January 31, 2007

Ontario Library Association Conference Day 1: Cory Doctorow Opening Plenary

I just got home from the first day of the OLA Super Conference. I registered, hung out a bit in the speaker's lounge, went to the opening plenary and they hung around a bit at the opening reception for a bit of free food and booze (Dewar's -- Yay!). And bought a book in the OLA Store. I'm a sucker for books, which should come as no surprise, being a librarian and all.

Anyways, to the topic at hand. Cory Doctorow's plenary. I'm not usually much of a conference plenary kind of person. They're usually just an excuse to get all the attendees in front of the sponsor's logos for an hour or so, usually just hired guns, from outside the library field. Well, Doctorow was something different. Famous sf novelist, BoingBoinger, Craphound, activist. I was a little wary that he'd be a bit too strident, but he was great. The title of the talk was "Bits Will Never Get Harder to Copy" and his focus was on copyright issues and protecting the free flow of information from those that would unduly restrict and prohibit, mostly avarous corporations and their government cronies.

Doctorow began by recounting his days as a library page at the North York Central library, remembering in those days that librarians were doing fairly basic things like recommending books to patrons. Now, however, he praises librarians for striving to place information in context, for being the "war heroes of the information wars." As networks get faster and storage cheaper and more plentiful, he imagined a world where all of human creative output could fit in a sugar-cube sized device.

In fact, search is already solved in our world. Finding good stuff to click on or read is hardly the problem anymore, the problem is finding time to read all the incredibly great stuff that you can find with no effort at all. The idea of the Long Tail means that no matter how specific your desires and preferences, you can easily find the good stuff.

The other great thing that's happened recently is that the barriers to collaboration have all but disappeared. He gave the example of Project Guttenberg, where people all over the world can collaborate on proofreading an etext, one page, 10 minutes at a time. How Flicker can create virtual coffee table books using photos from countless people all over the world. How Google uses simple links that everyone creates on their web pages to basically catalogue the web.

On the other hand, some bad news too. Organizations like WIPO and laws like the DCMA conspire to prevent people from taking advantage of the vast cultural resources at their disposal; the music and film industries are at war with their most ardent fans. The American Association of Publishers is fighting Google Book Search when they should realize that the publishers worst enemy isn't piracy, but obscurity. Laws must adapt to meet new technology and circumstances, the genie can't be put back in the bottle, but the incumbents, those that favour laws based on status quo technology, never favour progress and evolution. As well, the legal process must happen in the open, with due process, with no filtering or hidden censorship. Doctorow's closing words were quite inspirational, that librarians must be the moral authorities to stand up for fairness in access to information.

Phew. Enough summary. Did I drink the Kool Aid? Mostly. There were some things I didn't really agree with. For example, the idea that search is solved. It's easy to find stuff if you're just looking aimlessly, eager for diversion or amusement. It's still not easy necessarily to find exactly some piece of information or some particular document, the deep web still has many mysteries and dark recesses. It's also not easy to understand and evaluate the social context of the information. Saying "Search is solved" is too simple. As well, Doctorow more or less dismisses any complaints by rights holders that they should be the ones that decide what uses their works should be put to. It's a bit too facile to just day that obscurity is a bigger problem than piracy, that 90% of stuff is out of print or not available for sale. If you're a rights holder and your work is readily available, there may be a part of your career path where piracy is just a bigger concern that obscurity.

But in the end, quibbles aside, I really enjoyed Doctorow's speech. It was fast & funny and thought provoking and very, very entertaining.

Grand Challenges for Engineering

Grand Challenges for Engineering is a site created by the US National Academy of Engineering. The purpose is for us to tell them what the greatest challenges for engineering are in the coming years! There's a bunch of different thematic sections where we can leave comments: Hopes/World Needs; Innovations/Technologies, Ideas, Research and Grand Challenges/Give us your thoughts as well as a general comment area.

This is truly one of the best examples of a site with user-supplied content I have ever seen. The input on the various pages is generally well thought-out, probing and relevant. It's facinating to see users talking about not just technological challenges, but social challenges in engineering as well, such as offshoring, career opportunities, women and minorities in engineering, the environment, sustainability and the rest. Even better, so many of the posts relate technical challenges to these social challenges as well. Great stuff, well worth poking around in the various sections.

From the Feature Essay by Jimmy Carter:

Having been educated in naval and nuclear engineering, I have a great interest in the role of our profession in helping to meet the challenges and opportunities of the future.

The safe and efficient use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes will inevitably be an important challenge for engineers, as will the development of renewable forms of energy. As a farmer and woodsman, I have a personal interest in the production of ethanol and bio-diesel fuels to replace the limited supplies of oil. Although it is unlikely that there will ever be enough food grains and sugarcane to meet these needs, cellulose from trees can make this contribution and also help resolve the overall problem of global warming. There will be numerous suggestions like these within the National Science Foundation to improve the quality of life in the more affluent industrialized nations, so I would like to emphasize another, even greater need.

Carter certainly defines that "greater need" in the context of a great engineering challenge. Read the essay.

One comment, though, the posters seem to somewhat ignore the thematic nature of the various sections and just give their thoughts. The designers of the site should probably have used fewer sections with more strongly defined themes. Via the Scout Report.

January 30, 2007

Ontario Library Association Annual Conference

I'll be at the OLA Super Conference this year, starting this Wednesday evening until Friday for sure. I'll probably go on Saturday morning for the Tech Trends session but that's not sure yet.

The conference web page is here, the conference blog is here. Oddly, the blog doesn't seem to be linked from the conference home page.

In any case, I hope to post daily summaries here every evening. As for my schedule, I tend not to be one of those people who decides well in advance what he'll attend, so if you are want to catch me at the conference, just watch for me in the halls. I will be at Cory Doctorow's opening session on Wednesday evening.

I am both presenting and convening at the conference so that will be an opportunity to track me down.

I'm presenting session #429: Using Weblogs as a Professional Development Tool on Thursday Feb 1 at 10.40am. I'll let everyone know here when I post my slides.

I'm convening John Blyberg's session #610: Not so Confidential: Exposing 2.0 Web Sites on Thursday Feb 1 at 3.45pm.

January 29, 2007

Ten Tech Companies That Blew It in the Past Two Decades

David Louis Edelman has compiled a list of the top 10 tech companies that have blown some sort of technical or business advantage in the 20 years or so. It's a very interesting and instructive list:

  1. Atari
  2. Netscape
  3. Palm
  4. America Online
  5. Apple (before Steve Jobs returned)
  6. Sony
  7. Gateway
  8. Compaq
  9. Intuit
  10. Real Networks

The article is definately worth reading. His closing quote:
So there we have it: ten tech companies, ten high-profile failures. The main causes? Seems to me they are failure of nerve, failure to innovate, excessive greed, excessive litigiousness, and overwhelming fear of Microsoft. Am I missing anything?

I think that there are a lot of lessons to learn from this list. First of all, the price to pay for our own organization for these failures of nerve, innovation and fear. In particular, for academic institution, failures of nerve seem particularly dangerous. For a lot of reasons, it's just too easy to sit still sometimes. Lack of money, lack of personnel to take on new projects, committee paralysis, the list is endless. The other lesson to learn is not to put our eggs in one corporate or technological basket too quickly. The companies we rely on to keep us running may just as easily fall victim, leaving us holding the bag. Via SFSignal.

January 27, 2007

Basic concepts in science

The crowd (and it is a crowd these days, up to 57 blogs) over at ScienceBlogs has decide to prepare a bunch of posts explaining various basic concepts in science, with the various bloggers each pitching in for their own subject areas. A couple of non-ScienceBlog types have also pitched in a few.

John Wilkins at Evolving Thoughts is collecting links to the various posts here.

The list is just getting some good critical mass; I hope it's something they continue, and continue to add new subject areas. In particular, I want to point out some great posts at Good Math, Bad Math on basic statistics concepts: Normal Distribution; Mean, Mode & Median; Standard Deviation; Margin of Error and Correlation (and Causation, and Random Variables).

