December 31, 2008

The Year in Cities

Another meme, this one first encountered at Uncertain Principles. Oddly, because I was actually in one of the cities at the same time as that blog's author.

So, the cities (besides Toronto) I spent the night in during 2008:

  • Montreal, QC (3x, including Web 2.You)
  • Research Triangle Park, NC (Science Blogging Conference)
  • Pittsburgh, PA (ASEE annual conf)
  • Ste-Agathe, QC (vacation)
  • Waterloo, ON (Science in the 21st Century conference)
  • Ottawa, ON (Xmas break)

Not much of a travel year, but that's just fine with me.

December 30, 2008

A year of books

I did this last year and it seemed like an interesting and maybe even useful thing to continue this year.

Trends in my reading this year? Lots and lots on science and technology, especially on the impacts of those on intellectual culture. A great year, in that respect, with Shirky's Here Comes Everybody leading the way. Not so much fiction, and especially sf, this year. This'll be corrected by the Sunburst reading I do this year and next (not recorded here, see below), but I think I just needed a break.

Overall, the total number of books I'm reading this year is the highest it's been in quite a long time. Why? Well, honestly, I think it's because of the variety. I used to read mostly fiction, mostly fantastic fiction, and I think I was just getting bogged down by the sameness of it all. Lately, since my sabbatical especially, I'm just reading much wider. And that's made my reading wider and more interesting to me. And this results in me reading more.

So, without further ado, here's a list of all the books I've read this year with links to my reviews:

  1. Ambient Findability by Peter Morville
  2. Year's Best Fantasy 6 edited by David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer
  3. Slide by Ken Bruen & Jason Starr
  4. Farthing by Jo Walton
  5. The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2007 edited by Richard Preston & Tim Folger (Series Editor)
  6. The Keeper by Sarah Langan
  7. A Century of Noir edited by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
  8. Einstein: A Life by Walter Isaacson
  9. Hardboiled America: Lurid Paperbacks And The Masters Of Noir by Geoffrey O'Brien
  10. Supercrunchers: Why Thinking-By-Numbers is the New Way To Be Smart by Ian Ayres
  11. Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke
  12. 40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, Oxycontin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania by Matthew Chapman
  13. Year's Best SF 11 edited by David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer
  14. Infected by Scott Sigler
  15. Pyramids by Terry Pratchett
  16. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky
  17. Free as in Speech and Beer: Open Source, Peer-to-Peer and the Economics of the Online Revolution by Darren Wershler-Henry
  18. The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google by Nicholas Carr
  19. The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages
  20. Big City, Bad Blood by Sean Chercover
  21. Complications: A Surgeon's Note on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande
  22. Best New Horror 17 edited by Stephen Jones
  23. Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson
  24. The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet by Daniel J. Solove
  25. The Best of Technology Writing 2007 by Steven Levy
  26. The Sum of All Fears by Tom Clancy
  27. Wrinkles in Time: Witness to the Birth of the Universe by George Smoot and Keay Davidson
  28. The End of the Beginning by Harry Turtledove
  29. Clapton: The Autobiography by Eric Clapton
  30. The Ruins by Scott Smith
  31. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
  32. Comrades of War by Sven Hassel
  33. Solomon's Vineyard by
  34. Pursuit of Genius: Flexner, Einstein, and the Early Faculty at the Institute for Advanced Study by Steve Batterson
  35. Archimedes to Hawking: Laws of Science and the Great Minds Behind Them by Clifford Pickover
  36. Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design by Michael Shermer
  37. Triptych by Karen Slaughter
  38. Dark Crusade by Karl Edward Wagner
  39. Little Girl Lost by Richard Aleas
  40. The Wraparound Universe by Jean-Pierre Luminet
  41. Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good: The Rebirth of Silicon Valley and the Rise of Web 2.0 by Sarah Lacy
  42. Bad Moon Rising by Jonathan Maberry
  43. The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier
  44. The Best American Science Writing 2008 edited by Sylvia Nasar & Jesse Cohen (series editor)
  45. Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford
  46. The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2008 edited by Jerome Groopman and Tim Folger (series editor)
  47. The Quantum Ten: A Story of Passion, Tragedy, Ambition, and Science by Sheilla Jones
  48. The Dime Detectives: a Comprehensive History of the Detective Fiction Pulps by Ron Goulart
  49. Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff
  50. Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright, and the Future of the Future by Cory Doctorow
  51. God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens
  52. Mafiaboy: How I Cracked the Internet and Why It's Still Broken by Michael Calce and Craig Silverman

I should mention that there are a significant number of books I've read that aren't on the list. I'm not recording the books I read for the Sunburst Awards as I don't think the list of books actually submitted for consideration are made public anywhere.

One book that I did read that's not on the list is The Open Laboratory: The Best Science Writing on Blogs 2007, edited by Reed Cartwright and Bora Zivkovic. Since I was on the advance screening panel of judges for the book, I did read all the posts that are reprinted in it during the judging period at the end of 2007; I also ordered and received the book in 2008. But I never actually cracked the cover and re-read all the posts during 2008. I did re-read a few, but not all.

Notable non-fiction, in no particular order:
  • Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky
  • The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2008 edited by Jerome Groopman and Tim Folger (series editor)
  • Content by Cory Doctorow
  • The Canon by Natalie Angier
  • Einstein: A Life by Walter Isaacson

Notable fiction, in no particular order (Note that this doesn't include Sunburst books, which would make the list quite different):
  • The Keeper by Sarah Langan
  • Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke
  • Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages
  • The Ruins by Scott Smith
  • Triptych by Karen Slaughter

As a side note, I really do love reading other people's lists of books they've read. So, those of you who are so inclined (and who are odd enough to actually record each and every book they read during the year), consider this a meme and consider yourselves tagged.

Review-wise, I still have to figure out what to do with the growing backlog of annual essay collections that I haven't reviewed yet. I may end up doing a mass review with one-liner comments at some point. Of books that deserve full-length treatment, I still have Groundswell, Doctorow's Content and Mafiaboy, but it might be a while before I get to any of those. FWIW, I probably won't be reading too many non-Sunburst books for at least a few more months.

(I've been recording every book I read since 1983 and on my other blog I've been occasionally transcribing the list on a year by year basis. I've stalled of late, but I'll probably do a few more during the holidays this year. This list will also be re-posted there eventually.)

December 21, 2008

Best Science Books 2008: The London Times

Books from the Science, Nature and Gardening lists. This list is particularly interesting since it's not centred on the US publishing industry.

  • In Defence of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan

  • The Wisdom of Birds: An Illustrated History of Ornithology by Tim Birkhead

  • Consider the Birds: Who They are and What They Do by Colin Tudge

  • Southern England: The Geology and Scenery of Lowland England by Peter Friend

  • The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes

  • Dry Store Room No 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum by Richard Fortey

  • The Making of Mr Gray's "Anatomy": Bodies, Books, Fortune, Fame by Ruth Richardson

  • Bedlam: London and Its Mad by Catharine Arnold

  • Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

December 18, 2008

The Twittermonster has claimed another victim

Just a couple of weeks ago I was talking with a colleague here at York and I remember him mentioning, "You know, I just don't get Twitter."

