Archive for: September, 2011

Friday Fun: Get your Ig Nobel prizes here! Hot off the presses!


It's Ig Nobel Prize season again!

A brief description:

The Ig® Nobel Prizes

The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative -- and spur people's interest in science, medicine, and technology.

"Last, but not least, there are the Ig Nobel awards. These come with little cash, but much cachet, and reward those research projects that 'first make people laugh, and then make them think'" -- Nature

The video of last night's ceremony is archived here.

Here are some highlights, or low lights, if you prefer from this year's list of Laureates, including a few shocking Canadian and even Toronto connections:

CHEMISTRY PRIZE: Makoto Imai, Naoki Urushihata, Hideki Tanemura, Yukinobu Tajima, Hideaki Goto, Koichiro Mizoguchi and Junichi Murakami of JAPAN, for determining the ideal density of airborne wasabi (pungent horseradish) to awaken sleeping people in case of a fire or other emergency, and for applying this knowledge to invent the wasabi alarm.

REFERENCE: US patent application 2010/0308995 A1. Filing date: Feb 5, 2009.

ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Makoto Imai, Hideki Tanemura, Yukinobu Tajima, Hideaki Goto, Koichiro Mizoguchi and Junichi Murakami

LITERATURE PRIZE: John Perry of Stanford University, USA, for his Theory of Structured Procrastination, which says: To be a high achiever, always work on something important, using it as a way to avoid doing something that's even more important.

REFERENCE: "How to Procrastinate and Still Get Things Done," John Perry, Chronicle of Higher Education, February 23, 1996. Later republished elsewhere under the title "Structured Procrastination."

ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Colleague Deborah Wilkes accepted the prize on behalf of Professor Perry.

BIOLOGY PRIZE: Darryl Gwynne (of CANADA and AUSTRALIA and the UK and the USA) and David Rentz (of AUSTRALIA and the USA) for discovering that a certain kind of beetle mates with a certain kind of Australian beer bottle

REFERENCE: "Beetles on the Bottle: Male Buprestids Mistake Stubbies for Females (Coleoptera)," D.T. Gwynne, and D.C.F. Rentz, Journal of the Australian Entomological Society, vol. 22, , no. 1, 1983, pp. 79-80

REFERENCE: "Beetles on the Bottle," D.T. Gwynne and D.C.F. Rentz, Antenna: Proceedings (A) of the Royal Entomological Society London, vol. 8, no. 3, 1984, pp. 116-7.

ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Darryl Gwynne and David Rentz

PUBLIC SAFETY PRIZE: John Senders of the University of Toronto, CANADA, for conducting a series of safety experiments in which a person drives an automobile on a major highway while a visor repeatedly flaps down over his face, blinding him.

REFERENCE: "The Attentional Demand of Automobile Driving," John W. Senders, et al., Highway Research Record, vol. 195, 1967, pp. 15-33. VIDEO


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Hacking stereotypes in educating people about computing

Sep 27 2011 Published by under computer science, education, engineering, social media

Computer science and computer science education are a couple of my evergreen topics here on this blog, as you can see by perusing the computer science tag.

And of course, my trip to Harvard for LIAL this past summer perhaps has that institution on my radar a bit more than usual.

So how wonderful is it to find a way to connect those two things?

Along comes Hacking Stereotypes by Steve Kolowich.

It's about a program called HackHarvard which is part of a series of efforts at Harvard to encourage technology entrepreneurship: and increase enrollments in their basic computing course,

HackHarvard, which is in only its second semester, operates on two premises: that most students cannot turn good ideas into operational apps, nor operational apps into successful businesses, without help; and that there are plenty of good ideas to go around. The club's leaders describe it as an incubator where students can get feedback on their ideas, learn the nuts and bolts of building Web applications, and meet with like-minded peers and potential collaborators.

And which has also seen an increase in enrollments in their basic "Computer Programming for Everybody" course:

After topping out at 386 during the height of the '90s tech boom, enrollment in Harvard's introductory course in programming, known as "CS50," fell precipitously after that bubble burst. In 2002, fewer than 100 students took the course. Then, in 2007, the college revamped the course to make it less wonky and esoteric. By that time, venture capital had begun flowing to social networking start-ups that investors hoped would follow in Facebook's footsteps -- or at least get caught in its orbit. And although The Social Network was not yet on the big screen, the story of Facebook's hapless non-founders was widely known and had a clear moral: in the landscape of tech entrepreneurship, the power lies with those who have good ideas and know how to code them.

