Voicemail

I’ve got voicemail now. Not that I want an answering service or anything. Mobile phone and SMS are just fine for communication within China. (Answering machines and voicemail don’t exist here because mobile phones took off ahead of the laying of land lines.) The voicemail is just a way for my friends and family to communicate with me in a way convenient for them.

So, if you call the number below, you can leave me a 5 minute message. It then gets emailed to me as an audio attachment. Very cool. And free. The number is out of Seattle, so it’ll cost you some change for the long distance charges, but then again, your call will be short. This is a free service from k7.net. Wanna give it a try? You know the drill… Leave me a message at the beep!

  • (206) 888-4743
  • (206) 888-grif

Swing out Shanghai!

[Shanghai Speakeasy Party]

I’ll be in Shanghai from Friday to Friday. I and 12 other friends are taking the overnight train and going to the Shanghai Swings Speakeasy party. We’re all quite excited. We’ve got a boombox planned, and we’re going to take over the sleeper car and dance in the aisle! All night. 🙂

This is my first visit to Shanghai. I hear it’s quite different from Beijing. A different feeling, history, dialect, culture. Everyone will fly home on Sunday evening, except Allena, Gulistan, and I will stick around and tour the city for two days. Then, a boat trip to Suzhou (the Venice of China), and a day and night in Hangzhou (the Silk Capital of China).

Awesome.

Cool Websites – Random Links

Here’s a list of some cool websites I’ve come across lately:

  • ctrip. com — A very comprehensive site on booking hotels and tickets for travelling in China. I’m using this for my upcoming Shanghai trip.
  • slooh.com — A subscription-based online telescope. For $50 US a year, you can have unlimited access to their group missions, plus 15 minutes of solo time, where you get to direct the telescope to your object of choice. Cool!
  • Article: How to get the best sound out of your PC — A technical prescription on how to optimize your Windows audio chain. For audio geeks only.
  • madphilosopher del.icio.us bookmarks — An online bookmark storage and sharing service. This link is my account, but you can get one too. The cool thing about shared bookmarks is that you can see how many other people around the world are bookmarking the same sites. And since it’s online, I can access my bookmarks from any machine. Check it out!

Back in Beijing

Well, I’m back in China and I love it! It’s currently 14°C and sunny here at noon today. Beautiful! And it’s currently 13°C inside my apartment. Brrr! It will be this way for another month or so.

Immediately after getting off the plane in Beijing, I saw something that made me remember why I love China so much. It started with a baggage handler at the conveyor belt whose job was to upright and straighten all the bags before the passengers grab them. (Nice service, eh?) I saw this guy remove the orange “Heavy” tag off of someone’s suitcase handle. This caught my attention, so I watched to see what he would do next. He then proceeded to take the backing off the orange sticker and touch it repeatedly to his black pants. He was using the discardable sticker to remove the lint. Brilliant. The Chinese are always surprising me with their ingenuity.

Copyright

The issue of copyright really hit home for me today. On my flight to Singapore, I finished reading the book Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig, and at the end, the author addresses the particular loss of freedom by library users as journals have switched from paper copies to online electronic versions. Basically, libraries make freely available to anyone the content of the printed journals that they subscribe to. But the libraries are barred from offering free access to their electronic counterparts. The reasoning behind this is certainly valid because an electronic document can be copied and distributed freely beyond the library’s (and publisher’s) control in this age of the Internet.

So in light of this, I’m thinking about the meeting I had at work today. The journal I work for is considering entering into a deal with a major scientific publisher who, for the price of the exclusive right to publish and distribute the journal (paper and electronic wise), will market our journal beyond our capacity to do so ourselves. I was presented with this news today and asked for my opinion. I am not a member of the board of directors who will make the decision, but I was approached as a foreign consultant.

The deal doesn’t sit right with me. It sounds, at first hearing, like a deal with the devil. For the price of our soul, we get a good marketing deal. The goal is to increase our circulation and hence our standing in the field of Atmospheric Science journals. I have no problem with this. But the price seems high. I am still trying to figure out if it is too high. For one, while still retaining copyright over the journal (in fact, sharing it with the publisher), the deal involves giving up our right as copyright holder to distribute the journal electronically. This means the current free offering of our articles on our website would no longer be permitted. New articles would only be available online through the publisher’s website, no doubt for a fee.