I remember agreeing, and even stating something to the effect that hell would freeze over before I joined Twitter. I also distinctly remembering thinking to myself that such a definitive statement was sure to prove my undoing.

No sooner had I decided that I was never going to join Twitter than I seriously began to think about what it is and what it can be used for. And the more I thought about it, the more I began to think that I needed to give it a try.

Today, while at a meeting where only a couple of people showed (holidays, strike, etc.) we were talking about creating dynamic presences for academic libraries on the Web. Of course, Friendfeed and Twitter both figured prominently in those discussions.

Needless to say, combine all those with a rather uneventful desk shift (between the Cupe 3903 strike and normal December slowness, it's dead here), and I decided to take the plunge.


Follow me, tweet me, whatever. It should be interesting.

(And more to follow on creating dynamic web presences for the York Libraries...)

IEEE Women in Engineering Magazine

A relatively new magazine from the IEEE, one that I just heard about the other day in the most recent What's New @ IEEE in Libraries. It looks very interesting and has the potential to be a great showcase for issues surrounding women in engineering and science in general.

There have been three issues so far: v1i1, v2i1 and v2i2.

From the Letter from the Editor, Karen Panetta, in the first issue.

The goal of this magazine is to be your resource for helping to attract, retain, and sustain women in the engineering and science fields. For parents and educators, IEEE Women in Engineering Magazine will showcase the exciting career opportunities in the IEEE fields of interest and provide you with access to successful outreach activities that will help encourage children to pursue engineering. The magazine will also provide networking and career support whether you are a student, young or seasoned professional, or reentering the workforce.


Oftentimes, I am met with questions about the need for the existence of groups such as WIE. Less than 30% of all engineers are women, with the majority of this number falling in the chemical and biomedical engineering fields. Electrical engineering and
computer engineering still continue to be the most underrepresented engineering fields for women. The attrition of women in the electrical engineering profession also shows that women are leaving the discipline at extremely high rates. Women are a valuable untapped resource that makes up 50% of the world’s workforce. This, coupled with the fact that there are so few women pursuing engineering, is evidence that a problem exists and demands action. Furthermore, we often forget that places in the world still exist where women are not allowed to pursue education, never mind the possibility of pursuing an engineering career. There are countries that have IEEE chapters, yet women are still not permitted to present their work due to cultural issues. IEEE WIE is committed to overcoming the barriers that have kept women from pursuing and advancing in their careers.

I couldn't have said it better myself!

Some highlights from the first three issues:

Best Science Books 2008: The Economist

Here are some books from the business, history and science categories of The Economist's list.

  • The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World by Tim Harford

  • Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World by Don Tapscott

  • The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes

  • American Rifle: A Biography by Alexander Rose

  • The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters by Rose George

  • The Princeton Companion to Mathematics edited by Timothy Gowers, June Barrow-Green and Imre Leader

  • Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

  • The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Duelling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York by Matthew Goodman

  • Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein

  • Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population by Matthew Connelly

  • Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets by Sudhir Venkatesh

December 17, 2008

Best Science Books 2008: Some Best Business Books lists

Some of the Best Business Book lists I'm seeing definitely have books on them that would interest either the library crowd, the science crowd or both. In general, these lists are very interesting because the books are about placing technology in a social or organizational context.

Here's some highlights from a couple of the lists.

Business Week

  • Hell's Cartel: I.G. Farben and the Making of Hitler's War Machine by Diarmuid Jeffreys

  • Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely

  • The Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives by Michael Heller

  • Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America by Thomas L. Friedman

  • Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Financial Times

  • Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness
    by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

  • The Logic of Life: Uncovering the New Economics of Everything
    By Tim Harford

  • Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

  • Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy by Lawrence Lessig

Fast Company

  • The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures by Dan Roam

  • The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google by Nicholas Carr

  • Earth: The Sequel: The Race to Reinvent Energy and Stop Global Warming by Fred Krupp and Miriam Horn

  • Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently by Gregory Berns

  • The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company by David A. Price

December 16, 2008

Social Networks that make me scratch my head

Sometimes things just don't seem to make sense to me. Social networks seem to sprout like mushrooms on a damp log and I wonder if they're used, useful and sustainable.

Nature Blogs

Take Blogs as a first example. It's supposedly a place where users can keep up to date on what's going on in the science blogosphere, but to my mind it's not very good. It mostly features Nature's own blogs with only cursory coverage of everything else. At least on the home page. The Browse Blogs and the Top Stories pages are a little better, but not much. Really, the other two Nature blog aggregators, Scintilla and Postgenomic, are both way better. It's hard to imagine them needing two, never mind three. You can also log in with your Nature Network password and suggest new blogs or moderate new blogs that others are suggesting.

What were they thinking? Fortunately, they have let us peak into their inner workings.

First, a post on Nascent:

We launched a new blogs portal on earlier this week. It's part of a general overhaul of blogging at NPG which amongst other things involves link backs from articles to the blog posts writing about them (bloggers get traffic, our readers get conversation around papers - works for us both) and improving the blogging experience for users on Network.

It also seems that they use Scintilla as the engine. They also point out that the list of blogs in moderated by the community and that it is connected to Nature Network, something that is new and interesting.

Also, there are a couple of conversations on FriendFeed (1,2):
As Euan says:
Yeah, Nature Blogs should eventually match Postgenomic in functionality. Essentially NPG IT can't support Postgenomic for various reasons. Nature Blogs is a cleaner rewrite anyway (and more stable: needed for the link backs work). IMHO we should open source the code, but we'll see.

Also from Euan:
We'll be using it to put link backs on our papers - if you write about a paper publishing in an NPG journal on your blog and you're in the blogs index then you get a link back from the article itself. The blogs index is open to other publishers too to use as a spam free whitelist.

Overall, it does seem that the Nature folks have interesting and useful plans for the new site, that it does and will have functionality and integration that will surpass and perhaps replace both Postgenomic and Scintilla. I just find it odd that they didn't make that more clear from the beginning and more obvious on the Nature Blogs site itself. This is a transitional life form, in a way, and we are just waiting for the right features to evolve. Really only a little head scratching involved.

Library Networking Group

Considerably more head scratching involved is the case of Library networking Group, a kind of join venture of the Ontario Library Association and Networking Groups, Inc that is being promoted quite heavily by OLA (I've gotten at least 4 or five emails from OLA about this).

From their promotional emails:
Welcome to Canada’s newest online community for Library Professionals - the Library Networking Group.

The Library Networking Group is a collaboration between Networking Groups, Inc. and the Ontario Library Association to bring full social networking to library staff, library trustees and those who support libraries of all kinds everywhere. It is a new meeting space in which you and your colleagues initiate and join in dialogues and other collaborations through forums, blogs, articles, podcasts and more. It is a straightforward and easy way to share ideas and practice with your fellow subject matter generalists and specialists in the library community.

Share ideas and ask questions while establishing new contacts and increasing your networks. Membership is free.

