December 21, 2005

A holiday break

We all deserve a nice holiday break, a chance to read some books for fun for a change. I hope to do plenty of that (Yay!) and to catch up on the considerable posting backlog for the other blog. See you all in the new year.

Women in computing

A bunch of posts on women in computing, mostly about how the numbers have actually declined recently:

Dover, PA

Great news. The decision (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) in the Dover case on teaching evolution in the classroom has been released and the judge basically called the supporters of ID a bunch of liars:

The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy
I haven't read a lot of legal decisions in my time, but this is certainly going to be one of them. Solid coverage at Wikipedia, of course.

Update: Via EvolutionBlog, a very good summary of the decision by Jason Rosenhouse.

December 20, 2005

Your resume says you're some kind of intermediate species

A very funny Dilbert cartoon.

Google Librarian Newsletter

The first Google librarian newsletter is out, with a feature article on How does Google collect and rank results? with some nice info on their crawling and relevance ranking techniques.

The Access Principle

A nice interview (with discussion in the comments) with John Willinsky, author of The Access Principle: The Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship.

A taste:

Q: Many publishers argue that journals and materials for which one must pay are somehow by definition of higher quality than various open models. How do you respond?

A: The empirical evidence argues otherwise: For example, the Public Library of Science (PLoS) Biology, a relatively new open access journal that operates on author fees, has the highest “impact factor” (number of times articles are cited) by a considerable margin among biology journals indexed by the ISI Web of Science. But that is only part of the quality story. The majority of journals now allow their authors to “self archive” their published articles in open access institutional repositories (usually located in the author’s university library). But note that in all cases, someone pays, though it is not necessarily the reader, and these alternatives are greatly increasing access to this knowledge.

December 16, 2005

In defence of Wikipedia

The Wikipedia/Britannica comparison in Nature has been much in the blogospheric news lately (here for example), and Will Richardson points to a very nice summary of the main issues by Danah Boyd. I'll quote the paragraph before Richardson quotes:

I am worried about how academics are treating Wikipedia and i think that it comes from a point of naivety. Wikipedia should never be the sole source for information. It will never have the depth of original sources. It will also always contain bias because society is inherently biased, although its efforts towards neutrality are commendable. These are just realizations we must acknowledge and support. But what it does have is a huge repository of information that is the most accessible for most people. Most of the information is more accurate than found in a typical encyclopedia and yet, we value encyclopedias as a initial point of information gathering. It is also more updated, more inclusive and more in-depth. Plus, it's searchable and in the hands of everyone with digital access (a much larger population than those with encyclopedias in their homes). It also exists in hundreds of languages and is available to populations who can't even imagine what a library looks like. Yes, it is open. This means that people can contribute what they do know and that others who know something about that area will try to improve it. Over time, articles with a lot of attention begin to be inclusive and approximating neutral. The more people who contribute, the stronger and more valuable the resource. Boycotting Wikipedia doesn't make it go away, but it doesn't make it any better either.

I must admit I'm on the Wikipedia side for this one. No reference source is perfect, the all have some bias, some inaccuracies. It seems to me if all the world's experts actually contributed to Wikipedia instead of complaining that it isn't any good...

The Patent Librarian

Via Eldnet-l, Michael White of Queens University has started up a blog, The Patent Librarian, for academic librarians who use patent information:

I'm still tweaking the format, but the content is aimed at academic librarians who work with patent information. My hope is to create a forum for exchanging ideas and information related to patent data and documentation, search tools and techniques, free and commercial databases, patent statistics, training tips, USPTO information dissemination policy, and other related topics.
Yet another scitech librarian blog by a Canadian...must be something in the water.

December 8, 2005

November 25, 2005

Goodbye and Good Luck to Computing Chris

Chris Leonard of Elsevier has just posted this on his Computing Chris blog:

OK - the news is out! I am leaving Elsevier as of today to pursue opportunities elsewhere. I have had fun and met some amazing people, but I feel the time is right to move back to England and have a fresh start in another field entirely.

To everyone who reads the blog, who I have met at conferences and visited at your institutes - thanks for making the last few years so enjoyable.

Best wishes for the future,

PS: I will remain contactable on cjleonard at mac dot com. Also, I will try to keep up with the blogging here.

Although Chris was only part of the scitech biblioblogosphere for short time, I always appreciated the insights he gave into the journal publishing world.

On the off-chance Elsevier removes his blog, it's worth reprinting here his post on 14 Steps to the Perfect CS Journal:

  1. FREE ACCESS - at least at the point of use. Subscribers access the journal for 1 year, then all articles are available to everyone who wants them?
  2. DIGITAL PRESERVATION - the profileration of electronic journals is all well and good, but they need to be available in 100 years time. This could be done by independent 3rd parties.
  3. UPDATEABLE ARTICLES - following the example of versions on arXiv, authors should be able to update their articles whenever new date or results are available. Old versions remain available as well.
  4. BETTER PEER REVIEW - open, on-going peer review. Anyone can comment on an article and suggest improvements or point out inaccuracies. Maybe also worth adopting something like F1000 or this reviewer rating system.
  5. SOME PROFIT - a commercial company needs to make a profit to survive. What would be an acceptable level of profit to make (after tax)? Any excess could go to reducing the costs of the journal subscriptions.
  6. INTERACTIVE ARTICLES - apart from readers being able to leave comments on an article, it would be nice to see some real functionality in CS articles. Maybe raw data for manipulation within Mathematica or Maple?
  7. RAW DATA - all articles to have raw data available on the web in an open, interchangeable format.
  8. INSTANT PUBLISHING - if we adopt a model whereby people can comment on articles when they are published, peer-review becomes an constant, ongoing process. Authors may choose to make sure the paper is refereed before submission. When the editor evaluates a submission, he or she is simply making sure it makes sense and is in the right journal - a 10 minute process, eliminating the need for lengthy review processes.
  9. OPTIONAL PRINT - electronic journals with an optional print version available for a small fee.
  10. RSS FEEDS - all journals to have RSS feeds for Table of Contents.
  11. SOCIAL SOFTWARE - allow users to tag articles to create a folksonomy (good for discovering articles from other journals you wouldn’t normal consult). Adopt things like ‘interestingness’ but for journal articles.
  12. SEARCH ENGINES - abstract or full-text indexed in all search engines.
  13. ADVISORY BOARD - alongside an editorial board, an advisory board of scientists and librarians to suggest and comment on new directions for publishing the journal.
  14. CUSTOMER SERVICE - available via email, but also Skype, instant messaging etc. A regular weblog from this source would also help keep interested parties updated on what is happening behind the scences.

