I should have finished my sample chunk of text by Tuesday and posted it on one of the blogs I maintain. After that I will be doing two things. The first is administering the project--mainly answering questions. The other activity scheduled for the next six months is developing about 30 enhanced podcasts. Essentially these are video lectures using Powerpoint and a technology known as Camtasia Studio. Why am I doing this?
Well, I can see the end of the CD coming. I have around 600 of them in my study, the product of 27 years of buying. They have all been copied to a hard disk (if you are going to do this also use a backup disk, the copying was a numbing experience and I really don't want to repeat it). I now use an MP3 player (the excellent Sony Walkman) and play CDs on my laptop using a relatively inexpensive external sound card and a pair of Bose speakers. I am close to storing all the discs somewhere and emptying my study: I just don't need metal any more. The only reason for having them is vanity: they are a testament to my catholic tastes in music--Mozart sits uneasily next to Abba, for example.
The young do not buy CD players; they use MP3 players and docking stations. I find that the only CD players I see are more than four years old and owned by my generation.
The same will happen to books eventually. I tried out the Sony e-reader the other day. It has its faults: black and white and gray scale and no ability to play dynamic content. However, functionality will get better. In six to eight years time I would not be surprised to see the book in the same state as the CD is now. This whole process will also be accelerated by the increasing cheapness of small light laptops such as the Eee PC (click here for a review).
So I shall be taking your text, your programs and my podcasts and developing what I think might be the book of the future. It will probably be done in OpenOffice which has facilities for inserting applets and other media. Again, as with the book, there will be full author attribution to you all.
When I have done my first podcast I will let you know where it is and how you can download it.
There is also another reason for doing this project. I have managed academics for a long time and I have two principles that I use in my day-to-day management that can be applied anywhere. The first is that I always expect more from someone than they expect from themselves. This almost always works out. I think that we all have a natural diffidence about what we are capable of doing and this often shows at work. The second principle is to allow failure. If I expect more from my colleagues I have to give them the lifeline of believing that failure will occur and is a natural consequence of my approach to their working life.
So, this project involves my applying this principle to myself. Managing 85 authors and then editing the result of their work so that it forms a coherent whole is mightily ambitious. One of my colleagues told me that it is the closest that he has ever come to a bibliographic Titanic (he is also one of the two Walton Hall OU academics writing so he's joined the crew and is on the lookout for the icebergs).