OmniFocus for iPad is OUT…

OmniFocus for iPad is OUT … and I just can’t get excited. Why? Hmmm, let’s see … I’ve already spent $50 on the Mac version and $20 on the iPhone version and now I am supposed to pay another $40 for the iPad version?

To be clear, this is not entirely OmniGroup’s fault — though I haven’t really heard them protest this situation either. It’s really a function of Apple’s App Store and its inability to differentiate users. (Oh, to be fireballed and have John Gruber, who has become Apple’s pony boy in the era of the iPhone, defend Apple on this.)

First, note that I only paid $50 for OmniFocus and not the full retail price of $80. I was able to do that because the OmniGroup is kind enough to offer educational discounts. Can the App Store do that? No.

Second, one of the reasons I purchased OmniFocus over other GTD apps — some of which I think are actually easier to use — is because I was invested in the OmniGroup portfolio. I have been using OmnoOutliner and OmniGraffle from their 2.0 days, before they went “pro,” and I have enjoyed the OmniGroup’s commitment to their applications and their users. I have also enjoyed their upgrade pricing, which essentially offers users of previous versions of a product the change to buy the new one at a discount.

While one can upgrade an app in the app store, there is no way, as far as I can tell, for developers to distinguish between new users and recurring users and thus to reward the extant users for their loyalty to the product — which may not only have been simply using the app but also discussing it on their blogs or in various forums or in providing bug reports or feedback.

There is also no way for developers to distinguish between classes of users, commercial versus educational for example, on the App Store, even though Apple recognizes the difference in their own Store.

And must there, must there be a separate iPad version of OmniFocus? Without a question, from the screenshots I have seen, it is a thing of beauty — perhaps nicer than the iPhone and Mac version combined — but why can’t it be a universal iOS app? To be honest, this isn’t question of money so much as a principled orientation towards simplicity when it comes to the inventory of debris one trails behind oneself as we pass through this mortal coil. I don’t really need there to be two OmniFocus apps sitting in my iTunes library.

I don’t know if the lack of an universal version was a decision based on differences in screen size or if it was an economic decision — and here I will note that the steady increase in pricing of applications at OmniGroup is beginning to make me nervous, if not a little agitated. Times are tough. I’m glad OmniGroup seeks to pay its developers well, but I just may not be able to hang with them for much longer. My paycheck has been flat for the past five years. (And by flat, I mean flat.)

Sharing and the Knowledge Economy

One of the problems for artists, writers, coders, and producers of, well, all the stuff we lump under the “knowledge economy” is what to do when you want to share. By default, as I understand it, materials are copyrighted to their maker. That means you have to be active in changing the status of your materials to something others can use without seeking your permission.

Now, why would you want to do that? There are a variety of reasons, some of them principled and some of them practical.

First, the principled reasons are:

1. *Sharing is good.* In some ways this is both a principled and a practical stance. For knowledge to be, well, knowledge, it has to be shared. Otherwise it’s just ideas in your head. Maybe they came from those voices you sometimes hear inside your head, but chances are the ideas actually came from your encounters in the world: things you heard, things you saw, thing you read. That means your ideas are based on other people’s ideas, and, surprise, they shared them with you and now you get to share, too.
2. *Sharing is fun.* Remember when you were a kid and you had something another kid didn’t have and they just really, really, really wanted to play with it. At first it kinda hurt to have to share, but the look of pure bliss that came across that other kid’s face, and how thankful they were for the chance to play with whatever it is you shared made it even better. You were a hero. And, by the way, the thing you shared: do you even have it anymore? No? I thought not. See? You don’t have the thing anymore, but you still have the memory of having shared.

Another reason for me to share, that may or not be of the nature of a “principle” is that I do so because I am a professor at a public university. I feel that I am paid for. (Not a lot, but still.) More importantly, I am paid for by a lot of people who really don’t have much themselves. It’s my duty to share.

And now the practical reasons:

1. *Sharing works.* It builds your reputation. People want your stuff because it’s good, it’s smart, it helps them in some way. And not only are you smart, but you are also nice. Whoa, you are in good stead twice over.
2. *Sharing makes less work for you.* I admit it: I’m lazy. The last thing I want to do is keep answering e-mails from various teachers, students, and colleagues about use of some photograph, document, or form I have created. I put them on [Flickr][] and [Scribd][] with Creative Commons licenses for a reason: I don’t want to have to e-mail things or make copies and mail, and I don’t want to have to respond to e-mails or telephone calls or write stupid legal-sounding notes giving someone permission to use something.