November 24, 2005

15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense

Thanks to John Rennie at Scientific American for making the above article that he wrote freely available to the world at the following link. A while back I emailed the SciAm digital library asking if they could make the article available for free on their website. I remembered the artcile very clearly from when I'd read it in July 2002 and remembered it as a very useful summary of the main points for defending evolution. In any case, I shortly got back a very nice response from Rennie, the Editor-in-Chief, saying that they would make the article available and that they were in the process of creating a pro-evolution web presence on their site. It's been a while since I last checked to see if the article was up, but I did today and it's there now. There's also a link to the sidebar material from the original article on other resources for defending evolution.

Thanks to SciAm and John Rennie for performing this valuable service.

Here's the link that the SciAm website wants me to use:

Scientific American: 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense
Opponents of evolution want to make a place for creationism
by tearing down real science, but their arguments don't hold up

November 22, 2005

TA's as the Key to Science Teaching

A thought-provoking article by Scott Jaschik over at InsideHigherEd. It seems that if you spend a little time teaching TAs how to teach and supporting their efforts while they're teaching, you get happier students, who then want to remain in your program.

November 21, 2005

Engineering makes you sexier...

Or maybe not. As much as I like Dilbert, as funny as I think it is, as much as it refects what my previous life as a software developer was like, I also have to think that it might be one of the worst things that ever happened to the profession, at least in terms of forging a positive public image. If kids are staying away from engineering (and science) careers, maybe it's because there are so few positive images of scitech careers in the media. Think about it -- what tv show out there portrays science and scientists in a positive light? You can name them on the fingers of one hand. Compare the media image of scitech careers with doctors, lawyers, police, mediums, ghost hunters and all the rest. Thank god for the odd forensic expert on the police shows (I consider CSI & its clones more cop shows than scientist shows). I think this lack of positive image in the media also plays an important role in discouraging girls from pursuing scitech careers, again comparing the progress women have made in fields like law & medicine where there are lots of positive media role models. End of rant.

Geeks R Us

A couple of less-than-serious posts from Locusmag:

By the way, I hope to get back to my regular posting frequency in the next couple of weeks. In particular, I'm working on a "My Job in 10 Years -- Further Comment" essay about my love-hate relationship with Google which I'm going to try and finish this week. November may just be one of those months.

November 10, 2005

Game developer demographics

The Internation Game Developers' Association has just released a Demographics Report on their industry.

The typical gamer is:

  • Male (88.5%)
  • White (83.3%)
  • Heterosexual (92%)
  • 31 years old
  • 5.4 years in the industry

With lots more information on level of education and other demographic information. Apparently, the industry is worried that a workforce lacking in diversity won't be able to create games that will have broader appeal. The IGDA has a page full of various reports on issues such as quality of life in the industry, legal issues, censorship and a bunch of SIGs. via SciFi Weekly, believe it or not.

Women & Engineering

Prism, The ASEE's magazine, is usually a good read. Interesting discussions about the challenges of engineering Education. The latest is highlighted in ASEE's Engineering & blog here. In particular, the cover story on the challenges of attracking women into engineering is very good. It covers some of the obstacles women face, why engineering is not attractive to women and what one female engineer is doing to change things. Bravo to Prism for this great set of articles. The links from the Engineering & page are to full text for all the articles.

October 31, 2005

Annals of Research on Engineering Education

Via the ASEE's Internation Engineering Education Digest, the Annals of Research on Engineering Education looks to be an interesting place to explore pedagogical issues.

A cool quote from A Day in the Library by Anthony Robins, Janet Rountree and Nathan Rountree:

What are the most important things I learned about doing educational research while doing this project? The old adage is true - a month in the lab can easily save you a day in the library. Or in other words, there is a lot of useful literature out there - read it!

Recently in BoingBoing

  • Stanford launches iTunes Service here. This is kinda cool. Students can download news, lectures and other stuff, including the school song. So, is the library involved?
  • Igloo making tool. Living in Canada, as winter approaches, this seems strangely practical.
  • How much is your blog worth. This is both evil and pointless (and probably lots of other things too), but somehow inevitable. You know, I know, we're both going to check.
  • Board-game based on C/C++/Java. This could probably win some all-time geekiness awards. Seeing the post made me strangely nostalgic for Fortran, the first programming language I learned and still amazingly in use by scientists and engineers all over.

October 28, 2005

Engineering &...

A new blog/newletter from the ASEE, Engineering &... "features examples of how engineering
relates to the world around us -- how engineering intersects with the economy, society, education, and national interests to the benefit of all." via ASEE Action Alert.

SciAm Observations: A blog from the editors of Scientific American

Recently relaunched, this could be a good blog to keep an eye for for science news & commentary. Subject categories on the blog include:

  • Archaeology
  • Earth Science
  • Environment
  • Ethics and Science
  • Global Warming and Climate Change
  • I.D. and Creationism
  • Life Sciences
  • Medicine
  • Philosophy
  • Physics
  • Politics and Science
  • Science and the Arts
  • Skepticism
  • Space and Cosmology
  • Technology
The feed is here.

Is your main character a young farmhand with mysterious parentage?

Ok, a totally frivolous Friday post. Take a look at The Fantasy Novelist's Exam -- it's flat-out hilarious. via Blog of a Bookslut.

Diversity is hard

Nice post from Jane.

