February 29, 2008

Friday Fun: Science Seminar Attendees

Hysterically funny post a while back at Evolgen giving some humourous impressions of the kind of people that end up at faculty or other seminars. We've all been to seminars and talks like this, where the head crank seizes the floor, in fact we may have even been some of these audience members.

A taste:

The grand advertiser: No matter how unrelated, insignificant, and uninteresting this guy's research is, he'll find a way to link it to the topic of the seminar. And no one will give a shit. The speaker will pay lip-service to the question, but we've already died a little inside because the grand advertiser has wasted our time advertising the crap his lab studies.

And many more are suggested in the comments.

Any library-specific seminar attendees? The Piner for the Good Old Days of Card Catalogues comes to mind, but those tend to be more mythical than actual, in my experience.

Programmers at Work Revisited

Susan Lammers's Programmers at Work is one of my all-time favourite books of any kind. It's basically a series of interviews with the pioneers of the personal computing industry, from Charles Simonyi to Bill Gates and Bob Carr and Andy Hertzfeld. It was published way back in 1984 and has been pretty hard to find since then. I still have my copy and treasure it immensely.

If you're jealous of my good fortune, you no longer have to be. As a way of gaging interest for a follow up volume, Lammers has begun posting the old interviews on a blog, starting with Charles Simonyi.

I personally would love to see a similar volume featuring today's pioneers.

For those that are interested, it's worth noting that Out of their Minds: The Lives and Discoveries of 15 Great Computer Scientists by Dennis Shasha and Cathy Lazere is similar in intention to Lammers's book and also very, very good. via Wordyard.

February 27, 2008

We-think: The Power of Mass Creativity

Another in the recent series of posts on books I want to read: We-think: The Power of Mass Creativity by Charles Leadbeater.

The Amazon.co.uk summary:

Society is based not on mass consumption now but on mass, innovative participation - as is clear in phenomena from Wikipedia, Youtube and Craigslist to new forms of scientific research and political campaigning. This new mode of 'We-think' is reshaping the way we work, play and communicate."We-think" is about what the rise of these phenomena (not all to do with the internet) means for the way we organise ourselves - not just in digital businesses but in schools and hospitals, cities and mainstream corporations. For the point of the industrial era economy was mass production for mass consumption, the formula created by Henry Ford; but these new forms of mass, creative collaboration announce the arrival of a new kind of society, in which people want to be players, not spectators.This is a huge cultural shift, for in this new economy people want not services and goods, delivered to them, but tools so they can take part. In "We-think" Charles Leadbeater analyses not only these changes, but how they will affect us and how we can make the most of them.

Just as, in the 1980s, his "In Search of Work" predicted the rise of more flexible employment, here he outlines a crucial shift that is already affecting all of us.

Sadly, it doesn't seem to have a publish date outside the UK.

L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards

Thanks to Nicolas Barnabe of Labelium for bringing the 2008 edition of the L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards to my attention.

Here are the 5 laureates:

  • Ada Yonath -- For her structural studies of the protein biosynthesis system and its disruption by antibiotics

  • Elisabeth Kim -- For elucidating the formation of a new class of RNA molecules involved in gene regulation

  • Ana Belen Elgoyhen -- For her contributions to the understanding of the molecular basis of hearing

  • Elisabeth Blackburn -- For the discovery of the nature and maintenance of chromosome ends and their roles in cancer and aging

  • Lidadh Al-Gazali -- For her contributions to the characterization of inherited disorders

A word to the wise -- most of the other pages that are part of the site are so jumped up on Flash and other crap that they're practically unreadable and unusable.

February 26, 2008

Winchester, Simon. The map that changed the world: Willliam Smith and the birth of modern Geology. New York: HarperCollins, 2001. 329pp.

I try and spread around the disciplinary love in my science book reading. Some physics, some math, some engineering, some biology, a lot of computing and cyberculture. And even some of the earth sciences too. Simon Winchester's The map that changed the world: Willliam Smith and the birth of modern Geology is essentially about map making. Map making, of course, partakes of several disciplines -- surveying, geography and, of course, geology. Willilam Smith's claim to fame is that he created the first geological map of England, maping the different strata of rock and fossils in way that had never been done before.

Since relatively little is known about Smith's life, the book sometimes alternates chapters between the scientific and social context of Smith's era (1769-1939) and the history of his map-making efforts. As well, most chapters also contain a lot of general historical information.

Chapter 1 sets the stage for some of the major tragedies and disappointments in Smith's life, a bit of a recap at the beginning. Winchester begins in earnest in chapter 2 with some of the general ideas and issues at play in the era. Chapter 3 gives the generally accepted ideas of fossils around 1800 and Chapter 4 the significance of canal systems to Britain at the time. Chapter 5 talks about Smith's first experiences with seeing strata while working in coal mines while chapter 6 is about his experiences surveying for the railroads. Chapters 7 and goes into the importance of the surveying work he did for canals in forming his ideas about how strata are formed and how to identify them.