January 26, 2007

Friday Fun: Scoring guide for student whining

Via Ask Dr Kirk, comes this rather amusing little rubric for evaluating student whining prepared by Joseph A. Braun, Jr.

Let's take a look at the requirements to earn a perfect 6 in whining.


The purpose of the whine is to get a group response.

The target of the whine responds immediately to the full intention of the whine.

The whine may have multiple purposes or targets.


There is full audience participation.

Your audience extends beyond the boundaries of the initial whine.

The whine was seemingly endless, possibly carrying on for days.

The pitch of the whine oscillated through the entire frequency range, beyond human hearing, causing neighborhood dogs to howl.

Full volume, audible over a jet engine at full throttle

Globe and Mail on game theory

Really interesting article in the Report on Business magazine that came with today's Globe and Mail newspaper.

It's 16,777,236: That's the number of outcomes that are possible when eight competitors each consider three strategic options. Waterloo's wizards of game theory reduce the number to 1 by Grant Robertson. It's about a Waterloo, Ontario company, Open Options, that uses game theory to advise business clients on decision making strategies.

Ten-year-old Open Options is one of a handful of companies in the world that devote all of their energy to using game theory to solve corporate problems. The firm counts five of the Top 10 companies on the Fortune 500 as customers, including IBM, Chevron and Ford, not to mention others further down the list, such as Xerox, Caterpillar and Boeing. (Most clients prefer to stay anonymous.)

The company's roots date to the late 1960s, when Fraser, newly graduated from high school, was contemplating what to do with his life. Much of what was being taught in university didn't appeal. "I was a hippie—a proud one," Fraser says. "Part of that ethic was to abandon conventional society, look for your own interests and build your life on your own terms. So I did that."

There followed five years of travel and sundry work like tobacco picking. What Fraser really wanted was to study strategic thinking from a philosphical point of view. After all, "the heart of life is how to make good decisions," he says. But the avenues for that line of study were limited. At the time, most business schools weren't pushing the boundaries on creative problem-solving. So Fraser avoided academia until the day he noticed that an obscure course was being taught in the University of Waterloo's engineering department. Game theory? Fraser wanted in. And since his father ran the department, strings were pulled to make up for a few high school grades that would have otherwise kept him from being admitted.

Cool stuff, an interesting case study in how math really does apply to real life; there's also pretty explanations of what game theory is and some thoughts from some of its detractors as well. And, of course, John Nash gets name-checked a couple of times.

Tim O'Reilly on the computer book industry

O'Reilly has posted another of his two part quarterly updates on the computer book industry here and here.

I won't summarize or quote in detail this time, but I will give a few extracts, first from Part 1:

As you can see, the strong start to the year faded in the second half. In the first quarter, it really looked like we might be about to break out of the holding pattern we've seen for the past three years. The second quarter was a disappointment, but we had a brief resurgence in the third, which didn't stick. While the year as a whole ended with a 2% increase over the previous year, most of that increase happened in the first quarter.

From Part 2:
The entire market was down 4% in unit sales versus the same period a year ago, but a quick glance at the treemap shows where the biggest problem is: Consumer Operating Systems and Devices, down 18%, Business Applications, down 8%. As I wrote last week, we're assuming that the market is waiting for books on Vista, Office 7, and Mac OS X Leopard. However, much of the Professional Programming and Systems Administration super category is also down, albeit at a smaller 4%, and even Digital Media applications are showing an anemic 1% growth, despite the huge growth in the sales of books on the iPod. (But for that, even the digital media category would be down.) But once again, the market is awaiting new releases of Adobe products some time next year. Web Design and Development, up 7%, is the only top level category showing continued growth.


At this scale, all the percentages are readable, so I won't belabor the obvious, other than to note that Ruby is now ahead of both Python and Perl. And it's worth noting that Actionscript is really just a variant of JavaScript, and that books labeled .Net Languages are books that include both C# and VB.Net, so they should be counted with C#. The net-net is that C# has definitely passed Java in the book market.

January 24, 2007

Review of The Republican war on science by Chris Mooney

From the other blog:

The is a fine and necessary book, one that uncovers a lot of history and a lot of current events that I certainly didn't know about. Being a Canadian, however...

Full review here.

January 23, 2007

Papers are grants, papers are blood, papers are life!

My little title phrase today is from the LabLit article Do you have what it takes to get your scientific article out there? by Keren Boren. Boren is a post doc in France and the article recounts her efforts to get papers published in her field. The trauma of finicky experiments, the fear of journal rejection, the capriciousness of the reviewers, the joy of the feeling of validation that publication brings, the career worries, the blood sweat and tears just pour threw the pixels of the article. It's a great insight into the lives of all those grad students, post docs and junior faculty we see scurrying around campus.

We postdoctoral scientists don’t just slave over grant applications and research 24/7 – we have to write papers about our experiments and submit them for publication. And these aren’t just some sort of formality, tying up the loose ends and documenting a discovery – they frequently make or break your scientific career. It truly is publish or perish: papers are grants, papers are blood, papers are life!


But one day, all the experiments are done, you have read all the related scientific literature and the paper is written.

You think you’re done? Not at all – in fact, it’s only just begun.

First, there is the eternal discussion with your co-authors about that all-important decision: which journal? At least one co-author will always recommend aiming for the very top: Nature. Yet others, the more pessimistic ones, go to the opposite extreme and advocate the lowest of the low, just to be sure to get it in with as little pain as possible. When you finally agree on a journal, you need to look at their ‘Instructions for Authors’ webpage to put the manuscript into the approved format. It’s some sort of law of the publishing universe that, no matter how short your paper is, you will find that it is two-thirds too long for the journal in question.

It's really a great article. But it also gets me thinking, especially after listening to Jean-Claude Bradley's Open Science presentation from the Blogging Conference. If blogs and wikis and other social software constructs begin to seriously supplement/replace traditional journal article publishing, will these lab rats lives be easier, less pressured to produce these articles. Or, will they be harder, with the completely interactive demands of the Net demanding that they produce more and more, faster and faster to keep up? Who knows.

On the other hand, if you believe Gregory Benford, there is a way to produce the perfect scientific paper. Perhaps this is the way to go?
In this paper a new scheme for paper-organising is proposed. It does not rely on weaning scientists away from the passive voice sentence, like that last one. Instead, we should recognise how scientists actually read.

Our calculations, statistics, and closely-reasoned analysis appears in the body of the main text. First we summarise our results with merciful brevity.

While reading a scientific paper, scientists are led by two needs: (a) ego and (b) desire for information. Our research shows that the former always predominates. Therefore, papers should be organised to satisfy this. The preferred scheme follows:

Maximise trendy buzz words, even if irrelevant. (Indeed, some will misread this non-connection as going over their heads.) Try to include many verbs that end in -ise and -ishness.

Avoid initials. People remember actual names. Let your students be represented by their initials if they want; readers will assume they are nobodies.

The most important part of the paper, yet the most neglected.
References cited must contain a broad spectrum of sources, to insure the greatest probability of naming the reader, and especially, of saluting the referee. Use multi-author papers to maximise the number of people mentioned. Corral any paper even slightly related to your field; Nobel winners' papers are of course preferred, no matter how thin the connection.

A scientist will always give greater attention to colleagues who cite him, if only to find where in the text you mention him. Thus the best strategy is to cite everybody you can but place the citations in an unlikely place in the paper. They would then have to read carefully to find it, and so might even discover what the paper is about. The highest-risk strategy is to cite someone in the list of references but not in the text. Then he will have to read the whole paper. The disadvantage, of course, is that he will be livid with rage and frustation by the time he finishes. But at least he will not forget you!


Another important ego-feeding ground. Thank the big names in your field, even if your sole contact with them was toting coffee at a conference three years ago. The list should be lavish, implying close connections with all the movers and shakers. Avoid mentioning dead people; they can do you no more good, and their rivals are still around. If space permits, include those who actually helped you.

Your grant monitoring officer will always look for this, so put it early. Others will want to know what agency got suckered into paying out.


Here you explain what you plan to do. Promise a lot. Few will reach the main text to see if you actually did it.

