Monday, May 18, 2020

What the "future" brings us today, yesterday

I like this little video of the future imagined in 1967, especially the part where the son speeds up audio recording 102 since he had already heard it--while I watch the video at 1.25 speed on YouTube.

Since computers and other modern conveniences give us more time to learn, we can spend the time to understand other diverse perspectives as we get to know people from other parts of the world and other cultures. We will spend the time to be more empathetic as technology allows us all the ability to learn and grow and appreciate the wonderful world we live in.

It is also covered by Paleofuture in a 2007 post.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Time and the heat death of the universe

I've been trying to wrap my brain around something for the last couple of months. I watched a video that explains what might happen as the universe dies in about 10^96 years. I can understand what a billion years or a trillion years is, but can I grasp the concept of a trillion trillion (10^24) years or a trillion trillion trillion trillion (10^48) years, or more?

In this post, I will use a relative scale to show just how loooooooooong the death of the universe might take.

Here is the video.

Because the scale is absolutely massive, I first wanted to scale down what a trillion years is. For that, let's say that a meter stick is a trillion years. Since a trillion is the same as a thousand billion, then a tiny little millimeter is a billion years. Imagine our time has been flowing at a millimeter per billion years--pretty slow, right? Imagine that we have a very slow snail that crawls a millimeter every billion years. The universe is 13.79 billion years old, and our snail hasn't yet traversed this penny which is 19.05 millimeters in diameter. The Earth is only 4.54 billion years old, so it is about a quarter of the diameter of the penny. The universe hasn't even lived long enough for that snail to traverse that penny.

Note that in the video, the creator, melodysheep (John Boswell), speeds things up as the movie progresses. This shows the various stages of the universe nicely, but one will have a hard time feeling just how long it will take for the black holes to evaporate at the end.

In the video, we hit a billion years at 3:04, and the snail has gone a millimeter in our scale. At 3:54, we hit a trillion years. He notes that most stars are starting to die off. I had read that some stars can live up to 10 trillion years or more.

Ok, imagine again our snail that goes a millimeter every billion years. That is very slow. Can you feel how long it will take this snail to go the length of a meter stick for a trillion years? Imagine that it goes on for about 11 yards or 10 meters. It would take our snail a VERY long time to go that distance, but at this scale, I can understand just how long that is compared to the current age of the Earth and the universe at the penny scale.

I can understand how long a billion years is, and I can get the gist of a trillion years (and 10 trillion years), but I had a hard time understanding what is meant by a trillion trillion years. We are still in the very early stages of the universe, and we hit that mark at 7:08 into the video.

How long is a trillion trillion (10^24) years?

I was able to guesstimate this in my head. How far is a trillion meter sticks? A km is 1,000 meters, so what is a billion km? Since a km is about 0.62 miles, how far is 620 million miles? Ahh, the Earth-Sun average distance is about 93 million miles (an Astronomical Unit), so a trillion meters is almost 7 AUs. Where does that put us?  At first, I guessed around Jupiter, and when I looked it up, the average Jupiter distance from the Sun is actually about 780 million km, so a trillion meters (a billion km) is about 220 million km farther out past Jupiter. So, imagine our snail taking a billion years to go a millimeter. Can you feel how long that snail would take to crawl out past Jupiter at that rate?

This I can sort of feel this in my gut, but it is very difficult to internalize just how long a trillion trillion years is.

What about a trillion trillion trillion (10^36) years? We hit that mark at 10:28 in the video.

What is a trillion times further out beyond the distance of Jupiter? In this case, I had to look it up; I couldn't do a quick calculation in my head. So, 10^36 meters is about 105 million light years away. This is on a galactic scale. I was able to find some galaxies that exist around 100 million light years away. For example, astronomers estimate that NGC7714 is about 100 million light years away. So, our snail going one millimeter in a billion years will take about a trillion trillion trillion (10^36) years to reach this galaxy. (Even if we found a space ship that can travel at 0.1 times the speed of light, it would take about a billion years to reach this.)

From this, I can sort of conceive just how long this would take, but it is very difficult to conceptualize.

At 12:30, it is explained that the universe has just emerged from the womb when compared to a human lifetime. At 12:47, it is shown that light as we know it only exists for an extremely short percentage of the life of the universe. Rewatch the segment between 10:28 and 13:48.

At 13:48, we hit a trillion trillion trillion trillion (10^48) years.

