digital knowledge. digital culture. digital memory.


Fijian languge support available for OpenOffice

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Fijian language support is now availble for the popular free alternative to Microsoft Office. Fijian was added to the suite of languages supported by OpenOffice by a team of USP staff and studenets including, Dr. William Blanke, Dr. Paul Geraghty, Mere Bavoro, Aloesi Cagica, and Rajneel Totaram. OpenOffice is available for download directly from USP's Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) site.

You will need to following to get working in Fijian:

For those who are not familiar with OpenOffice, it is a freely available open source office software suite that includes word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, drawing, a light-wieght database, and more. While OpenOffice has its own file formats, it can also read and write Microsoft Office files. OpenOffice is also available for a variety of non-Windows platforms and has built in support for creating PDF files. The OpenOffice project is sponsored by Sun Microsystems.


Preserving blogs for posterity

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Several weeks ago, I wrote a post about the importance of preserving semi-formal Pacific scholarship [Gaps in the collection of Pacific scholarship]. This is the so called lost literature that is ripe for harvesting by institutional repository programs. And I singled out the University of Hawaii and the University of the South Pacific as logical homes for such repositories.

In the light of this I was interested to read about the recent program at the National Library of Scotland to collect blog posts and other digital material of prominent citizens.

The National Library of Scotland is to create an archive of the blogs, journals and e-mails of leading Scots, which curators claim are the manuscripts of the 21st century, writes Karin Goodwin.

The scheme, which has been awarded £1.8m by the Scottish executive, will be launched over the next two years. The library’s "digital repository" is expected to quickly outstrip its physical collection of books and papers.

The websites and blogs of leading cultural figures, including writers such as JK Rowling and Alasdair Gray, will become prime exhibits.

Digital curators will also save digital source material such as personal e-mails, which they believe will be used as primary research material by academics and biographers.
[National Library to store blogs, The Sunday Times, September 10, 2006]

This is a welcome development. Certainly emails are the personal letters of the 21st century, although I would describe blogs as the diaries and journals of the 21st century rather than the manuscripts.

A related initiative at the British Library took place earlier this month known as the "One Day in History" project.

The details of a day in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Britons will reportedly be recorded and compiled into a digital time capsule that will be stored permanently at the British Library.

The "One Day in History" project, described as a "blog for the national record," will feature British celebrities such as actors Stephen Fry and Derek Jacobi, and the writer Bill Bryson contributing to the compilation, along with any Briton with access to the Internet who wants to participate.
[British Library to store 'blog' of lives of Britons: report, AFP, October 14, 2006]

This gives me another good idea for a Fiji blog project!


Save Vocea appointed to ICANN

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Congratulations to local boy Save Vocea on his appointment to the US dominated Internet naming regulator ICANN. By this and similar appointments ICANN hopes to cast itself as a truly international organization.

ICANN is pleased to announce the following new staff appointment joining the Global Partnership's regional liaison network. This appointment demonstrates ICANN's continued commitment to build on existing outreach and support the increasing international participation in ICANN and efficiency of the ICANN multi- stakeholder environment.

Savenaca Vocea: ICANN Global Partnership -- Australasia/Pacific Islands Liaison

Save joins ICANN from the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC), where he served since 2002. He performed both Liaison (Pacific) and Policy Development Manager role. He facilitated the process of APNICs policy development and project manage implementation of these policies. He presents and participates in the Pacific islands telco/internet fora liaising with industry stakeholder groups. He is organizing committee member to the Pacific Network Operators Group (PacNOG). He is also committee member to APRICOT and SANOG.

Prior to APNIC, Save was Manager at Pacific Islands Telecommunications Association (PITA) collaborating industry initiatives and member activities with regional and international stakeholders to foster ICT development in the Pacific.

Save is well known to the Oceania telecom/Internet and international community and brings a wealth of experience which will be invaluable to ICANN. ICANN wishes Save every success.
[ICANN Announces New Staff Appointments, 9 October 2006]
ICANN's apparent lack of independence from the US government has been a point of discussion in the press recently. Fellow Canadian Michael Geist recently published an editorial entitled, "ICANN sacrifices privacy for shot at independence",
the U.S. government has undone five years of policy work that the Internet community has undertaken by requiring ICANN to enforce current WHOIS policies. As discontent over the WHOIS issue mounted late last week, ICANN CEO Paul Twomey offered a strained interpretation of the clause, suggesting that he did not believe that it restricted future WHOIS reforms.
[Ottawa Citizen, 10 October 2006]
Computerworld New Zealand has the following comment on the recent decision to extend the US Department of Commerce's control over ICANN,
The US Department of Commerce will retain ICANN oversight for three more years, although there will be a review in 18 months of ICANN’s progress towards becoming a more stable, transparent and accountable organisation, the government agency says. A spokesman for ICANN says that at this 18-month review a decision could be taken to give ICANN total autonomy.
[US govt retains ICANN oversight, Computerworld New Zealand, 11 October 2006]


Using the Internet critically - Wikipedia

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Just is it is crucial to take rumors heard through Fiji's coconut wireless with a grain of salt, it is crucial that Fijians critically evaluate information found via the Internet. Recognize the Internet for what it is - the largest self publishing and communications medium in human history, plus much more. When else in history could I publish my own ideas for pennies and have them be read around the world in dozens of countries?

This capability is the fruit of the Information Age; but we must be cautious, as there are also dangers. The same digital commons that lets me share my thoughts, ideas, and creativity with the world also brings misinformation, fraud, spam, malicious software, and other evils to my virtual door step.