Always overstate your results. This is a firm rule - everyone will expect it, anyway.

Claim certainty where you have vague suspicions. Use statistics as an art form, not as a serious check on your work. Why be a sceptic about error bars, after all?

Graphs proudly showing agreement between theory and experiment should be prominent. Only in a footnote (tiny type!) should you explain that the theory has been scaled to the experiment in the first place, the coordinates multiplied by a fudge factor, or other artful dodges.

With any luck, there will be no need to actually write this section. Everyone will have turned to the next paper.

I really enjoyed Benford's self-deprecating article, it has as much insight into the scientific (academic?) mind as any twenty sociology articles while also having the benefit of being laugh-out-loud funny.

These two articles together provide a very interesting insight into the world of scientists, one that often gets overlooked by more formal treatments. A little angst, a little joke, a little fun, makes the message a little easier to take. Benford's novelist's eye for human foibles is really evident. Read the full text of both.

Update: I forgot to mention that the Benford article was via Locusmag blinks. As well, Jane reminded me of her post from a couple of weeks ago, The little paper that could, which is certainly in the same spirit as the the Keren Boren article above.

Net Neutrality in Ottawa

Thanks to Kyenta Martins for pointing this out to me:

Net Neutrality: A Public Discussion on the Future of the Internet in Canada

Date and Location:

February 6, 2007 , 7 pm
Admission: Free
Ottawa Public Library Auditorium
120 Metcalfe St.

Moderated by:
Pippa Lawson:
Executive Director, Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) at the University of Ottawa



Please join us for a an important public discussion on the future of the Internet in Canada. Network neutrality recently became a major issue in the United States when telecommunications companies issued public statements asking for the ability to charge Internet content-providers for preferential access to Internet users. That meant that big corporations, especially media conglomerates, would get to Internet users fastest while smaller ones, which would be unable to pay the “tolls”, would be left trailing. Meanwhile, Internet users could be restricted from using certain applications, and would likely have to pay more to access content of providers that weren’t part of the telecommunications company’s exclusivity deals.


If you are unable to attend, please note that a video of the event will be made publicly available.

More event details are on the LibrarianActivist post.

January 22, 2007

Teaching blogging

One of the things I want to do when I get back from my sabbatical is teach blogging at my institution, hopefully to science & engineering faculty who are interested in getting started.

So, the question of instructional materials comes up. What to use, where to get started, how to construct a good 1.5 - 2 hour session. Well, last week Bora Zivkovic and his colleagues put on a training session as part of their Science Blogging Conference. Their instructional page is here and it looks like a good template for this type of session, with appropriate background and exercises to keep students on track. I also like the idea of using this kind of page to base your instruction on rather than an endless series of ppt slides.

There's a page collecting all the various conference related blog posts.

January 20, 2007

Science Blogging Conference live blogging

Christina Pikas and Larry Moran are live blogging the conference down in North Carolina. I'm sure others are too.

A good list of all the various posts about the conference are being collected here, although Google Blog Search or Technorati are probably the best for up-to-the-second breaking news.

January 19, 2007

Friday Fun: Battle of Helm's Deep edition

Via BoingBoing, it seems that some blogger has made a model of the Battle of Helms Deep inspired by the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy -- using candy. Yes, candy. There are lots more pictures of what this more-than-slightly unhinged guy has done with his xmas vacation time. It sort of leaves you speechless. It really has to be seen to be believed. This guy has an amazing future ahead of him as, well, er, something.

A quote from the original site:

We made some siege machinery as well. The Catapults were Tootsie pops. Leaning against the Jolly Rancher wall is a siege tower made of other tootsie type stuff. There are some red licorice ropes as, well… rope.

January 18, 2007

Review of Screams of reason: Mad science and modern culture by David J. Skal

From the other blog:

A little pop-cultural analysis is never a bad thing, taken in small doses. In larger doses, however, it can be a bit problematic...

Full review here.

January 17, 2007

Google Librarian Central Blog

The librarians at Google (sort of liaison librarians to librarians) have started their own blog, Google Librarian Central. It seems like a good idea, a way for a bit more two-way communication between the elephant and the mice. I hope that they turn on comments and that they use the blog to really facilitate a dialogue rather than one-way diffusion of information (like the Official Google Blog), reflecting that they can learn from us just as we can take advantage of the great work that they do. It should be very interesting to see how this evolves over the next little while.

Announcing the Librarian Central Blog

I'm pleased to say that today, we're implementing one of your biggest requests. When we asked how we could improve the Google Librarian Newsletter, many of you said, "Make it a blog!" or "Send more up-to-date information." We've taken your feedback to heart, and we're doing just that. Starting today, the Librarian Center will make its home at http://librariancentral.blogspot.com, where you'll find the latest Google news, updates, and tips relevant to the librarian community. The blog includes links to the Newsletter Archive, the Your Stories page, and the Tools and Videos sections. And of course, we'll continue to add to these pages and develop new features.

We're excited about communicating Google's product and feature launches to you as they happen. You can even sign up to receive these blog posts by email, or choose to read them from your Google Personalized Homepage or Google Reader (or your preferred blog reader). For those of you who still prefer to hear from us on a quarterly basis, we'll continue to send out the Librarian Newsletter, which will include the "best of" the previous months' blog posts. As with many Google launches, consider this blog a beta test, open to refinements and changes over time. We'll be looking closely at your feedback, so please let us know what you think.

Update 2007.01.23:
Good news -- and a good sign. They've turned on commenting for the blog.

GuruLib home library organizer

Thanks to Andrew Careaga of the University of Missouri-Rolla for bringing this rather interesting student project to my attention. It's called Gurulib and it's the same basic idea as LibraryThing, but totally free for now. I've tried it out a bit and it seems very intersting as it can bring in info from Amazon or various public library catalogues. You can also upload your own document for it to keep track of; although I haven't tried that feature yet it might be an interesting way to organize someone's self-archived documents.

Before I get to the press release which has much more information, I'd like to mention the University of Missouri-Rolla's Visions blog which Andrew manages. It's a very interesting idea for an institution to have a blog to highlight the research that goes on, to feature projects and professors that are doing interesting work. It seems to me to have a lot of potential as a marketing and recruitment tool. On the other hand, I'm not sure if many institutions are doing that kind of thing yet. Does anyone out there know of other examples of this sort of thing and how well they're working? If you do (especially if your institution has one), I'd really appreciate it if you could leave a not in the comments. I'm going to hunt around for some in the science/engineering areas and see what I can find.

Ph.D. student develops virtual ‘bookshelf’ to help organize personal libraries

(Web version of release || UMR Visions blog post)

ROLLA, Mo. -- Internet users wanting to keep track of their book and CD collections, create a wish list for next Christmas, or find the best deals for purchasing games, music and movies online may want to check out GuruLib.com, an online organizational tool developed by a Ph.D. student at the University of Missouri-Rolla.

GuruLib (www.gurulib.com) is an online cataloging service created by Rana Basheer, a Ph.D. student in computer engineering at UMR, and his wife, Christina Leung. Built around a program that searches hundreds of online databases, the website helps people organize their personal libraries by retrieving information about their books, CDs, DVDs, video games or software. The “virtual bookshelf” uses more than 530 public and university libraries around the world as well as six Amazon.com servers to retrieve the information.

Using GuruLib’s search function, registered users of the free service may organize information based on author, actor, director, genre and other criteria, says Basheer. The service also connects users to other fans through social networking components that allow users to view other users’ libraries, lend and borrow books, and discuss their interests in online forums. In addition, GuruLib lets users create “widgets” that allow them to share their libraries on blogs, MySpace accounts and other online venues.

GuruLib grew out of Basheer and Leung’s desire to keep track of their personal library, Basheer says.

“My wife maintained a database, but she had to enter everything manually, and whenever somebody borrowed a book from us, we had to write down the information. Finally, she asked if there was an easier way to catalog this information, so I created a program that used information that was already available online.”

He also saw the project as a research opportunity. “This is an experiment for me, to see what I can learn about computer scaling,” Basheer says.