How far does our snail travel in this amount of time? What is a trillion times 105 million light years? This is 105 million trillion light years away. (Or a billion billion light years away.) Our current observable universe is only about 92 billion light years. So, our snail would have more than enough time to leave our current observable universe, if the universe stayed the same size, and it would go about a billion times the distance of the current observable universe. Even while travelling only a millimeter every billion years, it could leave the universe if given enough time, and do it a billion times again. This is just mind blowing to me. And, the universe is still young. Time has just started to tick. I simply cannot comprehend how long that will take. It is inconceivable to me.

How long is a trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion (10^96) years?

Is there a better way or a different way of grasping just how long it will take for the universe to last?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Educational technology of the future

When I was a kid, my parents had this book, 1975: And the Changes to Come. I was fascinated by some of the pictures, and what people in the early 1960s thought the 1970s would look like.  Well, fast forward to 2018, and I thought that some of the educational technology predictions would be fun to see again, so I got the book through Prospector.  Here are some of the images from the book.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Some things for science education

Here are some things that I might want to use in the future.

The scientific method.

And these 11 items - Rules of a Scientist's Life. I am not sure about the original source, just like this blogger.  The earliest reference I find is a pinterest page from December 2011.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Venting some frustration with the slow pace of change in scholarly communication

I am putting together some thoughts concerning some posts that I read several months back.

A quiet culture war in research libraries – and what it means for librarians, researchers and publishers by Rick Anderson

In this article, Mr. Anderson had stated:

"The culture war that I believe is currently brewing in research libraries is between two general schools of thought: the first sees the research library’s most fundamental and important mission as serving the scholarly needs of its institution’s students, scholars and researchers; the second sees the research library’s most fundamental and important mission as changing the world of scholarly communication for the better." [Note, I bolded this text.]

And later in the article, he notes:

"Again, we do not have to choose entirely between these two orientations; however, we do have to acknowledge that they are in tension with each other..."

Two other blog posts had also talked about certain tensions in library work.

"Examples of our silences, as read by subject faculty and students:
  • Always saying yes: In my last post [see the link below to part 1] I talked about saying no to requests for database demos–and what a fraught, complex act that is.  When we always say yes to faculty requests, no matter how problematic they are, we are choosing silence.
    • Meaning (from subject faculty perspective): Positive emptiness–librarians are cheerful, obedient helpers. 
  • Skills-based / neutral IL instruction: So, there is the silence of saying yes to the faculty request, and then there is the silence of performing instruction based on that request.  Whether it takes the form of a database demo or something else (CRAPP test, anyone?), skills-based, apolitical IL instruction silences librarians.  We lecture and demonstrate, we present research as sterile and detached from students’ real lives, we cover so much material that students absorb nothing.  We might be talking a lot, but we are silenced because we are not able to truly teach, or to address the complexity of information literacy" 

"Coming out of silence means we will make some people angry. After all, we’ve convinced everyone we’re just obedient, cheerful helpers."

And from:

"Can you just show them the databases?  This is a phrase I’ve heard a lot as an instruction librarian.
I’ve thought about it, and the answer is no.  I cannot just show them the databases.

I cannot “just” show them the databases because there are so many layers of destruction inherent in my process of pointing, clicking, and narrating.  I am not demonstrating how students can find a scholarly article, I am demonstrating how profoundly students are marginalized from academic knowledge production.  I am not identifying aspects of peer review, I am silencing all non-academic voices–including the students’.  I am not modeling good search strategies, I am erasing myself as a teacher."


What does this all have to do with me?

I am getting very frustrated with the slow pace of change in scholarly communication.  Yes, I think librarians should be working to change the world of scholarly communication for the better.

I also think that librarians need to say "no" to their patrons and to publishers more often.  At my place of work (which is reasonably well funded), we try to make our patrons happy as much as possible by buying ALL THE THINGS that they ask for.  The fact that the library is viewed as the wallet is not necessarily a good thing.  Throwing more money at publishers and vendors is not going to solve the problems of scholarly communication.

As in Lauren's case, I had also been frustrated with some of our local gates of academic discourse. In my case, I probably opened up the gate incorrectly.  I did not find the gate to be: very inviting; easy to open; nor easy to navigate once I got inside. Also, I was given a short amount of time to demonstrate the information maze once the gate was opened. Some departments were better than others, but some provided very narrow windows of opportunity for me to talk to their students about information issues.

