Archive for August, 2010

The fear that “the-company-which-should-not-be-named” used to inspire!

August 13, 2010

Paul Graham:

If anyone at Yahoo considered the idea that they should be a technology company, the next thought would have been that Microsoft would crush them.

It’s hard for anyone much younger than me to understand the fear Microsoft still inspired in 1995. Imagine a company with several times the power Google has now, but way meaner. It was perfectly reasonable to be afraid of them. Yahoo watched them crush the first hot Internet company, Netscape. It was reasonable to worry that if they tried to be the next Netscape, they’d suffer the same fate. How were they to know that Netscape would turn out to be Microsoft’s last victim?

By the way, it is good to see that the frequency of Graham’s publication of his essays is increasing. If I ever teach a course on writing (which I really want to do sometime — at least as a short term one), these pieces would surely be part of the syllabus.

Nucleation in liquids

August 11, 2010

May be an old topic; but the abstract claims some new findings:

Crystallization is one of the most fundamental nonequilibrium phenomena universal to a variety of materials. It has so far been assumed that a supercooled liquid is in a “homogeneous disordered state” before crystallization. Contrary to this common belief, we reveal that a supercooled colloidal liquid is actually not homogeneous, but has transient medium-range structural order. We find that nucleation preferentially takes place in regions of high structural order via wetting effects, which reduce the crystal–liquid interfacial energy significantly and thus promotes crystal nucleation. This novel scenario provides a clue to solving a long-standing mystery concerning a large discrepancy between the rigorous numerical estimation of the nucleation rate on the basis of the classical nucleation theory and the experimentally observed ones. Our finding may shed light not only on the mechanism of crystal nucleation, but also on the fundamental nature of a supercooled liquid state.

Have a look!

The frenzy about simple publication metrics

August 10, 2010

From this editorial in ACS Nano (hat tip to my colleague A S Panwar for the pointer):

There is a tremendous frenzy about the simple publication metrics among scientists of all calibers. Take, for instance, the h-index, which is a great reflection on how our community behaves. Discussion of new faculty candidates necessarily involves someone bringing up the h-index of the person in question. I have known academic researchers who track the h-indices of their friends, making diagrams similar to those of the stock market. Another colleague of mine takes every opportunity to mention that the h-index depends strongly on the field. There are also examples of scientists who advertise their h-index on the front page of their web site. These tendencies have been noted and satirized in a recent Editorial in our sister journal, ACS Chemical Biology, pointing out multiple ways to increase one’s h-index artificially. Such manipulations are nothing more than another form of scientific misconduct and fraud and are caused by overwhelming attention to this index.

Overall, the more simplified and metric-driven the evaluation of scientific work becomes, the more susceptible science will be to deceit and petty tricks.

Take a look!