Thanks to Newsweek for Having Me at News/Geek

Just a quick, 24-hours-overdue thanks to the folks at the Newsweek Dev Team for hosting me last night at their third News/Geek event.

I had a rollicking good time, the questions were awesome, and the post-talk celebration was even better. If you want the Powerpoint, it’s here in all its 12.2 MB glory.

Further discussion welcome.

Lessig on Colbert Report

While I’ve been on the road, I missed this very awesome interview on the Colbert Report:

Props to EFF for the link.

NYT Story on R, the Open Source Stats Program

In the summer of 2005, I attended a 2 week course at the Annenberg Sunnylands’ Institute in Statistics and Methodology (ASIMS, aka “Stats Camp”) in Palm Desert, CA. I took the class on regression and ANOVA, taught (very well) by Wharton stats professor Bob Stine, used the statistical program R.

Out of dissatisfaction with the very high prices and very poor customer service of SPSS ($200 for Grad Pack v. 11, another $200 for v. 16, only to be told that the ridiculous number of bugs in v. 16 would only be solved in future releases–requiring yet another license), I’ve been thinking I should fully migrate to R but have done little in this direction. Then, I discovered this Times story about R software, complete with glowing reviews from people at big deal companies–for instance, Hal Varian, chief economist at Google.

R is a little intimidating for those not entirely at home with non-graphic computing interfaces (think DOS instead of Windows) and those who know little about statistics. For a teaching situation in a resource-strapped environment, for instance, these are not insurmountable obstacles. I would still recommend R as rather usable given a little patience for anybody who needs to do serious data analysis, and it’s even usable in almost any teaching environment that requires anything more sophisticated than Excel.

For texts, Stine used John Fox’s Applied Regression (now in a 2d edition) with his R and S Plus Companion. This text was quite helpful, and while I’m particularly enthusiastic to try new software and fairly good at learning statistics, I think everyone caught on and got a lot out of the class. More importantly than the software package, we all learned a lot about the process of data analysis using regression, and in my case, this knowledge has stayed with me even as I’ve used SPSS for the past few years.

One of the best parts about using R was that we used Fox’s “Companion to Applied Regression” (CAR) package, which was highly tailored to the kinds of work we did in the class. (See John Fox’s homepage for this and other helpful links, including a similar summer quickie class that Fox taught.) Think of it as a plugin. 

SPSS charges outrageous prices for their Regression package (less so when bundled with the Grad Pack, but still), but this was free–and, in my opinion, superior on most counts. This add-on is just one of thousands available, all for free. As the Times notes, a lot of the R packages are tailored to exceptionally complicated tasks, such as econometrics and biostatistics.

This is how open source software gets popular. Once you have a critical mass of users who are invested enough to do some work to improve a package, the distributed innovation can quickly outpace the work done at the labs behind even expensive proprietary software. See Benkler’s Wealth of Networks for more on this.

As for me, I’m seriously bunkered into SPSS for my dissertation research–it’s easier to work around the bugs for now than to re-learn an entirely new package–so I’m not making the 2-footed jump for a good bit. The article reminded me to download R, though, and I’ll get back into it very soon, I’m sure.

If I can get better software for free, why not?

Occasionally Free

Interesting article at the Independent about giving away free music downloads:

The record industry has reached a strange pass when it makes more economic sense to give away an entire album than to spend the money needed to persuade people to buy it. But, when it comes to the process of downloading, it seems that the cost of providing tracks and the profit margins from them are slender enough often to make giving music away the only worthwhile option.

Also links to Free Albums Galore, mostly featuring obscure bands, but also hosting the likes of a Smashing Pumpkins album that Virgin had refused to release.

Phila Weekly covers FreeCulture protest

In today’s Philadelphia Weekly, on page 18, there’s a picture of me holding a flyer that says “Are you buying a dangerous CD?”

Flyering in front of Tower Records

The story, Copy Cats, is another great media clipping covering the antics of FreeCulture.org.

Saturday, we were protesting outside Tower Records on South St.

We believe that the major music labels are using deceptive business practices and stealing legal rights from consumers. They cripple more and more new CDs with digital rights management technologies. In the most egregious case, Sony infected millions of computers by installing malicious, hidden software (a “rootkit“) onto Windows computers of users who merely inserted a Sony music CD.

I have to publicly admit that, even though I am the one pictured, I deserve little credit for the protest. FreeCulture Swarthmore students organized it; I just showed up.

I guess I was the most menacing presence. As noted in the article, I “embarrassed” the other students and pissed off the Tower Records management.

This is just further proof that, for a group dedicated to information policy wonkdom , FCo sure is good at landing earned media.

Update: this story is now also on BoingBoing; here’s the link. Thanks, Cory.

a reminder why we do this

It is always good to remind ourselves from time to time why we do the things we do. Why we get angry about issues of copyright, why censorship is problematic, etc. Why we care about, what this website calls ‘a healthy information ecosystem.”

As a response to Jimbo Wales’ (founder of Wikipedia) ten things that will be free, Charles Nesson (founder of the Berkman Center) writes – and, pardon me but, could language be more beautiful?

“More people come to see that yes, we are in new reality. Core insight about the structure of the net come clear. We can connect with whom we want, if only they want to connect with us. We can build structures in the net out of software that make connection productive and fun. People who like to connect like to share. People who like to share like to trust. The net provides us ways of doing this, ways that are interesting and powerful. In the battle of good and evil rhetoric strucures the game. It plays like poker, with rhetorical chips, stacked in story strength.

The force is that will draw us forward toward the expressions of free culture Jimbo describes is evolution determined by the architecture of cyberspace. In an environment that facilitates sharing, those who learn to do it well will have competitive advantage. We are building self-sustaining software structures that facilitate aggregation of shared value. We can build more, with near boundless aspiration.”

Those who like to connect like to share. Those who like to share like to trust. Principal foundations of a healthy information ecosystem.