Free Thought

I've been setting up schedules with my summer research students lately, and the main constraint we're facing with that is that I'm going to spend most of August in Europe. Part of this is pure vacation-- Kate and I are going to the UK for a couple of weeks. Part of it is the World Science Fiction Convention in London, in the middle of that trip, where both Kate and I expect to be on programming (though there aren't any set items this far out). And the last bit has just been officially announced: I'm speaking at the Nordita Workshop for Science Writers organized by Sabine Hossenfelder from…
By Travis Earles, Lockheed Martin Senior Manager, Advanced Material and Nanotechnology Initiatives “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were.” -Carl Sagan, famed astronomer, astrophysicist and cosmologist   Imagine a world where we have the ability to understand and control matter at the nanoscale, where unique phenomena enable novel applications. A world where novel materials enable entirely new approaches to design and production that is faster and better than ever before. The nanotechnology exhibits at the upcoming USA Science & Engineering Festival will provide a…
I'm always interested in the present and future of libraries. There's a steady stream of reports from various organizations that are broadly relevant to the (mostly academic) library biz but they can be tough to keep track of. I thought I'd aggregate some of those here. Of course I've very likely missed a few, so suggestions are welcome in the comments. Shaping the Future of Monograph Publishing in the Liberal Arts: Results of a survey to Oberlin Group Faculty 2014 Planning Guide for Data Management ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2013 Higher Education's Top-…
Earlier this week I was invited (er, invited myself, really) to give a talk to a class of first year computer science students about open access and open science. Sadly, there was a partial snow day that day and I was unable to actually give the talk. Which is too bad, because I've done similar talks before for undergrads and really enjoy the opportunity. In particular, the challenge I wanted to set forth for those budding computing professions was to be a part of developing software solutions for science on the web be they open access journals systems or web data hosting or whatver. In any…
I have a son who's in the middle of his second 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…
In which Rhett and I talk about color vision, undergraduate research projects, blog networks, outreach activities, and how thermodynamics is a lie. Things mentioned in the discussion: The Flame Challenge My post about looking at computer monitors with a spectrometer Physics Quest I'm inadvertently doing a bit of product placement here-- the T-shirt I'm wearing is from Surviving the World, and the water bottle I'm drinking from is from the Institute for Quantum Computing in Waterloo. I expected it to be colder in my office on campus, but it was actually pretty warm, so I took off the other…
This year's "Flame Challenge" is to explain color in terms an 11-year-old can follow. I have opinions on this subject, a background in AMO physics, and access to scientific equipment, so I'm putting something together. In the course of this, though, it occurred to me to wonder how my different portable computing devices process color. And since I have access to an Ocean Optics USB4000 spectrometer, I can answer this question in more detail than anybody needs. So, I have three principal electronic devices that I use to do computer-type things: a Moto X smartphone, an iPad, and a Lenovo…
Taking a Longer View Why librarianship is difficult and contentious Schism in the Stacks: Is the University Library As We Know It Destined for Extinction? The Future of Libraries: Harvard Students Are Thinking Outside the Box Why piles of bad applications may not portend disaster Silencing, librarianship, and gender: sticking up for stories Making Space for the Silenced A New Year’s Vision of the Future of Libraries as Ebookstores How Users Search the Library from a Single Search Box 5 Futures for Libraries How Netflix Reverse Engineered Hollywood Who needs facts? We appear to be in the Post…
X-STEM - presented by Northrop Grumman Foundation and MedImmune - is an Extreme STEM symposium for elementary through high school students featuring interactive presentations by an exclusive group of visionaries who aim to empower and inspire kids about careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). These top STEM role models and industry leaders are sure to ignite your students’ curiosity through storytelling and live demonstrations. Our spotlight on our X-STEM Speakers continues with Robotics Engineer Dr. Hod Lipson from  Cornell University's Computational Synthesis Lab…
