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There’s a new service provided by ACM’s Digital Library: Author-Izer. Short version: if you have published something with the ACM, and you have a preprint of the paper on your own or your company’s website, you can provide the ACM DL this link for your article and they’ll put it with the article reference. This is fairly sporting of the ACM. If you’re an author it’s worth this bit of effort to give your work wider dissemination. Linking also can provide the ACM with download statistics from your site and so give a better sense of the impact of your paper (or at least inflate your statistics compared to people not using Author-Izer).

As a reader without an ACM DL subscription, it’s still better to go to Ke-Sen Huang’s site or Google Scholar, where these external author sites have been collected without each author’s effort. For example, free preprints of 95% of SIGGRAPH 2011 papers are linked on Ke-Sen’s page. In a perfect world, the ACM would simply hire Ke-Sen for a few days and have him add all his external links of authors’ sites to their database. I’d personally toss in $20 towards that effort. I suspect there are 18 reasons given why this would not be OK – “we want individual authors to control their links” (but why not give a default link if the author has not provided one?), “we’re not comfortable having a third party provide this information” (so it’s better to have no information than potentially incorrect information leading you, at worst, to a dead link?), or the catch-all “that’s not how we do things” (clearly).

As Bernie Rous discusses, there’s a tension at the ACM between researchers, who want the widest dissemination of their work, and professional staff, who are concerned about the financial health of the organization. Author-Izer helps researchers, but there’s little direct benefit to the ACM’s bottom line. Unfortunately, currently the Author-Izer service seems to be virtually unknown. For example, the SIGGRAPH 2011 table of contents appears to have no Author-Izer links, though perhaps I’m missing them. I hope this post will help publicize this service a bit.

It’s nice that the ACM allows authors to self-archive, where they can provide preprints of their own work on their website or their institution’s. Most scholarly journals allow this archiving of preprints – more than 90%, according to one writer (and more that 60% allow self-archiving of the refereed final draft, which the ACM does not allow). For authors at academic institutions with such archives, great, easily done; for authors at games companies, film companies, self-employed, etc., it’s catch-as-catch-can. If the author hosts his own work and is hit by a meteor, or just loses interest, his website eventually fades away and the article is then available only behind a paywall. One understandable reason for ACM’s “must be hosted by the author or his institution” clause is that it disallows lower-cost paywalls from competing. But why not just specify that? I can see a non-compete clause like “the author will not host his preprint behind a paywall” (a restriction the ACM doesn’t currently have), but otherwise who cares where the article is hosted, as long as it’s free to download?

This restriction feels like a business model founded on being a PITA: instead of uploading his article to some central free access site and never thinking about it again, each author needs to keep track of access and deal with job changes, server reorganizations and redirects, company bankruptcy or purchase, Author-Izer updates, and anything else that can make his website go off the radar. Pose this problem to a thousand authors and the free system will be inherently weak and ineffectual, making the pay version more desirable.

I believe that many people in the ACM have their hearts in the right place, there’s no conspiracy here. However, the tension of running a paywall service like the Digital Library gives a “one hand tied behind my back” feel to efforts at more open access. If there were no economic constraints, clearly the ACM DL would be free and there would be no real point to Author-Izer. Right now there still are these financial concerns, very real ones.

A journal publisher used to offer:

  • Physical journal printing and binding
  • Copy editing, illustrations, and layout
  • Peer review and professional editors
  • Archiving
  • Distribution to subscribers and institutions
  • Reputation

The physical artifact of the journal itself is becoming rarer, and authors now do copy editing, illustrations, and most to all of the layout. The technical editors and reviewers are all unpaid, so their contributions are separate from the publisher itself – many journals have abandoned their publishers, as the recent Elsevier boycott has highlighted. So what is left that publishers provide?

Another way to look at it: what if publishers suddenly disappeared? Different systems would supplant their services, for good or ill: Google, for instance, might provide archiving for free (they already do this for magazines like Popular Science). Distribution is as simple as “get on the mailing list.” Reputation is probably the one with most long-term value. I don’t think I’d instead want to have a reddit up/down vote system, given the various problems it has. CiteSeer and Google Scholar are pretty good at determining reputation by citation count. You can even check your own citation count for free. There are ways of determining a paper’s impact beyond simple citation counts, lots of people think about this.