What’s in it for you

The Library Networking Group gives you instant access to hundreds of individuals with a passion for libraries. This professional networking site can unlock new opportunities for you and your colleagues to further your knowledge, to meet developing attitudes and trends that are shape our outlook, even improve skills through the sharing of best practices.

It looks really interesting. It has blogs, forums, podcasts, groups and even recent articles by well known authos from various publications. In conception, it reminds me of Nature Network or even the Palinet Leadership Network. In a very good way. Here's a place that librarians can gather and share their experiences.

What's the epic fail? It's all behind a registration wall. Sure, registration is free and appears fairly painless if somewhat intrusive. But nobody can read any of it unless they're registered.

I had a brief email conversation with a couple of people involved in the LibraryNG project and here's what I had to say about that:.

These were my intial thoughts:
Just to let you know, I did go to the site and was extremely disappointed that none of the content is available without registration. I would never join a site like that or recommend it to anyone else.

The profession needs to be open and transparent and the bloggers and others that contribute to the site deserve to have their thoughts be part of the open professional record, both to be part of the larger professional conversation and to be recognized for their contributions.

You should take a look at the Nature Network site as I think it has a better model for participation. Anyone can read but only the registered can blog, comment or participate in forums.

Walled garden professional social networks are the wrong path and I don't think that they'll be attractive enough to be sustainable.

My second email was in reponse to someone from Neworking Groups, Inc, who emailed me back to mention that some of the other communities they've designed are fine with the restrictions. This is what I had to say:
First of all, to compare to the other community sites you have might not be applicable. Although I don't know those communities that well, I suspect that your site wasn't an entry into a community with already many hundreds of active bloggers and commenters. Check here for a list of *active* library community bloggers.

And just one of the FriendFeed librarian rooms.

This is an open, vibrant community with lots of back and forth and discussion. Taking a librarian and putting their ideas behind a wall, any wall, will hurt their "brand" and "reputation" building because the most important thought leaders in the field are already out in the open. Being behind the wall means that far fewer people in the community will be able to read them and comment.

Same with articles and forums. Your article writers and other contributors will want the broadest audience possible.

As for the fear of spam and email pirates, access to personal information can still be behind the sign-on barrier and subject to the privacy profile of the members.

I think two good examples of mostly open communities are Nature Network for
scientists and the Palinet Leadership Network, which is a librarian community.

In Nature Network, anybody can read anything, but you have to be signed up to blog or comment.

I have to admit, the thing that surprises me the most about this is that OLA didn't see the problem with having this kind of closed social network and that it would not be as advantageous to the careers and reputations of their members as an open one. Many of the arguments for open access apply to this case as well. So the arguments we would use to promote open access to faculty have to be the same arguments we would use to advocate for open discussion within our own community.

Needless to say, I haven't signed up for LibraryNG yet. If any of you out there have, I'd be interested to hear what you have to say.

December 13, 2008

Best Science Books 2008: Library Journal

Wow, another disappointing list:

  • The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman's Fight To Save the World's Most Beautiful Bird by Bruce Barcott

  • Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators by William Stolzenburg

  • Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt

Library Journal did a dedicated scitech last year and I hope they do it again later on for 2008.

December 11, 2008

Best Science Books 2008: Booklist

Here's the Top 10 Sci-Tech Books for 2008:

  • The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters by Rose George

  • Beyond the Zonules of Zinn: A Fantastic Journey through Your Brain by David Bainbridge

  • Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach

  • Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds about Animals and Food by Gene Baur

  • Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honeybee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis by Rowan Jacobsen

  • Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect with Others by Marco Iacoboni

  • The Parrot Who Thought She Was a Dog by Nancy Ellis-Bell

  • The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell’s Secret by Seth Shulman

  • Thousand Mile Song: Whale Music in a Sea of Sound by David Rothenberg

  • The Universe in a Mirror: The Saga of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Visionaries Who Built It by Robert Zimmerman

December 8, 2008

Interview with Michael Nielsen

No, not me interviewing Michael Nielsen (although I'll probably get around to it one of these days).

It's my older son Sam who is in grade 10. It's for a Career Studies assignment because he's thinking that theoretical physicist is a possible career path. Check out the interview here.

Recently, I had to do an interview of someone who was on, or had been on, a similar career path to the one we want to pursue (being in grade 10, there's some growing up left to do, but it doesn't feel right to say 'when we grow up'). I've been thinking theoretical physicist as of late (have I mentioned that before?) and I was hoping to interview someone who's... in theoretical physics. At first, it seemed like a hopeless journey; how could I reach someone who's in physics and actually convince them to do an interview? I didn't even know where to start to find a physicist, unless one counts asking my dad. Of course, he said something along the lines of 'Michael Nielsen! He was a physicist and is now writing on the future of science as a whole. He's famous and his career path is extremely relevant.' My curiosity was piqued.

Best Science Books 2008: No Love for Science

Here's some more from the Fimoculus list, these ones notable for not having any science books mentioned when you would think that they could find at least one:

As I see more science-free lists, I'll probably just add them here. Fortunately, I do have a bunch of great lists to blog about over the next few days.

Update 2008.12.13:

Update 2008.12.21:
  • NPR -- no science list or any science books appearing on any of the other lists.

  • Slate -- the medical editor chose Stalking Irish Madness by Patrick Tracey but it seems too marginal for me to count as a science book

December 6, 2008

Best Science Books 2008: The Globe and Mail Gift Books

After the depressing LA Times, one of my favourite annual lists -- Globe and Mail Gift Books. There's an incredible array of fantastic suggestions here, both from the scitech world and arts, culture and history. There's tons of stuff here that I wouldn't mind finding under the tree in a few weeks.

Here's the science-y ones from the History, Nature and Miscellaneous categories:

  • The Atlas of Exploration Foreword by John Hemming

  • Animals: A Visual Encyclopedia edited by Carrie Love and Caroline Stamps

  • Mission Space: A Full-Throttle Tour of the Universe by Carole Stott

  • Hubble: Imaging and Time by David Devorkin and Robert W. Smith

  • Antarctica: Secrets of the Southern Continent by David McGonigal

  • The Owl and the Woodpecker: Encounters with North America's Most Iconic Birds by Paul Bannick

  • Arctic Visions: Pictures from a Vanished World by Fred Bruemmer

  • Aviation Canada: The Pioneer Decades by Larry Milberry

  • Cool Stuff Exploded: Get Inside Modern Technology by Chris Woodford

And here's some really cool-looking ones from the various categories (hint, hint):
  • Battle at Sea: 3,000 Years of Naval Warfare by R. G. Grant

  • Horror Cinema Edited by Jonathan Penner and Steven Jay

  • Marvel Chronical: A Year by Year History Foreword by Stan Lee. Afterword by Joe Quesada

  • Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko by Blake Bell

  • Historical Atlas of Toronto by Derek Hayes,

  • The Beer Book Edited by Tim Hampson

  • Drinks: Enjoying, Choosing, Storing, Serving and Appreciating Wines, Beers, Cocktails, Spirits, Aperitifs, Liqueurs, and Ciders by Vincent Gasnier

December 5, 2008

Best Science Books 2008: Los Angeles Times + Book Covers

Wow, the most catastropically disappointing list so far. A major paper like the LA Times can't find even one science book worth mentioning. The only one close is a nature title. From the non-fiction list:

  • The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West by Deanne Stillman

Interestingly, there are science fiction and mystery lists, something many other papers don't bother with.

