03 December 2012

Back to 3D

I did a little experimenting with some 3D after Christmas 2010 when my son (not me, I swear) got an XBox with Kinect. Fun, but labor-intensive, as the tools were still fairly unpolished, especially for the non-programmer. (Search for posts with the Kinect label.) Then a month or two ago, I started getting into it again, thinking about how I could use it on the dig, and including some research into various other kinds of photography. I was looking at the freeware stuff (like VisualSFM), which now looks pretty good, but still wasn't quite working on my MacBook. Then I got into using Homebrew instead of MacPorts, and one thing led to another and I got busy with other stuff (like my actual day job).

Then a few weeks ago, my friend and colleague Sebastian Heath started tweeting a bit about stuff he was doing in 3D, using the inexpensive (but not free) AgiSoft PhotoScan. Looked pretty good, and he poked me a bit about not writing up what I was doing, so here I am.

Well, almost here. I bought the software today and spent a little time with it and my iPhone. My first test model was a head of Michelangelo's David, which graces a column in my living room, but that turned out to be a bit shiny, so I moved on to another iconic figure who makes an annual appearance in the house. I snapped 14 photos of him, not quite going all the way around. Then I tested it out in PhotoScan using the speedy low-res settings and since that looked good, I cranked it up to 11 to come up with a fairly nice model, especially given how lazy I was about it. A still image is to the right. Click to enlarge. You can mostly read the numbers of the various pockets (though that's a 6, not a 5 right in the front) and the detail isn't bad. The whole thing took a little over an hour to render and then I moved it into MeshLab, smoothed it out, and exported.

As I said, more soon. I'm hoping to have some fun over Christmas break on our visit to the in-laws.

11 November 2012

Election 2012: What if the House were bigger?

As usual after a presidential election, there have been a lot of maps showing how the vote went in the US electoral college. One thing that I haven't seen get much discussion is the effect of limiting the size of the college itself.

Thanks to Nate Silver, lots of people now know the number of votes in the US electoral college (whether they realize it or not): 538. With the exception of the three given to Washington, DC, the electors are distributed to each state according to the number of congressmen it has. (DC's total is equal to the number it would have were it a state, not to exceed the number held by the least populous state.) This formula sets a minimum of three electors for each state, equal to its two senators and one House representative. Currently the seven least populous states have three electors. This minimum perpetuates the equality of states' voting power in the senate, where population is irrelevant and every state gets two votes. It's also the case that every state must have at least one representative, no matter how few citizens it has. In other words, the smallest states have more voting power than their populations would warrant otherwise. (There's also an inherent inequality in that there needs to be a whole number of electors, which means there will be other inequalities due to rounding.)

So what would happen if the House were bigger and there were therefore more electors and also a more proportionate relationship between a state's population and the number of its electors? In effect this would give more influence to the more populous states.

To check this out, I made a little spreadsheet to recreate the distribution of electors. The tricky part is assigning members to the House of Representatives. This assignment isn't quite straightforward (here's a nice little paper on alternatives to the current method), and my reconstruction spreadsheet of the current situation (435 members total) doesn't quite get it right (MN and RI are missing one member each), so my projection of what the House would look with more members is likely a tiny bit off too. (I could spend some more time on this, but I think I'm close enough and a little internet searching hasn't helped me out. Suggestions welcome in the comments.)

So what happens? In this election, Obama with 50.5% of the national vote got 332 electoral votes to Romney's 48% and 206. Had the House 485 members (an average of one more per state), Obama would have gotten 364 and Romney 224. Throw in another 50 and Obama's at 396 and Romney 243 (you'll note that my model is one over the real total of 638). In all cases, Obama wins a rounded-off 62% of the electoral college, so no change in that metric.

That doesn't mean that there would no changes at all in the way the election might go. For example, it might be possible to put together a different collection of states to win, or to neglect more of the smaller states and still win. It does however look like the picture wouldn't change much even with a much bigger House.

(It would be interesting to consider what would happen to the split between the parties in a bigger House, but given all the complications with drawing districts, that's far from straightforward to work out.)

