Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Open Knowledge and Wikipedia

Catch Up

I need to write a summary of Week 8.  I have been busy at work, I have been busy at home and I have been busy on the golf course.  I haven’t devoted the time that I should have to the week, so now here I am at the end of Week 8 and I had a lot of catching up to do.

I am fascinated by Wikipedia.  I have used the site time and time again over the last two or three years and never really thought too much about veracity, quality, gender bias, management of the site and who does and does not contribute.  I have never made a contribution.  Perhaps I should one day.  Recently I visited the site of some dinosaur footprints in Zimbabwe and found something original that I could contribute to Wikipedia.  However, not for now as I am too busy on this course – and as I have stated already, other activities in my abnormally busy life of a 70 year old.


I read Tom Simonite’s critical comments about Wikipedia, and yes, there just has to be some holes that need filling.   His report is not concise but it is surely complete.  Titled 'The Decline of Wikipedia' he complains largely of the quality of information, the disillusionment of many of the contributors, the gender bias of the contributors and the authoritarian management by the administrators.

From the Editor

Then I listened to Jake Orlowitz - a Wikipedia editor and administrator.  His passion for his work is obvious.  I liked his talk about the Medical facts, the opportunities and challenges of producing information that is of high quality and most of all, correct.   One of my friends went to the doctor the other day and was told he had the beginnings of what might be a cholesterol problem.  His doctor told him to search the web for information on diet.  He found what he wanted on Wikipedia.  Hopefully the information was correct, but then every dietician and health fanatic has a different take on what we should and shouldn't eat.

In a You-tube video titled Community, Cooperation, and Conflict in Wikipedia – with John Riedl a report was provided but at 1.25 hours long and my limited internet speed, this was not reviewed by me.


To summarise my view – for ordinary people like me to ‘find what I’m looking for’ in sometimes very obscure requirements for knowledge, Wikipedia definitely offers a starting point.

The originators and the current management team must be commended for their vision of a world in which every person on the planet shares the sum of all human knowledge

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Open Knowledge Week Six - Open Science, Data, Access, Scholarship

Michael Nielsen

I wrote about Michael Nielsen in a previous blog.  Suffice it so say he was our introduction to this week's work.

Next came a video that was 1.25 hours long and too long for me.  If you want to look at it here's the link.  This was a recent discussion/debate on Open Knowledge   https://class.stanford.edu/courses/Education/OpenKnowledge/Fall2014/courseware/c7433bd5ef7d4839b1aa91151e7e8d8d/08a1769a9370441a8103c83558c16a30/

David Cameron Neylon

Neylon - an Australian - took us through "From Network Architecture to Concrete Action".  He was riveting in his enthusiasm.  I have but one reservation.  Neylon assumes that we are all doing research for the common good (otherwise we wouldn’t get the funding) but what of some scientists doing research not for the common good.  After all, Openheimer was funded to create the atomic bomb and in the end it may have saved lives but it created the most destructive force on this earth.

And there are destructive people out there.  Many of them.  I won’t politicise this debate by naming them or their organisations.  The fact is they are there and they could use ‘Open Access’ for destructive means.

How do we deal with that?

Jack Andraka

Andraka is a 16 year old who, through Open Access came up with a way to detect pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancer in a new inexpensive and foolproof way.  If this doesn't sell 'Open Access' nothing will.

Towards another Scientific Revolution was a paper that brought all the video material in to focus. http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-00026-8_1/fulltext.html

Peter Suber

Peter Suber has written a book on the subject of Open Access.  He is easy to read and clearly an expert in his field.  Apart from the book, he lectures on OA around the world and has submitted many contributions to the Internet in the past.  Some excerpts from his book

“Digital technologies have created more than one revolution. Let’s call this one the access revolution”

“Imagine a tribe of authors who write serious and useful work, and who follow a centuries-old custom of giving it away without charge. I don’t mean a group of rich authors who don’t need money. I mean a group of authors defined by their topics, genres, purposes, incentives, and institutional circumstances, not by their wealth. In fact, very few are wealthy. For now, it doesn’t matter who these authors are, how rare they are, what they write, or why they follow this peculiar custom. It’s enough to know that their employers pay them salaries, freeing them to give away their work, that they write for impact rather than money, and that they score career points when they make the kind of impact they hoped to make. Suppose that selling their work would actually harm their interests by shrinking their audience, reducing their impact, and distorting their professional goals by steering them toward popular topics and away from the specialized questions on which they are experts”

There was one other highlight in the reference to the Budapest Open Access Initiative which lays down guidelines for OA.  

