material

Rice University And OpenStax Announce First Open-Source Textbooks

Source: http://techcrunch.com/2012/02/07/rice-university-and-openstax-announce-first-open-source-textbooks/

openstax

When we think about the distribution industry being disrupted, we tend to think about music and movies, whose physical media and vast shipment infrastructure have been rendered mostly obsolete over the last decade. To a lesser extent, we hear about print, and the effect of e-readers and web consumption on books and magazines. No one is making the change particularly gracefully, and the same can be said of the textbook business, which does millions of dollars of business every year selling incredibly expensive items to students — who likely consider them anachronisms.

Rice University, which has been pushing alternative distribution mechanisms for scholarly publications for years, has announced a new initiative, by which they hope to publish free, high-quality textbooks in core subjects like physics and biology via a non-profit publisher called OpenStax College. It’s the polar opposite of Apple’s iBooks textbooks, which, while they too help drag this dusty industry into the present, amount more to a new sales vector for the publishers than competition.

Rice and OpenStax aren’t the first people to propose open-source or free textbooks. There are collections here and there, like Flat World Knowledge and Apple’s iTunes U — but they’re decidedly short on the type of books a freshman might have to buy for their year of survey courses: Biology 1, Physics 1, Sociology 1, Psychology 1. And 11 Learning has a similar idea of collaboration producing a book, but their creation model may not be economically feasible.

And of course there are the many companies that want to remove textbooks from the equation entirely. Setting up textbook platforms on new devices like Kno and Inkling, making an environment for meta-curricular activities and non-traditional learning like Khan Academy, or virtualizing the whole education experience, something with which many universities are tinkering.

But textbooks are still big business, and their utility in the education system is difficult to argue with right now. So OpenStax splits the difference: fueled by grant money from a number of private foundations (i.e. not government grants), they’re putting together full-on textbooks, peer-reviewed, professionally laid out, and all that. These textbooks will be provided for free in file form. But supplementary materials — quizzes, videos, presentations, and the like, presumably — cost money.

It would be petty to call this a bait and switch, since the bulk of the material is being provided for free. And a savvy professor or TA can scrape quite a few supplementary materials from the web already, thanks to those post-textbook services already mentioned. Providing the meat for free and the potatoes for a price is perfectly reasonable.

What remains to be seen is the quality of the textbooks. So far OpenStax has signed up “in the low tens” of colleged and universities to use the books. Institutions probably are waiting to see how the next year or so plays out: everything is in flux and to commit to one platform over another when the true costs and benefits are still unclear would be a bad move.

OpenStax’s first textbooks, for physics and sociology, will be coming in March, with others following later in the year. A strange time to make a debut, in a way, as the school year is well underway and many intro courses won’t be offered. But it will give time for the creaking machinery of academia to notice, acknowledge, examine, and judge the OpenStax offering. It may be that they can demonstrate their agility in fixing, improving, and expanding the content on the fly, which could either impress or terrify nodding faculty members who use the same text for a decade at a time.


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Wednesday, February 8th, 2012 news No Comments

American Apparel’s Profits Are Getting Clipped Thanks To Groupon (APP)

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/american-apparel-groupon-2012-1


american apparel

Just when it looked like things were starting to look up for cash-strapped American Apparel, profits are reportedly getting shaved.

Why?

Groupon.

From The New York Post‘s James Covert:

The hipster clothing chain racked up impressive sales gains during the holidays, but profits were squeezed hard as it took steep discounts, including those from a barrage of Groupon offers nationwide, sources told The Post.

American Apparel rang up millions of dollars in the fourth quarter selling cardigans, corduroys and sexy leggings through the daily deals site — a heap of bargains amounting to a “small but material” percentage of the company’s $157 million in total sales during the period, said one source briefed on the company’s finances.

The controversial clothing company has been struggling to turnaround its operations.

Read more at NYPost.com >
 
SEE ALSO: Here’s What American Apparel Thinks The Holidays Should Look Like >

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Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 news No Comments

More and more tools to block ads and other “distractions”

As more and more users adopt tools to de-clutter web pages and remove all distractions (such as ads) the effectiveness of display ads will continue to decline, despite innovations and advancements in targeting technologies.

Source: http://lifehacker.com/5568752/add-safari-reader+like-powers-to-firefox-and-chrome

Add Safari Reader-Like Powers to Firefox and ChromeThe Safari 5 feature that’s caught the web’s attention is the Reader button, which strips down articles and blog posts into an ad-free, highly readable format. Two add-ons for Firefox and Chrome do a good job of recreating that convenience.

Add Safari Reader-Like Powers to Firefox and ChromeIf you missed our round-up of what’s new in Safari 5, the short explanation of Reader is that, while many bookmarklets have come along to offer a simplified, less-cluttered reading experience, Safari is the first major browser to go ahead and offer that kind of feature by default, as an address bar button. If you’re a fan of bookmarklets, and your bookmarks aren’t too cluttered to lose them in, we recommend the tools from arc90’s Readability, the Instapaper Text bookmarklet, and the Readable app for highly customized formatting.

But maybe you want your Firefox or Chrome rig to offer that kind of button-click functionality. You’re in luck. First off, here’s the Top 10 feature we’ll try our reading tools out on—click the image for a larger view:

Add Safari Reader-Like Powers to Firefox and Chrome

Now here are two add-ons for Firefox and Chrome, and a look at how they do at getting all minimalist with the text and pics. Click any of the images below, too, for a larger view

Readability (Firefox)

Add Safari Reader-Like Powers to Firefox and Chrome
Baris Derin rolled the Readability bookmarklet into a full-fledged add-on for Firefox, but also added in a pretty neat auto-scrolling feature for the true lean-back-and-read experience. Readability tends to keep more of the text and formatting in and around the page, but strips out all the marketing and navigation material. It places an “R” button in the lower-right status area of Firefox, which isn’t the most convenient spot for our use, but some may prefer having it hidden away until needed. Notice the transparent icons, too, that provide printing, email, and refresh functions for live-updating posts.

iReader (Chrome)

Add Safari Reader-Like Powers to Firefox and ChromeMhd Hejazi’s iReader is directly inspired by Safari’s Reader function, offering the same kind of pop-out white box that darkens the rest of the page, a button right in the address bar, and very, very minimal decoration—as you can see, it pared down our Top 10 feature quite a bit. There are also keyboard shortcuts for Windows and Mac to activate iReader, and options to change the background opacity, font and formatting, and add a “Send with Gmail” link to your articles. Neat stuff.


Both add-ons are free downloads. Know of another reading/simplifying extension that gets the job done? Tell us about it in the comments. Thanks to emmikkelsen for the inspiration!

Readability [Add-ons for Firefox]
iReader [Google Chrome extension gallery]

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Monday, June 21st, 2010 news No Comments

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