas of the same rotational device - Good for toying around, but of course, never to be considered for production). And the ability to online grow and shrink partitions is just great.
So, Patrick, fellow readers, dear lazyweb, why would you prefer LVM-based mirroring to a RAID alternative? Or the other way around?
After many years of successfully dodging doing any serious programming in PHP, I had to get my feet wet with PHP for my RL job: I was requested to develop a simple but non-trivial module for our Institute's Drupal-based webpage.
It basically meant two and a half weeks devoted to head-scratching: I had read the very good John van Dyk's Pro Drupal Development book, and knew it would be an important resource were I to face writing a module or work on a theme beyond the most basic stuff… So I checked it out of the library, and started basically writing something similar to my good and trusty Perl code. After all, PHP seems quite similar to Perl, although forcing you to write more for no gain (i.e. requiring an array() declaration whenever you want to store more than one value together) or lacking important and useful constructs (not having a sane way to prepare a SQL statement for multiple executions with different parameters — Yes, there are DB access methods that do provide it, but Drupal 6 does not use them).
Anyway, book in hand, I started understanding while implementing (which is way different than just reading the book, right?) Drupal's notions. I cannot say I like them, but it's… ahem… doable.
Now, I hit a problem twice. I chose to ignore it the first time, as it was a corner case I'd look into later on, but had to devote for hours of my attention later on. When designing the
menu (which for Drupal means not only the facility which prepares/displays links to the bits of functionality, but also the access control layer and the action dispatcher — a huge yay! for responsability separation!), I had only two access levels: Public and administrator. So, this seemed like a good fit:
But... No matter what I did, the first element in
$public refused to be publicly visible.
It was not until after a severe amount of head-scratching I came across this jewel in the PHP online manual:
This function may return Boolean FALSE, but may also return a non-Boolean value which evaluates to FALSE, such as 0 or "". Please read the section on Booleans for more information. Use the === operator for testing the return value of this function.
GRAH. Using a sane language for some time had made me forget about the problems of true/false sharing space with other meaningful values. So, yes, checking for inclusion of a value in an array in PHP this way should be compared with class-bound identity (that's what
=== means) to
FALSE, or better yet, using a function that exclusively returns a boolean (as
Anyway… While arrays (which in PHP are any kind of list, be it keyed as a hash or consecutive as a traditional array) are such an usual construct in any language, please do take a look at PHP's array-handling API. Too long. Too complex. Too many corner cases.
I cannot but wonder what keeps PHP as a popular language. It hurts.
Cineast and Free Culture activist Nina Paley wrote some days ago a rantifesto on why the FSF has a double standard: Why are the Freedoms guaranteed for Free Software not guaranteed for Free Culture?, by not following its own very strict rules on software when it comes to culture as a whole. Her post was widely circulated, and got (at least) one reply by fellow Debian Developer Wouter Verhelst, largely agreeing with her, and an anti-rantifesto by Joe Brockmeier — Which was promptly answered again by Wouter with a very fun and inspired post, written from the right angle: From the viewpoint of a person who is both a programmer and a musician, and understands the concepts at hand.
I'd love to write a longer, better thought post — But I'm tired and frankly stressed by many things, so I am just echoing their very interesting discussion to other people who might want to read it.
I have been thinking and writing bits on that subject over the last couple of months. An example of that was the talk I gave at the Senate ~6 weeks ago. Following that talk, I wrote a short article for Revista Zócalo (a widely circulated magazine mainly dealing with Mexican politics and social issues) called simply Software libre, cultura libre (full text available, but in Spanish only — You can try reading an automated translation if it suits you). I wrote the article, mind you, with very limited time, and I'll be the first to recognize the prose was quite poor this time :(
Anyway — My point is that our nature is to share culture, to build it in a collaborative fashion, and having the Internet as a practically zero-cost, zero loss medium with which we can interchange our creativity with other like-minded people will naturally boost creativity. Free Software emerged before other Free Culture groups just because programmers had privileged access to Internet in the 80s and early 90s; as network access –and digital creation tools– have got to more people, it's just natural for all kinds of free culture to grow.
Software is just a form of knowledge. Code is just a notation for a certain kind of ideas, just as the mathematical or musical notations. I believe (and hope) it's just unavoidable for us all to eventually switch to a mainly free cultural creation system.
