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August 05 2011

Top Stories: August 1-5, 2011

Here's a look at the top stories published across O'Reilly sites this week.


Missing maps and the fragility of digital information
During a long drive through sparse terrain, Tim O'Reilly had a remarkable demonstration of the fragility of the "always on" connected mindset.
Google Plus defines an era of disruption at a moment's notice
When an entrant quickly yields considerable power in an existing market, and elicits potential for rapid innovation, this is what Jonathan Reichental calls the "G+ effect."
Science hacks chip away at the old barriers to entry
How can opening access to scientific data, equipment and lab space spur innovation? BioCurious' Eri Gentry and Ariel Waldman from Spacehack.org share a few ideas.
How online bookstores should get social
What if you could take the social aspects of brick-and-mortar bookstores and blend them with the convenience of online sales? Joe Wikert explains how an online social layer would benefit everyone involved in the publishing chain.
Data and the human-machine connection
Managing data and extracting meaning require new approaches, new education, and even a new language. Opera Solutions CEO Arnab Gupta discusses each of these areas.





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August 01 2011

Science hacks chip away at the old barriers to entry

drawings_of_scientists.jpgStereotypes of what scientists do, how they act, what they look like persist as Eri Gentry noted in her keynote at last week's OSCON. To illustrate, Gentry pointing to the "before" and "after" pictures drawn by seventh-grade visitors to Fermilab. Hopefully, the notion of a quiet (or mad) scientist, isolated in the lab, will soon be uncommon as citizen and DIY science projects like BioCurious take shape.

In her keynote, Gentry described what it was like to be a non-scientist doing science. She also addressed the struggles that many scientists, regardless of background, face: a lack of access to the tools they need for research. Lab space is often restricted to universities or big corporations, and lab rentals, when available, can be exorbitant. But following a successful Kickstarter campaign, BioCurious will provide a collaborative lab space for biotech at a much lower rate.

The availability of an affordable and accessible space is one thing; the availability of tools is another. As Gentry highlighted, with a combination of open source software and off-the-shelf parts, it's also possible to build lab equipment that costs far less: a $125 DIY clean bench (regular price $12,000), a $55 Dremel-based centrifuge (compared to a $500 centrifuge).

But hacking science isn't just about "making things," as Spacehack's Ariel Waldman argued in her OSCON keynote. It's about making "disruptively accessible things." In her talk, Waldman talked about some of the ways in which that accessibility is occurring in space exploration. It isn't as simple as opening up the massive datasets we have from satellites and space missions — although that's part of it. It's about making sure that data isn't "buried deep within a government website" or locked in an unintelligible interface or format. And it's about making sure that people can actively contribute and that when they do, they receive credit for their work.

As Gentry described it in her talk at OSCON, these open science efforts are done "out of necessity and out of passion." Opening access to data, equipment and lab space this way puts science in the hands of makers, creators, developers, scientists, citizens — anyone. And this in turn will hopefully spur more innovation and discovery.

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