Information Technology is a fundamental driver of income inequality

Stuart Staniford is one of the sharpest bloggers I know of and I just wanted to point to something he posted a few days ago which examines the significance of your level of education and ability to use technology in relation to your income. He’s commenting on US data and projections, but it’s still of interest to the rest of us. Click the image to go to his original blog post.

Clearly, using technology always increases your value, but the more education and skills you have, the bigger a multiplier technology gives you.  Thus information technology is a fundamental driver of income inequality.

Bruce Sterling’s Preface to ‘The Hacker Crackdown’

Last night, I downloaded the ebook of Bruce Sterling’s The Hacker Crackdown to my iPod Touch. With the exception of poor battery life, the iPod Touch running the Stanza ebook reader software is a decent arrangment, even more so because you can easily download books from FeedBooks.

Anyway, opening Bruce Sterling’s book on my iPod this morning while walking to work, I had great pleasure reading his preface to the ebook version and his ‘license’ to the reader to distribute it non-commercially. In case you’re late to this book, as I am, here it is for your enjoyment, too:

Preface to the Electronic Release of THE HACKER CRACKDOWN

October 31, 1993-Austin, Texas
Hi, I’m Bruce Sterling, the author of this electronic book. Out in the traditional world of print, this book is still a part of the traditional commercial economy, because it happens to be widely available in paperback (for a while, at least).

Out in the world of print, THE HACKER CRACKDOWN is ISBN 0-553-08058-X, and is formally catalogued by the Library of Congress as “1. Computer crimes-United States. 2. Telephone-United States-Corrupt practices. 3. Programming (Electronic computers)-United States-Corrupt practices.” ‘Corrupt practices,’ I always get a kick out of that description. Librarians are very ingenious people.

If you go and buy the print version of THE HACKER CRACKDOWN, an action I encourage heartily, you may notice that in the front of the book, right under the copyright sign-“Copyright (C) 1992 by Bruce Sterling”-it has this little block of printed legal boilerplate from the publisher. It says, and I quote:

“No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. For information address: Bantam Books.”

This is a pretty good disclaimer, as such disclaimers go. I collect intellectual-property disclaimers, and I’ve seen dozens of them, and this one is at least pretty straightforward. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have much to do with reality. Bantam Books puts that disclaimer on every book they publish, but Bantam Books does not, in fact, own the electronic rights to this book. I do. And I’ve chosen to give them away. Bantam Books is not going to fuss about this. They are not going to bother you for what you do with the electronic copy of this book. If you want to check this out personally, you can ask them; they’re at 1540 Broadway NY NY 10036. However, if you were so foolish as to print this book and start retailing it for money in violation of my copyright and the commercial interests of Bantam Books, then Bantam, a part of the gigantic Bertelsmann multinational publishing combine, would roust some of their heavy-duty attorneys out of hibernation and crush you like a bug. This is only to be expected. I didn’t write this book so that you could make money out of it. If anybody is gonna make money out of this book, it’s gonna be me and my publisher.

My publisher deserves to make money out of this book. Not only did the folks at Bantam Books commission me to write the book, and pay me a hefty sum to do so, but they bravely printed, in text, an electronic document the reproduction of which was once alleged to be a federal felony. Bantam Books and their numerous attorneys were very brave and forthright about this book. Furthermore, my former editor at Bantam Books, Betsy Mitchell, genuinely cared about this project, and worked hard on it, and had a lot of wise things to say about the manuscript. Betsy deserves genuine credit for this book, credit that editors too rarely get.

The critics were very kind to THE HACKER CRACKDOWN, and commercially the book has done well. On the other hand, I didn’t write this book in order to squeeze every last nickel and dime out of the mitts of impoverished sixteen-year-old cyberpunk high- school students. Teenagers don’t have any money-no, not even enough for HACKER CRACKDOWN. That’s a major reason why they sometimes succumb to th temptation to do things they shouldn’t, such as swiping my books out of libraries. Kids: this one is all yours, all right? Go give the paper copy back. *8-)

Well-meaning, public-spirited civil libertarians don’t have much money, either. And it seems almost criminal to snatch cash out of the hands of America’s grotesquely underpaid electronic law enforcement community.

If you’re a computer cop, a hacker, or an electronic civil liberties activist, you are the target audience for this book. I wrote this book because I wanted to help you, and help other people understand you and your unique, uhm, problems. I wrote this book to aid your activities, and to contribute to the public discussion of important political issues. In giving the text away in this fashion, I am directly contributing to the book’s ultimate aim: to help civilize cyberspace.

Information WANTS to be free. And the information inside this book longs for freedom with a peculiar intensity. I genuinely believe that the natural habitat of this book is inside an electronic network. That may not be the easiest direct method to generate revenue for the book’s author, but that doesn’t matter; this is where this book belongs by its nature. I’ve written other books-plenty of other books-and I’ll write more and I am writing more, but this one is special. I am making THE HACKER CRACKDOWN available electronically as widely as I can conveniently manage, and if you like the book, and think it is useful, then I urge you to do the same with it.

You can copy this electronic book. Copy the heck out of it, be my guest, and give those copies to anybody who wants them. The nascent world of cyberspace is full of sysadmins, teachers, trainers, cybrarians, netgurus, and various species of cybernetic activist. If you’re one of those people, I know about you, and I know the hassle you go through to try to help people learn about the electronic frontier. I hope that possessing this book in electronic form will lessen your troubles. Granted, this treatment of our electronic social spectrum not the ultimate in academic rigor. And politically, it has something to offend and trouble almost everyone. But hey, I’m told it’s readable, and at least the price is right.

