bridging the divide

The first annual UNIDO-UC Berkeley conference on technology and development is going to be held on campus here. UNIDO is the United Nations International Development Organization — not as well known as UNICEF or some others, but a biggie. I had gone to an early planning meeting for this conference but didn’t apply to be on the coordinating committee due to time constraints. But I got the email for the conference today, and the reduced rate for students is $75 for the whole conference, or $25 a day. For this you must also specify what sessions you will attend.

This is a conference being sponsored by the university. The justification for such a fee is that “otherwise students will just come for the free food.” I understand their concern, but clearly this conference is an example of preaching to the choir — those who are already active in development research will fork over the money because they hope it will help their work, and those who merely think they might be interested will be turned off by the high fees and will stay in their offices. I am certainly in the latter group. I have no confidence that the projects will in any way speak to issues in which I am interested or will give me ideas for my own projects.

My rage is a bit incoherent at the moment, but I guess I’m just angry that my university claims to be sponsoring a conference and then attempts to exclude students who may be interested in this educational opportunity on financial grounds. They have some big-name companies as donors — some of that money could be used to subsidize student registration fees. This conference does not fairly serve the pedagogical mission of the university, and it is unclear that it helps reach out to the research community. If I were being less charitable, I would say that the organizers are seeking to funnel the United Nation’s money into their own research projects or projects of their choosing. But I think I give them more credit than that. I think.

bbc reveals its bias?

Images having ALT tags is a good thing — this allows those dinosaurs who still use lynx to get a description of an image, assuming the content provider has decided to provide an accurate description of the image’s contents. But a picture is worth a thousand words, and ALT tag contents are often woefully inadequate and suffer from the oft-humorous ambiguity of our human languages. Consider this picture from the front page of the BBC site, pointing to their story Bush accused of anti-gay Stance. When it was loading in Firefox, I got to see the ALT tag briefly. The full tag reads: “Gay couple smell flowers prior to their planned wedding in San Francisco.” The only thing that displayed in the small space taken up by the image was “Gay couple smell.”

imminent risk to civil order

My distinguished governor has decreed that the gay marriage licenses in San Francisco represent “an imminent risk to civil order.” He’s right on the money. Once those gay people get married, they’re going to start rioting, smashing windows of shops, looting, burning cars. They’ll be worse than Patriots fans in Kenmore Square after the Superbowl. Unless we stop them right now, San Francisco might have to get put under martial law. I’m just waiting for him to say he wants to “terminate” the licenses.


My brother pointed me to an animation by an alum of my high school, Nina Paley, who has made a pretty hilarious little short called The Sitayana. I love this kind of short animated film, although I have no idea how well it would translate into a larger presentation medium. Other animations I come back to time and time again are Strindberg + Helium and the lovely Muffin Films. Watching a few is a great way to wind up day, wind down a day, or just wind in place while taking a break.

As I’m always fond of saying, animation is a beautiful art form which seeks to explain the complexities of human existence in an artistic and sometimes nonrepresentational manner. The art of animation is not just about cartoon violence and high tech gadgetry, but rather…


freedom of information

The entire editorial board of the Elsevier-published Journal of Algorithms resigned to protest price gouging by the publisher. The overblown cost of journal publications is a real problem, especially given the recent budget crunches at universities. There has been a lot of consolidation in the academic publishing business, and publishers force libraries to buy packages of journals, fobbing off several lower-tier journals for each well-regarded one. The American Library Association has identified the reform of scholarly communication as a major issue facing libraries today, and other library groups have issued stronger broadsides against commercial academic publishers. Things are especially bad in the sciences, which has sparked the formation of the Public Library of Science, which has a new biology journal and plans for other disciplines as well.

Right now, one sixth of the entire U.C. library budget is spent on Elsevier’s “Science Direct Online.” In 2003… Elsevier wanted a 37% increase in the fee paid for Science Direct Online, phased in over the next 5 years… the way Elsevier has these journals “bundled” the library would have to cut 40% of the journals before it realizes a penny of savings. So, the librarians may get tough and drop Science Direct Online altogether.

The above is from a rant by John Baez, but it drives the point home. The reputation of a journal is made by its editorial board and reviewers. Why should they work for a pittance on a journal, only to have the publisher turn around and sell it back to them for a huge profit? I doubt that the value added in printing and running a batch script to convert .ps to .pdf is that much.

But the news is good — hopefully others will follow and the dissemination of information will be helped, not hindered, by new technologies.