This morning’s New York Times has a rather detailed review of the new tablet/computer or whatever it is to be launched by Microsoft this coming Monday. The writer is deeply impressed by the unit,the device. It is very ‘spec-rich’: that’s a roundabout way of saying that the Surface has a lot of hardware features, plus ports and outlet for connecting other equipment. The design is very good; the keyboard gets high marks; everything seems to be just short of wonderful. Problems arise for the writer at least, when he tries to do something with the machine other than oooh! and ahhh! over the hardware. His view is that the software load is clunky, unreliable and slow. Also, it’s WiFI only. So, high marks for design, construction, utility on the machine. But a s/so grade on the software and its capacities. The Windows RT package is being used and it seems that not many of the previous Windows programs will run on the Surface. I’m not sure what’s going on here. MS is clearly pitching this machine as a desktop tablet or a tablet computer or some other beast that will allow customers to do all the things they would otherwise have done on a desktop/laptop, only on a tablet style device. So the absence of a robust software inventory of the company’s own products is very strange. Maybe the gnomes are Redmond are working on something.
One of the most vexing questions to arise in recent years has been the matter of what to do with the vast amounts of experimental data large-scale scientific experiments are generating. One approach to the problem is to say that there is not problem at all, really. In point of fact, much data gathered during an experiment is relevant to that experiment alone, and would not ‘travel’ well if transferred to a different set of experimental conditions and assumptions. It may sound like wishful thinking taking over: declaring an insoluble problem to be unimportant, because we can’t solve it. But, hang on a sec. Some new thinking is raising the welcome possibility that much of our worrying on this question may have been misplaced, and the problem may be more tractable than we had thought. Read the post from the Scholarly Kitchen.
October brings Halloween, the World Series and the release of the Nobel Prize awardees for the current year. The laureates in Physiology or Medicine are John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka, for work on pluripotent stem cells.
Felix Baumgartner is poised to begin the ascent in the balloon that will carry him to about 120,000 feet, at which point he will jump out of the gondola which carried him and fall to earth. If all goes as planned, he will set a new altitude record and also a new speed record for, well, what? A man falling through the air, I guess. At a set altitude a chute will open and FB will drift gently to earth. What could go wrong? Sign me up! He’ll be wired up big time as the ground team measures every physiological parameter imaginable. Right now the shot is on weather hold. The ascent will take several hours. I wonder what he’ll do to pass the time.
Every news service in the world is covering this. I’m crossing my fingers for Felix.
That’s movie slang from way back. When the private-eye hero gets roughed up by the bad guys or the not so bad guys who want to scare him off the case, he says: “they gave me a going-over, but I’m still on it.” Which happens only in the movies, of course. Nicholas Carr wrote a book a little while ago, called The Shallows: what the Internet is doing to our brains.
A lot of people didn’t like what he said, the gist of which you can easily gather from the title and subtitle. I’m with Carr, for what that’s worth. But, I digress. He’s at it again, sort of. In Technology Review Mr. Carr sums up the possible impact of MOOCS on American, and ultimately world, higher education. A MOOC is a Massively Online Open Course. Thousands of students are enrolled simultaneously, and extensive use is made of networking technology. It’s supposed to be, wait for it, ‘the wave of the future’ in higher education, which, according to Carr and other critics, is pretty much on the rocks in its current configuration. MOOCs are cheaper, more democratic, more effective and a whole list of ‘mores’. MIT and Yale have put a lot of their coursework onto MOOC platforms. So far, the reviews seem good. But, there are critics, as Carr is careful to note. An interesting historical parallel can be drawn to the once popular ‘correspondence courses’ of the 1920s and later. People signed up at places such as the University of Chicago for various courses, and received reading lists, notes and assignments by mail. The students were supposed to do the work at home, send in the assignments, get comments and learn things. It all sounded great but for various reasons did not deliver the benefits. So critics are predicting the return of the correspondence course, only this time all tarted up in digital accourtrements, with the same ultimate result. Well not so fast. As the Canonist said: rarely affirm, never deny, always distinguish. Some types of course work seem to succeed very well and most of the success stories deal with Comp Sci and other technology topics. How MOOCs would work out in world history or philosophy 101 might be different. Obviously, something is wrong with the way things are done now. The country needs a re-think and a re-do of higher education, starting with a very, very tough question: what is college FOR? Some say , to get a better deal in life, so college is job training. Others, college is for learning what an informed and rational human being needs to have in order to understand the world and what happens in it, to train the mind, to understand the past, to not be taken in by sharpies and charlatans, in either the private or public spheres. So college is for making us better. Should everybody go to college? Is that even possible? Who gets to go and why? Without some answers to these questions, reform efforts are wasted efforts.
