August 30, 2008

London Science Blogging Conference on Friendfeed

Boy, do I ever love Friendfeed.

You can follow what's going on at today's London Science Blogging Conference in its very own Friendfeed room. Each session has it's own thread with multiple people commenting on the proceedings. It actually gives a very good and surprisingly understandable impression of what's going on in the sessions. Most of the sessions have dozens of comments. Check it out.

You can also check me out on Friendfeed (join, you won't regret it). Michael Nielsen has also created a room for the upcoming Science in the 21st Century conference.

August 29, 2008

Friday Fun: End of the World!

I've never been a big fan of the "staff humans were not meant to know" genre of techno-thriller -- you know, Michael Crichton and his ilk.

But, done well, it can be pretty darn funny, in grim, morbid way.

In that vein, take a look at Cracked's The 5 Scientific Experiments Most Likely to End the World!

The article is quite extensive, with each experiment evaluated in terms of What Could Possibly Go Wrong, How Long Have We Got and overall Risk Level. Great stuff.

In any case, the experiments are, in descending order:

  1. Recreating the Big Bang
  2. The Quantum Zeno Effect
  3. Strange Matter
  4. Time Travel
  5. Nanotechnology

Interestingly (and ominously), most of the experiments involve the Large Hadron Collider.

I like this quote:
Basically the only thing that will save us from getting transformed into globulets of grey goo in a few years will be if the Large Hadron Collider kills us first.

(via Digg)

August 28, 2008

Popular science book meme

There's a popular science book meme going around -- I first saw it on Cocktail Party Physics, where it evolved from another meme, and it's appeared other places such as Uncertain Principles. I have to say, I don't do that well in these sorts of popular science reading lists because I tend not to read so much from, say, biology or chemistry and more from computing and technology. Those lists tend to really focus on physics, chemistry, biology and math.

So, I won't bore you with lists of books I have or haven't read from these other lists. What I will do is mention a bunch that I have read and really enjoyed that are computing related, including a novel. I don't intend for this to be a meme, but please feel free to mention computing, technology or other popular science books that you've enjoyed.

  • The Bug by Ellen Ullman
  • Close to the Machine: Technophilia and its discontents by Ellen Ullman
  • Dreaming in Code: Two dozen programmers, three years, 4,732 bugs, and one quest for transcendent software by Scott Rosenberg
  • Everything is miscellaneous by David Weinberger
  • Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations by Clay Shirky
  • Ambient findability by Peter Morville
  • Information architecture for the world wide web by Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville
  • In the beginning was the command line by Neal Stephenson
  • Programmers at work, 1st series: Interviews by Susan Lammers
  • Understanding the professional programmer by Gerald M. Weinberg
  • Peopleware: Productive projects and teams by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister
  • Decline and fall of the American programmer by Edward Yourdon
  • Weaving the Web by Tim Berners-Lee with Mark Fischetti
  • Software conflict: Essays on the art and science of software engineering by Robert L. Glass
  • The mythical man-month : Essays on software engineering by Fred Brooks
  • Out of their minds: The lives and discoveries of 15 great computer scientists by Dennis Elliot Shasha and Cathy Lazere
  • In the beginning was the command line by Neal Stephenson
  • The sachertorte algorithm: And other antidotes to computer anxiety by John Shore

Another chip off the old blog

As I noted a while back, my older son Sam has his very own science blog, initially called Space Exploration and Us, which was a blog he created for school. He's now relaunched and renamed it Physics on my Mind. He tends to post intermittently, but it's well worth checking out his latest thoughts on the LHC.

Another chip, you say? That must mean that the other kid has a blog too?

That's right. My 13 year old son Daniel has started his own music review blog called Killer Tunes. Of course, I think it's great -- no way would I think it was a the work of a 13 year old. He's fairly good so far about adding content regularly although with various summer activities it's been pretty light recently. It's also interesting to note that we have an example of a teen that actually thinks in terms of CDs. Hmmm.

In any case, visit the blogs, leave a comment, encourage the next generation of bloggers!

