Humanities and the Library

Jean-Claude Guédon made the following observation in The Humanist mailing list with regards to open access matters;

Researchers may be very busy, but they still need to pay attention to their working environment. Scientists should pay attention to the
quality of their instruments, and they generally do; humanists are
certainly interested in the wealth and depth of their library, which is
an infrastructure, and if they complain about the lack of journals,
etc., they might consider looking a little further than the usual
complaint to the librarian who, too often, is simply deemed to be either
insensitive or incompetent, or both, plus being bureaucratic, etc… If
journals are missing in the library, a quick check on library budgets
and their evolution might be profitably compared to the evolution of
subscription prices for journals, particularly STM journals. They might
then consider that, given the priorities of modern universities,
humanities journals will be given up in order to free money for STM
journals. Then, humanists might begin to wonder why some commercial
publishers need to make profit at the tune of 35-45% before taxes.

Researchers are not just researchers; they are also citizens. Public
money goes into supporting research, lots of it. Why the published
results of research should be so expensive when the manuscripts have
been given away to publishers for free, when publishers have us peer
review the articles again for free, etc. ? These are the  very questions
that triggered the Public Library of Science when it was still nothing
more than a worldwide petition back in 2001. They are still with us.
They may trouble the quiet aire of delightful studies, but that is an
elitist attitude that seems to claim that some of us are entitled to
unlimited (subsidized) access to information without having to reflect
on the economic conditions that begin to make this privilege a reality.

Exactly. When humanists turn their back on the world, they shouldn’t be surprised when the world turns its back on them. I worry that it may be too late to halt this particular swing of the pendulum from arcing, depressingly, further out.

What we should be doing is campaigning for our libraries.

Oxford Journals Open Access Charges

Speaking of oof. Oxford Journals now makes it possible for authors to make their work open access. Yay! But it comes at a cost:

  • Regular charge – £1700 / $3000 / €2550
  • List B developing country charge* – £850 / $1500 / €1275
  • List A developing country charge* – £0 /$0 / €0

Apparently they have a very different assessment of the statement “information wants to be free.”

On the Maturation of Automation

According to an article in the New York Times, two economists who began with the optimistic goal of documenting the “cornucopia of innovation that is going on” realized along the way that “as the employment picture failed to brighten in the last two years, [they should change] course to examine technology’s role in the jobless recovery.” What they discovered, they believe, is that as the forms of automation have become increasingly sophisticated, it has begun to affect diverse parts of the jobs market. Close to ten percent of sales positions have been lost, for example, which would seem an important place to have a human, but I am guessing that their argument is that better technologies — data mining, etc. — have made it possible to have a smaller team be more targeted in their work. Oof.

I should note that I have not read the book and the article itself makes it clear that their conclusions are already being debated within economics. (And economics, it’s becoming increasingly clear, is really more of an interpretive practice than a science.)

The NEST Thermostat

The Nest thermostat has been getting a lot of attention in the blogosphere over the past week or so. I don’t know where it first started, but the best place to get a really nice overview of what is being called a “learning thermostat”, as opposed to a programmed or manual thermostat, is the TechCrunch video interview with its CEO Tony Fadell.

Fadell, it turns out, is a former Apple employee and Dan Frommer argues that the Nest thermostat is the first of many products that will be “Apple-ified” from conception. That is, following in the wake of the iMac and with every Apple product since, there have been a host of knockoffs, copycats, and design clones. The Nest thermostat is different in that it actually has as part of its design DNA the same set of ideals and perspectives that inform Apple design, which is arguably simply good industrial design in the first place. (I have always thought that what Apple did was simply pursue the European modernist aesthetic in a way that Americans could follow, but I will leave that discussion for another time.)

Frommer’s visual is fantastic. I am reproducing it here in order to encourage folks to visit Frommer’s site. He’s smart.

Richard Stallman’s Travel Protocols

Most of the external readers to this blog will know that Richard Stallman is the founder of the Free Software movement, which he distinguishes from open source software, and as the man who put together the GNU system into which the Linux kernel was eventually embedded to become the GNU/Linux operating system. (The fact that it is too often called simply “Linux” apparently drives him nuts — one can hardly blame him for this.) One of the main ways he supports himself is through giving talks, mostly intended for non-technical audiences I might add, and he has developed an impressive set of instructions for hosts and sponsors.

Translation Software Used to Crack Old Code

Computer scientists from Sweden and the United States have applied modern-day, statistical translation techniques to decode a 250-year old secret message. According to a write-up at Ars Technica:

The original document, nicknamed the Copiale Cipher, was written in the late 18th century and found in the East Berlin Academy after the Cold War. It’s since been kept in a private collection, and the 105-page, slightly yellowed tome has withheld its secrets ever since.

But this year, University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering computer scientist Kevin Knight—an expert in translation, not so much in cryptography—and colleagues Beáta Megyesi and Christiane Schaefer of Uppsala University in Sweden, tracked down the document, transcribed a machine-readable version and set to work cracking the centuries-old code.


If I were to set up my own business right now, it would be built around an old-fashioned, mechanical printing press. Minibuk is not doing that, but they are offering people the chance to publish their own books, but real paper books, not e-books. They offer perfect bound, spiral, and saddle-stitched bound books. They are all the size of a small index card, 3 x 5, and intended, from what I can tell of their own promotional materials, as promotional materials themselves. Want people to remember you? Hand them a small book after your talk. It’s an interesting idea.

What is wrong with Audible?

For the second time is as many weeks I have received a promotion from Audible, proceeded to take advantage of it, which really means me buying an audio book I would not normally buy, and then, upon clicking the button to complete the purchase, I am told that the promotion does not apply or that I have already used the promotion.

Here is the all too familiar error message:

Screen Shot of Audible Error


Update: The purchase actually went through: the audio book is now in my library. Still, Audible has some work to do. If no error occurred, then the customer should get no error prompt.