I can imagine a few answers for why publishers matter – these disconnected solutions I mentioned are not necessarily the best answers. However, the burden of proof is on the publisher, both commercial and non-profit, to justify its continued existence. It will be interesting how the various open access initiatives play out and how they affect publishers.

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A few days ago, I urged (besides other actions), submitting responses to the RFIs from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy regarding access to research. I myself responded to the the RFI regarding peer-reviewed scholarly publications (I didn’t feel qualified to respond to the other one regarding access to research data sets since I don’t use those as much in my work). The reply I sent is after the break – please note that this is my (Naty’s) personal opinion, and may not reflect Eric and Tomas’ positions.

Read the rest of this entry »

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If you care about open access to research (and you should), there are several actions (some quite time-critical) that you can take to protect it.

First, some background (if you’re already familiar with this issue and just want to know what to do about it you can skip to the “1,2,3” list at the end and read the rest later).

In 2008, legislation was passed in the United States requiring all National Institute of Health (NIH) funded researchers to submit their papers to an openly available repository within a year of publication. The (perfectly reasonable) logic was that since the American public had paid for the research with their taxes, they had a right to see it without going through paywalls. If anything, the flaws in the legislation were that it did not cover all Federally-funded research, and that it still allowed publishers to lock papers up for one year.

Of course, scientific publishers (with a “researchers do all the work, we take possession of the results and sell them back to researchers” business model that resembles nothing so much as the “the sun grows the food, the ants pick the food, the grasshoppers eat the food” motto from Pixar’s film “A Bug’s Life”) hated this and immediately tried to stop it. They were unable to do so, which is very fortunate since the open access repository, PubMed Central, was a huge boon to everyone from researchers, to physicians, to patients trying to keep up with research into their diseases.

About a year later, the US Government started a “Request For Information” (RFI) process to figure out if this policy should be expanded to other Federally-funded research. Of course, for-profit scientific publishers like Elsevier filed lengthy letters against this. One would think that non-profit professional organizations like the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) would not have such a short-sighted, rent-seeking position. Surely they would put the advancement of human knowledge ahead of their revenue streams? Well, no. Perhaps not so surprising, given their previous actions.

Fast forward to January 2012, when another legislative attack on Federal open access mandates was launched – the Research Works Act. In the charming bought-and-paid for tradition of US legislation, this was written by the Association of American Publishers (AAP), a lobbying group whose members have made large contributions to the campaigns of the two U.S. Representatives introducing the bill – a fact that I am sure had no influence whatsoever on their support. This bill makes it illegal for the government to mandate open-access; it would shut down PubMed Central (sorry, cancer patients! we’ve got revenue streams to protect!)  as well as making any similar initiatives impossible. The timing of this bill was especially suspect, since it was launched a few days before the deadlines for another set of RFIs regarding open access. This odious bill launched a well-deserved internet shitstorm; our blog is relatively late to this party.

Sadly (but not surprisingly), it turns out that the ACM is a member of the AAP. One might hope that this was merely a case of the AAP doing something that some of its member organizations disagree with, but the ACM seems to like the Research Works Act just fine. You’ll like that last link; it’s one of the finest examples of disingenuous and circular reasoning I’ve seen in a while. Just to put a cherry on top of this shit sundae, it turns out that the AAP is also a supporter of SOPA (I’m now afraid to hear ACM’s own position on SOPA).

At this point, you’re most likely reading through a red veil of righteous rage. Fortunately, there are things you can do about this; some need to be done now.

  1. If you are a researcher or someone who uses research, email responses to the two RFIs from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy concerning access to Federally-funded research (one regarding peer-reviewed scholarly publications and one regarding research data). The deadline is in just three days. Although these are US government RFIs, my understanding is that you don’t have to be a US citizen or reside in the USA to respond. Harvard’s RFI response is worth reading for reference, though it is quite long.
  2. If you are a US Citizen, let your representatives know how you feel about this legislation. The Alliance for Taxpayer Access has the information you need to do so.
  3. If you are an ACM member, let the ACM know how you feel about their support for this act and the ACM’s membership of the AAP; be polite! The ACM bureaucracy is complex, but as far as I can tell the most appropriate people to contact are: Alain Chesnais, ACM President (, Bernard Rous, ACM Director of Publications ([email protected]), and Cameron Wilson, ACM Director of Public Policy ([email protected]). If you are a member of some other professional organization that belongs to AAP, contact it as well.