One of the issues that was raised in the meeting today was the effect this would have on our students. The journal I work for is published in house by the Institute of Atmospheric Physics. The institute has several dozen graduate students who make use of the electronic version of our articles. If this deal were to be accepted, it would be up to the students (or the institute) to purchase a subscription for the content they now enjoy for free. While I am not opposed to paying for content as a general principle, it should be clear that the students would be paying for something that is already theirs (indirectly, at least, as members of the institute).

Furthermore, Lessig’s description of the various licensing schemes of the Creative Commons License (which aims to balance the extremes of “All rights reserved” and “No rights reserved” of the current copyright system) brought the following point to mind. There is a Creative Commons license that grants free use of a copyrighted work to those in developing nations. There is also a license that specifies free educational use. This made me realize that this proposed deal with the major scientific publisher could be unfair to citizens of the People’s Republic of China, a developing nation by some standards, who are potential subscribers to the journal, and to member states of the Third World Academy of Sciences, as these two groups have smaller incomes and budgets compared to their developed counterparts. This exclusive right to publish and distribute gives the publisher the right to set the subscription rate. So it is for this reason that I feel the journal would be giving up too much of its rights in this deal. That is, would the needs of our subscribers and potential subscribers be considered by this publisher? In accepting the deal, we write ourselves out of that decision.

Perhaps there is something to be learned from the free software / open source movement. Open source software is computer code that is released under a certain license that explicitly states that all copies of the software must be distributed along with the source code (the bits of the software that are human readable that can be used to inspect and modify the software). The source code and the software are still under copyright. What is possible, though, is that the copyright owner may choose to release the source code simultaneously under different licenses that permit different uses and give different rights.

So perhaps it is possible for the journal to grant an exclusive right of distribution to this publisher while simultaneously releasing the articles under a different licensing scheme, one that encourages free academic use. I would suspect that it would not be possible for the journal to do this directly, but instead to get the authors of the articles themselves to release their work under a separate scheme. But for this, I think we would need a team of lawyers to wade through these waters safely.

Still, it feels like a deal with the devil. I guess anyone contemplating such a Faustian bargain needs to decide what their goals are—in particular, ultimate goals—and who they want to become. In light of these values so discovered, counting the cost becomes much easier.

What would you do?

The Joy of Geek

I was eating in Grandma’s Kitchen last night and I met a cool guy from Seattle named Charles Kuai. He came up to me to ask about my Palm Wireless Keyboard as I was working on email after dinner. He has a Palm Tungsten W and was interested in buying such a keyboard. So, on my Palm, I quickly looked up the contact info I have for a PalmOne wholesale dealer here in Beijing, and handed it to Charles. Now if he actually had his Palm on him, I could have wirelessly “beamed” him the data. But alas, we had to resort to old fashioned pen and paper.

It was a fun encounter. And I made a new friend.

Easy going at work this week

I got a pretty sweet deal at work this week. Basically, they had run out of work for me to do during this publishing cycle. So I got an unexpected vacation. I still went in to the office every morning to work on other projects, but I was able to take the afternoon off. This worked out well this week because of all the preparations for Christmas and for seeing Eydie off in the days to come. So one day, I was even able to take her to the Forbidden City.

So it’s been a great week. It’s Christmas Eve and I’m in a taxi on the third ring road, listening to Swing, and blogging while traffic moves along slowly. I’m on my way to Alpha Bakery to buy some dessert for tonight’s party at Ilse’s.

We’re back in business

Hey, my website is back up. I hope I didn’t lose anybody in the outage. Bruce didn’t give me any explanation, but the IP address did change and the machine failed to notify me.

Oh, and Happy Winter Solstice everybody! I just spent the day with Eydie at the Forbidden City here in Beijing. I learned that the Winter Solstice is one of the special ceremony days for the Emperor in Old China. So it was a great day to go. We wore many layers of clothes cause it was a cold day, but we stayed mostly warm. Eydie is at home now warming up her toes.