We are few weeks away from the start of DebConf11. Excitement runs high in Debian-land. The two most worthy weeks of the year, every year, loom close. Our Bosnian friends have done a great job of finding and defending an amazing proposal, and are now facing the hard work and permanent adrenaline levels of being in charge of the closest I have seen to a herd of (well-behaved but wild and untamable) cats.
I have organized DebConf in my country. It was hellish, but at the same time, it's one of my most cherished experiences. And I'm sure the same will be said by the leaders of each successive bid — It is one of the most rewarding experiences you can imagine.
Next year, DebConf will be held in tropical Managua, Nicaragua. But, where will we meet in 2013? Well, that depends on you, my dear reader! Do you want to work your ass off for Debian and have utter fun? Do you want to show and share your country with this huge family of developers? Start thinking about pushing for a DebConf13 bid!
Do you have to be at Banja Luka to propose your bid? No. You can proxy via somebody — I'd suggest to do it via somebody who knows the location you are suggesting, but basically, choose a friend that you trust that trusts you. Of course, you can participate in the presentation session via IRC.
Do you have to be a Debian Developer to propose a bid? No. For DebConf9, none of the Cáceres guys was a DD; for DebConf10, some of the people most involved from the local New Yorkers were not DDs. For DC11, none of our dear and overworked hosts in Bosnia are DDs. And for DC12, the Nicaraguan crew is also made from people interested in getting closer to the Debian project, but not DDs.
Do you have to decide now? No. This is just a call for a first presentation, but the decision regarding DC13 will be taken probably around March 2012. However, giving a nice presentation at DebConf helps a lot, gives you visibility, and will get the ball rolling.
Is there a geographical bias? Slight. So far, and since the second DebConf, we have kept the tradition not to repeat continents on two successive DebConfs. This is not a hard condition, however!
What do you need to start thinking about? Go visit our prospective location checklist at http://wiki.debconf.org/wiki/LocationCheckList. You can also look at what other teams have historically presented. Finally, I just learnt about the existence of http://wiki.debconf.org/wiki/DebConf13 — Register there, even if you are just in the early phases of finding data.
We will be holding a DebConf13 bids presentation session, most probably (the schedule is close to being presented officially!) on 30-07-2011, at 17:00.
Umh, so Google created yet-another-beta-service with yet-another-invite-only stage. Whee! And this time they choose a name yet more stupid to their previous attempts (Wave, Buzz — now it's simply Google+).
And yes, some of my friends have mailed me invites (or offered them to me by chat) so I can join the fun and love, and lose the few free time I still have.
Guys, I care about you. I even love you all! But no, I don't care the least for so-called-social-network invites. I am quite a mess managing my time as it stands.
And I cannot reply this to you in person, as Google+ sends mails with a very helpful sender (firstname.lastname@example.org or variations of it), I have just added this to my .procmailrc:
- * ^From:.*email@example.com
What does this mean in human? That instead of manually ignoring your invitations and feeling bad about not answering to you, dear friends, I'll leave that job to my computer. I will not receive any Google+ invites.
Just as I don't receive Twitter and Facebook spam, FWIW.
Thanks for thinking about me!
Second speaker at today'sseminar,Vladimir Mojica. He is talking about th legal backing for DRM and TPM as well as laws against circumvention. He quotes USA's DMCA as one of the most complete, advanced and forward-minded laws,inviting the audience to push for such a law here.
I hope he gets to my (written)question, as today is a very important day in this regard: The Senate has requested the presidency to reject signing the ACTA treaty!
[Update] The Senate is sending Resolution agreeing to prompt the Federal Executive Power titular to instruct the State Secretaries and other dependencies involved in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement not to sign said agreement, as it would hinder free interchange of legal material. It also mentions the ISPs should not become de-facto authorities to define when an intellectual/intangible properties right violation is in course, and that it would be unacceptable for ISPs to monitor the users' activities in the net, or to analize the content of the IP packets.
Very good news, in a document very well made, in a precise, legal and coherent(!) way.
Excuse me in advance for any typos. itting in a dark room and posting with a Kindle has its down sides.
I have been participating for about 1.5 years on a seminar about the copyright in the ediyorial ambit. This year, the focus is on digital media.