It’s time to let the scientific publishers know that things are going to change. From now on, the ants pick the food, the ants eat the food, and the grasshoppers leave!

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We’ve talked about this before, how ACM’s copyright policy stated that they, not you, control the copyright of any images you publish in their journals, proceedings, or other publications. For example, if your hometown newspaper wants to publish a story of “local boy makes good” and wish to include samples of your work, they needed to ask the ACM for permission (and pay the ACM $28 per image). Not a huge problem, but it’s a bureaucratic roadblock for a reasonable request. Researchers are usually surprised to hear they have lost this right.

While it was possible to be assertive and push to retain copyright to your images (or even article) and just grant ACM unlimited permission – certainly firms such as Pixar and Disney have done so with their content – the default was to give the ACM this copyright control.

James O’Brien brought it to our attention that this policy has been revised, and I asked Stephen Spencer (SIGGRAPH’s Director of Publications) for details. His explanation follows.

ACM has recently changed its copyright policy to include the option, under certain circumstances, of retaining copyright on embedded content in material published by ACM. Embedded content can now fall into one of three categories: copyright of the content is transferred to ACM as part of the rest of the paper (the default), the content is “third-party” material (not created by the author(s)), or the content is considered an “artistic image.”

The revised copyright form includes this definition of “artistic images”:

“An exception to copyright transfer is allowed for images or figures in your paper which have ‘independent artistic value.’ You or your employer may retain copyright to the artistic images or figures which you created for some purpose other than to illustrate a point in this paper and which you wish to exploit in other contexts.”

The ACM Copyright Policy page also documents this change in policy.

ACM’s electronic copyright system is being updated to implement this change; authors who wish to declare one or more pieces of embedded content in their papers as “artistic images” should contact Stephen Spencer (at <[email protected]>) to receive a PDF version of the revised copyright form.

The copyright form includes instructions for declaring embedded content as “artistic images,” both in your paper and on the copyright form.


Note that this change is “going forward”; if you have already given ACM the copyright, you cannot get it back. Understandable, as otherwise there could be a flood of requests for recategorization.

I’m happy to see this change, it is a good step in the right direction.

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Long-time readers of this blog will be well aware of my position on ACM and Open Access. Although ACM is a non-profit organization which ostensibly has as its only mandate “the advancement of computing as a science and a profession”, the ACM Publications Board has been behaving like a rent-seeking publisher; bullying students working to provide valuable resources to the community, and lobbying the US Government against Open Access initiatives, all in the name of protecting their revenue streams.

I have witnessed an outpouring of anger from the computing community at these events, convincing me that I am not alone in believing that the ACM Publications Board (and by extension the ACM itself) has tragically lost its way, prioritizing its income over the good of computing as a science and a profession. In fighting Open Access they are on the wrong side of history; witness all the leading academic institutions who have come out in favor of the very government Open Access initiative which the ACM has opposed.

If you believe as I do, then now is the chance to make a difference! SIGGRAPH is holding elections now for three Director-at-Large positions, to be selected from five candidates; the deadline for the elections is June 4th. If you are an active SIGGRAPH member, you should have received instructions for voting by now; you can vote at this link. ACM is also holding general elections for various Council positions, including the President of the ACM; you can vote at this link. The deadline for the ACM General Council elections is May 24th.

For me, Open Access is the most important issue in these elections. But which candidates will fight for Open Access, and which for the status quo? Of all the SIGGRAPH candidates, only one has explicitly mentioned Open Access in their position statement (James O’Brien, as Eric pointed out in a recent post), and so far one of the ACM Council candidates have: Salil Vadhan’s statment is here:

To arm voting ACM and SIGGRAPH members with information on the candidates positions, I have composed some questions regarding ACM’s copyright policy and Open Access, and put them up on a web page. I have sent these questions to all the candidates for these elections (except for the few which I have so far been unable to contact), and am posting the answers on the web page as they come in.