August 25, 2008

Social Norms & Discovery on Friendfeed

This morning I posted this question on FriendFeed:

With a colleague I'm doing a kind of "social web for scholars" session later this week and, of course, I want to highlight Friendfeed. So I have a couple of questions for the assembled Friendfeed masses:

First, are there any emerging social norms for FF that I might want to mention, like how you decide to subscribe to people, what the protocol is for when people subscribe to you, etc. I'm just looking for impressions that people might have.

Second. When I came on, I already knew a bunch of Library & Science types that were already here so I could plug in pretty quickly. But say I'm a historian coming to FF for the first time and don't already have contacts. How do I connect with that community? I'm thinking of this in terms of demoing FF to a bunch of fairly random faculty who might have this particular question. Thanks!

So far so good. There's quite a few really good responses to my question. I was also wondering if all of you out there in the blogosphere might have any insights into Friendfeed that you might be willing to share, either here or on the original message.

When we're done, I'll post our material here.

August 22, 2008

Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship, Summer 2008

Check out the latest issue, with lots of very interesting articles. Here's a selection:

Readers of the Flaxbart article might want to read here for an extensive bibliography of studies to help sort out all the controversy.

Summer physics reading

I seem to have finished a bunch of popular physics / history of physics-type books in the last few months, so I thought I'd do a combined review of all of them. Especially since I really don't have too much to say about most of the individual titles. Except for the Pickover, I'd say that they're all slam-dunk acquisitions for any academic library that collects at all in popular or historical physics material.

Smoot, George and Keay Davidson. Wrinkles in time: Witness to the birth of the universe. New York: Harper Perennial, 2007. 331pp.

George Smoot won the Nobel Prize in physics in 2006 with John Mather "for their discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation." This book, originally published in 1994 and now republished to take advantage of Smoot's notoriety, tells the story of he and his teams efforts to discover that cosmic background radiation.

A very engaging book overall, it starts with a fairly extensive history of cosmology that covers several chapters. This is probably the weakest part of the book and it's a shame that many may have given up on the book during these fairly dry chapters. What's really engaging about the book and what makes it really worth reading is Smoot's story about the trials and tribulations of the various experiments his team devised and implemented. These included using spy planes and high altitude balloons and culminated in a trip to the Antarctic for one final experiment. All of those are great stories -- I thought the sections in Antarctica to be the best in the book and among the best descriptions of working science that I've ever read. They really should have been more foregrounded in the book. Overall, a great book.

Batterson, Steve. Pursuit of genius: Flexner, Einstein and the early faculty at the Institute for Advanced Studies. Wellesley: AK Peters, 2006. 301pp.

Another really fine book with a historical theme, this one strongly related to physics as well as math and other fields. This is a history of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, the place where Einstein worked when he moved to the US. In mostly concentrates on the early years of the institute until the 1960s then does a quick summer of more recent decades.

The early chapters are the story of Abraham Flexner, the founder of the Institute, and his inspirations and early efforts to get funding and get his dream up and running. This is easily the best part of the book, engaging and fascinating. It also functions as an intellectual history of the US in the early part of the 20th century. It also touches on the chicken-and-egg problem of getting the first few scholars to commit to the Institute.

Later chapters are devoted to the political wranglings of running an institute filled with scientific prima donnas as well as securing funding from governments and donors. These bits are considerably less compelling.

Overall, though, this is a fine book, one that I enjoyed quite a bit.

Pickover, Clifford A. Archimedes to Hawking: Laws of science and the great minds behind them. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. 514pp.

Did this book make me smarter? Did I retain any of the massive amount of physics and chemistry I read about?

First of all, the idea behind Clifford Pickover's new book is to take a bunch of "laws of science & nature" that have been named after their most well known proponent (not necessarily the person who discovered the law) and explain them in a way suitable for a popular audience. Along with the explanation he also provides quite a bit of historical and biographical background on the law. The explanations are, on the whole, a little too detailed and technical for my liking however I'm probably not the ideal audience. Some of the bio & historical detail is pretty good, and some is pretty dry. However, I did read the book cover-to-cover and it is probably better to dip into rather than attempt comprehensiveness. One thing I would like to mention is that each law's section has a good bibliography of sources; my only complaint is that Pickover seemed to mostly consult books from his undergrad days -- ie. the reading lists tended on the older side. Another nice thing is that each section had two series of quotes, one directly about the law in question and the other with more general, and more provocative, quotes of a philosophical nature about what science and laws of science really are.

