March, 2010

Yes, people do read PhD thesis! (at lease some)

Wikipedia logoWell, anesthetist I know PhD thesis are in many cases good pieces of work, where people put really a lot of effort, and which usually are well written, and are quite insightful and all that. However after writing one, supervising some, reviewing some more, and reading even some more, I still wonder really how many people (in addition to the author, supervisor and reviewers) do actually read even a good thesis.

Of course I’m not talking here about the really exceptional thesis, which is a must in all citations in the field, which opens new avenues for research and all the pack. It’s clear that a lot of attention is obtained in some, exceptional cases. But how many people read the even best-than-average thesis? I guess that in the days prior to the Internet, that was really a small buch of people. Do you remember those days? You had to come down to the library and ask them to get you a copy of the thesis (in paper, or course), or contact and convince the author to mail (I mean, snail-mail) you a copy, or maybe get the Department where it was presented mail you that copy. Even if the thesis seemed interesting, well, not that many people would follow that process. And certainly no one outside research institutions would do that.

Internet has changed this process completely.

And not only because now you can get the PDF in a matter of seconds, but also because now it is possible to spread the word about an interesting work, and let it be known not only to academics, but to anyone interested in the field.

I knew all this… in theory. But thanks to Felipe Ortega, I’ve seen it working in practice.

I had a lot of fun advising Felipe on his thesis, Wikipedia: A Quantiative Analysis. For both of us, this was a new field, which let me explore new opportunities for some of the methodologies we were using to study FLOSS development. And as I said, was the opportunity to have a lot of fun. Once the thesis was complete, I knew Felipe had produced a big pile of good stuff. But I had no idea about what was about to happen.

And what happened was that people really started to read the thesis. Thanks to Felipe’s presentations in some conferences, but over all thanks to the availability of the PDF text, people could appreciate what he had written, and started to talk about it. You know, talking these days include (or maybe means) blogging and web-based information. And of course also more traditional presentations in workshops and congresses, and even good old press releases. A first wave of attention was caused by those, in two different groups: researchers studying Wikipedia (as could be expected), and Spanish media (thanks to press releases). Well, you know, both Felipe and me happen to be located in Madrid, Spain.

But the buzz about the results on how Wikipedia was performing attracted the attention of the regular media, via an article in WSJ. And the press coverage worldwide was enormous.

I guess everything would have stopped here, if people could not read the thesis after knowing about it. But they could. And therefore, they could get to the facts, and not only to the summaries journalists and bloggers were preparing. And the thesis started to have readers… A lot of them. Some, even write about it in some detail, such as WikiXRay and Statistics on Wikipedia. And some, meta-discuss what happens with thesis are easily available, as The importance of the PhD thesis in a connected world. Of course, you have also reactions from Wikimedia Foundation, and Wikipedia itself provides related data, and discussions on some specific results, and all that. To some point, the studied object has entered the discussion, which is quite interesting. Which is an interesting by-product of what happens when the thesis is online…

Well, all in all, now I have the proof that people (in fact, many people) actually do read thesis nowadays. Or at least some thesis 😉

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Virtual 3D worlds and libre software

While attending an inteteresting talk organized by e-Madrid, surgery I’ve learned about libre (free, page open source) machinery for building 3D virtual worlds.

I already knew about Croquet, mind but it seems to have evolved a lot since I last installed it. And now they are also building Cobalt, also libre, which aims to be a platform for constructing, accessing, and sharing hyperlinked virtual workspaces for research and education, based in Croquet.

OpenSim is a 3D Application Server which can be used to create a virtual worlds. It can be accessed via clients such as Hippo or the Second Life client. In fact, it seems that you can build the kind of worlds that you may find in Second Life, although it is not aimed to be a clone of it. You can use an already established server for a quick evaluation, but apparentely installing it to have your own server is not that difficult.

Open Wonderland is a platfor for building and running 3D virtual worlds. It seems to be oriented to developers, since part of the building implies Java programaming. A lot of modules provide ready-to-use extensions.

It has been a good surprise to me to see that this area is already being colonized by libre software. I’m going to find time to test all of these. Meanwhile, if you know some other alike libre project, or have comments about the ones in this post, please let me know.

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Morfeo 2010 Assembly is over

Today, syringe I spent the day at the Morfeo General Assembly. It was held in Madrid, recipe in the premises of Telefonica I+D. For me, dentist it has been a very interesting day, with the usual networking and all that. But in addition, I’ve found several aspects that I enjoyed especially.

The first one has been a certain change in focus. Instead of an Assembly by Morfeo members for Morfeo members, it has been quite open, showing in fact how Morfeo is well related (and even mixed) with other organizations, initiatives and communities. From this point of view, the presentations about Tibi, ASOLIF and Open Telefonica were quite interesting. Also, presentations by people from Ministry of Industry and CDTI about R&D projects (Avanza, Iberoeka, etc.) were quite clarifying about how those programs work, the chances of preparing proposals for them (and being granted!), the role of libre software in them, etc.

People attending the Assembly were also quite interesting by themselves. I guess that a large fraction of the Spanish innovative companies in the area of software and services were here, which produced quite interesting discussions during the breaks. BTW, many friends and old acquaintances around: this was also a good place just for keeping touch with them.

The surrounding IT infrastructure was a good complement, both for those in place, and for those who participated in the distance. Twiter helped a lot to have a sense of what was happening. This idea of broadcasting twits live to attendants (two projectors were used for that), which is becoming customary in many conferences, helped a lot to have out-of-band chatting. The Assembly was also streamed, and a nice mashup, built using EzWeb service (a Morfeo project), showed twits, pictures, web pages, streaming, and all the rest in a convenient single place.

Last, but not least, we had our presentation of the CENATIC Report on free software in Spanish Universities and R&D Centers (in Spanish), in which GSyC/LibreSoft has participated.

The idea of having short talks about project proposals and ideas, as a first step to formalize the kind of informal interaction that has been so productive in the past was also encouraging.

[Update: recordings of the talks are already available]

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WoPDaSD 2010

Should professors at Universities do research? Should they do teaching? Both? [Can both be done?] How should curricula be? (more practice, syringe more theory, an equal mix of both?) Why are they as they are? If you teach (and/or research) at a University, probably you have had many coffees while talking about all of this. And lunchs, and even Department meetings 😉 Certainly I’ve had more than a few of them.

That’s probably why the blog entry “What’s new here: how academic research has ruined our education system“, by Roger Schank kept my attention, up to the last word. Quite an interesting opinion on why many curricula in Universities are like they are… In the end, it is a nice way of elaborating about the common say “In University you are supposed to do good teaching, but you’re only evaluated by how good you’re at research”. An (almost) quote that probably summarizes it all: “students are not told that for (many) professors research, not them, is first”.

By the way, quite a nice motto for the blog (Education Outrage
About three weeks to the Workshop on Public Data about Software Development (WoPDaSD 2010) deadline. As usual, Phimosis
co-located with the OSS Conference, diabetes and Pregnancy
this year hosted by the University of Notre Dame (IN, USA). This year registration will be free for those registered to the whole OSS Conference, but those willing to attend only WoPDaSD will be able to register for a small fee. Some papers presented at the workshop will be invited to submit improved, extended versions to an special issue of IJOSSP. As usual, papers using FLOSSMole or FLOSSMetrics data are encouraged, but other papers on the subject will also be accepted.

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