Archive for the ‘Open Source Open Access’ Category

Open source: economist’s view

March 2, 2011

What economists know about Open Source Software; via MR.


Two things about Euler that I learnt today

November 23, 2009

From Rolf Jeltsch’s colloquium in the Mathematics Department are the following:

[1] Euler was probably one of the earliest mathematical modellers: for example, he turned the Koenigsburg bridge problem into one of graph theory; and, apparently, he is also the first one to consider control volumes in fluid dynamics while the other hydrodynamicists were looking at the entire fluid under different circumstances and tried to describe its behaviour.

[2] Euler was pretty open by the then scientific standards; while his contemporaries were trying to keep their discoveries secret, apparently, he wrote expository pieces and circulated them, and, never indulged in priority disputes.

I have read great things about Euler through his great admirer (probably the greatest) Clifford Truesdell. After learning about his open science approach, I am more impressed.

Galleons, pirate and the flying boat

July 12, 2009

Must-read of the day from Bruce Eckel:

Along comes Google, the pirate. It uses a new kind of ship, swift and agile that can dart among the lumbering Microsoft galleons. The galleons have three and four rows of heavy cannon, but they are too ungainly to turn, and the big guns, so effective when attacking a fixed fortress, can hit nothing (Apple is far over the horizon during all this, in a high-tech racing sailboat. It’s just one boat, but it flies).

There are some really interesting pieces on information in there:

Microsoft could have taken .NET and created a thin layer of glue onto the hardware, and come up with a really good, robust, and revolutionary OS. When I mentioned this in a previous blog, a commenter who apparently worked within Microsoft research said that a project like that had been going on and some pieces of it might eventually appear in Windows. Of course, it could never be put out there as a real OS because it would compete with Windows and someone has too much turf power for that to happen.

Contrast this with Chrome OS. It’s been pointed out that Android is also being used as an OS, so gasp! There are two potentially competing OSes from a single company! Google shrugs and says “yeah, there might be some overlap, but they were designed with different goals in mind so we’ll just see what happens.” Something that would cause major political battles within Microsoft produces indifference within Google.

And, the piece is full of analogies; I will quote the one with which Eckel ends his piece:

I don’t see how Microsoft can change. What you’ve got is one of those nets in the jungle (think “Lost” here) which springs up and traps people into a hanging ball of bodies. Take one of those nets and fill it with Microsoft VPs. The net is constantly pressing them together as they struggle. No one can see that the net itself is an arbitrary constraint, because it presses everyone into a zero-sum game. Google comes wandering through the jungle, whistling, notices for a moment the ball of VPs fighting among themselves, and wanders on.

Unfortunately, the only way to fix the problem is for someone to come along and cut through the net, while everyone inside is screaming “Don’t cut it! We’ll fall!” And of course there would be a fair number of bruises, sprains and some broken bones. (Important note to Microsoft: I now do management consulting, although prepare yourself for truly outrageous fees, payable in advance. I can definitely come in and fix your company).

Take a look!

Wikipedian production: social or anti-social?

June 27, 2009

Nicholas Carr, as usual, is very provocative:

Scott Caplan, a communications professor at the University of Delaware, tells New Scientist that studies of social networks generally indicate that “people who prefer online social behaviour tend to have higher levels of social anxiety and lower social skills.”

None of this is particularly surprising. But the findings do provide an interesting counterweight to the utopian rhetoric that tends to surround online communities. “Social production” might more accurately be termed “antisocial production.”

You know what I would like? XKCD’s take on the research!

HowTo: web publish your book!

June 19, 2009

D J Amy has some suggestions:

I have a few practical suggestions for anyone considering putting a book or other material up on the Web. First, the size of my site – 300 pages in the form of 24 “articles” – is probably too large and intimidating for some readers. Half that size would make for a much more reader-friendly site. Also, as I mentioned earlier, you need to spend some time and money making your site look professional and attractive. An amateurish, do-it-yourself site will put off some readers.

Finally, don’t assume, as I did at the beginning, that “if you build it, they will come.” Few people will simply stumble upon your site. My readership did not begin to grow until I sent out dozens of promotional e-mails to political scientists, political activists, journalists, bloggers, politicians, etc. The biggest boost in readership came when the site got mentioned on several popular political blogs. One link to my site on The Daily Kos brought in several thousand visitors in a few days. So you really need to be willing to put considerable effort into promoting your site if you want it to succeed.

While I have been extremely pleased with the results of using the Web to publish my work, this strategy may not be for everyone. For example, some professors seeking tenure or promotion may be in departments that frown on this nontraditional way of publishing one’s academic work. But if you are at an institution that believes professors have a responsibility to be public intellectuals, and if your main concern is getting your ideas out to the broadest audience possible, then this kind of Web publishing is certainly an intriguing option worth considering.

Take a look!

Personal experiments on doing science cooperatively

May 19, 2009

JS: Can you explain your experiment in cooperative science, and what motivated you to do it?

