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Sometimes I Wish That It Would Rain Here

Saturday, September 27, 2008

if you can't beat 'em, sue 'em

ugh. Eugene tells me that Thomson Reuters, maker of EndNote, is suing the folks at George Mason University who make Zotero. basically, the claim is that a recent feature of Zotero, enabling users to directly import a citation library from EndNote into Zotero, is in violation of the EndNote EULA. furthermore, the article states that the folks from GMU reverse engineered EndNote to create Zotero.

I might believe that creating software that directly imports an EndNote library is against EndNote's EULA. it would be in their best interest, in terms of discouraging competition, to legally ensure such a lock down. however, I've been using Zotero before such a feature existed, and I had no problem migrating my library from EndNote to Zotero. if I recall correctly, EndNote will export as BibTex, which Zotero can then import (it may be some format other than BibTex, I don't recall at the moment, but the point is the same).

edit: in the comments, Bruce rightly points out that the lawsuit is not about the ability to import an EndNote library, but actually about the ability to import EndNote's .ens styles into the .csl citation style language used by Zotero. I can see where this might be grounds for a potental lawsuit, since the .ens format is a proprietary one owned and designed by Thomson Reuters. however, the format that the .ens style describes is certainly not the proprietary. moreover, allowing your software to open file formats of competitors is pretty standard practices. consider OpenOffice, which happily opens, edits, and saves to MS Office's .doc format. it sounds to me like Thomson Reuters is using this as an excuse to sue GMU for making what is arguably a far superior product (and doing it open source, no less).

which brings me to the claim that "GMU reverse engineered Reuters' EndNote software to create Zotero." I find quite hard to believe. Zotero functions so much more smoothly and effectively than EndNote ever did, I highly doubt that reverse engineering EndNote was the basis for Zotero. I really don't think Thomson Reuters stands a chance at winning the lawsuit if it goes to court.

however, my fear is that it may not go to court. I'm not certain whether or not GMU would see it in their best interest to spend the legal fees necessary to take the battle to court. it's entirely possible that they may simple remove the EndNote import feature (or even worse, take the site down entirely). I'm not sure how this has panned out in similar open source cases (e.g., MS Windows v. Linux/Unix). law suits like this really make me wonder if the current scheme of intellectual property law in the US actually fosters innovation. or does it instead just fosters bullying and enables large corporations, backed by lots of money and lawyers, to edge out any smaller competition, even if the competition is superior?

update: those who are interested can find more commentary on this issue and more discussion of the legality of a .ens to .csl converter (thanks to Bruce for helping point me to these).

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

it looks so tasty

this is too funny to pass up.

see the recipe for eyeball caprese on Evil Mad Scientist.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

research instigating critical thinking

I just saw an idea come up again that I've noticed in a couple places: the notion that research (generally academic) is not only beneficial, informative, and potentially transformative for the researcher, but also for the participant.

I don't recollect all the other places in which this idea has arisen. in my brief look at action research, it seemed that research as an agent of social change was a central concern in that approach. that is, research is not just about the researcher learning something about the subjects, but the subjects actively participating in, and contributing to, the research, somewhat a la participatory design. the experience also came up in my own research on blog readers, wherein participants became more aware of, and reflective about, their own blog reading practices and habits as a result of participation in the research. most recently, while reflecting (further) on questions about knowledge attribution in blogging and ethnographic research more broadly, Lilia Efimova points out that "often it’s not only the researcher who learns new things, but also people who participate in the research, when their thinking on a subject is triggered as a result of an interaction" [emphasis added].

it seems that doing research is particularly good at getting people thinking, not just the researchers, but also the participants. rather than seeing this as a side benefit, what if we were to engage in research where the sole purpose is to get participants thinking critically? how might research look differently if the primary goal was not making a "novel and significant contribution to knowledge" but rather fostering critical thinking and reflection on the part of those involved in the research? I'm not saying that forsaking knowledge making in favor of flipping bits in people's heads is necessarily desirable. rather, I'm wondering aloud how research might look and feel different if creating a particular type of experience for participants' was made a concern of greater importance. how would this different approach manifest itself, and what might it be able to tell us about the purpose and place of doing research?

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Monday, September 01, 2008

the power of names, naming, and knowing names in digital culture

I was just trying to look up the grammatical rules for a certain construction in English wherein two nouns are used together to refer to a single entity. for example, "Computer Science" is such a construction, as it uses the noun "Computer" and the noun "Science" to create a new noun. I started off googling "multiple word noun," "multi-word noun phrase," and similar variants. somewhere along the line, I recalled that this construction might be called a compound noun, and sure enough, that's the right name.

there are plenty of times where, through iterative searching, you can figure out the right search terms to use to find what it is that you're after. however, there are certainly other instances, like this one, where if you don't know the name of something, you can't find out anything about it. there are lots of situations where this difficulty arises. if you want to know the name of the artist who painted a famous work, it's difficult to search for the work itself, even if you know exactly what it looks like, without knows its name (presumably, you could browse various galleries and archives, but now you've circumvented needing to do a search). similarly, if you saw the symbol for British pounds but tried to search for "L with a line through it," you wouldn't get very far. interestingly, though, search "O with two dots" gets several hits for umlaut, making that one pretty easy to find based on the description.

not only does this have potential implications for designers (and users) of text-based search engines performing queries related to non-textual data, there are serious implications with respect to distribution and exercises of power. choosing a name for something is obviously a powerful act. however, knowing a name for something gives you power as well, but power of different sorts. the power of reference, the power of understanding, and, I'd argue, powers of searching and finding.

this line of thinking makes me wonder what other sorts of power come along with knowing names, especially in digital cultures where most digital knowledge-oriented activities and interactions are text based. it also makes me wonder how one might subvert the power of name-knowing. one possibility is, as a namer, choosing a name that is so general it does not refer with any specificity to the thing in question. another option might be something like google bombing, which makes it the case that knowing the name of something might end up leading you away from the thing. I wonder what other sorts of power relations might be involved in name-knowing, and how those power relations might come into play with different ways of naming and ways of knowing.

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