May 31, 2006

More here & there

  • Teaching, Research, Service ... & Patents by Scott Jaschik is about Texas A&M's plan to put patents and the general commercialization of research on the same level as the holy trinity of teaching, research & service for tenure decision for some faculty members. A stimulating article on the pros & cons of this approach. Of course, they emphasize that this would only apply to faculty members in fields when patents are appropriate, say engineering or chemisty. In general, I'm ok with this but I do worry about steering researchers away from basic research towards more and more minutely applied areas. It's the basic research with no immediate benefit that in the end truly brings about revolution, not endless tinkering with a device/process/etc. to make sure it is patentable. Also, it probably would encourage profs to try too many risky business ventures with uncertain return rather than concentrating on other research, teaching and service. 'Cause we all know which of the three suffers the most in a crunch.

  • The Most-Cited Institutions in Computer Science, 1995-2005. ISI data, of course, but still interesting with all the caveats we apply to citation information from ISI. Any guesses on the top 2? AT&T and IBM. University of California, Berkeley, MIT and Stanford round out the top 5 and hold up the flag for non-corporate institutions. The first non-US in ETH Zurich and no Canuck institutions in the top 20.

  • More blogs sucked into the gaping maw of ScienceBlogs. In a good way, of course.

  • Talking to Publishers over at Computational Complexity has some interesting CS publishing/librarian tidbits cleaned from a recent conference:
    • Elsevier has an arrangement with Microsoft's Academic Search but negotiations with Google Scholar are going slowly because of Google's "secretive" policies.
    • Elsevier plans to give contributors (editors, referees, authors) access to their Scopus system. Elsevier also has their own free academic search site Scirus.
    • The free access experiment of Information and Computation continues.
    • Elsevier is exploring starting their own version of Springer's Lecture Notes in Computer Science series and also a Review journal.

  • Does Philosophy Have a Role in Computer Science?. A very lively discussion at SlashDot, coming at ya from all angles. The answer, though, does seem to be a qualified yes.

  • The Central Problem of Library 2.0: Privacy by Rory Litwin. Not much to add. We must always respect that some of our patrons don't want to be connected and to find a way to gear our services to respect that diversity.

  • Research 2.0:
    I suggest a research 2.0 concept to include: [1] Open access to information created by public authorities (Universities and the like), [2] Open Peer Review, [3] Collective Intelligence in research environments, [4] The Web as platform (paper journals is not of much use in the Web 2.0 era, only e-information can be true objects to collective intelligence).

Textbooks & Dodos

From InsideHigherEd yesterday, and interesting article on the Future of a Dinosaur:

The calculus book of the future might be a lithe guidebook peppered with Web links. It might just be downloaded to a Pocket PC. Or maybe it will be a wiki, compiled at the editorial discretion of the calculus professors, and, perhaps, students.
And it's about time. There's expensive and weigh a ton.
[T]he way students gather information is changing rapidly, but textbooks are not. They are less portable than ever, and students can’t sell them back to the bookstore fast enough.

“How do I reconcile that textbook, which is very static, with dynamic teaching?” asked Paul Bierman, a geology professor at the University of Vermont who helped organize the meeting. For Bierman, the answer was simply to get rid of the textbook altogether. He prefers to get his students out in the field cracking open rocks.
In my own academic career, I always learned a lot more by doing than by reading the text. And another point made in the article that rung true for me was that students mostly use their texts to help them with assignments rather than as something to be waded through from page 1 to 1000.
Several faculty members used the analogy of the guidebook. “When I went to Egypt, I didn’t take the Oxford History of Ancient Egypt,” said Richard McCray, professor emeritus of astrophysics at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “I took Lonely Planet.” And then, McCray said, if he could spend time at a particular site of interest, and dig deeper if needed, just as a professor can linger on important topics in a class.
As librarians, what will our roll be in the death of the text book? Mostly making sure our patrons have access to solid and reliable sources that are also dynamic and interactive. And prodding the publishers to get the job done and change their publishing models to ones that make sense going forward.