This fall CS50 drew 651 students, becoming the second most popular course at Harvard.

There are some very cool stories in the article, well worth checking out and reading in it's entirety.

What I find really interesting is the emphasis on twin ideas: both that computing is an amazing way to solve a wide range of problems and that implementing those ideas on the web is often simple enough to be broadly accessible to a wide cross-section of a normal undergraduate population. And of course, beyond undergrads as well, but I guess that would be another article.

It would be very cool is more institutions took a lesson here from Harvard and perhaps thought a little differently about the place of both entrepreneurship and computing in their curricula.

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Reading Diary: Summer reading with Bradbury x 2, Burke, Maberry, Lemire and more

My 2011 summer reading was pretty meagre this year. For various reasons too boring to go into here, there wasn't much actually much vacation for me this summer. I think I'll probably have a better December/Christmas reading list than summer. Such is life.

Anyways, what I did read was pretty good, so let's get to it.

Bradbury, Ray and Ron Wimberly. Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes: The Authorized Adaptation. New York: Hill and Wang, 2011. 144pp. ISBN-13: 978-0809087464

Bradbury, Ray and Dennis Calero. Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles: The Authorized Adaptation. New York: Hill and Wang, 2011. 160pp. ISBN-13: 978-0809080458

Both of these are review copies that were sent to me unsolicited by the publisher. Which is always a nice surprise. Especially when the books are ones that are really interesting to me but that I probably wouldn't have gotten around to getting for myself. Both books are, of course, graphic novel adaptations of classic Ray Bradbury novels from the 1950s and 60s, one science fantasy and one dark fantasy or horror.

The first one that I read, Something Wicked this Was Comes, is a dark fantasy from 1962 about a strange carnival that comes to a small town and how it affects the lives of three young boys. The novel itself is one that I'd never read but always meant to so I was very happy to get a chance to finally read it. And I wasn't disappointed. The story is moody and atmospheric, with some good tension and even a bit of action. The adaptation is quite well done, adding to the atmosphere without detracting from the story telling.

The Martian Chronicles adaptation is a bit of a different story. Not really a novel, it's more of a fix-up of a bunch of Bradbury short stories. I did read this novel way back when I was a teenager. The stories are quite atmospheric, with a strong poetic and imaginistic feel to them. The somewhat disjointed nature of the book along with the wordy nature of the narrative -- imagery rather than action -- lead to a rather wordy and stilted adaptation. Some of the vignettes work better than others, mostly around their individual narrative strengths, but over all this is a work that's probably better as purely text rather than calling out for a graphic adaptation. They publisher has also adapted Fahrenheit 451, which with its strong narrative probably works better.

Who would I recommend these books to? Certainly any public library would see these books widely enjoyed. Middle school and high school would probably find better use of SWTWC rather than The Martian Chronicles. Any academic library that collects graphic novels or Ray Bradbury should probably acquire these two books as well.

Lemire, Jeff. The Complete Essex County. Portland: Top Shelf Productions, 2009. 512pp. ISBN-13: 978-1603090384

Whoa. Five stars for this one for sure. The first graphic novel chosen for the CBC's Canada Reads program, Jeff Lemire's Essex County wins on many fronts. Although it didn't actually win Canada Reads, it is one of the best "mainstream" graphic novels you will ever read. It is also one of the most Canadian.

By mainstream I mean a graphic novel that tells the same kind of story that regular mainstream literature tells, but taking advantage of the kinds of things that comics can do to take the story to another level. By Canadian, I mean small town Ontario and an obsession with hockey.

The collected series of stories presented in this book is an interweaving tale of various people in and from Essex County over a fairly long period of time. The whole love, loss and memory thing is really there, but so is violence, hockey, sex and youthful indiscretion. And driving Toronto streetcars. And old folks homes. And not quite knowing who your parents really are, but not quite realizing you don't really know.

Anyways, if you like graphic novels, Canadiana or just plain good old storytelling, give this a try.

I unreservedly recommend this graphic novel to any public or academic library, particularly Canadian. Although, with the Canada Reads things, they probably already have it. As for school libraries, the story might be a bit too adult to pass muster for a middle school but this would be a bit hit among high school students.

Burke, James Lee. Last Car to Elysian Fields. New York: Pocket Star, 2004. 496pp. ISBN-13: 978-0743466639

James Lee Burke is one of the truly great hard boiled/noir writers of the last 30 or 40 years. In particular his Dave Robicheaux series is one of the genre's high points. Like most long series, it's had it's ups and downs but this one is definitely one ofhte stronger late period entries. And yes, I'm a few volumes behind.