Today the first speaker is Dr. Kyoshi Tsuru, General Director of BSA Mexico. He is talking about the beauties and advantages of DRM and TPM. It was interesting to hear how he began by saying how people are afraid of nice, good, protective measures and call it with derogatoey, morally charged ways:Specifically about "self-utelage"measures. It is interesting t hear him in the role I often speak eg. by repeating that piracy is a derogatory,morally charged term for "making illegal copies"
Fun to hear how he defends that mainly academicians are disconnected from the real world...
Reading revolutions: Online digital text and implications for reading in academe — A (very informal) review
It's been a long time since I last took some time to read First Monday — A great online publication, if you are not familiar with it, that I would categorize (and no, I'm not probably well-informed in it to be authoritative) as dealing with social, psychological aspects of the cultural shifts the online world has brought upon us (often dealing with topics related to Free Software communities, the reason I first met the publication). Firstmonday is an Open Access champion from early on. It follows an approachable but academic format (this means, it is peer-reviewed, its articles give extensive lists of references, and the articles are not the short reads we have got used to finding on the net, but, quoting from their audience profile, English is not the first language of many First Monday readers; A large percentage of First Monday readers are not a part of academia; Cultures, educational backgrounds, and fields of study vary greatly among First Monday readers.) This means, it's at least a great publication for me to follow :)
Anyway — After a long time not following it, I have just read Reading revolutions: Online digital text and implications for reading in academe, by Barry W. Cull; First Monday, Volume 16, Number 6 - 6 June 2011 Nice, interesting read. As I was planning on telling about the article to a couple of friends more into the subjects than myself, I'll comment+quote some bits on it. Before going any further: The article makes several references to Maryanne Wolf. No relation to her — I'm not lulling my (two? are you both still reading?) readers towards her work ;-)
The article talks about the differences –social, even dips into some physiological aspects– that the activity of reading is sustaining due to the shift from an activity done mainly from books (or other similar printed material) to the computer screen. Of course, we all know from our own experience many of the basic traits — Shorter attention spans, a different reading pattern (skimming instead of reading; browsing through several related items instead of in-depth reading a single text as a knowledge unit).
The article begins with an overview of reading and humankind. Cull quotes Maryanne Wolf's phrase, «despite the fact that it took our ancestors about 2,000 years to develop an alphabetic code, children are regularly expected to crack this code in about 2,000 days». An interesting point I never thaught of is the start of reading as a purely mental activity, detaching reason from verbalization, ~1200 years ago:
Interestingly, these early scribes first did their work by reading out loud to themselves. Not until the ninth century did monastic regulations begin requiring silent reading. By the thirteenth century the practice of men reading silently and alone became commonplace. This shift to silent reading was a profound change, one that Darnton suggested “involved a greater mental adjustment than the shift to printed text”
One last important point in this older history, that I'm quoting because I know I'll need the reference later on for one of my texts is about reading as a social activity — Yes, also related to the quietness I just mentioned:
Interestingly, with the democratization of the printed text, there was a return to reading aloud. Reading was a solitary silent process only for the educated elite who could afford to buy books. For the rest of the population, as Darnton pointed out, reading was a social activity which “took place in workshops, barns, and taverns” … [and] “while children played, women sewed, and men repaired tools.”
After this introduction (obviously one of the most interesting parts to me), Cull gives numbers showing how reading is evolving (in the USA and Canada), and quotes some prediction on how the future will end up adapting. Of course, I live in a place with a very different society, so I cannot comment much. Then he confronts some studies regarding specifically leisure reading, as it is a much more trustable factor than just literacy (in a world as highly literate as ours is, many people only read when they have to — and have never or very seldom experienced the pleasure of reading just for the sake of it), bringing into the discussion the Internet (and computers in general) usage patterns.
I found also very interesting the next section, regarding the pattern changes many libraries are facing now, specially academic/research-oriented libraries:
For several millennia, right up until just two decades ago, the central role of a library was to collect and house physical texts: from clay tablets, to scrolls, to printed books (Battles, 2003; Manguel, 2006). While printed text remains essential to most academic libraries, today’s libraries have also become a core conduit via which researchers access scholarly texts online. Just within the last few years, Canadian academic libraries, in a situation similar to libraries throughout the Western world, have reached an interesting tipping point — librarians now spend the majority of their collections budgets on electronic instead of printed texts.