So far only two candidates for the SIGGRAPH election have answered; Mashhuda Glencross and James O’Brien. Both answers are Open-Access friendly. No candidates for the ACM Council have come forward yet. Keep following the questions web page, and make sure to use the information there to select candidates, and vote in both elections. Nothing will ever change unless we make our voices heard!

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I received my ACM SIGGRAPH 2010 Election form today, it provides some login info and a PIN. SIGGRAPH members can vote for up to three people for the Director-At-Large positions.

I can be pretty apathetic about these sorts of elections, ACM and IEEE, I have to admit. Sometimes I’ll get inspired and read the statements, sometimes I’ll skim, sometimes I’ll just vote for names I know, sometimes I’ll ignore the whole thing. This year’s ACM SIGGRAPH election is different for me, because of issues brought up by the Ke-Sen Huang situation. Specifically, the ACM’s copyright policy is lagging behind the needs of its members.

For this SIGGRAPH election I was happy to see that James O’Brien is on the slate. In the past James has worked to retain the rights to his own images, so he’s aware of the issues. In his election statement he writes:

The ACM Digital Library has been a great success, but the move to digital publishing has created conflicts between ACM and member interests. ACM and SIGGRAPH are fundamentally member service organizations and I believe that through thoughtful and progressive copyright policies we can better align organization and member needs. Successful copyright policy has to work across formats, and SIGGRAPH is unique among ACM SIGs in that member-generated content spans a diverse range encompassing text, images, and video. Other organizations have embraced Open Access initiatives, but SIGGRAPH and ACM should be leading the way in this area.

He has my vote. He’s also the only candidate who addresses this area of concern, and in a thoughtful and professional manner. If you’re a SIGGRAPH member, I hope you’ll take the time this year to read over the statements, figure out your login ID and user number, and then go vote.

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Now that the SIGGRAPH 2010 paper deadline is over, I thought it worth mentioning ways in which you can retain full use of your own images, should you be fortunate enough to have your work accepted for publication. This isn’t meant as an “ACM’s copyright policy is bad” article, rather it presents some possible workarounds while waiting for the policy to be improved. Think of these ideas as code patches.

A number of graphics people were talking about the ACM’s copyright policy. James O’Brien wrote:

I also am bothered by the fact that ACM claims to own images used in a publication. For example, if I render an image and use it to illustrate a paper, ACM now claims to own the copyright on the image and I am limited in what I can use that image for in the future. I’d like included images and other non-text content to be treated similarly to how 3rd party images are currently treated so that the authors retain copyright to the images and only grant ACM unlimited permission to use.

Larry Gritz replied:

James, why are you more bothered by “I painted the image, now they claim ownership” than “I wrote the words, now they claim ownership”? Aren’t they essentially the same situation?

James responded:

Not really, at least not to me. The images often represent a huge amount of work to demonstrate some algorithm. The words I wrote in an afternoon and I can always write some more words that say roughly the same thing if I had to. The images also have uses beyond the paper. For example, if “Time” magazine writes an article about me, they will want to run the images, or if a textbook author decides to talk about my algorithms s/he may want the images to illustrate the book. I also don’t see the argument for why ACM would benefit by owning the images. It’s a case where it costs the author something but gains ACM nothing, so why not change the policy to maximize everyone’s benefit?

In further discussions, we identified a few different ways to be able to use your own images. Mine is one that was first mentioned in the Ray Tracing News in 2005:

My advice (worth exactly nothing in court) to anyone publishing nowadays is to make two images of any image to be published, one from a fairly different view, etc. In this way you can reuse and grant rights to the second, unpublished image as you wish. That said, there’s an area of law where you compare one photo with another and if they match by 80% (by some eyeballing metric), then they’re considered the same photo for purposes of copyright. Usually this is meant to protect one photographer’s composition from being reused by another. What it means to 3D computer graphics, where it’s easy to change the view, etc., remains to be seen. Still, ACM’s rights to your work are less clear for a new, different image. This sort of thing is small potatoes, but taking action so that you have images and videos you fully own then removes the hassle-factor of granting permission to others wanting to use your work.