SC: Well, first off, the idea that it was an experiment is a tad misleading. It was a personal experiment in how I wanted to live my life — not a scientific experiment. Perhaps I can publish it in the Journal of Irreproducible Results one day, if I am so lucky.

The background is this. After several years of work I found myself sitting on a major discovery in one of the most competitive fields in plant biology. “Competitive” in science is usually code for “cut throat”, and can be associated with scientists who abuse their power to get ahead unfairly. I thought to myself — what is the one thing that those “cut throat” types would not do in my situation — because I really do not want to end up like them. Contacting people I might of scoop seemed like an interesting approach. My colleague, ethicist and friend Coleen Macnamara thought it was a great idea, which was encouraging. I sent emails out to people who I determined were sitting on the same jackpot discovery as me, but I gathered that they didn’t realize it. That got the ball rolling.

Go here for the full interview which is a must-must read!

The death and re-birth of books

March 26, 2009

The contemporary moment wherein the book on dead trees is (probably) dead and is being reborn on the net (understandable given all the good karma it did that it gets such an exalted reirth):

The U Mich announcement, as well as the e-Duke announcement represent the first steps it experimenting with alternate systems of revenue capture that are trying to come to grips with the fact that the Internet allows for 1) massively larger audiences, but only if 2) you can figure out how to market and promote your product. The books are not necessarily open access, but at this point, it’s too early to expect a radical shift; and probably a good sign that presses are willing to experiment at all, given the financial situation.

The concerns it raises are the same as always: will books in this new regime get the same editorial and peer-review attention they got in the old one. I suspect the answer is yes, because that’s what university presses do best, but part of the challenge is for these presses to convince academic audiences that this is true; that just because a new monograph is available for free online, and for a reduce price as a print-on-demand book, this does not reflect anything about its quality, does not mean it has been remaindered, and does not mean that the author paid to have it published. The difficulty of making scholars realize this should not be underestimated—as I continually discover, the majority of them are living not just in the 20th century, but in the 19th… sigh. Kudos to U Mich for joining us in the contemporary moment.

Hope those at the recently established IISc Press are listening and will join the movement at this momentous moment!

Complete documentation of how a research problem is solved

March 19, 2009

Via Abi, I learn that the massively collaborative math project that I wrote about a while ago has reached successful conclusion:

… the mathematical result of the project has far exceeded what I thought would be possible in a mere six weeks. I deliberately set a rather modest aim: to explore just one approach to DHJ(3). In retrospect, this seems not to have been the right decision, though it may have been quite good as a starting point, since in the end we moved off into other directions that were more fruitful (not that I completely rule out a proof along the lines first envisaged, especially given some of the tools that we have now developed). Anyhow, these initial restrictions were quietly abandoned, and it looks as though we have proved a stronger result than seemed remotely feasible then. (More precisely, if we had managed to get my initial suggestion to work, it would probably have been unpleasant, though not impossible, to generalize.)

Tim Gowers, the author of the post, goes on to discuss the pluses and minuses of the experience, during which, he has this interesting point to make:

… as several people have commented, it has provided, for possibly the first time ever (though I may well be wrong about this), the first fully documented account of how a serious research problem was solved, complete with false starts, dead ends etc.

Obviously, some areas are more amenable to such documentation than others! In any case, the comments on the post go on to discuss ways in which the experiment can be scaled and repeated — all of which I find very interesting! Take a look!

On forcing volunteers

February 18, 2009

Bruce Eckel:

When the concept of “forcing” is introduced, it breaks that unity and says “us” will force “them” to do things. That bothers me a lot because it tries to reassert an “us” and “them” in a unified group. That’s not what we’re trying to do, and a punishment-reward system only works intermittently.

To me the Python/Pycon community is all reward and no punishment.

What does work is incentive, and the biggest incentive when you want to be part of the community is incentive that comes from that community. At Burning Man, the people who have been there before try to indoctrinate the new people. It doesn’t always work at first, and things fall through the cracks. Those who understand the concept of “leave no trace” end up cleaning up after those who don’t. But the gentle pressure is there, and when you stop your bike to pick up a piece of MOOP (Matter Out Of Place — the subculture generates its own language), you get a positive feeling, even if there’s no one to see it. You’re connecting with and supporting the community with that simple act.

In Open Spaces conferences, the key to changing the culture is having simple, clear agreements that everyone knows about. Everyone knows that getting up and going to another talk is not only OK, it’s encouraged. Experimentation and discussion is encouraged. Once people figure out that it’s all about them doing the thing they most want to be doing right now, it flourishes.

A nice one!

Having the cake, and eating it too!

January 7, 2009

PNAS announces that it will allow authors to keep copyright for the articles published in the proceedings:

Beginning with papers submitted in January 2009, PNAS authors will retain copyright to their work and will give the National Academy of Sciences an exclusive license to publish it.

Among other things, this system would allow the author(s) to

  • … freely reuse their work for any educational use. [and]

  • … post the PDF of their article on their web page.

Take a look!