Over at Technology Review, there is a post written by Nicholas Carr which he has named The Library of Utopia. In it, he surveys very quickly the highs and lows of the now famous Google Book Deal. You know, Google’s big effort to digitize and make available millions of books online. After a very energetic kick-off, Google’s plan ran into the shallows, as copyright holders filed suit for infringement. The company had promised that it would resolutely meet court challenges by mounting a strong ‘fair use’ case, but on reflection, decided that a kind of Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact was better. People with latitudinarian attitudes to information sharing felt sold-out, but Google is a company, and companies have lawyers, lots of ‘em, and the first rule of lawyering is: never go to court; always make a deal. So, the G proposed a rather far-reaching settlement which had to be approved by the trial judge in the case. He not only did not approve, he sent it back with lot of red marks all over and a big F on the top right. So Google and the plaintiffs went back to the conference room and, as far as any human knows, that’s where they remain, trying to get something together that a. will suit His Honor’s opinions, b. allow Google to go on with the project and c. meet the plaintiff’s claims. Good luck with that. Into the gap caused by the failure of the Google effort ran a consortium of idealists from Academia, who wondered if they could do something like what Google had wanted to do. Guys from Harvard, like Robert Darnton, rounded up support from other big schools, and from various foundations and other beneficent organizations. Negotiations are in progress, and progress is…well, according to the item on the blog, certain difficulties are arising and the negotiators strategy seems to be to go around them, knitting up as much agreement as possible, and not letting the whole thing founder on some tough problem. “To be determined” seems to be language that’s used a good deal. By the way, this project is called the Digital Public Library of America, or DPLA, a fact which I should have introduced before now. Sorry. I can’t say if this is just a Fool’s Errand, or whether there is a real chance the DPLA could get going. Congress may have to intervene, but that remedy may be worse than the current disease.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) has sent leaflets to some residents in a district close to Olympic Park, the scene of the 2012 Summer Olympics. The papers describe the practice alert session that will be held in advance of the ceremonies, to check out that everything is working well. The residents were also informed that the rooftop of a certain building would be taken over by the Army, so that air defence troops could install some hardware, missile launchers actually. Not to worry, though. Only dummy warheads would be used, so everything is fine, see? But when the actual games are in progress, I guess the launchers will have, like, you know, live ammunition, right? Somehow the notion of troops with anti-aircraft missiles surrounding the stadium doesn’t seem to fit too well with the Olympic spirit, where the most important thing is ‘not to win, but to compete’. Yeah, well, most of the air has been let out of that tire. It’s all very sad, but ” I show you the times”, as the man said in the movie.
You can watch a demo of the missile in action. It seems like a nasty little piece of work.
Well, shut my mouth! Just after I complained about how the major scientific journals don’t publish meaty book reviews anymore, what happens but the new issue of Nature appears with about 8 really good ones. I guess it’s like washing your car to make it rain. Well, no matter. The April 26 issue has its Spring Books section and I’m happy to tell about it. Eric Kandell, Michael Shermer and E.O. Wilson are among the talens. So, here, it’s a gift:
Remember the Memory Hole? In 1984, the schlubby ‘non-hero’ works in the Ministry of Truth, that organization devoted to official lying. It’s his job to help make ‘corrections’; retrieve and destroy any document of any kind previously released that contrasts with the Party Line of today. The ‘surplus’ documents are pushed done the “memory hole”, a kind of super pyrolizer that vaporizes them almost instantly, so they never existed, so the cannot embarrass the Pary now. Duke Energy had on its web site an official paper on the projected power use of Apple, in its new building in Maiden, NC. The authors were quite giddy at the prospect of all that moola rolling in because with data centers, “the meter just spins and spins”. Sky’s the limit. Well, an item on tody’s Wired News says that, somehow that item can no longer be found. Imagine that. Nothing new here to us folks in the library racket. We’ve been yaking about this since all the internet thing started: once the only version of a document is a digital one, how can we be sure that it has not been manipulated or, a tip of the straw boater to Mr. Orwell, ‘corrected’ to serve corporate or governmental purpose? We can’t. So Apple is not the power hog that it seemed to be in the report. Nope, it’s gonna do renewables, and recycle and all that. Oh, look! It’s the NFL draft! Dontcha wanna turn on your 200 inch plasma screen and watch that!!??? Now, go away. Stop asking questions. This is none of your business.
In these lines not long ago I posted a note about the anniversary of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In today’s selection of items for Arts&Letters Daily we find a long story linked from the The Chronicle of Higher Education . The item surveys the intellectual terrain nowadays for signs of Kuhn’s notion of paradigm and the shifting thereof. I complained that Kuhn’s notions had been warped into some sort of pop culture banner under which various social phenomena were explained away as examples of ‘paradigm shift’. Poor Kuhn! I’ll say it again. I don’t think he was very happy at the fate of his idea. It was a suggestion, not a fully worked-out theory. And he was pretty ticked about the way he claimed people, even colleagues, had misunderstood him. We don’t hear ‘paradigming’ much any more. At least I don’t. That particular bandwagon has been retired to the barn and parked next to Marx’s dialectics,making way for other vehicles: ‘isms’ of different stripes and Foucauldian analysis are familiar, as are some sects calling themselves postmodernist. If your’re minded to find out more, read the piece.
