Archive for October, 2008

Laugh? I nearly (didn’t) get cited

October 29, 2008

Two Israeli academics have found that the use of humour in the title of a scientific paper can be seriously detrimental to the number of citations received. Since academics increasingly live or die by the number of citations their work receives this news could seriously affect the levels of humour in the science and technology worlds.

Itay Sagi and Eldad Yechiam looked at a range of papers published over a number of years in two leading psychology journals. They had small teams of judges who reviewed paper titles and rated them for amusement levels. The citations of papers were then compared and the team found that the use of an exceptionally amusing title was “associated with a substantiate ‘penalty’ of around 33% of the total number of citations”. This was after other possible variable factors had been eliminated. Their full paper appears in the Journal of Information Science’s October edition.

Reviewing the results, the two academics postulate various reasons for this, including the obvious one that people might think humorous pieces are somehow less professional or worthy than other titles. But they also mention that a humorous title is less likely to include the professional keywords that make searching for an article online or in a database just that bit easier. I thought this was interesting given a piece that was published in yesterday’s Guardian Education about the increasing role of online journals. In this article it was noted that academic papers now have a tendency to have more tedious titles which attempt to cram in as many all-important professional keywords as possible.

Given that this blog hopes to inject the occasional burst of humour into the world of technology, this probably means that my days are numbered.


Open Source Oxford

October 23, 2008

I’ve just spent an enjoyable couple of days in Oxford at the Community and Open Source development workshop. A diverse mixture of researchers, software developers and open source experts gathered to debate how to build the all-important community of users and developers that drive successful open source projects. Many people think that open source is just about developing some code, sticking an open source licence on it and posting the lot to your website. Unfortunately, successful projects – those with long-term sustainability – need far more nurturing than this. The workshop explored what that nurturing actually entails and how to go about it.

My role was to act as the technical reporter and there will be a full report on the workshop in due course. In the meantime, you can view some of the slides at Ross Gardler’s slideshare space.

My other mission was to interview Gianugo Rabellino, CEO of Sourcesense, a leading European open source services company. His company made headlines a few months ago when they agreed to partner with Microsoft on an open source file reader for the controversial OOXML office document format. It was an extremely interesting interview and the results will be featuring in a couple of pieces I’ve been commissioned to produce in the near future. In the meantime though, I can reveal that Gianugo was trained as a lawyer and his mother was somewhat dismayed when he told her that he was abandoning a highly lucrative legal career to, as she understood it, “give software away for free”.

Open Office for the Mac

October 14, 2008

Yesterday Open Office 3.0 was officially launched. This is a major new release of the open source, free, office productivity suite that provides functions such as word processing, which has historically been pretty much the sole preserve of Microsoft’s Office package. The demand for the new software has been so strong that the Open Office website has been crashed out for the last day or so.

I was excited at first as the release promises a native version for the Mac OS X system. In the past one could only run Open Office on the Mac through an X11 window (which basically meant you had to download and run additional software and using this slowed things down considerably).

However, I gather that the new version has been built only for the newer, Intel-based Macs and, unfortunately, we are still using PowerPC systems in our office. To my knowledge this is the first major piece of software that has had this restriction. Perhaps the day has come for an office re-fit.