Crowd Science

Finally here's a link to a very interesting article on 'Crowd Science' and some of the projects that have worked in the recent past.

It seems to me that OA is here and here to stay.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Michael Nielsen and Open Science


This is a 2006 Ted Presentation.  Michael Nielsen talks first about the Polymath problem which was initiated by a mathematician at Cambridge University – Tim Gowers.  Gowers posed a mathematical problem on his blog and invited others to contribute.  After a slow start the project took off and in a very short time the mathematical problem was collectively solved.

Nielsen then talks about other similar type projects which failed – the Qwiki project failed.  This was a proposal to host a Wiki site for scientists for them to share their knowledge.  But they didn’t.  Nielsen suggests that this is because of professional jealousy of a kind and where individuals seeking good jobs woukld not share their knowledge lest they fail to secure the good jobs they are seeking.  He goes on to describe how scientists from the past including such giants as Galileo, Newton and Da Vinci also failed to share their knowledge with other great scientists of the time.

Nielsen then goes on to suggest that scientists can be motivated to share their knowledge.  One way fo doing so is for others to always give credit to those with original ideas and discoveries.

My Take

Why don’t scientists like to collaborate?  Perhaps it is not as Nielsen suggests.  Perhaps it is because most scientists are men and men are traditionally not the kind of people who share ideas and knowledge.  It is women who are driving Facebook and now even Linked-In.  It is women who communicate sometimes with feverish abandon.  My experiences on MOOCs has been that the majority of players are women, not men.

Perhaps also when a scientist has a new idea or discovery he is not immediately convinced himself that his idea or discovery has real merit and rather than expose himself to ridicule, he hides his idea waiting to see if others can generate anything similar?

If I am anywhere right on these thoughts, then these issues also need to eb addressed to ensure the scientific collaboration works in the future.

One final thought.  

The world is being shaken by the Ebola pandemic.  What is being done, collaboratively, to find a vaccine and a cure?  Or are scientists around the world working on this problem in traditional isolation?

Monday, October 6, 2014

An Interlude with the Footprints of Dinosaurs

Day One

It is Thursday the 2nd of October 2014 and now three-thirty in the afternoon.  We have arrived, at last, at Masoka camp on the shores of the Angwa River in the Zambesi Valley. It is tranquility personified.  There is a gentle breeze flirting through the Natal Mahogany trees bringing a relative coolness to the three of us.  We are Tony Wood, an old friend and former colleague at Tulley's back in the 1980's, Andrew Scothern from England.  Andrew lives on the south coast near Poole and he is here for a fortnight because he loves Africa.  All three of us love the true Africa.  The bush, the wild, the freedom and the raw nature

We set out from Harare just after half past eight and we have travelled some 350 kilometres past the somewhat hideous National Army Defence College built some years ago by the Chinese, down the Golden Stairs road and through the Mazowe Valley once resplendent with ploughed fields, orange orchards and agricultural plenty.  Today we see some signs of land preparation for the coming rains but not much.  Then on through Mvurwi where I lived as a 6-7 year old back in 1951.  We find Mvurwi to be an untidy, unplanned, grubby village - they call it a town.  The buildings are dilapidated.  A fairly typical African township of this century.  Back in 1951 there were just three buildings of substance.  The house where we lived, the postmaster’s house next door and the post office.  A little later came a Police Station.  We manage to find our old house.  I recognise it because of the 'porthole' windows in the passageway that led from the living room to the bedrooms.  And I also recognise the double wooden garage door where one day long ago a policeman shot a rabid dog that had found its way into our unfenced garden.  And on another day a massive Egyptian Cobra.  The paint - what's left of it on the garage door - is flaking off.  There is a broken old car that surely will never move again sitting in the driveway, a woman in the garden with a little 'picanin' who looks much the age that I was in 1951.  I was the 'picanin boss' way back in 1951, so called by Gandy, the borehole pump attendant.  Gandy used to take me wandering through the bush in 1951 looking for crickets, frogs, beetles and other equatorial bugs that thrived in the lush veld.  Somehow the veld doesn't look lush today.  The veld is dry, much of it has been recently burned by bush fires, there is rubbish everywhere in the township, on the road verges, in the vicinity of buildings. 