Which leads me to my biggest complaint, and the point which causes me to hesitate to recommend this book to libraries. The religious agenda. So much of the book seems to really be about reconciling the scientific viewpoint with religious and "spiritual" feelings. Nothing is more consistently highlighted in the biographical sections than how religious that particular scientist was. Now I have nothing is particular against attempts to reconcile science and religion (as pointless as think those attempts may be), but to have such an agenda, so clearly and consistently explicated in the text, without making it very clear in the title and descriptions of the book seems to me to be a bit dishonest. For that, I'm not sure if the publishers or Pickover are more at fault but I can only judge by the book that I have in my hands. Buyer beware.

Before I forget: did this book make me smarter? Well, maybe a little. Certainly, I have very little recollection of many of the details of the various laws. On the other hand, I do have much more of a sense and appreciation for the breadth and variety of those laws.

Luminet, Jean-Pierre. The wraparound universe. Wellesley: AK Peters, 2008. 313pp.

Did this book make me smarter? I think so, maybe a little. I've been reading so many popular physics books lately, that some of it might be sinking in.

This one is a bit different from the others in that it tries to make a case for the author's theories on the shape of the universe. The first part of the book is a detailed explication of Luminet's theories with the second part mostly being the background and supplementary information that goes with the first part. The epilogue is basically Luminet's story of how he got his somewhat controversial ideas published.

Not being a physicist, I leave it to you to explore the content of Luminet's ideas. The book is often quite advanced, perhaps a little beyond my cosmology comfort zone. That said, I think I got 50-75% of the book, which isn't bad. You do need to exercise a little attention and concentration and especially to take it in small doses. This book really stretches notions of "popular" science.

In any case, Luminet's lively prose and relaxed style survive Erik Novak's fine translation. I would heartily recommend this to academic libraries but public and school libraries might find it too advanced for most of thier patrons. Go with the Smoot book instead, it's really the best and most entertaining of the bunch as well as being the most appropriate for a mass audience

(The Batterson, Luminet and Pickover books were all provided by the publisher. The Smoot book was a Father's Day gift from my sons.)

August 21, 2008

Books I'd like to read

It's been a while since I did one of these for your reading and collection development pleasure:

Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software by Christopher M. Kelty

In Two Bits, Christopher M. Kelty investigates the history and cultural significance of Free Software, revealing the people and practices that have transformed not only software, but also music, film, science, and education. Free Software is a set of practices devoted to the collaborative creation of software source code that is made openly and freely available through an unconventional use of copyright law. Kelty shows how these specific practices have reoriented the relations of power around the creation, dissemination, and authorization of all kinds of knowledge after the arrival of the Internet. Two Bits also makes an important contribution to discussions of public spheres and social imaginaries by demonstrating how Free Software is a "recursive public"--a public organized around the ability to build, modify, and maintain the very infrastructure that gives it life in the first place.

From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism by Fred Turner
On first glance, back-to-the-land hippies and dot-com entrepreneurs might not seem much alike, but it turns out that they have a whole lot in common underneath those scraggly beards and goatees. Drawing a direct line from dog-eared copies of the Whole Earth Catalog to the slickly techno-libertarian Wired magazine, Stanford University communications professor Turner follows countercultural figures like Stewart Brand, who shaped the information revolution, according to their aspirations to break down the boundaries of individual experience and embrace a larger collective consciousness. Less a biography of Brand than of the swirl of relationships surrounding him, the book shows how the ride of the Merry Pranksters and LSD experimentation led to the early online discussion board Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link (the WELL), and into the digital utopianism surrounding the hyperlinked World Wide Web. Turner offers a compelling genealogy of both the ideals and the disappointments of our digital world, one that is as important for scholars as it is illuminating for general readers.

Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age
by Maggie Jackson
In this richly detailed and passionately argued book, Jackson (What's Happening to Home?) warns that modern society's inability to focus heralds an impending Dark Age—an era historically characterized by the decline of a civilization amid abundance and technological advancement. Jackson posits that our near-religious allegiance to a constant state of motion and addiction to multitasking are eroding our capacity for deep, sustained, perceptive attention—the building block of intimacy, wisdom and cultural progress and stunting society's ability to comprehend what's relevant and permanent. The author provides a lively historical survey of attention, drawing upon philosophy, the impact of scientific innovations and her own experiences to investigate the possible genetic and psychological roots of distraction. While Jackson cites modern virtual life (the social network Facebook and online interactive game Second Life), her research is largely mired in the previous century, and she draws weak parallels between romance via telegraph and online dating, and supernatural spiritualism and a newfound desire to reconnect. Despite the detours (a cultural history of the fork?), Jackson has produced a well-rounded and well-researched account of the travails facing an ADD society and how to reinvigorate a renaissance of attention.

The Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives by Michael Heller
For forty years, "the tragedy of the commons" has set the frame for an extraordinary range of social, economic, and legal thought. It oriented policy prescriptions. It set the baseline on reasonable policy alternatives. Its strong conclusion in favor of assigning property rights whenever possible has had a profound effect on everything from intellectual property policy to spectrum regulation. Its simple, intuitive analysis became second nature to a generation of policy makers.

Heller's book, The Gridlock Economy, completely inverts this framework for some of the most important policy questions we will face in the digital age. His clear and beautifully crafted analysis is absolutely compelling, and will fundamentally change the debate in core policy areas. There are very few books that reorient a field. Almost none that reorient many fields. This is in that "almost none" category: Paradigms will shift. Many of them. --Lawrence Lessig

War before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage
by Lawrence H. Keeley. (via)
Throughout much of this century the notion has been gaining ground, bolstered by genocide and Holocaust, that modern warfare is more barbaric than war has ever been. Alongside this view has grown a romantic impression that primitive cultures were, and are, more peaceful. Lawrence Keeley, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois, aims to dispel this inversion of the connotations of "civilization." He cites the historical evidence that humans have always been just as bloodthirsty as they are today, and that indeed in the days when death was less clinical it was often nastier. War, it seems, has always been with us.

August 19, 2008

Librarians invade Perimeter Institute!

Ok, maybe a slight exaggeration, but I did get your attention.

First of all, I'd like to note that the Science in the 21st Century conference at the PI is coming up in a few weeks:

Science in the 21st Century: Science, Society and Information Technology

Times are changing. In the earlier days, we used to go to the library, today we search and archive our papers online. We have collaborations per email, hold telephone seminars, organize virtual networks, write blogs, and make our seminars available on the internet. Without any doubt, these technological developments influence the way science is done, and they also redefine our relation to the society we live in. Information exchange and management, the scientific community, and the society as a whole can be thought of as a triangle of relationships, the mutual interactions in which are becoming increasingly important.

A reminder of the list of topics:
  • Web/Web 2.0.
    Communication, Social and Information Networks, Wikis, Blogs, Information Overflow, and the Illusion of Knowledge

  • Globalization
    Collaboration and Competition in the scientific community, The Global Village, the Limits of Growth, Science and Democracy

  • Open Access
    Scientific Publishing, Science Journalism, Framing, and the 'Marketplace of Ideas'

  • Sociology
    Ethics, Morals, Trends, and their impact on scientific directions, organization of our communities, fragmentation, feedback, selection, and the ivory tower.

  • Miscellaneous and Other
    Teaching, Information storage, Resilience and the next Generation

The program is pretty well fleshed out at this point and looks very intense and interesting; the list of participants is also starting to look pretty impressive too.

Ah, the list of participants. That's what I wanted to draw attention to. From a quick scan of the list, it looks like there are 11 librarians or library-related people attending. That's about 19% of the attendance! How cool is that!