In Chapters 9 and 10 Smith gets the idea for his geological map from agricultural maps of Bath and from work he did for drainage projects. Skipping to Chapter 12, the map is created and Winchester details the main problems Smith had in getting his project off the ground, including, in chapter 13, his betrayal by a colleague and the Royal Society. In chapter 14 Smith has to sell his fossil collection to settle some debts and ultimately, in chapter 15 he ends up in debtor's prison. Chapters 16 and 17 detail his life after prison, his long-awaited welcoming into the scientific establishment and his final years.

Overall, I would say the book lacks a little zip. It can drag in places and sometimes the extra contextual information seems a little too close to padding. A couple of things I really appreciated about the book are, first of all, it has a fine glossary at the back. Also, it is really useful to get the hardcover version of the book as the dust jacket folds out into a fairly large reprodution of Smith's map. As well, the list of sources and recommended readings is a valuable tool for collection development in the history of geology.

While this book might be a bit earnest for small public libraries or high school libraries, I think larger public library systems should have at least one copy of this book floating around their stacks in some branch or other. As well, any academic library that collects anything in the history of the earth sciences is going to find this book a necessary acquisition.


One of the eternal scientific constants in the world is what I call the Wired Cosmological BS Ratio. Every Wired article will be 1/3 unadulterated BS, 1/3 crazed hype and 1/3 thoughtful analysis. As a result, most Wired articles are actually too annoying to read all the way through, as something in the first couple of paragraphs will usually be enought to compell you to hurl the (virtual0 magazine up against the (virtual) wall.

Well, I took one for the gipper and actually read the entirety of Chris Anderson's article in the latest issue, Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business. It's a taste of his upcoming book on Free and overall, I have to say it's pretty interesting. As usual, he's a little too glib about how easy it is to convert attention and reputation into cash -- easy to say for the Editor of Wired, U2, Prince or anybody else that actually made their reputations in the pre-free economy. But perhaps not as obvious or as easy to the rest of the planet.

In any case, first the BS, in the form of a couple of Free scenarios he throws out for consideration:

Scenario 1: Low-cost digital distribution will make the summer blockbuster free. Theaters will make their money from concessions — and by selling the premium moviegoing experience at a high price.

Scenario 2: Ads on the subway? That's so 20th century. By sponsoring the whole line and making trips free, the local merchants association brings grateful commuters to neighborhood shops.

Scenario 3: It's a free second-gen Wiii! But only if you buy the deluxe version of Rock Band.

I know, I know, we're all trying to decide which of these is the silliest. No one in their right mind who sees a movie for "free" but has to buy $20 popcorn as part of the deal or pay $15 for an actual comfortable seat will think of the movie itself as free. It's bait and switch.

And, right, Microsoft will pay $1 billion per year to sponsor the TTC. If Anderson had taken even a second to figure out how much it costs to run a transit system, he would have seen how absurd that is. As for the Wii example, even he admits these kinds of cross subsidies are new, so I'm not sure why he makes such a big deal of them.

And the Hype:
As much as we complain about how expensive things are getting, we're surrounded by forces that are making them cheaper. Forty years ago, the principal nutritional problem in America was hunger; now it's obesity, for which we have the Green Revolution to thank. Forty years ago, charity was dominated by clothing drives for the poor. Now you can get a T-shirt for less than the price of a cup of coffee, thanks to China and global sourcing. So too for toys, gadgets, and commodities of every sort. Even cocaine has pretty much never been cheaper (globalization works in mysterious ways).

It must be nice to live in such a black and white world, free from green house gas emmissions, sweatshops and the race to the bottom. Wal-Mart making everything cheaper is an example of the tragedy of the commons, not the virtues of free.

But there is some pretty good stuff too, picking up on my recent musings on the reputation/attention economy:
Enabled by the miracle of abundance, digital economics has turned traditional economics upside down. Read your college textbook and it's likely to define economics as "the social science of choice under scarcity." The entire field is built on studying trade-offs and how they're made. Milton Friedman himself reminded us time and time again that "there's no such thing as a free lunch.

"But Friedman was wrong in two ways. First, a free lunch doesn't necessarily mean the food is being given away or that you'll pay for it later — it could just mean someone else is picking up the tab. Second, in the digital realm, as we've seen, the main feedstocks of the information economy — storage, processing power, and bandwidth — are getting cheaper by the day. Two of the main scarcity functions of traditional economics — the marginal costs of manufacturing and distribution — are rushing headlong to zip. It's as if the restaurant suddenly didn't have to pay any food or labor costs for that lunch.

Surely economics has something to say about that?

