31 August, 2008

Academic reader

One of the Michael Nilsen's projects is the so-called Academic reader. After a first look I was curious about its difference from standard RSS-readers, like Google Reader for instance. A bit later I found a little post about it:

"In the existing site, the main difference between the Academic Reader and RSS readers like the Google Reader is that we have a variety of ways of searching and browsing older papers. This means the Academic Reader allows you to both (1) keep abreast of your current reading, and (2) look back into the past, discovering older papers and so on. RSS readers typically focus on just the first of these problems."

Since a new tool contains all metadata from journal archives, it looks like a hybrid of an RSS-reader with some offline library like (my favorite) Papers.

"Work. Finish. Publish."

This was an advice of Michael Faraday to his younger colleague William Crookes. The second statement, "finish", is probably the most difficult part. Here it does not mean "stop collecting the experimental data", or "switch off the computer and do no extra calculations" (...since we have enough for a paper). It is really hard to came up with some closed-form investigation, with an exciting story you have nothing to add to. Most likely, if this is done, the third step, "to publish", needs only a bit of routine work...

Six rules for rewriting by Michael Nilsen

Very helpful post by one of the pioneers of quantum computation, Michael Nilsen. Here are the ideas which I find the most interesting:

1) Every sentence should grab the reader and propel them forward: Academics are wont to ignore this rule, believing the reader should be willing to endure any pain for a sufficient payoff. Of course, academics aren’t paid per reader. Good bloggers and journalists know better.

2) Use the strongest appropriate verb: Identify the verb in every sentence, and ask if you can improve it, perhaps eliminating adjectives and adverbs in the process. This is simple and mechanical, but often yields great improvements with little effort.

3) Beware of nominalization: A common way we weaken verbs is by turning them into nouns, and then combining them with weaker verbs. This bad habit is called nominalization. Contrast the wishy-washy “I conducted an investigation of rules for rewriting” with the more direct “I investigated rules for rewriting”. In the first sentence I have nominalized the strong verb “investigated” so that it becomes the noun “investigation”, and then combined it with the weaker verb “conducted”.

Probably we can generalize these rules as:

"Avoid the official, bureaucratic language in your articles. Surprisingly, science can be easily understood as an interesting story, without useless overcomplications."

Brian Green about string theory

No, this is not another rap (take a look at his hands, yo). These are very clear and understandable explanations of "what the string theory is" by Brian Greene:

29 August, 2008

Obituaries in store

It is of no surprise that newsmakers prepare the obituaries ahead of time. Two days ago the Bloomberg financial newswire accidentally published one for Steve Jobs, a CEO of Apple corp. The obituary was retracted after a while, but not fast enough, so it was copied by gawker.com, and published there. The most interesting part are comments for Bloomberg reporters and lists of contact persons, who probably can give interviews in case of Jobs' death.

A similar case was recently described by Tatiana Tolstaya: ten years ago living in the US, she received a call from The New York Times with an offer to write an obituary to Solzhenitsyn. She said "no". Now, when Solzhenitsyn have died, we know who agreed to do this - Michael T. Kaufman.

Chemical physics at your back

Once I wrote about Carl Zimmer and his collection of scientific tattoos. Yesterday my wife Stasia Gonchar contributed to it with her tattoo of pi-pi hybridization:

Here is a short story of tattoo with a comment from Carl Zimmer.

28 August, 2008


"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great."

Mark Twain

There are thousands of his aphorisms here.

01 August, 2008


The best popular lecture I have ever seen...