Archive for: June, 2009

All aboard the York University Space Elevator!

Jun 17 2009 Published by under engineering, scholarly publishing, yorku

Ok, that's a slight exaggeration. It isn't built yet.

But if York space scientists and engineers have anything to say about it, it sure will be.

Check it out from our internal newsletter, Space elevator designed at York University would reach 20 km above Earth:

"For decades, scientists have been grappling to find a more efficient means of getting payloads into space," says Brendan Quine (right), professor of space physics and engineering in York's Faculty of Science & Engineering, who is heading the project. A paper detailing the design was recently published in the journal Acta Astronautica; it is co-authored by York space engineering Professor George Zhu and graduate student Raj Seth.

"Rocketry is an extremely inefficient way of getting equipment into space," Quine says. "In the initial stages of flight, you're wasting an enormous amount of energy fighting gravity and atmospheric drag."

Constructed from Kevlar, the free-standing structure would use pneumatically-inflated sections pressurized with lightweight gas such as hydrogen or helium, to actively stabilize itself and allow for flexibility. A series of platforms or pods, supported by the elevator, would be used to launch payloads into Earth's orbit.

Payloads will include space tourists, of course!

Their article in Acta Astronautica is A free-standing space elevator structure: A practical alternative to the space tether. Prof. Quine also has a patent here with a lot of the same information as the article.

The article is also available in our institutional repository, YorkSpace, here. (Thanks, Andrea!)

This is very cool and I'm very happy to shout it out to the world. It's a huge bonus for me that both Ben Quine and George Zhu are big library supporters too!

(Coverage in the Toronto Star from Monday.)

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IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, Summer 2009

Some highlights from the IEEE's very fine Technology and Society Magazine, v29i2. You'll need a subscription to the magazine to access it on the IEEE's site.

Those in academic settings might want to especially take a look at Communication technology, emergency alerts, and campus safety.

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Books I'd like to read

It's been quite a long time since I did one of these posts, but as the summer reading season approaches I thought I'd highlight a few interesting items that are coming out soon.

  • Free: The Future of a Radical Price (

    In his revolutionary bestseller, The Long Tail, Chris Anderson demonstrated how the online marketplace creates niche markets, allowing products and consumers to connect in a way that has never been possible before. Now, in Free, he makes the compelling case that in many instances businesses can profit more from giving things away than they can by charging for them. Far more than a promotional gimmick, Free is a business strategy that may well be essential to a company's survival.

  • Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It's Becoming, and Why It Matters (

    In Say Everything, Scott Rosenberg chronicles blogging's unplanned rise and improbable triumph, tracing its impact on politics, business, the media, and our personal lives. He offers close-ups of innovators such as Blogger founder Evan Williams, investigative journalist Josh Marshall, exhibitionist diarist Justin Hall, software visionary Dave Winer, "mommyblogger" Heather Armstrong, and many others.

    These blogging pioneers were the first to face new dilemmas that have become common in the era of Google and Facebook, and their stories offer vital insights and warnings as we navigate the future. How much of our lives should we reveal on the Web? Is anonymity a boon or a curse? Which voices can we trust? What does authenticity look like on a stage where millions are fighting for attention, yet most only write for a handful? And what happens to our culture now that everyone can say everything?

  • Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future (

    In Unscientific America, journalist and best-selling author Chris Mooney and scientist Sheril Kirshenbaum explain how corporate interests, a weak education system, science-phobic politicians, and hyperspecialized scientists have created this dangerous state of affairs. They also propose a broad array of initiatives that could reverse the current trend and lead to the greater integration of science into our national discourse--before it is too late.

  • We-Think: Mass innovation, not mass production (

    Charles Leadbeater explores the ways in which mass collaboration is dramatically reshaping our approach to work, play, and communication.

    Society is no longer based on mass consumption but on mass participation. New forms of collaboration--such as Wikipedia, Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube--are paving the way for an age in which people want to be players, rather than mere spectators, in the production process. We-Think explains how the rise of mass collaboration will affect us and the world in which we live.

    We think therefore we are. The future is us.

  • Don't Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style (

    After nearly a decade on the defensive, the world of science is about to be restored to its rightful place. But is the American public really ready for science? And is the world of science ready for the American public?

    Scientists wear ragged clothes, forget to comb their hair, and speak in a language that even they don't understand. Or so people think. Most scientists don't care how they are perceived, but in our media-dominated age, style points count.

    Enter Randy Olson. Fifteen years ago, Olson bid farewell to the science world and shipped off to Hollywood ready to change the world. With films like Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus (Tribeca '06, Showtime) and Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy (Outfest '08), he has tried to bridge the cultural divide that has too often left science on the outside looking in.

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Friday Fun: The 7 Most Impressive Libraries From Throughout History

Jun 12 2009 Published by under friday fun

Thanks to Mark Spicer for bringing this item to my attention. Note that the site I'm linking to sells printer cartridges, but still has some cool content.