Yes. Our readers will recall that I am a particular fan of the American Scientist for publishing long reviews of scientific books. This practice was at one time common in professional journals, but has now been generally abandoned because of the difficulty of finding reviewers who can do the job properly and because of the demand for space in any given issue, to publish submitted research. Journals still print reviews, but not many of them and not as thorough ones. So, the AS keeps the tradition alive. I was at the journal’s site looking at reviews of three new books on Egyptology when something else on the page caught my eye, leading in turn to an examination of the current issue’s Macroscope feature. The topic is the book/movie Moneyball , the book by Michael Lewis made into a more or less faithful film version of the same name. The book concerns the travails of the Oakland As’ manager, Billy Beane, who managed to build a pretty good baseball time by using statistical analysis of prospects’ past playing records as a guide to hiring. In short, Mr. Beane was ‘data mining’. A corpus of statistical information existed, which has grown much larger through the addition of inning-by-inning and pitch-by-pitch of players. Beane used this to locate and hire strong players, who were not spectacular enough for the deep-pocket teams, but who were still pretty fair ballplayers…just the kind Oakland could afford. This piece is clearly and even elegantly written by Prof. Franklin M. Cohan who urges science to deploy more analytical tools to be applied to the very large data corpora that are being accumulated in scientific observations today. He gives several examples of such deployment, in biology and linguistics, with exhortations to do more, since what can be learned from the masses of data compiled so fat, and those promising (threatening?) to come along soon. And these examples are very striking in what they show to be possible. So perhaps some wise heads will heed the cry and draw the necessary conclusions. The data already exist. Analytical tools are available. A marriage should be arranged.
The Royal Society is the great, great granddaddy of all the scientific and scholarly societies that are so important today in helping to get the business of science done in an efficient way. It was founded in the late 17th century, Nov. 28, 1660 more precisely, and has been in business ever since. The motto the founders picked for the new organization was; “nullius in verba”,or “we take nobody’s say-so as reason to accept a statement”. The implication was that the Society would rely on evidence, not on the authority of some famous figure,and that meant, in turn, on the results of experiments, not on the authority of some figure. Well, the RS announces that they are in the process of making a large number of images available to the public. I picked this story up in a different context. But when I looked at the post more carefully it seems to me that the bigger item is the availability of images, many of which are of unusual and beautiful character. The item I was reading concerned the poor sales of a book the Society had heavily backed, the Historia Piscium . Thinking that this book would be boffo, the directors sank a lot of the Society’s dough went into supporting it preparation. But it turned out to be a flopola…the Ishtar of scientific publication. Things were so bad that one I. Newton was told that the RS might not be able to publish his little thingy, what was it again, oh yeah, Principia Mathematica . But all’s well that ends well.
Well, the 3-D movie thing seems to have come and gone, again. And I don’t know what the state of 3-D television is, but I don’t think it’s very good. So, what’s the next step? Why, a 3-D tablet of course! And, if you are patient and save up your milk money, you maybe be able to afford the 3-D tablet that is supposed to come out in 2013, from an outfit named Masterimages. The use of 3-D on the tablet may have more promise that in movie/TV, because of the simulation function for uses such as art, anatomical instruction for health professionals, study of chemical reactions, molecules etc. We will just have to wait and see. Check it:
The hits just keep on comin’ don’t they? Except, not all of them are hits. Far from it. We are talking about efforts by the various e-device manufacturers to come up with and market a tablet or slate or whatever you want to call it that will allow the company making it to get a share of the dough now going to Apple and its Ipad. There is a review in Wired today of a new gizmo launched by Asus that has some good features and is a somewhat cheaper. The bite always is in the ‘somewhat’. You make it cheaper by cutting out some feature or altering the design or manufacture of the product in such a way that you don’t have to spend as much to get it out the factory door. It’s a kind of ‘just good enough’ marketing approach. But often times when you compare the price of the candidate with the price of the Ipad, and then examine the difference in performance between the two units, you say, well shoot, I might as well spend the extra N bucks and get the whole thing. What the market is looking for is a low-priced unit that is also very, very close to the Ipad in terms of feature load. That will be tough to achieve, short of some kind of ‘give-away’ or ‘loss leader’ method of sale. But see for yourself:
Henry Wellcome was an American, from the upper MidWest, who made his fortune in England, manufacturing and selling pharmaceutical products. In time, he became Sir Henry, since money talks in Britain quite as clearly and directly as it does over here, but perhaps with a gentler accent, and surely much, much more quietly. Anyway, Sir Henry decided to devote much of his fortune to collecting things, and one of the things he liked to collecting was books or other materials on the history of pharmacy and medicine. So the Wellcome Institute in London has a large collection of interesting and valuable items, most of which are securely locked away. But the Institute does offer exhibits, a number of them, and the current one is on the brain: what it is, what he have done to it in trying to understand it, what we know about the diseases found there and so on. The link goes to a satelllite site of The Ecnonmist ,called Prospero, from the wise magician in The Tempest, by some famous English guy. Judging from the picture, neurosurgery has come a long, long way.