Preserving Content for Your Portfolio: Kudos to The Internet Archive

Preserving Science

I’ve been publishing articles since the last century.

In fact, my first, legitimate publication was a letter to science journal Nature with my then thesis supervisor (Keith Aldridge) in 1987 … that’s 31 years ago . Armed with nothing more than Google Scholar, searching for “aldridge lumb nature 1987” yields access to the article via Nature’s website in fractions of a second. Moreover, since the introduction of Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) around the turn of the last century (circa 2000), articles such as this one are uniquely identifiable and findable via a URL – e.g., the URL for our Nature letter is http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/325421a0.

In this letter to Nature, Keith and I cite an 1880 publication authored by Lord Kelvin – whom, it appears, is known for fluid dynamics in addition to the temperature scale that bears his name … and, of course, much more! Through this and other citations, Keith and I explicitly acknowledged how the contributions of others enabled us to produce our letter – in other words, we made it clear how we have been able to stand on the shoulders of giants.

In addition to assigning intellectual credit where it is due, this personal reflection underscores the importance of preserving contributions over the long haul – make that 138 years in the case of Kelvin’s 1880 paper. Preservation is a well-established practice in the case of scientific journals, for example, even though it may be necessary to draw upon analog renditions captured via print or microfiche rather than some digital representation.

In self-curating portfolios recently, it’s been made increasingly clear to me that content preservation has not been a focal point in the digital realm.

Digital Properties

Let’s make use of Grid Computing for the purpose of providing an illustrative example. In its heyday, a popular and reputable online magazine was GRIDtoday: “DAILY NEWS AND INFORMATION FOR THE GLOBAL GRID COMMUNITY”. Other than a passing reference in pioneering publisher Tom Tabor’s BIO (you can search for his BIO here), I expect you’ll be hard pressed to locate very much at all regarding this once-thriving online property. Like Grid Computing itself: GRIDtoday, gone tomorrow; RIP GRIDtoday. Of course, Grid Computing Planet (GCP) suffered a similar fate.

My purpose here is not to question those extremely reasonable business decisions that resulted in closing down operations on GCP or GRIDtoday – Tabor Communications, for example, boasts three, prized ‘properties’ as of this writing … one of which (HPCwire) predates the inception of GRIDtoday, and remains a go-to source for all things HPC.

Grid Computing remains an important chapter in my professional life – especially given my claims for genetic imprinting via Distributed Computing. However, based upon my desire to assemble a portfolio of my work that includes Grid Computing, the /dev/null redirection of those bits that collectively represented GRIDtoday and GCP is problematical. In particular, and even though I collaborated upon articles and book chapters that have been preserved in analog and/or digital representations, articles contributed to GRIDtoday and GCP still retain value to me personally – value that I’d like to incorporate into my Portfolio.

Enter The Internet Archive

Fortunately, also since close to the end of the last century, The Internet Archive has been:

… building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. Like a paper library, [they] provide free access to researchers, historians, scholars, the print disabled, and the general public. Our mission is to provide Universal Access to All Knowledge.

I’m not intending to imply that those items I was able to have published via GRIDtoday and GCP carry ‘a Kelvin of clout’ however, for more than purely sentimental reasons it’s truly wonderful that The Internet Archive has attempted to preserve those artifacts that collectively comprised these publications in their heyday. Although I haven’t yet attempted to locate an article I wrote for GCP, I was able to retrieve two articles from the archive for GRIDtoday:

  • Towards The Telecosmic Grid – Published originally in December 2002, in this article I ‘channeled’ George Gilder is asserting that: “Isolating and manipulating discrete wavelengths of visible light across intelligent optical transport media results in the grid – a specific instance of The Telecosmic Grid. Several examples serve as beacons of possibility.” More on this soon (I hope) in a separate post that revisits this possibility.
  • Open Grid Forum: Necessary … but Sufficient? – Published originally in June 2006, this may be the most-opinionated article I’ve ever had appear in any media format! It generated a decent amount of traffic for GRIDtoday, as well as an interesting accusation – an accusation ‘leaked’, incidentally, through a mailing list archive.

Given that these two GRIDtoday articles are currently accessible via The Internet Archive means that I can include each of them directly in my Portfolio, and update my blog posts that make reference to them. Having laid intellectual claim (in 2002 I’ll have you know!!! 😉 to various possibilities telecosmic in nature, I’ll be able to soon revisit the same through the guise of hindsight. Whereas I fully appreciate that business decisions need to be made, and as consequence once-popular landing pages necessarily disappear, it’s truly fortunate that The Internet Archive has our collective backs on this. So, if this post has any key takeaways, it’s simply this:

Please donate to The Internet Archive.

Thanks Brewster!

Incorporate the Cloud into Existing IT Infrastructure => Progress ( Life Sciences )

I still have lots to share after recently attending Bio-IT World in  Boston … The latest comes as a Bright Computing contributed article to the April 2013 issue of the IEEE Life Sciences Newsletter.

The upshot of this article is:

Progress in the Life Sciences demands extension of IT infrastructure from the ground into the cloud.

