Archive for February 21st, 2008


February 21, 2008

Beth Simone Noveck explains the concept at Democracy, and

How open-source technology can make government decision-making more expert and more democratic.

The piece goes on to mention some experiments that are already carried out to test these concepts:

On June 15, 2007, the USPTO launched an experiment, the “Peer-to-Patent: Community Patent Review,” which could become a model for precisely this sort of collaborative governance. The program solicits public participation in the patent examination process via the Web. This system (the design and implementation of which I direct in cooperation with the USPTO) allows the public to research and upload publications–known in patent law as “prior art”–that will inform the patent examiner about the novelty and obviousness of the invention and enable her to decide whether it deserves a patent. This is truly revolutionary: In the 200 years since Thomas Jefferson founded the patent office, there has been no direct communication between the patent examiner and the public.

“For the first time in history,” David J. Kappos, vice president and assistant general counsel at IBM, says in the Washington Post, patent-office examiners will be able “to open up their cubicles and get access to a whole world of technical experts.” With the consent of participating inventors, this USPTO pilot allows the self-selecting public to review 250 software-patent applications from such companies as CA, Hewlett-Packard, General Electric, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle, Red Hat, Yahoo, and several smaller firms. The community not only submits information, but it also annotates and comments on the publications, explaining how the prior art is relevant to the claims of the patent application. The community rates the submitted prior art and decides whether or not it deserves to be shared with the USPTO. Only the 10 best submitted prior-art references, as judged on the basis of their relevance to the claims of the patent applications by the online review community, will be forwarded to the patent examiner.

Take a look!

Open access in the Indian context

February 21, 2008

Arunn at Unruled Notebook has some thoughts:

For instance, shift the entire journal online. It costs pittance to maintain a server space and host web domains and could be incurred life long in one philanthropic nod. Open source software can take care of the entire peer reviewing and publishing process with the editors needing to know how to operate one or two such software. Monetizing with appropriate Google ads on such web journal portals are a way to become self reliant.

Another way to do this is to have local consortium of research schools to maintain web spaces for journals in which their employees are participating as editors or reviewers or even authors. There could be an agreement between the journal editorial board and their respective academic institutions on the extent of financial support in magnitude and time. Guidelines could be charted for suitable cap for preventing any monopoly of institutes and representatives while maintaining the democracy of the publishing activity.

One way I could think of is, to start every open access journal with an editorial board and peer review group that already participated actively in the existing editorial boards of other reputed but closed access journals controlled by middleman publishers. This ensures the fledgling open access journal to quickly gain reputation amongst scientists of that field, once they are informed of the illustrious stars that deck the editorial board of that journal. If this process could thaw a few top scientists in that field to send their work to the open access journal, its future and reputation is ensured in the ensuing avalanche.

Another way I could think of is, instead of setting up a new open access journal, an existing closed access journal could be made into an open access one. This could happen with or without the agreement of the publisher. If the publisher agrees to work with one of the models of open access, then that is a start. We should immediately try that angle. For instance, the publisher could be negotiated to release into open access or the internet, the content of an issue, after two or three ensuing issues have appeared. This model could work for academic research publications with reasonable success.

Else, the journal subscriptions could be bought by academic consortium annually and made available open access.

For instance, in India, the institute of technologies can form a consortium and support open access journals. Annual subscriptions can be paid to maintain the open access status of journals served and participated by their employees.

If the publisher doesn’t agree for any sort of open access, the entire editorial board of a reputed journal could decide to boycott and resign their positions and perhaps start a new journal under a suitable name. The editorial board will provide the required credibility for such a venture to be supported by the scientists in that field to contribute to the journal and its reputation.

Take a look!

Standing up to misbehaviour

February 21, 2008

Janet Stemwedel has a couple of posts and Good Math, Bad Math and Uncertain principles share their experiences. Take a look!

Update: John Hawks has a thoughtful post with specific reference to paleoanthropology.

Resources for dual career couples!

February 21, 2008

Here is a page full of resources for dual career couples; via LII:

In physics, the “two-body problem” describes the gravitational field created by two celestial bodies. In academia, the same term describes the situation encountered when both members of a couple are applying for jobs.

