Sunday, February 14, 2010

Notes and Links

* C. S. Peirce and micrometry.

* An essay on how academia is failing graduate students; and, unfortunately, it's largely right, although some fields are worse than others. It's difficult to see that there's any way out, too. Alasdair MacIntyre talks about how institutions that are created to be instruments in the pursuit of the internal goods of practices -- like schools are instruments in pursuing the goods of education -- have a tendency to begin to take on a life of their own because they respond not only to goods internal to practices but goods external to them, as well. And it's very much the case that most of the basic institutions of the academic world have been running on auto-pilot for quite some time: practically any academic can give you a laundry list of institutional behaviors that impede the pursuit of the goods of study and research. But nobody knows what to do about it: the mine train is slowly beginning to accelerate and the brakes aren't working.

The solution is that intellectual life requires new institutions; the problem is that it is easier to recognize that new institutions are necessary than to determine what they should -- or even could -- be.

* All past episodes of Philosophers' Zone, the world's foremost philosophy-themed radio show, are available. (ht: smally)

* Jan van Eijck, Syllogistics = Montonicity + Symmetry + Existential Import (PDF)
Klaus Glashoff, Aristotelian Syntax from a Computational-Combinatorial Point of View (PDF)

* Apparently there is a new translation of The Second Sex -- and about time, since it has been known for decades that, despite its readability, there are extraordinary flaws in the Parshley translation. But apparently it's not very good.

* I am mystified by the fact that some people are surprised that people get in an uproar over the prices of ebooks; whatever reasons publishers might have, there is simply no reason obvious to consumers why a digital file should cost the same as an actual book whose price can be seen obviously to include the cost of real paper and real ink. We've been through this with music already: if the cost of the electronic version gets even too close to that of a physical version, consumers will begin to protest either with anger or with ingenious attempts to circumvent the price. In order to sell electronic versions, you have either to make them clearly cheaper than the physical version, or to provide some clear value beyond the basic product itself that consumers can see as justifying the expense. This is not based on a sense of entitlement: it's based on the anger customers feel when they begin to suspect that someone is trying to gouge or scam them. And there are plenty of people who will get the feeling that you are trying to do both when it costs fifteen dollars to click their mouse and download a file they are sure you can provide much more cheaply.

I actually wonder if a tip-jar and discount system might work better than what publishers are currently trying to do: that is, provide the electronic version fairly cheaply, but allow people to tip on books they appreciate (with the tips contractually divided between publisher and author like any other income on the book), and provide discounts on the paper version for those who have already bought electronic versions and liked them. But here again we are really dealing with newer territory than anyone likes to admit: we don't know what will work best.

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