Aaron Swartz would have turned 32 November 8th. He died five years and 10 months ago, and since then, like this weekend, the annual Aaron Swartz weekend takes place with all kinds of hackathons and events in his memory. At the time of his suicide Swartz was being prosecuted for downloading material in bulk from JSTOR, a scientific papers archive (even though he had legitimate access to it).

In 2014 the Smart New World exhibition took place in Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, which Elmine and I visited. Part of it was the installation “18.591 Articles Sold By JSTOR for $19 = $353.229” with those 18.591 articles printed out, showing what precisely is behind the paywall, and what Swartz was downloading. Articles, like those shown, from the 19th century, since long in the public domain, sold for $19 each. After Swartz’ death JSTOR started making a small percentage of their public domain content freely accessible, limited to a handful papers per month.

The Düsseldorf exhibit was impressive, as it showed the volumes of material, but the triviality of most material too. It’s a long tail of documents with extremely low demand, being treated equally as recent papers in high demand.

Smart New World

Smart New World Smart New World
Smart New World Smart New World
Smart New World

Scientific journal publishers are increasingly a burden on the scientific world, rent-seeking gatekeepers. Their original value added role, that of multiplication and distribution to increase access, has been completely eroded, if not actually fully reversed.

Some links I thought worth reading the past few days

  • On how blockchain attempts to create fake scarcity in the digital realm. And why banks etc therefore are all over it: On scarcity and the blockchain by Jaap-Henk Hoepman
  • Doc Searl’s has consistently good blogposts about the adtech business, and how it is detrimental to publishers and citizens alike. In this blogpost he sees hope for publishing. His lists on adverts and ad tech I think should be on all our minds: Is this a turning point for publishing?
  • Doc Searl’s wrote this one in 2017: How to plug the publishing revenue drain – The Graph – Medium
  • In my information routines offline figures prominently, but it usually doesn’t in my tools. There is a movement to put offline front and center as design principle it turns out: Designing Offline-First Web Apps
  • Hoodie is a backendless tool for building webapps, with a offline first starting point: hood.ie intro
  • A Berlin based company putting offline first as foremost design principle: Neighbourhoodie – Offline First
  • And then there are Service Workers, about which Jeremy Keith has just published a book: Going Offline
  • Haven’t tested it yet, but this type of glue we need much more of, to reduce the cost of leaving silos, and to allow people to walk several walled gardens at the same time as a precursor to that: Granary

In the past months I have increasingly read books from independent authors that self-publish. It seems there is a growing supply of it, and of increasing quality.

Fellow nerd Peter Kaptein has been cutting his own path into the writing jungle, and I enjoy following his reports on his blog and on Facebook chronicling his musings, struggles and process. Likewise here at home it is exciting to see my wife finally giving in to her lifelong urge and start writing stories, after getting a huge burst of motivation from following a training on methods and tools. It is what allowed her to see writing as artisanship and thus well within her own scope.

Today I read the book Remanence from indie US writer Jennifer Foehner Wells (twitter). Remanence is the sequel to Fluency which I read sometime last year. Remanence was published yesterday, and provided me with a good, exciting and relaxing read this weekend. I was originally attracted to Fluency because it promised a linguist at the heart of a hard scifi story (who else to crack the Universe’s lingua franca?). The follow-up provided techno-collapse to pre-industrial level, ecosystems gone haywire and space faring squids finding out they weren’t as free as they thought.

fluency remanence
Fluency, and its sequel Remanence

Independent writers are learning to embrace the affordances that global connectivity provides, and directly creating their own audience, distribution channels and brands, much like indie musicians before them.

It’s not that regularly published SF isn’t interesting or fun. As long as I’m able to explore or be surprised by what I find in terms of perspectives etc. Such as around new year when I hugely enjoyed the two SF novels from Chinese writer Liu Cixin (his Chinese blog). His Three Body Problem, and the follow-up Dark Forest are both great reads with a first encounter in a game world, a quantum-enabled block on human science development and a solution for the Fermi paradox. Already looking forward to the third installment becoming available in English later this year.

threebodyproblem
darkforest
Three Body Problem, and its sequel Dark Forest