Anyways, describing a Burke novel is fairly pointless as they tend to both have fairly intricate plots and at the same time be more about mood and impulse and damaged history. And Elysian Fields is no exception. A woman from Dave's past, a long dead blues singer, underage drinking and a bunch of other strands serve to create a pressure cooker for Dave that cause him to lose it a little, kick some ass, break a lot of rules, ruin some lives and somehow regret coming out on top in the end. Good stuff.

Maberry, Jonathan. The King of Plagues. New York: St. Martin's Griffen, 2011. 448pp. ISBN-13: 978-0312382506

Judas H. Priest but can Jonathan Maberry write an amazing over-the-top horror science fiction thriller. This man cannot write a boring word.

Perfect summer reading, I indulged during my summer vacation trip and it was great to have something so engrossing while travelling. This is the third in the Joe Ledger series of cop horror thrillers, one for each of the last couple of summers for me. In fact, my two sons also tend to read them as well, with great pleasure.

Plot? Well, it's kind of a sequel to last year's The Dragon Factory with the same Big Bad coming back with a new bunch of baddies to once again destroy the world. And once again, Joe Ledger and his crew of Military Science types band together to save the day.

Over the top, violent, with some great set-pieces, good pacing, nice mix of character and action, these are great reads and only getting better.

Golden, Christoper and Thomas E Sniegoski. Monster Island. New York: Simon Spotlight, 2004. 448pp. ISBN-13: 978-0689866999

Not much to say here. This is an above average media adaptation -- decent writing, good plot. What raises it to another level is the authors' very fine touch with the Whedon characters, if sometimes a little heavy-handed and repetitive.

The plot basically revolves around the Scoobies teaming up with Angel's crew to foil a demonic plot to rid the world of demon half-breeds.

Schultz, Mark, Zander Cannon and Kevin CannonThe Stuff of Life: A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA. New York: Hill and Wang, 2009. 150pp. ISBN-13: 978-0809089475

This graphic novel is the prequel to Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth, which I reviewed earlier this year, which I really loved. They're both set on the imaginary world of Glargaria, where the plot revolves around the Glargarians using Earth's evolutionary history to help them solve some problems on their own planet.

Reading the first, I now know why they tweaked the creative team a bit after the first. The evolution volume really struck a great balance between the science content and telling an amusing story, the sugar to make the medicine go down. This one leans way more on the medicine and not so much on the sugar. It's much more a basic biology textbook, but with silly pictures and some jokes.

Still decent and still recommended for much the same audiences as for the first. But a little disappointing. And boy am I glad they fixed the problems of the first. I heartily look forward to many more volumes from the new creative team.

(Bradbury adaptations provided by the publisher.)

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Around the Web: The boundaries of Twitter, Feeling pointy, Gamification debunked? and more

Sep 24 2011 Published by under around the web

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Sep 23 2011 Published by under friday fun, open access

There's this weird phenomenon on Twitter of HULK accounts, where some secret individual or cabal creates an online persona to criticize the status quo in some area of human experience, but in the lively patois of the old school Marvel Comics character, The Incredible Hulk.

Feminist Hulk, Adjunct Hulk, Editor Hulk and many others.

Now we can add OPEN ACCESS HULK to the party!

I was a huge fan of the Hulk comic series from the 1970s all the way through to the 1990s so I'm thrilled to see this development.

Who makes up the secret cabal of tweeters? Librarians? Scientists? No one really knows. But he/she/it/they are definitely worth following.

Here's a sampling of some recent tweets:

OA Hulk put on eye patch and smash barriers to knowledge AAARRRRR!! smash toll access! that feels good. <link>


OA HULK SMASH NICE LIBRARIAN NICENESS oh sorry, did that hurt? will these journal cuts be a problem? We'll find a way somehow...SMASH, SMASH <link>


Join the revolution! SMASH! SMASH! SMASH!

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Call for Posts and Papers: Librarianship by Walking Around

A project I heartily endorse on a topic near and dear to my heart, launched by the Library Society of the World, Librarianship by Walking Around:

The Library Society of the World is putting together an online and print-on-demand anthology of weblog posts, essays, articles, and other material entitled Librarianship by Walking Around, patterned after the successful Hacking the Academy project.

