Archive for December, 2006

Open Science — Incremental Advances

December 6th, 2006

A couple of days ago a colleague referred to the Open Science post a while back, and I realized I had meant to follow up. So here goes.

Given the issues with “open science” how might progress towards openness be made?

  1. It’s unlikely that those with a big financial stake in the current arrangements will change. This obviously includes the commercial ventures aiming for large returns on their investment. It probably also includes the major research and development institutions who may not be public companies but who are deeply involved in the current system. If you’re an academic institution and you’ve spent millions of dollars outfitting labs and have a set of people working and studying at your institution assuming the research and its results will be treated a certain way, it’s hard to make big changes. So even if one takes the position that these organizations should change (which I’m not necessarily advocating) I think it’s unlikely that leadership toward Open Science will come from here.
  2. It’s more realistic to expect change around the edges than at the very center of the system. Periodically I read about diseases that could probably be treated, but exist mostly in impoverished areas. So there’s very little economic reward for the necessary research, development and deployment. I could imagine organizations concerned with alleviating these diseases to be more inclined to find ways to collaborate, particularly if relevant patents have expired.
  3. There is usually a hierarchy of research organizations and universities; the “top tier” schools are more able to get research funds and to capitalize on the results of their work. But, there are massive numbers of very smart and very motivated people at other organizations. It may be that collaborative scientific techniques will develop at unanticipated places that aren’t well positioned in the current system.
  4. It may be that successful Open Science doesn’t start at the central, biggest problems. It may grow by solving pieces of problems. Free compilers existed before the complete GNU Linux operating system; the same incremental change may occur with Open Science. Sadly, many of the big problems are the health topics where people’s lives are at stake.
  5. The realm known as “Citizen Science” may well lead the way. Citizen Science is based on large numbers of people working together. Since those participants aren’t expected to have scientific training, there are a whole set of problems that can’t even be approached through this method. But we may be surprised at the areas where Citizen Science can move our understanding forward.

Mozilla Selected by WEF as “Technology Pioneer”

December 4th, 2006

The World Economic Forum is a non-profit organization established in Switzerland 35 years ago to improve the state of the world. The WEF tries to affect the global agenda to promote the public interest. It tries to promote “Entrepreneurship in the Global Public Interest.” It has become a highly visible, active organization. Its Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland attracts a wide set of members and special invitees.

The last few years the WEF has selected a set of companies as Technology Pioneers. To be a Technology Pioneer, “. . . a company must be involved in the development of life-changing technology innovation and have potential for long-term impact on business and society. In addition, it must demonstrate visionary leadership, show the signs of being a long-standing market leader – and its technology must be proven.”

The Mozilla Corporation has been chosen as a 2007 Technoogy Pioneer. This honor recognizes some of the core principles of the Mozilla project — the Internet is a life and society-changing technology; and how individual citizens and consumers interact with that technology is critical. It also recognizes that our technology and our techniques for developing it are both proven and highly innovative, and we are a market leader.

I hope everyone involved with the Mozilla project can appreciate the effects of our work and the voice it gives us for helping develop the Internet in support of the global public interest.

Flying Trapeze Double Excitement

December 1st, 2006

2006 has not been a great year for flying trapeze. The pain in my arm which started last December has taken a long time to heal. The combination of the arm and the pull of work, life and family made this year an inconsistent year: learning some new things, losing the ability to do others, never quite able to put the pieces together the way I wanted.

I still haven’t put the pieces together, but tonight I did something maybe even more fun: I caught the “double.” Twice!

A double is a double back tuck somersault. Really, it’s more like one and a half rotations in the air, but it’s known as the double. I only started working on it because one of my instructors was adamant and I’ve learned to do what she says.

The double takes a lot of energy. One starts higher up than usual. It turns out that good flyers don’t start from the platform you see when you go into a circus. Instead, they stand on a small elevated step about 3 inches wide known in this gym as a “riser.” In our gym we set the riser at the fourth level for the double, which is about three feet, or a meter, above the platform.

This makes many things different. There’s no comfortable place to hold on to the support bars. The cables on the trapeze bar are pretty much at a 90 degree angle from the mounting point, so it’s hard to raise the bar up as one should as one leaves the platform. It’s hard to have a good takeoff in general; there is often a sense of falling into the trapeze bar.

Assuming one manages all this well enough, you are really high in the air. And if you’re not quite high enough, our mighty instructor will often give a tug on the safety lines to pull you a foot or so higher. That means one gets a much closer view of the ceiling of the gym than normal — it’s a little freaky. On the back end of the swing one is much closer to the giant overhead light than one might want to be.

The flier has to put more energy into every part of the trick. The kicks, the tuck, the speed of the rotation, the sharpness of opening out of the tuck to stop the rotation — it’s all about cranking as much power into each element as possible.

And after all this, it’s easy to be “close” to catching a double for a long, long, long time. Many different things can be slightly off so that the trick is close but there is no catch.

I’ve come close to catching the double five or six times. I’m sure I’ll come close to catching it another 50 or 100 times before it becomes consistent, if it ever does. But for today, I opened out of the tuck and the next thing I knew I was looking up into the catcher’s face as we swung together after the catch. Astonishing. I never would have thought it. Now I’m really glad I listened to my instructor. 🙂

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