It does. The word is externalities, a concept that holds that money is not the only scarcity in the world. Chief among the others are your time and respect, two factors that we've always known about but have only recently been able to measure properly. The "attention economy" and "reputation economy" are too fuzzy to merit an academic department, but there's something real at the heart of both. Thanks to Google, we now have a handy way to convert from reputation (PageRank) to attention (traffic) to money (ads). Anything you can consistently convert to cash is a form of currency itself, and Google plays the role of central banker for these new economies.

There is, presumably, a limited supply of reputation and attention in the world at any point in time. These are the new scarcities — and the world of free exists mostly to acquire these valuable assets for the sake of a business model to be identified later. Free shifts the economy from a focus on only that which can be quantified in dollars and cents to a more realistic accounting of all the things we truly value today.

Like I said, some interesting stuff. I look forward to reading his book when it comes out, I hope in some soft of free format. Afterall, it's my eyeballs he wants, not my money...right?

(BTW, I would be remiss if I did not mention Walt Crawford's selective demolishing of another aspect of the article. I would encourage everone to pick a part of the article and fisk away.)

Bora At My Blog?

No way am I crazy enough to try this.

February 24, 2008

Quammen, David. Natural acts: A sidelong view of science and nature. New York: Avon, 1985. 221pp.

Just so you all know I don't just read the brightest, shiniest, newest books. I also read some old classics too. And classic is just how I would describe this charming, wonderful book by well-known science writer David Quammen.

This is a collection of essays that mostly appeared in Outside Magazine and they fall squarely in the realm of nature writing. They're mostly short and to the point, a little on the sentimental side sometimes. Sometimes very pointed in their environmentalism, notable these days that environmentalists were active as far back as 1985, that it didn't start with Al Gore. Some of the creatures profiled are bats and cockroaches, the octopus and the crow, bison and grayling. Nice profile of paleontologist Jack Horner and Tycho Brahe. Fishing and swimming and traveling, all the things that make up good nature writing.

This is a great book to slowly meander through, either as a bedside book or an essay here and there riding on the bus to work (as it was for me). A good addition to the collection for any public library or for any academic science library that maintains a leisure reading collection.

Dunbar, David and Brad Reagan, eds. Debunking 9/11 myths: Why conspiracy theories can't stand up to the facts. New York: Hearst, 2006. 170pp.

This is one of those books that I picked up a the train station cheap remaindered books kiosk. I do that every once in a while, find a quick read for a long train ride. And this short book is certainly a short and involving read. It's an expansion of a long article in Popular Mechanics a few years ago which took at a bunch of different 9/11 conspiracy theories,, looked at the facts from a science and engineering perspective and decided if the theory had any real basis. Guess what? None of them did.

This may be a quick read, but it's still a very important one. There's a lot of stupid stuff on the Web, a lot of it pet theories about what really happened in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. This book will, I hope, start the process of setting at least some of them straight.

What are some of the myths that are debunked? That not enough damage was caused to the buildings to cause them to collapse. That puffs of dust visible while the buildings were collapsing were the results of planned explosions. That nearby seismographs detected those planned explosions. That WTC 7's collapse was also the result of a controlled demolition. That the Pentagon's blast-proof windows could not have survived a real crash. That Flight 93 was shot down by jet fighters. Well, the list goes on.

And on that topic, in my opinion, are the myths effectively debunked? They certainly are. Some of them are so loopy that it's hard to even believe that some people out there give them any credence at all.

I would recommend this book without hesitation for all public, school and academic libraries.

February 22, 2008

Friday Fun: Hardboiled Edition

As regular readers of this blog know, I'm mostly a reader of sf, with forays into mystery and horror. Well, lately, I've been reading quite a bit more in the hardboiled and noir mystery genres than usual. And, being a librarian, I've been searching around the Web for related reading lists in the hardboiled, noir and general mystery fields. Nothing causes librarian hearts to go pitter patter more than a couple of good reading lists!

In any case, I thought I'd share what I've found so far:

Hard Case Crime have a good list of links. My York colleague Bill Denton also has a world of hardboiled goodness at RARA-AVIS.

If you know of any others, please feel free to share.

Interview at A Blog Around the Clock

Bora turns the tables and interviews me as part of his continuing series of interviews with people who were at the North Carolina Science Blogging Conference.

It was a lot of fun and a really great experience to be on the other side of the online "microphone." The one thing that has me a little conflicted is that he's interviewing so many people that I would like to interview for my series too ;-) Oh well, I'll probably wait a while before re-interviewing any of Bora's victims, which is probably good incentive to interview a few more people on the computer science side of things rather than concentrating on blogging/publishing.

In any case, check out the whole series of interviews, if you haven't seen them yet. They're all great and a fantastic source of new blogs to check out.

February 21, 2008

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations

Another cool looking book to read, this time by Clay Shirky!

