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Copyright and ownership

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I just signed over the copyright on my first article. It’s only a book review, but I really didn’t like the fact that I had to give up my ownership of it. LSE doesn’t have an agreement with the publishers that would allow me to publish it under an open access license. If I wanted it published under that kind of license, I would have to pay 2000 euros myself. I am a believer in open access (and indeed, in open source software) but I simply don’t have that kind of money to put where my mouth is.

I’m trying to make this about my being upset that my book review will be available only to people with a subscription to the journal, that that goes against my principles or something. But that’s not what really got to me. What I really didn’t like was the fact that I had to give up the copyright on the paper to the publisher. I no longer own those words that I spent time writing. Now, I don’t pretend to understand intellectual property law, and it looks like the policy allows me to put a copy on my website, as long as I make clear where the final version is published. But nevertheless, I feel that I have been cheated out of something that, by rights, belongs to me. I know that’s just how things work, but I’m still uncomfortable about it.

Also, here I am, making my first step towards academia, and I’m getting upset about copyright…

Since writing this moan, and then failing to actually post it, I’ve learned that LSE doesn’t have “Gold” Open Access (free access to published manuscripts by LSE staff) but it does have “Green” Open Access: a preprint archive for papers by LSE academics. Here it is. I suppose I’ll look at it more closely when I get proofs of my review.

Written by Seamus

October 14, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Posted in annoying, philosophy

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Stupid size comparisons

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Today’s Guardian contains this spectacular piece of idiocy. Speaking of a chunk of ice that fell off a glacier and caused a huge wave, they said:

The chunk of ice [was] estimated to be the size of four football pitches

First, a minor quibble. Not all football pitches are the same size. Four football pitches could be anything between 20,000 and 52,000 square yards. (Thats 16,000-43,000 m^2). That’s a pretty big margin of error, even for an estimate.

Second, much more major gripe. Chunks of ice are 3-dimensional. What does comparing it to an area, a 2-dimensional thing, even mean? Does that mean the area of glacier that was lost, as seen from above? If so, how thick was the ice below it? That makes a huge difference to how much stuff we are talking about.

Now, even if the ice were only a centimetre thick and we take the lower estimate for the area, that’s still 160,000 kg of ice. Which sounds a lot, but is an order of magnitude less than the weight of water in an olympic sized swimming pool (2.5m kg).

I bet there are whole websites dedicated to this kind of stupid size comparison thing. It sometimes comes up in New Scientist’s Feedback column…

This post brought to you by pedantry, my boundless capacity for procrastination and WolframAlpha.

Written by Seamus

April 14, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Unaccustomed as I am to blog activism…

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This story is thoroughly ridiculous.

I’m no anti-modern-art type, but Hirst is doing himself no favours with his reaction to this stuff. Seriously, grow a sense of humour.

I’ve recently started actually using twitter. It’s amusing. I like the hashtags thing. Two current favourites #hirstisacock and #lacklustreblockbusters

Written by Seamus

September 6, 2009 at 6:39 pm

Posted in annoying, internet

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I recently changed from using boring old BibTeX to exciting new BibLaTeX. There have been some slight problems with the transition (aren’t there always!). First, citations started appearing as: “Name, Year” instead of “Name (Year)” like I wanted them to. I got around this by adding the option “natbib=true” to the \usepackage{biblatex} command and replaced all my \cite commands with \citet commands. Not the most elegant solution, I’ll grant you, but it works. So I was casting around for a better solution. I thought I’d try the APA standards packages. They didn’t work at all until I did a “sudo texhash” and after that they didn’t solve the problem. (Though they did fix an annoying bibliography quirk: the biblatex standard authoryear bibliography style writes things as “Author, Year, Paper-title In: Journal” The APA packages do at least get rid of that annoying “In:” Tomorrow I’m going to see if Harvard or Chicago bbx and cbx files can get me out of that mess.

Two other outstanding gripes with biblatex. First is that I can’t have “X et al” appear in the citation while still having “X, Y and Z” appear in the bibliography. This was standard with whatever set-up I was using before (natbib and chicago probably). This is because the “maxnames” option controls both citations and bibliography. Not ideal.

Second gripe, I want my bibliography to be titled “References” rather than “bibliography” I had a work around for this using the memoir class and bibtex, but it no longer works with biblatex. I suppose I will explore this issue further tomorrow.

And why am I spending so much time playing with my bibliography? Well, because it’s a superb displacement activity and I have a huge project due in next week, that’s why!

Written by Seamus

September 2, 2009 at 7:02 pm

Posted in annoying, LaTeX

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Misplaced outrage?

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It’s about time I weighed in on the ongoing “MP expenses scandal”. First, the outrage seems a little disproportionate to the amount of money involved. If you want to be outraged by massive wastes of the taxpayers’ money, be outraged at the bank bailouts, the trident replacement, the ID card scheme, the “super-database” or something in that vein. (If you consider all of the above reasonable and proportionate expenditure, I’m there’s something else shockingly expensive you’d want to add to the list…) Or how about being outraged by the demented profligacy of the European Parliament decamping to Strasbourg for four days a month simply because the French won’t give it up. We* pay for the upkeep of a building in Strasbourg which is empty most of the year. We also pay to have the 600-odd members of parliament shipped down to Strasbourg from Brussels along with various aides advisers and so on. We also put them up in hotels for the few nights they are there. That is madness. The current expenses fallout is small fry, all things consdered.

But what does bug me is the insistence by the MPs that they were acting within the rules. This is a morally bankrupt way to justify actions that are clearly wrong. Regardless of whether it really is the case that the expense claims under scrutiny were acceptable given the current wording and structure of the rules, the claims should not have been made. Whether or not the claims conform to the word of the law, they are emphatically at odds with its spirit. People who cannot make this elementary distinction should not be in government. The illegality or otherwise of the MPs actions is not what is at stake, it is their moral authority that has been undermined and that is more worrying.