Basheer started working on the project in April 2006. Within a month, GuruLib – the name is a combination of “guru,” or teacher, and “library” – was online, and Basheer was inviting friends to try the system.

With minimal publicity, GuruLib has grown to more than 1,000 users. “I have a couple of small public libraries using it, and a video rental business recently contacted me about using it to track its rentals,” Basheer says.

Recently, Basheer added a new component that should be of interest to college students. It allows users to upload and store their research papers.

Other features of GuruLib include an automated price tracker that can be used to show the value of collections for insurance purposes, email alerts to let users knew when items on their wish lists are available for a pre-determined price and a service that tells users what libraries in the GuruLib database carry items of interest.

Basheer is continuing to develop the online library service and posts updates on the GuruLib weblog, www.gurulib.com/_blog/index.php.

At UMR, Basheer’s studies are focused on wireless networking. He also received a master’s degree in computer engineering from UMR in 2003.

January 16, 2007

The Online Library Catalog: Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained?

That the title of a new article in Dlib this month, The Online Library Catalog: Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained? by Karen Markey of University of Michigan.

Here's the abstract:

This think piece tells why the online library catalog fell from grace and why new directions pertaining to cataloging simplification and primary sources will not attract people back to the online catalog. It proposes an alternative direction that has greater likelihood of regaining the online catalog's lofty status and longtime users. Such a direction will require paradigm shifts in library cataloging and in the design and development of online library catalogs that heed catalog users' longtime demands for improvements to the searching experience. Our failure to respond accordingly may permanently exile scholarly and scientific information to a netherworld where no one searches while less reliable, accurate, and objective sources of information thrive in a paradise where people prefer to search for information.

Lots of interesting stuff here, mostly about totally rethinking our approach to our online catalogues and how we do metadata, take a look at some of the section headings to get a feel for it:

  • Searching for Information in the Library Puts People on an Emotional Roller Coaster
  • Domain Expertise—It's All about Knowing What You Want and Where to Look
  • Embrace Post-Boolean Probabilistic Searching
  • Building the Future Online Catalog Now

I also have to recommend the bibliography, there's lots of thought-provoking additional reading there.

The Open Laboratory: The Best Writing on Science Blogs 2006

At last, it's out. The Open Laboratory: The Best Writing on Science Blogs 2006 edited by Bora Zivkovic, aka coturnix. It looks to be an interesting and worthwhile book, Bora leads us through the whole story with his most recent post. I definately will be picking it up (2007.01.17: Done!), both for myself and for the collection at York. I hope Bora (with help of course) continues both upcomming Science Blogging Conference and makes the anthology an annual event to coincide with it.

What I am very interested to see is how it will compare to The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2006 and The Best American Science Writing 2006, both of which are series I read religiously. On the one hand the blogging book will likely be more diverse, not restricting itself to American stories or to stories only of interest to the mainstream media. On the other hand, I am equally curious to see if the non-professional aspect of the bloggers and their stories will show itself in a lack of polish. I suspect not, but I can't wait to find out. The two science writing books are next in line in my reading list and I'll probably read the blogging book right after, giving me the opportunity for a three-part group review. Should be fun.

So let's all show some link love, some collection love and some personal love and make this book a success.

Update 2007.01.17: Bora brings us all up to speed on the book & conference here.

Update 2007.02.05:
The book arrived this past Friday, February 3rd. It looks fantastic, with a great cover. I'm in the middle of Best American Science Writing 2006 and I expect to read the science blogging anthology right after that. The three-part review should follow soon after, maybe in a couple of weeks. The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2006 was solid as usual, but I there's quite a contrast with BASW and I expect both of them to contrast markedly with Open Laboratory.

January 15, 2007

Science videos on the web

Coincidentally (or not?), both inkycircus and LabLit have articles discussing and pointing to a bunch of different sources of science-related video content on the web.

Personally, I love this kind of stuff and could watch it all day if I let myself. A few of the suggestions from the two articles, featuring both new shows/videos and oldies-but-goodies:

Of course, searches on YouTube and Google Video also turn up a lot of interesting content. Enjoy!

January 14, 2007

Confessions on a plane!

Inspired by Walt's idea of creating a best-of file of notable posts that people can use as plane/train/automobile reading while travelling to a conference, I've created a pdf file with all the posts from the My Job in 10 Years series. Eleven pages and approximately 5500 words, no less.

In any case, Walt's Cites on a Plane 2007 contains a brief exerpt and some commentary from one of the Collections related posts from my series. Walt's essays are, as usual, great reading, and I hope that those of you who find the brief taste of the My Job series interesting will give the series a try.

It's complete through the Collections commentary, with further sections to follow in the next month or two; I plan on adding each new post to the pdf as I complete them. I hope to be finished the Instruction post this week.

January 12, 2007

Yikes! I've been tagged!

Christina's tagged me with the "5 things no one knows about you" meme that's been floating around the blogosphere for the last little while. Not one for overly personal blog posts, I was hesitant a bit at first but then thought, "What the heck!"

  1. Up until recently, I really didn't do too much cooking. Oh, I could scramble eggs, grill meat on the bbq, heat up frozen lasagna. I could even serve as a decent prep chef, chopping veggies and the like. But then, while my wife was recovering from a couple of hip replacement surgeries, I ended up watching a lot of Food Network Canada shows, Particualy Chef at Home featuring Michael Smith. Being at home a lot more also didn't hurt. So, I started cooking. First up was a couple of recipes by Michael Smith, including a decent clam chowder. I also got obsessed with cooking Chili, trying it several times until now I think I make a pretty darn good chili! For the next couple of years, I did a lot of weekend warrior cooking, prefecting my repertoire and techniques. Now that I'm on sabbatical, I basically do all the cooking.

  2. I spent the summer I was 18 (1981) living in Calgary with my cousin, during the first great western oil boom. I remember the "Unwanted: Dead or Alive" Pierre Trudeau posters that were everywhere. I worked as a security guard for an agency which got me around to lots of different sites all over the city, from factories, contruction sites, even an indoor botanical garden. It was great fun and a great experience.

  3. I loove trashy pop culture. The trashier the better. Heavy metal music (Black Sabbath!), pro wrestling (The Undertaker's my fave), cheesy horror novels and books, science fiction novels & movies, hardboiled detective novels, James Bond movies, the whole nine yards. Needless to say, it all makes my wife cringe to think about it.

  4. I'm an athiest. No big deal here, I'm not going to go into a big production about the why's & wherefore's but this post from Adventures in Applied Math pretty well sums up where I'm coming from. Oh yeah, nothing like going to a Catholic/Jesuit all-boys school to wring every last bit of religiosity out of a guy.

  5. I used to work as a software developer for a company called Aon, which is an insurance broker, in their Montreal office. I left in 1998 to become a librarian. Sometime after that, their New York offices centralized and relocated to the World Trade Center, where a couple of hundred employees died on September 11, 2001. There were 6 former employees of the Montreal office, who I knew to varying degrees, who died that day: Mike Arczynski, Cindy Connolly, Mike Egan, Meredith Ewart, Peter Feidelberg, Colin McArthur and Debbie Robinson.

To keep it in the canuckscitechbiblioblogosphere, I'd like to tag Carolyne, Richard and, to semi-second Christina, Catherine. Don't feel you have to do the meme if you don't want.

Friday Fun: Global warming Smackdown! edition

You take your allies where you can, I guess. And the newest convert to the cause of combatting anthropocentric global warming is none other than former WWE wrestler, commentator and current Wall St. tycoon, John "Bradshaw" Layfield.

Take a look at some quotes from a WWE.com story about his recent trip to Antarctica:

The former WWE Champion said his intent was to quell his desire to determine the cause behind global warming. He sought to learn whether man is causing the changing atmospheric conditions or if the globe is in a warming cycle, or a combination of both.

“My take is that man is causing it,” JBL asserted. “The fact that [the earth is] warming is a huge problem, and it’s being exacerbated by CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions, most likely caused by man.”