May 26, 2006

Here & There

Cool stuff from around the blogosphere:

  • Another story from InsideHigherEd yesterday is Stop Chasing High-Tech Cheaters By Ira Socol. Basically, his idea is that we're wasting our time stopping students from cheating using their cellphones and other electronic devices during exams. In real life, people can use the web or ask other people for help when solving a problem, so students in exams should be allowed to do the same thing. Granted, exams that rely only on regurgitating facts aren't that useful pedagogically and are easy to cheat on. But, a well designed course can have different types of evaluation. Papers and projects can test research and collaboration skills. It seems to me that it is also appropriate to test what a student actually knows as opposed to what they can beg, borrow or steal from someone else. It's obvious that Socol has never taken a science or math course either -- otherwise he would have been well aware that such courses have long allowed cheat sheets (and calculators) so that they can emphasise testing understanding of problem solving techniques rather than formula memorization.
  • Another, more amusing, piece on cheating via Schneier on Security. Tips on How to Cheat Good: Don't cheat off family; Don't talk British; You Google, I Google; Don't rite to good; Malaprop big words; Use the word "rediculous"; Borrow from someone who writes as badly as you do; Edit > Paste Special > Unformatted Text.
  • Via Computational Complexity, the CRA's Taulbee Survey on CS in the US & Canada.
  • OCLC's College Students' Perceptions Report is here. (100 page pdf version).
  • ScienceBlogs is expanding faster than the universe, it seems. EvolutionBlog has just joined. Others about to be integrated include The Scientific Activist, Good Math, Bad Math, coturnix as well as others mentioned by coturnix. Generally, I think this is a good thing. The ScienceBloggers seem to have complete freedom to say what they want. It also creates a real critical mass of science blogging, something that everyone can build on. On the other hand, it seems to me that there's the danger of putting all our eggs in one basket. Does this giant leave enough room out there in the ecosystem for others to flourish? Are people who get into that one site going to explore all the others? In any case, I wish them well. I certainly follow the site very closely and an glad to see it do well. Some others that I would suggest? Jane and Computational Complexity, for sure. The need someone representing the computing field more directly than Deltoid.
  • "Here in the North there is no such thing as monkeys." Sheesh.

May 25, 2006

What do science librarians do?

From Christy Hightower on various lists:


Science librarians at the University of California at Santa Cruz are in the midst of planning for an upcoming reorganization and would like to get some feedback on national trends regarding the assignment of duties to science librarians. I know how busy this time of year gets, but I'm hoping you would be willing to take 3 minutes or less to answer the following questions (most of which are yes/no questions). Your feedback is extremely important and will have a direct and immediate impact. Responses on or before Wednesday, May 31 would be most useful. I'll be happy to summarize results for the list.

1. Do you currently have collection planning (a.k.a. collection development, collection management) responsibilities for a particular subject(s)?

2. Do your collection planning duties comprise more than half of the focus of your job?

3. Do you also participate in some reference and instruction duties? If so, how many hours per week do you work reference?

4. Do you teach both undergraduate and graduate students?

5. If you were planning to hire a new science librarian, would one of the duties include collection planning?

6. In hiring science librarians for your library, if a candidate did not have prior experience in collection planning, would that eliminate them from your consideration?

7. What is your title?

8. At what institution do you work?

Many thanks for your help with these questions.
Please respond to Christy.

Engineering is becoming a liberal art

A nice quote from Michael Rutter of Harvard about their new engineering program. The quote is in a very good article in InsideHigherEd today, The Technology Mosaic by David Epstein. Basically, the idea is that Harvard wants their new program to be the ultimate in interdisciplinarity, reflecting what the core of engineering has always been but which is very rarely recognized. The engineering goal of designing within constraints will always mean that engineers need to keep environmental, economic and social considerations in mind when implementing their projects. The Harvard plan clearly seems to be aiming to educate engineers with a broad array of competancies.

As another quote in the Epstein article puts it:

[A]s Paul S. Peercy, dean of engineering at the University of Wisconsin and chair of the Engineering Dean’s Council at the American Society for Engineering Education put it: “I used to say, ‘look around, everything except the plants are engineered.’ Now I say, ‘look around, everything and some of the plants are engineered.’”