Now, before I get to the practical side of how you, too, can share your stuff. I should note that there is a down side to sharing. As I noted above, as a university professor I am paid for. One of the things for which I am paid is knowledge creation. But universities are very particular about how they measure creativity: they rely upon a somewhat creaky, but very reliable system that gauges my productivity in terms of very particular kinds of items — books, articles, etc. — and very particular kinds of estimation of my value — is another university offering me a job? for example — or how widely, or often, am I cited?

I share most of my materials under the Creative Commons “Attribution” license, but that really depends upon the users of my materials crediting me in some fashion. In making less work for myself, I have made some work for them, and so far I have found that that bit of work is the most likely to fall through the cracks. For now, I don’t mind. The last people I am going to complain about are my fellow academics and other teachers: I know how little time they have and the increasingly onerous paperwork regimes under which we all work. Added to that, is that the university itself, like its peers, does not really have the facilities to “credit” my productivity in this regard. But if such things do matter to you, than my version of “share it if you got it” might not be the best idea for you.

I will leave the decision about **what to share** to you. It’s a hard decision to make. And, I confess, the difficulty is not really made any easier by the number of options are available. **How you share** is very important. Why? Here’s something that may catch you off guard: you can’t simply declare something to be in the public domain. *What?!* That’s right. The truth is that *public domain* is not a globally-recognized category. There are some countries where public domain materials are either not recognized as such, and thus make it difficult for people to use your materials. There are also some instances in our own country where use of public domain materials makes their use difficult. (Search for yourself, if you like.)

So, then, to share you have to find a form of copyright that is as “open” (or copyleft) as you wish. Most artists and writers I know are using one of the [Creative Commons][cc] licenses. Most coders I know tend to use one of the many code licenses available: GPL, “BSD-style,” Apache, etc. (For more on these licenses, see [Shlomi Fish’s write-up][fish] — link is to a Scribd PDF that I uploaded.)

How restrictive a license you choose is up to you, but here’s my advice: follow Fish’s suggestion and choose as permissive and open a license as you possibly can. In my own case, everything on this website is licensed as [Attribution-Noncommercial][bync]. I don’t find it necessary to mandate that others share like me, but I do want renumeration should someone else make some money using my work. (I have a child to raise, a home to pay for, and a truck I would like to pay off.)

My photography is under a more restrictive “no derivatives” license because a number of my photographs are from my documentary work, and I feel I owe the people with whom I work the courtesy of making sure their images are used in a way they would find appropriate and if there is money to be made, that I can make arrangements to see them paid. (Most photographers make money off their images of other people: I don’t.)


Alternative IP Regimes

Part of what I am examining in the boat book, which is still tentatively titled Genius Loci, is alternative intellectual property regimes than the ones that dominate the headlines these days. (Please note that the contents of this website are in fact “copyrighted” under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license.) In turns out that others are working in very similar territories … and those others are law professors: two law profs from the University of Virginia law school have just published a paper on “Intellectual Property Norms in Stand-Up Comedy”. Here’s an excerpt from the abstract:

In this paper, which will appear as a chapter of a forthcoming book from the Univ. of Chicago Press, “The Making and Unmaking of Intellectual Property,” we analyze how stand-up comedians protect their jokes using a system of social norms. Intellectual property law has never protected comedians effectively against theft. Initially, jokes were virtually in the public domain, and comedians invested little in creating new ones. In the last half century, however, comedians have developed a system of IP norms. This system serves as a stand-in for formal law. It regulates issues such as authorship, ownership, transfer of rights, exceptions to informal ownership claims and the imposition of sanctions on norms violators. Under the norms system, the level of investment in original material has increased substantially. We detail these norms, which often diverge from copyright law’s defaults. Our description is based on interviews with comedians, snippets of which we include throughout the paper.

The paper is available for download from SSRN.

(Humanists: please note that the abstract has its own URL: We’ve got to get with the program!)

Federated Is the Future for Open Source

In his remarks to this year’s OSCON, Tim O’Reilly makes the interesting assertion that “federated is the future for open source”. His assertion comes out of his interest in the internet as the next operating system. His example makes the point very clearly (paraphrased):

Imagine yourself out with friends and you decide to get a pizza. What do you do? If you have one of the new smart phones [by which he means iPhone or Android], you can quite literally put the thing to you mouth and speak the word pizza into an app and it will search for places to eat pizza that also happen to be nearby.