“Global warming’s real,” JBL declared. “If [America wants] to be the economic powerhouse of the future, we have to make sure that this environment stays in tact. I don’t mean to sound like a leftist tree-hugger, but this is simply the fact.”*

Wow. This guy is as conservative as they come, bordering on wingnuttery, and if he's convinced there must be hope for this world.

BYW, don't ask how I came about to read this article...

January 11, 2007

Web Librarian -- York University Libraries

I don't usually post job ads here, even local ones, but I thought this would be of some interest to my readers. If anyone has any questions, please feel free to contact me via email at jdupuis at yorku dot ca. I'm not on the search committee, nor do I work at the home branch for this position, but I can answer general questions about working at York. The ad is online here as some other library postings at York here.

Web Librarian

York University offers a world-class, modern, interdisciplinary academic experience in Toronto, Canada’s most multicultural city. York is at the centre of innovation, with a thriving community of almost 60,000 students, faculty and staff, who challenge the ordinary and deliver the unexpected.

York University Libraries seek a motivated, self-directed, and service-oriented librarian to serve as Web Librarian for the Libraries and to provide excellent reference service and information literacy instruction as offered by the Peter F. Bronfman Business Library.

The Web Librarian will devote most of her/his time and to the further development of the Web presence of York University Libraries, leading and working with others to articulate and achieve an exciting vision for a modern university library website, striving to increase its functionality, usability, accessibility, and aesthetic appeal, broadly applying the ethos and techniques of “Web 2.0.” In achieving this, the incumbent will collaborate with librarian colleagues, library professional staff, departments and committees, Library Computing Services staff, and campus technology departments, and will serve as a key member of the Libraries’ Web Review Committee. The Web Librarian will monitor current trends in Web development, maintain currency with professional standards and practices, and guide colleagues so they may be more effective content contributors and Web service providers. A smaller portion of the Web Librarian’s time will be devoted to providing excellent reference service and information literacy instruction as offered by the Peter F. Bronfman Business Library. Some evening and weekend work is required.

The Libraries’ website (http://www.library.yorku.ca) has been developed and maintained through the use of a customized, open source content management system. The catalogue is currently the Sirsi WebCat, which works with other components of the Sirsi GL3.1 ILS. The Libraries also support and/or use a number of other Web initiatives including chat reference, SFX, wikis, and blogs.

York University Libraries consists of a large central library building and three branch libraries, one of which is the Peter F. Bronfman Business Library. The collections consist of over six million items, including about two million book volumes and some 27,000 online and paper periodical titles.

The Peter F. Bronfman Business Library, located in the award-winning Seymour Schulich Building, provides facilities, resources, and reference and instructional services to the business programs of York University, including those of the highly ranked Schulich School of Business. Resources include a comprehensive print collection as well as extensive full-text and numeric electronic resources. Three full-time librarians and 4.5 full-time support staff are currently based in the Bronfman Library.

Qualifications: An ALA-accredited MLIS or equivalent with up to four years’ post-MLIS experience in a library or educational institution. A well articulated understanding of the role and possibilities of the Web in the teaching, learning, and research pursuits of a university. Strong public service philosophy and evidence of professional initiative and leadership. Demonstrated experience in website design and development, including the building and/or integration of a variety of Web applications. Experience with a variety of Web development and authoring software tools, including open source software, HTML, XML, CSS and experience with programming languages and Web support technologies. Experience in applying Web accessibility standards, user-centred design principles, and interactive concepts. Experience or knowledge of effective approaches for the assessment of library Web services including usability testing. Ability to write effectively for the Web. Demonstrated project-management and problem-solving skills and a demonstrated ability to handle multiple responsibilities and projects concurrently. Knowledge of business print and electronic resources. Strong written and oral communication skills, including demonstrated skills in teaching, training, and public communications. Strong interpersonal, diplomatic, and consensus-building skills. Demonstrated ability to work effectively and collegially with a diverse population of librarians, staff, faculty, and students. Demonstrated interest in research and professional development. Educational background relating to business studies or experience providing business reference support preferred.

The Web Librarian position is a tenure-stream appointment to be filled at the Assistant Librarian level and is appropriate for a librarian with up to four years’ post-MLIS experience. Librarians at York University have academic status and are members of the York University Faculty Association bargaining unit (http://www.yufa.org/). Salary is commensurate with qualifications. The position is available May 1, 2007. All York University positions are subject to budgetary approval.

York University is an Affirmative Action Employer. The Affirmative Action Program can be found on York’s website at www.yorku.ca/acadjobs or a copy can be obtained by calling the affirmative action office at 416-736-5713. All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadian citizens and Permanent residents will be given priority.

Campus resources include an on-site daycare centre and centres relating to gender equity, race and ethnic relations, sexual harassment, human rights, and wellness. York University encourages attitudes of respect and non-discrimination toward persons of all ethnic and religious groups, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

The deadline for applications is February 16, 2007. Applications, including a cover letter relating applicant qualifications to the requirements of the position, a current curriculum vitae, a link to online examples of work where relevant, and the names of three referees, should be sent to:

Chair, Web Librarian Appointment Committee
York University Libraries, 310 Scott Library
York University, 4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M3J 1P3
Fax: 416-736-5451

What we're up against

Last week InsideHigherEd had a fine little article on the place of libraries in modern universities, both physically and virtually, The Changing ‘Place’ of the Library by Laura Rein. The article broke no new ground, had no startling insights, provcded no new revolution or promoted any new buzzword. But it was a fine overview of the state of the library for the wider academic community.

That's not what I'm interested in here. There were two comments by Muvaffak Gozaydin.

Libraries in 21st Century

Dear Laura Every place has a primary function and then some secondary functions. You defend libraries with their second functions. Library is a place supposedly everyone can access, read books, let everybody reads the same books, so it is cheaper to read a book in Library than to buy the book.So Library was a place to create productivity, efficiency.But today they are waste of money like to set up brick and mortar schools of any kind.Today library is another brick and mortar place. Can you imagine how much money you bury in cement, brick and sand. Construction is the most expensive thing in the world.Also only limited number of people can go to that library. My library, ONLINE GOOGLE Library appeals to whole world, provide access to 3 billion books in the world, to 4 billion people of the world. In Turkey we stopped to invest on libraries to bury our money to sand, cement and brick. Thanks to Google to have us reach Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard and more and more libraries in the world. Newbooks will also be put on internet evrybody will access from there. Not from a library. 6 years ago we also started making libraries smaller. Rather than books we stored CDs at much less price and accessable from all campus without going to library at nights.

A library is very expensive investment to get together, to have coffee or enjoy the scinery. There are places at much lower costs. ONLINE promoter of the world Muvaffak GOZAYDIN mgozaydin@hotmail.com+902124380290 +905322919676

And this one, after a few other comments in defense of libraries:
Libraries will be extinct in 2025

Dear Mary Thanks for your thoughts.Yes you are right. Today all online libraries have to use existing brick and mortar libraries until they become extinct.Before they become extinct, there will be huge digital knowledge storage houses at Congress and United Nations. It will be managed by Google probably. Every new book will be stored by them as well by law.

They will store every title in the world and pay the author as intellectual property rights fee according to how much that book has been used all over the world. There is nothing free in the world. But we the lucky citizens have to reduce price of everything so that everyone should be able to efford it, particularly books. It is our duty to be a mankind. Today if Google has some problems because of Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard libraries I would suggest them they should pay some reasonable amount. Probably most of those books are not on sale any more anyhow.

By the way I went to Stanford and CALTECH for 8 years of graduate work. You are in the ivy tower in beautiful UOM campus. I am thinking of the street bumbers on the Market Street in San Francisco in the morning as well as people in India, China, Cambochia.

When Libraries are closed Universities will use the saved huge resources for better education, may be ONLINE education. Best regards.Muvaffak GOZAYDIN of Turkey mgozaydin@hotmail.com

I'm not going to try and refute Gozaydin's many points, some of which are valid, some of which are questionable and some of which are plain looney. They're mostly dealt with in the other comments on the article. What I find interesting is the tone. He's positively gleeful at the prospect of libraries declining, joyful even. He's mocking, sarcastic, mean, dismissive, anything else you want to name. What's up with that? And the glee over the death of libraries is not uncommon among the techno-utopians. And haven't we all had interactions with students at our institutions who seem to hold us in the same disregard? Have libraries and librarians, over the generations of our info-monopoly, so pissed off a significant segment of our patrons that they now relish the propect of our demise?