Here Comes Everybody is about why new social tools matter for society. It is a non-techie book for the general reader (the letters TCP IP appear nowhere in that order). It is also post-utopian (I assume that the coming changes are both good and bad) and written from the point of view I have adopted from my students, namely that the internet is now boring, and the key question is what we are going to do with it.

And why don't we consider this an open thread for book recommendations -- fiction, non-fiction, library-related or not.

The Third Branch of Science?

I've often written about how all the various branches of science and becoming more and more computationally oriented. Computational biology, physics, math, geometry, chemistry and all the rest. Computational science is everywhere. Modelling and data analysis are everywhere. Bioinformatics is the hottest thing going these days.

An interesting post on the Wired Science blog Correlations where Michael Tobis writes about computational science as the Third Branch of Science:

Some people these days are saying that computing has become so important to science that it constitutes a third branch. Even though computationally intensive science is what occupies my time, I am not sure that this is the right way to think about it philosophically. To some extent computing brings the theoretical and experimental branches closer together.

There are some sciences where the experimental method is extremely limited. Earth sciences are among them, but the quintessential example is astrophysics. We simply can't afford to be monkeying around with stars to test our theories about how they work!


In fields where experimentation and direct observation are limited, computational science is especially important. Computational science is about simulation. Once we know the equations which describe a physical system, we can program a computer with that description and watch the simulated system just as we would watch a real system.

This is a tradeoff; in fact our understanding is imperfect, so the simulated system won't behave exactly like the real system. (In fact, more often than not it doesn't behave even remotely like the real system, but you don't hewar about these back-to-the-drawing-board efforts. Perhaps it might be better if failures were better documented to prevent others from going down certain blind alleys repeatedly, but in general failed efforts are just abandoned.)

If the imperfect simulation looks somewhat like the observable parts of the real system, though, it has tremendous benefits. The model is perfectly observable. We can investigate phenomena in ways that could never be affordable to measure in the real world.

Worth reading the whole article.

National Engineering Week!

It's National Engineering Week next week, with the Ontario page here.

As usual, there's a nice supplement in the Globe and Mail, although the 2008 edition isn't up yet. As usual, lots of good articles including ones on Environmental challenges, Alternative Energy, Engineering in the Life Sciences, Auto Innovation, Robot Games, a couple of Engineering Careers and Engineering in Space.

Now that York's Engineering Program has been accredited, we actually figure quite prominently in the supplement. There's a nice ad and Prof. Spiros Pagiatakis gets quoted in the article on Environmental Challenges.

Not only that, but there's a a good chunk of an article devoted to Space Engineering projects at York. Projects by Profs. James Whiteway and Ben Quine are featured -- and a rather fuzzy picture of Ben with his thermal vacuum chamber.

February 19, 2008

Some other interesting books I'd like to read

Nothing like finding one book you'd like to read to suddenly get a whole bunch more popping up in front of your consciousness. All of these are reflections of the stuff I'm obsessed with these days, the conversations I'm having inside my own head.

Starting with the one from the last post:

And yes, I find it odd and somewhat disturbing that so many of the books I want to read are in the business section. Of course, if there's a book that you feel I should be reading, please drop a comment and let me know!

Also, related to the last post on The Future of Reputation, Michael Nielson pointed me to an article by Michael H. Goldhaber, The Attention Economy and the Net. Goldhaber also has a blog covering much the same territory.

The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet

Now this is a book I've got to read!

As anyone who's heard me speak recently, I'm thinking more and more about how the twin demons of attention and reputation are shaping our lives. It seems to me that we can use online attention to shape our online reputation and that this nebulous online reputation can shape the way things happen off-line.

It was Ricard Akerman's post several weeks ago on The Currencies of the Digital Realm that really crystallized these thoughts for me. As I've quoted in my last couple of presentations:

Attention is the first currency of the digital realm...
Reputation is the second currency of the digital realm...
To me this means that in the digital realm, you have to stop thinking that you're in the XYZ business...and start thinking that you're in the attention and reputation business.

And I think this is hugely important for libraries to be aware of. What we're really trying to do is build our reputations so we can get the attention of our faculty and students. Or are we using our reputations to get the attention of our patrons? Or is it a little of both? In a world where there are a million options for searching the scholarly literature, we need that edge to get our point of view heard.

So, what about The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet by Daniel J. Solove? From the author's web page, I can see that he has put the entire full text of the book online for free. Which is in itself a gambit to get our attention, to actually get us to read the book. Then, perhaps we'll buy it or invite him to speak at an event. Perhaps having a widely reviewed and commented upon book can help him build his academic reputation? It's all intermingled and cross-promoting.

The points he is trying to make are actually quite skeptical, worrying more about the damage to our reputations that can happen online rather than what we can do positively:
What information about you is available on the Internet?

What if it’s wrong, humiliating, or true but regrettable?

