Archive for: September, 2010

Around the Web: Library space, bookstores, education, privacy and more

Sep 13 2010 Published by under around the web

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Friday Fun: The 5 Strangest Things Evolution Left in Your Body

Sep 10 2010 Published by under friday fun

It's nice to see the occasional Cracked post that is definitely SFW and funny enough to be worth highlighting here.

And The 5 Strangest Things Evolution Left in Your Body definitely qualifies on both counts.

If you don't believe in evolution, you have to spend a lot of time wondering about the useless shit the creator threw into our bodies. Why don't our wisdom teeth fit in our heads? Why do we need an appendix?

The answer is that evolution is a sloppy and haphazard process. Take a close look at your body and you'll see some of the leftover junk. Like...

In descending order:

  • Goosebumps
  • Flinching When You Hear High-Pitched Sounds
  • A Third Eyelid
  • Auriculares Muscles (aka the Reason Some People Can Wiggle Their Ears)
  • Wisdom Teeth and the Appendix

    But Why?

    In both cases it appears to be leftover equipment from an era when we used to eat a lot more leaves, before we converted to our modern burrito-based diet.

    Although some of us prefer enchiritos.

    Your wisdom teeth get impacted and infected because you don't have room for them, and you don't have room for them because they came about when earlier versions of humans had larger jaws, which were more suited to chewing up plant matter. Grinding up leaves as opposed to soft meat and/or pizza is hard work and it requires more teeth to spread out the load. Especially because you have to eat so much of it.

    Salad isn't generally considered "filling."

    As for the appendix, the most popular theory is that it once helped in digesting all these greens. It's an extension of the cecum, an organ that is much larger in herbivores than carnivores because it's used to break down the tremendous amount cellulose they take in. Since we no longer have a need for this extension of the cecum, it has shrunk into a vestigial organ that looks like a worm. That's just one theory. There actually hasn't been all that much study into the appendix because, you know, who gives a shit what it does.

(Disclaimer: I'm not an evolutionary biologist so I have really no clue about the veracity of the scientific claims made in the article I'm linking to. And even though I'm a librarian and should be keen for this sort of thing, I couldn't be bothered to search the literature to verify those claims. Whatever. It's in Cracked, people, what do you expect?)

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Does Computer Science Have a Culture?

Sep 09 2010 Published by under computer science, culture of science, education

That's the question Eugene Wallingford asks in a recent post at his blog, Knowing and Doing.

If you studied computer science, did your undergrad alma mater or your graduate school have a CS culture? Did any of your professors offer a coherent picture of CS as a serious intellectual discipline, worthy of study independent of specific technologies and languages?

In graduate school, my advisor and I talked philosophically about CS, artificial intelligence, and knowledge in a way that stoked my interest in computing as a coherent discipline. A few of my colleagues shared our interests, but many of fellow graduate students were more interested in specific problems and solutions. They viewed our philosophical explorations as diversions from the main attraction.

Unfortunately, when I look around at undergrad CS programs, I rarely see a CS culture. This true of what I see at my own university, at my friends' schools, and at schools I encounter professionally. Some programs do better than others, but most of us could do better. Some of our students would appreciate the intellectual challenge that is computer science beyond installing the latest version of Linux or making Eclipse work with SVN.

Is CS a hollow shell of a discipline, a discipline with no overarching philosophy or narrative, no deep mysteries to plumb? Do physics and chemistry and math and biology all have these coherent narrative structures, a list of great accomplishments and even greater unsolved mysteries, a "way of doing things" that CS lacks?

Part of what makes it hard to judge is that CS is such a new discipline that the cultural perspectives it has carried over from it's parent disciplines -- electrical engineering and math, primarily -- obscure what's unique. And that tension between science and engineering pervades computing at every level. Perhaps it's unfair to only compare CS to science disciplines, maybe the culture of engineering needs to be thrown in there as well. As since there's so much business and organizational computing that gets done too, maybe there's an applications-oriented almost-business culture that seeps in at the edges as well.

Of course, there's no real, definitive answer to the question, only approximations. At some point, a wave function may collapse and we'll be able to observe a final answer. But not yet, I think.

So, what do you think? Does computer science have a culture? If so, what are the beliefs and behaviours that underpin it? What are its shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices?

(But what got Eugene thinking about this in the first place? It was Zed A. Shaw's post Go To University, Not For CS. It's not directly related to the direction I've taken here still very interesting. It's more about CS supposedly having a shallow intellectual/scientific culture.)

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Around the Web

Sep 09 2010 Published by under around the web

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Around the Web

Sep 07 2010 Published by under around the web

Inspired by Bora, but with perhaps a slightly different emphasis.

