Archive for: July, 2009

My son, interviewed by Bora!

Jul 31 2009 Published by under blogging, personal

My son Sam is a budding scientist and blogger. He came to the ScienceOnline09 conference in North Carolina with me this past January and had a great time.

Needless to say, Bora has tracked him down and interviewed him here.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? How much will they in the future?

In Grade 9, I had a science project to do that was supposed to be about anything that had to do with the curriculum. They were pretty loose on this definition: if it in any way had to do with space, biology, physics, or electromagnetism (the very direct subset of physics we went into with more detail), you could go on any sort of quest to find out more about it provided you could and it was legal. This was such an open-ended and large assignment that my mind was blown for a couple of minutes (not because it was only one or another, but both). Then I wasn't sure what to do. I can't remember who later suggested a blog (me or my dad, who's prodded me a lot and for a while now to keep my blog going), but I ended up writing a blog about what I could learn about space exploration. It has simply become my blog, and is found at I've been filling the blog with things I find online, when I get inspired (but often when my dad asks for some consistency, too; he still often gives me great places to go, too), and it's had a few visitors from Google or links from my dad's blog. I guess it shouldn't be too surprising that a solid portion of these visitors have been from faraway countries, but it's still amazing to see that tracked.

...And now back to our regularly scheduled summer blogging break.

No responses yet

Friday Fun: 15 strangest college courses in America!

Jul 31 2009 Published by under friday fun

Most of these look odd, interesting, weird, useless or some combination of the above.

Here's a couple of examples:

  • Underwater Basket Weaving
  • Philosophy and Star Trek
  • Joy of Garbage

(Via Ask-Dr-Kirk.)

One response so far

From the Archives: Ebook Business Models

During my summer blogging break, I thought I'd repost of few of my "greatest hits" from my old blog, just so you all wouldn't miss me so much. This one is from November 7, 2007. It generated quite a few interesting comments, so you might want to check back at the original post. My feeling on a lot of these points has shifted a bit with time, so I'll probably revisit the topic in the fall.


This is a topic I've been thinking about a lot recently, as we (at York and as a profession) start to move in a coordinated way to making ebooks an important part of our collections. What's the best way to acquire ebooks? How should we pay for them? What should our access models be?

Note to ebook vendors: in the end, I want your products. I think that it is practically inevitable that we will be moving to an online-only model for most of our book purchases over the next decade or so. But, I need you to listen to me (and all my colleagues) and learn what works for us not just what is easy to monitize for you.

And there are vendors with business models I like: Morgan & Claypool, Safari and Knovel to name just a few.

Now, this post is mostly about where I would like to see things going in the near future. I'm going to make some more sweeping long term wishes at the end, but right now I'm concerned with the next few years and months and how I would like to see vendors constructive their offerings.

Some thoughts:

  • Collections, annual license. Title by title, one time only. I'm mostly ok with that model.

  • Big collections need to be really cost effective. Basically, you want to suck up my entire mono purchasing budget by locking into a huge annual licensing fee for a huge collection of ebooks. This doesn't work for me. It may be easy but it's not cost effective because it's really restricting me from purchasing stuff from other publishers that might be more appropriate for my niche programs.

  • Hello? You already sold me that in print. Charging the same amount for an ebook as for a print book on a title by title basis is crazy. And wrong. Let me benefit from the fact that you still cover your costs for production via selling me the overpriced print. Don't sell me the same item again at the same inflated price. Give me prices based on print only, online only and both. Both should be about 125% of print. Online only should be about 50-75% of print.

  • And don't try and resell all me your old crap either. A lot of collections inflate their title counts with a lot of old content. Yeah, I know, getting money for those is gravy for you. For us, paying for those titles again is a crime. Either don't include them (my choice) or make it very clear in your pricing scheme that I'm not paying much (if anything) for them. Ten to fifteen year old IT or engineering books are often of limited use. But you know that, right?

  • It's not necessarily "The more the merrier." I don't need 800 HTML books in my IT ebook collection. I need good and up to date information on HTML, which I don't measure by title count. Don't try and pretend having 800 makes your collection better. All those books just clutter search results both in our catalogue and in your interfaces.

  • Let me unbundle. It's my job to choose the right stuff for the needs of my users. If I'm a small school or supporting niche programs I need to be able to break down big collections into smaller collections to make it cost effective. And by smaller, I don't mean ones that will still cost me 10s of thousands of dollars.

  • Let me choose. I don't mind choosing title by title. After all, it's what I do for print books anyways. This is the logical extension of unbundling. I will commit to spending the time if you give me the flexibility and make it cost-effective for me.

  • Let me replace. Out with the old and in with the new. In a lot of subjects, having ebook versions of multiple editions of a work just clutter up the search results with hits. I don't need them and let me expunge them from the collections. I do the same thing with the old print books, by the way. It's called weeding.