10 November 2012

Post-Sandy Update

It's not really post-Sandy for a lot of people. There are still hundreds of thousands without power and many - including a bunch of people I know at Breezy Point and a bigger bunch that I don't, but see every summer - are in worse shape than that. Still we've got power back and things are close enough to normal that I thought I'd revisit what I wrote the day before the storm hit.

1. The Model - Wow, the model nailed it. About the only thing it got wrong was the speed of the storm, which moved faster than expected...fortunately. Instead of having a landfall early Tuesday morning, it landed late Monday evening and by daylight on Tuesday was mostly gone.

2. The Rainfall - As predicted, rainfall was minimal around here. It didn't even hit the lower end of the range that had been predicted when I was writing. Instead we got a little more than an inch. My sump, which was dry before the rain came, was dry after too, and that was a good thing because we didn't have power from about 7:40 pm on Monday night. So a flooded basement was the one thing I didn't have to worry about. (And likewise I was wrong that we would get flooding without power.) As I wrote, this lack of rainfall was not something anyone was talking much about on TV, even though it meant one thing a lot of people did not have to worry about.

3. Outages - Al Roker was right. In the coastal areas that got hit hard with ocean surges, power seemed to be out uniformly, while elsewhere outages were spotty. Here in Maplewood, for example, the Village never lost power, while a few families are still out. We lost it for nearly eight days. I think I was right that damage in this immediate area was less than last year's Halloween storm, but there was so much damage along the coast and in heavily wooded areas, that the various utility companies couldn't repair it as quickly. That said, some of the damage around here was pretty spectacular, and a lot of trees went down, taking power lines with them.

4. Timing - The good forecasting and speedy action by public officials was indeed aided in great measure by the weekend. Lots of colleges and universities (like mine) were able to send kids home in plenty of time, and the various public-transportation systems had time to take action without worrying about a lot of people getting home from work. Individuals were also able to do a lot of shopping...a lot.

Once the full extent of the damage had become clear, there were a few lucky things too. The fairly low rainfall meant that those who hadn't been flooded didn't get water damage on top of the power loss. Also temperatures in the first days were moderate, with highs in the 50s, so people without heat could get by more easily. The major roads were fairly clear too, so on Tuesday and Wednesday it was possible to get around (or out of town) without too much trouble. Finally outages in a lot of areas were spotty. As I said above, Maplewood Village never lost power, and the public libraries were able to open up right away too. This meant that it was possible to escape a dark home to recharge one's literal or figural batteries. Cell service was a bit spotty, but good enough that most people I know had telephone and internet at least intermittently, which was good for keeping in touch.

At our house, we learned that our water heater doesn't need electricity, which was a nice surprise. That meant hot showers and clean dishes. Out gas stove kept working too, even if we had to light it by hand. No oven though, since that is controlled by the electronics in the control panel. We have a propane grill outside, which we didn't use, but could have. We also keep the house pretty cool in winter, so indoor temps in the high 50s were familiar.

Once it was clear that we didn't have to worry about flooding the basement, and that school and work were going to remain closed at least through the end of the week, we decided to make that visit to friends in upstate NY that we'd been putting off. Off we went, and discovered that just a little over two hours away, in an area that had been hit hard last year by the remnants of Irene, life was going on pretty much as normal. We caught up on the TV coverage of the disaster at home and counted our blessings. It seems like about half of our local friends performed some version of an escape.

This is two years in a row that we've lost power. Last year it was brief for us, but friends went without for several days. So I've got some plans to be better prepared. As I said, as long as our gas stays on, we have hot water and can cook indoors. Without gas, we'd be cooking outside. No electricity is a drag, but the appropriate candles along with the battery-powered small lights we have already (yay, LEDs!) can get us through the nights. For entertainment, we certainly missed more accessible internet, but cell service was good enough for keeping in touch and the radio was great (kudos to WNYC for terrific coverage of the storm and its aftermath). Our laptops could run all evening as long as we had charged them up during the day, but TV would have been nice (still finishing up The Wire on NetFlix).

