Archive for: July, 2013

Around the Web: Librarians and change, Amazon self-destructing

Jul 27 2013 Published by under acad lib future, around the web

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Friday Fun: 5 Machines That Are Already Learning Humanity's Weaknesses

Jul 26 2013 Published by under friday fun

A fun little apocalyptic post from everybody's favourite humour site, Cracked. Skynet, anyone?

5 Machines That Are Already Learning Humanity's Weaknesses

5. Slot Machines

Slot machines are a diagnostic of everything we still need to fix in the human brain. It's normal to throw a couple of dollars in to try them out, because paying attention to new, loud, and shiny objects used to be good survival instincts before television.

Slot machines are reverse swear jars -- you put money into them and then curse -- and have the same effect on a functional mind: teaching you not to do that again. Homo sapiens is defined by being able to learn from experience and use tools. Slot players do the exact opposite.

Slot machines are the most existentially obvious scam: The fact that they're there proves that they make money for the casino by taking it away from everyone else. Anything the player says after that point isn't an argument, it's an error report from their brain. In fact, they shouldn't be called players, because that word implies skill. They're more involved in "playing" the casino septic system, where at least they affect when things come out the other end. And the fundamental laws of existence prove that they'll always push out less than they fed in. Slot machines have users in the same way drugs do, except even the gummiest crystal meth head isn't being conned into paying for his own body chemistry.

Slot machines are the lint traps of society. There should be slot machines on every street corner, and every cent they collect should be spent on education.

4. Tamagotchiville

3. Escalators

2. QWERTY Keyboards

1. You'll just have to head over to the original post yourself to find out!

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Around the Web: Apocalypse, or not, jobs, economy, higher ed, libraries

Jul 25 2013 Published by under acad lib future, around the web

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Around the Web: Silencing librarians, Waiting for Batgirl, Why information shouldn't be free and more

Jul 18 2013 Published by under acad lib future, around the web

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Cool linky stuff for science undergrads (7)

Jul 17 2013 Published by under around the web, ugrad links

I have a son who's just finished his first year as a physics undergrad. As you can imagine, I occasionally pass along a link or two to him pointing to stuff on the web I think he might find particularly interesting or useful. Thinking on that fact, I surmised that perhaps other science students might find those links interesting or useful as well. Hence, this series of posts here on the blog.

By necessity and circumstance, the items I've chosen will be influenced by my son's choice of major and my own interest in the usefulness of computational approaches to science and of social media for outreach and professional development.

The previous posts in this series are here, here, here, here, here and here.

Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

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Some #AltMetrics for a blog post on Canadian science policy

On May 20th, 2013 I published my most popular post ever. It was The Canadian War on Science: A long, unexaggerated, devastating chronological indictment. In it, I chronicled at some considerable length the various anti-science measures by the current Canadian Conservative government. The chronological aspect was particularly interesting as you could see the ramping up since the 2011 election where the Conservatives won a majority government after two consecutive minority Conservative governments.

As an exercise in alt-metrics (and here), I thought I would share some of the reactions and impact this post has generated. It's certainly been a bit of a ride for me. I have to admit to being very pleased with the reaction. So much so, it's gotten me to think more deeply about this slightly unhinged chronological listing thing that I do and perhaps it's relationship to higher principles in librarianship. Maybe it's a thing. More on this in the weeks and months to come as I further process and think about this particular activity and how it manifests in my practice of librarianship.

But perhaps the most compelling reason to do this post is very simple. To demonstrate that a blog post can raise awareness, that it can have some kind of impact in the real world, that it can be a lightning rod for participation and a space to pool the collective intelligence of the wider community to increase everyone's knowledge.

For example, the response in the comments was so overwhelming that within a week I was able to update the post, adding over 30 items to my initial 70 or so. Not only were suggestions made in the comments, I received numerous emails with suggestions, some from people who were obviously uncomfortable commenting in public. The incredible response also prompted me on May 23 to update the post with a Creative Commons Zero waiver, essentially waiving all copyright to the post. This facilitated 12 reprints of all or part of my chronology, all of which are indicated below.

As I said, my most popular post ever. In terms of page views, probably by an order of magnitude. My typical post gets on the order of hundreds of page views. A particularly popular post on the order of a few thousand. This one is approaching 45,000.

Some metrics (as at July 9, 2013):

  • 43,137 page views (using Google Analytics)
  • 53 links/mentions from other sources (see below)
  • 12 re-postings of all or part of the original post
  • 128 comments or trackbacks on the blog post itself
  • 9900 (approx) Facebook likes
  • 1600 (approx) Twitter mentions
  • 255 Google+ +1's

For the page views, I thought I'd break down some of the traffic sources:

  • Facebook: 17687
  • Slashdot: 8861
  • Twitter: 3633
  • Boing Boing: 3311
  • Stumbleupon: 2565
  • reddit: 727
  • Slate: 555
  • Google+: 305

The post is still getting 40-60 additional page views every day.

So, here's the list of all the mentions/links for my post. And note where some of these links come from -- pretty cool, really, to get linked from some of these places.

* Complete or partial reposts of my list.

A few discussion forums/news sites such as Newsana,, Center for Inquiry,

A few undated listings of the post: CSWA Let Scientists Speak, CAUT Get Science Right, 350 or Bust.