  • Ebooks aren't print books. A bit about the future. Most vendors' models right now is basically to move print books into the online environment with little or no change or enhancement. But ultimately we need to recognize electronic texts aren't print text. They are used differently, discovered differently and should be constructed differently. Like I said above, I don't need 800 HTML books. What I need is one good source of information on HTML that covers everything.

    This is what an scitech ebook can be, a good source of information on a topic. Up to date, reviewing the literature, covering a topic comprehensively at multiple skill and knowledge levels, annotatable, sharable, copy and paste-able, blogable, citable, authoritative yet responsive and mashupable. We need to reimagine the scholarly monograph in the scitech fields, to find a business model that works, that rewards creators and meets the needs of readers. If it's something I'm going to pay for it needs to be better and easier to use than the free web, although I'm not sure I yet understand how I would evaluate that. Certainly, there has to be a compelling reason that students and researchers would use it rather than the free web, and I'm not sure what the range of those compelling reasons is yet either.

Add your own in the comments! I'm sure we all have thinking about ebooks and have ideas to share about making ebook business models fair and sustainable.

No responses yet

Summer blogging break

Jul 24 2009 Published by under admin, personal

Yes, it's here. My annual summer blogging break. A time to recharge my blogging batteries.

Time to pack up my virtual bags, hop on my ePlane and take a posting holiday. As usual, I'll be offline for the next four weeks or so, probably back the week of August 24th. I have scheduled some posts for my absence, however: four Friday Fun posts as well as four items I'm reposting from the old blog.

As for the summer reading poll, I guess it's now time to declare the two winners:

The two polls received 117 votes between them. Thanks to everyone who participated! I'll probably do this again as it was great fun. Watch this space for reviews of the two books when I return.

It's interesting to note that the Feynman bio got more than the next three books combined -- a message that I'm crazy for having missed reading such a classic!

No responses yet

ACM responds to the blogosphere

Scott Delman, Group Publisher of the ACM, has responded to my post earlier this month on society publishers and open access. That post generated some very good discussion in the post comments that are well worth checking out.

Delman's article is in the most recent Communications of the ACM (v52i8): Responding to the Blogosphere.

Here are some excerpts, although Delman's article is so interesting that I wish I could quote the whole thing.

The fact that ACM charges both for access to the published information in its Digital Library and also extends the courtesy of "Green OA" to its authors is actually less important to me (while both are important aspects of what we do) than the fact that ACM and many other association publishers serve as well-intentioned caretakers of the scholarly record. I have spent too many hours trying to identify the "most up-to-date version" of an author's article on his or her Web site or digging through the various related institutional repositories to identify a specific version of an article to believe that any other system at the present time offers the advantages of publishing with learned societies.

When I say that all association publishers are essentially OA publishers, I mean this from the perspective that associations and their corresponding communities are one and the same. In my opinion, the question should not be how will society publishers justify their existence in the future, but rather how can they be better at marketing themselves and promoting the valuable work that they continue to do. Publishing will always have a cost, whether it relates to print publications or publishing information online. In most well-researched articles I've read on OA, all parties generally tend to agree on this. The real question is where is this money best spent and how. As a longtime publisher who has worked for both for-profit and a leading association publisher, I feel strongly that this is where any debate should be focused, and I am confident that the most valuable and well-run professional society publishers will in the long run continue to prove their worth to the scientific community at large.(Emphasis mine)

I agree with most of what Delman says, perhaps only differing in terms of the language I would use.

What's most interesting is his emphasis on marketing the societies's role as a kind of gatekeeper for the scholarly record -- the place that the scholarly publishing financial infrastructure should support with their funds. It would be interesting to see some more detailed speculations about how he would organize this: would it be through continued library subscriptions or perhaps through author charges or something else entirely.

Most of all, it's great to see a society society publisher engage in the conversation!

(BTW, I blush slightly to be mentioned in the editorial of the CACM as "John Dupuis, the esteemed Science & Engineering Librarian from York University in Toronto, on his blog Confessions of a Science Librarian." Both for the kind words and, you know, it is CACM!)

3 responses so far

Help me choose my summer reading (Final week of voting!)

Jul 21 2009 Published by under science books, social media

My traditional summer blogging break is fast approaching. It's the time of year when I take a 4-6 week break away from it all and recharge my blogging batteries. It's something I've done for years and it really works for me.

One of the things I do during my break is try and read a lot of books. I mostly read fiction during the break, but this year I'm going to mix in a science auto/biography and a social media/new technology book. The trick is, I'm going to let you all choose which ones.

Below I have a couple of polls where you can vote on which book you want me to read. All the books are ones I have on hand right now so you won't be costing me anything depending on what you vote for. Some of the science books are relatively recent, some a little older.
Each list has at least one book that I know is a classic that I should've read but haven't. Now's your chance to correct the error of my ways.

Each poll is followed by a link to the book's Amazon pages for those that feel they need more information on the books in question.