The really big barrier to staying comfortably in the house was heat. Our furnace uses gas to create steam, so it doesn't use a lot of electricity, but it is hard-wired into the house line, so it couldn't be run without some playing around. It doesn't use a lot of juice, so it could easily have been run off an inverter from the car (which is how I charged up my phone), had it been wired for that. So item #1 is a transfer switch, which will let us run the furnace off the car inverter...or a generator, which we ordered on the last day we had power and arrived on the last day we didn't. The generator runs on propane, which we now always have for our grill. It isn't big (2kW), but it's enough to run the furnace, our sump pump, the stove, and various appliances, at least one at a time. The Prius in the driveway means that we have a fairly large supply of electricity around the house, so in a pinch we don't need to fire up the generator. We get about 400 miles to the tank, so we haven't been bothered by the rationing still in effect in NJ (and due to end in a few days). I may get a battery backup for the sump pump too. Those can last a few days at best, but I'm more concerned about short-term outages, like Irene last year, when the sump pump was running virtually non-stop for a few hours as the storm front passed through our area. I'd rather not have to run out to fire up the generator in those conditions. A back-up water pump is another possible purchase. I'm looking at smallish transfer pumps which can run off the car inverter (ours maxes out at 100W) and can be moved around to handle whatever flooding we might get. If nothing else, it could also help reduce the load on the sump pump during those surges.

All in all, we were pretty lucky. Lots of people lost their homes, other property, even lives. We had to do some labor, but got to visit dear friends and watch the destruction from a safe distance on TV. One cold night in the house was a small penalty in comparison to what might have been.

28 October 2012

Ramblings on Sandy

Public officials in my area (northern NJ) seem to be doing all the right things: evacuating low-lying areas, shutting down public transportation, sending out all kinds of warnings. For my part, I find myself driven to skepticism by the slightly creepy enthusiasm of the media weather people...as usual. In this instance, this was fueled by the way a rather hasty mention on the Weather Channel Saturday morning of the injection of some dry air from the southwest which resulted in a serious drop in rainfall south and east of the storm.

So a few thoughts, not all of which are cynical:

  1. The Modeling - Everyone keeps talking about the uniqueness of this storm. It's a strange kind of hurricane now, and is likely to lose hurricane status soon. It's also supposed to take an unprecedented left-hand turn, from what I can tell. Here's a plot of historical hurricane paths for hurricanes that were very close to Sandy's position. You'll notice that none of them takes such a sudden change in direction. So how good are the models at handling this kind of thing? We'll find out tomorrow morning, when Sandy either turns or doesn't. I'm genuinely curious...and not only because I'm not interested in bailing out my basement tomorrow night. (For the record, right now the consensus puts landfall somewhere in southern NJ.)
  2. Rainfall - Last year we got seriously dumped on my Irene, about 6" in less than a day in my neck of the woods. In addition we'd had a fairly wet lead-up, so the ground was already full of water. This year in contrast has been average or even a bit dry, and Sandy is forecast to leave a total of 4" of rain over several days, starting some time tonight. I'm sure the coastal and riverine areas are gong to be much worse, but we're likely not to have as much potential for in-house flooding as last year. (If the power goes, we're definitely going to get water, but right now my sump is totally dry.)
  3. Some people on the air (e.g., Al Roker) are giving warnings for 7-10 days of power outages. Now I'm sure that it's very possible that some small isolated areas could experience such a long absence of power, but most of us are very likely not to. In part this is because of the response to all of the problems after last year's Snowtober event, which resulted from many, many fallen trees and limbs, and the subsequent difficulty of getting around in the aftermath. I'm sure the state hasn't solved all the problems of last year, when only the rare spot had outages even approaching a week, but it's likely taken care of some of them, so we should see fewer problems this year.
  4. Finally this timing of this year's storm is a lot better than last year's pair (Irene and Snowtober), both of which hit on Friday/Saturday. This year we started getting warnings on Thursday, and so had the entire weekend—instead of a few workdays—to empty out the shelves at our local hardwares stores (and surely others were better behaved than we've been and prepared in advance).
Bottom line? While I won't be surprised if the models are right, and the coasts really get hit hard, and the power goes out for a while, I do think the overall situation may well be better than last year (either big storm), and our personal one won't be any worse. But we'll all know much more in just a day.

Meanwhile...gotta find those AA batteries for my alarm clock.

