Archive for: October, 2009

Friday Fun: The 10 Biggest Misconceptions We Learn In School

Oct 30 2009 Published by under friday fun

Actually, it's not really about misconceptions that we learn only in school, it's more about urban legend/zeitgeist stuff that eveyone knows.

Anyways, The 10 Biggest Misconceptions We Learn In School is from Manolith, a site I've never heard of before. It's rude and crude and definitely not for the faint of heart. Some of the points hit their mark and some miss pretty badly. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Nevertheless, some of them are also pretty amusing:

1. Einstein got bad grades in school

Um... have you heard about this guy Einstein? Famous physicist? Relativity and all that? A genius, even? I'm pretty sure little Albert could handle his business in 4th grade arithmetic. Yes, contrary to popular belief, Einstein was a top student in elementary school, getting mostly "4″s (on the German grading scale of 1-4), which idiot Americans later assumed, backwardly, were "D"s. The idea stuck because everybody loves the idea that their poor student can go on to great things. Sorry, parents, Einstein was teaching himself calculus at age 12...

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Computing: the fourth great domain of science

Oct 27 2009 Published by under computer science, culture of science, engineering

The September Communications of the ACM has a provocative article by Peter J. Denning and Paul S. Rosenbloom, Computing: the fourth great domain of science (OA version). It's well written and persuasive, certainly worth reading the whole thing.

Science has a long-standing tradition of grouping fields into three categories: the physical, life, and social sciences. The physical sciences focus on physical phenomena, especially materials, energy, electromagnetism, gravity, motion, and quantum effects. The life sciences focus on living things, especially species, metabolism, reproduction, and evolution. The social sciences focus on human behavior, mind, economic, and social interactions. We use the term "great domains of science" for these categories.


The core phenomena of the computing sciences domain--computation, communication, coordination, recollection, automation, evaluation, and design--apply universally, whether in the artificial information processes generated by computers or in the natural information processes found in the other domains. Thus, information processes in quantum physics, materials science, chemistry, biology, genetics, business, organizations, economics, psychology, and mind are all subject to the same space and time limitations predicted by universal Turing machines. That fact underpins many of the interactions between computing and the other fields and underlies the recent claim that computing is a science of both the natural and the artificial.


Computing is pervasive because it is a fundamental way of approaching the world that helps understand its own crucial questions while also assisting other domains advance their understandings of the world. Understanding computing as a great domain of science will help to achieve better explanations of computing, increase the attraction of the field to newcomers, and demonstrate parity with other fields of science.

To say that computing is a domain of science does not conflict with computing's status as a field of engineering or even mathematics. Computing has large slices that qualify as science, engineering, and mathematics. No one of those slices tells the whole story of the field.

The exercise of examining computing as a domain of science reveals that the extent of computing's reach and influence cannot be seen without a map that explicitly displays the modes of implementation and interaction. It also reveals that we need to revisit deep questions in computing because our standard answers, developed for computer scientists, do not apply to other fields of science. Finally, it confirms that computing principles are distinct from the principles of the other domains.

So, what do you think? Is computing the fourth great domain of science?

5 responses so far

Register for Science Online 2010 before it's too late!

Registration for Science Online 2010 is open. The conference web site is here and program info is here.

Time is running out. There are currently about 175 registered and the organizers are going to cap it at 250.

I've attended the conference for the past two years and it's a blast. I really enjoyed the sessions as well as the informal times between sessions, at the meals and in the bar.

I've registered already, as has my son, Sam, who's in grade 11. He attended last year and also had a great time. Bora even interviewed him!

There's been a good tradition of librarians attending the conference and this year looks to be no exception. Here's a list of the librarianish people who've registered. Of course, it's only the people whose names I recognize so I may be missing a couple. If I've missed you, let me know and I'll add you.

I'm lucky enough to have met a good number of the above librarians and I'm really looking forward to meeting Stephanie and Dorothea who I've know online for a while but haven't met in person yet.

2 responses so far

Donald Coxeter documentary: The Man Who Saved Geometry

TVOntario has produced a very fine documentary based on the life of geometer Donald Coxeter, who lived in Toronto and worked at the University of Toronto for many years. It's called The Man Who Saved Geometry and is based on the book by Siobhan Roberts, King of Infinite Space: Donald Coxeter, the Man Who Saved Geometry.