We drive on to Guruve - formerly Sipolilo.  Today the road is 20 foot tarmac all the way.  In 1951 it was nothing but dirt but once we pass through Guruve the road narrows and eventually the tarmac is so broken that we drive on the far left on the dirt.   We pass the farm where I learned to swim with Mrs Francis and her son Malcolm who was my first real friend.  Malcolm and his daughter were brutally murdered on the farm only six months ago.  We reach the top of the Zambesi Escarpment and stop for a cup of coffee and a pee.  Then on down the road which long ago used to be known as the 'Alpha Trail'.  Now though we are on good tarmac road.

Soon we are down at Mahuwe.  I visited Mahuwe as a Section Leader of a Police Anti-Terrorist Unit in 1973.  Then it was just a Tsetse Fly Gate where one had to stop to have the vehicle sprayed for Tsetse Fly before proceeding southwards up the escarpment.  Today it is much more.  A Police Camp, a Post Office, a school and several stores selling basic groceries and beer.

The bush seems different.  Very sparse.  I recall in 1973 one could not really see much more than 100-200 metres because the bush was so thick.  But as we move on so the bush returns to its old self.  I realise that the bush around Mahuwe has been partially denuded by human hand whereas beyond it has not yet met such fate.  I am reminded of flying in to Lubumbashi in the Congo some years ago.  Descending we were over thick tropical forest but as we neared Lubumbashi so the trees thinned out and by the time we arrived at the city airport there wasn't a tree to be seen.  Only huts with tin roofs and dirt roads. 

As we drive on to Mashumbi Pools on the banks of the Manyame River we pass through areas of virgin bush interspersed with human habitation.  In some places where there is habitation we see the remains of last winter’s cotton crop.  At one stage a 30 tonne lorry passes us heading towards Harare loaded to the gunwales with cotton bales.  Good to some agricultural activity.  Near Mashumbi we pass a road sign "Mr and Mrs J Nzou and family" pointing towards a traditional African kraal.

We have been travelling north towards the Zambesi but at some point we turn west and eventually we are heading South back towards the Escarpment.  The road is now a track.  Once again we pass the odd settlement in between miles and miles of virgin bush.  We are in Mopani and Baobab tree country.  Tony tells us that one of the unusual trees we see is an African Star Chestnut.  The baobabs are beautiful in their ugliness and massive size.  Andrew asks if the baobabs make good wood for fires.  No, says Tony, that's why they are still here.

From time to time near habitation we pass schoolchildren in their uniforms.  They all wave cheerfully at us and we wave back.  It is not only the schoolchildren - it is everyone who waves in cheerful salute.  We see a satellite dish at one school, solar panels at another.  Some form of technological advancement gets everywhere it seems.

We stop for a bite to eat and something to drink under one of the African Star Chestnut trees which is perched on top of a massive anthill.  We are attacked by Mopani bees swarming around our eyes and ears.  We have seen thousands of weaver bird’s nests but not many birds themselves.  Tony, a bird enthusiast, tells me that they are White-Browed Sparrow Weavers.  He doesn’t particularly like them because they are so plentiful.  Perhaps the birds are resting at the moment from the heat of the mid-day sun.

And then we arrive at Masoka to be met by Mac, the owner, Teach and Animal.  Tony tells us that he booked us ahead by means of an sms to Mac who now owns this little camp on the banks of the Angwa.  Mac, Teach and Animal help us with our kit to our rooms, show us the shower and the toilet and where to hang our clothes.  Then they disappear and leave us to contemplate the view with a beer in hand.  We are free for the rest of today.  Tonight we will have curry but no rice.  Jan, Tony's wife, forgot to pack the rice!  Tony suggests we could have salted chips with the curry seeing there is no rice.