04 October 2012

Update II: "'Crisis' in Classics" briefly revisited

The APA has just announced the results of the annual elections for 2012. So what kind of institutional representation do we find the members voted for (not that there was much choice in this dimension)?

Office              Institution     Description
President           UCincinnati     Big Public U.
Financial Tr.       UC, Davis       Big Public U.
VP Prof. Matters    UVa             Big Public U.
VP Pub & Research   UT              Big Public U.

Board of Directors  Ohio State      Big Public U.

Board of Directors  UPenn           Big Private U.
Nominating Comm     Princeton       Big Private U.
Nominating Comm     CUNY            Big Public U.
Education Comm      Phillips-Exeter Elite Prep School

Goodwin Award Comm  Bowdoin         Elite Private LAC
Prof Matters Comm   Episcopal Acad  Elite Prep School
Program Committee   Harvard         Big Private U.

Pub & Research Comm Cornell         Big Private U.

So that's 6 from big public universities, 5 from big private universities, 2 from elite prep schools (1 of which has an endowment that easily dwarfs that of all but the wealthiest of LACs in this country) and 1 from an elite small LAC.

Classics' main professional organization continues to be dominated by the "haves."

Reminds me of the Romney campaign...

Previous posts in this category:

My New article

I've been getting more and more involved in digital humanities, so I'm happy to announce that my most recent publication is now out in an open-access journal:
John D Muccigrosso, “Re‐Interpreting the Robinson Skyphos,” Studia Humaniora Tartuensia 13, no. A.1 (2012): 1–15
That's the old-school citation for this new-school journal, and hardly befitting a 21st-century open-access publication, so here are a couple of better choices:
  1. The direct link to the journal webpage for the article
  2. My Zotero library reference
  3. The article itself as a pdf
The article is of course free to download (hence the OA bit), so knock yourself out. Please.

Here's the abstract:
The scene on the Robinson skyphos was wrongly identified for years as a depiction of clay‐working, either in a kiln or other preparation area. Recent scholarship has correctly identified it instead as one related to the grain harvest. This article presents a new examination of the scene, pointing out details the importance of which had not previously been noted. It also brings to bear comparanda from Egyptian art which put the identification of the scene beyond doubt.
The article began as part of an exploration of depictions of what were called potters and pottery workshops on ancient Greek pots, but which I thought were often not. It's inspired to a large extent by the work of David Gill and Michael Vickers on the elevation of ancient pottery-making to an "art" instead of a "craft" to reflect modern rather than ancient thinking. (And let's not get into the whole issue of how we distinguish between those two things!) The work actually started as an grad-school exploration of how much Greek pottery was exported, not only in terms of the number of physical pots, but also the economic value of those pots. It won't be surprising to learn that the course was taught by William Loomis, the guy who studied how much the ancient Greeks actually got paid (Wages, welfare costs, and inflation in classical Athens), and, upon reflection, the topic was probably a good indicator of my interest in what we now call digital humanities in the first place!

And for a little academic genealogy...David Moore Robinson, the classical art historian and collector after whom the pot in the article was named, was the teacher of George Hanfmann, who in turn taught John G. Pedley, with whom I studied at Michigan (though he was not my advisor) and who invited me to join the on-going excavations at Paestum, Italy at the end of the last century(!), which were conducted by Jim Higginbotham of Bowdoin College, with whom my previous article was co-authored. So far, so good. Fairly normal academic stuff, especially for a fairly small field like mine. But wait, there's more!

One of the standard works on the manufacturing techniques of ancient Greek pottery was written by Joseph V. Noble, who died in 2007, during the period in which I was working on this article. Turns out he had lived for years in the same town as me (Maplewood, NJ), just a few hundred meters from the train station where I daily stood for my commute, though unfortunately I never knew that until it was too late.

10 August 2012

Update: "'Crisis' in Classics" briefly revisited

The candidate list is up for this year's APA elections. As usual it's dominated by big schools: only three of the 27 are small-college/prep-school people, and one of them is from a top-10 LAC with an endowment pushing a billion dollars and another from a prep school with an even larger endowment(!).

(My first post on this topic.)