The 7 Most Impressive Libraries From Throughout History. Drop by the article, it's well worth reading. It also has links to each of the libraries.

  1. The Great Library & Mouseion: The First Universal Library (Alexandria, Egypt)
  2. The Celsus Library: One of Antiquity's Finest Libraries (Ephesus, Turkey)
  3. The University of Sankore: An Ancient Seat of Muslim Learning (Sankore, Timbuktu)
  4. The Bodleian: One of The Oldest Surviving European Libraries (Oxford, England)

    It is said that King Charles I once asked the chief librarian of the Bodleian Library if he could borrow a book. A few years later, Oliver Cromwell asked the same question. The librarian refused them both. Stuart or Roundhead, books in the Bodleian could be read on the premises or not at all.

  5. Chetham's Library: The UK's Oldest Free Public Reference Library (Manchester, England)
  6. Library of Congress: Jefferson's Legacy (Washington D.C., United States)
  7. The British Library: One of The World's Most Extensive Collections (London, England)

(As a non-Friday Fun aside, I think this company does commercial/corporate blogging very well, something library/institutional blogs could learn from. First create interesting content that's related to your product or service, then once people are on your site enjoying what you've created, do a soft sell for your product or service. Engagement before selling.)

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Cool conferences = mental overload

My brain is completely overloaded at the moment after the two absolutely fabulous conferences I've attended in the past week. I'm going to do individual posts about each conference, but I thought I'd give some initial impressions in this post first.

As a reminder, the conferences were BookCamp Toronto and Managing Data for Science.

First of all, BookCamp Toronto, an unconference attended mostly by people from the trade book publishing industry, the Canadian version of which is centred here in Toronto. There were quite a few authors in attendance as well as some publishing people from other parts of Canada and the US. The library contingent was pretty small. A fairly large unconference with about 200 attendees, it was probably the maximum size for such an event. The four tracks of the program were set in advance by the organizers based on suggestions from attendees rather than being set at the beginning of the event, which probably makes sense for a fairly large one-day event.

The sessions themselves mostly had a very good balance between the moderators talking and the audience asking questions and making comments. The level and quality of participation was excellent. Also, there was no PowerPoint at all. Just people talking.

Most significantly, however, was the tenor of the discussion. It was clear that most saw the purpose of the meeting was to figure out how not to let what happened to the music industry happen to the book industry. Innovation and experimentation were in the air, but a strong link to tradition kept things from getting too theoretical. These are book people, after all, guided by their passion and love for both the format and content of books. The book industry is still fairly healthy, sales-wise, so this is probably a good time to start the ball rolling. Of course, there were no answers, only a lot of questions. But it was great to see that so many were willing to get the ball rolling. And it's worth noting that pretty well everyone was a blogger or Twitterer, so it was an online, connected crowd, probably more than most conferences I've attended. Great energy. I'll give a few more details about the sessions themselves in a later post. (Twitter here and here.)

Next up is the Managing Data for Science conference, the ICSTI 2009 annual conference. This year it was organized by CISTI, Canada's national science library, and held at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa.

A fairly small conference, with about 100 people. About a third at least were from CISTI. It was also mostly librarians but with a very good sprinkling of science people as well, in particular for the presentations. I'll give details of the presentations in a later post, but overall the science people gave lots of interesting details on how they manage data intensive projects and what roles they thought that librarians could play. The library people for the most part talked about their vision for what role libraries and librarians could play in managing data for science. In particular, there were some hints on how to actually get there. Overall, an excellent conference.

Oddly, it wasn't as much of a hotbed of Twitter or blogs or social networking as I expected (see here for some of the coverage on Twitter). The presenters were nearly uniformly offline people -- no blog urls or Twitter handles on the slides, although I may have missed one. Also, and these two may be related, aside for some notable exceptions, for the most part the slide decks were terrible. Jumbled, packed with text, multiple only vaguely related points on one slide. Some did see the need for pictures on their slides, but then surrounded the image with text -- quotes, lists, bullet points. One presenter even noted at the begining, "The good news is that I only have ten slides," but then packed ten slides worth of text on each of those slides. Sigh. Of course, it's not the end of the world and many of the presentation were excellent anyways. I guess I'm just spoiled by seeing so many colleagues' wonderful presentation online in places like FriendFeed or blogs; seeing what other people do has certainly inspired me to try and improve my own presentation material.

Finally, it's worth noting that I met two online friends for the first time at these conferences. At BookCamp I met Peter Brantley, Director of Access at the Internet Archive; we had dinner the night before the conference and it was great to get to know Peter and exchange a lot of cool ideas about the future. At the ICSTI conference, I met Richard Akerman of CISTI for the first time in person and had a chance to get to know him a bit during the conference. It's odd that we'd never met given that we're both scitech library bloggers in Canada and that Ottawa and Toronto are fairly close. Oh well.

