Archive for: April, 2010

Friday Fun: New First Year Experience Class: How To Not Be An Asshole

Apr 30 2010 Published by under academia, friday fun, kids today

From The Cronk of Higher Education, New First Year Experience Class: How To Not Be An Asshole, this is very funny.

The six-week class is comprised of five modules:

  • So You're Drunk: A Guide To Quietly Stumbling Home
  • Street Signs Are Not Dorm Room Decorations
  • Streaking: A Fast-Track To Suspension
  • Noises Neighbors Hate To Hear After 10 pm
  • Nine Reasons the Police Will Handcuff You

Current students expressed skepticism about the offering.

"I think it's retarded," remarked Marco Miller, a current first year student. "Sometimes, when I'm mad, I just want to pee on a statue or throw bottles at parked cars. No class is going to convince me that those kinds of things aren't fun. The Dean can suck it!"

Why did no one tell me of this Cronk before?

(Via the blog.)

3 responses so far

Great Computing Museums of the World

A great two-part series on great computing museums from the last few issues of Communications of the ACM (here and here).

The museums they profile are:

I'll include an extra bit from the first CACM article on the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. I'm choosing that one because as it happens I'll almost certainly be visiting it this coming July. I'm fortunate to have been invited to the annual Science Foo Camp, which happens to be at the Googleplex in Mountain View.

Research Activities. The CHM wishes to become an important part of the academic research community on computing history, but it has only taken small steps so far: organizing topical conferences and workshops, collecting oral histories, and publishing papers and articles.

The CHM scope (and collection) is international, but the museum's physical presence is in the heart of Silicon Valley in California. The CHM owns a 120,000 square foot modern building on seven acres--lots of free parking is a real asset here!--in a prominent location in Mountain View. The CHM also owns a 25,000 square foot warehouse 20 minutes away, where most of the 90% of the collection that is not on exhibit at any particular time is stored in climate-controlled conditions and is available to researchers.

The Computer History Museum is a work in progress. We like to think of ourselves as a startup with a 30-year history. We welcome the opportunity to work with people and organizations that resonate with our mission and our goals.

My own institution, York University, has a Computer Museum dedicated to the history of the Canadian computing industry. It's housed in the Computer Science & Engineering Department and run by Prof. Zbigniew Stachniak. You can visit by appointment.

6 responses so far

Friday Fun: If The Internet Took Over Our Schools

Apr 23 2010 Published by under friday fun

This one's on and, unusually for them, is Safe for Work.

Now, I'm down with making education more interactive, social, customizable, multitasking, multimedia and web-enabled and all that, but for every good thing there are potential downsides. And Cracked's article nicely sums up some of the more, shall we say, absurd and ridiculous implications of Web-enabled education.

Let's just say the words pwned, First!, mentos, TL;DR and Nigerian princes all make cameo appearances.

Take a look, the Top 20 Ways the Internet is Taking Over Schools.

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Recently in the ACM: Computer Science Education

A small selection from some tables of content from a few recent journals and proceedings. These will require subscription access to the ACM Digital Library.

Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education

Journal of Computing Sciences in Colleges, v25i4

SIGCSE Bulletin, v41i4

One response so far

What are the Potential Social and Ethical Implications of the $100 Laptop?

That's the topic for the most recent Schubmehl-Prein Prize for Best Essay on Social Impact of Computing.

The Schubmehl-Prein Prize for best analysis of the social impact of a particular aspect of computing technology will be awarded to a student who is a high school junior in academic year 2009-2010. The first-place award is $1,000, the second-place award is $500, and the third-place award is $250. Winning entries are traditionally published in the Association for Computing Machinery's Computers and Society online magazine.

The winners of the 2009 contest are published in the most recent ACM SIGCAS Computers and Society, volume 40, issue 1. (Subscription needed.)

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Friday Fun: The Best Sword & Sorcery Stories

Apr 16 2010 Published by under friday fun, science fiction

If you love sword & sorcery books and stories (and who doesn't!), SF Signal has one of their Mind Meld features in which they ask a bunch of writers and editors to name their favourites of the genre.

Here's a taste:

Lou Anders

"Ill met in Lankhmar" tops any list. How could it not? Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser defined sword & sorcery for me as a child, and I'm thrilled that, having just started rereading their adventures they are thus far holding up. Michael Moorcock's "Stormbringer" is tied or a close second. I haven't read that since I was 15 but the Moorcock I have read hasn't dated. Basically, you don't know s&s without Leiber and Moorcock.