October 26, 2005

Recently in InsideHigherEd

There's almost nothing out there I'm paying closer attention to these days than the always-stimulating InsideHigherEd. Virtually everyday there seems to be something worth reading:

  • They're continuing to publish terrific articles about the battle for science and against superstition. Engaging the Public by David Epstein and A Call to Action Against Intelligent Design by Scott Jaschik are the two most recent. InsideHigherEd are performing an amazing and brave public service by making space for this debate to take place and for coming down so clearly on the side of evolution. It would be easy for them not to court controversy and take a "middle of the road" perspective, but they're not taking the easy path.
  • We Need Humanities Labs By Gina Hiatt is a wonderful article that contrasts the warm and fuzzy lab culture in the sciences and how it is so successful in nurturing grad students with the more isolating and lonely experience of grads in the humanities and social sciences.
  • The Professor as Personal Trainer By Alex Golub is a bit old fashioned -- a "no pain, no gain" attitude towards education.
  • Joystick Nation is about using video game technology in higher education.

Patent search workshop ppts

Brian Gray of the Kelvin Smith Library at Case Western Reserve University recently posted at STS-L and other lists a PowerPoint presentation he'd used for a patent search workshop. I think it's a great presentation, full of information and tips which I'm sure we could all benefit from in our own patent workshops.

October 18, 2005

My job in 10 years -- Collections pt. 2

Back to a regular schedule for the rest of these little essays, I hope.

To recap:

My Job in 10 Years:

Databases. Publisher journal datasets, full text aggregator databases, citation databases, periodical indexes, full text historical newspaper databases. The range of databases out there boggles the imagination. What will survive and what will wither away in the face of Google Scholar? What will I have to pay for and what will be available for free? Clearly the key challenge to the creators of these databases will be to add value.

Bibliographic databases. If what you can get for free is good enough, why pay for something else? In 10 years, will Google and its successors be virtually good enough for everything, leaving no room for the traditional abstracting and indexing vendors we have today? On this I'm fairly certain the answer is going to be “yes.” I don't think it'll be too long before the database vendors will have a very hard time convincing me to lay out very big bucks for their data. It will be a huge challenge for the A&I vendors to step up and conquer the Google monster. We may not even be that far away. When Google Scholar is out of beta, presumably having taken advantage of all the free R&D feedback we librarians have given them, I predict it won't be too long before it will be good enough for virtually all needs. Sure, there will be niche areas that won't be well served at first, sure some publishers will continue to refuse to give Google their metadata (especially publishers that also own A&I databases), but I have a hard time believing that this won't all pan out in 10 year's time. Remember, these services will be in big trouble when Google Scholar starts being barely good enough, not when Google is a perfect replacement for their services. And what happens when Google starts buying up the A&I services to get their metadata? Will all those A&I services actually disappear in 10 years? I doubt it. Habit and inertia will probably continue to influence our buying decisions, but the writing will certainly be on the wall.

Their only hope? Adding huge amounts of value: better searching interfaces, alerting services, RSS, innovative data analysis tools. We're already starting to see it with services like Web of Science, Scopus & SciFinder: a huge evolutionary push to add more value, to make the products worth buying. And those three will be amongst the best placed in my opinion because they do concentrate on adding value to the data. So, in 10 years, very little of my job will be involved in A&I indexes. Unless, of course, once Google Scholar has conquered them all, it becomes a for-fee product too.

So, what will I do with all that money I'm saving...

Full Text Databases. To me this seems to be a huge growth area, one that will definitely survive and thrive. The killer app here is digitizing the vast amounts of print material that's out there and making it searchable. Newspapers, journals, magazines, everything. People already expect that everything worth reading is online -- it seems to me a good marketing strategy is making it so. This is stuff I'm willing to pay for, things that my patrons will want to be able to access and read. It's already happening: the New York Times, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, all the JSTOR journals, Google Print. In 10 years, these will be the hot commodities in our libraries, all the stuff that the students are so frustrated that they can't find online. Why not all the Canadian newspapers back to the first issue? Why not all the books in Google Print full text searchable (and readable, for a fee). Who doesn't want to license the full text version of Google Print when it's finished -- and it should have made some pretty good progress in 10 years. Lots of journals haven’t had their backfiles digitized yet. And what about digitized versions of scholar's private papers?

In 10 years, collecting and providing access to these full text collections will be a major part of my job, the money freed up from A&I databases funding massive digitization projects. As usual, just making sure all those student eyeballs know that the library has what they're looking for is going to be a major challenge.

And why just text? Why not image and digital video collections, old movies, tv series, documentaries? Audio files from old radio broadcasts? There's not much I can't imagine becoming part of our collections.

Now, some of this isn’t directly scitech related, but I think many of these resources would benefit the entire patron community and should be supported.

Other. So, what else will I be collecting in 10 years? Lots of stuff that's a bit on the fringe for your average library today will become mainstream. The biggest will be data -- climatic, geospatial, astrophysical, statistical, genomic, sensor data of all sorts. Science will become more and more obsessed with computational methods, and that kind of research both requires and generates large amounts of data. It will be part my job to make sure that the data generated at my institution is widely accessible to other scholars as well as making sure the world of data out there is known by and accessible to the scholars at my institution. Getting them to realize I can help with that sort of thing (and to deposit their data in our repository) is always going to be a challenge.

Learning is becoming more and more interactive, active learning is an oft-heard buzzword. For a generation raised on video games, learning will become more like a video game. It makes sense that the library would be in a good position to collect and make accessible the kinds of interactive learning modules that will start to become popular in the next 10 years. Just as learning becomes more interactive, it will also become more connected and shared. It also makes sense that the library will be able to play a role is setting up and maintaining connected, shared learning spaces (the ancestors of which are blogs and wikis) in which the interactive modules will reside. In a sense, I guess I'll be able to "collect" these environments; I will have to make sure other campus constituencies don't jump into these kinds of things before I'm even aware. The library has a lot to bring to the table, but it's important to know that we'll have to invite ourselves rather than waiting for someone else to think of us. Making sure library computing facilities have the software applications students need is also a form of collecting. And then, of course, is the stuff I’ll be collecting that I can’t even imagine now.

Next up: Instruction.

October 17, 2005

The World of Mathematical Equations - EqWorld

Via NA-Net, EqWorld looks to be a fine resource on equations.

