Saturday, June 28, 2008

Geekery and an attempt at real-time blogging

I'm letting myself have a little non-job search fun at the ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim, California, so I'm attending a session called Science Fiction and Fantasy: Looking at Information Technology and the Information Rights of the Individual. Just thought I'd take some notes on what was being said and discussed. Any errors or mis-perceptions below are entirely my fault. Enjoy!

As I begin to write this, Cory Doctorow is standing not more than 2 feet from me, having a discussion with some friends about young adult fiction, especially young adult scifi.

Aww, his wife and 5 month old daughter are here. It's their 5-year anniversary. And yes, he spent the morning at Disney (I was told to ask him that, but I can just eavesdrop on him, instead. Heh). Wonder if The Haunted Mansion was actually open when he visited, unlike when I was there on Thursday. But I bet he didn't get to watch half a tree fall on a crowd of people. Damn, Disney has a fast response time to internal troubles!

Short break to help someone with wireless connectivity problems. And he taught me about iwconfig (Linux-based). Ah, librarians and learning!

Vernor Vinge
Spoke about the possibility of the coming Informational Dark Ages, the pie-in-the-sky idea of DRM that actually works, proprietary formats (and so-called open formats). Giving example of Charles Stross's Glasshouse plot: main character volunteers to take part in a "radical, isolated social experiment that will attempt to recreate the forgotten "Dark Ages", the late 20th and early 21st centuries." (Wikipedia entry)
[Sorry this was so sparse, my neighbor was using my Mac to figure out why he couldn't access the wifi]

Brandon Sanderson
He's the guy who is continuing/finishing the late Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. Speaking on uchronias [and a mention of Steampunk. Woo! Must finish my bibliography...] and idealized scientific eras. Modern uchronic look at monarchy in politics. Lots of fantasy fiction in 1900s about one man bringing everyone together; warrior-heroes. Burroughs, Tolkein, etc. Start adding magician character as a scientific figure in later part of century (Harry Potter, among other characters). Wizard becomes more important than warrior; information as power. Infotocracy: rule by people who have the info.

"You want young people to love classics, first find them something, anything, they love in order to get them to read. They'll get there. Teach them to love information first!"

Eric Flint
Copyright terms are too long. Berne Convention is badly structured. Life +50 as minimum, drawback is that nations could lengthen it, but not shorten it. His own income relies on copyright, yet he thinks 75 years is ridiculous. Heirs should invest their money in something else anyway! 40 years is plenty long to support an author. Locking up information-as-property doesn't benefit the creators of that information and actually destroys writing. Most writing comes and goes (few Illiads out there). Just need enough copyright to provide a living.

His first book is still in print, still sells well, even though available online for free at Baen Free Library). Proves that the notion of "Pirating costs creators" is baloney [Halleluia!]. People want multiple formats for different uses. Book market too opaque. Advantage to e-publishing: allows provision of access, introduction for new readers. Battle is being slowly won. I sure hope so.

Cory Doctorow
Internet is good means for cheaper collective action, not copying stuff.
Storming Forming Norming.
Internet makes information a verb. "I just got this, how do I make it do that?"
Internet has given us conceivable universal access to human knowledge
Info not meant to be hoarded, kept from others.
Slow science if no sharing. Alchemist gets idea of publishing outcomes, led to Enlightenment.
"Universal access to all human knowledge is a feature, not a bug."
Worked with ALA/IFLA Access to Information Africa.
High-latency links to Internet (small info cafes, books and info on cds, printed materials from those cds), latency getting lower as time progresses.

One Laptop, One Child project, first great, now derided. But we forget how many steps it took to get to point of convincing everyone in world that having a computer is a good thing.

Fight for future of civilization. Fight over whether devices will control you or obey you.

Libraries may burn, but info about people has a longevity in direct comparison to how much it will embarrass them.

Mitch Kapoor "Architecture is politics." Our information structure will determine structure of society.

[So much data from Cory. Sadly, my typing was not up to speed.]


Cory talks re cctv cameras in London. Weapon you don't know how to use becomes an enemy. Criminal use of cctv, not solving crime. Use of cctv instead of people-presence, not a deterrent for many criminals (example of friend being stalked and killed by teens out to steal cell phones).

When is Cory's next book?
Cory: Out second-half of 2009 from Tor, Themepunks (working title?)

How to teach persistence of information to kids who don't care?
Brandon: Fiction can be very didactic. Tell a good story first; teach second.
Cory: Facebook, MySpace, are Skinner boxes that reward disclosure.

ALA Stacks pass [swipe card that vendors use]: what did you do with yours? (Hee!)
Cory: Maybe we should swap with each other? No easy mechanism for people to read what is on the cards they carry, would be good development. RFIDS, toll cards.

Thoughts on the "Universal Identifier" of the future?
Vinge: Pessimistic. Stasi-heaven. But Internet will help unbalance the Stasi.
Cory: Biometrics. Can't change your fingerprints. But can lift them!
Eric: Put things in historical perspective. We are nowhere near Medieval-era levels of control. Fallacy [I spelled this "phallacy" before the spellchecker caught it] of the Stasi: person collecting info is likely to be underpaid, not do good job. Don't overestimate inefficiency of Big Brother. Not that it can't be misused.

User-privacy, opt-in.
Vinge: Belief cults. [sorry, lost track of convo and missed his answer]
Cory: Zero-knowledge protocols. Cryptographic systems, the need for more widespread use.

This panel was great! Wonderful selection of speakers. Got all four of my books signed and found out from Cory that yes, the Haunted Mansion was open for business again. Sorry I missed it!