On a more cheerful note, Joseph Sullivan's list of the best book covers of the year does have a few really nice examples from science books.

Friday Fun: A Super-Geeky Christmas List

Nuff said.

The one that most intrigues me:

Space opera cookie cutters – I recommend a rocket ship, stars and a moon. And spacey sprinkles. ’Cause I’m one of those feminists who likes to bake. Plus you can spread the geek gospel more easily with holiday food.

December 4, 2008

Best Science Books 2008: Christian Science Monitor

Decent list:

  • The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell's Secret by Seth Shulman

  • Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer by Shannon Brownlee

  • In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan

  • The Numerati by Stephen Baker

Friedman's Hot, Flat and Crowded and Gladwell's Outliers are two marginal science books that seem to be getting a lot of mentions.

(Thanks for Mita for pointing me to this site!)

November 29, 2008

Best Science Books 2008: The New York Times

This year's list of notable books is a very slightly better than last year's total of just 3. Stretching my definition of science book gives us five this year.

  • Blood Matters: From Inherited Illness to Designer Babies, How the World and I Found Ourselves in the Future of the Gene by Masha Gessen

  • The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow

  • Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely

  • The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies by Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson.

  • Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt

Thomas L. Friedman's Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution — and How It Can Renew America is a related book that I think a lot of people will be selecting this year.

Best Science Books 2008: The Globe and Mail

This year's Globe and Mail Globe 100 is quite a disappointing list, first of all because I only really identified 5 science books this, about half of last year's tally. I sort of thought that the Globe was deemphasizing science in the book review section this year, but this comes as a real confirmation of that trend.

But first, the science books that made the list (and a few interesting outliers, too):

  • Soul of the World: Unlocking the Secrets of Time by Christopher Dewdney

  • Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood by Taras Grescoe

  • The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels, and the Business of AIDS by Elizabeth Pisani

  • The Kingdom of Infinite Space: A Portrait of Your Head by Raymond Tallis

  • Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honeybee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis by Rowan Jacobsen

Some interesting related books, including two novels with scitech themes:
  • Who's Your City? How the Creative Economy is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life by Richard Florida

  • The Black Grizzly of Whiskey Creek by Sid Marty

  • Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet by Jeffrey D. Sachs

  • Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution - and How It Can Renew America by Thomas Friedman

  • Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

  • The Origin of Species by Nino Ricci

It's telling that that the non-science outliers are more numerous than the core science books. What's missing? Even from the books I reviewed this year, I would say that The Quantum Ten is really glaring in it's omission, especially since it's by a Canadian author. Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody is probably the best book about the impact of technology on society in years and it's really embarrassing it's not on the list. Equally embarrassing is that there were really no non-environmental books that dealt with technology and society. It's also odd that they chose Dewdney's book on time rather than Canadian Dan Falk's similar title. They both got good reviews -- Dewdney even reviewed Falk's book for the Globe a few weeks ago.

It's also disappointing that the Globe did not see fit to include any sf, fantasy or horror books aside from Doctorow's rather obvious YA choice. Mysteries and thrillers get their own dedicated column and maybe sffh deserve the same treatment.

Gisele Dupuis, 1926-2008

Some of you may have noticed a bit of a blog silence around here since last Friday. Well, last Saturday night we got the very sad news that my mother had passed away very suddenly earlier that day. I spent the last week in Montreal with my family, cleaning my mother's apartment with my sister, attending the funeral, buying a new suit and other assorted activities. And mostly being offline.

Needless to say, it's been a difficult time.

And the last day or so, as things have approached normalcy, I've struggled a bit with whether or not to mention my Mom's passing here. After all, I've tended to post very little of such a personal nature here and that's been on purpose. On the other hand, I've been very happy to be part of both the library and science online communities and have "met" (and/or met) many people here who I consider true friends. As such, I do feel that I can occasionally talk a little about what's going on in my personal life.

Besides, I asked my wife what she thought about me posting here and she said, "Sure! Your Mother would have gotten a kick out of being on the Internet!"

In any case, I'm including a great picture of my mother with my two sons below. It was taken about 18 months ago and really captures both her spirit and her love for her grandkids and, by extension, her whole family.

Some links: newspaper notice, online memorial, Kane & Fetterly funeral home, who were a great help to my sister and I through this whole process.

Please feel free to leave a note here, on Friendfeed or the online memorial site.

November 21, 2008

Friday Fun: Dominoes!

I love those domino toppling displays -- I think they're so cool in a Rube Goldberg kind of way. When my sons were younger, we used to set up little domino toppling displays around the house. We only had a hundred or so dominoes but it was still a lot of fun.

Anyway, the World Domino Record was recently set on TV.

A world record for the number of dominoes toppled was set when 4.3m fell during a two-hour TV show.

More than 85 people from 13 countries took part in the challenge, which took eight weeks to set up and was a year in the planning.

Acrobat and former Miss Finland, Salima Peippo, toppled the first domino while suspended from the ceiling by ropes.

The aim of Domino Day 2008 was to break ten world records made in previous years.

According to the organisers the 2008 attempt required 9,500 sq m (31,168 sq ft) of space, more 250 different types of domino, 300 mechanics, 100 decor pieces, 1500 turning fences and more than 5,000 square m (16,404 sq ft) of floor paint.

Check out the link above to see a video of the display.

(Weekly Typealyzer test for CoaSL: INTP)

November 19, 2008

Jones, Sheilla. The quantum ten: A story of passion, tragedy, ambition and science. Toronto: Thomas Allen, 2008. 323pp.

Enough with the physics books, already! After a summer of more or less nothing but physics books, I should have probably tried something a bit different. On the other hand, this book is about one of the most interesting periods in all the history of physics -- that transitional time in the first third of the 20th century when some of the greatest minds of all time worked out the foundations of quantum physics. Back when I read Isaacson's Einstein book, that was one of the periods that fascinated me the most, especially because it was so instructive to see a brilliant mind like Einstein be so doggedly wrong. In a way, it gives hope to us all.

But, back to the book at hand.

Canadian journalist Sheilla Jones is basically telling the story of the rise of quantum theory through the stories of ten men: Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Max Born, Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, Paul Dirac, Erwin Schrodinger, Louis de Broglie, Pascual Jordan and Paul Ehrenfest. It is through their interactions up until the Fifth Solvay Conference in 1927 that the story is told.

Jones does an admirable job of telling those 10 interrelated stories in a clear and comprehensible way. Some are highlighted more, such as Einstein, Bohr or Born and some less, such as Jordan or Dirac. However, if one person can said to be the main lens through which Jones tells the story, it is the tragic, troubled Paul Ehrenfest, the confidant of Einstein who ultimately committed suicide while also taking the life of his disabled son. His doubts and insecurities concerning his own abilities as a physicist are a perfect mirror in many ways for the perceived doubts and insecurities of the new quantum reality that those men had to come to grips with.

