OpenSource Science vs. The Journals

Ever since George Soros announced that he would be donating $3 million to the Budapest Open Access Initiative, debate over the e-journal versus traditional journals has been heating up. An article today from the BBC points out some a few critics attacking the net journal initiative.

In many ways, these criticisms are the same ones being made in the debate surrounding peer-to-peer journalism versus Journalism-with-a-capital-J, arguments that probably shouldn’t be made so hastily because the two media aren’t necessarily competing. As the Physical Review Letters has proven, online journals can provide an entirely different type of information (namely late breaking results) that augments, rather than undermines traditional journals.

Exercise the body

I went to the gym today, which is strange because I’m typically a Monday/Wednesday/Friday gym person, and was surprised to see all the same people that I see on my normal schedule. Until now I had expected that all of them, the I-like-coffee-with-my-weights guy, the older-but-fitter-than-thou couple, and the attention-deficit-fitness kid were just like me, but instead they’re getting 5 days to my 3.

It’s the same realization that Chris Eigeman makes in Barcelona when someone reveals to him that men typically shave their faces with the grain, instead of against it (of course, he’s been shaving against the grain his entire life). I just assumed that everyone was on the same schedule that I was. Now that the bubble has burst, I guess I have to start going every day.

Stick to what you know

Google is currently testing distributed computing as an option of its toolbar. Sergei Brin (Google co-founder) says that the initial use of the computation will be for the [email protected] project at Stanford, but also says that it might be aimed at internal search problems. It seems awkward for a company who has sold themselves on doing one thing, and one thing well, to suddenly branch out just to “give something back to science.” I’d say that Google has either got something up its sleeve, or lost the plot.

SMS Memes

I’ve always been fascinated by SMS as a technology to spread memes. Given that people have the attention, the instantaneous push nature of phone messages coupled with group distribution lists could lead to immediate information epidemics. But the phone service has a long way to go since, as the BBC reports, many messages go missing. Transmission rates need to be above some threshold before we can reach a tipping point, and perhaps the necessary technology has not arrived yet.

Back to reality

It’s sad when you’re dealing with the difficulties of life outside your blogdentity to watch your blog go fallow as a result. Someone should invent some technology to cache ideas so that when you’re too sad to even turn on your computer, your blog continues blogging by itself, keeping people interested. Needless to say, I’m back.

Tiny mechanisms, big ideas

One of the great parts about having friends in town is the excuse it gives you to drag them to all sorts of places you always want to go, but never have the time. At the top of my list was the MIT Museum, which is just down the street, and offers free admission, but somehow kept slipping through the cracks in my schedule.

The space is equally divided into five areas: robots, Arthur Ganson, Harold Edgerton, holography, and MIT history/culture. Every exhibit is fascinating, and could easily be in a gallery or larger museum, but without a doubt, Ganson takes the show. Some of the highlights:

  • Cory’s yellow chair: A simple yellow chair becomes a statement of coordinated disarray as it is ripped apart and spun in six different directions. The pieces mesmerize as they spin endlessly in symmetry, before being slammed back together for an instant, making a satisfying “click,” and then being torn apart again to start the process over (real video).
  • Wishbone: One of Ganson’s best techniques comes from his masterful knowledge of mechanical illusion, giving a complicated device a simple, implausible explanation. The wishbone in question appears to be the horse to a giant cart, slowly but surely pulling like a World’s Strongman Competition. Of course the reality is the opposite, a giant machine pushes the delicate wishbone forward, one bone at a time (real video).
  • Machine with Concrete: How slow can you go? After 12 1/50th gear reductions, the answer is, pretty darn slow. A motor drives this system of gears initially at 212 rpm, by the third gear, motion is imperceptible, and the other end a bit is driven into a block of concrete at a rate of one rotation every 2.191 trillion years (real video).

If you’re ever in the Boston area, this exhibit is well worth checking out. Many of his gadgets are so surreal (Inchworms, Machine with 23 Scraps of Paper) are truly indescribable, and need to be seen in person. At $5 (or free if you’re with an MIT student), it’s money well spent.