The voice of academic librarianship... finally here. Steven Bell notes the ACRLog that he will be contributing to. From the Why an ACRL Blog page:

ACRLog has its origins in an essay published at the Inside Higher Ed by Scott McLemee. Titled “Silence in the Stacks,” McLemee expressed his curiosity about the lack of a quintessential blog on academic librarianship. Certainly there were (are?) blogs by academic librarians on topics of interest to the academic and research library community, but nowhere in the blogosphere could one find a home for the full spectrum of issues facing academic and research libraries and those who work in them. Nor did any existing blog reflect on the higher education enterprise and how the library fits into that bigger picture.

That’s the void ACRLog will seek to fill. It’s a grand vision, and giving life to and sustaining any blog of this magnitude is work for more than one person. ACRLog is no exception. It will deliver content from a team of bloggers whose members are no strangers to voicing their opinions, tackling controversial issues, and writing about the value academic librarians bring to their academic communities. In short, they are passionate about the profession. The team approach also ensures coverage of the issues from a diversified set of perspectives.

My frustration at the narrow-minded wrong-headedness of the original McLemee article is undimmed, but I won't let that prevent me from wishing this new venture the best of luck and subscribing right away. I also hope that they expand the list of contributors to become a little more representative of the academic library experience, say including scitech, business and technical services representatives at least.

UPDATE: Scott McLemee has a profile of the new blog on InsideHigherEd.

O'Reilly podcast: Distributing the Future

Distributing the Future is a new "public beta" podcast by O'Reilly. I've listened to the most recent edition and it was a quite stimulating recap of the first day of the Web 2.0 conference. The title comes from William Gibson's quote: "The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed yet." (Gibson Wikipedia entry)

October 14, 2005

Recently in InsideHigherEd

Inside Higher Ed -- New Academic Programs

InsideHigerEd periodically does a brief roundup of new programs -- useful for getting an idea of what is hot out there.

October 12, 2005

Latest from the IEEE

From What's New @ IEEE for Students, October 2005:

IEEE Spectrum, the flagship magazine of the IEEE, has relaunched its website with numerous new features, including an editor's blog, RSS feeds, webcasts, podcasts, streaming audio, opinion polls, and more. Check it out at:

Not yet using RSS (also known as Really Simple Syndication) to get your daily news fix? IEEE Spectrum has a primer on this rapidly developing communication medium:

October 6, 2005

Ig Nobel's Today!

I won't be around tomorrow to be able to post the results of the Ig Nobel prize ceremony, but they're always well worth checking out. You'd better put your coffee down and shut your office door before checking out past winners.

Profile of Tim O'Reilly

Very interesting profile of computer book/Safari/etc publisher Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media Inc. The industry could use a lot more people like him. via BoingBoing.

October 5, 2005

Tangled Bank

Check out Tangled Bank, a Carnival for Science Bloggers. Current issue is #38 at Living the Scientific Life.

Update: And don't forget to check our very own Carnival of the Infosciences -- #9 is the latest.

October 3, 2005

York U Library Newsletter

The Fall 2005 issue of the York University Libraries faculty newsletter News U Can Use is up. It has a feature on my library, the Steacie Science & Engineering Library. On the feature page, I'm the one helping out the rather distinguished-looking faculty member (Paul Delaney) at our reference desk.

To Debate or Not to Debate Intelligent Design?

It's always easy to make fun of those you disagree with, to ridicule them, to belittle them and, ultimately, to dehumanize and despise them. Unfortunately, this is all too common a strategy these days in what passes for political discourse. Now, this isn't a politcal blog and I won't bore everyone with my rants on that subject. On the other hand, it's probably not too hard to guess where I fall on the evolution vs. intelligent design debate.

Rants and raves never change anyone's minds, they really only create defensiveness and a hardening of opinion. So, how to approach such a controversial and impassioned issue with the idea of changing people's minds but without creating an operatic, bombastic, inconclusive, polarizing debate?

Gerald Graff has an idea: Teach the Controversy.

September 27, 2005

Round up

From various sources:

September 26, 2005

Horse chess-piece

Weird little bit of news today. Springer has adopted the horse chess-piece as its new umbrella branding logo. It's reported both on KnowledgeSpeak and on the Springer site. In itself that's not weird, as chess has long been associated with intelligence and the German name for the horse chess-piece is springer. The weird thing is, of course, if they're so intelligent, why couldn't they figure out that the English name for the horse chess-piece is the knight. It's not like it's hard to find sites where they list the names of the pieces in different languages.

September 20, 2005

IEEE Technology and Society Magazine

The latest issue of this IEEE magazine is a special issue on Globalizing Technological Education (v24i3).

Highlights from this important and topical issue:

September 16, 2005

Latest from IEEE Students Newsletter.

From the September 2005 issue:

A twenty-one-nation study of the percentage of women in mathematics and science careers found that women did not enter those careers despite more opportunities to study those subjects, even if they came from societies that supported women's entry into male-dominated fields. However, researchers at the University of California, San Diego, and Western Washington University say that countries with the highest number of women in computer science all have governments that control which fields students must study, and require substantial math and science coursework. The researchers concluded that educational systems should insist on more math and science for all students to increase the number of women in traditionally male-dominated fields. Read more:

According to a professor of physics and education at Augsburg College, girls appear to lose interest in science and mathematics by the time they reach their early teens, making it harder for them to prepare for careers in those fields. Speaking with the Minnesota Women's Press, Professor Jeanine Gregoire says those early years are critical, because if students do not prepare to take advanced math and science in high school, they are at a disadvantage in college. Likewise, girls need mentors who have succeeded in math and science careers, according to a University of
Minnesota researcher, not merely to know what careers exist, but to understand that there are a number of different paths into a given field. Read more:

When it comes to reaching out to teenage students and talking up careers in engineering and science, IEEE members around the world are deeply involved. Just ask Costas Stasopoulos, past chair of the IEEE Cyprus Section. Many members of his section participate in pre-university educational activities, because, he says, they realize the importance of these activities to the engineering profession. Their efforts are directed mainly toward high school students, especially those who have not decided what to study in university. In particular, Cyprus Section members attend career fairs, where they can reach students and their parents. Read more:

Survey of the Biblioblogosphere: Results

Meredith over at Information Wants To Be Free has published the results of her survey in four parts, with a TOC-like entry here. Interesting results, nothing really surprising, although at 9.8% us Canuck bloggers seem to be punching above our weight somewhat. Academic librarians also made up close to half at 43.8%, which I admit did surprise me a bit. Take that, doubters. I have to admit I wasn't at all surprised by the strong showing of 27.9% among the over-40 set. We're not all tired, bored, indifferent, burnt-out old losers. Really.