Feel free to respond here with your comments.

Pencasting During Lectures in Large Venues

In a recent post on pencasting as a way of teaching/learning weather and climate, I stated:

Monday (October 1, 2012), I intend to use a pencast during my lecture – to introduce aspects of the stability of Earth’s atmosphere. I’ll try to share here how it went. For this intended use of the pencast, I will use a landscape mode for presentation – as I expect that’ll work well in the large lecture hall I teach in. I am, however, a little concerned that the lines I’ll be drawing will be a little too thin/faint for the students at the back of the lecture theatre to see …

I followed through as advertized (above) earlier today.

Image

My preliminary findings are as follows:

  • The visual aspects of the pencast are quite acceptable – This is true even in large lecture halls such as the 500-seat Price Family Cinema at York University (pictured above) in Toronto, Canada where I am currently teaching. I used landscape mode for today’s pencast, and zoomed it in a little. A slightly thicker pen option would be wonderful for such situations … as would different pen colours (the default is green).
  • The audio quality of the pencasts is very good to excellent – Although my Livescribe pen came with a headset/microphone, I don’t use it. I simply use the built-in microphone on the pen, and speak normally when I am developing pencasts. Of course, the audio capabilities of the lecture hall I teach in are most excellent for playback!
  • One-to-many live streaming of pencasts works well – I streamed live directly from myLivescibe today. I believe the application infrastructure is based largely on Adobe Flash and various Web services delivered by Web Objects. Regardless of the technical underpinnings, live streaming worked well. Of course, I could’ve developed a completely self-contained PDF file, downloaded this, and run the pencast locally using Adobe Reader.
  • Personal pencasting works well – I noticed that a number of students were streaming the pencast live for themselves during the lecture. In so doing, they could control interaction with the pencast.

Anecdotally, a few students mentioned that they appreciated the pencast during the break period – my class meets once per for a three-hour session.

Although I’ve yet to hear this feedback directly from the students, I believe I need to:

  • Decrease the duration of pencasts – Today’s lasts about 10 minutes
  • Employ a less-is-more approach/strategy – My pencasts are fairly involved when done …
  • Experiment with the right balance of speaking to penning (is that even a word!?) – Probably a less-is-more approach/strategy would work well here for both the penned and spoken word …

Finally, today’s pencast on the basics of atmospheric stability:

  • Previous approach – Project an illustration taken directly from the course’s text. This is a professionally produced, visually appealing, detailed, end-result, static diagram that I embedded in my presentation software (I use Google Docs for a number of reasons.) Using a laser pointer, my pedagogy called for a systematic deconstruction this diagram – hoping that the students would be engaged enough to actually follow me. Of course, in the captured versions of my lectures, the students don’t actually see where I’m directing the laser pointer. The students have access to the course text and my lecture slides. I have no idea if/how they attempt to ingest and learn from this approach.
  • Pencasting – As discussed elsewhere, the starting point is a blank slate. Using the pencasting technology, I sketch my own rendition of the illustration from the text. As I build up the details, I explain the concept of stability analyses. Because the sketch appears as I speak, the students have the potential to follow me quite closely – and if they miss anything, they can review the pencast after class at their own pace. The end result of a pencast is a sketch that doesn’t hold a candle to the professionally produced illustration provided in the text and my lecture notes. However, to evaluate the pencast as merely a final product, I believe, misses the point completely. Why? I believe the pencast is a far superior way to teach and to learn in situations such as this one. Why? I believe the pencast allows the teacher to focus on communication – communication that the learner can also choose to be highly receptive to, and engaged by.

I still regard myself as very much a neophyte in this arena. However, as the above final paragraphs indicate, pencasting is a disruptive innovation whose value in teaching/learning merits further investigation.

Remembering Steve Jobs

I was doing some errands earlier this evening (Toronto time) … While I was in the car, the all-news station (680news) I had on played some of Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement address to Stanford grads. As I listened, and later re-read my own blog post on discovering the same address, I’m struck on the event of his passing by the importance of valuing every experience in life. In Jobs’ case, he eventually leveraged his experience with calligraphy to design the typography for the Apple Mac – after a ten-year incubation period!

I think it’s time to read that Stanford commencement address again …

RIP Steve – and thanks much.

Aakash: A Disruptive Innovation in the Truest Sense

Much has been, and will be, written about the Aakash tablet.