Jones does a fine job of telling a scientific story through biographical details, weaving in the darkening tale of pre-Nazi-era Europe in the tale as well. If I have any complaint, it's that the actually recounting of the Solvay Conference was a bit of an anti-climax. This is easily one of the best science books of the year and I would certainly expect it to make many of the year's best lists, especially in Canada.

I would easily recommend this book to any academic library that collects in popular science or the history of science. It would also be suitable for any public library. With the holiday season upon us, there would be worse gift ideas for the historically or scientifically minded.

November 18, 2008

Science blog meme: Why do we blog?

As usual, late to the meme party...

I'm not a huge fan of taking part in memes, but this one seems to be sweeping the science blogosphere. It's generated a lot of very interesting responses so far, so I thought I'd give it a try. It's also been quite a while since I did a navel-gazing post, so I'm probably due.

The meme was started by Richard Grant Martin Fenner on Nature Network. The only other science librarian one I've seen so far is by Frank Norman.

  1. What is your blog about?

    Lots of things, mostly revolving around the issues I face as a science librarian. The particular focus changes quite often as my momentary facinations and obsessions shift -- science 2.0 seems to be it right now, not surprising as I have a presentation in January. On the other hand, I've always posted a lot about the culture and scholarly communications practices of computer science and engineering. Science books are also a pretty predictable constant.

  2. What will you never write about?

    I've tended to avoid overly personal stuff, politics, religion as well as commenting too directly about what's going on at my institution.

  3. Have you ever considered leaving science?

    This one has a two-part answer.

    First of all, at the undergrad level I studied computer science and ended up working as a software developer for an insurance broker from 1986 to 1998. In that sense, I did practice "science" in an industrial setting for over 12 years and left that to become a librarian. More information on that transition here.

    Of course, I'm still not really a working scientist but as an academic science librarian I guess I'm part of the broader culture of scientific education and practice. I'm actually pretty happy in my current role and haven't considered leaving it.

  4. What would you do instead?

    Own a used book store, definitely one that specialized in any genre with science in the name: popular science, history of science, science fiction, science biography.

  5. What do you think will science blogging be like in 5 years?

    It will probably be bigger and more diverse. As the younger generation of scientists and science people advance in their careers, they'll just expect that blogging is a normal and even valuled part of what some scientists do. I hope that in this time frame, tenure committees will start to recognize that blogging can be a legitimate aspect of a scientist's publishing and outreach portfolio.

    Another thing to watch out for is the professionalization of science blogging. Will more and more of the best and most popular blogs get recruited into the commercially run stables? I think that's a generally positive development as it can only increase the credibility of blogging.

  6. What is the most extraordinary thing that happened to you because of blogging?

    A couple of cool things have happened at least in part because of my blog. I've served on the IEEE Library Advisory Council, I've gotten a couple of speaking invitations, a few free books and mostly connected with a lot of great people in both the science and librarian communities.

  7. Did you write a blog post or comment you later regretted?

    Not really.

  8. When did you first learn about science blogging?

    Probably 2002, around the time I started blogging myself. In those days, I mostly followed library blogs and only a few (computer) science blogs. I didn't get into science blogs in a big way until Seed started up the in early 2006 and since then I would say I follow the science and library blogging worlds with about the same level of attention.

  9. What do your colleagues at work say about your blogging?

    We don't really talk about my blogging that much, so it's hard to know what they would say if we did talk about it. I think most are aware that I blog and some have commented or had encouraging words over the years. Actually, we're quite an active blogging university library, when you get right down to it.

November 17, 2008

ISTL Web 2.0 Special Issue

Yes, Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship has a special web 2.0 issue (i55, Fall 2008). Much amazingness ensues:

D-Lib, November/December 2008

A bunch of interesting articles in an ejournal I haven't mentioned in a while (v14 i11/12):

November 14, 2008

The Open Laboratory 2008 -- December 1st deadline coming fast!

I've been a bit remiss in not mentioning the looming deadline for the annual collection of the best blog postings of the year, this year edited by Jennifer Rohn and Bora Zivkovic.

I'll cut to the chase -- here's what Bora has to say:

We are busy preparing for The Open Laboratory 2008. The submissions have been trickling in all year, and a little bit more frequently recently, but it is time now to dig through your Archives for your best posts since December 20th 2007 and submit them. Submit one, or two, or several - no problem. Or ask your readers to submit for you.

Then take a look at your favourite bloggers and pick some of their best posts - don't worry, we can deal with duplicate entries. Do not forget new and up-coming blogs - they may not know about the anthology - and submit their stuff as well.

As we did last year, we encourage you to also send in original poems and cartoons.

Keep in mind that the posts will be printed in a book! A post that relies heavily on links, long quotes, copyrighted pictures, movies, etc., will not translate well into print.

The deadline is December 1st, 2008. - just half a month to go!

The submission form is here.

It's an annual collection, published by the print-on-demand publisher The books from the last two years are here and here. Both are excellent, well worth reading and acquiring for your library.

The first two have perhaps overemphasized life sciences blogs a bit, so it would be great if all the computing and other people out there could nominate their own or other's posts to help get a bit more diversity in the collection.

Although I haven't done my nominating yet, I have been collecting some worthy posts around the blogosphere on here. I'll probably pick a few for nominating over the next week or so. The post I link to above has everything that been nominated to date.

November 13, 2008

Michael Cairns on Publishing in a Digital Age

Thanks to Michael Cairns of Information Media Partners for bringing his recent presentation to my attention. It is one he delivered at the Frankfurt Bookfair Supply Chain Meeting and the full title is Publishing in a Digital Age: How Traditional Publishing is Leveraged.

Slides here and video too.

I like what Michael says in the speaker's notes at the end, for slides 22 and 23:

So I ask the following: Do we want to hang on with our finger tips operating in an increasingly unfamiliar business environment? Or, do we embrace the opportunities that digital publishing offers and endeavour to influence and manipulate the publishing environment of the future to our advantage? The answer is obvious but it connotes significant change.


Lastly, I hope you will not begrudge me for not mentioning supply chain once in this presentation. Frankly, the changes I have discussed will change everything about our supply chain and that much should be obvious.

As Michael points out, he doesn't really mention supply chain anywhere in his presentation and I think that's probably very appropriate from the academic library perspective. What's the supply chain for getting book-like information from the producers/publishers to our patrons? In a world of Google Books, big ebook collections that we can buy directly from publishers, torrent sites and Wikipedia, there are very nearly an infinite number of supply chains out there. And academic libraries do have roles in many of those supply chains, but not all of them.

Or perhaps we can imagine a world with just one (important) digital supply chain -- maybe Google, the 800 pound gorilla of the online (publishing) world, will become that ebooks supply chain in the future. I think with their latest announcement they may be setting itself up as a kind of supply chain by selling to individuals and licensing to libraries. As I said in that post, it's a potential game-changer for the ebook business for academic libraries.