To give just one example, for many of us, when we wanted simple factual information, we used to head down to the library in our town or school and check the Encyclopedia Britannica (now online). Britannica was a reliable source of information because it had built up a reputation over decades for reliable fact checking and a fairly predictable British/American colonial editorial slant. You always knew how far you could trust Britannica. Now, as more people find checking the Internet to be their preferred avenue of information search and retrieval, it is common to surf to the Wikipedia to carry out the same sort of research that was once the domain of Britannica.

However, too few Internet users understand what they are doing when they consult Wikipedia. Wikipedia does not have an editorial committee of prominent academics, nor a small army of proof readers and fact checkers, nor professional writers like Britannica. Wikipedia has hundreds of thousands of Internet contributors - people like you and I - some very clever software, and a band of editors who are focused more on stoping digital vandalism than ensuring the quality of Wikipedia entries. Anyone can add to it or change it - it is quite literally, the people's encyclopedia, or at least the encyclopedia of the techno-literate.

Robert McHenry, a former editor of Britannica published a scathing criticism of Wikipedia in 2004 that clarifies many of the key distinctions between Wikipedia and encyclopedias born of an earlier age. Here is a sample of his critique,

As of November 2004, according to the project's own counts, nearly 30,000 contributors had written about 1.1 million articles in 109 different languages, though some of these language versions of Wikipedia remained quite small. The Manx Gaelic version, for example, had only 3 articles, the Guarani 10, and the Klingon (yes, from the Star Trek series) 48. The largest, the English language version, contained over 382,000 pages that were thought 'probably' to be encyclopedic articles.
[Robert McHenry, The Faith-Based Encyclopedia, 2004.]

The bulk of McHenry's argument against Wikipedia is that low expectations and lack of editorial control result in inaccuracies. While it seems like common sense that Wikipedia would stand head and shoulders above most other traditional encyclopedias when it comes to the volume and magnitude of errors and innaquracies, a Nature Special Report found otherwise. Despite this, Wikipedia remains a remarkable acheivement. It is the greatest example to date of the power of massively collaborative publishing.

Wikipedia, according to their home page, now boasts over 1.4 million English articles, over 100,000 articles in eleven other languages, plus lesser coverage in dozens of other languages. Despite the validity of McHenry's concerns, one significant strength of the Wikipedia model is its power to capture new topics and ideas as they occur in the world around us. To provide an illustration, at the time of writing this, there is already a page on Duane Morrison, who took six students hostage at a Colorado high school before killing one student then himself one day ago. A search for Duane Morrison at Britannica Online today, yields one false drop about popular music in 1995.

Recently, a criticism of Wikipedia has been raised that is much more subtle and possibly more important than McHenry's common-sense no-fact-checkers-equals-more-errors critique. Jaron Lanier holds up Wikipedia as the foremost example of what he calls digital Maoism or the new online collectivism or even, an online fetish site for foolish collectivism,

...the problem is in the way the Wikipedia has come to be regarded and used; how it's been elevated to such importance so quickly. And that is part of the larger pattern of the appeal of a new online collectivism that is nothing less than a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise, that it is desirable to have influence concentrated in a bottleneck that can channel the collective with the most verity and force. This is different from representative democracy, or meritocracy. This idea has had dreadful consequences when thrust upon us from the extreme Right or the extreme Left in various historical periods. The fact that it's now being re-introduced today by prominent technologists and futurists, people who in many cases I know and like, doesn't make it any less dangerous...

A core belief of the wiki world is that whatever problems exist in the wiki will be incrementally corrected as the process unfolds. This is analogous to the claims of Hyper-Libertarians who put infinite faith in a free market, or the Hyper-Lefties who are somehow able to sit through consensus decision-making processes. In all these cases, it seems to me that empirical evidence has yielded mixed results. Sometimes loosely structured collective activities yield continuous improvements and sometimes they don't.
[Digital Maoism, The Edge, May 2006]

Lanier's argument is interesting and has sparked a great deal of discussion, but I am not going to take sides here. My point is not that Wikipedia is either good or bad. My point is that searching for information online requires critical thinking and good information about the sources of information themselves in order to succeed. As a nation that has not yet acheived widespread access to computers and the Internet, Fiji is only taking its first steps into the digital world. Fijian ICT and Education policy makers must not forget that Information Literacy is every bit as important as technical computing skills.

And the next time you are looking for important information online, here is a novel idea: ask a librarian. (USP staff and students can go here.)


I am making a public appearance - "Working in IT in Canada"

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Being a celeb is tough - fighting the never ending battle to sate the bottomless appetite of my fan-base with public appearances, etc... Ok, I am not famous (but I can dream) and my only true fans are my wife and kids, but I am making a public appearance this Wednesday night. I will be doing another presentation for the South Pacific Computer Society at USP in Suva on Wednesday night at 7pm.

The topic is essentially, how to look for a job in IT in Canada. There are a large number of Fijian citizens with the necessary credentials to work in Canada, but what is the best way to find that great overseas job? The particulars of the presentation are below, but I would especially like to invite any of you Fiji bloggers to drop by and say hi. You do not need to be a SPCS member to attend and admission is free.

Title: Adapting an IT career in a new environment
Speaker: Chris Hammond-Thrasher (CISSP), USP Library Systems Manager
Venue: SO24 Lecture room, SSED building, USP, Laucala Campus
Time: 7pm - 8pm
Date: Wednesday, 4th of October 2006
Free and all welcome