I guess I am frustrated that I am not given more time to discuss scholarly communications issues and the inherent problems with faculty and students.  The system is screwed up, and I am not sure what more I can do about it. The conversation trail from @daskey's tweet displays some of the same frustration that I have.  Ian had responded with "change is too hard, also the system works fine as it is...' - the average faculty member."  Yup, that just about sums up my frustration.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pretend that you are a librarian in the year 2025

A lot of the essay below is wishful thinking, but some of it might come to pass. Just as there are a lot of physicists who ignore the journal literature, and they read only from the Cornell physics arXiv, more researchers and disciplines will take a path that takes advantage of open access resources.


Five years ago, in the year 2020, a small unique software company led to an academic revolt in publishing. A small foundation-based nonprofit start up called the AcademiCenter (AC) created a scholarly social network that scientists, social scientists, and a fair number of humanities researchers use to find, read, share, and communicate their open access research. (Some say that foundation is funded by Bill Gates, but no one is sure.) This service is much more than just a blogging system, it is a truly easy-to-use publishing system with built in altmetric features. Scholars and researchers all over the world can keep track of reading patterns, download metrics, citation data, and other metrics. In short order, the AC integrated citation and linking data from a merger with CrossRef, and they also bought out the content and linking services from Google Scholar. (This was in 2022 when the Feds split up Google into five parts.) Over the next three years, the service integrated data and resources from mergers with ResearchGate,, Mendeley (sold off from Elsevier), MEDLINE, the Cornell ArXiv, and the SSRN, and many small society presses. This service has built up a huge following of academics, scholars, and other researchers because of huge breadth, depth, and the amount of semantic interlinking. This service uses advanced Artificial Intelligence tools to create metadata on the fly. This is THE PLACE for researchers to find information and knowledge. This is also THE PLACE for researchers to post articles, book chapters, whole books, conference papers, reports, dissertations, presentations, and anything.

The cost for scholars to join this “club” is nominal, but it is well worth the small expense. The pricing for this service was modeled after PeerJ.  Many researchers add value to the database by donating time to crowdsource fixes to bugs and other known issues. In return for their maintenance, they are able to add content to the database for free or a reduced cost. Other researchers provide peer-review services to enhance the content.

Now that it is 2025, the cost of data and information storage is tiny. Services such as this can host petabytes of storage for just a couple of dollars a year. The AcademiCenter is the central hub for researchers to post their ideas, thoughts, and other content, so that they can get feedback from others in just about any subject area. Because of this new system, researchers have slowly learned that they don’t need to publish content with traditional publishers to get a high research reputation and status in a field of work.

Just as the newspaper market was disrupted in the years 2010-2020, the scholarly publishing market has been greatly disrupted by this new easy to use self-publishing service.

What does this all have to do with academic libraries today (in 2025)? Submissions to the large commercial publishers have dropped about 10-30% each year over the last 5 years. For example, Elsevier has lost 75% of their content (compared to the amount of content published in 2020) since most scholars are now using the AcademiCenter to publish their papers. The local consortia has been able to renegotiate a price reduction of 75% as well. (Elsevier figures that 25% is better than wholesale cancellations.) Book publishers are doing slightly better—they have only lost 50% of their market share in the last five years.

Libraries are also seeing the usage of core databases such as ProQuest Central and EBSCO Academic Search Complete go down dramatically. Many libraries have cancelled mainstream databases, but they continue to subscribe to specialized databases. Databases such as the Thomson Reuters Web of Knowledge and Scopus have licensed data from the AC to enhance their indexing services. Even still, many academic libraries are cancelling those two citation databases as well.

Many universities also pay nominal fees to the AC so that they can host Institutional Repositories. The price depends upon the percentage of scholars at the university who take part in the crowdsourced project.  The AC is a much better system than the IR software systems that were available just 10 years ago back in 2015. Overall, libraries all over the world have saved Billions of dollars because scholars use and trust this system to publish their articles. While some scholars are afraid of putting everything into one basket, the library license for the IR software will automatically hold the intellectual output of the university should something happen to the AC.

Academic libraries are putting this saved money back into other resources. They are hiring more data managers who help the researchers document and keep track of their work. Libraries are hiring more specialized reference librarians because it is still hard to find good high quality content in certain subject areas. While the AcademiCenter houses a wealth of recent articles, chapters, reports, dissertations, and data, they don’t have the full text of everything. Also, artificial intelligence applications in smart phones are starting to work better to anticipate the information needs of the students, but it still isn’t perfect. The library is able to hire more programmers so that customized software systems are implemented. The library is able to purchase more books, particularly the ones in the humanities, since 300+ page academic texts are not posted in the AC as often as shorter works.