Dual career couples face additional challenges in the job search process: choosing whether, when and how to reveal to prospective employers that your spouse is also looking for a job; deciding whether (and for how long) you and your spouse are willing to live apart for the sake of one or both of your careers; and even choosing how you (as a couple) will make choices. As more and more women earn PhD’s in science, the number of dual career academic couples in science is growing. The resources below illustrate some of the (successful!) choices and strategies available to dual career couples.

Take a look!

Blasting a spy satellite and an orange ball up in the sky!

February 21, 2008

Recently, US Navy sent a missile to destroy a spy satellite that was falling towards earth and was carrying toxic fuels; you can watch the video of the blasting of the satellite at the Wired blog. In the meanwhile, yesterday night, we did see another kind of brownish glowing ball — Birdchick has a nice photo of the eclipse.

HowTo: write professional mails to your professors

February 21, 2008

Science Woman has some pointers — with a sample mail:

To: Science Woman (
Subject: Hey

can u tell me how to do number 4 on the problem set. i no u went over it in class but i have had a VERY LONG week lol tests ha ha ha and i lost my notes. pleeease help

Dear Stu,

The notes are available on the class website, but you can also solve #4 by … We’ll also be working more examples in class tomorrow. Please see me during office hours if you need more help.

Dr. Science

I am *so* sick of correspondence like that – and that’s from a typical student in my upper-level class. Let me vent a bit and enumerate its faults, and then I’ll propose a strategy for dealing with it and ask for your suggestions.

Take a look (and, don’t miss the comments, where, there lurk many a gem!)

Bitter vegetation + clay = malaria medicine!

February 21, 2008

Afarensis has an interesting story of Chimps eating a clay rich in kaolinite and Trichilia rubescens (though I could not obtain much information on the net about this plant, this blog post has a photo of a chimp eating the leaves), and how the combination gives these chimps resistant against malaria. An interesting piece!

Yehudi Menuhin on Indian music!

February 21, 2008

Here is a short piece by Yehudi Menuhin (apparently culled from his autobiography Unfinished journey) recounting his exposure (and reactions) to Indian music; though I remember seeing this a piece a long time back, it was lost in the internet jungle till recently, when Jayan brought it to my notice — and it is a pleasure reading it once more:

In contrast, Indian rhythmic complexity is primarily one man’s doing. Before beginning to play, the Indian group-consisting of some combination of three solo players providing drone, melody and rhythm (in order of sound) – chooses a raga and a tala, the warf and woof of the fabric about to be created. A raga is a scale cum melody, a given sequence of notes whose interrelationships are already determined so that each note may be approached from particular directions and in particular ways. The tala is a rhythm. Dozens exist. The Indian pulse beats to our 3/4 and 4/4 time, and beyond that to every conceivable odd and prime number (some variations of which were also discovered by Bartok in Hungarian and other folk music given by him to the world at large). To make the whole exercise more intricate, the Indian, having chosen a tala, of say, eleven beats, will then improvise in groups of ten, leaving to the audience the responsibilty of beating the basic rhythm; which unperturbed, it does with unfailing accuracy. it becomes a game in which each tries to put the other off his stroke, a sort of intellectual motor race in which the concentrated precision keeps apart two rhythms which starts close, separate, then converge. The excitement mounts until, at the 110th beat, when at last the two rhythms meet, there is a tremendous Ha! Of glee from the audience. As if the Indian rhythm player’s task were not already complicated enough, he also contributes to the melody. The tabla, or Indian drum, is an almost melodic instrument, the pressure of the player’s hand altering the tension of the skin and therefore the pitch; the player can slide between notes with precision tool-accuracy, asserting the rhythm with inflections of pitch, attack and volume, varying from the most delicate to the most powerful.

I do not know if I noticed it on my first reading; but, Menuhin’s reaction to harmonium accompaniment to Indian music given below is one with which Bharathiar, who wrote a scathing critique of the practice, would have agreed:

… I have suffered the excruciating experience of hearing the Indian sitar or vina or violin accompanied by a harmonium, a relic of Christian missionaries’ misunderstanding of the culture they were attempting to change.

Take a look!