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    Friday, October 19, 2007

    OpenOffice ups and downs

    In starting my PhD dissertation I had to make a difficult choice on what word processor to use. I've heard bad things about Microsoft Word's ability to handle large documents, and I have always disliked it because of the limited ways in which you can format paragraphs. The importance of tweaking different paragraph parameters and using consistent styles is something I really learned in Adobe Framemaker, which still remains my favorite program. I decided against it, however, in part because of problems with portability (converting to/from Word is a nightmare and some times you need to submit documents in .doc), but the thing that tipped the scale was something as simple as not being able to do multiple undos in the framemaker version I've got, and my current university not having a license for newer versions. So, I decided to go with Openoffice. I was extremely happy to find out that Openoffice offered many of the same formatting options that Framemaker does, and also heard good things about the way it handles large documents. Some months later, I'm starting to regret the choice, however. As with Framemaker's achilles heal, the devil is in the details:
    • Openoffice does not allow you to view two pages side by side while editing. This is frustrating as hell.
    • Openoffice does not allow you to cross-reference autonumbered paragraphs. This works like a charm in Framemaker, but in Openoffice you have to manually 'set reference' everywhere you want to point a cross-reference to.
    • An imported image was suddenly lost from my document. Might be just a case of "shit happens"but trust is everything in this business, and I thereby lost a big chunk of it.

    So, now I'm dreading that I some time in the future have to give up on openoffice and spend a lot of time transferring my document, formatting and all, to whatever I end up with. Oh well. As we say in Norway" "That time, that sorrow". If anyone have experience with pros and cons of differen word processor when it comes to large documents, I'd be happy to hear about them.

    Update, February 21, 2008:
    I'm back with Microsoft Word. What did it for me was that I, after so many years of doing manual referencing, finally discovered that Endnote actually is a great program. I think I used to perceive Endnote in the same way that I perceived user manuals from IKEA, but I'm over that now. What makes Endnote great, however, is the seamless integration with Word and that's what won me over. Strange how it somehow feels bad to "give in" to Microsoft.

    Update, April 23, 2008
    I somehow knew this was an ongoing process. I'm still with Word, but recently upgraded to Word 2007 and finally I'm starting to feel confident. I've seen reviews that its ability to handle large documents is vastly improved, the layout is much better, endnote integration (see above) even more seamless, and, at the end of the day, it just gives provides the reliability I need. Apperently, Microsoft isn't all bad. Still, as a computer ethicist I somehow feel bad bad about relying on Microsoft (I'm also an avid user of Outlook [!]) -- and for thinking that Google is the best thing that has happened to the Web.

    Tuesday, October 16, 2007

    Radiohead makes piracy unethical

    I recently wrote about Radiohead's release of their new album in digital form, downloadable from their Website with a price-tag that you decide yourself -- ingenious. One of the interesting consequences of this way of releasing their album is that it make piracy unethical -- beyond reasonabe doubt. One of the common arguments pro piracy (or, more politically correct, file sharing) is that sharing an mp3 file is radically different from stealing a album. The latter involves depriving someone (e.g. the record store) of their property, whereas file sharing does not. This argument has some credibility, since the claim is that we cannot simply transfer our moral judgment regarding traditional forms of stealing and apply them straightforwardly to file sharing. Importantly, however, we cannot deduce from this that that piracy is justifiable. This would be, in fact, a logical fallacy of the following form:

    If you deprive someone of their property, you are committing an act of theft
    I do not deprive someone of their property [I'm just making a copy]
    Ergo, I am not committing an act of theft (or any other moral wrong-doing)

    Obviously, the argument is invalid. Arguing in this form would be the same as claiming that killing someone with a knife is murder, but since I used a gun I did not commit murder. In order for the argument to work, the first premise would have to be a bi-conditional, or what is known as if-and-only-if (iff). If the first premise goes "If and only if you deprive someone of their property, then you are commiting an act of theft", then the argument is valid, but you would have a hard time proving the first premise. And even if that works out, you might "prove" that file sharing is not tantamount to stealing, but still there's a long way to go before showing that it is not unethical in some other way.

    Anyway, what I wanted to point out is that Radiohead has turned this around. Traditionally, many arguments pro and con file sharing have been carried out by comparison with "real life" crimes. This comparison does not hold in this case. Instead, you have to make a comparison between paying at least a symbolic sum for the album (the minimum price is 0.45GBP), or to download it for free somewhere else. The deprivement-argument does not hold anymore (if it ever did). Another argument is that "I wouldn't have bought the CD anyway, so nobody's left worse off". This argument also becomes more difficult to pull off, when you have in fact downloaded the album. Thus, downloading the Radiohead album without even a symbolic sum becomes, at least in my mind, a more clear-cut example of unethical behaviour than downloading an album released only on CD.

    Monday, October 1, 2007

    Radiohead release their new album -- pay what you think it's worth

    Radiohead has always been one of my favourite bands. What I find fascinating is that every single album has been great, ranging from their mainstream, slightly juvenile Pablo Honey to their innovative experimentation on Amnesiac and Kid A. Their upcoming album, entitled In Rainbows, is only available through their Website. What is interesting is that you can pay what you think it's worth. This is an ingenious idea, and I for one will certainly support it. The reason is that I believe this might be the only solution to piracy. Think about it for a minute. If you could pay, say, 1 USD for an entire album, would you ever go through the hazzle of trying to download it on e-mule, piratebay or any other pirate way? I certainly would not. Moreover, I would hardly bother burning it to a cd and transfer it to my other computers. I would simply buy and download it on every computer I have. 4 USD for having the album ready-to-play on any computer, without the hazzle of downloading a possibly corrupted pirated version and (if applicable) without any feeling of guilt sounds great to me. It's about time the record companies realize that a digital copy just cannot be priced and treated like a physical copy. Thus, slapping a real-life price tag on a virtual product doesn't work. Instead, they should focus on exploiting the peculiar characteristics of digital media in the way that Radiohead does. I'm pretty sure the record companies are following this closely, so I urge you to support Radiohead's vision -- even if you're only paying 1 USD for the album (this still means 1 USD more in revenue with hardly any costs). If we show that this model works, perhaps the rest of the industry will catch up.