The library building is still a central location for student interaction and meeting space. Faculty still assign group projects, and students find face-to-face communication to be the most productive. While many students meet with others using the latest version of Skype, the on-campus students still find the library a great meeting place.

Academic libraries have experienced a great deal of change over the last ten years. Some of the librarians tell stories about how people had to “type in” their search phrases into Google Scholar or that old Summon database (cancelled in 2021). Now, people can just whisper to their computer, “Hey AC, can you find me some information concerning the history of Maine politics in the early 1900s?” and the system comes back with a wide set of results including articles, videos, dissertations, and more. The system knows that you are looking for Maine (and not the word "main") based on new AI features that were implemented.

The local university is feeling some financial pressure though. Since there are new colleges that are starting up using the wealth of open access content that is available, the U has had a hard time attracting some of the best students. Some of them have been going to attend online classes that use the AC as the source of learning materials, and they use a Khan Academy approach to instruction. In fact, the local U reduced the tuition for all students this year so that they can continue to attract the best and the brightest of students. Because of this pinch, the University has had to cut some of the budget. It was a tough decision, but the Law School was disbanded, since enrollment had been declining for years and years. The budget for the library had been reduced as well, but the renegotiation of the contracts with Elsevier, Wiley, Springer, Thomson Reuters, etc., more than made up for small reduction.

It is an exciting time to be in academic libraries.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Remembering Dr. Jean-Claude Bradley

I first knew Dr. Jean-Claude Bradley through his writings on the Useful Chemistry Blog; he wrote quite a bit about Open Notebook Science.  In fact, he coined the phrase.  I particularly remember reading a blog post concerning errors in the publishing of chemistry data.  He wrote a post on "Dangerous Data: Lessons from my Cheminfo Retrieval Class."  I used that blog post to help teach LIS students that a reference librarian needs to recommend that patrons use multiple sources to confirm reference data.  One can't trust any single source of information. 

I was able to invite Jean-Claude to speak at a session of the 2011 SLA Conference in Philadelphia.  He did a great job talking about errors in the chemical literature and his efforts in correcting those errors.

Jean-Claude was a strong advocate for the open exchange of scientific information (particularly the data from research notebooks), and he really helped advance the cause for open access and open data.  Text from the last slide of one of his 2011 SLA presentations is a good way to close.
For science to progress quickly there is great benefit in moving away from a “trusted source” model to one based on transparency and data provenance.  Open Notebook Science offers an efficient way to make research transparent and discoverable. 
Dr. Bradley, we will miss you.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The ACS and their prior publication policy for preprints #openaccess

I recently had an email conversation with someone from the ACS over some of their policies.  In particular, I noted their policy of not publishing articles that are online as preprints.  They consider those to be prior publication.

"A preprint will be considered as an electronic publication and, according to positions taken by most Editors of ACS journals, will not be considered for publication. If a submitted paper is later found to have been posted on a preprint server, it will be withdrawn from consideration by the journal."

I let them know that I was not happy with this statement because it has an effect on the research sharing behavior of researchers.  "This policy disallows chemists from using services like the arXiv, an institutional repository, or some other preprint server.  If this policy was modified, then more researchers would be able to share preprints with the world, and then science would speed up.

Will this archaic policy ever be reconsidered?"

The ACS representative noted that "As stated in the policy they view a preprint as a) unreviewed material and b) prior published material.  Hence it is not considered for publication: it is not an issue regarding open access etc. - more that we are not in the business of publishing secondhand news.”

I responded with:

"I agree that a preprint is unreviewed material, but I disagree that it is prior published material.  The author(s) should have a right to circulate their ideas and drafts to servers such as the arXiv.  The authors have the copyright to the early version of their manuscripts, and hopefully the ACS would change it up during peer review, during copy editing and in layout to make the article a different piece of work.  Physicists have been fine with this system for decades.  I would not call what the AIP, the APS, IOP Publishing, and Nature Physics are publishing as “secondhand news.”  Librarians and researchers know that the final published versions are different from the preprint versions.  That is why we keep on subscribing to AIP, APS, IOP, NPG, and Elsevier journals. 