Update: Another quote from the article I really liked:
In his opening note in the most recent issue of the DEAS newsletter, Dean Venkatesh Narayanamurti quoted a question that the report posed: “Do our engineers understand enough culturally … to respond to the needs of multiple niches in a global market?”

James D. Plummer, dean of Stanford School of Engineering is working hard to make sure the answer will be “yes.”

In his recent “State of the School” address, Plummer emphasized efforts to create what he — and at least several other deans who have apparently adopted the term — calls “T-shaped students.” The vertical part of the T represents the traditional math and science education of an engineer, and the crossbar is all the other stuff, from marketing to sociology, that students need so they don’t end up as deep but narrowly educated toothpick students.

In an interview, Plummer said that a big part of his push is to inspire more students to turn to engineering. One of the ways Stanford is doing that is by getting freshmen and sophomores into the lab, and putting them in intro seminars of 15 or fewer students that Stanford hopes will bring students into engineering, rather than weed them out, as is the norm in cavernous g-chem lecture halls.

May 24, 2006

Results of the ACRL STS/SLA STD/ASEE ELD Continuing Education Survey

Via Betsy Spackman on various lists, the results of the survey are here.

The summary:

Respondents were asked to identify three important issues and topics in science and technology librarianship. Following the list of pre-selected topics they were given one more chance to list a topic of interest. Topics of greatest interest fell into the following broad categories:

  1. New Technologies
  2. Professional Development & Keeping Current
  3. Institutional Repositories/ Digital Archives
  4. Information Literacy/ Instruction
  5. Scholarly Publishing - High Cost of Serials - Alternative Publishing Models
  6. Marketing & Outreach

The 2005 survey was prepared by Betsy Spackman, Marilyn Christianson, Terri Freedman and Camila Gabaldón. Analysis was done by Terri Freedman and Betsy Spackman.

Communications of the ACM, June 2006

Some interesting stuff, as usual:

May 16, 2006

Simpsons on evolution

For those that missed it, you can watch this past Sunday's Simpsons episode here. My favourite bit in the episode is right at the beginning, when Ned Flanders asks about mentions of the bible in the natural history museum and is pointed to a small display on "The Myth of Creation." What's so funny about that? The song playing while we see the display is the old Doobie Brothers tune, "What a Fool Believes." It's a great episode, The Simpsons at their merciless satirical best. You can find info here, it's episode 1721. via Pharyngula.

IEEE Annals of the History of Computing

The latest issue (v28i2) has a few articles on the ENIAC as well as one each on Univac and Oedipus, a machine used in the UK for cryptanalysis in the 1945-1955 period.

The article I'm most looking forward to reading is Graduate Student Experiences at Illinois by R.E. Miller.

This personal account describes various experiences of a 1950s graduate student who worked at the University of Illinois’s Digital Computer Laboratory. Anecdotes recount some of the era’s rigorous academic requirements and early work assignments performed for the IBM 701 and Illiac computers.

May 11, 2006

Seed Podcast: The worst thing a scientist can do

Seed Magazine has begun a series of Scienceblogs podcasts featuring their Scienceblogs folk. The first is on plagiarism and scientific misconduct and is an interview with Janet Stemwedel of Adventures in Ethics and Science, one of the Scienceblogs I follow most closely. It's about 15 minutes.

May 10, 2006

Is Computer Science Science? And if not, what the heck is it?

Another installment in my occasional series on the nature of computer science as a discipline. Or at least, more explicitly about disciplinary issues than many other of my posts related to CS.

So, here goes.