Tomorrow we have Chapter 2 of this adventure ahead of us.  Andrew does not know what lies ahead. I have some idea and nearly let the cat out of the bag in the Land Cruiser but I remember and keep it to myself for now.  Tony wants to spring a surprise on his old friend from a previous life.

Day Two

It's morning.  We had a great evening.  Tony managed to buy 2 kgs of rice at the local store for $2.00.  But before we had dinner we had much excitement.  A herd of elephant came down to the river.  The river is dry with nothing but sand to be seen.  It is a hundred and fifty or more metres wide.  Under the sand there is water which it seems has attracted the elephant.  They hung around for a half hour or more before wandering back to their preferred habitat for the night.

Later it was curry and rice a la Tony Wood.  Good wholesome stuff.  Followed for me by a few whiskeys while Tony consumed several beers before it was off to bed.

This morning it is overcast.  Tony doesn't like that.  Nor do I. We both want sunshine.  After a light breakfast we head off through the bush.  We see birds of all kinds.  A Carmine Bee-Eater, a Southern Black Tit, a Western banded snake eagle, a Racquet-tailed Roller, Boehms Spinetail and several of the ubiquitous White-Browed Sparrow weaver - some from the millions of nests visible in the trees.  The nests are all facing westward on the westward side of the trees.  Could help with navigation on an overcast day.  Why do they prefer the western facing nests?  Tony doesn't know.  Neither does his Bird-App on his phone so there is something for him to find out about them.

Two hours and sixty kilometres later, and now in bright sunshine we stop first to buy a 'visa' to enter the Chewore controlled hunting area.  I ask the Game Warden about wildlife in the hunting area.  He tells me that they used to have 400 rhinoceros but when the number dwindled through poaching to just eight, they relocated the remaining to Gona-re-Zhou in the south of the country.  But the hunting area is filled with lion, kudu, impala and other game.

A half hour later we arrive at a river bed and stop on the rocks.  There to our delight and to Andrew’s complete surprise embedded in the rock are several dinosaur footprints fossilized in the stone from several million years earlier.  It is a wonder to consider how long ago it might have been that this dinosaur that made these footprints walked the earth.  How it had walked in what was then mud that later solidified and eventually fossilized under the weight of the increasing layers of silt.  Then millions of years later the river started to flow and over the eons washed away the covering soil eventually exposing the footprints to the surface.   And today we three are some of the very fortunate few to witness them in this, one of the wildest remotest places in Africa.

If my memory serves me correctly these footprints in the stone were first discovered by Mick Raath in the mid-sixties.  Mick was a student with me in Jameson House at Prince Edward School.  On leaving school he went to the University of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and it was while he was there that he made this incredible discovery.  What kind of adrenaline rush did he experience when he first saw them, I wonder?

We take photographs, consume some biltong, swallow a litre of more of ice cold water and/or beer and then head back stopping first at a viewpoint looking south over the forest of Mopani sprinkled with a few green Msasa trees to the faraway hills in Zambia.  Then on to Murara Hill where there is an airstrip, a safari camp and a recently dead baboon.  We have also seen Kudu earlier this morning and later we see some Impala.

From Murara we head back to Masoka stopping once more on a river bank and walking into a Mahogany forest which is clearly a favourite place for elephant and buffalo judging by the amount of dung and the flattening of the grass.

Now it is four in the afternoon. We have had an experience of a lifetime to remember forever.
Tomorrow we are heading home but tonight we look forward once again to the elephants rumbling their way down to 'our' river.

Somehow I feel enriched.  The unusual sight has been well worth the tortuous ride in Tony's Land Cruiser - conveniently fitted I might add, with a very superior fridge which operates off the car battery. Hence the earlier cold water and beer!

In the dusk evening light we consume our ‘sundowners’ and later enjoy some delicious sirloin steak and chips.  Tonight we don’t see the elephant.

