Please consider.

After seven years (for at least three of which I’ve been a fan), Jörg Colberg is asking for help covering the costs of his photography blog, Conscientious.
I don’t have time these days to follow photo blogs the way I follow, say, issues in scholarly publishing, but of all the photo blogs I used to read, Conscientious is the only one still on my regular reading list. I like the way Jörg thinks and talks about photography, and he consistently points me to outstanding images and the artists who make them. When he talks about not only maintaining but expanding the blog, I’m curious to know what he has in mind.
So I’ve sent him the price of a couple of beers, which is about all I can free up these days, and I’d like to invite my readers to do the same, if they have the means. And whether or not you can spare a little cash, if you’re at all interested in photography do check out Conscientious.

Every little bit counts.

There are so many good causes, and so many of them are not just good but urgent — even assuming you have some money to spare, where are you to donate it? Everyone has their own solution to this problem. Mine is to try to hedge my bets: donate roughly equally to long- and short-term, local and global, human and environmental. I’m out of work and thoroughly skint right now, but I try to remember that by world standards I’m still living like a king; my budget includes some “don’t go insane” funds for occasional movies or dinners out or whatever, and I can always skip one of those in order to give just a little to some good cause.
One such is the Open Knowledge Foundation, which is turning five and asking for support:

This month the Open Knowledge Foundation is five years old.

Over those last five years we’ve done much to promote open access to information — from sonnets to stats, genes to geodata — not only in the form of specific projects like Open Shakespeare and Public Domain Works but also in the creation of tools such as KnowledgeForge and the Comprehensive Knowledge Archive Network, standards such as the Open Knowledge Definition, and events such as OKCon, designed to benefit the wider open knowledge community. (More about what we’ve been up just over the last year can be found in our latest annual report).

While we have achieved a lot, we believe we can do much, much more. We are therefore reaching out to our community and asking you to help us take our vision further.

Our aim: at least a 100 supporters committed to making regular, ongoing donations of £5 (EUR 6, $7.50) or more a month.

These funds will be essential in expanding and sustaining our work by allowing us to invest in infrastructure and employ modest central support. To pledge yourself as one of those supporters all you need to do is take 30 seconds to sign up to our “100 supporters” pledge at:

And if you want to act on the pledge right now (or make any other kind of donation), please visit:

We are and will remain a not-for-profit organization, built on the work of passionate volunteers but these additional fund are essential in maintaining and extending our effort. Become a supporter and help us take our work forward!

I’m in no position to make a regular commitment, but I skipped a movie and sent ’em ten quid. It’s not much but it’s my hope that small donations can be a powerful force in the internet age. The other thing I can donate is publicity, which is what this post is for.
Why donate to OKF? My belief is that openness is not only our best weapon in the unending battle against bad actors and free riders, it is the key to a radically more efficient scientific process, which in turn is the key to all material progress in human quality of life.
The OKF not only builds tools and standards for open exchange of information, but they are also part of the front line effort to make openness and transparency into a constant, widely adopted habit of mind and of behaviour. To choose a topical example, we won’t have appropriate access to information about the spending habits of our elected officials until we are so in the habit of openness that it is a surprise and an affront to the average citizen to realise that such information is being kept secret. To choose my own bête noire as another example, we won’t be free of “data not shown” in the scientific literature until the majority of scientists respond to that phrase with an immediate and indignant “why the hell not?”.
So, support for the OKF is one of my long-term choices: an investment in a better future for everybody. If you have a couple of dollars to spare, please consider investing with me.

Better than nothing? A bookmarklet for The Open Lab

A while back, I mentioned that the Open Lab could really use a bookmarklet to make submission easier and faster.
Since for once the LazyWeb did not provide, I’ve had a crack at it. I’ve got a simple version working (though I haven’t tested it anywhere but FireFox3); all it does is pop up a conveniently-sized window showing the submission form:


If you drag that to your toolbar, you can at least hit the bookmarklet while you’re on the page you want to submit, and simply move the popup around in order to copy over the information. I find it a lot more convenient than having to open the submission form in a separate window and go back and forth.
What would really make this useful is if it would auto-fill in the submitter’s name, address and website and pull in the title and url of the post being submitted. I’m trying to add that functionality, but I’m a complete javascript n00b and so far cannot get it to work, no matter what existing bookmarklets I try to use as a model. So I hope it’s useful to someone as-is — and if you know your way around javascript feel free to upgrade it! — but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the improved version.

How ’bout it, codemonkey? One for all you web app wizards out there.