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Walt is in the house!

Jun 11 2009 Published by under blogging, personal

It's with great pleasure that I welcome Walt Crawford and his blog, Walt at Random, to the ScienceBlogs family.

I've been following Walt's writings on the library world for a long time, probably at least seven years, and his Cites &Insights ejournal is a terrific source of links and commentary. Interestingly, it was Walt that inspired me to blog. Interesting, you say, because I've actually been blogging longer than Walt. How is this possible?

Well, it's those early days of Cites & Insights that inspired me to start expressing myself on professional topics. At the time, I was under no illusion that I'd actually be able to produce something similar on a regular schedule, but since blogging was just starting to emerge as a mass activity, I thought I'd give that a try and have been blogging since October 2002. The rest, for better or worse, is history. It's been a great year for me professionally so far, much of it thanks to my blogging activities. I was pleased to finally meet Walt this year at the Ontario Library Association conference.

Thanks, Walt, and welcome.

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Cool conferences = light blogging

Jun 05 2009 Published by under acad lib future, escience

I expect blogging will be lighter than usual between now and next Thursday as I have two conferences coming up.

First off, tomorrow here in Toronto I'll be attended BookCamp Toronto, an unconference on "he future of books, writing, publishing, and the book business in the digital age." The program looks very interesting and as you can all imagine I'll be keeping a keen eye out for ideas relevant to the future of libraries. I'm also looking forward to meeting Peter Brantley of for the first time.

Tuesday and Wednesday next week, I'll be at Managing Data for Science, the ICSTI 2009 conference. The program there also looks great. I also expect to meet Richard Akerman at the conference for the first time f2f, odd when you consider how long we've both been scitech library blogging and that Toronto and Ottawa aren't so far apart. Of course, this is another conference that keenly interests me as respects the future of academic libraries. It's worth noting that Dorothea Salo's recent presentation Save the Cows! Cyberinfrastructure for the Rest of Us is a great introduction to the topic and I'm finding it serves very well as preparation for the conference.

I'm traveling to Ottawa on Sunday for some fun family stuff, so I'll have an off day on Monday. I'm planning to go to the new Canadian War Museum, which is supposed to be very impressive.

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Friday Fun: Five songs I love, Derek Trucks edition

Jun 05 2009 Published by under friday fun

I've more or less promised sets of Canadian and jazz songs for this series, but lately I've been so entranced with the latest Derek Trucks Band CD, Already Free, that I thought I'd feature a Derek Trucks extended family post, all featuring laid back blues rock. Not only does Trucks release his own music, but he's also one of the guitarists for the Allman Brothers Band.

Here are five great songs showcasing Derek Trucks and his extended musical family:

  • Down in the Flood by The Derek Trucks Band. The first single off the new album.
  • Desdemona by The Allman Brothers Band. A great track featuring Trucks on guitar.
  • Soulshine by Gov't Mule. Warren Hayes of Gov't Mule is the other guitarist for the Allman Brother Band, so that's the extended family connection here. Here's one with Trucks performing with Gov't Mule on Superstition.
  • Hurt So Bad by Susan Tedeschi. Tedeschi is Trucks' wife, so that the family connection here. She also plays a very similar brand of bluesy rock. And they are again, performing together on Little by Little.
  • Tell the Truth by Eric Clapton, Derek Trucks and Doyle Bramhall. Eric Clapton has supported Trucks from the beginning, with Trucks often touring with him.

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SciBarCamp Toronto recap

After last year's success, the organizers put on a another great SciBarCamp show! It was this past May 8th and 9th at the University of Toronto's Hart House.

What is SciBarCamp, you ask?

SciBarCamp is a gathering of scientists, artists, and technologists for a day of talks and discussions. The second SciBarCamp event will take place at Hart House at the University of Toronto on May 9th, 2009, with an opening reception on the evening of May 8th. The goal is to create connections between science, entrepreneurs and local businesses, and arts and culture.

I'll just do some fairly detailed commentary of two of the sessions I attended.

First of all, the Friday night was set aside for socializing and program setting. Both went quite well, with everyone of the 100 or so attendees getting a chance to give a very quick intro about themselves. After that, people who were interested in giving a session filled out a little form and then everybody got a chance to vote on what they would like to see. The organizers then set up the program grid for the day basically in front of everyone. With all the commotion and suggestions raining in, it was a bit chaotic but in a good way.

Saturday morning got things off to a good start, although with the rather stormy weather there were probably a few less people than Friday night.