Librarianship doesn't just happen in the library! Librarianship happens wherever information exchange happens--that is, just about everywhere. Librarianship by Walking Around celebrates librarians who leave their libraries and their comfort zones to ply the library trade.

Submit your work or suggest another's by commenting here, tweeting the link with the hashtag #libwalk, or posting to the Library Society of the World's FriendFeed group by Friday, October 21. Themes may include (but are not limited to):

  • Serendipitous encounters (and how to engineer them)
  • Joining patron communities
  • Walking around online
  • Walking around non-library literature and non-library conferences
  • Embedded librarianship (in all its forms)

All on-topic submissions will appear on the project's web page. The LSW will select from these for the anthology, expected to be available in free .epub and low-cost print-on-demand versions. All authors whose pieces are chosen for the anthology will be asked to license the piece as CC-BY. Authors unwilling to do so will not appear in the anthology.

Walk around the information world with us!

I've already submitted a couple of older posts to the project and I'd encourage everyone else out there to consider submitting as well.

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2010 Lane Anderson Award winners for best science writing in Canada

Sep 17 2011 Published by under education, science books

I announced the short list for the Lane Anderson Award a little while back and now the winners were announced here in Toronto a few nights ago:

Adult Titles Winner

Young Readers Winner

The complete list of nominees:

Adult Titles Shortlist

There's a York University connection here with Keeping the Bees by Laurence Packer.

Young Readers Shortlist

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Friday Fun: Homeopathic leak threatens catastrophe

Sep 16 2011 Published by under friday fun

How do no one every tell of this NewsBiscuit before? It's fantastic, kind of a UK version of The Onion, but dryer and more polite. Or something.

Anyways, here's a recent one, my introduction to this fantastic site: Homeopathic leak threatens catastrophe.

An accidental release of highly dilute homeopathic waste from a research institute in Swindon has led to calls for the centre to be shut down. Plant operators have admitted responsibility for massive safety blunders after a spilled drop of an enormously dilute test product was cleaned by a caretaker, and in complete disregard of all safety procedures, allowed to enter the water system after he emptied his mop bucket down the drain.


Local reaction has been mixed - many of course are living in fear - the latest advice has been for locals not to wash their vegetables before cooking. Some demand the plant be closed down. But others have taken a more pragmatic view, and accept that sometimes great advances in medical pseudoscience can come at a heavy price.

It's really very funny. You should read the whole thing.

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Why IT people should be more like librarians

Sep 15 2011 Published by under acad lib future, librarianship

As a former IT person and a current librarian, I've got to say that this article,Want Good IT Customer Service? Visit Your Library, has a lot of truth in it -- I definitely see the differences between my former profession and my current one. And as the article points out, many of those differences are on the plus side for librarians. Not all, of course, but that's a different post.

Let's take a look:

I believe IT professionals truly want to help others. However, we tend to focus on the technology, not the client. We believe our job is to fix problems, and we expend considerable time and effort doing so. Unfortunately, IT professionals often spend little time communicating with clients (and sometimes even with their CIO) during a problem resolution process. As a result, your clients incorrectly assume that nothing is being done and they become frustrated. Once they start complaining to peers, the organization's perception of IT takes a hit.


Let's consider the librarians' approach. Reference librarians focus their work around the library's users, rather than around the information materials they provide. Instead of solving the information questions of users, librarians try to teach patrons how to do their own research and assist them in using library technology. A key component in this work is communication, both face-to-face and through the marketing of library services.


Outstanding customer service involves a lot more than sending your people to customer service training. It requires a mind-shift for most IT professionals and also for the organizations they serve. Good planning, excellent communication, ongoing practice and encouragement will change the performance of your IT team, and improve the rest of the organization's perceptions of IT along the way.

The author, Dawn Thistle, is the former library director and current CIO at Assumption College, so she has a good sense of things from both sides of the table, at least in academia.

One of the things she suggests importing into the IT world from the library is the concept of a "reference interview" or, a "technology interview" in the IT context. It's a great idea, I think, taking that traditional librarian concept outside the library into the wider world.

Like I mentioned above, there could definitely be a companion article on Why Librarians Should Be More LIke IT People. But librarians' intense focus on patron needs and trying to uncover their true information needs rather than focusing on technological solutions something we really bring to the table.

And to all the IT people out there who are reading this, let's start building up that alternative article in the comments!


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Around the Web: Adrift? Not!, Preparing journal submissions, Asking the right IL questions and more

Sep 13 2011 Published by under around the web

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