A great opportunity has opened up for a code-savvy free culture type to earn a little good karma. Here’s the thing:

  1. Bora Zivkovic’s Open Laboratory project is way cool
  2. the more submissions they get, the cooler it is
  3. they have a badge that blogs can display for one-click submission access to the submission form, but no bookmarklet

Now, a bookmarklet seems to me even better than a badge, because it’s independent of the blog you’re reading, right there on your browser toolbar. When you think to yourself “this is such a good post that I should submit it to The Open Lab”, rather than finding the submission form and filling it in or looking to see whether the blog has a badge, you can just hit the bookmarklet. Even better, the bookmarklet can be set up to autofill at least your details, and perhaps to extract information from the page you’re on as well. In any case, the various submission mechanisms are not mutually exclusive: there’s no reason not to have badges and bookmarklets and anything else the community can think of.
I could build one, in principle, since I’ve hacked around with js a little, but it would take me literally days of screaming frustration to do a half-assed job. Surely there’s some web app wizard out there who could whip up something over their lunch break?
So — how about it? Help the Open Laboratory, help the science blogging community in general: build Bora a bookmarklet.
For those not familiar with it, some background on The Open Laboratory: in 2006, Bora was approached by print-on-demand web publishers about the possibility of putting together a print anthology of science blogging. Being the community-centric type, Bora posted a call for suggestions and arranged a panel of reviewers to help him edit the resulting list of blog posts. I was privileged to be on that panel; here’s what I said at the time about the first edition:

As Bora intimates in his introduction, blogs are conversations and so they lose a certain liveliness when embalmed in a blook (blog + book; don’t blame me, I didn’t coin it!) like this. Nonetheless, there is some excellent writing in this thing, it is as perfect an introduction to science blogging as you’re likely to see offline, and it’s a fun read all on its own. True to the open nature of the original medium, you can of course surf over to Bora’s blog and find the anthology entries listed there. No one will mind if you do, but I hope you will also consider buying the blook — which, after all, unlike the internets, you can carry with you on the bus and leave on the break-room table at work. It’s priced at cost and any incidental proceeds will go towards next year’s edition.

Since then, there have been two subsequent editions, 2007 and 2008, and what I said of the 2006 incarnation remains true (except that incidental proceeds now go towards the Science Online conference). (Incidentally, if you follow those links you can read not only the posts that made it into each anthology but all the entries as well.)

Help a blogger out?

(I post more on hiatus than when I’m supposed to be blogging, no?)
Gary Farber is in all kinds of trouble. I’m going to do a little to help him out, and ask you, O my tens of readers, to consider doing likewise, because:
1. He asked. Ceteris paribus, what else does one need?
2. He doesn’t seem to have anyone else.
The thing here is, one of Gary’s problems is intensely personal to me: I, too, have major depressive disorder. There — in Gary’s shoes — but for the grace of a god I don’t believe in, go I. I was lucky: all along, I had family and friends, and now especially I have my wife. These people stood in for me and stood up for me and picked me up and pushed me along, and I’d be dead without their selfless assistance. Really truly not-pining-for-the-fjords dead, and it really is just sheer dumb luck that I had these people in my life; I could just as easily have wound up on my own, and I wouldn’t have made it — or if I did, out of sheer orneriness, it wouldn’t have been any kind of a life. So it’s very easy for me to imagine myself in Gary’s shoes.
I can never repay my debt to those who kept me out of the pit, but I can “pay it forward” — right now, that means sending Gary a little spare cash. And asking you to consider doing the same.
(Title shamelessly stolen from Cosma. You should steal it from me, if you have a blog.)

Restore your faith in humanity.

The Blogathon is today — it’s been running about six hours, with another 18 to go (on the A schedule; the B schedule starts in about 9 hours).
It’s just amazing. Hundreds of people from all around the world take 24 hours out of their routine to make the world a little bit better, a little bit brighter — because they can. It’s an instant community of people who give a damn.
I can’t do it justice — go see for yourself. I’m posting highlights to the front page (though every blog is a highlight, and I wish I had time to feature them all!), and there’s a surfing frame that makes it easy to make your way through all the blogs.
Do yourself a favor and have a look around — maybe sponsor a couple of bloggers. Trust me, you’ll like it.


The 2007 Blogathon is underway!