  • Philosophy of Computer Science: An introductory course by William J. Rapaport. (also from Teaching Philosophy v28i4, Dec 2005). Who knew that there was a philosophy of computer science? Certainly I didn't until I stumbled upon this terrific article. It describes the experiences of a CS prof at the State University of New York at Buffalo running a Philosophy of Computer Science course at his institution, how popular it was among both philosophy and CS students and, of course, a good explanation of what the philosophy of CS is and how he implemented those topics in the course. Some of the issues discussed include: what is philosophy; what is CS; is CS science or engineering, what is an algorithm; what is a program and ethical issues in CS. As well, there were lots of ideas for further reading, many books and articles I was unfamiliar with.
  • Valuing diverse computing science research by Harold Thimbleby. The main idea here is that the fields of computing science are growing and diversifying so quickly that it is potentially affecting what research is done and how it is supported. Basically, it is getting harder for peer reviewers and others to judge the relevance and usefullness of other people's research because the topics are so new that they can often seem trivial or uninteresting to the uninitiated. There are also some interesting bits on how CS is related to other disciplines and irreproducibility in CS research.
  • Moshe Vardi on OA in computer science references an interview in SIGMOD Record. Not much to say here. The interviewee bemoans the lack of true OA journals in CS without really addressing the probably greater tendency to self archive.
  • The scientific method in CS by Jane. This really struck home with me. Learning how to debug a program is one of the most difficult things to learn. The less the new students knows about programming, the worse the program will be. But at the same time, that lack of knowledge will really hinder the student with applying good strategies to solve the problem. How can you fix something if you don't understand what you've built. My own formative years in this regard were somewhat interesting. My first programming course (in 1981) was FORTRAN and we actually used a punch card system. It was always tempting to fix bugs by merely changing the order of some of the cards are seeing what happened. Later, in my last ugrad year I worked as a "programmer on duty" for the computing centre. Basically, I would sit behind a desk (or wander the terminal rooms) and help people with their programming and system problems. Oh, the horror. But I did learn a lot about programming and debugging by helping others with their problems.
  • CS Faculty Opine on CS in Computerworld refers to a Computerworld artcle in which a bunch of CS faculty are asked some rather pointed questions and who give very candid answers. Thought provoking reading. A taste:
    How should CS programs be modernized?

    Chazelle: Much of the curriculum is antiquated. Why are we still demanding fluency in assembly language today for our CS majors? Some curricula seem built almost entirely around the mastery of Java. This is criminal.

    The curriculum is changing to fulfill the true promise of CS, which is to provide a conceptual framework for other fields. Students need to understand there's more, vastly more, to CS than writing the next version of Windows. For example, at Princeton, we have people who major in CS because they want to do life sciences or policy work related to security, or even high-tech music. In all three cases, we offer tracks that allow them to acquire the technical background to make them intellectually equipped to pursue these cross-disciplinary activities at the highest level.

  • Forward-Looking Links at Computational Complexity discusses how a CS idea goes from manuscript to journal version via technical reports and conferences and how we really need a way to sort through all the different versions of papers out there.
  • Computer Science, Math, and Languages at Good Math, Bad Math discusses theoretical cs, math, computability, complexity and what it all means.

Previous installments here, here and here.

May 9, 2006

Recently in the ACM

May 6, 2006

What Type of Writer Should You Be?

It's been a while since I've done one of these silly quizes...this one seems pretty accurate to me.

You Should Be a Science Fiction Writer

Your ideas are very strange, and people often wonder what planet you're from.
And while you may have some problems being "normal," you'll have no problems writing sci-fi.
Whether it's epic films, important novels, or vivid comics...
Your own little universe could leave an important mark on the world!

Via LtSL(SI).

May 5, 2006

Friday Fun: Booksluts

A couple from Blog of a Bookslut:

  • The latest issue has a review (by Barbara J. King) of what appears to be a new classic of LabLit, Intuition by Allegra Goodman. Here's a taste, "let me be clear: Intuition is for everyone. Goodman writes with a precision that is beautifully expressed; poets will "get" the book as much as scientists will (and poet-scientists will "get" it twice over)."
  • And via the blog, Unpublished Sequels to Famous Science Fiction Novels by Steve Rushmore. An example: Celsius 232.7778.

May 4, 2006

Eileen Gunn's Tour of Chernobyl

From The Infinite Matrix, Eileen Gunn's haunting Tour of Chernobyl. The many pictures are facinating and not a little spooky. via Locusmag.