February 2009

Access better than Ownership?

Kevin Kelly is one of the writers I love to read as he has an interesting vision of the dematerializing future. It's already happened where I work - before I started here, our revenue came essentially entirely from libraries subscribing to receive print copies of our journals. Now we sell access to the journals online, and take responsibility for hosting - as does every other scientific publisher still in business. Almost nobody wants the print journals any more.

Entropy flow - more from Kevin Kelly on "Cosmic Genesis"

Kevin Kelly has another post on The Cosmic Genesis of Technology. I sent him the following comments as corrections or perhaps refinements of the ideas. The introduction is quite poetic, and I think close to correct.

Software testing

David Chelimsky on the rspec mailing list recommended a bit of a rant by Jay Fields, commenting on a discussion by Joel Spolsky, on the issue of being doctrinaire in software development processes. The specific example they start with is that some shops require "100% test coverage", but that can lead to way too much time spent maintaining the tests, rather than doing something useful.

The Future of Peer Review?

slashdot recently ran an article on a concept for distributed peer review, GPeerReview, hosted at Google (code.google.com). It still looks rather half-baked (the author decides whether or not to post the reviews?!) but the basic idea seems like a possible foundation for something that could be actually useful.

What government should do in space

The Space Studies Board of the National Academies recently posted a call for public comment on the rationale and goals of the US space program, as part of a study they are developing on the topic. The open comment period is now closed, but according to Karen Shea at the NSS blog, Neil deGrasse Tyson at their recent meeting strongly urged that "NASA should get out of Low Earth Orbit". What should they do instead?

Below are the comments I submitted to the SSB on the topic, identifying 3 specific goals for US government-sponsored space activities, some of which certainly would continue to include low earth orbit activities for some period of time into the future.

Peer Review and the Sphere of Legitimate Debate

Over at Lucia's blog on an essentially open thread, there was some back and forth on peer review, the merits and barriers to formal publication vs blogs, and so forth. My old friend Joel Shore responded to a comment on science journals expanding faster than the speed of light with a possible source, and mentioned the size of the Physical Review journals doubling every decade.

Since I work there, I thought I'd respond with more up to date data, and also added some thoughts on peer review related to some commentary on a simple diagrammatic explanation of journalistic practice, recently posted by Jay Rosen. My comments follow.

For what it’s worth, Physical Review publication statistics are available online here (2007 numbers):


Executive pay and the Prisoner's Dilemma

Excessive executive salaries are in the news, especially with the moves by the president and congress to limit salaries in companies receiving bail-out money. Devilstower at Daily Kos writes that CEO pay is the problem - echoing comments by Roger Lowenstein in an NPR interview. The basic argument is that, when somebody makes a lifetime's worth of money in a year or two, they have little incentive to do things that are of long-term value. Actions that are high-risk and of short-term benefit are taken regardless of possible long-term calamities they may cause.


Ezekiel with broccoli, egg roll, and mai fun (spaghetti) So, at the Chinese buffet last night, Zeke (3) points at various dishes saying "I want dat". Then he points to the Chinese noodles labeled "Mai Fun", and says, "I want spaghetti" (taking his time to get the 's' sound at the front right). Dad answers: "It's not spaghetti, it's Chinese noodles". "I say it s...spaghetti!" he insisted. Ok, have it your way. Maybe we will talk about spaghetti on here too, depending on your definition :-)


large_puzzle_done2.jpg My sister's family gave Ben a 2000-piece puzzle for Christmas, a 1770's map of the world (words in French and Italian). We finally finished it. Some of us are slightly obsessive about such things. Actually this one was quite fun - the colors and rough patterns didn't tell you much about where any given piece would fit in, but the detail (words, detailed pattern) did, if you looked closely at the box and piece. A little different from many such puzzles.

Feed-In Tariffs: The Best Way Forward

Mirrors at Spanish solar power tower The NY Times' Green Inc blog highlights several plans to introduce feed-in tariffs in various locations around the US. One of the comments led to an interesting article with a slightly lengthier argument for this policy approach, from the Renewable Energy Policy Project.