Day Three

We rise early, consume some coffee and muesli and pack up our bits and pieces.  The elephants appear in the river to say good-bye.  The driver’s side rear wheel is soft and Tony produces an electric pump that operates off the car battery.  We pump it up to 2.5 bars, say good-bye to Mac, Teach and Animal and head off back to Harare.  I try to read my homework from a course I am attending on the Internet.  I have pre-printed my homework but the Land Cruiser lurches along so violently that it is almost impossible.  Eventually we reach the tarmac after a tortuous two hour ride.  We stop to pump up the tyre again with the Escarpment visible in the near-distance.   At Mahuwe we are stopped by the police for a moment, then cheerfully waved on.  On and up the Alpha Trail to the top of the escarpment, through Guruve and on to Mazowe.  I gaze at the landscape.  We see acres and acres of once ploughed land, now vacant and unutilized.  In some lands the trees, stumped out years ago are showing signs of re-growth, up to two or sometimes three metres high.  There are a resurgence of ant-hills.  From time to time we see new traditional African huts have been constructed.  There is a change though.  While the roofs are all thatched, some of the hut walls are constructed with bricks.  Only here and there some small area of land has been ploughed by hand ahead of the coming rains.  No wonder Zimbabwe cannot feed itself anymore.

At Mazowe we stop at the junction which meets the Bindura-Harare road to allow for an oncoming 4 x 4 to pass, then turn right and head towards Harare.  A hundred metres on we are stopped at a Police Road Block.  A policeman asks Tony for his driver’s licence which he promptly recovers from the side door pocket.  The policeman stares at it for a few moments, then returns it.  “You did not stop at the Stop Sign” says the policeman referring to the junction 100 metres away.  Tony and I are furious at this brazen attempt to solicit a bribe – for that is what he is after.   We both tell the policeman that he is a liar and a thief and we drive on leaving him standing in the road to attempt to fleece another driver.

Here in Mazowe there is a service station and we stop once more to pump of the tyre with the slow-puncture, then head up the hill, past the Mazowe dam and on to Harare.  Our three day sojourn into the previously unknown is over.


Back home I get on to the Internet.  I am wrong about Mick Raath.  Mick was not the discoverer of the Chewore Dinosaur footprints. Mick discovered dinosaur fossils in Nyamandlovu and elsewhere in Zimbabwe but the discoverer of the Chewore footprints was an Australian on a hunting safari – a Mr Mike Aldersey.  The footprints are said to be from a 3 metre high carnivorous dinosaur called ‘Allosaurus’.  A ‘biped’ in that it walked on two legs, not four.  The site is the ‘Ntumbe River Bed’ and here are 14 footprints to be seen. Later after clearing the bush a total of forty-five footprints were discovered.  What we saw was the original 14 prints.  The site is also said to be frequented by lions and one researcher who visited the area was attacked by lions.  According to the Internet visiting Chewore without firearms is not to be recommended.   Now they tell me!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Conundrum of Open Access

“Open Access” is still something I am trying to get my head around.  John Willinsky tells us in his energetic video that he is fighting for Open Access for all educational content/articles/books.  He tells us that at present time it costs between $23 and $45 to download an educational article from, I presume, the average publishing house. Amazon, perhaps?   While it will cost the average citizen only 99c to download Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga.  The difference of course is that thousands will download Justin Bieber but only one or two academic students will download an educational publication.  It's called 'Economies of Scale'.

Now a law has been passed in the American congress that requires ‘any recipient of public funding’ who publishes an educational article to publish for free within 12 months of origination.

That seems to me to be very fair.  But what about contributors to academia who are not publicly funded?  What happens there?

On reflection I wrote a thesis way back in 1992 which now sits in the Leeds University Library.  I wrote it in fulfillment of my Masters.  My reward was not money in the bank, but an education (and a qualification) which made me a more marketable and respected provider of services to an employer.

Our University of Zimbabwe and National University of Science and Technology is, theoretically anyway, publicly funded.  Nonetheless students are not educated there for free. 

So I remain confused.  What exactly does John Willinsky mean by ‘Open Access’ and how will it affect citizen Joe as a contributor and a receiver of educational content?

Contributions welcome!