The technologies involved are quite astonishing: touch sensors (to activate the app) motion sensors (the device has to know you are moving it up to your head to know to turn on the microphone), a GPS radio (to know where you are), and a microwave radio (to transmit your request).

But the technology doesn’t end there: the speech recognition is not being done on your phone in many instances but “in the cloud” as is the cross-indexing of eateries and your location. All of this is assembled into some form of text — HTML or otherwise — and then sent back to your handset, which now offers you a range of options.

Amazing stuff. But even more amazing is that really how Google, for example, know how to understand your spoken request is because they have a pretty good sense of what goes with what. They are, after all, in the search business as well. It’s all this data that makes it possible to give you not just an answer but a semantically-rich and appropriate one.

Obviously, the more you can cross-pollinate these various data sets, the more interesting your results will be and the more kind of innovation become possible. But Google owns its (your) searches and Facebook owns its (your) social graphs. Given that the current trend is in this direction, O’Reilly asks the pressing question of where does the open source community go when a lot of these companies are built on open source — Google runs on Linux after all and gives away a lot of the software it developes — but the data itself remains beyond our reach?

Authenticity and Type

William Berkson has a lovely write-up of his attempt to re-create the Caslon typeface. In it he reveals the actual history of the face now known as Caslon, but not known as such by its creator, William Caslon, who in fact imagined he was re-creating type faces from an earlier period. Along the way he discusses the nature of “authentic” versus “classic” things, which may prove somewhat interesting to folklorists and others who traffic in the past.

P.S. You can purchase Berkson’s rendering at The Font Bureau. (I would buy it myself — and wished for an educational discount to do so — but as reasonable as those prices are, I can’t quite rationalize it given the current economic situation.)

Lightroom and JPEGs

All users of Adobe’s Lightroom software need to read Jeff Friedl’s post about JPEG settings in the application. In a nutshell, his own experiments with the quality “slider” reveal that its 0-100 range really amounts to 13 actual outputs, which may or may not match Photoshop’s same number of outputs when saving for the web. More importantly, he noticed that if you save a file as compressed, you do not really gain anything in terms of visual quality if you save above “75” on the slider. Files get bigger, but images do not get (noticeably) better. Great results from a great guy.

(For the record, I use, and paid for, his Flickr plug-in which allows me to upload directly to my Flickr Pro account from Lightroom. As I consider using Zenfolio, I will also likely use his Zenfolio plug-in.)

More Good University Videos

A number of people have written in about the video I posted from BYU that was a parody of the Old Spice ad. (Check below for the post.) Here’s another one, this time from the University of Evansville. Given that the south is known for both its oral storytelling traditions as well as its humor, where are the videos from southern universities that are like this?

Whimpers from/for the Humanities

I am somewhat used to the chronicling of demise of the humanities to be found in the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education and the The Times, but I must admit to be somewhat taken aback by similar treatments of the subject within the annals of scholarly societies themselves. At the most recent Digital Humanities meeting, Melissa Terras broached the issue. And then, and then, I was gleaning recent issues of Culture and Technology and came across a review by D. R. Koukal of Frank Donoghue’s The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities. This link takes you to Project Muse, which houses the on-line PDFs of the journal. (ULL faculty and staff need to remember that we lose Muse and JSTOR — and, well, everything else — on August 31.) Donoghue’s argument, as I understand it from reading Koukal’s review, will come as no surprise to anyone keeping up with the last few decades of the humanities in the academy: the humanities lost the argument a while ago but are still in deep denial about their demise. That is, in the dominant rhetoric of immediate application and gain, the long-term, “life is complex” approach of the humanities is simply not seen as viable.

This is certainly not going to change in the immediate future as the world’s major economies, themselves in denial over the fact that they are actually in a depression and not a momentary recession, shrink. Those with jobs, anywhere but especially in the academy, are going to stand pat. Those without jobs are going to be pretty adamant about seeing immediate results. (Given the number of people unemployed and for how long, I would certainly not argue with their desire.)

This is a good time for humanists to roll up our collective and individual sleeves and not only produce the work we signed up to produce, but also to think about what more/else we need to be doing.

UPDATE: I missed this story in the Guardian about the cuts to universities in the United Kingdom. Story.