September 14, 2005

CiteSeer out of date?

Computing Chris over at Elsevier points out that CiteSeer isn't crawling the web the way it used to. I think it's just taking author-submitted papers now. In any case, I recall a year or two ago hearing at SLA that the CiteSeer folks were working on something with ISI...

In any case, CC does mention Scirus and I'm sure he was also thinking Scopus.

Via LISNews, Infomation Architecture guru Peter Morville has a new blog and a new book. This could be a blog to watch, although I guess we now all have a new term to juggle in our brains: human factors, user experience (UX), usability, findability, ergonomics, information architecture, HCI.

September 8, 2005

Disciplinary differences report

Via OAN, JISC in the UK has done quite an extensive survey of scholarly communications patterns amongst various disciplines. The report is a rather large 92 page word file. I haven't read the report in detail yet, but a quick glance tells me it is very useful, covering at a very broad level issues like discovery tools, journals types preferred and OA-related practices.

A quick hit from the press release:

Among the many findings of the report was the discovery of the importance of e-prints (pre- and post-) in the physical sciences and engineering, the broader mix in the social sciences and the particular importance of books in languages and area studies.

The Ex

Went to The Canadian National Exhibition with the family over the extra-long Labour Day weekend. We had a blast. Fine, but what relevance here? While at the food building, I picked up a brochure for the upcoming Einstein Fest in Waterloo, Ontario. Sponsored by the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, it runs from September 30th to October 23rd and looks well worth checking out for anyone in the neighbourhood.

Good ways to handle scientific disagreements.

Via InsideHigherEd, a posting on how scientists resolve disagreements.

August 25, 2005

Scientist Trading Cards

Okay, this is cool. A trading card series featuring scientists (and popularizers) such as Einstein, Turing, Watson & Crick, Carl Sagan, Claude Shannon, Marie Curie and many others. The BoingBoing post laments that Tesla wasn't included; I, however, wouldn't mind seeing some Canadian content like David Suzuki, Banting & Best or Donald Coxeter. It seems from AllTooFlat's Cafepress site that the actual card set isn't for sale yet, but that you can buy some other related merch.

A weird little bit I stumbled across reading the Wikipedia entry on Charles Best -- it seems that both he and Banting are buried in the Mount Pleasant Cemetery, just a few blocks south of where I live. You can see the Cemetary using Google Maps, just search on "mount pleasant cemetery toronto."

Libraries for Dummies

Libraries for Dummies is a blog by an anonymous public librarian. What makes it a bit different is that it's all about this librarian's very negative interactions with the public. She skewers everyone -- the rude, the obnoxious, the helpless, the unstable, the clueless -- with a rare glee. Mostly pretty amusing but often a bit cruel, and mostly without much sympathy. We all have war stories about dealing with less than idea patrons, but I like to think most of us have a bit more emphathy. Not that I didn't enjoy the rants, of course. via LibraryStuff.

August 22, 2005

More on "Is Computer Science Science"

Some more interesing links on the eternal question:

Survey of the biblioblogosphere

Over at Information Wants to Be Free, there's a survey of library bloggers mostly asking demographic information. The results should be interesting, though perhaps not as controversial as Walt's survey in the latest Cites & Insights. (And yes, I checked: 63)

August 19, 2005

Silly talk about science

Via InsideHigherEd, a very funny posting from a physicist's strange encounter with his hairdresser. Also lots of comments with other scientists' funny stories.

From the comments, my fave so far (italics mine):

Last year I was on my way back to the US from Canada and passing through US immigration in Toronto. I usually expect to get a few questions and so wasn’t surprised when the immigrations guy asks me what I’m doing in the US. Nor was I surprised when my answer of “I’m a postdoc at Brown University” got a blank(ish) stare either. Then he asks what I was doing in Canada and I tell him that I was visiting the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. He asks what it is I study and I respond “string theory”. Then he says: “Do you study string theory or 11-dimensional M-theory? Do you know about black holes? Do they have entropy?”. I pick my jaw off the floor and answer him. To his satisfaction I guess cos he then responds (after seeing a bit of a line forming behind me): “Ok, I want to talk some more about physics so I’m going to look at your passport and the computer screen and you just look a little worried for a bit.”

Anyway, turns out that the guy used to be a librarian in the physics department of some university before joining immigration.

An aside to Christina, yes, I often get the same shocked/puzzled look when I tell people I have a B. Computer Science. There's gotta be a lot of mileage in a silly talk about librarianship thread.

August 18, 2005

Science & Religion

Ever have one of those conversations, where the other person really just wants you to believe that science is just another faith-based belief system, just like religion? Yeah, me too. Over at Kuro5hin there's an interesting little bit on how to approach that kind of discussion. The comments are fun too. The science category has a lot of iteresting posts with lively discussion.

August 17, 2005

New CS/E-related stuff

A bunch of recent items, mostly via InsideHigherEd, Computing Chris or one via John White of ACM.

August 16, 2005

A History of Computer Chess

It appears that the Computer History Museum will be mounting an exhibit on the history of computer chess in September. Check out this preview at the Chessbase site.

I'm back...and musings on computational paleontology

Yesterday I returned to work after four weeks of vacation, feeling rested and ready to tackle a long backlog of work & posting. The travel part of my vacation included eight days in New York City and six days in Montreal. The Montreal part was mostly family & friends oriented and included no science-related activities. The New York part included a whole day at the American Museum of Natural History, which was spectacular. The feature exhibit was Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries which was the highlight for me. My sons' highlights were the Hall of Human Biology and Evolution and the giant whale model.

