Archive for: February, 2012

Best Science Books 2011: The Independent

Feb 12 2012 Published by under best science books 2011, science books

Another list for your reading, gift-giving and collection development pleasure.

Every year for the last bunch of years I've been linking to and posting about all the "year's best sciencey books" lists that appear in various media outlets and shining a bit of light on the best of the year.

All the previous 2011 lists are here.

This post includes the following: The Independent Books of the Year: Science, History.

  • The Quantum Universe: Everything that can happen does happen by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw
  • Wonders of the Universe by Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen
  • The Magic of Reality: How we know what's really true by Richard Dawkins and Dave McKean
  • The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and Its Causes by Steven Pinker
  • Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet by Tim Flannery
  • The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
  • Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in Space by Mary Roach
  • A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil Macgregor

I'm always looking for recommendations and notifications of book lists as they appear in various media outlets. If you see one that I haven't covered, please let me know at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments.

I am picking up a lot of lists from Largehearted Boy.

The summary post for 2010 books is here and all the posts for 2010 can be found here. For 2009, it's here and here.

For my purposes, I define science books pretty broadly to include science, engineering, computing, history & philosophy of science & technology, environment, social aspects of science and even business books about technology trends or technology innovation. Deciding what is and isn't a science book is squishy at best, especially at the margins, but in the end I pick books that seem broadly about science and technology rather than something else completely. Lists of business, history or nature books are among the tricky ones.

And if you wish to support my humble list-making efforts, run on over to Amazon, take a look at Steve Jobs and consider picking that one up or something else from the lists.

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Best Science Books 2011: January Magazine

Feb 11 2012 Published by under best science books 2011, science books

Another list for your reading, gift-giving and collection development pleasure.

Every year for the last bunch of years I've been linking to and posting about all the "year's best sciencey books" lists that appear in various media outlets and shining a bit of light on the best of the year.

All the previous 2011 lists are here.

This post includes the following: January Magazine Best of 2011: Art & Culture, Non-Fiction.

  • The Magic of Reality: How We Really Know What's True by Richard Dawkin
  • Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard
  • The Great White Bear by Kieran Mulvaney
  • Mnemonic: A Book of Trees by Theresa Kishkan
  • Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology by Alexis Madrigal

I'm always looking for recommendations and notifications of book lists as they appear in various media outlets. If you see one that I haven't covered, please let me know at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments.

I am picking up a lot of lists from Largehearted Boy.

The summary post for 2010 books is here and all the posts for 2010 can be found here. For 2009, it's here and here.

For my purposes, I define science books pretty broadly to include science, engineering, computing, history & philosophy of science & technology, environment, social aspects of science and even business books about technology trends or technology innovation. Deciding what is and isn't a science book is squishy at best, especially at the margins, but in the end I pick books that seem broadly about science and technology rather than something else completely. Lists of business, history or nature books are among the tricky ones.

And if you wish to support my humble list-making efforts, run on over to Amazon, take a look at Steve Jobs and consider picking that one up or something else from the lists.

No responses yet

Friday Fun: 4 Realizations That Will Ruin Science Fiction for You

Feb 10 2012 Published by under friday fun, science fiction

Ok, so none of these realizations has actually ruined science fiction for me, but they are pretty funny nevertheless.


4 Realizations That Will Ruin Science Fiction for You

#4. Sci-fi Needs a Straight Man Like a Laurel and Hardy Routine

The bulk of the workload in writing science fiction/fantasy is creating your whole world from scratch. It's a hell of a lot of fun, but it also has some unique problems. Characters, by being from this world you've just hand-built, are naturally going to be referring to places and objects and sometimes even speaking in a language that is completely foreign to the reader. To deal with this issue as a writer, you can fill the narrative with clunky exposition, rabidly notate the entire thing and hope your readers like cross-referencing as much as they like space battles (not always a losing bet), or you can attempt to skillfully weave information and plot by virtue of your many practiced years in fiction.

Or you could take the other option: Chuck a dumbass into your story who literally doesn't understand a thing, thus forcing all of the other characters to constantly stop and explain every aspect of the world to him. Like so:

"General Klogg's Pogofighters are bouncing over the city walls! Quick, to the rhythm-cannons!" N-dah Gaim, robo-temptress of the Seventh Veil, screamed in alarm.

"General who's whatfighters are doing huh now?" Biff Manface asked (manfully).

"I forget, Manface, despite your chiseled jawline and just ... really, truly rockin' pecs (seriously, they're so, so good) ... that you are but a human, and a stranger to our lands. General Krogg is the former leader of Klogglandia's dancing warrior caste, you see, and his elite band, or 'crew,' of Krumping assassins have ..."

And so forth.