November 11, 2008

Science Education in Computational Thinking

Just like last year, Eugene Wallingford (CoaSL interview here) of the blog Knowing and Doing has written up some pretty detailed workshop session reports from the 2008 NSF Workshop on Science Education in Computational Thinking. Here's his Table of Contents post, which I'll be reproducing below along with some excerpts from each post.

Primary entries:

  • Workshop 1: A Course in Computational Thinking -- SECANT a year later
    Teaching CS principles to non-CS students required the CS faculty to take an approach unlike what they are used to. They took advantage of Python's strengths as a high-level, dynamic scripting language to use powerful primitives, plentiful libraries, and existing tools for visualizing results. (They also had to deal with its weaknesses, not the least of which for them was the delayed feedback about program correctness that students encounter in a dynamically-typed language.) They delayed teaching the sort of software engineering principles that we CS guys love to teach early. Instead, they tried to introduce abstractions only on a need-to-know basis.

  • Workshop 2: Computational Thinking in the Health Sciences -- big data is changing the research method of science
    In addition to technical skills and domain knowledge, scientists of the future need the elusive "problem-solving skills" we all talk about and hope to develop in our courses. Haixu Tang, from the Informatics program at Indiana contrasted the mentality of what he called information technology and scientific computing:
    • technique-driven versus problem-driven
    • general models versus specific, even novel, models
    • robust, scalable, and modular software versus accurate, efficient programs

    These distinctions reflect a cultural divide that makes integrating CS into science disciplines tough. In Tang's experience, domain knowledge is not the primary hurdle, but he has found it easier to teach computer scientists biology than to teach biologists computer science.

  • Workshop 3: Computational Thinking in Physics -- bringing computation to the undergrad physics curriculum
    ...Further, many students do not think that computational physics is "real" physics. To them, physics == equations.

    This is a cultural expectation across the sciences, a product of the few centuries of practice. Nor is it limited to students; people out in the world think of science as equations. Perhaps they pick this notion up in their high-school courses, or even in their college courses. I think that faculty in and out of the sciences share this misperception as well. The one exception is probably biology, which may account for part of its popularity as a major -- no math! no equations! I couldn't help but think of Bernard Chazelle's efforts to popularize the notion that the algorithm is the idiom of modern science.

  • Workshop 4: Computer Scientists on CS Education Issues -- bringing science awareness to computer science departments
    Next, Tom Cortina talked about Teaching Key Principles of Computer Science Without Programming. In many ways, Cortina was swimming against the tide of this workshop, as he argued that non-majors could (should?) learn CS minus the programming. There certainly is a lot of cool stuff that students can learn using canned tools, talking about history, and doing some light math and logic. Cortina's course in particular covers a lot of neat material about algorithms. But still I think students miss out on something useful -- even central to computing -- when they bypass programming altogether. However, if the choice is between this course and a majors-style course that leaves non-majors confused, frustrated, or hating CS, well, then, I'll take this!

  • Workshop 5: Curriculum Development -- some miscellaneous projects in the trenches
    Bruce Sherwood reported a physics student comment of his own: "I don't like computers." Sherwood responded, "That's okay. You're a physicist. I don't like them either." But physics students and professors need to realize that saying they don't like computers is like saying, "I don't like voltmeters." If you can't work with a voltmeter or a computer, you are in the wrong business. That's just the way the world is.

    My favorite line of Landau's is one that applies as well to computer science as to physics:

    We need a curriculum for doers, not monks.

  • Workshop 6: The Next Generation of Scientists in the Workforce -- computational thinking as competitive advantage
    How does computational thinking help the company do more better and faster? By...
    • ... letting scientists spend more time doing what they love.
    • ... eliminating low-value-add transactional activities in the business process.
    • ... boosting the speed and scalability of their systems.

    Notice that these advantages range from the scientific to business process to the technical. It's not only about techies sitting in front of monitors.

Ancillary entries:
  • This and That -- the inevitable miscellaneous thoughts
    The buzzword of this year's workshop: infiltration. Frontal curricular assaults often fail, so people here are looking for ways to sneak new ideas into courses and programs. An incremental approach creates problems of its own, but agile software proponents understand its value.

  • No One Programs Any More -- a timely conversation the week before the workshop
    In the time since I joined the faculty here, many departments have dropped the computer programming requirement from their majors. Part of the reason is probably that the intro programming courses were not meeting their students' needs, and our department needs to take responsibility for that. But a big part of the reason is that many faculty across campus believe as the Math faculty do, that their students don't need to learn computer programming anymore. Not too surprisingly, I disagree.

November 7, 2008

E-Science, Science 2.0, Open Science -- So what's a librarian to do?

Thinking about the science 2.0 part of that.

A couple of not-quite-so-recent posts here have gotten me thinking about some of the interesting stuff going on in the web 2.0/science 2.0 space. The first post dealt with some definitional issues and sparked a nice discussion on FriendFeed. The second was some impressions I had from the Science in the 21st Century conference and how what's going on in science may affect libraries.

I thought it might be nice to bring some of those themes around to some more concrete ideas about what I might be able to do in my library to engage students (graduate and undergraduate), faculty and researchers in that science 2.0 space.

Here's some ideas, some fairly widely implemented already, mostly pretty easy to get started, some of which I've tried and some I haven't, some I probably never will. Some of them will be good ideas, some will be bad, some will work in some places but not others.

  • Institutional FriendFeed Room. The idea here would to create something like a "York University Faculty of Science & Engineering Room" and post interesting stuff to it, both about science and engineering in general and about York's contributions. Furthering the idea, members of the York Science & Engineering community would also participate, post and comment.

  • Nature Network. The idea here is to encourage some forward thinking faculty and grad students to jump in and join Nature Network. We could create groups and forums, some of us could blog and comment in other blogs and groups. The interest and excitement sparked by this core would attract others and maybe the groups would be viable and some faculty or grads would find that blogging suits them.

  • Institutional Blogs. I think that there are two kinds of focus here, one internally focused and one externally focused. An inwardly focused blog would be all about library and general science news focused on the community. A lot of institutions have these kinds of blogs, with the York Libraries having a lot of them. An outward focused library blog would try to bring the institution's story to a broader audience. My CSE blog had some elements of that and I'm not sure what others have done in this vein. The problem with an externally focused blog is that it might step on toes of faculty or institutional communications people. But, if they aren't blogging, maybe the library should just do it; it's easier to apologize than to ask permission.

    Overall, blogging is an established activity and a good way to build community. This could be a good way to start, but definitely with a strong commitment and with keeping expectations is check as these types of things can take a while to build momentum.

  • FaceBook Group and/or Page. This is the lamest option. They mostly don't work at creating community but I feel that I do have to mention them here. Easy to create and maintain, so it's not a bad idea to create one but expectations have to be low. We have one with a fair number of fans but not a lot of activity

  • Citation Management. An interesting idea would be to make a big push promoting a citation tool that really emphasizes sharing and collaboration, like Connotea or Mendeley or that is really cool and user friendly like Zotero. These are all free and very cool looking so they'll attract grad students. On the other hand, they're also not quite as functional as a boring old standby like RefWorks. But, since these types of tools are very popular and necessary, they can be a way to get people involved.