January 9, 2007

Mother of all blogrolls

And speaking of coturnix, with the help of his readers, over the last few months he's been renovating and adding to his monster blogroll of mostly science blogs. It's a huge and really quite comprehensive list of all science-related blogs. He's still updating it fairly regularly, so I'm sure he would welcome any suggestions from the biblioblogosphere -- although I would presume it's probably better to wait until after the conference at this point.

Science Blogging Anthology 2006

Coturnix of A Blog Around the Clock is editing an anthology of the best science blog posts in recent years as part of the hoopla surrounding the upcomming Science Blogging Conference (latest update on the conference is here).

The list of blog postings to be included in the anthology is here; all the nominated posts are here. It looks like a great project, one that definately deserves to be an annual affair. I'll probably get a copy both for myself and the library collection. There's some controversy in the comments concerning the proportion of posts selected from the ScienceBlogs stable, but that just seems to be sour grapes to me. At 46%, it seems about right to me; after all, the whole point of ScienceBlogs is to have the best science bloggers.

I'll post more here as information about getting the book becomes available. It's being published by Lulu.com. I'll also post more here about the conference as the date approaches -- although sadly I won't be attending this year. Maybe next year.

Conference & OA call for papers

Thought I'd combine these two bits of news...

  • ENRICHING THE ACADEMIC EXPERIENCE OF COLLEGE SCIENCE STUDENTS, May 22-24, 2007 at the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

    Plan to attend this national conference May 22-24, 2007 at the
    University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Conference sessions will cover
    topics related to:

    ---peer-based programs
    ---collaborative learning and supplemental instruction
    ---increasing participation of underrepresented students in the sciences
    ---science study skills and/or tutoring and/or advising
    ---innovative uses of technology in science education
    ---undergraduate research and service learning programs
    ---learning communities
    ---and much more...

    The conference will provide a gathering place for a diverse group of
    educators, including learning center professionals, faculty, program
    directors and others who are committed to supporting undergraduate
    science students outside of the formal classroom. We are inviting
    educators from all types of colleges and universities, including
    two-year community colleges and four-year comprehensive, liberal arts,
    and research institutions.

    The conference will feature approximately 50 concurrent sessions plus
    two featured speakers: Saundra Y. McGuire, director of the Center for
    Academic Success at Louisiana State University and Robert Megginson,
    mathematician and associate dean for undergraduate and graduate
    education at the University of Michigan.

  • Open Access Research (OAR): Call for Papers

    We have recently started Open Access Research (OAR)
    <http://ojs.gsu.edu/oar>, a peer-reviewed, open-access journal that will enable greater interaction and facilitate a deeper conversation about open access, including topics such as:

    open access journals
    institutional support for open access
    open access publishing services and software
    open access repositories (both institutional and subject-based)
    electronic theses and dissertations
    the impact of open access on scholarly research and communications.

    If you are engaged in research relating to open access, or if you have an article in mind, please contact us. OAR's first issue will be in August, 2007 and will subsequently be published three times a year. Submissions received by March 31, 2007 will be considered for the August issue; subsequent submissions will be considered for future issues.

    Send inquiries to:

    William Walsh
    Head - Acquisitions
    Georgia State University Library
    100 Decatur St. SE
    Atlanta, GA 30303

    Editors-in-Chief: John Russell (University of Oregon), Dorothea Salo (George Mason University), William Walsh (Georgia State University), Elizabeth Winter (Georgia Institute of Technology). Please see our website for a full list of editors and editorial board members. Open Access Research is published by the Georgia State University Library using Open Journal Systems (http://pkp.sfu.ca/ojs) software.

    Via Skye Hardesty on PAMNET.

January 8, 2007

It's the wild west out there in SocialSoftwareLand!

And that's mostly a good thing...

On the other hand, take a look at Young Turn to Web Sites Without Rules by Brad Stone from the January 2, 2007 New York Times.

It's about the rise of some YouTube alternatives that have spouted up since YouTube started cleaning up its act, especially in the wake of the Google takeover. These new sites are more wide-open, with less centralized control over the content.

The three sites specifically profiled by The Times include:

  • Stickam -- a web cam sharing site, where you can watch & chat with other people
  • Dailymotion -- a video sharing site specializing in copyrighted material, like tv shows, with little or no meaningful restrictions on nudity and adult content
  • LiveLeak -- another video sharing site, this one specializing in "edgy" and controversial content such as the Saddam Hussein execution and amateur video from Iraq.

Some quotes from the article:
Increasingly, to new Web sites like Stickam.com, which is building a business by going where others fear to tread: into the realm of unfiltered live broadcasts from Web cameras.

The site combines elements of more popular sites, but with a twist. In addition to designing their own pages and uploading video clips, its users broadcast live video of themselves and conduct face-to-face video chats with other users, often from their bedrooms and all without monitoring by any of Stickam’s 35 employees.

Other social networks have decided against allowing conversations over live video because of the potential for abuse and opposition from child-safety advocates. “The only thing you get from the combination of Web cams and young people are problems,” said Parry Aftab, executive director of the child protection organization WiredSafety.org. “Web cams are a magnet for sexual predators.”


Smaller start-ups who are not able, or willing, to be as diligent are seeing their audiences explode as users seek the more freewheeling environment that typified YouTube’s early days. Users post 9,000 new videos a day to Dailymotion, which had more than 1.3 million visitors in November, up more than 100 percent since May, according to the tracking firm ComScore Media Metrix.

A recent search on Dailymotion, which is based in Paris, found hours of copyrighted material: entire episodes of NBC’s “Heroes” and CBS’s “Without a Trace,” recordings of Beatles concerts and plenty of nudity. The firm places no length restrictions on uploaded video.


Even enthusiastic Stickam users say the site often feels lawless. “People are very vulgar and like to ‘get their jollies’ from harassing people, mainly girls, to take off their clothes,” said Chelsey, a 17-year-old user from Saskatchewan in Canada, who signed up after her 13-year-old sister violated the site’s age rules and joined the service.

“I’m pretty sure none of their parents know or even think about the things that they are doing on this site,” said Chelsey, who said in an e-mail message that she did not feel comfortable using her last name in an interview.

The article is extremely interesting, well worth checking out and reading the whole thing. The world it describes is really a bit like a wild west town with no sherriff around to keep order. But a lot of the stuff we see in articles like this one is, of course, baseless scaremongering and nervous nellies worried about what their kids are doing online. Kids will be kids and constantly strive to push boundaries and piss off their parents, it's only natural.

On the other hand, the opportunities to do yourself real harm while merely trying to annoy your parents are also very real and quite unlike anything in the past. Similarly, parents have real and legitimate concerns about their kids being exposed to content that they may not be mature enough to understand and put into proper perspective -- filtering software doesn't work and you really can't monitor teenagers activities to any significant degree, even pre-teens. And, these sites also have very beneficial content too, so you don't want to just block them.

Similarly, as libraries open up themselves to user-generated content, we have to think long and hard about the nature and range of content that may end up in our virtual collections and databases. The web out there may be wild and wooley, but are we ready to make the same leap of faith?

Lee Lorch wins 2007 Yueh-Gin Gung and Charles Y. Hu Award

At the current Joint Mathematics Meetings in New Orleans, York University math professor Lee Lorch has been awarded the 2007 Yueh-Gin Gung and Charles Y. Hu Award for Distinguished Service to Mathematics.

The citation reads:

Lee Lorch's mathematical research has been in the areas of analysis, differential equations, and special functions. His teaching positions have included the City College of New York, Pennsylvania State University, Fisk University, Philander Smith College, the University of Alberta, Howard University, Royal Institute of Technology (Stockholm) and Aarhus University. He was at York from 1968 until retirement in 1985 and remains active in the mathematical community.