Social Media

Which social media book should I read this summer?
The Wealth of Networks by Yochai Benkler
Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide by Henry Jenkins
The Long Tail, Revised and Updated Edition by Chris Anderson
Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block
The Future of the Internet--And How to Stop It by Jonathan Zittrain
Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns by Clayton Christensen
The Pirate's Dilemma: How Youth Culture Is Reinventing Capitalism by Matt Mason
Free polls from

Science Auto/Biography

Which science auto/biography book should I read this summer?
A Life Decoded by J. Craig Venter
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson
The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdos... by Paul Hoffman
Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick
The Art and Politics of Science by Harold Varmus
A Beautiful Mind: The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash by Silvia Nasar
Time Lord: Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time by Clark Blaise
Free polls from

I'm looking at taking at least 600 pages worth of this material, so if the top vote-getters are significantly less than that, I'll probably add another from one of the lists.

(I'll bump this post to the top of the blog every week or so, just to more people a chance to vote. I'll end the voting around July 24th.

And yes, I've done something like this before.)

Update 2009.07.09: Kicked to the top as a voting reminder.
Update 2009.07.21: Once again, kicked to the top as a voting reminder.

10 responses so far

And Dorothea Salo makes four...

Jul 18 2009 Published by under admin, information science

That's four librar* blogs here at ScienceBlogs, of course, with hopefully more to come. We're taking over!

I'll let Dorothea introduce herself:

I'm very pleased to welcome you all to The Book of Trogool, a brand-new blog about e-research. My name is Dorothea Salo, I'm an academic librarian, and I am fascinated with the changes that computers have wrought in the academic-research enterprise. I hope to explore those changes, and particularly library responses to them, in the company of the wonderful ScienceBlogs community. My thanks to John, Christina, and Walt for paving the way, and to Erin for welcoming me here.

I hope to tell stories about e-research projects (because narrative is how humans come to grips with novelty), pass on tidbits of e-research-related news, demystify jargon, ask and answer questions--in toto, I hope to bridge the science, library, and IT communities as we all work to understand, accommodate, and make the most of computers in research.

And yes, she does explain the name of her new blog.

Run on over and check out Dorothea's new digs at The Book of Trogool, especially her first real post on What is e-research?

3 responses so far

My Job in 10 Years: The Article

Those of you with long memories may recall that I gave a presentation at the Ontario Library Association conference in 2008 based on the My Job in 10 years blog posts.

Shortly after that presentation, I was approached by Cecile Farnum, the OCULA divisional editor for the OLA magazine Access about writing the presentation as an article. To make a long story short, it's just been published in the Summer 2009 issue!

Of course, I've deposited a scanned version of the article in our IR here, with the scanned version here and my slightly longer original here. I came in a little longer than the word limit when I submitted to Cecile and she was kind enough to edit it down for me and did a great job preserving what I wanted to say, just more concisely.

This particular addition to the ever-growing My Job in 10 Years media empire focuses on libraries within a reputation economy context, making it a bit different from the blog posts and the original presentation.

Enjoy! And needless to say, I'd appreciate any feedback.

No responses yet

Science 2.0: What every scientist needs to know about how the web is changing the way they work

This is a great looking afternoon here in Toronto on Wednesday July 29th, organized by Greg Wilson and taking place at the MaRS Centre: Science 2.0: What every scientist needs to know about how the web is changing the way they work.

The event is free, but registration is required. Here's an outline of the presentations:

  • Titus Brown: Choosing Infrastructure and Testing Tools for Scientific Software Projects
  • Cameron Neylon: A Web Native Research Record: Applying the Best of the Web to the Lab Notebook
  • Michael Nielsen: Doing Science in the Open: How Online Tools are Changing Scientific Discovery
  • David Rich: Using "Desktop" Languages for Big Problems
  • Victoria Stodden: How Computational Science is Changing the Scientific Method
  • Jon Udell: Collaborative Curation of Public Events

There are more details on the talks at the event site.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to be there as it's during my annual "summer blogging break" which starts next Friday, ie. my summer vacation.

(via Michael Nielsen.)

No responses yet

Ask me an easy question too!

Jul 13 2009 Published by under blogging, personal

Between the fact that I'm still not completely recovered from my epically awful day last Friday and the blogging lethargy that always comes as my summer blogging break approaches, all the blogging-related brain cells I have left are completely fried.

Fortunately, Chad comes to the rescue with a great idea!

I'll run this more or less the same way he's doing it:

  • Ask me any relatively straight forward question here in the comments and I'll answer it either in the comments or in it's own post.
  • Think questions that I could answer in a paragraph or so.
  • No topic restrictions -- library stuff, pop culture, anything. Personal stuff, politics, religion and the like are all in bounds, but I'll delete or not answer anything rude or overly intrusive.
  • I'm also thinking of doing one of those "introduce yourself" posts, keeping in the same spirit.

18 responses so far

Older posts »