Will it ever go away?

Teeming with chatrooms, online discussion groups, and blogs, the Internet offers previously unimagined opportunities for personal expression and communication. But there’s a dark side to the story. A trail of information fragments about us is forever preserved on the Internet, instantly available in a Google search. A permanent chronicle of our private lives—often of dubious reliability and sometimes totally false—will follow us wherever we go, accessible to friends, strangers, dates, employers, neighbors, relatives, and anyone else who cares to look. This engrossing book, brimming with amazing examples of gossip, slander, and rumor on the Internet, explores the profound implications of the online collision between free speech and privacy.

Daniel Solove, an authority on information privacy law, offers a fascinating account of how the Internet is transforming gossip, the way we shame others, and our ability to protect our own reputations. Focusing on blogs, Internet communities, cyber mobs, and other current trends, he shows that, ironically, the unconstrained flow of information on the Internet may impede opportunities for self-development and freedom. Longstanding notions of privacy need review, the author contends: unless we establish a balance among privacy, free speech, and anonymity, we may discover that the freedom of the Internet makes us less free.

But it still looks to be an interesting and provocative book. Perhaps we're still waiting for a book to make the counter-argument, that the Web can be used to build and foster our reputation too. I have to admit, that Chris Anderson's upcoming book Free might just be what I'm waiting for.

February 18, 2008

Web 2.You recap

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I was in Montreal this past weekend for a CLA Montreal Chapter/McGill SIS sponsored event called Web 2.You. It was a great event with lots of really terrific presentations. My session, on Blogging for Professional Development, went pretty well with lots of good questions and discussion. It was interesting that the audience seemed to want to talk about using blogs as a way to reach out to patrons as much as reaching out to each other. Hmmmm. Maybe next time.

In any case, for any of the session attendees who have your own blogs or were inspired to start your own blog after hearing the sessions, please let me know either by email (jdupuis at yorku dot ca) or in the comments so I spread a little link love.

For what it's worth, the Google Docs slides are here, as well as being embedded below.

I'd certainly like to thank Jocelyne Andrews and all the organizing "committee" for inviting me to speak; I had a great time and really enjoyed the chance to meet new people and talk about library stuff. As well, I was really happy that it turned out to be a mini-reunion for my McGill Library School class of 2000 as Will Meredith, Andrea Harland and Jeff Lilburn showed up!

So, you ask, what were the other presentations?

Is Boolean Dead? Researching and the New Web
by Rajiv Johal & Beth Dunning. A great session, focusing on what users today might be expecting when they see one of those empty search boxes. Strict boolean searches, like we librarians love so much? Or perhaps a more Google-like experience? We know from OPAC studies that the situation is a bit grim, and that users tend to use very short natural language queries. If our users prefer intuitive interfaces, wanting to always find some relevant very quickly, how do we make our choices relevant and fast? There's not clear definition of Search 2.0, but some ideas include faceted search and tag clouds, moving away from traditional boolean and more towards a Google or Amazon feel.

Visual search like Redzee gives previews and is family friendly. Human assisted search like ChaCha has paid guides to help with searches. Like Google CSE, RollYO allows custom configuring of sites to search. Drupal and Evergreeen are open sources ILSs. The Aquabrowser interface used by the UChicago and Queenslibrary.org is also very interesting in the way it sits on top of the ILS. Even academic databases like Factiva and Ebsco are using faceted and other search 2.0 features.

Some thoughts to take away: it's not about us, it's about adapting to our users needs. We should all just play around a little with these cool new tools.

A Second Life for your Library by Amy Buckland & Jan Dawson. A terrific introduction to what Second Life is and what's going on in the library world of SL. It's not a game, first of all, but a vitual environment. There are often as many as 55K people logged in at any one time. It's all user-developed. Who are "in-world?" Commerce, education (Harvard, McMaster) government, non-profits, health orgs, culture (U2, Suzanne Vega), news orgs (Reuters). Why should libraries be in-world? Educational orgs have moved in and libraries need to be there to support educational mission, it is another point of access for our users, we can also offer info that may be censored in user's countries. Some challenges: technology issues, need high speed; quite a long learning curve to get good at navigation; griefers who harass and annoy users and the empty world syndrome ie. a very large virtual world where 50K can seem very small.

Next was a long demo of what SL looks like and exploring different islands and functionality.

Web2.0, Library 2.0, and Librarian 2.0 by Jessamyn West was a great introduction to what We 2.0 is all about, especially for those in the room that might not have heard about it before. What was really great was that it wasn't so much technology focused but more focused on the attitude we should take to exploring new technological possibilities in our libraries. Showing people that tech doesn't have to be hard, we need to keep in mind that the digital divide is real and in our communities. What is library 2.0? It's like obscenity, you know it when you see it. We need to remember accessibility for disabled people as well as for elderly, easily confused to merely inexperienced. 2.0 is a user centred model, user generated content, trust your users, evaluate frequently and make use of patron input. L2 is not a "what" but a "how."