The dinosaur exhibit was very interesting for me -- the main thrust was that a lot of the cutting edge dinosaur research is actually combining information from fossils with biomechanical computer models to try and figure out how dinos moved around. It got me thinking, is there a new field of computational paleontology? Well, I googled it and got 864 hits. Not sure if that's a big number or a small number, over the last couple of days I googled a whole bunch of other computational this or thats to see what the lay of the land is, to be able to compare one computerized field to another. Below I share my results. All were googled as phrases, i.e. "computational mathematics." The first bunch are obviously scitech fields, for comparason. I also googled a bunch of humanities & social science fields to see if they are being invaded by geeks and nerds.

Paleontology: 864
Mathematics: 258,000
Geometry: 635,000
Statistics: 112,000
Physics: 466,000
Biology 1,190,000
Molecular biology: 91,800
Chemistry: 521,000
Fluid mechanics: 25,200
Fluid dynamics: 556,000
Logic: 128,000
Geosciences: 11,500
Materials (science): 84,100/63,100
Mechanics: 195,000
Biomechanics: 5,190
Electronics: 11,800
Neuroscience: 167,000
Astronomy: 881,000
Engineering: 115,000
Science: 666,000

Economics: 110,000
Linguistics: 688,000
Management science: 5,780
Psychology: 8,380
Sociology: 3,590
Anthroplogy: 1,040
Philosophy: 5,110
History: 438
Religion: 13
Law: 71
Political science: 14
Social science(s): 848/303
Humanities: 188

Bioinformatics: 19,100,000
numerical analysis: 1,910,000

Of course, some things are obvious. The research in most all scitech fields is more and more being done with computers, be it biology or physics. Computer modeling of scientific problems is becoming the norm. It's also not hard to see that the hottest of the hot is biology/bioinformatics. I googled just bioinformatics (not computational bioinformatics) to give a baseline and it got more hits than all the rest put together, no doubt due to the commercial opportunities in genetic research. I also googled numerical analysis to get a sense of the size of that for comparason to the math-related fields. Interesting that NA was 10% of bioinformatics, no doubt due as much to the flakiness of the google counts at those high numbers as anything else.

It was also interesting to see that some humanities/social science disciplines are seeing computational creep and that some, apparently, aren't.

July 15, 2005

Taking a break

I'm on vacation for the next four weeks (Yay!), back to work on August 15th. I'll be out of town for some of that time but home quite a bit so I may post here sporadically. In particular, I guess I won't get to the rest of the 10 Year speculations for a while. What I would like to do is spend a lot more time reading and posting on the other blog.

Scitech PhDs

A couple of recent articles on the situation of scitech doctoral studies in the US and Canada. For the Canadian situation, see the following CTV story which references this StatsCan report (and here for the report itself). For the US, the article Lost Dominance in Ph.D. Production by Scott Jaschik is mostly about the growth of programs outside the US compared to within. There is much lively debate in the comments section. The original report from the National Bureau of Economic Research is avaible here.

Canadian Journal of Communication

The Canadian Journal of Communication (v29i3) has a bunch of articles on scholarly communications. Included among them is Publishing Trends and Practices in the Scientific Community by Aldyth Holmes.

Life among the, make that undergrads

A fascinating post over on InsideHigherEd about an anthopology prof who went "undercover" in a residence to study how undergrads really feel about their educations. Many interesting insights, I'm sure many applicable to libraries as well. Can't wait for the book.

July 6, 2005

Cool stuff

Via various sources:

July 4, 2005

My job in 10 years -- Further thoughts on books & journals

I seem to be having a lot of further thoughts on these things....I hope all this isn't too tedious for my patient readers. It looks like all this is going way longer than I thought. In any case, there are a couple of things I wanted to elaborate on a bit more:

Open Access. This is a really tough area to prognosticate on, both in terms of where the OA movement will go in 10 years and in terms of how that evolution (revolution) will actually affect my job. No question, far more of the world's scholarly output will be available via scholar's home pages where they will self-archive their work. Also no question, institutional and discipline-based repositories will also pick up steam and make available an awful lot of the work that is being produced, both in terms of articles and other materials like presentations, datasets, media files, and whatever. I imagine that the commonly used search tools 10 years from now will pick all this self-archived/repositoried stuff up. I think my role in this process will be to facilitate and organize access to these repositories via the search tools as well as to facilitate and organize the scholars at my institution getting their stuff into the various repositories. Bringing this stuff together in a coherent way is where I see the role of overlay journals.

As for OA journals, they too will no doubt multiply. As for whether they will replace journals with a toll access, I doubt it, at least in the 10 year timeframe. I think the (inflation adjusted) overhead will be drastically lower than the $500-$1000 per article we see mentioned a lot these days, but someone will still have to pick up that cost. I think that there will still be a variety of business models around in 10 years, some author pay, some institution pay for author, some regular subscription journals, some where journals are hosted by institutions that pick up the tab. At the same time, I think the 10-15 year time frame will see a kind of tipping point. As the current generation of undergrads & grads become the senior researchers and administrators, their expectations will start to shape the academy more and more. The expectation that everything be free and instantly available will totally transform scholarly publishing, to the point that I don't think journals will even exist as we know them now. My role in all this? Mostly getting out of the way, riding the wave, facilitating the transformation and making sure faculty & students are on board and coping. Redirecting journal subscription funds to supporting various repostitories and other OA-related initiatives. Support my institution's efforts at repositories & hosting.

Aggregated Content. One trend we are seeing quite a lot of will continue to explode, and that's aggregated content, both in terms of ebooks and full text journal content. Already, companies like Books24x7 take the "drudgery" out of selecting individual book titles, with the idea that if you buy all the books they have, at least some of them will be the ones you need. The point being that it's somehow cheaper to choose everything for one (large) price than to pick and choose and only take the most relevant. It's interesting, because it goes against what we librarians hold dear: that we are qualified and professionally obliged to choose the best materials for our patrons out of a vast array of choices. If we can just choose everything, where's the skill in that? Of course, what do our patrons care when they find the thing they're looking for if it was skillfully chosen or included as part of a one-size-fits-all package. As long as there are books and journals to buy, publishers will market these massive content packages. It will be my job to check my ego at the door and decide which ones are good for my patrons, and let serendipity take it's course.