Two York profs are interviewed in the documentary, Asia Ivic Weiss and Walter Whiteley.

I reviewed Roberts' book a few years ago, here, where you can read about my own minor role in the Coxeter story.

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Friday Fun: Cthulhu does not play with your silly toys!

Oct 23 2009 Published by under friday fun, science fiction

Ah, but maybe he would if they were Cthulhu plushies!

Check this out from Sci Fi Wire: 14 great Cthulhu toys that make devouring souls fun!

H.P. Lovecraft's elder god Cthulhu is supposed to be terrifying, hideous and awe-inspiring--but whoever knew he could be this darn cute? Check out 14 toys that take a slimy monster and turn it cuddly.

It's sick, twisted fun. My favourite is the Cthulhu Santa, but the wall trophy, suction cup, plush slippers and "My Little Pony Cthulhu" are all great too.

One response so far

Bill & Daniel's Excellent Open Publishing Manifesto

A few weeks ago Bill Gasarch published his Journal Manifesto 2.0 on the Computational Complexity blog.

Basically, his idea was to start a scholarly publishing revolution from the inside:

Keep in mind: I am NOT talking to the NSF or to Journal publishes or to Conference organizers. I am NOT going to say what any of these people should do. I am talking to US, the authors of papers. If WE all follow this manifesto then the problems of high priced journals and limited access may partially go away on their own. To be briefer: To the extend that WE are the problem, WE can be the solution.

It's a great manifesto and it's generated quite a bit of conversation on throughout the blogosphere. I would say I'm 90% on board with what it proposes.

However, it's a little long and perhaps a bit convoluted. It also talks about things that are a bit peripheral to scholarly discourse in the sciences, such as book publishing. It also encourages people to post online copies of articles that they don't hold copyright to.

But still, an amazing start -- a bunch of words to kick off the revolution.

Fellow Canuck Daniel Lemire went one further. He basically took Gasarch's manifesto and pared it down to the bare essentials.

This is the version I'll quote here and completely and totally endorse:

  1. Whenever you publish a paper in a conference or journal, post it on your website or on some appropriate archive (such as arXiv). In particular, as soon as you submit the final version to a conference it should go on online.
  2. Post improvements and revisions to your work. Should you spot a mistake in one of your older research paper, revise it and post the result online!
  3. If you give a talk, then post the slides online.
  4. Make it easy for other researchers to get automatic updates when you post new content. (If you use arXiv, it comes for free if you claim an arXiv user ID.)

I prefer Lemire's simplified version for a couple of reasons:

It seems less intrusive and less prescriptive and more in line with the main goals of OA, to get scholar's research production out in the open.

It also removes the point about books. In my opinion, in the scientific fields it's much more important to focus on the scholarly rather than on professional contributions. And since science mostly does not use monographs for original scholarship, it perhaps distracts from the main goal to include books.

In these areas, books are mostly professional contributions. In the humanities, for example, books are more likely to be scholarly contributions, so focusing on OA for monographs in those fields will be more important. Of course, there are a lot of very good reasons to make books open access (it even increases sales), but that's a secondary concern and a different discussion.

Lemire's manifesto also removes Gasarch's point about creating "portal" sites for particular fields and posting other people's papers to that site. The violation of copyright here makes me a little squeamish. Just because most publishers don't strictly enforce their agreements doesn't mean that we can or should just blatantly ignore those agreements. Also, I do definitely believe that authors should respect the agreements they sign. We expect publishers to respect their part of our agreements, so we should respect ours.

The key, as the manifesto states, is to get permission to post the material when we are negotiating our agreements or to chose to publish in Gold OA journal or in those that allow Green OA archiving.

A couple of relevant tools for those tasks are the SHERPA/RoMEO database of publisher copyright and self-archiving policies and the SPARC Author Rights Addendum.

Most of all, I'd like to give a huge thanks to both Bill and Daniel on their excellent contributions to the conversation about the present and future of scholarly communications.