Avoid data & functional silos, ie. no static links to catalogue records. We need to remember what easy to use looks like and aim for that; we can look at Coha. Get it all on the web -- libx is a good example. Use wikis to replace reference binders, use booktalk site. We need to demand usability from vendors but we also have to take responsibility for giving constructive feedback. We need to use solid web standard development techniques. L2 is not a religion, it's a way of making stuff interactive and more feedback oriented.

Update 2008.02.19:
As promised, some blogs. Check 'em out!

February 13, 2008

Planet York

Thanks to the stellar efforts of my colleague Bill Denton, we here at York have just created something we call Planet York. It uses the Planet software to aggregate all the various blogs by York faculty, staff and students into one easy place for reading and enjoyment. As you can see, it's a bit of a mixed bag, but it's interesting that everything is pretty seriously intended and professional. It's also interesting that a good chunk of the blogs are either within the Libraries or the Law School.

We haven't really started promoting this around the institution yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing what kinds of reactions it can spur. I'm also hoping that it will encourage other York faculty, students and staff to explore blogging as a way to express themselves.

I think it was pretty easy to set up. If you have a strong and vibrant blogging community at your institution, it might be worth investigating something like this.

February 11, 2008

CrossRef launches free citation look up tool for bloggers

I know I don't usually reprint press releases here, but I think this one is worth it. I see a lot of potential for something like this, especially in concert with the Research Blogging movement. I can't wait to start playing around with it! (Do you think the WordPress version they talk about will work in blogger?)


Lynnfield, MA. February 12, 2008. -- CrossRef, the association behind the well-known publisher linking network, announced today that it had launched the beta version of a new plug-in that allows bloggers to look up and insert DOI®-enabled citations in the course of authoring a blog.

The plug-in, which is available for download at: https://sourceforge.net/projects/crossref-cite/, allows the blogger to use a widget-based interface to search CrossRef metadata using citations or partial citations. The results of the search, with multiple hits, are displayed and the author can then either click on a hit to follow the DOI to the publisher’s site, or click on an icon next to the hit to insert the citation into their blog entry (as either a full citation or as a short “op. cit.”).

According to Geoffrey Bilder, CrossRef’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, “CrossRef is helping jumpstart the process of citing the formal literature from blogs. While there is a growing trend in scientific and academic blogging toward referring to formally published literature, until now there were few guidelines and very few tools to make that process easy.”

At present, the CrossRef plug-in is available for the WordPress platform, and a Moveable Type version is under development. The tool is designed with the bulk of the functionality contained in a shared back-end hosted at CrossRef, making the plug-in GUI readily portable to other blogging and authoring platforms.

About CrossRef: CrossRef is a non-profit membership association founded and directed by publishers. Its mission is to enable easy identification and use of trustworthy electronic content by promoting the cooperative development and application of a sustainable infrastructure. CrossRef operates a cross-publisher citation linking system, and is the official DOI name registration agency for scholarly and professional content. More information is available at http://www.crossref.org.

CONTACT: citation-plugin@crossref.org

DOI® and DOI.ORG® are registered trademarks and the DOI> logo is a trademark of The International DOI Foundation

CrossRef® and CrossRef.org® are registered trademarks and the CrossRef logo is a trademark of PILA (Publishers International Linking Association

Jonathan Dahl on scholarly societies

Jonathan Dahl, IEEE Staff Director, Sales & Marketing, is interviewed in the most recent Against the Grain. It's a substantial, wide-ranging interview, touching on a lot of topics from the history of the IEEE, it's "rivalry" with the ACM and how to keep up with trends in technology.

But, most interestingly for us, AtG asks this question:

Why should we, your customers, care about whether a society or a commercial publisher publishes a journal?

Ah, my favorite topic! If you look at all the standard quality indices, like the Journal Citation Report, journals published by societies usually rank significantly higher than journals published by commercial publishers, at least in our space. I don’t hear that being remarked on as much as it should be. What we are also
finding out is that some of the less-standard indicators, like the generation of important new patents, strongly show the dominant influence of society journals.

Let me give you an example, and we’re very proud of this: Last year, in 2006, there were over 250,000 patents approved in the U.S. for the top 25 patent companies — companies like IBM, Hitachi, Samsung, HP, Sony, Intel, etc... That’s not just their patents in technology, its all patents — chemistry patents, nano patents,
mousetrap patents, all patents. Of these 250,000 patents, 38% of them were based on an IEEE journal article. That’s a phenomenal result! In second place, with 9% of patents, was Elsevier Science. Virtually all the other patents by these top 25 patent companies were based on papers published by scientific societies — the American Institute of Physics, the American Chemical Society, the American Vacuum Society, and so on.