This past Monday, a lot of people in my social media feeds were passing around this Benjamin Bratton piece about the problems with TED, blasting the whole phenomenon as "placebo technoradicalism." The whole thing, he claims, is shallow pseudo-inspirational bullshit that makes people feel nice, but doesn't actually lead anywhere. As he notes at the opening, most of the grand promises made in TED talks have yet to pan out: "So much potential and enthusiasm, and so little actual change." I found this kind of amusing, because a day earlier the link being passed around a lot of my social media…
Every year for the last bunch of years I’ve been linking to and posting all the “year’s best sciencey books” lists that I can find around the web in various media outlets. From the beginning it’s been a pretty popular service so I’m happy to continue it. The previous posts for all the 2013 lists are here. This time it's Cocktail Party Physics Baker’s Dozen: Best 2013 Books for the Physics Fan. The Universe in the Rear-View Mirror by Dave Goldberg Newton’s Football: The Science Behind America’s Game by Anissa Ramirez and Allen St. John Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among…
The Linux Journal Readers' Choice Awards are out with the current issue. Let's talk about some of them. The number one distribution was, as usual Ubuntu. But, Ubuntu only got 16 percent, with Debian coming in second at 14.1 percent. So, one could say that Debian is strong since Ubuntu is based on Debian. One could also say that Ubuntu is surprisingly weak. One would think it would be higher. One possibility is that Linux Journal readers are pretty hard core, and might often eschew Ubuntu for other distributions that cause more pain. Face it. Real Linux users like to wear hair shirts. I…
In Tuesday's post I started discussing this essay (PDF format), by mathematician Doron Zeilberger. I wholeheartedly seconded the sentiments from the first part of the essay, in which he lamented the generally poor state of mathematical communication. But I'm a little skeptical of this part: The purpose of mathematical research should be the increase of mathematical knowledge, broadly defined. We should not be tied up with the antiquated notions of alleged “rigor”. A new philosophy of and attitude toward mathematics is developing, called “experimental math” (though it is derided by most of…
This makes total sense. Physics was unable to deliver us our flying cars or jet packs. But what were we going to do with them anyway? Well, go to the bookstore, of course! Alas, in the absence of advanced space age technology we are forced to drive, or even walk, to the bookstore. But not any more, because Jeff Bezos at Amazon has promised us ... promised ... the new "Amazon Prime Air" service. This is where the books (and other stuff we order from Amazon.com) fly to us, encased in small brightly colored boxes that apparently we get to keep after the delivery. They fly attached to the…
It is time. The season of lists begins again! 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 I can find around the web in various media outlets. From the beginning it’s been a pretty popular service so I’m happy to continue it. 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…
It is time. The season of lists begins again! 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 I can find around the web in various media outlets. From the beginning it’s been a pretty popular service so I’m happy to continue it. 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…
It is time. The season of lists begins again! 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 I can find around the web in various media outlets. From the beginning it’s been a pretty popular service so I’m happy to continue it. 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…
It is time. The season of lists begins again! 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 I can find around the web in various media outlets. From the beginning it’s been a pretty popular service so I’m happy to continue it. 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…
It's been kind of a crazy week for me, so I haven't really had much of a chance to contribute to or even read a lot of the Open Access Week calls to arms out there right now. So I thought I would kind of commandeer my Friday Fun silly lists habit and redirect that energy to open access. So here it is, from Peter Suber: Open access: six myths to put to rest The only way to provide open access to peer-reviewed journal articles is to publish in open access journals All or most open access journals charge publication fees Most author-side fees are paid by the authors themselves Publishing in a…
We cleared a bunch of space in our deep storage area over the summer, and one of the things we found was a box full of old student theses from the 1950's and 1960's. The library already had copies of them, but I thought it was sort of cool to have a look into the past of the department, so we put them up on a shelf in the office. Yesterday, I was glancing over this, and spotted a thin volume, pictured in the "featured image" above, which was a Master's thesis from 1960 (when we used to give MS degrees in physics...) titled "A Monte Carlo Study of Neutron Scintillation Detection with a…