[With apologies for the situational monsoonal imagery …] As I awash myself in Aakash, I am particularly taken by:

  • The order of magnitude reduction in price point. With a stated cost of about $50, marked-up prices are still close to an order of magnitude more affordable than the incumbent offerings (e.g., the iPad, Android-based tablets, etc.). Even Amazon’s Kindle Fire is 2-3 times more expensive.
  • The adoption of Android as the innovation platform. I take this as yet another data point (YADP) in firmly establishing Android as the leading future proofed platform for innovation in the mobile-computing space. As Aakash solidly demonstrates, it’s about the all-inclusive collaboration that can occur when organizational boundaries are made redundant through use of an open platform for innovation. These dynamics just aren’t the same as those that would be achieved by embracing proprietary platforms (e.g., Apple’s iOS, RIM QNX-based O/S, etc.).
  • The Indian origin. It took MIT Being Digital, in the meatspace personage of Nicholas Negroponte, to hatch the One Laptop Per Child initiative. In the case of Aakash, this is grass-roots innovation that has Grameen Bank like possibilities.
While some get distracted comparing/contrasting tech specs, the significant impact of Aakash is that it is a disruptive innovation in the truest sense:
“An innovation that is disruptive allows a whole new population of consumers access to a product or service that was historically only accessible to consumers with a lot of money or a lot of skill.  Characteristics of disruptive businesses, at least in their initial stages, can include:  lower gross margins, smaller target markets, and simpler products and services that may not appear as attractive as existing solutions when compared against traditional performance metrics.”
I am certainly looking forward to seeing this evolve!

Disclaimers:
  • Like Aakash, I am of Indian origin. My Indian origin, however, is somewhat diluted by some English origin – making me an Anglo-Indian. Regardless, my own origin may play some role in my gushing exuberance for Aakash – and hence the need for this disclaimer.
  • I am the owner of a Motorola Xoom, but not an iPad. This may mean I am somewhat predisposed towards the Android platform.
Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on Aakash by commenting on this post.

Targeting Public Speaking Skills via Virtual Environments

Recently I shared an a-ha! moment on the use of virtual environments for confronting the fear of public speaking.

The more I think about it, the more I’m inclined to claim that the real value of such technology is in targeted skills development.

Once again, I’ll use myself as an example here to make my point.

If I think back to my earliest attempts at public speaking as a graduate student, I’d claim that I did a reasonable job of delivering my presentation. And given that the content of my presentation was likely vetted with my research peers (fellow graduate students) and supervisor ahead of time, this left me with a targeted opportunity for improvement: The Q&A session.

Countless times I can recall having a brilliant answer to a question long after my presentation was finished – e.g., on my way home from the event. Not very useful … and exceedingly frustrating.

I would also assert that this lag, between question and appropriate answer, had a whole lot less to do with my expertise in a particular discipline, and a whole lot more to do with my degree nervousness – how else can I explain the ability to fashion perfect answers on the way home!

image006Over time, I like to think that I’ve approved my ability to deliver better-quality answers in real time. How have I improved? Experience. I would credit my experience teaching science to non-scientists at York, as well as my public-sector experience as a vendor representative at industry events, as particularly edifying in this regard.

Rather than submit to such baptisms of fire, and because hindsight is 20/20, I would’ve definitely appreciated the opportunity to develop my Q&A skills in virtual environments such as Nortel web.alive. Why? Such environments can easily facilitate the focused effort I required to target the development of my Q&A skills. And, of course, as my skills improve, so can the challenges brought to bear via the virtual environment.

All speculation at this point … Reasonable speculation that needs to be validated …

If you were to embrace such a virtual environment for the development of your public-speaking skills, which skills would you target? And how might you make use of the virtual environment to do so?

Confronting the Fear of Public Speaking via Virtual Environments

Confession: In the past, I’ve been extremely quick to dismiss the value of Second Life in the context of teaching and learning.

Even worse, my dismissal was not fact-based … and, if truth be told, I’ve gone out of my way to avoid opportunities to ‘gather the facts’ by attending presentations at conferences, conducting my own research online, speaking with my colleagues, etc.

So I, dear reader, am as surprised as any of you to have had an egg-on-my-face epiphany this morning …

Please allow me to elaborate:

It was at some point during this morning’s brainstorming session that the egg hit me squarely in the face:

Why not use Nortel web.alive to prepare graduate students for presenting their research?

Often feared more than death and taxes, public speaking is an essential aspect of academic research – regardless of the discipline.

image004Enter Nortel web.alive with its virtual environment of a large lecture hall – complete with a podium, projection screen for sharing slides, and most importantly an audience!

As a former graduate student, I could easily ‘see’ myself in this environment with increasingly realistic audiences comprised of friends, family and/or pets, fellow graduate students, my research supervisor, my supervisory committee, etc. Because Nortel web.alive only requires a Web browser, my audience isn’t geographically constrained. This geographical freedom is important as it allows for participation – e.g., between graduate students at York in Toronto and their supervisor who just happens to be on sabbatical in the UK. (Trust me, this happens!)

As the manager of Network Operations at York, I’m always keen to encourage novel use of our campus network. The public-speaking use case I’ve described here has the potential to make innovative use of our campus network, regional network (GTAnet), provincial network (ORION), and even national network (CANARIE) that would ultimately allow for global connectivity.

While I busy myself scraping the egg off my face, please chime in with your feedback. Does this sound useful? Are you aware of other efforts to use virtual environments to confront the fear of public speaking? Are there related applications that come to mind for you? (As someone who’s taught classes of about 300 students in large lecture halls, a little bit of a priori experimentation in a virtual environment would’ve been greatly appreciated!)

Update (November 13, 2009): I just Google’d the title of this article and came up with a few, relevant hits; further research is required.