If you think that's a hack move that you, as a discerning reader, wouldn't tolerate, think again. It's been utilized in nearly every famous sci-fi work in history.

2 responses so far

Job Posting: Science Librarian, York University Libraries

Feb 09 2012 Published by under job, yorku

Come work instead of me!

Below is a posting for a 3-year contractually limited appointment in my unit. I'm chair of the search committee, so feel free to ask away with any questions about the position. I'll answer them to the best of my ability given the limitations of being on the committee.

As it happens, I'll no longer be the department head of Steacie Science & Engineering Library during the three year period of the appointment. For the first year, the successful candidate will be replacing me while I do a one-year acting Associate University Librarian appointment. The second year, I'll be back at Steacie but no longer as department head (my term is up) and the position will be replacing one of my colleagues while he is on sabbatical. The third year will be replacing me during my sabbatical.

Here's the posting:

Position Rank: Contractually Limited Appointment
Discipline/Field: Science Librarian
Home Faculty: Libraries
Home Department/Area/Division: Steacie Science and Engineering Library
Affiliation/Union: YUFA
Position Start Date: July 1, 2012
Position End Date: June 30, 2015

Science Librarian Contractually Limited Appointment

York University Libraries seek a self-directed and public service-oriented Science Librarian based in the Steacie Science & Engineering Library.

York University is the leading interdisciplinary research and teaching university in Canada. York offers a modern, academic experience at the undergraduate and graduate level in Toronto, Canada's most international city. The third largest university in the country, York is host to a dynamic academic community of 62,000 students, faculty and staff, as well as 240,000 alumni worldwide. York's 10 Faculties and 28 research centres conduct ambitious, groundbreaking research that is interdisciplinary, cutting across traditional academic boundaries.

The Science Librarian will be responsible for faculty liaison, collection development and the delivery of information literacy programs for assigned disciplines and will participate in research consultations and outreach activities to departments and research centres. Responsibilities include selection of information resources, collection management and evaluation in such fields as engineering, computer science, mathematics, kinesiology and science and technology studies. He/she will work individually and as part of a team to develop and provide reference services and information literacy programs to York's community of users taking full advantage of the online learning and web environments. She/he will also participate in project and committee work for York University Libraries and the University. Some evening and weekend work is required.

Steacie Science and Engineering Library is one of four libraries within York University Libraries. The Steacie Science and Engineering Library attracts a half million visitors a year and provides specialized resources, and reference and information literacy sessions to the science, engineering, and health programs of York University. The Library takes pride in its extensive information literacy program and online learning support initiatives. Four full-time librarians and seven full-time support staff are currently based in the Steacie Science & Engineering Library.

Qualifications:

  • An ALA-accredited MLS or equivalent.
  • Educational background or library experience relevant to the physical sciences, engineering, mathematics or computer science.
  • Knowledge of science and technology literature and reference resources, and awareness of emerging trends in scholarly communication.
  • Understanding of concepts, goals, and methods of information literacy instruction.
  • A potential for excellence in teaching and an ability to teach in a variety of settings and formats.
  • Demonstrated expertise with online content management platforms such as WordPress or LibGuides.
  • Strong client-centred service philosophy and evidence of professional initiative and leadership.
  • Ability to handle multiple responsibilities and projects concurrently.
  • Strong written and oral communication skills.
  • Ability to work effectively and collegially with a diversity of colleagues and clients.
  • Interest in research and professional development

This is a 3-year, contractually-limited appointment with the designation of Adjunct Librarian and is appropriate for a librarian with up to three years of post-MLS experience. Librarians and archivists at York University have academic status and are members of the York University Faculty Association bargaining unit (http://www.yufa.org/). Salary is commensurate with qualifications. The position is available from July 1, 2012. All York University positions are subject to budgetary approval.

York University is an Affirmative Action Employer. The Affirmative Action Program can be found on York's website at www.yorku.ca/acadjobs or a copy can be obtained by calling the affirmative action office at 416-736-5713. All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadian citizens and Permanent Residents will be given priority. Temporary entry for citizens of the U.S.A. and Mexico may apply per the provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

York University's resources include centres relating to gender equity, race and ethnic relations, sexual harassment, human rights, and wellness. York University encourages attitudes of respect and non-discrimination toward persons of all ethnic and religious groups, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

Deadline for the submission of applications is March 30, 2012. Applications should include a covering letter that relates qualifications to the requirements of the position, a current curriculum vitae, and the names and contact information of three referees. Applications should be sent to:

Chair, Steacie Librarian Appointment Committee
York University Libraries
310 Scott Library
4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3
Fax: 416-736-5451
Email: yulapps@yorku.ca

Applications should be sent by mail, or by email or fax with a hardcopy following.