Stay up late, make a difference: that’s the Blogathon’s slogan and raison d’être. It’s a charity drive that started when, on a whim, founder Cat Connor1 stayed up all night blogging. The next year, she decided to do some good with the idea by inviting others and drumming up some sponsors — hence “blogathon”, by analogy with “walkathon”, “telethon” and so on.
That was 2001, and about a hundred bloggers raised more than $20,000 for 77 different charities. Those numbers roughly doubled in 2002 and again in 2003 (500 bloggers, $100K). Project Blog took over in 2004 while the ‘thon was on hiatus, and long-time blogathon ally Sheana Director stepped up and ran the 2005 event; Cat and Sheana have been running the ‘thon together since then (with the help of an army of volunteers). The 2006 event saw about 300 bloggers raise about $100K, and if the data I’ve been collecting are anything to go by, the ‘thon will be bigger than ever this year:

The mechanics are simple: bloggers sign up to blog for their chosen charity, and sponsors pledge either a lump sum or an amount per hour blogged. The goal is to blog for 24 hours straight, with one post every 30 minutes. The money part is an honor system: sponsors donate directly to the charity. There’s a FAQ file and a forum where noobs can go for further answers and advice. The big day is Saturday, July 28; regular kick-off is 6:00 am Pacific, but if you’re observing Sabbath or have other commitments, you can start at 9:00 pm Pacific.
Signups are now open for bloggers and sponsors — so what are you waiting for?

1My wife. I cannot tell you how proud I am.

Favour the third.

This is the third and final favour I’m asking of my readers (for the moment!).
Janet has posted a reminder that the trial of the Tripoli Six is scheduled to resume in just a few weeks, on October 31, so the time for action is now.
Like Janet, I’m asking you to write an actual, dead-trees-and-ink letter. Janet has provided an example letter, and some updates to the contact information that Mike posted earlier; I’m going to try to make it even easier. It’s best if you write something in your own words, but even if you copy someone else’s letter verbatim (and that fact is noticed) it will still make an impression. So here’s a letter you can send:

Dear [name],
I am writing to express grave concern over the upcoming trial in Libya of six foreign nationals, five nurses and a doctor, who have been accused of deliberately infecting children with HIV while working at al-Fateh Hospital in Benghazi in 1998. You have probably seen editorials in Nature1 and in the NY Times2, and a public letter from the UK Royal Society3; all of these prominent persons and publications have condemned the trial in the strongest possible terms.
During the original trial in 2004, a scientific investigation4 by pre-eminent HIV/AIDS researchers Luc Montagnier (Pasteur Institute) and Vittorio Colizzi (Tor Vergata University) concluded that the children were infected long before the medics came to Libya. The Libyan court rejected these findings in favour of an investigation by Libyan doctors whose impartiality and scientific credentials are in doubt. A new, impartial investigation is crucial, as is a commitment by the Libyan court to admit its findings as evidence.
I write therefore to ask you to do all that you can to bring diplomatic pressure to bear on Libya and ensure a fair trial for the Tripoli Six.

and here are the addresses to which you should send copies:
1. your own representatives; you can find their contact details through or Project Vote Smart, using just your zip code. If you don’t know your zip code, you can find that out from the USPS using your address.
2. U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Chair: Sen. Richard Lugar
Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-6225
3. U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on International Relations
Chair: Rep. Henry Hyde
2170 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
4. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
5. Senator Bill Frist
509 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
If you want to do more, Janet has further details, but I have laid it all out as simply as possible. Copy my letter, or write your own, and send it to those addresses (I don’t think it matters much if you write it out once, photocopy it and then just fill in the addressee’s name and your signature).
I don’t know about you, but when the verdict comes in on the Tripoli Six, I want to know that I did what I could to help them get a fair trial.

Favour the second.

I’m asking my readers for three favours; this is number two. (It’s mainly for US readers, though I do think that the whole world has a stake in what happens here.)
Glenn Greenwald is one of the very best political writers you’ll ever read. He’s well informed, careful and insightful; whatever the issue, he is one of my go-to sources for relevant facts and useful analysis. Believe me when I say that if we had a few Glenn Greenwalds in positions of some influence in what passes for the media in this country, Smirky the Killer Clown would not be President. I’m not going to bother pointing out any “best of” posts, just add him to your feeds and read him regularly. Pick any post on his blog to see what I’m talking about. Seriously, any post, he’s that good.
Glenn recently asked for help keeping his blog running:

One of my principal objectives over the last several months has been to find an economically feasible way to continue to devote the bulk of my time to this blog. I typically blog 7 days a week — always at least 6 — and usually spend between 10 and 12 hours a day, sometimes more, on work relating in some way to the blog. Activities such as writing and guest blogging for magazines, along with blog ads, help, but they only produce supplemental income. Periodic support from readers is necessary in order to be able to sustain a blog full-time. Nobody likes to ask: I know I don’t. But reader support just is essential to enable someone to blog more or less full-time.
I’ve had conversations over the last couple of months with various magazines and websites about the prospect of moving my blog to their site, something I would consider only because it provides a model for making blogging more economically viable. But that is something I strongly prefer not to have to do, because I really want to preserve the independence of this blog. Even with an agreement to be able to blog however I want and as much (or as little) as I want — which is the only type of framework I’d consider — being merged into some other entity inevitably creates expectations about content that slowly chips away at true independence.
The other alternative is to try to build the site into a super-high traffic blog in order to maximize ad revenue. Traffic for this blog has steadily increased almost every month since it began, but blogs that are within this traffic range (20,000-40,000 visitors per day) can produce some supplemental income but not income that sustains a full-time blog.
At this point, in order to generate blog-sustaining ad revenue, a blog has to be within the highest traffic range (70,000-150,000 visits per day). But blogs within that range are almost all, without exception, group blogs with multiple posters ensuring frequent updates covering every topic, or Atrios-like blogosphere “shepherds” with numerous posts throughout the day designed to guide people to selected posts and news items. To try to transform this blog into a super-high-trafficked blog — not through natural growth but by changing how it operates — would change the character and nature of the blog and, for that reason, is an option I do not want to pursue.
I’ve become a true believer in the blogosphere as a medium. Its ability to affect political discussion and to effectuate political change is unrivalled. It not only scrutinizes national journalism like nothing else can, but also supplements and, at times, even supplants the national media in fulfilling its central function of providing an adversarial force against government power. One of its most potent attributes is its collaborative effort — the ability to draw on and work with commenters here and other bloggers is an enormous advantage over every other medium. I really believe that the greatest impact can come from devoting my time to my independent blog rather than to other competing activities, and that is the reason I want to be able to continue to do so full-time. But to do that, I need to ensure that it is financially viable and that requires support from readers.

I hope that, if you’re reading this, you don’t need me to point out the value of an independent media, detail what’s wrong with the current state of US broadcast media and newspapers or wax lyrical about the need for trusted sources in our information overload society.
So I’m just going to flat-out ask you to go give Glenn some money. It may be, second only to voting responsibly, the most important political act you’ll carry out this year.

Favor the first.

I’d like to ask you, dear reader, to do me three favors; this is the first.
Biting Beaver is a blogger whose emergency contraception, once she finally obtained it, failed. Now she’s pregant and facing the costs, financial and otherwise, of an abortion. You can read the story in her own words here (EC denial) and here (EC failure) — and that’s important. It’s important that you should be able to read that story, that someone should put a face on the abortion debate and the horrible, indefensible consequences of the laws being advocated (and put in place!) by the punish-women-for-having-sex lobby. Making it available online was a very brave thing for BB to do — and, naturally, the Moral Majority have taken it upon themselves to assault her for it. Via Lindsay, Plucky Punk is asking readers to step up:

The average cost of an abortion in the United States is 468 dollars. Somewhere, there is a woman in need of this money who doesn’t have it.
Let’s see if we can get together and raise this amount, either by giving to Biting Beaver, the National Network of Abortion Funds or to Planned Parenthood. Please leave to amount you donated or pledge to donate in the comments (or if you’ve already donated, leave that amount).

I think BB has probably, by now, been sent enough funds to cover her expenses — and while I don’t know her circumstances, she has a blog so I’m guessing she can cope with the financial burden. Moreover, she didn’t really want to ask for donations and has promised to donate any excess to the National Network of Abortion Funds. So, for myself, I’m going to keep an eye on the story and probably not send BB any money directly. What I will do is to renew my membership to the National Abortion Rights Action League and make small donations to the Northwest Women’s Law Center and Planned Parenthood, those being women’s rights organizations I trust and currently support.
What I’d like to ask my readers to do is:
1. read Biting Beaver’s story
2. choose one or more of the following:

  • donate to Planned Parenthood
  • donate to NNAF
  • donate to NWLC
  • become a NARAL member
  • choose another women’s rights organization, join or donate, and then send me the reasons for your choice (I may join you)
  • send BB some money; you’ll need PayPal, her email is BitingBeaver [at] yahoo [dot] com

3. drop in on Plucky Punk (or email her, if you prefer to donate anonymously) and let her know how much to add to her running total.