OpenFiction [Blog]

How it all began (the personal edition)

Posted in intellectual property, MIT OpenCourseWare, OpenCourseWare, Personal by scarsonmsm on June 25, 2011

At the recent OCWC conference in Boston, I had the pleasure of introducing the keynote, Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media. During the introduction (in addition to inflating my educational resume) I mentioned that I wouldn’t have ended up at MIT OpenCourseWare if not for an O’Reilly book.

I shared how in the year 2000, I decided either this whole Internet thing was going to pass me by or I was going to have to do something about it, so I picked up an O’Reilly HTML book, and like millions of others at the time, taught myself to code web pages. This led to my creating a distance learning course, which led to much frustration over my school’s intellectual property policy, which led to an appreciation of MIT’s approach, and ultimately to a job at OCW.

After the conference, I had a thank you gift to mail to Tim, and just before sending it I discovered the old dog-eared and coffee stained HTML book on the back of a shelf in my office. I included it with return postage, and Tim was kind enough to sign it and return it:

HTML book with Tim O'Reilly's signature on the cover

How it all began

Those of you who know me

Posted in Personal by scarsonmsm on May 17, 2011

know my son Daniel is a cancer survivor, and we do what we can to support the clinic that treated him. This year, Daniel and his sister are taking part in a kids bike ride to support the Dana Farber center and the Jimmy Fund Clinic. Here are their handcrafted fundraising messages:


Hi, it’s me, Olivia.

I am doing the PMC Kids Bike Ride that benefits the Jimmy Fund and Dana Farber. I’m doing this because raising money for cancer is special to me because my brother had cancer. Daniel had very good care at the Jimmy Fund and luckily, there was a cure for his type of cancer. For some children (and adults) there are no cures for their types of cancer and giving money to cancer research lets the doctors buy what they need to look for cures and equipment to take care of people who have cancer. I’m trying to raise $100 for cancer research and I need a little help from you. Please support my PMC Bike Ride to help children with cancer leave the Jimmy Fund and play with their siblings again. Thank you! I love you all.


Hi! It’s me, Daniel.

I’m riding in the PMC Kids Ride to raise money for the Jimmy Fund.

I’m doing this because it’s nice and I survived cancer!

I survived cancer because there was a cure.

People raised enough money to the doctors for them to find a cure for my Wilms Tumor type of cancer.

Please make a donation to my PMC Kids Ride!

I want you to do this for the children who have cancer and aren’t cured yet.

Kids not as lucky as me.

Please visit my profile at to sponsor me.

Thank you!!

I love you.



Of course

Posted in Personal by scarsonmsm on March 4, 2011

After being assured by AT&T this morning that I didn’t qualify for a free Microcell and there was no power on earth that would be able to change it, and after being quoted the costs for canceling my account—so I know the service rep was looking at the account—what do I come home to? Of course:

AT&T letter with offer for free Microcell

For the record, today’s was the second call about getting a Microcell.

Another deeply unsatisfied AT&T customer–or, “Why I’ll be switching to Verizon, even though I hate them too.”

Posted in Personal by scarsonmsm on March 4, 2011

I think AT&T sits around thinking up new ways to piss off their customers. Since moving to Sharon from Norwood last summer (all of ten miles), I’ve been delivered into AT&T hell. I am apparently part of the 3% of America they don’t cover at my new location (I get one bar at the house, if I am near the window). I can kinda forgive a little b/c Sharon is tough on allowing cell towers.

I switched train lines as well, and have come to discover that fully half of the line from Sharon to Boston (the main track from Providence to Boston that the high-speed Acelas run on) has no AT&T coverage, although the computer trains are emblazoned with bright orange messaging advertising the Wi-Fi that AT&T provides on Boston commuter rail. I have to say the Wi-Fi is the only truth-in-advertising I have seen out of AT&T, because it never works. A perfect sample of AT&T service.

Coupled with that, the AT&T service in Kendall Square and on the MIT campus—the place to have your technology work if anywhere—is marginally adequate. I can’t have a cell conversation in my office (admittedly a large cement structure, but I am right on a window) and it takes minutes for the phone to acquire a signal when I leave the building.

Despite all of the above, I’d decided that I should get a Microcell for the house, and started looking into it. I came to discover that AT&T had begun offering free Microcells to selected customers to keep them on board, so I called “customer service” to ask about getting a free Microcell for my house.