20 May 2012

Apple's Worst Interface Widget

Apple's got a tradition of being very good at their human interfaces. There've been some notable exceptions (like the wheels on version 4.0 of the classic QuickTime player - which earned a spot in the Interface Hall of Shame). The basic problem there was a common one: they tried to make the app look and act like the physical object it was analogous to, despite the inappropriateness of the physical interface to the computer screen and mouse.

Lately though I've grown really tired of an interface widget that rampant in iOS and shows up in a few places in OS X too: the on/off "slider" switch (scare quotes intended). Here it is from the Time Machine System Preference pane:
It just doesn't work very well. In fact I'll bet that many people probably don't actually slide it to toggle it from one position to the other; they tap it (or click it in OS X). Now, in both iOS and OS X you can slide it, but it only works like you'd expect in iOS. In OS X if you slide it only part-way over and then decide you really don't want to toggle the switch and move it back to its original position, it'll slide itself over anyway as soon as you let go! That is, it registers the click, not the position you slide it to.

Dumb and counter-intuitive. Sliding switches are OK in real life (though I like the old-school toggle switches myself and they more jump than slide), but with a mouse, they aren't nearly as easy to use as a button (which is probably why they act like buttons too). On iOS devices, where they do function like the real-world version, it's easier to simply tap them like buttons and avoid the possibility of missing the switch. (I'm not even sure that they did work like sliders in earlier versions of the iOS; I remember trying to slide them when I first got my iPhone and being unsuccessful. Maybe I was just missing the target.)

Variety is the spice of life and all that, but it shouldn't come at the expense of usability. So, Apple, when it works like a button, make it a button; when it doesn't work like a slider, don't make it look like one.

27 April 2012

PaleoJudaica.com: Open Access controversy

A little morning-coffee post for this lovely April day...

This morning over at his blog (PaleoJudaica.com: Open Access controversy), Jim Davila weighs on with a thoughtful post on the on-going open-access controversy and the AIA's recent Archaeology editorial firmly opposing it.

A number of friends and colleagues have already made public statements about this (for example, Sebastian Heath and Charles E. Jones) and there's plenty out there on the benefits of OA, so I'm not going to rehash those specifics, but I do want to comment on the role of government. Jim writes that on the question of "whether governments should step in and enforce [OA] now, top down. The AIA says no, and I agree."

So let's be clear on just what Jim and AIA leadership are agreeing to: the more particular question here is whether the US government should require that data resulting from research paid for by the government (that is, by those of us who are US taxpayers) should be made freely available to those people who paid for it. It's already well established that lots of data that the US government pays for is freely available. Go to the Census website for example, and there you can download literally gigabytes of census data, much of it already very conveniently organized and presented in easily understood ways.

The government isn't saying that everyone has to make all their data freely available to everyone, just that those of us who benefit from government funding to obtain those data need to do that. I just don't see how that's not a fair request, and the argument that a wealthy industry will be harmed by it doesn't do much for me. Was the government supposed to shut down the internet because newspapers took a big hit? They paid for that too.

(For the record, I'm myself a beneficiary of government spending on technology as a co-PI on an NEH Digital Humanities Grant.)

12 February 2012

Under God

Back in January, Kevin Kruse penned an op-ed for the Gray Lady on the 20th-century rise in American usage of "under God" with various prefixed words. It's an idea I'm generally sympathetic to (i.e., that many things that pass under the mantle of tradition aren't really traditional and in particular this emphasis on America as a Godly nation), but is the language part true? Kruse has written a book on the general subject, so I'm not going to try to tackle the whole thing, but what about some of these factual claims on usage? I think there might be some data the uninitiated among us could look at.

What exactly does Kruse claim in the NYT piece? First:
After Lincoln, however, the phrase ["this nation, under God"] disappeared from political discourse for decades. But it re-emerged in the mid-20th century...
and this:
Throughout the 1930s and ’40s, Mr. Fifield and his allies advanced a new blend of conservative religion, economics and politics that one observer aptly anointed “Christian libertarianism.” Mr. Fifield distilled his ideology into a simple but powerful phrase — “freedom under God.”
then this:
Indeed, in 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower presided over the first presidential prayer breakfast on a “government under God” theme
and finally:
In 1954, as this “under-God consciousness” swept the nation
So where could we go to check up on all this? Google n-grams! This is a nice little service from the king of data mining himself (corporately speaking) that let's you look for phrases in book corpora. This won't get us everything, but it will get us a lot. So what is there?