James O’Brien said the following:

I’ve bumped into this copyright issue with images a few times. The first was when a book author wanted to use an image of mine in her text. I said yes, but she was subsequently told by ACM that she needed ACM’s permissions and she had to pay a fee and include a notice crediting ACM rather than me.

If you are willing to be persistent, you can keep ownership of your copyright for your whole paper and just grant ACM unlimited permission. I did this in 2005 and if you download “Animating Gases with Hybrid Meshes,” SIGGRAPH 2005, from the DL you will see the copyright notice says “copyright held by author”. That was inserted by them instead of the regular notice after several days of discussion on the phone. It was very unclear what the motivation was for the ACM to insist on owning the images.

If the images are owned by a 3rd party they can only ask you to get permission. After 2005, I did a few papers where I included a note that the images were all copyright by UC Berkeley and used with permission. It’s not clear if that sort of note means anything.

The latest version of the ACM copyright form I’ve seen requires you to fill out an addendum listing 3rd-party-owned components and you have to get a separate permission form for them. My paper in SCA this summer required this form (images owned by Lucas Arts). It was a hassle to get Lucas to sign off on the permissions. But that’s not ACM’s fault… in fact Stephen Spencer was very flexible.

An anonymous person wrote:

Another option would be for people concerned about this to set up an organization, call it Digital Images LLC, that you assign the copyright to as soon as you generate the image. (That will likely require the permission of your university or employer, since the image is arguably a work-made-for-hire under the copyright law and therefore owned by the employer.)

Digital Images LLC then licenses its copyright in the images so that you can use it in papers, books, or other works. As far as ACM is concerned, it’s just like if you used a figure from another source with permission. The ACM policy makes that clear:

The author’s copyright transfer applies only to the work as a whole, and not to any embedded objects owned by third parties. An author who embeds an object, such as an art image that is copyrighted by a third party, must obtain that party’s permission to include the object, with the understanding that the entire work may be distributed as a unit in any medium.

So, there are at least three ways where you can retain full rights to your own images. Mine is “make another”, James’ is “request an exception”, and there’s finally “create an LLC”. If you have another, have information about the use of any of these, or just plain have an opinion, please comment.

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By Naty Hoffman

In 2008, legislation was passed requiring all NIH-funded researchers to submit their papers to an openly available repository within a year of publication.  Even this modest step towards full open access was immediately attacked by rent-seeking scientific publishers.

More recently the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy started to collect public feedback on expanding open access.  The first phase of this process ends on December 20th.

From ACM’s official comment, it is clearly joining the rent-seekers.  This is perhaps not surprising, considering the recent ACM take-down of Ke-Sen Huang’s paper link pages (Bernard Rous, who signed the comment, is also the person who issued the take-down).  In the paper link case ACM did eventually see reason.  At the time, I naively believed this marked a fundamental change in ACM’s approach; I have been proven wrong.

ACM’s comment can be found towards the bottom of this link; I will quote the salient parts here for comment.

ACM: “We think it is imperative that deposits be made in institutional repositories vs. a centralized repository…”

A centralized repository is more valuable than a scattering of papers on author’s institutional web pages.  ACM evidently agrees, given that it has gone to the trouble of setting up just such a repository (the Digital Library).  ACM’s only problem with a central, open access repository is that it would compete with its own (closed) one.  Since an open repository contributes far more value to the community than one locked behind a paywall, ACM appears to value its revenue streams over the good of the community it supposedly exists to serve.

ACM: “…essentially everything ACM publishes is freely available somewhere on the Web… In our community, as in others, voluntary posting is working.”

This is demonstrably false.  Almost every graphics conference has papers which are not openly available.  Many computing fields are even worse off.

Most infuriatingly, ACM presents a false balance between its own needs and the needs of the computing community:

ACM: “…there is a fundamental balance or compromise in how ACM and the community have approached this issue – a balance that serves both… We think it is imperative that any federally mandated open access policy maintain a similar balance… There is an approach to open access that allows the community immediate access to research results but also allows scholarly publishers like ACM to sustain their publishing programs. It is all about balance.”

What nonsense is this?  The ACM has no legitimate needs or interests other than those of its members!  How would U.S. voters react to a Senator claiming that a given piece of legislation (say, one reducing restrictions on campaign financing) “strikes a fundamental balance between the needs of the Senate and those of the United States of America”?  ACM has lost its way, profoundly and tragically.

