Monday, 27 August 2018

"I would be retaliating to you"

I got onto a list of spam dentistry journals because of one paper not on dentistry.  The journals must belong to a company with a broader taste in spam, as I've been getting a wider range of requests lately.

This one, from good old Iris Publishers on 23 July, rather pushily requires my intervention (btw, I am not a biostatistician):
Dear Dr. Susan,

Greeting from Iris Publishers!

It’s my pleasure to communicate with esteemed person like you. Well, I am planning to release an inaugural issue in Annals of Biostatistics & Biometric Applications by the end of this month. In this instance we require your intervention by submitting your research work or any type of the article towards our journal.

Online Submission URL

Hope you understand our intend and wish to have your earliest acknowledgement.
Await your hopeful submission.

Sarah Clark

Then there’s one from our old friend Juniper, on 31 July, which “anticipates my promising response”, and again claims I am an eminent manuscript (btw, I am neither an orthopaedic nor orthoplastic surgeon; but I must say I rather like the acronym of this one):
Dear Dr. S Stepney,

Hope this mail finds you good spirits.

Can we have your article for successful release of Volume 1 Issue 5 in our Journal?
In fact, we need one article to accomplish the Issue July; we hope that the single manuscript should be yours. If this is a short notice please do send 2-pag opinion/mini review/case report, we hope 2-page article isn’t time taken for eminent people like you.

Your trust in my efforts is the highest form of our motivation, I believe in you that you are eminent manuscript brings out the best citation to our Journal.

Anticipate for your promising response.

Best Regards
Cindy Decker
Juniper Online Journal of Orthopaedic & Orthoplastic Surgery (JOJOOS)
For possible submission visit

Note: We also welcome e-Books, Thesis & Video articles

The next one, which arrived on 16 August, can’t even be bothered to put the journal in the email body or subject, only the email address.  The Global Journal of Archaeology & Anthropology (presumably “Global” sounds so more sophisticated than the more traditional “International”?), from Juniper, speaks thus (btw, I am neither an archaeologist nor an anthropologist):
Dear Dr. Professor,

Hope you are doing well.

We are in shortfall of one article for successful release of Volume 6 Issue 1. Is it possible for you to support us with your 2-page opinion or mini review for this issue?

We are confident that you are always will be there to support us.

We desire to receive your manuscript by the end of August.

Await your positive response.

Susan Lara
Although they claim they are “confident”, I kind of get the feeling they’re not even really trying with that one.

This morning I got a different sort of invitation (btw, I am not a physical chemist):
Good day Dear Dr. Susan Stepney,

I hope this message finds you well.

I'm privileged to invite you to be a part of an international conference on Physical Chemistry 2018, an independently organized by EuroSciCon. Which is going to take place in Amsterdam, the Netherlands from October 08-09, 2018 which incorporates incite Keynote Presentation, Oral talks, Poster Presentations, ePoster Presentations, and Exhibitions. The main theme of the conference is “Challenging advanced prospect & forefront innovations in Physical Chemistry’”.

For more information, please follow: physicalchemistry[dot]euroscicon[dot]com

Kindly contact us for any sort of further assistance. I would be retaliating to you once I receive a response from your end.

Alice Stephen | Meeting Producer
This sounds so not like any invitation I’ve ever had to a genuine conference.  I cautiously went to the indicated website (I just love the spam protection in the URL) out of some ghastly sense of curiosity, and there is a site there, which looks like something from GeoCities, with a bunch of squashed photos of “performers”(!) and other gumpf.  I daren’t contact them as requested, though, as I don’t want Alice retaliating to me!

My response to all these is to continue to name and shame, and to mock.  For the record, here’s a (growing) list of the spam-so-far (the links go to my previous blog posts where I reproduce the emails, NOT to the “journals”, I hasten to add!):

Sunday, 19 August 2018

there are no “core” principles

Here’s a great short excerpt from a really nice long post about the state of neuroscience:
I’m concerned about the strong tacit expectation many scientists seem to have that if one can observe a seemingly coherent, robust phenomenon at one level of analysis, there must also be a satisfying causal explanation for that phenomenon that (a) doesn’t require descending several levels of description and (b) is simple enough to fit in one’s head all at once. I don’t think there’s any good reason to expect such a thing. I worry that the perpetual search for models of reality simple enough to fit into our limited human heads is keeping many scientists on an intellectual treadmill, forever chasing after something that’s either already here–without us having realized it–or, alternatively, can never arrive. even in principle.
It captures neatly the idea that we are biassed about what counts as "understanding": we want a model small that’s enough to fit in our limited heads, and for it to have a simple clean structure.  Hey, it’s almost like we think there should be some sort of design principles for highly complex evolved systems!


