Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 4, Number 11: September 2004

The Good Stuff

Walt Crawford

Into the blogosphere: Rhetoric, community, and culture of weblogs.

If you search “Into the Blogosphere” as a phrase in a major web search engine, you’ll find hundreds or low thousands of references, mostly pages that talk about being thrust “into the blogosphere” but some pages that refer to this collection of scholarly papers about weblogs, which came out right around July 1, 2004.

What you won’t find—or at least I didn’t within the first 300+ entries at the end of July 2004—is much in the way of critical discussion or review by anyone who’s read the collection. I’m afraid you’re not going to find that here either. I’ve read or at least skimmed all 20 papers and I originally planned to offer commentary on some of the papers or at least on the collection.

Remember text-e? My commentary on that trilingual colloquy took the equivalent of one entire issue spread out over three issues during 2002—and when I got to the final part, I realized that I should never have begun the commentary. This time, I had the good sense to look through the whole set before committing to any thoughtful analysis. I think it’s beyond me to provide such commentary.

Into the blogosphere is an edited collective scholarly “book” published as a weblog, with comments allowed on each refereed paper. The length of some papers belies the notion expressed in one or two of them that weblogs consist of brief entries, but never mind. There’s a foreword and an introduction; after that, papers appear alphabetically by the first author’s name. That’s probably more sensible than topical clustering, given the overlaps and oddities encountered here.

Some papers are scholarly in a way that reminds me that, although my college degree is in rhetoric (a key element of the scholarship here), that was a long time ago. I’m no scholar these days, and if the more scholarly papers represent the scholarship of rhetoric, it’s unlikely I’ll ever return. Other papers are lighter on the academese and closer to ordinary English. I found some papers interesting and persuasive in their conjectures and analysis; others—well, who am I to judge?

One suggestion for potential readers, at least those who happen to be white males and fail to be deeply ashamed of that fact at every waking moment: Skip the foreword, at least initially. If I hadn’t printed out all of the papers before reading the foreword, I would have run from the collection in horror. Maybe quoting the first two sentences will give you a sense of whether this is your cup of tea:

Blogging offers one powerful way to embed a reraced, regendered liberal arts. The familiar system of studying/performing/credentialing is, as folks reading this piece know, premised on the magic number seven. [Emphasis added.]

I’m clearly not a “folk” who should be reading that piece and I suppose it’s helpful in saying “only our kind should be reading this at all.” I didn’t know that Macedonians of ancient Greece were not white (“…embedded ideologues such as Aristotle, who was not, it should go without saying, white…”). I didn’t realize that racism was “so deeply rooted in...the structures of the electricity, hardware, software…”—somehow, electricity never struck me as racist. I wasn’t even aware that mathematics and astronomy were liberal arts. So I’ll leave you with the conclusion of the foreword:

With the 4 E’s (explain, enable, embed, and enthymeme the verb) and the 7 reraced and regendered liberal arts (frequently presented as general education programs), as well as with the many suggestions, theories, insights, and inquiries of volumes such as Into the Blogosphere, we might have hope.

At that point, I lost all hope of making headway into the “volume” itself (an odd word for such an explicitly online collection). But I found several of the papers well worth reading. Make up your own mind.

Keizer, Gregg, “Busting the biggest PC myths,” and Steers, Kirk, “Complete PC preventive maintenance guide,” PC World 22:8 (August 2004), 107-14 and 152-4.

Keizer’s article is fun and includes a cute “Bogus-O-Meter” for each of 15 “myths,” but it helps to take some of it with a grain of salt. Specifically, although “Using a cell phone on a plane interferes with the navigation and communications system of the aircraft” gets a 4 (of 5) on the Bogus-O-Meter (where 5 is totally bogus), the article cites evidence that simulated cell phones can interfere with aircraft navigation and communications systems. Sure, they quote a “veteran pilot who didn’t want his identity revealed” saying, “From everything I’ve read, cell phones and most avionics shouldn’t conflict” (note that qualifier most), but I’ve read comments by named airline pilots who have experienced similar interference. If it’s my butt in the seat at 37,000 feet, I’m going to trust the FAA a lot more than an anonymous pilot and a PC writer.

On the other hand, the article is probably right in saying that household magnets won’t destroy data on any modern storage device (except diskettes). Static RAM cards (SD, CompactFlash, etc. are immune, as are writable optical media—and as for hard disks, Bill Rudock with Seagate notes, “In every disk there’s one heck of a magnet that swings the head.” I also agree with the “very bogus” rating for “Turning off your PC daily to save power shortens its life” and “The government reads everyone’s e-mail.” Overall, a fun and perhaps valuable read.