No responses yet

Q&A with NRC-CISTI about their new public-private partnership with Infotrieve

As I mentioned in my previous post, I did a little Q&A about the new outsourcing arrangement that CISTI has negotiated with Infotrieve.

Q1. What's the effect on jobs at CISTI from this move?

As you may know, NRC-CISTI is transforming itself to be well positioned to serve the needs of Canadian knowledge workers now and in the future. This transformation is a major undertaking for the organization and will require a significant transition for NRC-CISTI's workforce.

NRC is working to mitigate the effect on employees by seeking to place as many of the affected employees as possible within the new NRC-CISTI or elsewhere within the NRC or the federal government. The NRC is working closely with its bargaining agents throughout the process of transformation to ensure that employees are supported to the fullest extent possible.

Q2. What will happen with CISTI's physical collections? Are they staying in Canada?

The holdings of the NRC-CISTI will remain the property of the National Research Council. NRC-CISTI is home to the National Science Library Collection, with more than 50,000 serial titles, 800,000 books and conference proceedings and over 2 million technical reports and indexed journals.

Q3. What's the focus for CISTI in the future? Data curation, research support? Does CISTI have library & institutional partners for these activities?

This transformation will focus NRC-CISTI's activities on high-value information and services that advance research and innovation in the areas of science, technology and health. This will include new models for delivering services which may include partners for these activities, but the overall transformation will take time to implement and it is still too soon to speculate about future partners.

Q4. Where do you see CISTI in 5-10 years?

NRC-CISTI will continue to be Canada's national science library. Our mission continues to be to contribute to an innovative, knowledge-based economy by providing high-value information and services in STM. And, our core value of delivering quality STM information services remains unchanged.

As Canada's national science library, CISTI will continue to provide information discovery and access services to Canadians and researchers from around the world. And as the NRC library, will continue to offer licensed access to information content and in-depth information services to the NRC.

We will also be continuing with our national strategic initiatives, which are a part of our national science library, including building access vehicles to showcase Canada's scientific output, for example:

  • NPArC - also known as the NRC publications archive
    CISTI has built a searchable web-based gateway to NRC-authored publications that will increase access to NRC's research output, and serve as a valuable resource for NRC researchers, collaborators and the public.

    NRC researchers author about 3,700 peer-reviewed publications each year (articles, proceedings, books, book chapters) as well as technical reports. NRC has mandated that these NRC-authored publications be deposited on NPArC. NPArC is increasing the visibility and impact of NRC research and helping researchers collaborate and innovate. NPArC uses the CISTI digital repository as its technology platform. Publications are ingested, stored, indexed, preserved and made accessible from this platform.

    CISTI will also continue to partner with other organizations to fulfill its core role as part of Canada's national innovation infrastructure:

  • Research Data Canada

    This is a national initiative addressing issues surrounding the access and preservation of data arising from Canadian research and NRC-CISTI is playing a coordination role and has launched a gateway web site that provides access to Canadian scientific data sets and other important data repositories to support this initiative

  • PubMed Central Canada or PMC Canada

    A national digital repository of peer-reviewed health science research that will provide free and open access to CIHR-funded research. CIHR has passed an Open Access mandate requiring scientists to make research funded by CIHR freely available.

    NRC-CISTI, CIHR and the US National Library of Medicine (NLM) have completed the first step in the creation of PMC Canada - a three-way agreement to partner on creating the e-repository. CIHR is funding and CISTI is providing the technology platform and tools.

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NRC-CISTI's announces new public-private partnership with Infotrieve

Such is the subject line of an email I got from the NRC-CISTI people last week. NRC-CISTI is Canada's National Research Council -- Canada Institute of Scientific and Technical Informamtion. In other words, Canada's national science library. Many of you probably know them for their document delivery service.

The basic message is that the document delivery service has been outsourced to a US company:

NRC-CISTI, Canada's national science library is changing and we are energized by the possibilities as we move forward in the transformation process announced in February 2009.

Today, we are pleased to announce that Infotrieve, Inc., a leader in information center technology development and document delivery for more than 20 years, will be collaborating with NRC-CISTI on providing document delivery services for our clients and business partners. Infotrieve will be acting on NRC-CISTI's behalf within Canada and will be providing exclusive services to our US and International clients. The transition will begin immediately and the process will be completed by March 31, 2010.