First let's look at Ike's phrase of "government under God." Not one I was familiar with, but I wasn't around in 1953 either, so perhaps no surprise. I'm going to look in the corpus of American (not British) books for the entire period Google makes available. Here's the result at right.

Hmmm. Those early years give large results, but since there's nothing in between that and the later occurrences, I'm going to cut those years out of the next one. Now what do we have? Well, clearly a rise around 1953, as Kruse suggests, but the rise actually begins a bit earlier (which you can see by zooming in on the n-gram), and not just in spurious hits that this service sometimes finds, like "government under God's..." (because it pays attention to capitalization, but not punctuation, for some reason): there's even a book called, yep, Government Under God. So, sure, that's a phrase we might reasonably associate with Ike's usage, but it sure wasn't original to him.

How about "freedom under God," another phrase tied with a particular person? The first search shows nothing before the late 19th century, so let's zoom in on the period after 1850. Now there's a clear rise in 1941, following some decades of fairly minimal usage. Here too there's a book entitled with the phrase, this time by Bishop Sheen. Since books might take a little time to write and publish, this suggests increasing popularity, starting in the 1930s, consistent with what Kruse writes.

And that most famous of phrases, Lincoln's "this nation, under God"? I've taken out the smoothing in this plot to show the spikiness of the trend. The first peak back in the early 19th century is actually not a good one; it's got an apostrophe following "God," so all we have in the 19th century is the Gettysburg Address. Clicking through the later references, they too are mainly quotations of Lincoln. And once again there's a book by that title, this time from 1923. Overall though there isn't really an obvious increase in references to the speech in the early to middle 20th century. In fact if anything references die off a bit in the 1930s and 1940s. The n-grams therefore don't support Kruse's argument at all.

Finally what about the simplest, unprefixed form of the phrase: "under God"? The first run shows that it's a fairly popular phrase, on its way out in the 1900s after a peak in the middle of the previous century. At the same time there is definitely a little hump there, so let's zoom in (right). In the plot we can clearly see a resurgence in the phrase around 1940, though the increase seems smaller than the underlying trend. That's the sort of thing Kruse talks about, but it doesn't seem very impressive. Naturally there are a bunch of books with this phrase in their title, especially after the change to the Pledge of Allegiance, which seems more the consequence of what Kruse discusses.

In conclusion? The n-grams don't seem to offer much support for Kruse's contention. In particular the simple phrase "under God"—which dwarfs the more complex phrases in frequency—shows only a minor increase in usage after 1940, and a lot of that has to be attributed to the Pledge in 1954. But Google's just looking at books. How about the NYTimes itself?

Well, "government under God" gets us one hit, in 1957, which suggests this wasn't a big success. The Pledge's "one nation under God" first appears in an article about the Pledge itself, also no help for the theory. "Freedom under God" does seem to appear numerous times in the 1940s, including not a few by Catholic leaders. In fact Sheen's book, already mentioned above, seems to be the first reference in the newspaper. This seems consistent with the n-gram results in which the phrase appears in several Catholic sources from the 1920s.

As for the simple "under God," that appears a whole bunch of times even in the earliest years available in the search engine (1851-). For example, here's President Harding in his proclamation of Thanksgiving Day, 1921, which was subsequently quoted by the American ambassador to England, George Harvey.:
Under God, our responsibility is great; to our own first; to all men afterward, to all mankind in God's justice.
So where are we then? Well, this quick look at easily available data hasn't really allowed us to look closely at the context for a lot of the usage, though it does seem clear that

  • "under God" was a phrase Americans would have been familiar with and 
  • it enjoyed a bit of a resurgence in the 1940s and after, though did not see even a doubling is usage
  • Lincoln's phrase was pretty much his invention and was (and is?) quoted, but hardly re-used
  • "Government under God" went nowhere
  • "Freedom under God" seems to have been popular in Catholic circles from the 1920s on

In conclusion, it's not unfair to say that the 20th century was a popular time for connecting God with the nation in a linguistic way, but it's not clear from what we've looked at here that the resurgence didn't start a bit earlier than Kruse seems to talk about, and didn't ride over a strong substratum of "under God"-liness. It also might have its origins not in the Protestant Fifield, but among Catholics (who may also have been allies of Fifield), something that might not be too surprising in today's political climate.