His scholarship has been recognized by election to Fellowship in the Royal Society of Canada; appointment to committees of the Research Council of Canada; election to the Councils of the American Mathematical Society, the Canadian Mathematical Society, and the Royal Society of Canada; and by many invitations to lecture.

Lee Lorch is a remarkable teacher of mathematics and an inspiration to his students. Among those he guided were Etta Falconer, Gloria Hewitt, Vivienne Malone Mayes, and Charles Costley. He has recruited into graduate work and mathematical careers many students who would not have otherwise considered such a path. [See V. Mayes, American Mathematical Monthly, 1976, pp708-711; and P. Kenschaft, Change Is Possible, American Mathematical Society, 2005.]

During the early organization of the Association for Women in Mathematics, Lee gave sage advice about the value of inclusiveness in supporting effective advocacy. He is responsible for the appearance of the preposition "for" in place of the initially proposed "of" in the name of the AWM.

Throughout his career he has been a vocal advocate and energetic worker for human rights and educational opportunities. His interventions, especially in the 1950's, led to changes in the policies and practices of the AMS and the MAA that ensured that all mathematicians could participate in the official events of these organizations. While his actions have not solved all the problems he addressed, surely his energy has contributed to much progress.

As an example, we cite events surrounding a meeting in 1951 held in Nashville. Lee Lorch, the chair of the mathematics department at Fisk University, and three Black colleagues, Evelyn Boyd (now Granville), Walter Brown, and H. M. Holloway came to the meeting and were able to attend the scientific sessions. However, the organizer for the closing banquet refused to honor the reservations of these four mathematicians. (Letters in Science, August 10, 1951, pp. 161-162 spell out the details). Lorch and his colleagues wrote to the governing bodies of the AMS and MAA seeking bylaws against discrimination. Bylaws were not changed, but non-discriminatory policies were established and have been strictly observed since then.

For his life-long contributions to mathematics, his continued dedication to inclusiveness, equity, and human rights for mathematicians, and especially his profound influence on the lives of minority and women mathematicians who have benefited from his efforts, the MAA presents this Yueh-Gin Gung and Charles Y. Hu Award for Distinguished Service to Mathematics to Lee Lorch.

A picture of a beaming Lee Lorch is here. There's also a nice article in the daily YorkU email newsletter about the award.
On paper, Lorch retired in 1985. But, as he likes to say, "I’m not retired. Unfortunately my salary is." At 91, he still uses an office at York and is collaborating on a research paper about Bessel functions with Prof. Martin Muldoon, a former grad student under Lorch in Edmonton and himself recently retired from York’s Mathematics Department. He’s given up teaching but travels to campus regularly and participates in meetings and other activities. Not as mobile as he once was, he uses a walker and relies on Wheel-Trans to get around. However, e-mail and the Internet have only fuelled his activism.

What’s remarkable, says Muldoon, is that Lorch still takes great interest in the mathematical community, especially its treatment of women and minorities. From his tiny home office, he reads five newspapers a day, including the New York Times. He sends flurries of e-mails daily about peace and justice issues – these days he focuses on Cuban-Canadian friendship – to friends and acquaintances in and out of the mathematical community. Only five years ago, he raised a fuss with the newly formed Fields Institute, a math organization in Toronto, over its first list of 33 fellows, all of whom were white men. Within two years, several women became fellows and the institute appointed a woman director.

It’s impossible not to admire Lorch’s persistence and courage. Does he feel he’s made headway in his struggles against racism, inequality and injustice? "Yes," he says, "but there’s a long way to go. These issues are still very much with us."

It's a pleasure to note this award. Lee is an ardent library supporter and a very welcome visitor to my library, always willing to stop & chat, to share a story or two from his vast experience. He's also donated many rare and unique books from his collection to the library, many of which I've had the pleasure of processing, making our collection a much better research-level collection. Congratulations, Lee!

Services & collections for engineering

At the beginning of December, Lori Gluckman of SUNY Maritime College asked a question on the ELD-L list on building collections and services to satisfy engineering accreditation requirements:

I'm wondering if anyone can recommend any specific resources regarding librarianship within the engineering discipline and the profession of engineering in general. Also:

  • Within the health sciences, there tend to be "standard lists" of what a specific-size library should have (e.g., community hospital vs. large academic medical center). Is there anything similar in the engineering library discipline?
  • In terms of ABET and other accrediting agencies within the field, are there specific standards in terms of what our libraries should incorporate into the colleciton?
  • I'm trying to get up to speed in terms of what the most widely used and helpful abstracting/indexing services/databases are within the field. I've heard about compendex and web of science, but was wondering if you had to go with just a few, which databases were the most useful.

Any advice that you could provide for a newbie to this area would be greatly appreciated. I look forward to becoming more involved in the Engineering Libraries Division.

Lori has kindly agreed to let me reprint the summary of responses she posted on ELD-L last week, for the benefit of us all:
In terms of ABET, the concensus was that there are no standards set by the accreditation body for what services or sources an engineering library should provide, although there is indication that the Engineering Libraries Division has been working on this issue for some time.

Note that it's important to have contacts with federal labs and other engineering libraries across the country to locate obscure government literature, difficult standards, patent literature and resources within the area of grey literature.

Although no one list of recommended titles and/or resources for engineering collections is recognized, several publications were recommended to me, which may be of assistance:

  • Information Sources in Engineering, 4th ed., edited by Roderick A. MacLeod and Jim Corlett. M√ľnchen : K.G. Saur, 2005.>This won the ELD "Best Reference Work" award for 2006 - http://eld.lib.ucdavis.edu/awards.php#reference
  • Engineering libraries : building collections and delivering services / Thomas W. Conkling, Linda R. Musser, editors. Binghamton, N.Y. : Haworth Information Press, 2001. Co-published simultaneously as Science & technology libraries, v. 19, nos. 3/4, 2001.
  • Information and the professional scientist and engineer / Virginia Baldwin, Julie Hallmark, editors. Binghamton, NY : Haworth Information Press, 2003. Co-published simultaneously as Science & Technology Libraries, v. 21, nos. 3/4, 2003.
  • Powell, Russell H.,1943-, Core list of books and journals in science and technology / Phoenix, Ariz. : Oryx Press, 1987.
  • Hightower and Schwarzwalder (DATABASE Magazine, 1991) for a dated, but comprehensive review of materials sciences databases.

In term of abstracting/indexing services/databases within the field, the following were recommended:

  • Compendex database (EI Engineering Abstracts)--strong for mechanical and civil engineering.
  • INSPEC--Useful for electrical engineering, computer science and materials science programs.
  • ACM Guide/ACM Digital Library--computer science.
  • Web of Science--useful for most topics in engineering, although feedback that Web of Science may not be worth the expense and investment if obtained at the expense of other resources.
  • Scopus--a new general purpose database from Elsevier that is competitve to the Web of Science.
  • SciFinder Scholar--good coverage of chemical engineering, environmental engineering, and materials science.

Other resources to consider:

  • Applied Science and Technology Index
  • ASCE Civil Engineering Database
  • Computer & Information Systems Abstracts
  • Electronics & Communications Abstracts
  • Engineered Materials Abstracts
  • GeoRef
  • IEEE Xplore (All-Society Periodicals Package)
  • MathSciNet
  • Mechanical Engineering Abstracts
  • METADEX (Metals & Alloys)
  • Science Citation Index
  • Solid State & Superconductivity Abstracts
  • Knovel (e-books and interactive tools)
  • ILI Standards Infobase--As per the database's website, "The ILI standards database is the leading bibliographic standards database. It covers over 600,000 worldwide standards. Coverage extends across the industrialised world."
  • IHS Engineering
  • NTIS via CSA (technical reports)
  • espacenet (patents)
  • PubMed

Thanks go to all those who responded, including: Tom Volkening, Karen Andrews, Kevin Drees, Jessica Patterson, Bruce Antelman, Joseph Kraus, Kate Thomes, Dr. Robert Schwarzwalder, Amanda Werhane and Larry Thompson.