June 30, 2005

My job in 10 years -- Collections

I've divided this part into a few distinct areas: books, journals, databases and other. Databases and other are coming next.

Books. Will I still be buying anything in print in 10 years? It'll be close, but I think so. I'm pretty sure that the stuff I buy in the History and Philosophy of Science will still mostly be real monographs, intended to be read from start to finish. That stuff will certainly be still available in print format. I may buy dual format, print & online, but there will still be print versions. Technical manuals for operating systems and programming languages and the like will mostly be online only, the Safari and Books24x7 model taking over that particular niche.

Two models I like a lot that I think will become much more important in the book world are the new Safari University system where profs can cobble together course textbooks from a wide variety of existing content modules. The other model is the Synthesis model from Morgan & Claypool, where we see medium length (ie 70-100 pages) essays on various topics in depth. This is what our students really need from us -- that kind of concentrated knowledge, that they can use to get up to speed on a particular topic fast. Getting that kind of concentrated dose will be a lot easier than pulling together information from a bunch of different web sources. The key to these two models is that print is secondary with online being the primary mode of delivery.

Who needs to read an 500 page book on classical mechanics or 20 books on signal processing? The real knowledge encapsulated in these books will be broken down, recombined and focused on specific needs. Break the 500 pages down into usable chunks, extract what's really interesting from the 20 different books to make one really good one -- the one fitted to a particular student's or course's needs. That's what I think I'll be buying for my scitech collection in 10 years. Reusable, interchangable content pieces that can be really focused on both broad and niche topics. I think that these content objects will be increasingly visual and interactive, constantly updated, perhaps with blog- or wiki-like feedback loops. I think that's what the net generation will want from their scitech "books." What will happen to the 10s of thousands of books currently on our shelves? A lot of them will stay there, a lot will go into fast retrieval storage locations. Availability online (ie. via Google Print) will probably decide each book's fate. In 10 years, I'll probably only be buying a couple of hundred real print books per year, maybe even less.

Another model that I think will become dominant is the kind that Knovel has, a big database of a lot of factual information, ie. chemistry and engineering tables. This data will still be very important for students and researchers to get quality information, but these kind of databases will make the most sense.

Journals. Will I be buying anything in print in 10 years? I suspect almost nothing. Perhaps I'll still get stuff like Scientific American and Wired in print becuase they're fun to flip through while sitting in the comfy chairs drinking a latte. As for scholarly publishing itself, looking into the crystal ball 10 years into the future is very murky. By then I suspect that virtually all journals will have abandoned the "issue" model and will be article-based. Probably many will be overlay journals, providing peer review services to articles in various eprint servers. For these, I'll pay a certain amount to cover the costs of peer review and the technical infrastructure for publishing and archiving. I imagine that the scholarly societies will be heavily into this model, somehow having figured out their business model for both publishing and non-publishing society activities. I'll still also pay more traditional subscription costs to the various commercial and society publishers, who I think will still be very active in 10 years. Those publishers will continue to publish their peer reviewed journals in 10 years from now. By that point, though, the net generation will start making their influence felt as scholars. I think that this will really begin the transformation of scholarly publishing in the 10 years after that.

The rise of blogs, wikis and other social software will start to have an important impact on scholarly publishing in the next 10 years. Important articles will start virtual conversations that will bounce back and forth. Conferences will probably see the same sort of transformations. While face-to-face networking will still be important, a lot of the true exchange of ideas will happen after the conference has ended. By then, we'll probably figure out a way for libraries to contribute to the infrastructure of this process, and that will be part of my job.

In conclusion, I think our biggest challenge in 10 years will be marketing to students the resources we do purchase -- convincing them that we have something to offer that beats what they can get for free online. It will have to be much better quality and at least as good convenience. Part of this challenge will even be getting any message in front of their eyeballs at all, getting some small piece of their attention. And I guess that leads into the Instruction section next.

I am a statistic

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

June 24, 2005

Reference -- a few more thoughts

I was thinking. Maybe one of the things I couldn't imagine is a kind of reference wiki. Maybe my job will be to initiate and manage wiki-like things for our patrons to use. Maybe another of the things I couldn't imagine was using threaded discussion lists for reference interactions. No reason why either of those things couldn't be possible. How about blog-like things or other kinds of social software? I think I was also sort of assuming IM would get sucked up into another service platform and would really be a unique service anymore, but I'm not sure that is what's going to happen. Maybe there are possibilities there too. It's always interesting to think about what you can't imagine.

My job in 10 years -- Reference

Reference service is here to stay. It will always be a core mission of academic libraries to help our patrons find the information they need to do their work. However, I believe the nature of the questions we get and how we deliver the answers will change quite radically.

There are a couple of factors at play here. First of all, will our patrons continue to believe that we can help them with anything? Our patrons will become increasingly comfortable with online tools, online tools will become increasingly comprehensive and comprehensible. Currently, we often see at the reference desk that students' confidence in their abilities to find information on the web lags quite a bit behind their actual ability. Will this gap continue as search tools get better or will they truly be much more successful in their self-directed information seeking behaviors? In other words, will they continue to need us? Actually, I think (hope) the answer is yes. Resources will continue to multiply, single purpose tools won't be able to keep up, relevance ranking will continue to be imperfect, integration of functionality and information from various sources into coherent documents will be a challenge. Questions will be harder and more challenging, but there will be questions. At the service point, we will still be able to help students navigate and integrate. (I think we're seeing a lot of this already -- it will only accelerate.)

Next, the continued importance of libraries as places on campus (and really, the continued importance of campuses as places to attend university). To the extent that we are still valued as places on campus to work, study and socialize, f2f reference will continue to be an important service. Whether we provide that service behind a desk, from our offices, roaming around a commons area, consulting in a group study room or from remote locations around campus such as dorms or academic departments, the f2f service will continue to be valuable to our patrons. Will in be closer to a consultants' role than a quick answer service? Probably. But the value of sitting down with someone and talking out their problem will continue to play an important role.