  • Leverage what's already happening. If there are social spaces that faculties or departments are setting up, find a way to get the library some real estate in those spaces. When I look at something like what MST Visions is doing, I always think that there's got to be a way to take advantage of that, to get the library involved and providing content. It's not always possible, but it's worth trying. If some departments, faculties or schools already have blogs or whatever, find a way worm our way in. The worst that can happen is they say no. Be persistent and persuasive. Often the people that run the sites are looking for content and contributors.

Just throwing these out there.

In many of the above scenarios, the real challenge is first, creating something that's useful, fun and compelling. The second challenge is to interest people in joining and contributing. The two challenges are related, of course. The degree to which these kinds of initiatives and useful, fun and compelling is directly related to who's involved and how much they contribute. The chicken-and-egg factor is quite high here and there's only so much that the library people involved can function as pump-primers. There's nothing sadder than an empty social network.

What I'm really hoping for from you out there is some input on all this. What are some other ideas that are worth exploring? Which of the above have the best chance of working? What are some strategies to get the buy-in and participation that are

If you're a scientist or faculty member out there reading this -- what would work for you? How could your library facilitate a discussion around scholarly communications issues in your institution. How could your library help you to connect and share information both locally and with scientists nationally and internationally. Any librarians or Research/Communications Officers out there with any ideas? Grad and undergrad students are also welcome to pitch in.

If you think the answer is that I'm delusional and that libraries don't really have a role in those areas, you can feel free to just be blunt about that too.

(Escience and open science are a couple of whole other cans of worms and maybe I'll come up with some ideas about libraries nosing their way into those a bit later on.)

(This post has been percolating for quite a while, so sorry if it seems disconnected to my recent posting. I'm doing an OLA presentation more-or-less on this topic in the new year, so this is also part of those ruminations.)

November 6, 2008

Best Science Books 2008: Amazon

It has begun. This is the first post in my annual round-up of Year's Best Science Book Lists.

Today, it's highlighting a couple of lists from Amazon for 2008. They still haven't published their Computers & Internet list, so I'll post that one when I see it.

Here goes, all the best science books and some relevant items from other lists:

Best Science Books

  • Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin

  • Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul by Kenneth R. Miller

  • Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique by Michael S. Gazzaniga

  • The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics by Leonard Susskind

  • In Pursuit of the Gene: From Darwin to DNA by James Schwartz

  • The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow

  • Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health by David Michaels

  • 13 Things That Don't Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time by Michael Brooks

  • Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence--and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process by Irene Pepperberg

  • Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life by Carl Zimmer

Business & Investing

  • Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li

Current Events

  • Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt

Outdoors & Nature

  • The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman's Fight to Save the World's Most Beautiful Bird by Bruce Barcott

  • Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures by Bill Schutt

  • The American West at Risk: Science, Myths, and Politics of Land Abuse and Recovery by Howard G. Wilshire

November 4, 2008

What scientists think of librarians

Ok, a slightly misleading post title mostly to get you scientists out there to read the post, but I think it gets to the core issue of a discussion happening over on FriendFeed about and article in The Scientist: Libraries 2.0: Secrets from science librarians that can save you hours of work.

Is any publicity good publicity? Is the article nasty or condescending to librarians? Do we really care what people think of us? Are we too thin-skinned?

Here's the offending paragraph:

Not the bifocal-sporting, cardigan-clad Dewey decimal experts of 25 years ago, science librarians in today's universities are a well-versed treasure trove of knowledge, even in life sciences. "People think they know how to search for things, when they really don't know how to use some search tools efficiently," says Osterbur.

With also a more postive spin:
Science librarians of today can scope out particular resources for you, give your lab a tutorial session on special database searching, or hunt down ancient and obscure citations. Here are better ways to get and manage information from popular databases, plus top tips from science librarians on how to make the most of your university and the Internet resources.

There are also some pull-sections highlighting what librarians can bring to the research table: Beyond Pubmed, Advanced Web of Science, RefWorks vs. EndNote and 10 Tips to Get the Most out of your Librarian.

So, what do you think?

Personally, I wouldn't mind getting the article into the hands of all the faculty and grad students at my institution.

(via Joe Kraus's FriendFeed)

October 31, 2008

Books I'd like to read

Some more interesting-looking books for your reading and collection development pleasure. Apologies for such a long list, but I wanted to clear out all the stuff that's been accumulating for a while.

Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business
by Jeff Howe

Jeff Howe delves into both the positive and negative consequences of this intriguing phenomenon. Through extensive reporting from the front lines of this revolution, he employs a brilliant array of stories to look at the economic, cultural, business, and political implications of crowdsourcing. How were a bunch of part-time dabblers in finance able to help an investment company consistently beat the market? Why does Procter & Gamble repeatedly call on enthusiastic amateurs to solve scientific and technical challenges? How can companies as diverse as iStockphoto and Threadless employ just a handful of people, yet generate millions of dollars in revenue every year? The answers lie within these pages.

The blueprint for crowdsourcing originated from a handful of computer programmers who showed that a community of like-minded peers could create better products than a corporate behemoth like Microsoft. Jeff Howe tracks the amazing migration of this new model of production, showing the potential of the Internet to create human networks that can divvy up and make quick work of otherwise overwhelming tasks. One of the most intriguing ideas of Crowdsourcing is that the knowledge to solve intractable problems—a cure for cancer, for instance—may already exist within the warp and weave of this infinite and, as yet, largely untapped resource. But first, Howe proposes, we need to banish preconceived notions of how such problems are solved.

Reinventing Knowledge: From Alexandria to the Internet by Ian F. McNeely, Lisa Wolverton
Here is an intellectual entertainment, a sweeping history of the key institutions that have organized knowledge in the West from the classical period onward. With elegance and wit, this exhilarating history alights at the pivotal points of cultural transformation. The motivating question throughout: How does history help us understand the vast changes we are now experiencing in the landscape of knowledge?

Beginning in Alexandria and its great center of Hellenistic learning and imperial power, we then see the monastery in the wilderness of a collapsed civilization, the rambunctious universities of the late medieval cities, and the thick social networks of the Enlightenment republic of letters. The development of science and the laboratory as a dominant knowledge institution brings us to the present, seeking patterns in the new digital networks of knowledge.

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre (Import edition via Amazon US)
How do we know if a treatment works, or if something causes cancer? Can the claims of homeopaths ever be as true – or as interesting as the improbable research into the placebo effect? Who created the MMR hoax? Do journalists understand science? Why do we seek scientific explanations for social, personal and political problems? Are alternative therapists and the pharmaceutical companies really so different, or do they just use the same old tricks to sell different types of pill? We are obsessed with our health. And yet – from the media’s ‘world-expert microbiologist’ with a mail-order PhD in his garden shed laboratory, via multiple health scares and miracle cures, to the million pound trial that Durham Council now denies ever existed – we are constantly bombarded with inaccurate, contradictory and sometimes even misleading information. Until now. Ben Goldacre masterfully dismantles the dodgy science behind some of the great drug trials, court cases and missed opportunities of our time, but he also goes further: out of the bulls---, he shows us the fascinating story of how we know what we know, and gives us the tools to uncover bad science for ourselves.