First off, I attended Kaitlin Thaney's presentation on the Science Commons. She began with a brief over view of Creative Commons and Science Commons. CC licenses about 1% of all web content, allowing it to be recreated, shared, remixed and hacked. The Science Commons licenses are meant to apply to the scientific literature and especially to scientific data. Unfortunately, there's a huge cultural barrier amongst scientists to adopt open licenses -- they just get used to signing over their rights to publishers. We need to get more open access to literature and data and the CC license is a legal implementation of that OA vision. And we need to find the best fit for scientists.

There are major obstacles to data sharing, in part because data is a complicated mess, the USA also has a strong establishment of the public domain but not everywhere else does. One possibility is the CC0 waiver for data that immediately puts it in the public domain. One problem with the current situation is that when you are querying large federated datasets, usage is complicated by different bits of data having different licenses -- the most restrictive license wins. Putting it all in the public domain fixes that.

For example, the Personal Genome Project used the CC0 waiver. In general, CC tries to be a 3rd party, honest broker in promoting more openness amongst scientists and scholars. It's all about changing the culture that makes sharing seem risky or dangerous to one that makes it natural and empowering.

Next up is Michael Nielsen's session on Mass Collaboration in Science. This is a topic Michael writes about quite a bit on his blog, but he brought an interesting new spin to it in his presentation -- he focused on the Polymath Project, a recent case in the math blogging community where the blogger Tim Gowers used his blog as a way to aggregate mathematical collaboration to solve an interesting and, more importantly, fairly difficult problem. You can read details of the project in three of Michael's posts: here, here and here so I won't attempt to describe it in any detail in this post. What's significant is that a small but significant part of the mathematical community coalesced around the blog and solved the problem and did it fairly quickly too. Twenty three people made significant contributions to the project over numerous blog posts and over 1000 blog comments. What is very interesting is that the project really only had two important rules: be polite (no mean feat on the Internet) and keep individual contributions down to one real idea per blog comment. As well, there was no spam and no cranks (even more impressive for the Internet).

What were some of the issues? First of all, it was very hard for anyone to enter the project in the middle -- the burden of reading all the posts and comments was too much. So, the conversation needed to be better modularized, perhaps like bug-tracking software works. Second of all, when looking at projects like this, what's the incentive to participate beyond a novelty project like this one? What are the rewards systems, how does official academic credit get allocated? How are publications credited? All these are interesting questions and fortunately, most of them seem to have pretty good answers, at least in theory.

Of course, there's also an interesting question that Michael posed for the librarians in the house (ie. me): how does this kind of new research conversation get aggregated and preserved? In a case like this with numerous blog posts and comments spread all over the place by people at many multiple institutions, that's not a question I really had a good answer to, but of course the same question applies to all the academic blogosphere as well. It's early days and hopefully there will be a trend towards institutions either preserving their own blogging output or perhaps picking a discipline or blogging community to aggregate and preserve.

Overall, it was a great conference. I really enjoyed touching base with old friends and especially meeting a bunch of new people. Of course, pretty well everyone I met had questions about the future of libraries in the digital world and I hope I had at least the beginnings of some possible answers. Like last year, I also brought my 16 year old son Sam to the conference; like last year, he stayed until lunch. It was a bit disconcerting that my he seems somewhat more famous than I am with the SciBarCamp set -- everyone really remembered his enthusiastic contributions from last year and wanted to make sure he was going to there again this time. I guess there are worse problems to have than a smart, outgoing and engaged son; he had a great time again this year. Here's a link to his blog, which hasn't been very active during the final months of his grade 10 experience.

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Looking for ideas for the Information Science channel

Jun 02 2009 Published by under academia, information science, librarianship

As you may have noticed, ScienceBlogs is making a concerted effort to engage a broad range of the Information Science community. That community includes librarians, publishing people and scholars who are interested in issues around libraries, information management, scholarly publishing, Open Access, research metrics, human-computer interaction, privacy, intellectual property and a whole host of other topics.

The first step was recruiting a couple of new bloggers from the library community -- Christina Pikas and myself -- to supplement the considerable amount of IS discussion that's already happening among the existing ScienceBlogs community. I imagine that the future will bring more bloggers into the fold that have an Information Science focus of some sort.

The second step is the launch of the new Information Science channel. So far, it is a channel like any other -- it features the most recent blog postings that have been assigned to the category by the bloggers themselves. However, we have plans. And by "we" I mean ScienceBlogs along with the IS blogging contingent. The plans involve adding value and content to the channel beyond just the blog posts.

Some of the stuff I could envision?

  • Highlighting new books in the field, possibly with excerpts
  • Journal tables of contents and/or article highlights from relevant journals
  • Highlighting relevant blog posts from beyond the ScienceBlogs universe
  • Information Science blogroll and link portal

The channel is here and the ScienceBlogs announcement is here.

Which brings me to the real point of this post: What features and content would you like to see as part of the Information Science Channel? Think big, think broad, think beyond libraries and ScienceBlogs.

Leave a comment here or email me at jdupuis at yorku dot ca.

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