In any case, here we are:
  1. Börner, Katy (Indiana University SLIS)
  2. Dupuis, John (York University, Toronto)
  3. Howell, Laura (Davis Centre Library University of Waterloo)
  4. Hutchins, Carol (New York University)
  5. Kadlecova, Ivana Laiblova (a former director of Library of Acad Sci Czech)
  6. Losoff, Barbara (University of Colorado at Boulder)
  7. McKiernan, Gerry (Iowa State University)
  8. Munoz, Eeva (University of Western Ontario)
  9. Pritchard, Peggy (University of Guelph)
  10. Rykse, Harriet (University of Western Ontario)
  11. Swoger, Bonnie (Milne Library, SUNY Geneseo)

Of course, it's not really surprising to me that scitech librarians are so well represented at the conference. After all, we're certainly struggling (as all academic librarians, to an extent) to define ourselves for the 21st century. As the way science is done changes, we must change the way we help prepare new scientists for that work. Similarly, we must find a way to make our collections and services relevant and valued in a way that was perhaps more obvious to faculty and students in the past. We must adapt and potentially retool ourselves to respond to the way science is communicated.

At the conference, I would hope that as librarians we would learn a lot from the scientists there, about where they think science is going. What I would also hope is that we library people will be able to make a case for the place we and our librarians have in that future.

(To get 19%, I calculated 11/59, 59 being participants + local organizers. If you know of an error in the way I counted library people please let me know.)

August 18, 2008

Read the book on Female Science Professor!

Female Science Professor is one of my favourite bloggers and has been for a long time. She's now created a blook out of various of her blog postings and made it available on

Academeology: Random Musings, Strong Opinions & Somewhat Bizarre Anecdotes From An Academic Life

She tells the story:
Part of what I have done with my summer vacation is compile some FSP blog essays into a book-like object. I have long had requests to do something like this, but I have ignored all such requests and suggestions because I didn't think it would be interesting, as in not interesting for me to do and not interesting for anyone else to read. But then my fading short-term memory increasingly made me consult the FSP archives to see what I'd discussed before and what I hadn't, and I got interested in seeing what it would look like if I strung together posts on related topics; e.g. publishing, advising grad students, teaching, being an FSP.

So I started organizing old posts, discarding the ones that I didn't like or that were boring, and putting others together. It was sort of like doing a puzzle, but only sort of because if there were any pieces of the puzzle that didn't fit, I changed them. For example, I added text to make transitions between blog posts and included some entirely new material to help pull the main topics together.

I also made the essays more 'timeless'; e.g., I changed posts that were about something that happened 'today' to something that happened in an unspecified or more general time frame.

I like some of the section headings, which give an idea of the topics under discussion as well as FSP's take-no-prisoners attitude:

  • Acquiring an academic job
  • The Graduate School Experience: Getting In
  • The Graduate School Experience: Professor-Student Relations
  • Speaking of Talks
  • Success, Failure, Ambition, Fame
  • Cruel and Unusual: Faculty Meetings

It looks well worth reading and acquiring for the collection. It should be interesting to see what the catalogue record ends up looking like.

August 15, 2008

Praxis: A new carnival about the scientific life

The first edition of the new carnival Praxis has just been posted at A Blog around the Clock.

Here's a description of what the carnival is all about:

The carnival is intended to cover all aspects of life as an academic, whether it's the lifestyle, career progress, doing a Ph.D., getting funding, climbing the slippery pole, academic life as a minority, working with colleagues and students, dealing with the peer-review process, publishing, grants, science 2.0, amusing anecdotes, conference experiences, philosophical musings, public engagement, or even historical articles about what life was like in the good (or bad) old days.

Here's a list of the next bunch of editions.

For this first edition, Bora has gathered together a great big triple handful of posts covering a whole bunch of different topics areas: Doing Science, Career Choices and Getting Funded, Presenting Data, Sharing and Networking, Getting Published, The Publishing Business, Science Communication and Education, Academic Atmosphere and Special topic of the month: Animal Research.

There's really way to much here for most of us to get around to reading more than a selection, but on the other hand virtually everyone will be able to find more than a few gems.


August 14, 2008

Michael Nielsen on The Future of Science

Michael Nielsen has posted a fantastic essay on the Future of Science over on his blog:

Science is an example par excellence of creative collaboration, yet scientific collaboration still takes place mainly via face-to-face meetings. With the exception of email, few of the new social tools have been broadly adopted by scientists, even though it is these tools which have the greatest potential to improve how science is done.