Another nice quotation for use in my campaign against open plan offices:
Open-plan offices should remain as plans. There’s the racket, the lack of privacy and the lingering smell of everything that has ever smelled in there because it doesn’t benefit from a single open window.
— Eddie Mair, Radio Times, p119, 18-24 August 2018
(on the BBC’s new open-plan Broadcasting House)

Monday, 13 August 2018

Computational Matter

My complimentary copies of our latest book have just arrived.

This book is concerned with computing in materio: that is, unconventional computing performed by directly harnessing the physical properties of materials. It offers an overview of the field, covering four main areas of interest: theory, practice, applications and implications. Each chapter synthesizes current understanding by deliberately bringing together researchers across a collection of related research projects. 

See the Springer site for table of contents.

This is one of the outcomes of our recent EU project, TRUCE

Sunday, 12 August 2018

book review: Living with Complexity

Donald A. Norman.
Living with Complexity.
MIT Press. 2011

It is interesting to watch Norman’s design philosophy evolve over a series of books. His 1988 classic The Psychology of Everyday Things argues for simplicity and naturalness in design. In his 2004 Emotional Design he is arguing for the consideration of the users’ aesthetic reaction to that design. And by 2007, in The Design of Future Things, he is focussing on the need for good communication between our ever-“smarter” technologies and us.

This 2011 book, Living with Complexity, admits that maybe simplicity and aesthetics isn’t the be-all and end-all of design. Our world, both natural and technological, is a complex place, and we want rich, complex interactions with it. Norman’s argument here is that good design should support that rich complexity, rather than making life harder by being unnecessarily complicated.
[p2] I use the word “complexity” to describe a state of the world. The word “complicated” describes a state of mind. The dictionary definition for “complexity” suggests things with many intricate and interrelated parts, which is just how I use the term. The definition for “complicated” includes as a secondary meaning “confusing,” which is what I am concerned with in my definition of that word.
There is a consequence of wanting rich complexity, however: it takes time to learn how to master it. We are (or should be) willing to put in the time when the reward is that richness.
[p30] Do we dislike the fact that learning to read and write, play musical instruments, and drive a car are all so complex? Not really. We don’t mind complexity when it seems appropriate. Yes, we truly dislike spending an hour learning some arcane, bizarre machinery. But we are willing to spend weeks or years learning other things, where the difficulties and complexity seem appropriate to the tasks
The issue is that we are often not willing to put in the time to learn complex tools. We seem to think everything should be easy to use (maybe because we have read some of Norman’s earlier books?) Norman argues for an even-handed approach: a willingness of designers to design well, removing complication, coupled with a willingness from users to put in the time to learn how to use the well-designed toolset. (Personally, I am willing to put in the time, but only in a staged manner: I want standard tasks to be simple and do-able without needing the full “10,000 hours” of mastery first, and only the richer, more sophisticated tasks to require a corresponding level of extra effort. That property, presumably, is part of the non-complicated design requirement.)

Norman offers a few guidelines on how to design well for complexity. The main one is to take a whole systems view: don’t improve just a single part of a malfunctioning system, rather, analyse the system to find where the real problem is, and redesign the whole of the “user experience” from beginning to end.
[p148] Never solve the problem the client has asked you to solve. Why? Because the client is usually responding to the symptoms. The first job of the designer, sometimes the hardest part of the entire task, is to discover what the underlying problem is, what problem really needs to be solved. We call this finding the root cause.
Of course, this is easier said than done in most cases. However, it is good to see an emphasis on treating a complex system as something that needs to be engaged with, not simplified out of existence.

Unfortunately, I found the quality of the book itself somewhat poor. The text feels rushed and not fully polished, with a lot of repetition, as if an idea was written down, then reworded, but the original not deleted. The quality of the photographs is very poor: often too small and too dark to fully appreciate the point being illustrated. And I have the hardback, not just a paperback with traditionally poorer quality pictures. It is also typeset in a sans serif font, which I personally find ugly and hard to read. Nevertheless, there is an interesting and worthwhile idea in here, about taking a systems design view in a necessarily complex world.

For all my book reviews, see my main website.

Monday, 6 August 2018

too hot to handle

The outside temperature is only (only! only!!) 31 °C.  But when I got into the car to go shopping, it was a bit warmer inside:

I should have maybe parked in the shade.  But there isn't any...