Thanks, Lori!

January 5, 2007

Preferred feeds for this blog

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If you subscribe to the Blogger or Feedburner feeds, please ignore this message.

If you subscribe to the feed at http://www.wcc.vccs.edu/services/rssify/rssify.php?url=http%3A%2F%2Fjdupuis.blogspot.com%2F then you should know that that feed appears to be dead. Reviving it would involve modifying the html in the blog template, which isn't as straightforward in the new blogger as in the old. You're seeing this (I hope) because I can force posts to the feed by adding code to individual posts.

The two feeds I would recommend are the new Blogger feed and the Feedburner feed.

Thanks for your attention.

January 4, 2007

How to go to College - The Unofficial Rules

Via Ask Dr Kirk, check out this article by Mary S. Alexander & Bill Petkanas.

This is one of those "kids today are such uncooth barbarians" articles and it's pretty amusing, I have to say. It does have a lot of interesting suggestions, some of which I will mention here, without the detail:

  • Read the syllabus
  • Do the reading
  • Don't whine
  • Show up on time
  • You are an adult

And one with the detail:
Plagiarism. The rules against plagiarism are spelled out in your catalog or student handbook. The official story is that it’s against the rules, and everyone knows it. With the advent of the internet, plagiarism has gone from a small but persistent offence to a widespread and common occurrence. It’s very tempting to download articles and papers, and it’s easy, too. Many people do it, and here’s what they find out: your professors have been surfing the Net since its inception. They not only know a great deal about their field (well, they’re experts in it, actually) but they can find that article or paper faster than you can. Some even have plagiarism detecting programs, like “turnitin.com.” So, not only is it wrong, cheating, disrespectful, and counter to the values of your education, it also doesn’t work. You’ll get caught.

The complete list with all the comments is well worth reading, full of very good advice for any young adult about to start post-secondary education. When you think about it, lots of these suggestions are applicable to anyone going through life and it's certainly appropriate to point them out to kids just starting the journey. I can definately see profs wanting to hand out something like this at the beginning of a first year class to let students know they're not in high school anymore.

On the other hand, I find the hectoring tone rather annoying and patronizing. The assumption seems to be guilty until proven civilized and if I were a prof, I'm not sure I would want to start a class off on this kind of foot. On the other hand, I'm not a prof and I don't have to put up with the behaviour of the contemporary student. When I do IL sessions and meet students at the ref desk, I see symptoms of most of these behaviours. The first thing that comes to mind when I see something like this is that everyone is assuming that the current generation is so much worse than previous ones in terms of politeness, respect and work ethic. But I think the main issue is that people are comparing the worst of today's kids with an idealized version of their own (and their friends) behaviour. After all, the people that are profs (and librarians) today were surely the keenest kids of their own cohort and comparing their own now-rose-coloured behaviour with current students seems a bit disingenuous.

But, in the end, I'd have to say I wouldn't use something like this list in it's current form -- softened, reworded, excerpted, yes. But not in it's current form.

January 3, 2007

OK, one more on 2006's best science books

A couple of good lists of notable recent science books.

First of all, Seed Magazine in their Year in Science issue has a good list of books. The list doesn't seem to be online. I like this list because it seems a bit more eccentric and varied that some of the others I've seen.

  • Sex, Drugs + DNA: Science's Taboos Confronted by Michael Stebbins
  • UFO: A Product of the Combustive Motor Company by Chris Noble et al.
  • What We Believe but Cannot Prove edited by John Brockman
  • Dark Cosmos by Dan Hooper
  • The Making of the Fittest by Sean B. Carroll (Best refutation of intelligent design)
  • Intuition by Allegra Goodman
  • An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore
  • Many World in One by Alex Vilenkin (Best explanation of an arcane topic)
  • The Trouble with Physics by Lee Smolin
  • Moral Minds by Marc D. Hauser
  • The Creation by E.O. Wilson
  • The Apollo Prophesies by Richard Selesnick and Nicholas Kahn
  • In Search of Memory by Eric Kandel
  • Five Fists of Science by Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders (Best outreach to a new audience)
  • Saturn: A New View by Lovett, Horvath and Cuzzi
  • Genes in Conflict by Austin Burt and Robert Trivers
  • Bedrock: Writers on the Wonders of Geology edited by Savoy, Moores & Moores
  • Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel Dennett
  • Programming the Universe: A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes on the Cosmos by Seth Lloyd

It's a long list, well worth checking out. I like that it includes fiction (Intuition), a graphic novel (Five Fists of Science) and alternate history (The Apollo Prophesies). It's worth buying this issue of Seed to read the descriptions of the books to get more insight. The Year in Science features are also well done, as is the profile/exerpt piece on their ScienceBlogs site, complete with cartoon illustration of the SciBlings.

Next up is an overview by The Toronto Star's top-notch science writer Peter Calamai, The Science of a Good Science Book, from December 31. Here's a quick run down of what Calamai suggests:

  • Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert
  • Sustainable Fossil Fuels: The Unusual Suspect in the Quest for Clean and Enduring Energy by Mark Jaccard
  • The Trouble with Physics by Lee Smolin
  • Programming the Universe: A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes on the Cosmos by Seth Lloyd
  • Broken Genius: The Rise and Fall of William Shockley by Joel Shurkin
  • Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code by Matt Ridley
  • Einstein's Jury by Jeffrey Crelinsten
  • A Complete Guide to Arctic Wildlife by Richard Sale
  • 100 Caterpillars: Portraits from the Tropical Forests of Costa Rica
  • The Fire Ants by Walter R. Tschinkel
  • The Science of Sherlock Holmes by E.J. Wagner
  • The Science of Doctor Who by Paul Parsons
  • Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe by Terence Dickinson

Calamai also mentions a bunch of books he hasn't read yet but is looking forward to reading. Overall, I have to say, that if you can't find something worth reading from all the lists going around these days, you're just not trying hard enough. It seems that there's something for everyone; as well, books like Smolin's Trouble with Physics is appearing on so many lists make them well worth checking out to see what the buzz is all about. In science especially, books that get people talking and thinking are a treasure. I know it's getting pretty close to the top of my reading list these days. Thanks to inkycircus for reminding me about the Star article -- I read it when it came out then forgot about it completely. Something about New Year's Eve, I guess.

Why Aren't More Women in Science?

There's a new book out by the American Psychological Association: Why Aren't More Women in Science? Top Researchers Debate the Evidence, edited by Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams.

Today's IsideHigherEd has an interview with the editors:

Q: We have seen more progress in some fields (medicine, for example) than others (engineering). Does research point to explanations?

A: Amidst the debate over whether women are underrepresented in certain fields of math and science is an inescapable fact: women have made huge advances in virtually every field of science and math during the past three decades. Granted, the progress in some fields (e.g., medicine, veterinary medicine, biological sciences) has been far greater than in others (engineering, chemistry, physics, and computer science). Some believe that the dearth of women in these latter fields is the result of their greater dependence on cognitive skills that are assumed to be more prevalent among males (e.g., spatial abilities), while others have argued that the reason has more to do with sex differences in personal preferences, with men gravitating more toward object-oriented fields and women toward person-oriented ones. Our review of the evidence leads us to conclude that the reason fewer women are in certain fields has to do with many factors, not just one or two.

The table of contents is here. It seems like an interesting and important book for all of our collections.

January 1, 2007

Another LabLit survey

This one's on "What's the most important final frontier that science can address?" and the choices are:

  • Finding life on other planets
  • Understanding human consciousness
  • Saving the planet's ecosystem
  • Discovering cures for all diseases
  • Extending human lifespan

I chose "Saving the planet's ecosystem" as are about 40% of other respondants. I like these quick and fun surveys and think something like them would be a great idea for our library web site. Hmmm.

Best. Blogroll. Ever.

Coturnix of A Blog Around the Clock fame has just finished the huge task of updating his already formidable science blog blogroll, asking his legion of readers to make suggestions. The results are up here; spending some quality time investigating the list seems like a fun way to spend some down time at the old ref desk!