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Music Mondays: Forty-Four Blues

Sep 06 2010 Published by under music mondays

Forty-four or 44 Blues is a fairly well know blues standard and is certain a song that I really love. I was first introduced to it during an Eric Clapton concert a number of years ago, during his From the Cradle tour. It wasn't part of the album, but he did perform it live. It actually took me a while to figure out what the song was and to get a few versions of it. I don't believe it's ever appeared, live or studio versions, on an official Clapton album.

And in the tradition of the One Song I Really Love post I did for Soulshine a while back, I thought I'd give a quickie for 44 for a holiday Monday.

Here they are, five versions of one song I really love:

Not quite as well known as Soulshine, there don't seem to be as many versions of 44 Blues on Youtube, although there are a lot. Between that and my not being in an archivist mood today, we'll have to settle for just the five.

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Friday Fun: The Tragic Death of Practically Everything

Sep 03 2010 Published by under friday fun

It seems like everything's dead these days: the Web, our attention spans, Microsoft, Apple, Google, whatever.

Harry McCracken has a nice post summarizing the casualties over at Technologizer: The Tragic Death of Practically Everything:

Wired Editor in Chief Chris Anderson is catching flack for the magazine's current cover story, which declares that the Web is dead. I'm not sure what the controversy is. For years, once-vibrant technologies, products, and companies have been dropping like teenagers in a Freddy Krueger movie. Thank heavens that tech journalists have done such a good job of documenting the carnage as it happened. Without their diligent reporting, we might not be aware that the industry is pretty much an unrelenting bloodbath.

I really like his take on the prognostications of the guru class, as he takes a quick look at the premature predictions of demise of all kinds of things: Internet Explorer, Linux, TVs, MS Office, email, Facebook, Blackberries, Firefox, iPods, RSS and, well, a whole bunch more. Lots of great commentary and further suggestions of dead things in the comments of the post too.

Puts it all in perspective for the next time you read about the demise of a popular gadget, company or institution.

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Revolutionary councils don't form around the existing leadership

Peter Brantley has a provocative post up on his blog Shimenawa: Get in the goddamn wagon. It's basically a call to arms -- specifically for younger librarians to seize a greater role in discussing and shaping the future of libraries.

The problem is that a lot of the public, official discussion about the future is restricted to senior administrators -- a huge problem in the insanely hierarchical world of libraries:

I was intrigued when I saw an announcement for an ARL-CNI meeting, "Achieving Strategic Change in Research Libraries", to be held in mid October, because Lord knows this is a good time for strategic change. Yet when I clicked through to the program, I was sorely disappointed. The program is oriented toward library directors talking amongst themselves. In the growing string of strategy meetings and whitepaper collections coming from research library organizations, I see many familiar names. While I find these individuals to be brilliant, thoughtful people, I don't believe much will come out of their talking amongst each other for another day. Library leadership has been discussing emergent roles for libraries for over a decade.

The solution:

It's time for the youngest generation of librarians to gather amongst themselves to discuss change in libraries. This definitely needs to happen in RL, but it can also happen online. This would be a gathering of people that I would denote as "< A/UL" - in other words, lower than (less than) AUL. Not <= AUL. There should be no directors present, no associate directors present. This is not about them. It is about those who will truly redefine the future of libraries. And there will be libraries in the future. And they will kick ass.

A first step:

I am not suggesting that out of new conversations will emerge fully formed a blue print for a new class of library. But what I would suggest is: without energetic conversations, without more awareness of the things already being discussed in the hallways, libraries will have a future too long delayed. And that's more than a problem for libraries. It's a problem for everyone. By speaking together, we can break the deadlock and move the mountain. Talking about the world we want will help to build that world.

Right now, the best possible thing that ALA could do to reboot the future is to fund support for these meetings and gatherings, encouraging spontaneous leadership. If they cannot do that, then some other vehicle needs to step in and provide the platform where change can be not merely discussed, but architected.

I think Brantley's post is terrific and well worth reading in it's entirety.

I'll admit that I wish the emphasis was not so much on chronologically young librarians but rather on librarians with youthful outlooks and ideas. On the other hand, I like that the he included not just librarians but all library staff.

In particular, I really appreciate the desire to seize discussions about our future away from the same-old-same-old directors and senior administrators. It's time to include everyone. It's time to throw the doors open, get a breath of fresh air and start talking. I've been doing, lots of people have been doing it.

I think the main benefit to including non-administrators is that we get to hear about what's successful now and what's happening at the edges of professional practice. The future is built on the present and the past. We need to see the coolest things that a lot of different people and institutions are doing and explore how we can build and collaborate to create our shared future out of that present. Combine that with the boundary-breaking fearlessness and disruptive influence of the young and young-at-heart, and we'll really have something

It's time.

Peter, call the meeting. I'll be there.

(Pretending I'm 27 instead of 47, natch.)

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How come no LibrarianTopia blogging community?

The last little while has seen an amazing proliferation of science blogging communities. Scientopia, Guardian Science Blogs and PLoS Blogs are only the three most recent that I know of.