So you can make a strong case that the intellectual property published by the scientific societies is driving R&D discovery and, ultimately, the economy itself. Moreover, if you look at the big commercial STM publishers, many of the journals they publish are on behalf of scientific societies that are too small to publish themselves.

So that’s why you should care if you’re subscribing to a society journal or a commercial journal. University libraries can and should be discriminating customers. And I won’t even begin to talk about price!

Thats a great answer. The importance of scholarly societies is undiminished in the scholarly communications landscape for the scitech fields, and as much as we drive for change and more open access in these fields, we still need to keep in our minds that we have to support these societies as they struggle to find workable business models for the future. Unlike commercial publishers, who's first priority must be profit, societies' first priorities must be the advancement of scholarship and giving good services to their members.

Of course, when societies stray from those ideals and act more like commercial publishers, we in the broader scientific community must call them on the betrayal of that trust.

And the IEEE is certainly one of the good guys as far as that goes. I met Jonathan at the IEEE Library Advisory Council meeting last fall and was impressed by his commitment to the engineering community and to the promotion of access to scholarship.

Come to think of it, it would have been great if AtG had asked him what he thought the publishing business model for scholarly societies was going to be in 10 or 15 years. Hmmm.

via What's New at IEEE, Libraries.

February 10, 2008

Sometimes these random web quizes are right on the money

Which Discworld Character are you like (with pics)
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as The Librarian

You're the Librarian! Once a wizard, now an Orang-utan (due to an unfortunate magical accident), you refuse to be turned back for a few reasons: In this form, it's easier to reach the shelves and hold more books; having the strength of five men makes people return their books on time; life's great philosophical questions boil down to "when do I get my next banana?" You say "ook" but are usually understood well enough.

The Librarian


Carrot Ironfounderson


Gytha (Nanny) Ogg


Cohen The Barbarian




Commander Samuel Vimes




Esmerelda (Granny) Weatherwax


Lord Havelock Vetinari




via Hornswoggler.

February 7, 2008

Recently in ACM journals

ACM SIGMIS Database, v39i1

Communications of the ACM, v51i2

Best Science Books 2007: A couple more lists

I still have lots more lists still to post about, and I'll probably post them in intermittent bunches for the next little while.

Here's a few:

My old friend Claude Lalumiere mentions a couple of science books in his year-end summary of his sf,f,h reading at Locusmag:

  • Hollywood Science: Movies, Science, and the End of the World by Sidney Perkowitz (one of the freebies at the Science Blogging conference, I can't wait to read it.)
  • The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

Tim O'Reilly also publishes a list of the most significant technology books published by O'Reilly in 2007 over at O'Reilly Radar and at Amazon. Of course, the list is heavy on the programming manuals, so I'll just skip those and list the ones with a broader interest. How does O'Reilly define significant: "It's a list of books that say something to me about the changing mix of needs and interests among our customers."
  • Beautiful Code: Leading Programmers Explain How They Think edited by Andy Oram, Greg Wilson
  • Programming Collective Intelligence Building Smart Web 2.0 Applications by Toby Segaran
  • Devices of the Soul: Battling for Our Selves in an Age of Machines by Steve Talbott

The Third Culture Holiday Reading List -- Books By Edge Contributors (and others)— 2007. This is a huge list of books by the Edge people, those that they see as promoting a link to a third culture, going beyond the arts/science divisions. I'll pick a few out that don't seem to have made it on to too many other lists.
  • Super Crunchers: How Thinking by Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart by Ian Ayres
  • Plutonium: A History of the World's Most Dangerous Element by Jeremy Bernstein
  • Red Moon Rising: Sputnik and the Hidden Rivalries that Ignited the Space Age by Matthew Brzezinski
  • I Am a Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstatder
  • Uncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Struggle for the Soul of Science by David Lindley
  • Mind, Life, and Universe: Conversations with Great Scientists of Our Time by Lynn Margulis & Eduardo Punset


Here's something to mark down on the calendar on March 14-16: Toronto's upcoming SciBarCamp!

SciBarCamp is a gathering of scientists, artists, and technologists for a weekend of talks and discussions. It will take place at Hart House at the University of Toronto on the weekend of March 15-16, with an opening reception on the evening of March 14. The goal is to create connections between science, entrepreneurs and local businesses, and arts and culture. The themes are:
  • The edge of science (eg, synthetic biology, quantum gravity, cognitive science)
  • The edge of technology (eg, mobile web, ambient computing, nanotechnology, web 2.0)
  • Science 2.0 (open access, changing models of publication and collaboration, scientific software)
  • Scientific literacy and public engagement (eg, one laptop per child project, policy and science, technology as legislation, enfranchising the poor, the young, the old)
  • The interactions of science, art and culture: Scientists and artists as partners in the continuing evolution of the culture.