As much as Mr. Rous would like to think otherwise, ACM’s publishing program is not an end in itself, but a means to an end.  ACM arguing that an open repository of papers would be harmful because it “undermines the unique value” of ACM’s closed repository is like the Salvation Army arguing that a food stamp program is harmful because it “undermines the unique value” of their soup kitchens.

If you are an ACM member, these statements were made in your name.  Regardless of membership, if you care at all about access to research publications please make your opinion known.  Read the OSTP blog post carefully, and post a polite, well-reasoned argument in the comments.  Note that first you need to register and log in – the DigitalKoans blog has the details:

Note: To post comments on the OSTP Blog, you must register and login. There are registration and login links on the sidebar of the blog home page at the bottom right (these links are not on individual blog postings).

Hurry!  The deadline for Phase I comments (which include the ACM comment) is December 20th, though you can make your opinion known in the other phases as well.

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Well, not just from the ACM, but also from people involved in the Ke-Sen Huang and ACM Publications situation.

  • ACM SIGGRAPH membership also gives you access to just about all computer graphics papers in the ACM Digital Library. This I knew already, but found that others haven’t realized it. Any conference sponsored by SIGGRAPH is available, from what I can tell, e.g. I3D. I noticed a few weeks ago that the SIGGRAPH 2009  Posters were not accessible to me through this benefit; the ACM fixed this problem when I reported it.
  • Deep linking, where one site links directly to content on another site, is not illegal. The EFF notes that deep linking has not yet been found to be illegal by the courts. However, linking to sites providing infringing (illegal) copies of a work for download is contributory infringement.
  • “Sweat of the brow” compilations, such as the white pages of phone books, are not copyright. There is no original expression involved, so the Supreme Court ruled such are not protected. Paula Samuelson’s article in the Communications of the ACM (Google Scholar hits here) is a fascinating overview. Titles are not copyright. Elements such as the order in a Table of Contents are in a gray area, from what I can see. The ordering and grouping of the articles into sessions may be copyright protected – the courts have not ruled, as far as I know. Changing that order on an external web page would then not be copyright, since it would be a different “original” expression. Alphabetized or numerical ordering is not copyright protected.
  • You do not need to enforce your copyright to maintain it, unlike a trademark. You can ignore an infringement and not lose your rights. So the argument that a copyright must be protected now in order to preserve it in the future is incorrect.

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We have mentioned Ke-Sen Huang’s awesome paper preprint link pages in many previous posts – they’re the best graphics resource on the web by a long shot.

Early last week, many people (including myself) were shocked to see most of the pages replaced by the following:

REMOVED – This page has been removed at the request of the ACM Publications Board

This resulted in an outpouring of anger as well as support for Ke-Sen.  Many people in the community contacted the ACM Publications Board to try to convince them to change their position.

Fortunately, the story has a happy ending.  Today, Ke-Sen received the following email:

Dear Ke-Sen,

As you are aware, the computer graphics community has expressed dismay and concern about the removal of your web pages. ACM wants to make it possible for you to continue this service that the community clearly values very highly. By this message ACM grants permission for you to repost the pages, with the addition of links to the authoritative versions of the papers in the ACM Digital Library. The author’s home page links may also be included, but should not be links directly to the author’s version of the paper. Please post on the site that the information is being provided with the permission of the ACM. This is the solution you proposed earlier, and it is clear from the community’s comments that it is the right thing to do.

As you know, the concern about your pages was ACM copyright policy with regard to links. As a result of the community discussion, ACM will institute a formal review of this portion of its copyright policy.

Please contact us with any concerns or questions.


Patricia Ryan
ACM Chief Operating Officer

ACM also offered to help with the work of adding the Digital Library links.  So nothing will be removed from Ke-Sen’s pages, and additional useful links will be added.

It will take a little while until the pages are back up, but they will be better than ever.  In the meantime, you can go to the Way Back Machine and find his pages from 2007 and earlier.

The graphics community has engaged with the ACM in a much more active manner than usual, which is a good thing.  We need to remember that it is our organization, and it is only as good as we make it.  So consider volunteering for conferences, paying more attention to ACM elections, etc. – I know I will.

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