Monthly Archives: September 2008

Amnesty launches campaign to protect humans

Check out the site, view the pictures and read some of the horrific data of our current world from the Amnesty 2008 report which shows that sixty years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations, people are still tortured or ill-treated in at least 81 countries, face unfair trials in at least 54 countries and are not allowed to speak freely in at least 77 countries. And never forget item 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression: this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Ensuring trust on the web

Tim Berners-Lee spoke with the BBC about the creation of a new group to deal with trust mechanisms for websites. In this words: “On the web the thinking of cults can spread very rapidly and suddenly a cult which was 12 people who had some deep personal issues suddenly find a formula which is very believable,” he said. “A sort of conspiracy theory of sorts and which you can imagine spreading to thousands of people and being deeply damaging.”

Most interesting in this is the recognition that one simple index won’t work and that a variety of brandings may be required. Broadening out from trust, the World Wide Web Foundation will explore ways of making the web more accessible to people, particularly through mobile phones, likely to be the easiest ramp on for many countries. I think it’s vital that this type of activity is encouraged. The web needs to be shaped by more than commercial or political interests, though it remains to be seen how socially-focused this new foundation is over time.

Music and the soul of information

Richard Wright of Pink Floyd died today of cancer. This is not truly an information concern, I suppose, but it is hard for me to forget the power to transform my existence as a teenager that came from listening to this band’s music. I remember playing Wish You Were Here (an LP of course) on my crappy one-speaker broken ‘stereophone’ and being unable to stop myself playing it again and again, night after night, quoting the lyrics in school, discussing with the few (very few!) fanatics I could find in my school who had a copy and who had seen those pictures on the sleeve. Floyd become known for the lyrics and songs of Waters with the guitar of Gilmour, and both were crucial, but Wright gave the band that floaty, ethereal quality that set them apart from other bands. I have taken Floyd’s music with me everywhere I have since moved to, and Shine on You Crazy Diamond is playing on my far better stereo now as I type this. I don’t care for rock stars or the BS that passes for celebrity status today, but I do care for the creative power of great music and Richard Wright was part of some of the greatest music of the era. No matter what Floyd have become with the departure of Waters ( I have my views, I know I am in a minority), there is a series of recordings this band made in the 1970s that are impossible to categorize or dismiss. Radiohead as pioneers? Don’t make me laugh — Floyd put the very British crowning touch on a form that sprang to existence in the blues and country music of the US decades earlier and merged it with the theatrics of technology. Everything since is a re-hash. Welcome to the machine.

Ike passes Austin by….no hurrication here

Thankfully… major problems here, a little wind, some limbs down, and sadly no rain. Sadder for some here, Ike’s arrival on the weekend meant no time off work, or as one colleague put it, no ‘hurrication’ this time, even if UT canceled the football game but allowed classes to go on. The media seemed to outdo themselves to show they could have people on the ground in Galveston and Houston so you could view the event like a live sports contest, man v. nature, complete with live scores on wind speed, wave height and power outs. Galveston and Houston both took a battering and the damage estimates, as much as one can believe them, speak of $100bn, and we’re told to anticipate a jump in gas prices immediately. Colleagues in other countries emailed me regularly to say they were watching the news and following the trackers from as far away as Switzerland and Canada, global village that it is we all live in now. For all the coverage, it is proving difficult to know how many people died or were injured, but then, how many of you know the cost in lives of Katrina? All that info and sometimes so little data…….

Dinner with Madelaine

I had dinner last night with Madelaine Albright – yes, shameless name dropping, I know, but the fact remains, I and a few other people did have the pleasure of hearing her talk frankly about US foreign policy on her visit here to mark the opening of the LBJ School’s new Masters in Global Affairs. Following tradition, dinner with the assembled guests was run as a single conversation only, so we all heard each other. Nice style but somewhat forced and it left little opportunity for chatting with the other people there but I was impressed nonetheless with her insights, very factual tone and honest telling of the personalities and politics involved in negotiating with other countries. Yes, state leaders do shout at each other, get moody, threaten, weasel and generally behave like everyone else negotiating a pay rise or promotion. Best line of the night? Many that are unrepeatable here but she did admit that experience consists of more than lipstick.

We touched on the issue of cybersecurity and there was a general agreement that this is where the action will be in the decades ahead. I didn’t want to depress anyone with my take that we are relatively clueless on how to guard against the actions of the fanatical few in this arena who now can create the military equivalent of an invasion online in a way that’s not possible in the physical world of traditional warfare. But there was a brief suggestion that maybe the Russians were a little ahead of others in this regard. The public part of the evening was streamed into second life, from where a few folks even submitted questions. Reminds me, didn’t Obama promise to hold court on C-Span if he gets elected?

More accreditation please?

ASIST and CLIR have organized a meeting this week to discuss possible new accreditation processes for graduate education in information. So, you might ask who, among the programs, would really want another accreditation process? Correct, nobody. But, there can be value in examining the process if it allows us to engage constructively and widely with those who seem to want to change the existing COA/ALA standards. Yes, an ex-president of ALA has taken charge of committee to do just that and, naturally, ignored all representation from the iSchools, to the point, as I’ve noted before, of ignoring the inputs of a more recent ALA president who happens to be a senior faculty member in such a school and might be thought to have valuable perspective here. There’s nothing quite like digging a hole in the ground and sticking your head in it for creating the impression that you care. No doubt there will be much feather-ruffling, name-calling and L-word/I-word barracking on a few lists and editorial pages in the months ahead. Pretty much business as usual then.