torsdag 7 oktober 2010

Ovidiu Sandor's Ph.D. defense

Ovidiu Sandor presented defended his Ph.D. thesis, "Social awareness support for cooperation: Design experience and theoretical model" (pdf here) on October 5. My wife was one of three persons in the committee that passed the thesis, and we both went to the nice dinner that evening.

I met Ovidiu when he took a Ph.D. course I gave in 2003, "Cultures of programming: Hackers, crackers and open source". He wrote an excellent course paper, "Hacker behind the Iron Curtain" about his formative computer experiences in Romania during the second half of the 1980's. The paper is unpublished and it could be polished (it points in many different directions), but I'm now thinking about some way to go forward with it.

What's good about these things is that a paper like that is more or less timeless. It doesn't really matter that it was written 7 years ago, and it wouldn't matter much if it was published 7 years from now... But it would be nice to do something with it before 2017...

I have decided to formulate a master's thesis topic around questions raised in that paper and based on my own long-standing interest in these matters and then see if any students show up. Perhaps something about "International hacker cultures..."? The best lead I have about teasing interesting things out of his paper (and other Swedish studies of hackers, including my own ph.d. thesis), is to study similarities and differences between American hackers (90% of the literature) and "other" hacker cultures. Here is one of the best quotes from Ovidiu's course paper (the quote just begs for being published):

"Much later, around 1992 I was more than shocked when, during my first visit here in Sweden, while I was copying a book, a colleague kindly pointed out to me that doing so was not so nice and that buying a legal copy would be the proper thing to do [...] I had never in my life considered copying a book to be wrong or criminal. I could almost not believe that there could exist a law that would restrict such a thing, or at least not in a "free democratic society". After all, I thought that "copyright" meant that you had the right to copy."

Post-script. One of many things Ovidiu touches upon in his text is the system of informal favors, blat, that were crucial to getting things done. I stumbled upon a reference that might come in handy in developing that side of the paper; Lebedeva's "Russias economy of favours: Blat, networking and informal exchange" (1988) and

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