You can upload the book onto bulletin board systems, or Internet nodes, or electronic discussion groups. Go right ahead and do that, I am giving you express permission right now.
Enjoy yourself.

You can put the book on disks and give the disks away, as long as you don’t take any money for it.

But this book is not public domain. You can’t copyright it in your own name. I own the copyright. Attempts to pirate this book and make money from selling it may involve you in a serious litigative snarl. Believe me, for the pittance you might wring out of such an action, it’s really not worth it. This book don’t “belong” to you. In an odd but very genuine way, I feel it doesn’t “belong” to me, either. It’s a book about the people of cyberspace, and distributing it in this way is the best way I know to actually make this information available, freely and easily, to all the people of cyberspace-including people far outside the borders of the United States, who otherwise may never have a chance to see any edition of the book, and who may perhaps learn something useful from this strange story of distant, obscure, but portentous events in so-called “American cyberspace.”

This electronic book is now literary freeware. It now belongs to the emergent realm of alternative information economics. You have no right to make this electronic book part of the conventional flow of commerce. Let it be part of the flow of knowledge: there’s a difference. I’ve divided the book into four sections, so that it is less ungainly for upload and download; if there’s a section of particular relevance to you and your colleagues, feel free to reproduce that one and skip the rest.

Just make more when you need them, and give them to whoever might want them.

Now have fun.

Bruce Sterling—

EPrints Session and OR08 Reflections

Back in the office, following a week away at the Open Repositories conference.

The last couple of days were spent in EPrints sessions, as that is the repository software we use here at Lincoln. I found the first session most interesting as the new features in EPrints 3.1 were discussed. The linked page explains in detail the changes in v3.1, but in summary they provide much more control for repository managers through a web interface, rather than editing config files directly. Les’ slides give a nice overview.

The following session on EPrints and the RAE generally reflected the experience we’ve had using EPrints 2 for the RAE last year.

A session on repository analytics was a very useful overview of using Google Analytics, AWStats and IRStats to measure the various uses of an EPrints repository. Very useful, in particular IRStats which has been developed at Southampton for EPrints. I look forward to installing it.

The final sessions were mainly aimed at developers with a knowledge of Perl. I found the session on how to write plugins for EPrints 3 clear and interesting, but not especially useful as I don’t understand Perl. Still, it was obvious, even to me, that with a basic knowledge of programming, plugins could be written quite easily. I think it’s important for repository managers to immerse themselves in the technicalities of repository development even if they don’t understand much of the detail. Just by sharing ideas and questions with developers, you get a better understanding of what is involved in rolling out new features and a sense of what can be achieved within given resources.

On the whole, the conference leaned towards the technical rather than the strategic and managerial aspects of institutional repositories. There were a lot of developers present and the number of technical projects discussed seemed high. Personally, I appreciated this and came away with a good sense of where the development of repositories is going. It would have been good to have had an event which explicitly aimed at bringing both developers and repository staff together.

Finally, I do wonder whether the open access repository community would benefit from engaging with developments in Enterprise Content Management, as there is a great deal of overlap, having to face similar issues around workflow, IPR and technical standards. Perhaps there are universities evaluating the open source Alfresco ECMS as a repository platform. If so, I’d like to hear about them.

Next year, the conference is in Atlanta, USA.

Open Repositories 2008 Conference

OR2008, the Third International Conference on Open Repositories began today and I’ll be posting my session notes to the LL Blog. It’s a bigger conference than I imagined. There are 486 delegates, from 35 countries, with about a third from the UK, a third from Europe, a quarter from the USA and the remaining 10% of people from Asia, Australia and New Zealand. The conference halls are packed and there is even an over-flow room where people watch the main sessions via a video feed. Not me! I get to the conference sessions early in order to get a decent seat.

The Conference website has the full programme in PDF format. True to form, there’s also a repository of conference papers and presentations.

The Keynote speaker discussed the requirements of the scientific community, arguing that open access to, the interpretation and display of scientific data is essential for these repository users. He said that the Protein Data Bank was an excellent example of such a repository. These repositories need to be embedded into the ‘white coat’ researcher’s daily work and not just places to deposit finished articles. He told us that researchers are not prepared to change the way they work and that students should be trained in good information management as they are the future of research. He pointed to several ‘open’ endeavours, such as ‘science commons‘, the ‘Open Knowledge Foundation‘, ‘open data‘ and ‘open science‘.

He reminded everyone that even the simplest of processes are complex to map, and being integral to the authoring process, trying to capture and integrate this digitally, without intruding on the work itself, is the most difficult of challenges. A worthwhile challenge, nonetheless, as 90% of scientific research data is, apparently, lost. The ICE-RS Project, is one such endeavour.

Of course, this is something businesses are also concerned with and is the stuff of Enterprise Content Management Systems (ECMS). I do wonder whether it would be a useful project to study and report on current commercial and open source ECMS solutions, as there seems to be little to no overlap between academic content management systems and repositories and those used in the corporate world.

Interestingly, he mentioned the use of Subversion as a way of backing up and versioning research, something I’m familiar with in software development but hadn’t thought about using for version control of my own work. Something to look into…