I think it's great -- the more the merrier I say. Of course, as networks take up more and more space in the science blogging ecosystem it seems to me that independent bloggers might feel isolated or under pressure or neglected some how. I don't think that will be a huge problem as independents will continue to thrive in niches large and small and will continue to draw audiences to what they have to say. Ultimately, many of them will have opportunities to join networks and they will continue to choose what's best for them.

So, yes, the ecosystem for science blogging is shifting and evolving.

What I also find interesting is that this clumping into networks doesn't seem to be happening the same way in other domains. Maybe I'm just ignorant, but is there a thriving ecosystem of accountant blogging networks? MBA? Architects? I don't think so.

Or more to the point: Why no proliferation of librarian blogging networks?

Sure, there's Library Journal's bloggers, but beyond that not much. Oh sure, there are a few group blogs too, like Library Garden or In the Library with the Lead Pipe.

But no shift in the ecosystem. There are certainly a huge number of independant blogs that could potentially be poached and organized and gathered. Sure, there's not the mainstream interest in library and information science issues that there is in science, which is part of what's propelling the shifts in that ecosystem. But there is some and certainly there will be a lot of interest in such a project within the library community.

I find it curious that we haven't seen those same ecosystem shifts.

Why haven't the professional societies jumped in and started recruiting blogging stables? Why haven't key vendors sponsored communities? Why haven't we self-organized into our own collectives?

I certainly don't have any answers. I'm not even certain that the questions themselves are that interesting to begin with. Maybe the answer is just, "The library blogosphere is fine like it is."

What about all of you out there...

  • Is this a good idea?
  • What would the advantages be to having this soft of community?
  • How about disadvantages?
  • Would it make it easier for, say, academic librarians to reach faculty and students if we had a blogging community that had a certain critical mass?
  • How about other part of the librarian blogging community?

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Welcome to yet another science blogging community: PLoS Blogs

Yes, YASBC. Yet another science blogging community.

Welcome to PLoS Blogs!

From the introductory post:

Today we are pleased to announce the launch of PLoS Blogs a new network for discussing science in public; covering topics in research, culture, and publishing.

PLoS Blogs is different from other blogging networks, because it includes an equal mix of science journalists and scientists. We're excited to be welcoming our new bloggers, including Pulitzer Prize winner Deborah Blum to the network.


Our scientists:

Take As Directed:

David Kroll, Ph.D. is a cancer pharmacologist who investigates natural anticancer drugs and is best known under his blog pseudonym, "Abel Pharmboy". He has appeared regularly on NPR and ABC News Now.


Daniel Lende, Ph.D. is a medical, psychological, and biological anthropologist. He worked as an assistant professor in anthropology at the University of Notre Dame and is now associate professor at the University of South Florida. Daniel co-founded in 2007.

Greg Downey is currently a Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. He has published extensively on capoeira (an Afro-Brazilian art form), no-holds-barred fighting, coaching, dance, music etc.

Obesity Panacea:

Peter Janiszewski has a PhD in clinical exercise physiology from Queen's University in Canada. He's a science writer/editor, a published obesity researcher, university lecturer, and an advocate of new media.

Travis Saunders is a PhD student in health physiology at the University of Ottawa, who investigates sedentary lifestyles and chronic disease risk in children.


Martin Fenner, M.D. works as a medical doctor and cancer researcher in the Hannover Medical School Cancer Center in Germany. Since 2007, he has regularly written about how the internet is changing scholarly communication.


Misha Angrist, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of the Practice at the Duke University Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy. In 2009 he had his full genome sequenced at Duke.

The Language of Bad Physics:

Sarah Kavassalis has a B.S. in physics and mathematics and is currently a graduate student at the University of Toronto. She discusses semi-popular papers that lack an accurate basis in math and physics.

Our science journalists:

Speakeasy Science:

Deborah Blum is a Pulitzer prize-winning science writer and is a Professor of Journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her latest book, The Poisoner's Handbook, was published in February 2010.


Steve Silberman is a long-time writer whose articles have appeared in Wired, the New Yorker, Salon, Time, and many other national publications all with a Neurological slant.

The Gleaming Retort:

John Rennie is an adjunct professor in graduate Science, Health and Environmental Reporting at New York University. John was the editor in chief of Scientific American and has appeared on PBS, NPR, ABC etc

Body Politic:

Melinda Wenner Moyer is an award-winning science writer focusing on health and policy, and has a master's degree in science journalism from New York University. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Slate, The Oprah Magazine etc.


Emily Anthes is a freelance science writer and has a master's degree in science writing from MIT. Her work has appeared in Scientific American Mind, Psychology Today, Popular Mechanics, Discover and elsewhere.

A hearty welcome and much success to the latest YASBC!

(BTW, I find it unfortunate that the Public Library of Science blogging community doesn't have any, you know, librarians. It would be a nice recognition of our front line work in promoting OA. On the other hand, I guess there aren't that many of us around to recruit.)

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