The Websters’ Dictionary: How to Use the Web to Transform the World by Ralph Benko (Via Lessig Blog.)
The Websters' Dictionary examines the work of people and groups that reach millions online. In clear and simple terms, it shows you how it's done. Download a free eCopy of the complete work here by taking the Websters' Oath.

This also will sign you up for breaking news of the Web advocacy sector. (You can safely and completely unsubscribe with a click. There's no obligation -- except to use your powers only for Good.) And join the Websters' Bar and Grill, a social network for web-advocates, to hang out with other Websters and get the latest gossip. (No cover charge.)

The Websters' Dictionary lays it out from the basic to the sophisticated. How to get a domain name? What domain name to pick or to avoid? How do you create a great website or select someone to do it for you? How to harness the power of Web 2.0. (In fact, what the heck is Web 2.0?) What style gives you impact? What content works? How much should you spend? What kind of team do you need? It lays out best practices briefly, clearly, picturesquely, and above all accurately.

This is the dawning of the Age of the Internet. Be part of that. Become a Webster -- an activist, an operative, or a wonk who is using the Web to transform the world.

The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind
by by James Boyle
In this enlightening book James Boyle describes what he calls the range wars of the information age—today’s heated battles over intellectual property. Boyle argues that just as every informed citizen needs to know at least something about the environment or civil rights, every citizen should also understand intellectual property law. Why? Because intellectual property rights mark out the ground rules of the information society, and today’s policies are unbalanced, unsupported by evidence, and often detrimental to cultural access, free speech, digital creativity, and scientific innovation.

Boyle identifies as a major problem the widespread failure to understand the importance of the public domain—the realm of material that everyone is free to use and share without permission or fee. The public domain is as vital to innovation and culture as the realm of material protected by intellectual property rights, he asserts, and he calls for a movement akin to the environmental movement to preserve it. With a clear analysis of issues ranging from Jefferson’s philosophy of innovation to musical sampling, synthetic biology and Internet file sharing, this timely book brings a positive new perspective to important cultural and legal debates. If we continue to enclose the “commons of the mind,” Boyle argues, we will all be the poorer.

Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online and Why it Matters by Bill Tancer
What time of year do teenage girls search for prom dresses online? How does the quick adoption of technology affect business success (and how is that related to corn farmers in Iowa)? How do time and money affect the gender of visitors to online dating sites? And how is the Internet itself affecting the way we experience the world? In Click, Bill Tancer takes us behind the scenes into the massive database of online intelligence to reveal the naked truth about how we use the Web, navigate to sites, and search for information--and what all of that says about who we are.

As online directories replace the yellow pages, search engines replace traditional research, and news sites replace newsprint, we are in an age in which we've come to rely tremendously on the Internet--leaving behind a trail of information about ourselves as a culture and the direction in which we are headed. With surprising and practical insight, Tancer demonstrates how the Internet is changing the way we absorb information and how understanding that change can be used to our advantage in business and in life. Click analyzes the new generation of consumerism in a way no other book has before, showing how we use the Internet, and how those trends provide a wealth of market research nearly as vast as the Internet itself. Understanding how we change is integral to our success. After all, we are what we click.

Friday Fun: Anand Wins!

Just to complete the story I've been telling over the last couple of weeks, Viswanathan Anand of India did hold on to retain his World Chess Championship title this past week by drawing game 11 in his match with challenger Vladimir Kramnik.

Definitely, all congratulations in the world to Anand who is a deserving challenger. To quote Garry Kasparov on the Daily Dirt blog:

It was a very well-played match by Vishy. Except for the loss of concentration in the 10th game, he played consistently and managed to enforce his style. His choice to open with 1.d4 was excellent. He reached playable positions with life in them so he could make Kramnik work at the board. Anand outprepared Kramnik completely. In this way it reminded me of my match with Kramnik in London 2000. Like I was then, Kramnik may have been very well prepared for this match but we never saw it. I didn't expect the Berlin and ended up fighting on Kramnik's preferred terrain.


A great result for Anand and for chess. Vishy deserved the win in every way and I'm very happy for him. It will not be easy for the younger generation to push him aside.

October 29, 2008

The Google Books Search deal: A real game-changer

Take a gander over at the Official Google Blog for an announcement of the settlement of the court case between Google and various publishers over the Google Books Search service.

While we've made tremendous progress with Book Search, today we've announced an agreement with a broad class of authors and publishers and with our library partners that advances Larry's and Sergey's original dream in ways Google never could have done alone.

This agreement is truly groundbreaking in three ways. First, it will give readers digital access to millions of in-copyright books; second, it will create a new market for authors and publishers to sell their works; and third, it will further the efforts of our library partners to preserve and maintain their collections while making books more accessible to students, readers and academic researchers.

I encourage you to read the post as well as the text of an page on the Future of Google Books Search where the true game-changing nature of the deal becomes glaringly apparent. I'll quote the part on Accessing Books:
Accessing books

This agreement will create new options for reading entire books (which is, after all, what books are there for).

  • Online access

    Once this agreement has been approved, you'll be able to purchase full online access to millions of books. This means you can read an entire book from any Internet-connected computer, simply by logging in to your Book Search account, and it will remain on your electronic bookshelf, so you can come back and access it whenever you want in the future.

  • Library and university access

    We'll also be offering libraries, universities and other organizations the ability to purchase institutional subscriptions, which will give users access to the complete text of millions of titles while compensating authors and publishers for the service. Students and researchers will have access to an electronic library that combines the collections from many of the top universities across the country. Public and university libraries in the U.S. will also be able to offer terminals where readers can access the full text of millions of out-of-print books for free.

  • Buying or borrowing actual books

    Finally, if the book you want is available in a bookstore or nearby library, we'll continue to point you to those resources, as we've always done.

Wow. People will be able to buy online versions of books on GBS. Libraries will be able to license all the content on GBS. Millions of books in all disciplines and from all time periods.

I can't wait to see details on this, especially if there will be some sort of DRM, how printing will work, whether or not you'll be able to download to readers such as the Kindle. Of course, it will be really interesting to see what a site license for a large university will cost. Will it be the equivalent of our entire monograph budget? The implications and the choices that would imply are staggering. Talk about a rock and a hard place. This has the potential to completely transform the ebook business and the way libraries buy books. The traditional players in the ebook business will have to really focus on seriously adding value to their offerings, the way A&I services have to add more value in the face of Google Scholar. Libraries will be faced with a lot of choices, especially in the face of fears of putting all our eggs in one basket.

Of course, I also have to blow my own horn here a bit. Way back, almost exactly three years ago, when GBS was still called Google Print, this is what I wrote in one of the entries in the My Job in 10 Years series, with emphasis added:
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.

Of course, GBS isn't finished, and in a sense will never be finished. We live in interesting times.