Archive for July, 2011

Why I’ve been quiet

There’s been just so much to do. I’ve been on double deadlines (which, btw, is the direct opposite of double rainbows), while the Library Innovation Lab project for the DPLA beta sprint has been roaring forward. But, as of two minutes ago, I have reached a moment when I can breathe…for a minute.

I turned in the final copy-edited version of Too Big to Know a few minutes ago. The copy editor, Christine Arden, was a dream, finding errors and infelicities at every level of the book. Plus, she occasionally put in a note about something she liked; that matters a lot to me. Anyway, it was due in today and I hit the send button at 5:10.

So, sure, yay and congratulations. But from here on in, the book only gets worse. Let me put it like this: It sure isn’t gonna get any better. It’s a relief to be done, of course, but it is anxiety-making to watch the world change as the book stays the same.

I also was on deadline to submit a Scientific American article, which I did on Monday. I’m excited to have something considered by them. (They can always say no, even though it was their idea, and I’ve been working with a really good editor there.)

As for the Library Innovation Lab, we are doing this amazing project for DPLA that is coming together. There are some gigantic, chewy issues we’ve had to work through, which we have been working with some fantastic people on. If we get this even close to right — and I’m confident we will — it will make some very hard problems look so easy that they’re invisible. It’s going to be cool. I am learning so much watching my colleagues work through these issues at a level I can barely hang on to. And then there are all the fascinating problems of building an app that makes people think it’s easy to navigate through tens of millions of works.

It’s been a busy summer. And despite sending off the two large writing projects that have occupied for me a while, I don’t anticipate it getting any less busy.

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New flavor of open

Randy Scheckman, the new editor of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — online and free — explains how the a new journal will work: scientists will edit for scientists, there will be rapid turnaround, and the journal’s acceptance rate for submissions will go way up. He positions it as more scientist-friendly than Public Library of Science.

The fact that this interview was (admirably) published in Science magazine has some significance as well.

(By the way, the authors of a report on obstacles to open access have left a hefty and useful comment on my post.)


In my continued pursuit of never getting anything entirely right, here’s a comment from Michael Jensen: “Not quite right — the new editor of what I think is a still-unnamed OA biomedical journal was announced, but Randy Schekman currently edits the PNAS, as I read it.” I have edited the above to get it righter. Thanks, Michael!

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What’s stopping open access?

A report on a survey of 350 chemists and 350 economists in UK universities leads to the following conclusion about open access publishing:

…our work with researchers on the ground indicates to us that whatever the enthusiasm and optimism within the OA community, it has not spilled into academia to a large extent and has had only a small effect on the publishing habits and perceptions of ordinary researchers, whatever their seniority and whether in Chemistry or Economics.


The report finds that faculty members want to publish in high “impact factor” journals unless they have some specific reason why they should go the Open Access route, e.g., they need to get something out quickly. The subscriptions their libraries buy mask from them the extent to which their work becomes inaccessible to those who are not a university.

The report ends with some recommendations for trying to move academics towards OA publishing.

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Modeling nature

Fascinating essay by Kristi Dykema Cheramie at the Design Observer Group blog about a 200-acre hydraulic model of the Mississippi River begun in 1943.

A snippet:

3,000 German and Italian POWs began construction on a 200-acre working hydraulic model. The ambitious model would replicate the Mississippi River and its major tributaries — the Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri Rivers — encompassing 41 percent of the land area of the United States and 15,000 miles of river. [11] It would reflect existing topography and river courses throughout the Mississippi Basin, using the best data drawn from hydrographic and topographic maps, aerial photographs and valley cross-sections.

The prisoners cleared the site of a million cubic yards of dirt and rough-graded the land to match the contours of the Mississippi River Basin. To ensure that topographic shifts would be apparent, the model was built using an exaggerated vertical scale of 1:100 and a much larger horizontal scale of 1:2000. While the existing topography offered a close approximation of the actual Mississippi Basin, some areas required significant earthmoving; the Appalachian Mountains were raised 20 feet above the Gulf of Mexico, the Rockies 50 feet. An existing stream running east-to-west provided the model’s water supply. The streambed was molded to take on the shape and form of the upper reaches of the Mississippi, and a complex system of pipes and pumps distributed water throughout the model; it was regulated by a large sump and control house sited near what would become Chicago, Illinois. To simulate flood events, Reybold needed to introduce large volumes of water over short periods of time, so he designed a collection basin and 500,000-gallon storage tower system at the model’s edge. Small outflow pipes at anticipated data collection points channeled excess water to 16 miles of storm drains

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[2b2k] My only mistake

I heart copy editors.

I got the copy-edited version of Two Big to Know on Friday, and I’ve started reading through it. My copy editor (am I allowed to say she’s Christine Arden?) has read the book with incredible care and sympathy. She unties knotted sentences, irons out wrinkly paragraphs, and generally clears the path for the reader. It is a skill and a talent not to be underestimated. (And, yes, she would undoubtedly have flagged the mixed metaphors in this paragraph.)

I’m only 1.5 chapters in, but I can already see, thanks to Christine, that I tend to misplace my “only’s.” For example, given the chance I will write “He only trained for two months” when “He trained for only two months” is both clearer and stronger. Or, to give you a real example: “Of course, the Net can only scale that large because it doesn’t have edges within which knowledge has to squeeze” now reads “Of course, the Net can scale that large only because…etc.”

I also make every other possible mistake.

On the other hand, I’m going to push for spelling “email” without the hyphen, despite my publisher’s house rules. Real words don’t have hyphens.

Thank you Christine, and thank you copy editors everywhere!

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