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Tuesday, February 21

Rush rush rush

I'm about to leave for a week long trip to Kyiv. The main purpose is to go to Duncan's wedding, but since it's rather a long way we decided it would be silly to just go there for the weekend. I am, of course, excited. The first of my old, close friends is about to get married, several others will be there so I'll get to see a group of people who I miss, and this will be my first visit to a new country in several years.

Taxi is here - must go....
posted @ 10:40 AM -

Wednesday, February 15

Cheering on the Public Library of Science

[cross-posted to my work blog]

I am a big fan of the Public Library of Science initiative. It has lofty goals which can basically be summed up as: support science by making access to relevant information as free as possible, in every sense of the word. In practice, this is mainly done through the publication of a set of high-quality, free to read journals, which for the moment are quite focussed on the life sciences. The only conditions attached to articles published in those journals are that any work using their contents give full attribution to the source, which is how scientific papers are expected to operate anyway.

Free access to to original research papers is highly valuable for practicing scientists, especially those who are not attached to a well-funded university (I can get most papers I need through Case; a scientist in the third world is less likely to have that privilege, not to mention one who doesn't have a formal affiliation to some institution). But it's of little use to most lay people, and reaching out beyond a specialist audience is part of the aims of the PLoS project. I think it's a very important goal, both for the benefit of people who can use the information (which I think is particularly relevant for the PLoS Medicine journal), and because the science community as a whole benefits from public understanding of what we do, and loses when we are seen as remote and disinterested.

To further this aim, all the PLoS journals I use have taken to publishing synopses of the original research articles they run. PLoS Biology explains the rationale nicely:
All PLoS Biology research articles are accompanied by a synopsis written by a professional science writer for a general audience. It is our goal that the synopses will provide non-experts with insight into the significance of the published work.

But there's also another purpose served by them, which I am personally very pleased by. They provide a useful intermediate format between the abstract and the full article. I've been finding myself using these synopses quite a lot for articles that are of interest but at some distance from my own research focus, because I just don't have time to read every interesting article, so I have to filter quite strictly based on whether the content will be useful to my work, but at the same time abstracts are so condensed that I often find myself wanting to read more than just those.
posted @ 11:38 AM -

Tuesday, February 14

Happy Valentine's Day

In honour of the day of Hallmark fortune-making, I give you:

somethingawful.com's Star Wars Valentines thread

The sad part is that I used one of those this year, in part because I'm so tired of the difficulty of finding a ready-made Valentine's card with a message that isn't one of: hur hur I'm such a bad partner isn't that funny?, or it's Valentine's Day, let's fuck, or so mushy and teddybearrific as to be emetic. Is there no market between crass and twee?
posted @ 9:10 AM -

Sunday, February 12

'scuse me while I kiss this guy

Death Cab For Cutie's latest album has a song on it called I Will Follow You Into The Dark. It's a sweet, romantic song, with a chorus that goes:
If heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied
Illuminate the 'no's on their vacancy signs
If there's no-one beside you when your soul embarks
Then I'll follow you into the dark

The first time I heard this, I distinctly remember wondering why vacancy signs would have noses on them.
posted @ 6:06 PM -

Friday, February 10

Protecting the Proletariat
from Accidental Criminality

I think I've just seen the most astonishing piece of doublespeak I've ever encountered outside fiction. The BBC put a set of reader questions about "movies in the digital age" to industry representatives. One of them was summed up as What's the point of DRM?, and Dan Glickman of the MPAA came out with this beauty in response:
...it is not correct to assume that one clever hack dooms all use of DRM. Content owners use DRMs because it provides casual, honest users with guidelines for using and consuming content based on the usage rights that were acquired. Without the use of DRMs, honest consumers would have no guidelines and might eventually come to totally disregard copyright and therefore become a pirate, resulting in great harm to content creators.

I can't even be bothered to respond to something so blatantly dishonest and utterly patronising to end users, so I'll just link to ars technica's response, and quote what I think is the key paragraph:
Mr. Glickman, I have a question for you (and I know one of your underlings will read this): if DRM is about helping honest users, then why does your DRM make fair use impossible? Why does your DRM make it impossible to backup movies that I have bought? Why is it impossible to legally put DVDs that I've purchased onto my iPod? Why is it impossible for me to extract clips from your movies for educational purposes? These are all things I have a legal right to do, but can't, because of the DMCA: a law that your organization cheerleads for.
posted @ 10:28 AM -

Thursday, February 9

Last weekend I

  • Watched Blixa Bargeld (former guitar/outlandish noises/dodgy Texan impressions man from the Bad Seeds) do an incredible vocal performance at the Triple Door. I don't like using terms as vague as vocal performance, but I can't really think of what else to call it. All the pretentious-sounding description on the website is spot-on, and that's about all I can say.

  • Was disappointed by Etta's Seafood. Not that the meal was bad, but after being so impressed with the other Tom Douglas restaurants I found the food at Etta's mediocre (the Sea Bar Sampler at the Dahlia Lounge is a much more interesting spread of local seafood), service wasn't the delight that it is at the rest of the franchise, and the place is rather cramped.

  • Went to the International District for the Chinese New Year celebrations. Returned to the Vegetarian Bistro and had another tasty meal, then watched a lot of lion dancing and took some photos.

  • Was frustrated by the officiating at the Superbowl, though I must admit I was more disappointed because it would have been fun to be somewhere when the local team wins a championship, than because I really cared all that much. I was more distressed by the Rolling Stones' half-time show. Mick Jagger seems to have aged in an odd way: instead of losing the ability to dance around the stage like a younger performer, he seems to have lost the ability to sing in tune with his own former self. For the first time I found myself wondering if maybe the Stones have been going for too long.

  • Became mildly and strangely ill. Well, the symptoms didn't show up till Monday, but from then till Wednesday I found myself having bouts of being tired, a little achey and just not feeling quite right, without anything like the level of unpleasantness normally associated with the flu (let alone anything more serious). I was trying to ignore it (though it did make me not go to capoeira, and it's definitely made me less efficient at work) but because it hasn't gone away yet, today I finally decided to sleep in and do nothing all day to see if I can shake it.

  • Didn't get around to writing about the weekend until Thursday, in part because of the aforementioned illness.
posted @ 5:25 PM -

Wednesday, February 1

Help me!

I'm in need of more computer-hours per day than I have access to. Can anyone help me? Details on the work blog.
posted @ 1:21 PM -
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