Today’s New York TImes offers a quite detailed performance review of the next generation of E-book readers. In case you’ve been in Borneo or someplace like that, there has been some movement on the e-reader front. Another way of saying that is to note that the big guys in the field, Amazon and Barnes&Noble, have each released a new product line of e-book readers, while not abandoning their earlier offerings, at least not yet. What makes these machines interesting is the addition of page illumination features, which allow the reader, the person in this case, to enjoy his/her Nook or Kindle in a variety of lighting situations, or I guess they’re called ‘environments’ in the design biz. It’s a kind of tit for tat armaments race between the two biggies. Both want ‘features’ for their readers. But the features can’t be too exotic because that means pricey, and including them can’t make the item too heavy, or people won’t buy it. Who wants to lug an anvil around? And after a while, a short while I think, companies reach a kind of outer limit on features, just as software did years ago with word processing. Come on guys, they’re READERS. You are supposed to read stuff on them. Once you get past that, you have just about done it. Anyway, Mr. Pogue, the paper’s technology critic, takes a look at the new offerings.
Here is an extensive review of one of the new machines: Paperwhite on Amazon’s Kindle.
An article appearing the Proceeding of the National Academy, well, youi know the rest has added some more fuel to the slow burn about the number of retractions of articles in the scientific literature. Some analyses previously published seemed to support the suggestion that retracted articles were being pulled because the authors had made mistakes and had somehow become aware of this fact and were now asking the journal editors to yank the article. But the PNAS article offers some pretty strong evidence that such a comforting interpretation is, to quote Eliza Doolittle, ‘not bloody likely’. The authors made careful surveys of the reasons stated for retraction by the editors, or in a statement written by the retracting authors. Some of those are so bland and anodyne (‘the data are unreliable’) that it’s not possible to figure out what went wrong. But the authors dug deeper and found from secondary sources such as newspaper accounts that research integrity problems were factors in many retractions. The blog Retraction Watch covers the story quite extensively here:
Tuesday is the day the New York Times science section appears, and there is a story on the PNAS article also:
Hold on to you hats. Apple is about to release the Iphone 5! This will, of course, Change Everything. Why and How? I dunno, it’s just the ‘meme’ speaking, I don’t believe it myself. I means, it’s a bloody telephone, right? No! It’s much more than that! It’s the answer to prayer! It’s what all of us really, really want to make our lives beautiful and perfect! Well, tomorrow is the day. I sneer at this stuff, but I have to be careful that I don’t get carried away, going in the other direction. Some economist wrote a research note, which was talked about on Market Place, as I was riding home last night. The release of the PhoneV is expected to give the GDP a boot in the can measuring anywhere from one-quarter to one half a percentage point. That ain’t hay, kids. And FedEx is supposedly making plans to deal with the order “surge” which they anticipate. Here are some musings:
There has been a large increase in the number of scientific papers retracted by authors or journal editors. And, typically, the journal publishes a notice which explains the reasons for the retraction, soft of anyway. Some observers complain that, sure, there are notices, but very often they don’t tell you much. A recent study in the Journal of Medical Ethics followed up on publications involved in cases of research misconduct and found that in some cases the article describing the research was not retracted and so lives on. In others, the not terrible helpful word RETRACTED was added. In others yet, a vague, circumlocutary statement was issued, talking about ‘mistakes’, or ‘errors’, without any admission of hanky, much less of panky. The guys at Retraction Watch have been crusading for greater ‘transparency’ in the area of retraction statements. Instead of reading that ‘mistakes were made’, they want to know what kind of mistakes, and who made them. The good news is that journals seem to be getting tougher. When the retraction craze started, there was a certain diffidence, but as things advanced, editors began to resent more openly that they, the reviewers, and the readership had all been conned, and the more they thought about it, the less they liked it. Some retraction statements have become more detailed. Image manipulation still seems to lead the way as major cause for retraction. And a cadre of quasi-professional image sleuths has grown up, quite skilled in the detection of image re-use, repositioning, clipping, inserting and other tricks. It’s really a vulnerability for the would-be faker: your efforts are there, just waiting to be uncovered. Problems with informed consent, plagiarism or other forms of ‘creative recycling’ are frequent causes. And then there is the not inconsiderable number of data fakers. Takes all kinds.
The Samsung Galaxy tablet got some good reviews, and the company is anxious to build upon that success with a follow-on device that will incoporate some improvements and offer a bigger screen. A launch date in the very near future is expected.