01 February 2012

AIA Comes out in Favor of the Research Works Act

In the middle of the holiday break, our own AIA, the Archaeological Institute of America, submitted to the  Office of Science and Technology Policy of the US government their statement on the recently proposed Research Works Act, which is in essence an attack on the growing Open Access movement. (Follow the link to Thomas.gov and check out the Wikipedia entry too.)

Leaving aside the apparent absence of this document from the AIA's own website (site search engines can be remarkably crappy when it comes to this kind of thing), why didn't they think this would be worth letting me, a member in good standing, know about? Especially now that the AAA's response—to which the AIA explicitly refers in their document—has raised a ruckus in that group!

But more importantly, where's the membership on this? Are we in favor of this stance? I'm certainly not. Anyone else?

Many of us in the profession are advocates for Open Access (a term which the AIA doesn't even seem to understand, to judge from their response), and I suspect would have a thing or two to say about the stance of our professional organization. Others have made the case already, so I won't re-argue it here, but I encourage you to read some of them (by, e.g., Kristina Kilgrove or Derek Lowe).

What's most galling though, is that this statement was made by the AIA literally days before our  annual meeting, when it would have been a trivial matter to bring up the subject in official venues and get some important feedback. I wasn't there (off in Rome with students), but I haven't had any official word of anything. And given the decades-long prominence of some of our members in what's now known as the Digital Humanities, this is profoundly disappointing.

I certainly hope that others in the AIA feel the same way about this, and I'm fixing to find out who they are!

Correction: After some discussion with a few others, including Sebastian Heath, I have to correct myself. This AIA's letter was not in response the RWA per se, but, as I wrote, to the RFI from the OSTP. The issues are the same, in that the RWA addresses the question of mandating Open Access to publications dealing with federally funded research which is what the AIA statement dealt with (along with some other things I disagree with). I'll deal with this more in another post, but I wanted to get a correction in right away and apologize for the error.

21 January 2012

Do you have an iBooks textbook policy at your school?

Apple's new foray into the world of textbooks includes iBook Author, software that enables anyone to create a nice-looking iBook without too much trouble. This will likely mean that lots of faculty who have refrained from doing so in the past may start to create their own textbooks. And some people will no doubt be encouraged by their ability to sell these in Apple's on-line store. (Right now if you sell them at all, you must sell them through Apple's store.) Small prices + large volume = welcome income, especially for the underpaid teaching profession.

This raises some interesting questions for educational institutions, which have long dealt with instructors requiring students to buy textbooks they'd written, but almost always published through traditional presses. Sure, the faculty member would be earning money in the form of royalties, but the presence of the press as middleman provided the institution with the fig leaf (at least) of a review process. Apple's new software and store offer a way to cut out this middleman (even if the presses have signed on to Apple's efforts already).

So what's an educational institution to do? Is your institution ready for the first calls and emails from parents complaining that the professor is making the class buy the over-priced iTextbook they wrote and put up in the on-line store?

12 January 2012

Rome Renewed

I've now been in Rome for about two weeks, with a colleague and bunch of Drew students on a Drew International Seminar. Amazingly I have not written about it at all, and I feel even worse now reading my friend Dave's post after being here only three days.

Dave writes a bit about how Rome is changed, which seemed appropriate tonight as I walked back to our residence from the main train station, Termini. For those who've been wondering when they do all the roadwork in Rome, the answer is, at least in part, at night when the streets are fairly empty. Here is a photo of a road crew busy paving over the sanpietrini of Via Cavour with asphalt. In the background is S. Maria Maggiore.

Another crew apparently is working fast to repaint the crosswalk lines ("le strisce"):

So, Eternal but updated...not that I don't prefer the sanpietrini.