It is this conservative policy of considering a preprint to be prior published material that is keeping chemists from posting these earlier drafts to institutional repositories or to a chemistry preprint server.  This policy is helping to keep chemists stuck in the mud when it comes to Open Access."

Is the ACS afraid that researchers will unsubscribe because a fraction of the research is scattered online as preprints?  Maybe they are afraid that researchers won't see that the ACS adds enough value to the articles?  Then, people can compare a preprint with what the ACS has published.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Some Mathematics Resources for Librarians

Sent this to a colleague, and thought I would blog it so that I could easily get back to these later on.
Are you on the PAMnet discussion list?  One does not need to be a member of the Physics-Astronomy-Mathematics Division of SLA to subscribe.

Are you a member of the Physics-Astronomy-Mathematics Division of SLA?

In any case, I would recommend that you get your hands on these two books, but they were published about 9 years ago.
For something more recent, these have some chapters in mathematics.
  • The new Walford : guide to reference resources / editor-in-chief, Ray Lester, London : Facet Pub., 2005-<2008> "Volume 1 covers 12 broad subject groupings: mathematics, physics & astronomy, earth sciences, chemistry, biological sciences, agriculture, forestry, fisheries & food, pre-clinical sciences, clinical medicine, health, natural resources & energy, engineering, information & communication technology."
  • Science and technology resources [electronic resource] : a guide for information professionals and researchers / James E. Bobick and G. Lynn Berard, Santa Barbara, Calif. : Libraries Unlimited, c2011. Mathematics is covered on pages 242-247, not very much.
You may already know this, but you will want to collect materials from Princeton, Oxford, Cambridge, Springer (Especially their Lecture notes in Mathematics, the Springer undergraduate texts in mathematics and technology, and their Graduate texts in mathematics.), American Mathematical Society (AMS), Mathematical Association of America, SIAM Books, and maybe IMS Publications.

Other important publishers are listed here. such as:
    Walter de Gruyter, Inc.
    Marcel Dekker, Inc.
    Dover Publications, Inc.
    Taylor & Francis
    World Scientific

Monday, July 15, 2013

It should be "information wants to be valued"--not that information wants to be free

I've been thinking of the "information wants to be free" phrase lately.  I am not sure that that is quite right.  Most people by now know that the phrase was coined by Stewart Brand back in the 1960's, and many librarians know about Meredith's blog of the same name.  The full quote by Stewart is:
On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.
However, just because nformation can be valuable does not mean that it has to be expensive.  Information can be valuable and free at the same time, so that is why I say that information wants to be valued.  People who are open access advocates know that information is valuable, and they know that it isn't free.  But, it can be free for the end user.  There is a cost to providing high quality information, but there are different models for paying for the dissemination.

For example, I know of a report that is published by Outsell, Inc.  They are trying to sell a 32 page report "Open Access: Market Size, Share, Forecast, and Trends" for $895.  But, if one is a savvy searcher on the Internet, one can find the report that had been posted on the web somewhere.  I am sure that Outsell is not that happy about that, but I would rather not pay $895 to learn about their views of the Open Access Market.

The value of information that is available in open access channels has also been discussed in a couple of other recent blog posts.  Joe Esposito had noted at the Scholarly Kitchen that:
This basic economic formulation has given rise to the world of the Internet as we know it today with a plethora of free services, some of astonishing value, of which Google is simply the most prominent.  But it wasn’t always this way and it may not be that way forever.
It is true that it may not last forever, but content producers need to make content that people value and find worth paying for.  People can get free television over the airwaves, but lots of people pay for entertainment content over cable, dish, or through services like Hulu or Netflix.

Scholarly content is a different kind of market, where this information has a different kind of value.  Scholars are learning about the value to providing their content using green or gold open access means.

In a section of a blogpost concerning past scholarly communication behavior, Cameron Neylon said:
We work on the assumption that, even if we accept the idea that there are people out there who could use our work or could help, that we can never reach them. That there is no value in expending effort to even try. And we do this for a very good reason; because for the majority of people, for the majority of history it was true.
Now, people are seeing that it is easy to reach an audience of Billions over the Internet.  There is value in expending a small effort to try to reach them.  The scholar can either publish in a gold open access journal, or he or she can post the preprint or the postprint manuscript to a green open access repository.

As an aside, here are some good articles and reports that discuss the value libraries provide.