After cheerfully thanking me for being a loyal customer since 1997, the agent told me I “didn’t qualify” for a free Microcell, and she couldn’t authorize it. I asked her who could, and she said she didn’t know. In Orwellian fashion I do not qualify because “the system” says I don’t qualify. So with 15 years as a customer, four iPhones purchased (two operating), two kids who will be getting phones in the next five years, and a fairly visible tech-related position and a major technology university, AT&T is going to piss me off over a $100 piece of equipment that will partially make up for their inadequacy as a company? Really? They’ve invented a whole new way to make the point that I’m not a customer they care about.

It’ll cost me about $375 to break my contract with AT&T, from which I can immediately deduct the cost of the Microcell I apparently have to purchase if I am going to remain an AT&T customer. On eBay, it looks like I can make about $800 selling my and my wife’s phones, so net $525 leaving AT&T. It’ll cost about $400 bucks for two new iPhones through Verizon, so I am more or less making money on the transition (or at least breaking even on the transaction if you ignore the Microcell cost).

And all of this after I was so relieved to get away from Verizon in the move, who kept insisting my landline plan was $35 bucks a month and billing me $65.

The OED goes virtual

Posted in Personal by scarsonmsm on August 30, 2010

While I am generally not that sentimental about the physical passing into the digital, I have to admit a moment of sadness for this one: It appears the 3rd edition of the Oxford English Dictionary will never make it into print. I own a copy of the two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 6th ed, which hopefully will still have future editions printed.

It’s understandable, since the full OED is 20 volumes. It’s essentially the same waste of paper as printing phone books (which I do wish would pass away), but there is something about the act and discipline of looking up the meaning of a word in a physical dictionary—reading the associated meanings, the words that surround it on the page—that makes the experience uniquely worth the effort. It’s also reassuring to know out there on physical paper somewhere is a reference that contains the meanings and histories in exhaustive detail of the words we use to create and dissect our world.

In our reading room at home, I have a dictionary on a book stand open and ready (it actually holds a copy of the Reader’s Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary, which is also quite good). I had the pleasure this weekend of helping my eight year-old daughter look up the word umbrage, as we were discussing the names of professors in the Harry Potter book she was reading. She worked through the alphabetical listing, stopped at other words that interested her, discussed the various nuances of the definition of umbrage (I was unaware of the shading/overshadowing meaning).

I’d hate to think such experiences are passing into the mists of the digital age.

Trying to wrap my head around this one

Posted in MIT OpenCourseWare, Personal by scarsonmsm on March 3, 2010

Every once in a while something happens that is just a little hard to get to sink in. This is one of those things. It’s really hard for me to imagine an MIT without Professor Lerman. If there is any single person who in my mind embodies the intelligence, decency, thoughtfulness, commitment to improving the world and the thousand other qualities that make MIT such an amazing place to work, it’s Professor Lerman.

I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Professor Lerman through his service as the chair of the MIT OpenCourseWare Faculty Advisory Committee, and he was also one of the handful of faculty that shepherded OCW from concept to implementation. And his contributions to OCW are just a small part of his what he’s brought to MIT over several decades of service in a range of roles. I’ve no doubt that George Washington University will be a richer community with his addition, but it’s a real loss for MIT and OpenCourseWare. I wish him all success in this new challenge, and he’ll be greatly missed.

We are mourning the loss…

Posted in MIT OpenCourseWare, Personal by scarsonmsm on November 5, 2009

…this week of OCW office appliance and dear friend Haier T. Microwave, who was discovered this Monday with the latch torn from his door.  Foul play is suspected and the investigation continues.  In the mean time, he is yet another victim of the global battle to share courseware openly.

Sad face microwave

Haier as he was found early Monday.

A memorial service will be held in the MIT OpenCourseWare offices just prior to his being carted away for recycling.  In lieu of flowers, the staff requests that friends and family contribute instead to the Haier T. Microwave Fund to Buy a New Microwave.  Donations accepted through the MIT OpenCourseWare site.

On a personal note, I shared many a lunch with Haier over the years, and in the past few months had taken responsibility for his care and cleaning.  I am saddend that he met with such an untimely end and pray the perpetrator is aprehended and punished appropriately.  I appreciate the many expressions of support I’ve received from the OCW community.


Just another day at the zoo…

Posted in MIT OpenCourseWare, Personal by scarsonmsm on September 11, 2009

What I taped on the glass door of my office the other day during a conference call:

Do not tap on glass

What I found there the next morning: