Archive for: February, 2011

The eBook Users' Bill of Rights

Feb 28 2011 Published by under ebooks, education, scio11

This one is via Christina Pikas, Bobbi Newman and Sarah-Houghton-Jan, who originated it.

It's released under a CC0 license, so please feel free to repost, remix and whatever else strikes your fancy.

This arises from the current controversy in the library world (and beyond) about a particular publisher restricting the number of checkouts a library ebook can have before the library needs to pay for it again. Bobbi Newman collects a lot of relevant posts here if you're interested. I may post about the situation in more detail later this week.

The eBook Users Bill of Rights:

Every eBook user should have the following rights:

  • the right to use eBooks under guidelines that favor access over proprietary limitations
  • the right to access eBooks on any technological platform, including the hardware and software the user chooses
  • the right to annotate, quote passages, print, and share eBook content within the spirit of fair use and copyright
  • the right of the first-sale doctrine extended to digital content, allowing the eBook owner the right to retain, archive, share, and re-sell purchased eBooks

Houghton-Jan further comments:

I believe in the free market of information and ideas.

I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can flourish when their works are readily available on the widest range of media. I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can thrive when readers are given the maximum amount of freedom to access, annotate, and share with other readers, helping this content find new audiences and markets. I believe that eBook purchasers should enjoy the rights of the first-sale doctrine because eBooks are part of the greater cultural cornerstone of literacy, education, and information access.

Digital Rights Management (DRM), like a tariff, acts as a mechanism to inhibit this free exchange of ideas, literature, and information. Likewise, the current licensing arrangements mean that readers never possess ultimate control over their own personal reading material. These are not acceptable conditions for eBooks.

I am a reader. As a customer, I am entitled to be treated with respect and not as a potential criminal. As a consumer, I am entitled to make my own decisions about the eBooks that I buy or borrow.

I am concerned about the future of access to literature and information in eBooks. I ask readers, authors, publishers, retailers, librarians, software developers, and device manufacturers to support these eBook users' rights.

These rights are yours. Now it is your turn to take a stand. To help spread the word, copy this entire post, add your own comments, remix it, and distribute it to others. Blog it, Tweet it (#ebookrights), Facebook it, email it, and post it on a telephone pole.

Amen to that!

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From the Archives: Miscellaneous physics books by Smoot, Batterson, Pickover and Luminet

Feb 27 2011 Published by under book review, physics, science books

I have a whole pile of science-y book reviews on two of my older blogs, here and here. Both of those blogs have now been largely superseded by or merged into this one. So I'm going to be slowly moving the relevant reviews over here. I'll mostly be doing the posts one or two per weekend and I'll occasionally be merging two or more shorter reviews into one post here.

This one is from August 22, 2008 and reviews the following books:


I seem to have finished a bunch of popular physics / history of physics-type books in the last few months, so I thought I'd do a combined review of all of them. Especially since I really don't have too much to say about most of the individual titles. Except for the Pickover, I'd say that they're all slam-dunk acquisitions for any academic library that collects at all in popular or historical physics material.

Smoot, George and Keay Davidson. Wrinkles in Time: Witness to the Birth of the Universe. New York: Harper Perennial, 2007. 331pp. ISBN-13: 978-0061344442

George Smoot won the Nobel Prize in physics in 2006 with John Mather "for their discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation." This book, originally published in 1994 and now republished to take advantage of Smoot's notoriety, tells the story of he and his teams efforts to discover that cosmic background radiation.

A very engaging book overall, it starts with a fairly extensive history of cosmology that covers several chapters. This is probably the weakest part of the book and it's a shame that many may have given up on the book during these fairly dry chapters. What's really engaging about the book and what makes it really worth reading is Smoot's story about the trials and tribulations of the various experiments his team devised and implemented. These included using spy planes and high altitude balloons and culminated in a trip to the Antarctic for one final experiment. All of those are great stories -- I thought the sections in Antarctica to be the best in the book and among the best descriptions of working science that I've ever read. They really should have been more foregrounded in the book. Overall, a great book.

Batterson, Steve. Pursuit of Genius: Flexner, Einstein, and the Early Faculty at the Institute for Advanced Study. Wellesley: AK Peters, 2006. 301pp. ISBN-13: 978-1568812595

Another really fine book with a historical theme, this one strongly related to physics as well as math and other fields. This is a history of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, the place where Einstein worked when he moved to the US. In mostly concentrates on the early years of the institute until the 1960s then does a quick summer of more recent decades.

The early chapters are the story of Abraham Flexner, the founder of the Institute, and his inspirations and early efforts to get funding and get his dream up and running. This is easily the best part of the book, engaging and fascinating. It also functions as an intellectual history of the US in the early part of the 20th century. It also touches on the chicken-and-egg problem of getting the first few scholars to commit to the Institute.

Later chapters are devoted to the political wranglings of running an institute filled with scientific prima donnas as well as securing funding from governments and donors. These bits are considerably less compelling.

Overall, though, this is a fine book, one that I enjoyed quite a bit.

Pickover, Clifford A. Archimedes to Hawking: Laws of Science and the Great Minds Behind Them. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. 514pp. ISBN-13: 978-0195336115

Did this book make me smarter? Did I retain any of the massive amount of physics and chemistry I read about?

First of all, the idea behind Clifford Pickover's new book is to take a bunch of "laws of science & nature" that have been named after their most well known proponent (not necessarily the person who discovered the law) and explain them in a way suitable for a popular audience. Along with the explanation he also provides quite a bit of historical and biographical background on the law. The explanations are, on the whole, a little too detailed and technical for my liking however I'm probably not the ideal audience. Some of the bio & historical detail is pretty good, and some is pretty dry. However, I did read the book cover-to-cover and it is probably better to dip into rather than attempt comprehensiveness. One thing I would like to mention is that each law's section has a good bibliography of sources; my only complaint is that Pickover seemed to mostly consult books from his undergrad days -- ie. the reading lists tended on the older side. Another nice thing is that each section had two series of quotes, one directly about the law in question and the other with more general, and more provocative, quotes of a philosophical nature about what science and laws of science really are.

Which leads me to my biggest complaint, and the point which causes me to hesitate to recommend this book to libraries. The religious agenda. So much of the book seems to really be about reconciling the scientific viewpoint with religious and "spiritual" feelings. Nothing is more consistently highlighted in the biographical sections than how religious that particular scientist was. Now I have nothing is particular against attempts to reconcile science and religion (as pointless as I think those attempts may be), but to have such an agenda, so clearly and consistently explicated in the text, without making it very clear in the title and descriptions of the book seems to me to be a bit dishonest. For that, I'm not sure if the publishers or Pickover are more at fault but I can only judge by the book that I have in my hands. Buyer beware.

Before I forget: did this book make me smarter? Well, maybe a little. Certainly, I have very little recollection of many of the details of the various laws. On the other hand, I do have much more of a sense and appreciation for the breadth and variety of those laws.

Luminet, Jean-Pierre. The Wraparound Universe. Wellesley: AK Peters, 2008. 313pp. ISBN-13: 978-1568813097

Did this book make me smarter? I think so, maybe a little. I've been reading so many popular physics books lately, that some of it might be sinking in.

This one is a bit different from the others in that it tries to make a case for the author's theories on the shape of the universe. The first part of the book is a detailed explication of Luminet's theories with the second part mostly being the background and supplementary information that goes with the first part. The epilogue is basically Luminet's story of how he got his somewhat controversial ideas published.

Not being a physicist, I leave it to you to explore the content of Luminet's ideas. The book is often quite advanced, perhaps a little beyond my cosmology comfort zone. That said, I think I got 50-75% of the book, which isn't bad. You do need to exercise a little attention and concentration and especially to take it in small doses. This book really stretches notions of "popular" science.

In any case, Luminet's lively prose and relaxed style survive Erik Novak's fine translation. I would heartily recommend this to academic libraries but public and school libraries might find it too advanced for most of their patrons. Go with the Smoot book instead, it's really the best and most entertaining of the bunch as well as being the most appropriate for a mass audience

(The Batterson, Luminet and Pickover books were all provided by the publisher. The Smoot book was a Father's Day gift from my sons.)

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Around the Web: The tablet wars, Discoverability, Teaching online and more

Feb 26 2011 Published by under around the web

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Friday Fun: This Is Why Your Used Bookstore Clerk Hates You

Feb 25 2011 Published by under friday fun

I have to admit, opening a used bookstore has always been one of my romantic, "what if I won the lottery" idle musings. Communing with books and book people has always been one of my favourite pastimes.

Of course, I've always known that the reality of owning and operating a used bookstore is a far cry from my idle fantasy, especially in the Internet age.

This post more-or-less hits the nail on the head: This Is Why Your Used Bookstore Clerk Hates You.

You Stole All Our Bukowski
It's hard to keep Bukowski on the shelf when he keeps getting stuffed in the pants of street punks when no one is looking (but we are looking!). Although punks love him (he's so easy to read) so does the staff (Hank worked a menial job for years, drank an eternity, and still ended up famous). He provides hope for apprentice alcoholics who are going to start writing sometime tomorrow or Thursday for sure. If you do steal him, please sell him back to us when you're finished.

Hilarious and sad and oh, so perfect. Read the whole thing.

(Via Peter Brantley.)

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A year of blog stats: 2010

Feb 25 2011 Published by under admin, blogging, personal

In the spirit of openness and transparency and "does anybody really care except me" I've included some blog hit statistics below for 2010. These stats are from the Google Analytics application that ScienceBlogs has installed.

For 2010, this blog got 77,630 visits and 91,022 pageviews. To put it all into perspective, to say that this is a fairly insignificant portion of the total traffic for ScienceBlogs is a bit of an understatement. There are defunct blogs that still generate more traffic.

Here are the numbers in graphical format (click to see full year):

And by month (click to see full year):i-5db0b05a79f042227a5415c1baca3b3f-statsmonth-thumb-751x127-61723.jpg

It's nice to see the numbers growing over the course of the year. I think it's fair to say that it took me a full year after my May 2009 move from my old Blogger site to ScienceBlogs to recapture the traffic I had at the old site, largely due to the lost googlejuice from relocating.

For some context, my last complete year at the old site was 2008 and the numbers for that year were 56,593 visits and 73,212 pageviews. For 2010, even though it hasn't been updated in nearly 2 years, the old site still got over 16,000 pageviews.

So far in 2011, as of February 23rd, I have 18,421 visits and 21,870 pageviews. It's nice to see that this year is trending quite a bit higher than last year at the same point. I may end up surpassing several defunct blogs.

As for 2009, since that was the transition year with traffic at both blog sites, the numbers are hard to judge in relation to 2008 and 2010 so I won't even bother trying.

Here are some pageview stats for some individual pages.

Top 15 Posts (non-Friday Fun)

  1. Best Science Books 2009: Library Journal Best of 2009 Sci-Tech Books (3758)
  2. Best Science Books 2009: The top books of the year! (1824)
  3. Librarians vs. Nature (1337)
  4. A teachable moment (1129)
  5. Best Science Books 2009: The Globe 100 (996)
  6. #ArsenicLife #Fail: A teachable moment (973)
  7. What do students want from their libraries? (887)
  8. Is computer science baseless? (723)
  9. The inherent insularity of library culture? (644)
  10. Best Science Books 2010: New York Times Notable Books (617)
  11. Scientists vs. Engineers (592)
  12. Scholarly Societies: Why Bother?
  13. My Job in 10 Years: Social Media and the 21st Century Classroom (585)
  14. Best Science Books 2009: Scientific American (563)
  15. Best Science Books 2010: The Economist (554)

Some Honourable Mentions include the "index" post at 13,877 and the tag post for Best Science Books 2010 at 1902.

Comments: Overall, a very good year. I'm quite pleased by the posts that have made it to the list, they all seem like good examples of the kind of topics I cover and the kind of writing I do. It's also very obvious that the end-of-year coverage I do of the best science books lists is very popular and that it's something I should continue. For perspective, the Best Science Books 2010: The top books of the year!!!! has some 1877 pageviews as of this moment. The very recent and quite popular A stealth librarianship manifesto already has 1087.

Top 5 Various Fun Posts

  1. Friday Fun: Historians Admit To Inventing Ancient Greeks (1515)
  2. Friday Fun: Epic failures: 11 infamous software bugs (1012)
  3. Thursday Zombie Fun: Braaaiiiinnnnsssss! (865)
  4. Friday Fun: 5 Terms Social Media Douchebags Need To Stop Using (652)
  5. Friday Fun: 5 Signs You're Talking To A Social Media Douchebag (618)

Top 5 Book Review Posts

  1. Reading Diary: The Walking Dead, volumes 1-12 by Robert Kirkman (763)
  2. Reading Diary: Your hate mail will be graded: A decade of Whatever, 1998-2008 by John Scalzi (397)
  3. Jenkins, Mark Collins. Vampire forensics: Uncovering the origins of an enduring legend. Washington: National Geographic, 2010. 303pp. (395)
  4. Christensen, Clayton M. The innovator's dilemma. New York: Collins Business Essentials, 2006. 286pp. (288)
  5. Review of: Makers by Cory Doctorow (286)

What's left to say? Thank you all very much for your time and attention. I truly appreciate all the wonderful connections, ideas and opportunities you and this blog have brought to me over the years.

See you around the Internets!

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A stealthy library scout, armed with a lead pipe

The authors over at In the Library with the Lead Pipe have posted about my recent manifesto on Stealth Librarianship.

There's some pretty healthy debate, agreement, disagreement, qualification, additions and subtractions going on there, so please do check it out: Lead Pipe Debates the Stealth Librarianship Manifesto.

Some excerpts:

What Dupuis fails to mention here is that many academic librarians MUST publish in traditional, peer-reviewed library publications while striving to attain tenure. I am not personally in a tenure-track position, so I have the liberty of not fretting over where I publish. What I have found is that the online discourse via blogs is plentiful and satisfying for me to keep up with what's happening in libraries. Blogging here at In the Library with the Lead Pipe offers me the opportunity to write and think critically in an open peer-review and open publishing format; it is a rich experience that creates and advocates for open discourse among professionals. I'm not so sure what "stealth" has to do when it comes to creating open discourse. Dupuis is contradicting himself.


I don't think "A stealth librarianship manifesto" is about stealth at all. At least, not at its core.

What Dupuis's post really is about is much simpler and more nefarious: it's about language.


I think I may be anti-manifesto in general. Or rather, perpetually and knee-jerkingly defender of whatever is under attack. I want to make it clear that I did read where Dupuis states himself that the manifesto is "a series of provocative statements not a realistic plan of action" and I appreciate the overall sentiment. But since this is a reaction piece, I have to admit, there is much I disagree with.


To this end, I would add the following to the manifesto:

  • We must be better at articulating our own value, especially in non-library settings (the faculty meeting, the town hall, the Capitol)
  • We must inspire others to fight for us by aligning ourselves with our users, not each other


As far as I'm concerned, any effort to go stealth is wasted. The problem isn't with our public relations. The problem is with our product.


Public library workers of the world, unite and write! You have nothing to lose but your stereotypes.

Lots of great stuff -- go on over and read the whole thing!

Here's a list of all the posts that mention my manifesto:

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Around the Web: The problem with online reputation, eBook piracy, Green cities and more

Feb 23 2011 Published by under around the web

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Reading Diary: Evolution: The story of life on Earth

Feb 21 2011 Published by under book review, education, evolution, science books

While I don't have a huge amount of experience reading science-themed graphic novels, I do sort of have a sense that they come in two different broad categories.

The first is basically transforming a boring, stilted, text-heavy textbook into a boring, stilted, illustration- and text-heavy graphic novel. In other words, the producers think that anything in graphic novel format will by definition be more interesting and engaging than something that's purely text-based.

The second involves taking advantage of the strengths of the graphic novel format to re-imagine how scientific knowledge can be presented to an interested audience. Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, which I reviewed ecstatically a while back, is a great example of that category.

Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth is another. Written by Jay Hosler and illustrated by Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon, it's an absolutely stupendous example of how to explain some tricky scientific concepts to a broad range of audiences.

It's an informal sequel to The Stuff of Life: A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA and shares a setting and a broad approach. Although I haven't read the prequel yet, I have purchased it and will get to it very soon.

And speaking of the setting of the book, I really like the way the creative team integrated scientific information into an amusing narrative. The setup is basically an Earth evolution museum on the planet Glargaria -- The Glargarian Holographic Museum of Earth Evolution. The King of Glargaria and his young offspring are touring the museum with a particularly sycophantic scientist tour guide who explains evolutionary concepts in the context of some unspecified problems that Glargaria is having.

The framing is very sprightly and amusing, with a very light touch. The black and white art is very cartoony but it sets the right tone. The art is clear and accessible, just right for a young audience. A lot of the information is actually conveyed via banter between the three characters making it very easy to digest and surprisingly entertaining.

Here's a example (p. 38):

Guide: Fossils are any preserved evidence of ancient life. They can include the impressions of a leaf in mud, an insect trapped in amber, petrified poop, or hard animal parts like shells, exoskeletons, and bones that have turned to rock.

King: Earth life can turn to stone? Their warriors must be terrifying.

Guide: Well, they turn to stone only after they're dead.

Offspring: They're zombie stone warriors? Awesome!

You get the idea.

Overall, the book is terrific and I recommend it without hesitation.

In terms of content level, it's probably most appropriate as a supplement for high school biology but certainly college and university students would find it a useful refresher on basic concepts. It might also be useful for breadth course for non-science students. It would be perfect for any school or public library of any size. My older son is in grade 12 and found it useful and amusing, if basic. I certainly learned quite a bit reading it.