On a related note, here is another reason I don’t want David Cameron to be Prime Minister. A quote from the leader of the opposition in today’s Guardian:

We have to acknowledge just how bad this is. The public are really angry and we have to start by saying “Look, this system that we have, that we used, that we operated, that we took part in – it was wrong and we’re sorry about that.”

It’s not the system that is at fault here, Mr. C. It’s the people abusing it. Of course, the system is faulty if it is open to such flagrant abuse and it does need reform, but that is not why people are angry. People are angry because their elected officials, those people who are supposed to be representing their interests are exploiting the system to line their own pockets (or furnish their own homes…) What Cameron is trying to do is deflect anger away from himself and his party and turn peoples’ outrage on the current expenses system. But people aren’t angry with a system that allows abuse. No system is perfect. Why this affair has provoked so much anger is because it shows politicians engaging in what is effectively benefit fraud. These people are not fit to be in charge and that is true of the Conservatives as well as Labour (and possibly all the other parties too, I haven’t read anything about Lib Dem or SNP or whatever…). How are we to accept new laws, new databases, new intrusions of our privacy as being for “the greater good” or “in our best interests” when the people who come up with these schemes are dishonest and fraudulent. Lord Naseby apparently suggested that the public’s confidence in parliament has been so damaged that it should be dissolved and new elections held. But that wouldn’t solve the problem, I don’t think. I’m not sure what could, since it seems the skills needed to get elected are not the same skills as the ones that make someone a good representative, a good decision maker or a good leader.

That said, I’m sure many of the expenses claims have been portrayed in a way so as to make them seem maximally suspicious and with little or no right to reply. At least some of the supposed “dodgy” claims are probably legit. What is worrying is the sheer number of dubious expenses claims that seem to be flying around. Some of them surely have to be dodgy, I suppose…


* By “we” I mean taxpayers in EU states. Though as a student I probably contribute so little tax money that my outrage is unwarranted, as it’s not really my money they’re wasting…

Written by Seamus

May 11, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Posted in annoying

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Practical politics consists in ignoring facts

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The title is a quote from Henry Adams.

I despair for modern politics when David Cameron tries to ally himself with “the common man” while at the same time engaging in petty point-scoring about Titian’s age. Thanks Dave. Really constructive politics we’re doing here. And it is faintly worrying in a 1984 kind of sense when someone then tries to edit wikipedia to make almighty Dave look better. And worrying in a kind of Mr. Bean sense when they get it wrong. And worrying in a more serious sense that time was wasted on this exchange when the country is in dire financial straits. Not to mention issues of climate change that only grow more urgent.

That’s not to say I would never vote Conservative (although instinctively I’m probably closer to something like what Labour used to stand for.) I’d never vote for the current Labour government either. I’ve nothing against Mr. Brown. I think he’s serious and possibly even boring, but experienced and probably fairly good at politicky stuff. And I’m in no position to make any stronger judgements of his ability etc. What I object to is Jacqui Smith. (a) she spells her name in a really stupid way. (b) her voice grates on me whenever I hear her interviewed. She looks permanently put-upon and harrassed and sounds it too. (c) she seems to be forging ahead with all sorts of surveillance type policies despite widespread disapproval. This point is particularly galling for me because in theory I would be open to some sort of national ID card scheme if it could be made useful and worthwhile. The current (unpopular) scheme is hamstrung not only by the anti-ID card lobby, but also by worries over security of the data and the cost involved. And the fact that the card as it is wouldn’t be useful. My suggestion is make the card such that people will find it a convenience to have it, rather than force them to carry it. (d) she has twice ignored the advice of groups set up to explore the reclassification of drugs. Why this is annoying is because it speaks of a basic disregard for the scientific facts which, I feel, should be at the basis of policy decisions. The argument given for ignoring the advice is that it “would send the wrong message”. But if the decision was effectively made before the advice was given, why spend money on having these people produce the advice in the first place? Commissioning a report seems to carry with it an implicit duty to pay attention to the recommendations put forward and to make any decision at least partly on the basis of the report.

None of these are particularly well thought out arguments, nor are they based on any careful collating of all the relevant information. But that’s exactly the problem. I would in general be predisposed to go out and vote, but the impression I get of the current crop of candidates is fairly negative. Politicians should be trying to convince me they deserve to be in power. And I am going to be convinced only by a cogent set of principled policies. And I am not going to go out and read party political manifestoes. It is the duty of the politicians to get their message across to me. My impression is that manifesto promises are often reneged. And politics seems to be all about criticising the other guy. (That could be because in terms of ideology or policies, there is no real difference between the two main parties any more.)

This is all a bit of rant really. I’ve probably done nothing more than show how ill informed I am. Never mind, eh?

Prize for the best title for a conference ever: Tickle your catastrophe.

Written by Seamus

February 13, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Posted in annoying

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Snow gives you CANCER

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I think the reaction to the recent snowy weather has been more than a little hysterical. Sure, transport was disrupted, sure schools closed and so on. But it’s simply not weather that we are prepared to deal with. So what?

I’d like to illustrate what I mean with a story that may have some basis in fact, and is partly reconstituted from half-memories I had of visiting Derby. So the story is that they built a flood barrage that was supposed to resist a “once in a hundred years” flood. A few years after this, Derby was hit by a “once in 200 years” flood. The barrier was overcome and much damage was done. Was this anyone’s fault? Well, no. Not really.

I don’t know if this story is true, but I think it illustrates a good point – sometimes, bad things happen and there is no one to blame. Deal with it.

Written by Seamus

February 4, 2009 at 6:50 pm

Posted in annoying, random

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