Over the next three to four months NRC-CISTI and Infotrieve will work closely together to transition all clients, starting with US clients, to Infotrieve's world-class document delivery services using award winning technology for sourcing and delivering document orders. You will be able to recognize these orders by the accompanying coversheet or e-mail, which will reference Infotrieve. It is important to note that during this transition you should continue to use the same ordering methods you have been using to find and order documents, and you will be billed for services according to the identical price list currently used by NRC-CISTI. There will not be any changes to your current workflow for finding, ordering, or receiving document. NRC-CISTI will also continue to offer licensed access to information content and information services to the National Research Council. More details on what to expect can be found in the NRC-CISTI and Infotrieve Collaboration Question & Answer Guide.

Infotrieve has the fastest document delivery turnaround time in the industry which is achieved by leveraging over 40 million citations available within their own database and Infotrieve's STM Library™ of managed print collections. Add to that the world renowned NRC-CISTI Canadian national science library collection with more than 50,000 serial titles, 800,000 books, conference proceedings, plus 2 million technical reports, and indexed journals in many languages and you've got an enormous collection of scientific, technical and medical (STM) content literally at your fingertips. This combination of content, expertise and technology will enable us to provide NRC-CISTI clients with improved services including faster turnaround times and higher document quality.

We will be providing you with regular updates as we progress through this transition. You can also consult our website or contact us at 613-998-8544 or 1-800-668-1222 (toll-free) or

I wrote about this issue a while back on the old blog, so you can check that out if you're interested in my opinions on what's happening at CISTI. My next post will have a short Q&A with the CISTI communications apparatus.

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Friday Fun: Be prepared when Zombies invade your campus!

Oct 16 2009 Published by under friday fun

And I'm not talking about students the morning after a pub night!

It seems that the University of Florida has actually added zombie invasions to their campus emergency plans.

You should watch, for example, for "increasing numbers of gruesome unexplained deaths and disappearances, especially at night" and listen for "lots of strange moaning." The guide includes an "Infected Co-Worker Dispatch Form" for Florida employees to let superiors know when a colleague exhibits signs of zombie behavior, with a checklist of such behaviors, including "references to wanting to eat brains," "recently dead but moving again," "lack of rational thought (this can cause problems confusing zombies with managers)" and "killed and ate another employee." A footnote in the plan suggests the importance of maintaining sensitivity in a time of zombie attack: "While many people refer to 'undead,' practitioners in the field of Zombie Studies and zombie advocates such as PETZ: People for the Ethical Treatment of Zombies, and supporters of Florida Zombie Preserve, Inc. insist that the term 'undead' clearly connotes deficiency; specifically the absence of both life and death. Hence, we suggest here the term 'life impaired' to recognize the difficulties imposed on a former person by zombie behavior spectrum disorder (ZBSD) but without suggesting the former person is somehow 'deficient' as a result of the infection."

A good sign that not all of academia is humour-challenged.

One response so far

STELLA! Science, Technology & Engineering Library Leaders in Action!

Oct 15 2009 Published by under acad lib future, academia, librarianship, library web

As has been buzzing around the scitech library mailing lists lately (thanks, Joe!), the great news is that the STELLA! Science, Technology & Engineering Library Leaders in Action unconference is coming up in Denver in January 2010.

What is the STELLA Unconference?

This meeting is for any librarian interested in scientific, technical and engineering resources. The acronym stands for Science, Technology & Engineering Library Leaders in Action!

What is the STELLA Unconference?

This meeting is for any librarian interested in scientific, technical and engineering resources. The acronym stands for Science, Technology & Engineering Library Leaders in Action!

When is the unconference?

At the moment, we are planning on hosting the meeting on January 8th and 9th (Friday-Saturday), 2010 at the University of Denver in the Driscoll Center.

Where is the unconference?

It will take place at the University of Denver in the Driscoll Center. See the Unconference Location page for more info.

Check out the, er, stellar attendee list and sessions ideas page.

Unfortunately, it's pretty unlikely I'll be there. The ScienceOnline 2010 conference is only a week later and time and funding will make two conferences in such a short period of time pretty tough to manage.

One response so far

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