Academic libraries might not find it pitched to the right level for their patrons so most will probably want to skip it. However, it might make a good addition to any "light reading" collection. Academic libraries that support education programs or that collect graphic novels as objects of study will definitely want to get this as it's a fantastic example of the educational uses of the form.

It would also make a terrific gift for any science-loving person of any age.

(Book provided by publisher.)

Hosler, Jay; Kevin Cannon; Zander Cannon. Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth. New York: Hill and Wang, 2011. 150pp. ISBN-13: 978-0809094769

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From the Archives: Once you're lucky, twice you're good: The rebirth of Silicon Valley and the rise of web 2.0 by Sarah Lacy

Feb 20 2011 Published by under book review, science books, social media

I have a whole pile of science-y book reviews on two of my older blogs, here and here. Both of those blogs have now been largely superseded by or merged into this one. So I'm going to be slowly moving the relevant reviews over here. I'll mostly be doing the posts one or two per weekend and I'll occasionally be merging two or more shorter reviews into one post here.

This one, of Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good: The Rebirth of Silicon Valley and the Rise of Web 2.0, is from September 7, 2008.


As with many of the business books I review in this space, I am profoundly torn by this book. On the one hand, tech journalist Sarah Lacy's account of the business side of the ride of various web 2.0 companies is compelling and fascinating reading. On the other hand, the depths of uncritical and nauseating hero-worship she displays toward the tech entrepreneurs she profiles is both revolting and disturbing.

Revolting because because of the over the top admiration and worship Lacy has for the people she profiles. Disturbing because the "it's all about the money" mindset diminishes the social impact, or at least my appreciation of the social impact, of the web 2.0 technologies.

In fact, if you're not careful reading this book could completely disillusion you about the whole web 2.0 phenomenon because it tears aside the veil and you see it for what the business people truly see it as: not a way of sharing and expanding our social horizons and making our true, real life social networks easier and more pleasurable. But as a way of making money, of delivering eyeballs to advertisers, of growing market share. Almost, but not quite. You really have to read this book with your business book brain engaged -- ignore the sycophanticism and hype and get a feeling for the stories and the personalities.

Some of the personalities/entrepreneurs she profiles include Max Levchin (PayPal, Slide), Mark Andreessen (Netscape, Ning), Jay Adelson (Digg) and, of course, Sarah Lacy's King of the World, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.

From the first chapter, focusing on Levchin, all the various entrepreneurs mostly come off as almost repulsively arrogant and greedy -- these social networking pioneers are no Robin Hood figures, it's all about the money. While their life stories are often interesting and even compelling, I find it hard to believe that they're actually as unpleasant as they seem in the book and for that I blame Lacy. She really needed to balance their stories of ambition with a more "human" side.

From a library point of view, one of the important ideas that I always try to keep first and foremost in my mind is that as public institutions (or private not-for-profits) it's not our job to deliver eyeballs to vendors or advertisers but to serve the interests of our patrons first. We should not make it our mission to deliver our patrons' attention to corporate interests. If nothing else, this book has reminded me that when we partner with vendors, even vendors we think have high ideals, we have to remember that their bottom line is ultimately different from ours.

In sum, this is a business book about business issues and mostly business people. There's a bit of analysis and reflection in some of the chapters, but you definitely won't learn much about what web 2.0 is and why it's important from this book. For that, definitely pick up Clay Shirky's book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. Is it all bad? No. Although superficial, I did pick up quite a bit of useful history and background on the web 2.0 phenomenon. I mostly enjoyed the book and would recommend it for any library that supports people studying the historical or business side of the web.

Some minor (and not so minor) things that annoyed me: Lacy's constantly using first names for her subjects giving an overly familiar air plus making it hard to keep track of which person she's talking about when it's a fairly large cast of characters. I also didn't appreciate that she referred to all the technical people as "engineers" -- may of whom were likely computer scientists, mathematicians or whatever. She didn't seem to have a sense that the job title engineer means someone that studied engineering. There were also a couple of uncomfortably misogynistic moments in the text (p. 42 and 226) that were unnecessary; Lacy seemed to be suffering a bit from The Stockholm Syndrome. She was also a bit flippant about the dark side of web 2.0, blowing off cyberbullying and copyright issues (p. 109).

Lacy, Sarah. Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good: The Rebirth of Silicon Valley and the Rise of Web 2.0. New York,: Gotham, 2008. 294pp. ISBN-13: 978-1592403820

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Around the Web: The best citizen science games, The urgency for change in education and more

Feb 19 2011 Published by under around the web

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