Posting End Date: March 30, 2012

One response so far

Reading Diary: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Walter Isaacson's book on Apple founder & CEO Steve Jobs is a fairly long book. It's not exactly a thriller either, especially since I know how it ends. As a result it took me a while to plow through it. I tended to read it in bursts of 40 or 50 pages over a few days then maybe put it aside for a while.

As a result, I ended up reading a bunch of other auto/biographical works at the same time. And there are some interesting parallels.

Ozzy Osbourne's I Am Ozzy and Tony Iommi's Iron Man: My Journey through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath are both great books. Like Jobs they are deranged lunatics who somehow managed to find a way to turn their obsessions into a career. Iommi in particular, the driven, somewhat cold, productive one, seems like an interesting guy to contrast with Jobs. I also read the new graphic novel biography of Richard Feynman (review), another creative non-conformist, a guy who definitely found his own driven way in life. And oddly, the whole bunch of them are practical jokers. Who knew?

And right now I've just started Frank Brady's new bio of Bobby Fischer, Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness with Christopher Hitchens' Hitch-22 high on the to-read list. In some ways, Fischer and Jobs seem closest in personality among all the people I've read about recently. Obsessed, driven, hard-working, prickly, deranged (Fischer way more than Jobs, of course), people that were both incredibly easy to love while at the same time incredibly hard to like. HItchens and Jobs also had fierce, uncompromising, "I'm right you're wrong" mindsets that set them apart from others.

So, I like books about nutjobs. So what?

Yeah, nutjob. Steve Jobs was one. A brilliant, one of a kind person but not exactly an easy man to like, even if he seemed very easy to love.

And this is the story you get in Isaacson's biography. It's definitely not a "technical biography" in any sense. It's not a business biography either, really. The focus isn't so much on Apple or Apple products, and if that's what you're looking for, this isn't the book. Very much like Isaacson's Einstein bio (review), it's really journalistic, focusing on what happened, when and to whom. Like I said at the beginning, there's not the narrative or intellectual drive that a different book could have had, but we have what we have.

Which isn't to say that I didn't ultimately enjoy the book. I did, very much so. In fact, I often found Jobs' oddball story oddly touching. So often he seemed to want to be a better father or brother or husband, but somehow managed to turn away. And perhaps the touching part of it was that this man who was so hard to like was able to sustain those loving relationships, to have the love reflected back to him that he found so hard to show to others. And the love came not just from people close to him but from complete strangers all over the world.

This is one of those books where I took pages and pages of notes while I was reading it, almost planning out a detailed, analytical review with a detailed summary of the main events and the salient points. Where I was going to draw some larger lesson for libraries and science out of the lessons of Steve Jobs' life.

But that's not going to happen. Somehow this seems a better book to review impressionistically. There have been tons of more detailed reviews and there's no shortage of information on Jobs' personal and business lives, both positive and negative. If those are what you are looking for, I'll leave it up to you to find it.

But maybe a quote or two to finish:

When I went to Pixar, I became aware of a great divide. Tech companies don't understand creativity. They don't appreciate intuitive thinking, like the ability of an A&R guy at a music label to listen to a hundred artists and have a feel for which five might be successful. And they think that creative people just sit around on couches all day and are undisciplined, because they've not seen how driven and disciplined the creative folks at places like Pixar are. On the other hand, music companies are completely clueless about technology. They think they can just go out and hire a few tech folks. But that would be like Apple trying to hire people to produce music. We'd get second-rate A&R people, just like the music companies ended up with second-rate tech people. I'm one of the few people who understands how producing technology requires intuition and creativity, and how producing something artistic takes real discipline. (p. 397)

And,

Some people say,"Give the customer what they want". But that's not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they're going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said,"If I'd asked customer what they wanted, they would have told me, 'faster horse!" People don't know what they want until you show it to them. That's why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page. (p. 567)

A couple of lessons worth learning?

I usually end these reviews with an idea of what kinds of library collections I think the book in questions would be appropriate for. In this case, it's simply a case that any library that serves an adult reading audience would do well to get this book. I'm sure even many high school or middle school libraries would find this book has some takers.

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. 630pp. ISBN-13: 978-1451648539

3 responses so far

Best Science Books 2011: Cryptomundo

Feb 08 2012 Published by under best science books 2011, science books

Another list for your reading, gift-giving and collection development pleasure.

Every year for the last bunch of years I've been linking to and posting about all the "year's best sciencey books" lists that appear in various media outlets and shining a bit of light on the best of the year.

All the previous 2011 lists are here.

This post includes the following: The Top Cryptozoology Books of 2011.

