Free Thought

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…
The Bottleneck Years by H.E. Taylor Chapter 59 Table of Contents Chapter 61 Chapter 60 L1 Roustabouts, February 15, 2058 The L1 crew were not like the moon colonists. They were cowboys. We didn't get up-close and web-personal with them. The corporate imagery around them played up rugged individualism and avoided any mention of colonization. They were all young men, no women, no families. Anytime we saw them they were sparring, jousting and joking with each other in good natured bonhomie. Or acting like boy scouts. It was all completely phony. Arguably what the L1 astronauts were doing ---…
What if you went to drive to work one day and the highway on ramp was closed, and a big sign across it said "Highway is closed. Sorry for the inconvenience." Well, you would find your way to a different highway entrance. But say that one was closed as well.Then, you check around and find out that all the highways in your state are closed because the state decided to close them. No more highways for you. Or, one day you go to check the mail and there is a single post card, and nothing else, in your mail box. The post card reads "The United States Postal Service has permanently suspended…
Choosing Real-World Impact Over Impact Factor Practicing Freedom in the Digital Library Dandelions, Prestige, and the Measure of Scholars Programmers insist: “Everybody” does not need to learn to code Digital Decay by Bruce Sterling New York Public Library Rethinks Design CIOs Wear Second Hat (ie. head of small colleges libraries too) Can't Buy Us Love: The Declining Importance of Library Books and the Rising Importance of Special Collections A New Polemic: Libraries, MOOCs, and the Pedagogical Landscape Ethical reflections on MOOC-making (Rebecca Kukla) Why Teach English? Learning Styles:…
Newsbiscuit is my favourite humour site and has been for a while. The dry British humour combined with OTT story ideas is irresistible. And speaking of irresistible, I just love this one: Disappointment for scientists as new super-computer fails to go mad Scientists at Mal-Tech University, Wisconsin have expressed their immense disappointment at the failure of their new super-computer Off White to show any signs of megalomania. The technological titan went online six months ago has since performed flawlessly, displaying nary a hint of sentience, lunacy or vague curiosity. Project leader…
Change Rhetoric: Good and Bad Three challenges: Engaging, rightscaling and innovating Time for a little dissent To Be Or Not To Be A Library Director How to Answer “So You Need a Degree to Do That?” Putting Things in Perspective Here’s how Amazon self-destructs Amazon vs. your public library Small Pieces Loosely Kludged: Peer Review and Publication in Math Scholarly Communication The Awesomest 7-Year Postdoc or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tenure-Track Faculty Life If We Share Data, Will Anyone Use Them? Data Sharing and Reuse in the Long Tail of Science and Technology…
Google's official blog has a post today on the first computer in Israel: WEIZAC, built at the Weizmann Institute in the 1950s. Prof. Aviezri Frenkel gives a charming description of the project, including the fireworks when the machine was first turned on, in the presence of  the VIPS who had come to see the new wonder. http://googleblog.blogspot.co.il/2013/06/remembering-weizac-beginning-of.html The foresight of the scientists who decided to build the computer is mentioned. But we can also thank them for their foresight in preserving this piece of computing history once newer computers took…
Welcome to the most recent installment in my very occasional series of interviews with people in the publishing/science blogging/computing communities. This latest installment is with Mark Patterson, Executive Director of new OA publisher eLife. I attended an ARL Directors briefing conference call on eLife with Mark a little while back, highlighting for me just how interesting this project is and just how little I knew about it before the call. Hence, this interview. A huge thanks to Mark for agreeing to participate! =============   Q0. Mark, tell us a bit about yourself and how you ended up…
The department of Astronomy & Astrophysics is proud to announce a special colloquium by a distinguished visitor: TITLE: Emission Lines Accompanying Gamma-Ray Flares from the Tidal Disruption of Dyson Spheres by Binary Intermediate-Mass Black Holes at z ~ 10. Special Lunch Talk, Monday, April 1, 2013 by Professor Rajesh Koothrappali, Circumference Institute [Host: Hofstadter] ABSTRACT: "I will begin this talk in medias res by assuming that Dyson spheres can exist as early as z~10. I will describe general relativistic electromagenetohydrodynamic simulations of the disruption of a Dyson…
It's been a while since I've done a post over-analyzing some everyday situation, because I've been too busy to do any silly experiments. We're on break this week, though, so I took a little time Monday to bring excessive technology to bear on the critically important scientific question: how good is my insulated Starbucks cup? To back up a little bit, because it's always important to provide background and motivation when writing a lab report, I spend a lot of time working at Starbucks these days, because when I try to get work done in my office, people keep showing up wanting me to do stuff…