In silico veritas.

Wherefore page numbers?

Posted: December 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Tech | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

Chris Meadows at TeleRead cites a TechCrunch piece by Sarah Lacy on the lack of a reliable citation solution for e-books:

While there are a number of possible reasons one might think paper books are better than e-books (including aroma), Lacy’s reason comes down to simple annoyance at a lack of page numbers. In particular, she found herself at a loss for how to cite books she read on Kindle in her academic papers.

In the follow-up discussion of the article, some readers point out that the Chicago Manual of Style offers a guide to citing e-books […] And it includes an example of a “Kindle edition”. A “location” number would seem to be a perfect example of an “other” number. In fact, it might even be more useful than a page number, because the “location” would be about the same no matter which device you read a Kindle e-book on, whereas a page number only applies to one specific version of the printed book.

There are MLA and APA guidelines to citing e-books, too, though neither of them expressly mentions (that I can find) what to do about a book that has no page numbering. But I imagine “location number” would suffice in those cases too, especially with some explanation to the professor of the nature of the source.

While both TechCrunch and TeleRead are right to examine the real problem posed to current academic citation conventions by reflowable digital documents, it seems to me that there’s a serious case of missing the forest for the trees here.

Despite all the digital ink spilled on the topic, neither Meadows nor Lacy mentions the perhaps too-obvious reasoning for page-number-centric citation — to facilitate quick fact-checking for peer or professorial review. When you have a medium that allows for instantaneous word and text-string searches, why do you need to know the page number? You can determine if a particular quotation in a paper is actually in the cited work literally as quickly as you can type. As semantic search technologies in particular mature, it’ll become easier than ever to determine the veracity of a particular citation even in cases of paraphrasing.

Now, I might very well be over-trivializing the issue, but I can’t for the life of me understand why, as Lacy puts it in her TechCrunch post, Amazon has “to design for it [the academic market]” by correlating Kindle “locations to “real page numbers” (which, as Meadows rightly points out, are a nebulous concept at any rate). It seems even now, in the age of the iPad and Kindle, we’ll have to wait for yet wider adoption of e-books and tablets/readers before we stop mentally forcing e-books into the print paradigm of consumption. Once we begin to recognize the full implications of instantaneous search and annotation in e-books, I suspect we’ll wonder how we ever lived without them.

[Image: Flickr/bjornmeansbear]

Latter-day learning

Posted: November 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Education, Tech | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Responding to this New York Times feature, MG Siegler reflects on learning in an age of constant connectivity:

I’m tempted to be cautious in the way I say this, but I can’t come up with a real reason to be, so I’ll just say it: I have definitely learned a lot more on the Internet than I ever did in high school.

High school, at least when I attended it, was much more about learning social skills than educational information. The education side of things was more like one big game. You had to figure out how to play the game so you could get into a good college. It was about memorizing things for tests that you’d forget a week later, and figuring out how you could do your homework in the free period before the class in which it was due. I more or less remember nothing from high school beyond the times I spent with friends. And I know I’m not alone there.

One major problem with high school learning is that you are forced to take certain classes which you couldn’t care less about. I understand that the rationale behind this is that it makes you a more “full” person, and you might learn you love something that you didn’t realize you would. But that mentality is from a pre-connected world. I would guess that a lot of students these days know what they’re really passionate about at a much earlier age, thanks to the Internet.

Certain people will need to go to places of higher education for the access those institutions have to tools that a person would otherwise not be able to get access to. And there’s no denying the value of a good teacher/professor. And certain people will definitely always benefit from the combination of social environment mixed with structured learning. But not everyone learns the same way.

If you’re a self-starter, why shouldn’t you be able to get your education on the web? Because there are too many distractions?

I personally find it remarkable that it’s 2010 and we haven’t yet had a serious discussion along these lines. MG’s summary hit the nail on the head in my case.

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Of college degrees and start-ups

Posted: October 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Education, Tech | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Former classmate Ben Casnocha has some astonishing statistics up at his blog about the underemployment of degree-holders across the spectrum:

Over 317,000 waiters and waitresses have college degrees (over 8,000 of them have doctoral or professional degrees), along with over 80,000 bartenders, and over 18,000 parking lot attendants. All told, some 17,000,000 Americans with college degrees are doing jobs that the BLS says require less than the skill levels associated with a bachelor’s degree.

That’s from this piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, via Jon Bischke on Twitter. […] For hundreds of thousands of Americans, spending four years and untold amounts of money (and debt?) gets you a job as a waiter, parking lot attendant, or janitor. Yet everyone from Barack Obama to Bill Gates keep pushing a college education as the way to secure one’s economic future. That is a view that should be heavily qualified.

Pivoting off this information, TechCrunch’s Sarah Lacy covers an intriguing Founder Institute presentation (with video) from angel investor Mike Maples about resisting the urge to give in to the predominant build-it-and-flip-it culture in the Valley right now:

In the talk below, Maples walks you through three examples he invested in: ngmoco, which did a pricing pivot; Chegg, which did a product pivot; and Odeo/Twitter, which did an entire company pivot. Maples doesn’t do that thing that startup PR departments love. He doesn’t sugar coat how horrifying and uncertain these moves were at the time. He doesn’t make the startups or investors sound like they’d seen the future through some magical product/market oracle. He shows that each of these pivots were made out of semi-desperation, and he talks about how risky each move was. In each case the entrepreneurs had something, but not enough to make a big business and they had to throw that thing they’d already slaved over away in order to get to the larger business. Watch the video for the details.

I keep hearing from other super angels out raising funds that LPs are ga-ga over Maples and until this talk I wasn’t sure why. Now, I get it. In one talk, he details severals ways his investing model is distinct from the broader super angel movement: He still believes this business is about homeruns. He still believes you have to have a business model. He believes product fit isn’t just lots of people using your product, it’s about being able to make money delivering it, otherwise, it’s “wasted innovation.” He still believes that huge upside usually requires huge, gut-wrenching risk.

On the one hand, a college degree generally (but especially in economics or business) instills the kind of attention to detail and perspective that would give potential entrepreneurs a good idea of how to craft a solid business model — and, more importantly, to know when to “pivot” (that is, transition) to a new state of doing business in order to make the business a sustainable entity. Of course, anyone who knows Ben knows that he has repeatedly extolled the idea of self-education for those highly predisposed towards curiosity and motivation, so it’s clearly not required for everyone. But for the vast majority of entrepreneurs, is a college degree still required to achieve something greater than a build-it-and-flip-it product?