In the tradition of BarCamps, otherwise known as "unconferences", (see BarCamp.org for more information), the program is decided by the participants at the beginning of the meeting, in the opening reception. Presentations and discussion topics can be proposed here or on the opening night. SciBarCamp will require active participation; while not everybody will present or lead a discussion, everybody will be expected to contribute substantially - this will help make it a really creative event.

The talks will be informal and interactive; to encourage this, speakers who wish to give PowerPoint presentations will have ten minutes to present, while those without will have twenty minutes. Around half of the time will be dedicated to small group discussions on topics suggested by the participants. The social events and meals will make it easy to meet people from different fields and industries. Our venue, Hart House, is a congenial space with plenty of informal areas to work or talk, and there will be free wireless access throughout.

Our goals are:
  • Igniting new projects, collaborations, business opportunities, and further events.
  • Intellectual stimulation and good conversation.
  • Integrating science into Toronto's cultural, entrepreneurial, and intellectual activities.
  • Prototyping a model that can be easily duplicated elsewhere.

Attendance is free, but there is only space for around 100 people, so please register by sending an email to Jen Dodd (dodd.jen@gmail.com) with your name and contact details. Please include a link to your blog or your organization's webpage that we can display with your name on the participants list at www.SciBarCamp.org.

The list of participants is already looking pretty impressive, with 65 people signed up out of a projected 100. As you can see by the list, I was lucky enough to be invited by the organizers Jen Dodd, Jamie McQuay and Eva Amsen. I guess the old science bloggers network pays off!

February 5, 2008

The power of networking stems the flow of women leaving computer sciences

Really nice article in this week's ylife, York's student email newsletter: The power of networking stems the flow of women leaving computer sciences.

It's about the WiCSE program for Women in Computer Science & Engineering.

For Professor Melanie Baljko, WiCSE provides an essential support service to female students in computer science and engineering. Baljko, who has an interest in the challenges women face in computer science and engineering, has investigated a phenomenon referred to as the leaky pipe syndrome. "I have a longstanding interest in how to encourage women to start careers in computer science and engineering. I have been part of several initiatives at other universities and here at York to find out why the attrition rate is higher among women in computer science and engineering," said Baljko.

"I am particularly interested in why women come into computer science and engineering in smaller numbers and why the drop-out rate is higher," said Baljko. "There are also fewer women in higher management positions in the industry and even fewer in academia. Sociologists have studied this phenomenon called the 'leaky pipe syndrome'."

Baljko said that research has shown that practical solutions are essential in retaining young women in the profession, and groups such as WiCSE offer an important lifeline for female students who are often coping with multiple demands for their time and who have few role models to emulate. "In our group we have seen that practical solutions work and what is most effective is the social networking that groups such as WiCSE offer to young women entering the profession."

A large number of young women enrolled in computer science and engineering programs in Canada and the United States either do not finish their studies or end up leaving the profession, slipping away in silence, explained Baljko.

"There is a disproportionate loss due to women switching to other fields of study," said Baljko. "We [faculty] in computer science and engineering are striving to provide greater social context for the material in the computer science curriculum, so, even early on in undergraduate studies, we can show our field's usefulness to society."

It's a great article, well worth reading the whole thing. Bravo!

February 3, 2008

OLA Super Conference 2008: My Session

As I mentioned the other day, I presented yesterday at the OLA Super Conference this year on My Job in 10 Years: The Future of Academic Libraries. Between the bad weather all day Friday and the 9:05 Saturday timeslot (not to mention being up against theTop Tech Trends panel (Curse you, David Fiander!)), it was as cozy as I expected it to be. Turning it all into lemonade, however, I would like to thank those that did show up for seizing the presentation away from me and turning the session into a wonderful conversation about the future of academic libraries. It was very gratifying that a number of the attendees remarked that it was the best session that they'd attended during the whole conference.

As promised, I will be posting the PDF version of the slides on my webspace (probably tomorrow). I'm also embedding the slides here using the Google Docs presentation module. I have to say that I was quite pleased using Google Docs and would recommend it to anyone preparing a presentation using a variety of computers (ie. office, ref desk, two different home machines, laptop on the road). The fact that you can now export to PDF makes it a lot easier to create a portable presentation rather than the zipped html they allowed before. The printing is also a lot better. The only thing that's missing is a notes field.

Here they are:

During the presentation itself, I barely got beyond the "Some Thoughts" slides as each of them turned into a jumping off point for discussion. Who knows, maybe I'll get a chance to reprise the whole thing again somewhere.

(BTW, if any of the attendees are reading this, consider yourself invited to comment!)

Update 2008.02.04:
And before I forget, I'd like to thank Melissa Helwig for stepping in at the last minute and convening my session. Thanks, Melissa! Also, pdf version of slides here.

PDF version of original My Job in 10 Years blog posts here.