  • The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff
  • When Bigfoot Attacks by Michael Newton
  • Tracking Bigfoot by Donald Wallace and Lori Simmons
  • In Search of Sasquatch by Kelly Milner Hall
  • Weird Waters: The Lake and Sea Monsters of Scandinavia and the Baltic States by Lars Thomas and Jacob Rask
  • The Water Horses of Loch Ness by Roland Hugh Watson
  • Loch Ness, Nessie & Me by Tony Harmsworth
  • Strange Monsters of the Pacific Northwest by Michael Newton
  • Monsters of Wisconsin: Mysterious Creatures in the Badger State by Linda S. Godfrey
  • Monsters of Illinois: Mysterious Creatures in the Prairie State by Troy Taylor
  • The Mystery Animals Of The British Isles: Gloucestershire and Worcestershire by Paul Williams
  • The Mystery Animals of the British Isles: The Northern Isles by Glen Vaudrey
  • The Cryptid Creatures of Florida by Scott Marlowe and Charlie Carlson
  • Monsters of the Gévaudan: The Making of a Beast by Jay M. Smith
  • The Werewolf Book (2nd Edition) by Brad Steiger
  • Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore by Benjamin Radford
  • Searching for Sasquatch: Crackpots, Eggheads, and Cryptozoology by Brian Regal
  • Tracking the Man-beasts: Sasquatch, Vampires, Zombies, and More by Joe Nickell
  • Owlman by Jonathan Nola
  • The Inhumanoids by Barton Nunnelly
  • Scattered Skeletons in our Closet by Karen Mutton
  • Destination Truth: Memoirs of a Monster Hunter by Josh Gates

I'm always looking for recommendations and notifications of book lists as they appear in various media outlets. If you see one that I haven't covered, please let me know at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments.

I am picking up a lot of lists from Largehearted Boy.

The summary post for 2010 books is here and all the posts for 2010 can be found here. For 2009, it's here and here.

For my purposes, I define science books pretty broadly to include science, engineering, computing, history & philosophy of science & technology, environment, social aspects of science and even business books about technology trends or technology innovation. Deciding what is and isn't a science book is squishy at best, especially at the margins, but in the end I pick books that seem broadly about science and technology rather than something else completely. Lists of business, history or nature books are among the tricky ones.

And if you wish to support my humble list-making efforts, run on over to Amazon, take a look at Steve Jobs and consider picking that one up or something else from the lists.

(Dear FSM, I'm finally coming to the end of this. Just a few more posts to go, now that I'm getting back to it.)

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Around the Web: The end of academic library circulation, Teens & Twitter and more

Feb 07 2012 Published by under around the web

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Around the Web: Research Works Act & Elsevier boycott

Note: this post is superseded by: Around the Web: Research Works Act, Elsevier boycott & FRPAA.

This post has superseded my previous post which focused solely on the Research Works Act. I have added some coverage of the Elsevier boycott which at least partially grew out of opposition to the RWA. I'm not attempting to be as comprehensive in coverage for the boycott as for the RWA.

Some relevant resources:

It's worth noting that this post represents a massive update to the previous one.

It's worth watching pretty well everthing Peter Suber is writing on this issue on Google+.

Of course, if I've missed any, please let me know in the comments. In particular, if there are any important posts or articles I've missed on the Elsevier boycott, please let me know. This has become a very large list. If I've doubled up on something or picked up something at a content scraper instead of the original location, please let me know so I can fix it.

For those that are interested, I'm using this Google Doc as a scratch file to hold links in between updates.

3 responses so far

Around the Web: Students & eTextbooks, PLoS Open Access Collection, A vision for scholarly publishing and more

Feb 05 2012 Published by under around the web

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Friday Fun: 25 Things I Learned From Opening a Bookstore

Feb 03 2012 Published by under ebooks, friday fun, science books

Well, not me, exactly, but...

Anyways, some ideas and experiences from someone out there in blogland who used to be a lawyer and somehow managed to think opening a bookstore was a good idea.


25 Things I Learned From Opening a Bookstore

Here's a chunk from the middle:

19. If you're thinking of giving someone a religious book for their graduation, rethink. It will end up unread and in pristine condition at a used book store, sometimes with the fifty dollar bill still tucked inside. (And you're off and leafing once again).

20. If you don't have an AARP card, you're apparently too young to read westerns.

21. A surprising number of people will think you've read every book in the store and will keep pulling out volumes and asking you what this one is about. These are the people who leave without buying a book, so it's time to have some fun. Make up plots.

22. Even if you're a used bookstore, people will get huffy when you don't have the new release by James Patterson. They are the same people who will ask for a discount because a book looks like it's been read.

Yeah, I've always vaguely dreamed of opening a used bookstore someday. Sadly, I've grown rather fond of eating so I've never gotten around to it.

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