Libraries are convinced that digital text, now in its infancy, is likely to have a long future. Not only do they purchase electronic texts, but most academic libraries have also become publishers of electronic texts, whether they are digitizing large portions of their book holdings, or focusing on scanning a relatively small number of archival documents from their unique special collections.
And yes, doing some work with our Institute's library, I can confirm this trend.
About e-books: I have got quite into that topic since the Kindle won my heart (and my money!) half a year ago. The little device completly changed my reading habits, I have read lots more since I carry it. And yes, I have never considered a full tablet-like device — The article talks long about the difference, about the disadvantage that multitasking means to the human brain (oh, do I suffer from it!) I liked this snippet, quoting Steve Jobs a couple of years ago, regarding an Apple e-book reader question:
When Apple was rumoured to be working on an e–book reader a few years ago, CEO Steve Jobs expressed his lack of interest: “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he reportedly said, continuing by stating that “40 percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore” (Markoff, 2008). Nicholas Carr (2010) has summed up Apple’s involvement in the tablet phenomenon this way: “Jobs is no dummy. As a text delivery system, the iPad is perfectly suited to readers who don’t read anymore”.
The issue for me is, I do enjoy reading, but I am an information addict. I know that if I have parallel information flows, my attention will surely dilute between them. Of course, as I read this article on-screen, it was hard for me to take the needed discipline not to be distracted by IMs or IRC highlights during the whole reading (which was also as an excercise for myself ;-) ). I am surprised to see this on student preferences (and even more surprised to see this data comes from my university):
In a study of students at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), the majority of students preferred print, and 63 percent reported that they could bear reading a document on a computer screen for no more than one hour (Ramírez Leyva, 2003). When it comes to course textbooks, a marked student preference for paper over e–books has recently been found (Woody, 2010).
As we approach the end, it talks about another important topics I have often tried (and often failed) to communicate to my users: That of paratext, the meaning of the different texts, covers, items, layouts, etc. that are not part of the text itself but do shape the way we face it. To some of us, this seems obvious. To others, it is so hard to understand…
It closes with two more topics I will refer to. One is the permanent connectivity. All the time, more people are connected virtually all of their waking time. This affects not only learning habits but priorities. Will this near–constant access to information interfere with students’ desire to comprehend and remember information, necessary to the educational process of turning it into knowledge? Author and university business school lecturer Don Tapscott recently suggested that students “might not have to stress about the details — those you can check”
Finally, regarding the continuity and ellaboration found in texts that are each time more common — He quotes Maryanne Wolf:
I am worried about kids who are immersed in digital culture. They will get to college and they will have been Twittering so much that they won’t have the patience to read those really long cognitively convoluted and complex sentences. They may not have developed those rich networks which are required in order to read at a high level of sophistication. … The effort is what we are going to lose. They are becoming not so much a lazy reader, but an atrophied reader
As you can see, not only this post is meant to tell my couple-of-interested-friends to read the article, but it's mainly meant as a mental placeholder for myself. I will be surely refering to some of these items.
I was invited to be part of one of the panels to be present this Thursday (June 2) in a forum that promises to be interesting. The forum is organized by the Science and Technology comission of the Senate of the Republic (of Mexico ;-) ), Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana and Mozilla México. The day will be opened by Sen. Francisco Javier Castellón Fonseca and Richard Stallman; starting at 10:00, we will have thematic panels on:
- Civil society
The full program (as well as details of interest of those that can physically attend) is attached to this post.
I am looking forward to this forum. Not only it is a good opportunity to get our work known in one of those places where it matters, but it's also being organized by several interesting people I'm sure will have something interesting to contribute. And of course, we lacked time to build a better, more complete and more coherent proposal — but there is a good probability we will have further such contacts.
You might find interesting to read on the list we have been discussing; subscription seems to be open (although access to the archives is not — Maybe it will be later on? In any case, I'm saving a mbox ;-) )
While swearing at my bank's automated phone attention system, I was thinking that –taking advantage in the fact they already usually say that "the call will be recorded to improve service quality"– call center operators/programmers should record all user activity and, just for laughs, play back the grumbles angry users shout at the system. Of course, at random intervals, on loudspeakers, over the crowded call centers.
Oh, they do it already?