Howard's "The Frost Giant's Daughter" reads like ancient myth, and is my favorite of the Conan tales. Finally CL Moore's "Black God's Kiss", which I only discovered as an adult, mesmerized me with its imagery, an amazing hybrid of Howard's action with Lovecraft's imagery that reminded me that s&s got its start in Weird Tales and made me want more Old Weird in contemporary S&S (and more s&s in contemporary Weird Tales!).

And speaking of contemporary, I love James Enge and Scott Lynch for the way they evoke emotions in me now the way Leiber did when I was just beginning to explore the subgenre. Of course, I edit one of them, but I highly recommend both. I also edit Mark Chadbourn's Swords of Albion in the US, chronicling the adventures of an Elizabethan James Bond in a Cold War struggle with the Fae. It's quintessential S&S that should take its place in the canon in time.

Nor can I let the opportunity to shamelessly plug Swords & Dark Magic go by. Co-edited with Jonathan Strahan, it's our forthcoming S&S anthology of all original tales from writers like Steven Erikson, Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, Gene Wolf, Glen Cook, Michael Moorcock, CJ Cherryh, Tanith Lee, Robert Silverberg, Greg Keyes...

Okay, I'll stop but obviously S&S has been on the brain here lately. Glad it's making a resurgence.

There are also lots of great lists in the comments.

Personally, my favourite in the genre is Karl Edward Wagner's Kane books -- dark, violent and compelling, they make for a great read. They are very much sword and sorcery for adults tastes and preoccupations.

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The American Astronomical Society responds to "Scholarly Societies: Why Bother?"

A month or so ago I posted on Scholarly Societies: Why Bother?, basically on the challenges that scholarly societies face in the digital age. I got a few good comments, getting a nice discussion going.

I also posed a few questions directly to scholarly societies but unfortunately didn't get any comments from any of the various societies themselves. I did find that a bit disappointing in that the public conversation seemed to be happening without them. Never a good thing in the digital age.

Today, however, Kevin Marvel of the American Astronomical Society added a comment to my original post. And a great comment it is -- thanks! With Kevin's permission, I'm reprinting it here on it's own.

The call is still open to all the other societies out there: Send me your answers to these questions and I'll post them right here. Or contact me (jdupuis at yorku dot ca) and we'll arrange an email interview with more customized questions.

The rest is from Kevin.



I'm the Executive Officer for the American Astronomical Society and will answer your questions for Scholarly Societies:

Does your society subsidize member programs with profits from it's publications program?

No. Our journals have always been budgeted to cover the cost of peer review, production, dissemination, preservation and administration. We view our journals as a key component of the scholarly process in astronomy, not as a money-maker for the Society.

What kind of outreach do you do to the next generation of scholars?

We work hard to draw astronomy students at the undergraduate and graduate levels to our meetings and to become members. Primarily this is done through communication with their professors and advisors. We provide substantial career enhancing opportunities at our annual meetings as well as discounted membership rates for early-career members.

What do you tell them is the "value proposition" for joining your society?

The value proposition centers around community and communication. Being a member provides access to colleagues, especially through meetings, working in similar fields. We also have an active public policy program that works to enhance astronomy funding in the US. Recognition of accomplishments, through prizes and awards, also play an important role.

Do you facilitate your members online networking and professional development?

We certainly facilitate professional development through workshops at our meetings, especially of note are sessions on project management and negotiation. We are exploring the best way to efficiently (read cheaply) facilitate online networking.

What are your thoughts on an Open Access business model for scholarly society publishing?

We are not opposed to open access, in fact, our journals have a delayed open access of 24 months right now. We have urged the government to proceed carefully as they develop any policies or rules in this area. Our journals business model includes both author charges and
subscriptions. Author charges cover the expenses of peer review, copyediting, production and so on, items directly tied to dealing with manuscripts, while the subscriptions cover the costs of online hosting, printing, indexing, cross-linking (and other similar expenses) and preservation. Both share the administrative expense. The subscriptions (and author charges) are set as low as possible to cover the costs involved. A sudden open access mandate would mean our authors would have to shoulder all costs, increasing our author fees somewhat. A sudden shift could have negative ramifications for scholarship in our field. It has taken many decades for our system to develop and it serves our community very well at low cost to authors and subscribers.

Do your members often mumble your name under their breath with the words to the effect of "just don't get it" or "waste of money?"