A few key tweets of the many thousands:

Thanks to everyone who tweeted, retweeted, posted, interviewed and everything else. Thanks for helping me spread the word.

Of course, if you know of any links or other metric-y stuff I might include here, please let me know. It's worth noting that there were a few media and other interviews that I did thanks to the commotion caused by this post that haven't yet resulted in anything visible yet, like an articles or interview. Yet. If some of those do materialize (and I'm pretty sure at least one of them is fairly imminent), I'll add them here.

As a closing note, I like this quote from Bruce Sterling:

Yes, you, Canada, formerly the adults on the continent.

2013.07.12. Added two more links, one to the Skeptically Speaking interview which went online today. It's the imminent one I mentioned above. The links/mentions is now up to 55 and the comments/trackbacks up to 128.

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Reading Diary: The Boy who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdős by Deborah Heiligman and LeUyen Pham

There are two kinds of children's books: those that are aimed primarily at the kids themselves and those that are aimed at the adults that actually shell out the cash to pay for the books. There's certainly a lot of overlap -- books that kids love but that also catch the eyes, hearts & minds and wallets of the adults doing the shopping. But wander the aisles of your local bookstore and you'll see what I mean. Often beautifully illustrated, with a sophisticated artistic touch and a mature and serious topic, you can tell the books that are aimed at the parents and uncles and cousins and aunts and friends and neighbours and grandparents. Next to them are the fun, silly and truly childish books that appeal to the actual kids themselves. And the reverse, too, silly books that are aimed at what adults thinks of as childish concerns but that miss the mark. There are plenty of serious books that perfectly frame the real issues in kids' lives but are perhaps too "gritty" or "realistic" for adults to think that the kids in their lives would be ready or mature enough to understand them.

And now we come to the notion of a biographical kids book about a mathematician. It seems kind of counter-intuitive, of course, at first glance but then you remember that perhaps there are a few interesting oddballs among the mathematical ranks. Even among the oddballs, perhaps most wouldn't make for great stories for kids -- think Paul Dirac or Grigori Perelman for example. And then you remember Paul Erdős. And yeah, perfect.

And that brings us to the book at hand, The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman and LeUyen Pham (ages 3-8).

A kids book about Paul Erdős actually kind of makes sense. Certainly he had his quirks and oddities, in fact his whole life was a bit of an oddity. Basically, he spent most of his adult life couch surfing from city to city, from the home of one mathematician to another, sleeping on their beds, eating their food and most of all, collaborating with them and producing scholarly papers by the ream. He's actually kind of famous for that habit of collaboration -- it's even spawned the famous Erdős Number (and variants like the Erdős-Bacon number), which calculates the degrees of collaborative separation between mathematicians and Erdős himself.

But, to once again somehow circle around to the main reason for this review, this bizarre idea of a kid's book about this eccentric mathematician. Does it work? Yes, actually it does. Not surprising, it's quirky and playful and a little nutty, and definitely plays up the more child-like aspects of Erdős's life and personality like his obsession of numbers and his playful disdain for everyday life and habits (and not the more adult sides, like his drug use). The book is actually quite light-hearted. LeUyen Pham's artwork very nicely picks up on the mathematical themes with lots of numbers and equations and visual hat-tips to math embedded in the various scenes. It's also clean and a bit retro even, not distracting at all from story.

The notes at the end explain a lot more about Erdős' life and math, something perhaps for the adults reading the book to pick up a bit more than the kids. Which cycles me even further back (recurses, maybe?) to the beginning of the review. Is this a kids book for kids or a kids book for adults? Eh, a little of both. Definitely not something just anybody would pick up for just any kid -- either the adult will likely have a math connection that they want to infect the kid with or perhaps some adult will recognize a kid with a math bug and research math-related kids books and find this one.

Which is kind of too bad. I think any kid would enjoy this book, as would any math-loving adult. It would make a great present for any family with a young kid or as a fun gift for any sciencey person in your life.

And to cycle even further back in time, I first heard about this book at the end of January, at the Ontatio Library Association SuperConference, in the exhibits room. The distributor for the book had a few copies on display and I tweeted a picture of the cover:

Which at one point was the top tweet for the conference! And luckily, while expressing my excitement over the book to the staff at the distributor's both, they were kind enough to give me the copy to take home. A favour I'm returning with this review. Trust me, it was tough waiting until the book was actually released to review it!

Of course, the book is titled The Boy who Loved Math. And we don't all have boys. What about girls that love math? Or who could love math if they had a book with a female role model? What books could we buy for them?

I have some suggestions, although not many that would be for girls in the 3-8 age range that the Erdős appeals to.

Further suggestions of books appealing to girls (and boys) are, of course, welcome in the comments.

Heiligman, Deborah and LeUyen Pham. The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos. New York: Roaring Book Press, 2013. 37pp. ISBN-13: 978-1596433076 (for ages 3-8)

(Advanced Reading Copy provided by publisher/distributer)

(A more math-centric review here.)

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Around the Web: Harvard Libraries' mission, Declaration for the right to libraries and more

Jul 05 2013 Published by under acad lib future, around the web

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