I mention the Steers piece because of an odd expert-vs.-expert battle. Most of the tips are reasonably good, although a lot of people would disagree with the desirability of frequent defragmenting for contemporary (XP/NFS) hard disks. Here’s the oddity, the second and by far the longest note in a sidebar “Four tips for longer PC life”: “Leave your PC running.” Steers subscribes to the hoary assertion that “Powering up from a cold state is one of the most stressful things you can do to your system’s components.” Steers’ evidence? “I find that my PCs last longer when I keep them in hibernation.” There we have it: From one, the world.

Manafy, Michelle, “Hey, pass it on!” EContent 27:5 (May 2004): 5.

Here’s a concept: Treat “pass-along” usage as a sales opportunity instead of bending heaven and earth to make such “piracy” illegal and impossible. According to this editorial, some software publishers “seem to have gotten the ‘customer isn’t the enemy’ message loud and clear.” They’re reinterpreting pass-along as a sales opportunity:

Say someone dupes a software disc for me to try a program. When I enter their serial number and password, instead of being able to install and use the program or being informed that the product is registered to another user and that I’m forbidden to use it, I’m welcomed and cordially invited to demo the product free of charge for 30 days. Thus, my interest in the software is recognized (given my willingness to skirt legality by trying out my friend’s software), and, without any additional steps, I can install a demo version that will soon expire and prompt me to buy.

Manafy goes on to say, “I respect their flexibility and perception of any user as a potential buyer. Distribution dynamics have changed and so must the digital content sales and protection proposition.”

This ends an editorial that discusses Manafy’s own habits with media: Relying on other individuals to spot things she’d be interested in, borrowing it if possible, and—if she likes it—buying other stuff by the same artist. She believes (correctly, in my opinion) that this behavior is not uncommon and notes that magazine publishers rely on pass-along readership as part of advertising rate calculations.

It’s not clear whether the software DRM model noted would work for movies or music—but it is clear that millions of us are fed up with being treated like thieves by the RIAA and MPAA. There must be a better way; this one-pager suggests some possibilities.

Peer review and the acceptance of new scientific ideas, Sense About Science, 2004, 62pp. ISBN 0-9547974-0-X.

This “discussion paper from a Working Party on equipping the public with an understanding of peer review” is first rate and well worth reading, even if it seems a tad long (my copy comes in at 41 pages; I must have discarded some appendices). You can download it (PDF) from

Sense About Science is a relatively young UK “registered charity” (what we’d call a nonprofit in the U.S., I think); one of its objectives is to promote public knowledge of how scientific research is conducted. The working party, chaired by Prof. Sir Brian Heap and including Dr. Derek Bell, Ms. Tracey Brown, Prof. Stevan Harnad, and nine others was convened in November 2002; this report appeared June 24, 2004.

I read it in stages and found myself marking more than fifty paragraphs—not to criticize them, but to point out particularly interesting segments. The wide-ranging, well-written report discusses the dangers of “scientific” claims in the public eye that have not been peer reviewed, admits that peer review doesn’t really guarantee quality (given the hierarchy of journals down to “virtual vanity press,” almost any paper can get published somewhere) or prevent fraud, and explains in considerable detail how and why peer review does and should work.

Section 2, “A guide to peer review and scientific publishing,” is sixteen pages and should be read by anyone who doesn’t understand what it’s all about. It’s still on the long side; a shorter version will be available in October 2004. Meanwhile, anyone with a serious interest in the STM literature should take a look at this full document. The price is right, it’s nicely done, and you’re almost certain to find tidbits here to use on those who regard peer review as some elitist notion or relic of the “Gutenberg era.” Strongly recommended.

Perez, Ernest, “High-powered note-taking with hand-held pen scanners,” Online 28:4 (July/August 2004): 27-30.

This one just plain surprised me. I remember early handheld scanners with OCR support and how amazing it was when they provided any useful recognition. Technology marches on. These “pen scanners” are cheap and appear to provide good results in appropriate circumstances. As usual with Perez, the article is well written and free of excess hype. Worth reading as a suggestion of a technology you’ve probably never thought of, that just might be ideal for some projects.

Srodin, Sharon, “Let’s make a deal!” Online 28:4 (July/August 2004): 16-19.

The subtitle is “Tips and tricks for negotiating content purchases,” and it’s an interesting piece. Fortunately, “contract terms in the information industry are usually nondisclosable” doesn’t work for public institutions (including universities and colleges) in a number of major states, including California, so there’s some hope that a database of real-world prices could happen. In the meantime, Srodin offers seven tactics to improve negotiation, from mooching off of someone else (if you’re in an industry where there’s likely to be more than one “procurer of third-party content”) to name-dropping, emphasizing how wonderful your outfit is and how privileged the third party should be to deal with you. Some of the tips may not apply, but it’s certainly worth reading.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 4, Number 11, Whole Issue 54, ISSN 1534-0937, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG. Opinions herein do not reflect those of RLG. Comments should be sent to Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2004 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.

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