Why have scientists been so slow to adopt these remarkable tools? Is it simply that they are too conservative in their habits, or that the new tools are no better than what we already have? Both these glib answers are wrong. We’ll resolve this puzzle by looking in detail at two examples where excellent online tools have failed to be adopted by scientists. What we’ll find is that there are major cultural barriers which are preventing scientists from getting involved, and so slowing down the progress of science.


We should aim to create an open scientific culture where as much information as possible is moved out of people’s heads and labs, onto the network, and into tools which can help us structure and filter the information. This means everything - data, scientific opinions, questions, ideas, folk knowledge, workflows, and everything else - the works. Information not on the network can’t do any good.

Ideally, we’ll achieve a kind of extreme openness. This means: making many more types of content available than just scientific papers; allowing creative reuse and modification of existing work through more open licensing and community norms; making all information not just human readable but also machine readable; providing open APIs to enable the building of additional services on top of the scientific literature, and possibly even multiple layers of increasingly powerful services. Such extreme openness is the ultimate expression of the idea that others may build upon and extend the work of individual scientists in ways they themselves would never have conceived.

And lots more. The whole essay is well worth reading for it's provocative insights and well-reasoned arguments. Nielsen is writing a book on the future of science and it's pretty likely to me that the themes he explores in this essay of openness, collaboration and networking will form the backbone of that book. I can't wait to see more!

That being said, it seems to me that the core issues that surround a of what he talks about is trust and/or/versus incentives. Trust in the sense of trusting that your own openness won't be abused. Incentives in the sense of incentives to be open and trust others. I think they're really interrelated and the essay kind of dances
around the relationship without really nailing it down.

After all, people need incentives to participate in open peer review, but couldn't a kind of radical trust actually be that incentive? In formal peer review the incentives are pretty obvious. You do peer review for my paper and I'll do peer review for someone else's. It works because everyone knows/trusts that the load is spread around.

With open peer review, people can't trust that the load is spread around so people are hesitant to jump in and be the first to effectively take on both the formal and informal roles. The incentive to review someone else's paper is the knowledge/trust that my paper will be reviewed too; in open peer review, how do I know someone else will reciprocate my contributions.

It's the same with collaboration markets. What's the incentive to trust the other players in the market? Normally, the incentive to trust someone in a collaborative relationship is reciprocity. Basically, the parties in the collaboration help solve each other's problems with the goal of solving a larger problem in the process. How do you maintain those incentives in an open system?

It seems to me that a lot of the issues around open science / science 2.0 are really about incentives and trust. Solving the issues requires a certain leap of faith. The key point in Nielsen's essay is the line: "The danger of free riders who will take advantage for their own benefit (and to Alice’s detriment) is just too high."

The potential for a tragedy of the commons situation is always there in an "unregulated" system where no one is organizing to make sure contributions to the common good (i.e. performing peer review or volunteering to collaborate) are more or less evenly distributed.

Of course, there lies the challenge at the heart of the essay; the challenge to build an open community that somehow maintains and builds on the incentive/trust structures in place for Science 1.0 while at the same time being more open, trusting and collaborative. Neilsen has a lot to say about those and keeping the conversation going is the way to help those structures get built.

August 12, 2008


Yes, I've quaffed the Kool-Aid. I set up a FriendFeed account for myself a bit earlier this afternoon.

You can find me here:

I only have a few subscriptions set up so far, only some science-y types. No librarians as yet. Of course, Bora was the first person to subscribe to me, about 47 seconds after I set up my account. Feel free to subscribe to my feed or to suggest some feeds for me to subscribe to. I'm not sure what the FF protocol is on these things, but I'll certainly be happy to subscribe to anyone who subscribes to me. In particular, a couple of librarian feeds would be nice to get started.

What is FriendFeed, you ask? According to Wikipedia:

FriendFeed is a social aggregator that consolidates the updates from social websites such as blog entries, social bookmarking websites, and social networks among others. This allows individuals using multiple social websites to have a consolidated stream of details on all their activities across these websites.

Bloggers writing about FriendFeed have said that this service addresses the shortcomings of social media services which exclusively facilitate tracking of their own members' social media activities on that particular social media service, whereas FriendFeed provides the facility to track these activities (such as posting on blogs, Twitter and Flickr) across a broad range of different social networks.