Is f2f the only way to deliver reference service? Of course not. There are already several alternatives to f2f reference, with phone, email and now chat reference. Chat reference is still in its infancy, with wonky software and a mixed overall experience. Its still slow and clunky, commonly with reference interactions for the simplest things stretching over 30 minutes as you and the patron multitask. Some places are moving to simple IM. Assuming phone reference won't go away and email will largely wither away, is what we currently have as VR the future or is it a blind alley, an embarrassing mistake that we'll all try and pretend didn't happen in 10 years. Probably both. What we currently offer will seem a bit misguided. But, the software will mature, browsers will become better able to handle the complex functionality and increased bandwidth will make video streaming possible. As online education becomes more popular, students will demand that online courses be richer and more varied than f2f courses, with better interaction on all levels with instructors and fellow students. Certainly interactions with research consultants (or whatever) can be part of that mix. Bizarrely, I can almost imagine that audio and video streaming technologies will make these online reference interactions strangely similar to sitting at the reference desk and having a student walk up with a question. You know, maybe with the way phone technology is maturing, phone reference and video reference will actually be the same thing too.

So, in 10 years, I will sit at a desk in a physical library and answer questions from patrons. I'll probably also roam around the library and perhaps have "office hours" some other place. Not any different than what is possible now. However, my virtual self will also be highly available in a variety of different ways which are not possible now. Are there any changes I can't currently imagine? I hope so.

Latest CACM

Interesting items from the latest Communications of the ACM (v48i7) with the ACM-provided taglines:

June 22, 2005

IEEE Technology and Society Magazine

As usual, a highly stimulating issue (v24i2):

June 21, 2005

Neal Stephenson on Star Wars

Cool article by Neal Stephenson on why we love Star Wars eventhough it's so stupid. For our purposes, though, an interesting comment refering to a scene in Episode I. I'm not completely in agreement with what he says -- I'm definately not as alarmist or negative -- but it's certainly worth reading as a comment on geeks, nerds, science, technology and society:

Anakin wins that race by repairing his crippled racer in an ecstasy of switch-flipping that looks about as intuitive as starting up a nuclear submarine. Clearly the boy is destined to be adopted into the Jedi order, where he will develop his geek talents - not by studying calculus but by meditating a lot and learning to trust his feelings. I lap this stuff up along with millions, maybe billions, of others. Why? Because every single one of us is as dependent on science and technology - and, by extension, on the geeks who make it work - as a patient in intensive care. Yet we much prefer to think otherwise.

Scientists and technologists have the same uneasy status in our society as the Jedi in the Galactic Republic. They are scorned by the cultural left and the cultural right, and young people avoid science and math classes in hordes. The tedious particulars of keeping ourselves alive, comfortable and free are being taken offline to countries where people are happy to sweat the details, as long as we have some foreign exchange left to send their way. Nothing is more seductive than to think that we, like the Jedi, could be masters of the most advanced technologies while living simple lives: to have a geek standard of living and spend our copious leisure time vegging out.

If the "Star Wars" movies are remembered a century from now, it'll be because they are such exact parables for this state of affairs. Young people in other countries will watch them in classrooms as an answer to the question: Whatever became of that big rich country that used to buy the stuff we make? The answer: It went the way of the old Republic.

via The Website at the End of the Universe.

My job in 10 years -- Introduction

Change is a constant. I've been an academic librarian for about 5 years now and I've seen things change quite a bit over that time period. Eresources have come to take on an all-encompassing role in our institutions. They've passed the tipping point from nice-to-have to only-thing-that-matters in that short period of time. Google has gone from a cute little niche search engine to the eight hundred pound gorilla. Yet, there are a lot of things we still seem to do the same old way -- we still buy an awful lot of books, the vast majority of our reference interactions are face to face, a not insignificant portion of most of our journal collections are still print + online or even (gasp) print only. This is obviously still a period of transition.

I think it's a useful exercise to try and imagine the future. If we think about where change will take us, try and anticipate the newness of the future, when it comes, we will be better prepared. It may not end up anything like we imagined, but at least we were prepared for something.

So, over the next little while I will try and imagine what my job will be like in 10 years. I'll be looking at reference, instruction, collections and scholarship in an academic science & engineering library.

June 20, 2005

IEEE Spectrum issue on China's Tech Revolution

The latest issue of Spectrum (v42i6) has a large section on China. Some of the article titles:

  • Wiring Small-Town China
  • Steal This Software
  • The Panda Connection

Joint Conference on Digital Libraries

The JCDL '05 proceedings are up on the ACM site. Something for everyone, I imagine.

June 17, 2005

ASEE blog

Jay Bhatt over on the ELD lists informs us that the American Society for Engineering Education conference in Portland has a blog. Jay mentions that the first entry in the blog is for a session by Lawrence Lessig sponsored by the Engineering Libraries Division. I've only ever attended the ASEE conference once, in 2002 when it was in Montreal; it was a great conference with ELD being a mini-conference of about 100 librarians embedded in a larger conference of about 2500 engineering profs. The friendly vibe of ELD is very similar to that in PAM. I would certainly not hesitate to attend the ASEE conference again if the opportunity arises.

And why I'll miss it

Here's hoping that the new incarnation will be just as good:

No! Please don't go!

From the most recent Scout Report on Math, Engineering and Technology:

1. Internet Scout Project Says Goodbye to NSDL Scout Reports

Dear Reader,

With this edition, the Internet Scout Project ends the NSDL Report for Math, Engineering, and Technology after four years of publication. We are very excited about our newest NSF National Science Digital Library-funded effort, the Applied Mathematics and Science Education Repository (AMSER), a new four-year project that will link community and technical colleges to online applied math and science resources via a web portal and complimentary services. Our goal is to make AMSER-- -- the same kind of high-quality source of information about online resources that the NSDL Scout Reports have been.