Category: Open Access

One more Open Source software at ULg

ExamsAfter the promotion of Open Access (see Bernard Rentier’s blog) and a history of publications in Open Access journals (see this last article from the Cyclotron Research Center in PLoS), the University of Liege is slowly slowly publishing Open Source software too.

The last free software published is exams, an assessment management system (for on-line exams, …). They chose the GNU GPL 2, apparently without the possibility to upgrade to version 3 (I don’t know if it’s deliberate or not). And you can download the source code here.

What is even more interesting is that they provide a demonstration website if you want to test it in a nearly real setup (as examiners or students ; only in French). And the demonstration system is hosted by a commercial hosting company (OVH), indicating that it could be possible to use this system on very common platforms (only PHP/MySQL are required).

Now, we can dream of other software from the ULg released as free software, a subversion repository and a users/developers community around exams

P.S.: of course, we already did all that 😉 since we published Gemvid in an Open Access journal (the Journal of Circadian Rhythms) and published it along with a lot of other tools as free software. But I don’t count this as an institutional push towards free software since it was mainly my decision and the development didn’t involved other people.

Microsoft Research to sponsor Open Access awards

In a somewhat strange move, Microsoft Research is going to sponsor BioMed Central 2007 Research Awards.

Lee Dirks, director, scholarly communications, Microsoft Research: “We are very supportive of the open science movement and recognize that open access publication is an important component of overall scholarly communications.”

I hope the other Microsoft divisions are going to follow this move and sponsor (or release their products as) Open Source and free software projects … More details on the announcement here.

Dasher: where do you want to write today?

Hannah Wallash put their slides about Dasher on the web (quite the same as these ones from her mentor). Dasher is an “information-efficient text-entry interface”.

What made me interested in Dasher is her introduction about the way we communicate with computers and how they help us to communicate with them. There are keyboards (even reduced ones), gesture alphabets, text entry prediction, etc. I am interested in the ways people can enter text on a touch-screen, without physical keyboard. Usually, people use a virtual keyboard (like in kiosks for tourists or in handheld devices). But they are apparently not the best solutions.

They come with an interesting way of entering text, where pulling and pushing elements on screen are used to form words (with the help of the computer that is “guessing” the words from the previous letters). It requires a lot of visual attention but this can be turned into a feature for people unable to communicate with hands (for physical keyboard and mouse ; one man even wrote his entire B.Sc. thesis with Dasher and his eyes!).

You can download Dasher for a wide range of operating systems and even try it in your web browser (Java required) (btw, it’s the first software I see that adopted the GNU GPL 3). After reading the short explanation, you’ll be able to easily write your own words, phrases and texts.

They are interested in the way people are interacting with the computer. They are using a language model to show the next letters. On the human side, I am wondering if this kind of tool has an influence on how the human brain works. Visual memory should be involved in physical keyboard (“where are the letters?”) but also here (same question but the location of letters is changing all the time). Here, letters are moving but one can learn that boxes are bigger if the next letter probability is bigger. How is the brain involved in such system? What is it learning exactly? Are there fast and slow learners in this task? It could be interesting to look at this …

"A closed mind about an open world"

Under this title, James Boyle, professor of law at Duke Law School (USA), wrote a comment article in the Financial Times [1]. For him, we all have a cognitive bias regarding intellectual property and the internet: the openness aversion. The openness aversion is the fact that we undervalue the importance and productive power of open systems, open networks and non-proprietary production. With three examples (internet, free software and Wikipedia), he somehow shows the evolution of mentalities towards theses “open things”. In 1991, scholars, businessmen and bureaucrats (and even us, maybe) would have scoffed at the internet as a business product. At that moment, control and ownership seemed the right way to go.

Now people evolved and we are a lot to love the internet, free software and Wikipedia. But the openness aversion is still there and some people are trying to restrict freedom (net neutrality, DMCA, DADVSI, DRM, TCPA/TPM, etc.).

[1] Boyles J., “A closed mind about an open world“. Financial Times, August 8th, 2006, p. 9.

P.S. By the way, I discovered Prof. Boyle and his articles on his website. I’ll now have plenty of interesting things to read (as if I didn’t already have enough article and books to read …).

Goodiff monitors (changes in legal documents of) service providers

GooDiff began its work a week ago and I didn’t see much news/blog posts about it. If I correctly understood, the idea behind GooDiff is to monitor changes in legal documents of (internet) service providers (like Google or Yahoo!). Indeed, service providers are often trying to change on the fly their legal documents, especially in some critical sections like privacy, copyright and alike. With GooDiff, consumers and users are now able to keep track of these changes. Thanks Alexandre!

P.S. Although the name and logo can mislead you (and misled me), the primary origin of the name “GooDiff” is not Google. The “Goo” part comes from the Gray goo (in SF, “goo” means a large mass of replicating nanomachines lacking large-scale structure, which may or may not actually appear like a drippy, shapeless mass). I am learning new words everyday!

Open Access publication message

scientific ratWe, scientists, create, provide and judge the science presented to journals. While we are not paid by the publishers, we pay to get access to this science.

Publishers who concentrate more and more journals within a few companies use their oligopoly to charge more and more and earn tremendous amounts of money. They use a snobbism about impact factors and the tyranny this exerts on the career of young scientists.

We can dilute this power in a simple way. Open access is the only answer. Whenever I have to choose one reference out of several, I shall from now on choose a reference to a paper that I and my readers can access freely on the Internet PubMed. If we all do that, we shall push the impact factor of those journals (printed or not) which do not grudge us.

If you agree with this message diffuse it.

(message originally from Pr Jacques E. Dumont, IRIBHM, ULB ; links are from myself)