In other words, I get to stalk some people.

Why did I join? First of all, it looks cool and interesting and it's been a while since I signed up for a new cool and interesting service. Most importantly, it seems to be emerging as a very interesting and powerful tool for sharing and collaboration, something people are already thinking about. A lot of science types who are using it heavily to share information and I think it's worth seeing what all the fuss is about. We as librarians need to be in the same spaces as our users.

I'll be giving my Cool Tools for Scholars presentation again in the near future, and FriendFeed will definitely be part of the story this time around.

I'm back

Yesterday I got back to work after four weeks of vacation. We spent three fairly soggy weeks at a cottage just north of Ste-Agathe, Quebec, about 1.5 hours north of Montreal. Although the lake we're on is perfectly beautiful, we didn't take as much advantage as we normally do because of the weather. BBQing was also highly curtailed. We've rented this particular cottage a number of times over the years.

We also spent a few soggy days in Montreal visiting with family and friends; we were back in Toronto last Wednesday to get the boys ready for two weeks of summer camp. They left on Friday. The last few Toronto days of vacation were also fairly soggy (and explosive, too)

Movie-wise, we saw the The Dark Knight in Montreal and Hellboy 2 in Kingston. My wife and I finally got around to seeing Get Smart this past kid-free Saturday.

Rain means more reading, course, and I certainly did a fair bit of it. Here's the tally of books that I've read in the last four weeks. I've noted the ones that are in progress. Three out of the four of us read Heart-Shaped Box and we all enjoyed it. The Ruins and Triptych were both read by two of us (with me still in progress on Triptych).

  • The sum of all Fears by Tom Clancy
  • End of the Beginning by Harry Turtledove
  • Eric Clapton: The Autobiography by Eric Clapton
  • The Ruins by Scott Smith
  • Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
  • Comrades of War by Sven Hassel
  • Solomon's Vineyard by Jonathan Latimer
  • Triptych by Karen Slaughter (in progress)
  • Pursuit of genius: Flexner, Einstein and the early faculty at the Institute for Advanced Studies by Steve Batterson
  • Archimedes to Hawking: Laws of science and the great minds behind them by Clifford Pickover
  • The Wraparound Universe by Jean-Pierre Luminet (in progress)

The science ones I'll be reviewing here fairly soon, I hope.

August 8, 2008

Friday Fun: Chessboxing!

Ok, this is truly deranged. Chessboxing.

It seems that they is actually a World Chessboxing Championship. What the players do is alternate rounds of chess and boxing. The first to loose in either game is eliminated.

After carefully approaching his opponent in the first round with a Slav defence Frank Stoldt took a heavy right hand to the chin in the following round which led to a standing eight count. Stoldt then showed all his experience from three title bouts to recover and see out the next three rounds without slipping further behind.

At the beginning of the fifth, however, the contest culminated at the chessboard. Sazhin took his time, but far from being in trouble the wily youngster merely lured Stoldt into a false sense of security. With his bishop in severe danger near the centre of the board, and adrenaline running high, Stoldt made a horrible blunder, overlooking a concealed threat to his queen. Sazhin pounced, took the queen and with it victory. Realising the enormity of his mistake, Stoldt instantly resigned in utter self-disgust. The contrast between the victor and defeated champion could not have been more pronounced. Stoldt hung his head as if desperately seeking a hiding place somewhere under the glaring lights. In the Siberian corner, Sazhin leapt into the arms of his trainers and bounced around the ring, punching the air in delight.

August 1, 2008

Friday Fun: "Classic" SF movies

John Scalzi provokes a lot of fannish ire with his article on the AMCTV site on With SciFi Movies, Classic Does Not Equal Good. One of his victims in the original Japanese version of Godzilla, Gojira:

Gojira and its dozens of sequels are so bad that if there was any honesty in the world, people would have to admit that the universally-reviled 1998 Roland Emmerich version is actually the best-written, best-acted, best-produced Godzilla film ever made. No one will ever admit this, ever (except for me, and maybe, if he's drunk enough, Roland Emmerich), but there it is. Gojira is a classic science fiction film. Gojira stinks.