No. We work very hard to ensure our members are happy, including a substantial investment in answering their questions via phone and email as they arise.

Do librarians often mention your name in the same sentence as Elsevier?

No. The AAS is well-liked by librarians. Our pricing increases are moderate and only when necessary (we had 3 years of flat subscription rates from 2007-2010). We involve librarian representatives in our publications board.

Do you have a librarian advisory group to work on issues of mutual interest?

Yes. See previous answer. The SLA has an astronomy-focused roundtable that we regularly reach out and communicate with.

What's your biggest competition?

We operate the world's leading scholarly journals in astronomy and astrophysics. We organize the world's largest astronomy meetings (our most recent DC meeting had 3500 attendees...we have 7500 members). Our biggest competition is clearly the growing power of the Internet to connect and enable our members to build their own communities. We will continue to work with and for astronomers in North America to enhance and share humanity's scientific understanding of the Universe.

4 responses so far

U.S. Library of Congress to archive Twitter

From Twitter, here's the announcement:

Have you ever sent out a "tweet" on the popular Twitter social media service? Congratulations: Your 140 characters or less will now be housed in the Library of Congress.

That's right. Every public tweet, ever, since Twitter's inception in March 2006, will be archived digitally at the Library of Congress. That's a LOT of tweets, by the way: Twitter processes more than 50 million tweets every day, with the total numbering in the billions.

We thought it fitting to give the initial heads-up to the Twitter community itself via our own feed @librarycongress. (By the way, out of sheer coincidence, the announcement comes on the same day our own number of feed-followers has surpassed 50,000. I love serendipity!)

We will also be putting out a press release later with even more details and quotes. Expect to see an emphasis on the scholarly and research implications of the acquisition. I'm no Ph.D., but it boggles my mind to think what we might be able to learn about ourselves and the world around us from this wealth of data. And I'm certain we'll learn things that none of us now can possibly conceive.

Just a few examples of important tweets in the past few years include the first-ever tweet from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey (, President Obama's tweet about winning the 2008 election (, and a set of two tweets from a photojournalist who was arrested in Egypt and then freed because of a series of events set into motion by his use of Twitter ( and (

Twitter plans to make its own announcement today on its blog from "Chirp," the Official Twitter Developer Conference, in San Francisco.

So if you think the Library of Congress is "just books," think of this: The Library has been collecting materials from the web since it began harvesting congressional and presidential campaign websites in 2000. Today we hold more than 167 terabytes of web-based information, including legal blogs, websites of candidates for national office, and websites of Members of Congress.

We also operate the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, which is pursuing a national strategy to collect, preserve and make available significant digital content, especially information that is created in digital form only, for current and future generations.

In other words, if you want a place where important historical information in digital form should be preserved for the long haul, we're it!

Needless to say, this is a pretty incredible announcement. It's great that a major public institution can step forward and do the kind of digital preservation job that only that kind of institution would be capable of.

It would be really great if their next step could be a similar archiving project for, say, Blogger or WordPress blogs. Or perhaps other big national libraries around the world could each pick a site and dedicate themselves to preserving their content for future generations.

8 responses so far

Anderson, Chris. Free: The future of a radical price. New York: Hyperion, 2009. 274pp.

This is one of those books that I just seemed to argue with constantly while I was reading it. You know, "Hey, you, book, you're just plain wrong about this!"

But, as much as I argued with it, as much as I wanted all of the main points to be wrong, as much as I disagreed with many of the details, by the end I grudgingly accepted that Chris Anderson's Free: The Future of a Radical Price might just have a few very valid things to say about the way the economics of online content is evolving.

This is the Google generation, and they're grown up online simply assuming that everythng digital is free. They have internalized the subtle market dynamics of near-zero marginal cost economics in the same way that we internalize Newtonian mechanics when we learn to catch a ball. The fact that we are now creating a global economy economy around the price of zero seem[s] too self-evident to even notice. (p. 5)

Briefly, Anderson's premise is that it will get increasingly difficult to get anyone to directly pay for online content. It's just too easy to copy it and get around any kind of copy protection or paywall scheme. This applies to newspapers, books, music, stock information, anything. Digital information wants to be free. On the other hand, people who create digital information still want to be able to pay their bills. Anderson goes into great detail outlining how all the different Free business models work, some seem more sensible than others.

The key idea: get over selling content directly. Sell things around the content, like swag or premium services or experiences. The content is basically about building reputation to sell other things.

Of course, he's too glib and even arrogant about it. After all, he's editor of Wired and that's part of his job description. He assumes that everything, every market sector, will follow one rule.

Personally, I don't think the transition to Free digital business models is going to be smooth at all. Take the music business. Sure CD sales are sagging with iTunes and other digital channels not quite taking up the slack. Sure, the big beneficiaries of touring dollars are the dinosaur acts that became famous and built their reputation under the old music business models. But, something new is emerging. It's just won't be as profitable for artists. It'll probably be a flatter system, with fewer Rolling Stones-scale acts but more that are able to make at least a decent living from constant touring and t-shirt sales. The whole music industry will become more like the Jazz scene has been for the last few decades. Is that good news or bad news?

It's good news for music consumers as we will most likely pay an awful lot less real money over time to feed our addictions, even when you factor in what we're willing to dish out for swag, concerts, etc. After all, it's not like we weren't going to buy those things anyways.

But, it's likely indifferent to bad news for music producers. If consumers are spending less, then there's less flowing around in the ecosystem. More acts making steady but not spectacular money sounds great, but not so much when you consider the average career length in the music business.

And I guess that's ok. It'll happen to the book business too, as publishers and bookstores get disintermediated and authors have to chase scarce dollars on their own.

It'll even happen to scholarly publishing. But that's another post another time.

The business model in the digital age is essentially about scarcity. Scarcity sells. Who ever controls the access to scarce information can make money selling that information. In the past, publishers controled the scarcity and profited from it. In the digital economy, where's the scarcity? There's no shortage of music on the web. There's also no shortage of text to read. There's currently a scarcity of the best science information (or at least, what we all assume is the best) because the big publishers and societies control access. But how long can that last? As soon as the real producers (ie. scientists) realize that they're the ones who really control the scarcity of information, the old edifice will start to crumble. At that point, the scarcity will start to become more explicitly the time of editors and reviewers.

Anyways, I'm going on way too long here. Buy the book, argue with it, deny it, challenge it, find stuff that doesn't make sense or is overblown, because it's all there.

Another quote:

Commodity information(everybody gets the same version) wants to be free. Customized information (you get something unique and meaningful to you) wants to be expensive.


Abundant information wants to be free. Scarce information wants to be expensive. (p. 97)

And another, about how his company kept on trying to get people to delete old emails:

The answer is simple: Somehow we got stuck thinking that storage was expensive when in fact it had become dirt cheap. We treated the abundant thing -- hard drive capactiy -- as if it were scarce, and the scarce thing -- people's time -- as if it were abundant. We got the equation backward.


This is a lesson about embracing's innovator's are the one's who spot the new abundances and figure out how to squander them. In a good way! (p. 191)

As for who I think should acquire the book, library-wise. It's a no-brainer for business collections and any collection that supports study of the culture or economics of the online world. Most public libraries would probably also benefit from having it, particularly in downtown, bedroom community or business district branches.

Anderson, Chris. Free: The Future of a Radical Price. New York: Hyperion, 2009. 274pp.

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What do students want from their libraries?

There's a massive libraryland industry organized around figuring out what students want from us in terms of space, collections, services, etc. We survey, observe and focus group them to death. And that's great and incredibly valuable. But sometimes I think we might have a tendency to see what we want when we're observing and they might have a tendency to tell us what they think we want to hear when we survey or focus group.

Personally, I like to do Twitter searches. It's an interesting way to find out what they're saying and thinking about us when they're being candid and brutal and don't think we're paying attention. So I do searches on Steacie, Scott Library, YorkU, YorkU Library and others to gather some intelligence.

I like this one I saw today:

i will never understand how people misread the sign scott library and somehow see student centre instead. HUSH UP!

Or this one (TH refers to the Tim Horton's coffee shops):

I swear that Yorku has implemented a "must have XL TH coffee" as 90% of students here are complying. Ah early mornings at the library.

Of course, we're in our exam period right now, so that really skews the results towards quiet and caffeine, but it's still very interesting and enlightening. Most of the time they bitch and moan, saying nice things and bad things, calling us out, pointing out where we fall down and where we could do things differently. They also reveal some of their own unrealistic expectations, a bit of a sense of entitlement, some student-to-student nastiness, some purposefully naughty behaviour.

Try some searches on your library -- I'd love to hear what students are saying in other places too!

15 responses so far

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