Saturday, April 27, 2013

Slacktivism and Boston Strong Social Media

I have lived in Boston for about 5 years now; I call it home. There was some kind of distance as the newscasters speculated, a sort of loneliness thinking about how tons of people would hear the news, but so few could actually relate to how I felt as a Bostonian.

But then people started changing their profile pictures on social media. Completely unexpectedly - seeing them actually made me glad.


Even though a #prayforboston tweet takes all of 5 seconds for someone to post - reading it makes me know that for at least those 5 seconds, someone cared about Boston - and that makes me happy.

The experience made me think of some other ostensibly shallow internet-only campaigns like the recent gay marriage avatar-changing "slacktivism"

Does the Supreme Court of the USA care about facebook profile images? I'm pretty sure that they don't. Do people who are gay care? I'll bet that they do.

Does the Israeli or Iranian government care about photos their citizens are posting? Maybe not. But do the citizens of those countries care? Yeah, they probably do.

This is so awesome - should we change our profile pictures for everything? Lets not get carried away.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

DIY Immersion Circulator -- Version 2

I decided to upgrade my previous method of cooking sous vide. As I noted in that post, the original version left much to be desired in terms of safety and reliability. Although I originally intended to pack all the electronics into a PC power supply case, as a test of concept I used a plastic storage container:
With this arrangement I had a lot of space to fit everything. You'll also note the outlet on the front. This outlet is controlled by the PID-SSR combo, and leaves me a lot of flexibility for heating elements. Basically, instead of hard-wiring the heaters to the SSR, I wired them with a plug on the end, and it just plugs into the outlet. This leaves me the option of using the controller to regulate the temperature of other devices, like my smoker.
Now, the formerly-packed case just has the heaters and thermocouple attached:

This version also has a cooling fan for the SSR (I cut slots in the side of the container for airflow).
Thus far, I'm much happier with this version. After I've tested it for a bit and am sure that I really like this arrangement, I'm going to try and jam all the stuff into a PC power supply case so it takes up less space. Stay tuned for future updates.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston Marathon Update

I am okay. As far as I know - everyone I know is OK too.

Last night I took part in a midnight bicycle marathon, which took me right past the site of today's explosions. I really love this annual event (I've previously written about it here). It is usually filled with strangers encouraging and helping strangers, basically everyone is overjoyed about Boston's special holiday.

Not today.

My friend Sam Novey understands the marathon more than anyone. He's run it several times dressed in a patriotic burger costume to raise money for citizen schools - actually he's organized a group that does this every year. They were at the marathon today.

This is what Sam had to say this evening.
Skipped my first Boston Marathon in 5 years today.

The Boston Marathon is not only a great athletic event, it's one of the greatest community events in the world.

What happened today is not just an act of violence against individual people, it's an act of violence against all of us who seek to live meaningful lives where we approach our neighbors and public spaces with joy and love instead of fear.

If you have comments you can leave them below or directly on his post.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

My favorite books and CRC Press Update

CRC Press open letter update

Last week I wrote an open letter to CRC Press because they used a photo of mine without my permission. Not too long after I received a very kind and well written response from them - politely offering "as a measure of goodwill"
$300 worth of books from CRC Press
I'm impressed with the speed, and manner in which they read and replied to my letter. I'll have to speak with my lawyer friends before responding officially though.

In the meantime, I thought I might use this post to talk about a few physical books that I'd recommend reading.

The Almagest by Ptolmey, first chapter

It is a scientific analysis of the Earth's position in the universe that is mostly rigorous and entirely consistent with itself (as far as I can tell). Using basic geometry and Aristottle's laws of motion Ptolemy demonstrates that the Earth is a sphere, that it is definitely not spinning at all, and that there is a celestial sphere with stars on it really far away. I couldn't understand anything past the first chapter.


This is a good fun read (I haven't read it in a while). Also its fiction ... folks love fiction.

Information Theory by Gordon Raisbeck

An understanding of information theory paved the road for the Internet as we know it. It is just about 100 pages so really tiny. Also, you can buy this old book for like a dollar which is amazing.

Visual Complex Analysis, by Tristan Needham

This is my all time favorite book. It reduces a complex topic to basic geometry! Read this and you will never see imaginary number the same way, they will become your imaginary friends.

Understanding Analysis, by Stephen Abbot

This is another great small book, I read it in college and although I have since probably forgotten most of the details - the way infinity is explained in the book sticks with me. See the book doesn't explain infinity, you just end up with an understanding of infinity while understanding the main material. It is small too so I love it for that too.

Feel free to share your favorite books in the comments

Thursday, April 04, 2013

A response from the Port Authority

I contacted the Port Authority after my blog post last week about the GWB Bus Station. And, I got a response:
Dear Mr. Lansey,
Thank you for contacting the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.  The modification you appear to be suggesting  for our current jitney operation was examined several years ago as a result the 181St Street Study.  We agree that reversing the access to 178th St and egress onto 179th St does make perfect sense, reducing the number of loops by half. Unfortunately, that would require significant modifications to the structural slab which also serves as the ceiling for the Trans-Manhattan Expressway below.

As you may be aware, we anticipate renovations to begin on the GWB Bus Station later this year.  The renovated layout  will remove jitneys wishing to access the Station from the Bridge, from the 178th/Broadway/179th Streets loop entirely.  We hope that you view this as welcome news.

 [Name Redacted]
Customer Relations
I replied to get info about the significant modifications they need to do; as far as I can, jitneys can angle in the other direction to the curb without any construction needed. I've also asked for more details about the renovated layout. We'll see if they reply back.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

An open letter to CRC Press about using my photo in a textbook (after killing my favorite math website)

I Googled myself last week. In Google books actually - just for curiosity's sake. A photo credit in my name popped up in “Fundamentals of Microfabrication and Nanotechnology.” Could the credit really be for me? There aren’t too many Lanseys out there, but that book’s title didn’t sound familiar. Eagerly I scrolled up the page and a picture of mine was revealed. It was of a bright circular rainbow called a “glory.”

I really love that photo. Seeing it in a proper book gave me the warm fuzzies. But soon the giddy feeling faded; something deep in my memory made me uneasy about the publisher, CRC Press.

You see about a decade ago, fourteen year old me had started developing an interest in Mathematics. Surfing the web one day I stumbled upon MathWorld; a vast yet engaging encyclopedia. I penciled the URL into my spiral-bound notebook and returned to visit often. I learned more Mathematics in front of those library computer screens than I learned behind classroom chalkboards.

CRC Press, you destroyed MathWorld by a court order in October of 2000 during a copyright infringement lawsuit. A few years earlier, Eric Weissten published a print version of his online encyclopedia with CRC press. Despite negotiations where Weisstein made it clear that he wanted the encyclopedia to live on as an independent website, the book deal “fine print” assigned CRC Press complete control.

Because you didn’t want to give people like me free access to Eric’s work, you ordered the website taken offline. In doing so, you killed a living masterpiece to raise the value of your taxidermied replicas.
And since the books cost more money than I had yet earned mowing lawns, I was out of luck. (Until, thankfully, Wolfram Research was eventually able to rescue the encyclopedia after a year in the courts.)

How can you be such a staunch enforcer of your own copyright yet so carelessly abuse mine? Looking for answers, I biked to a nearby library and located the textbook in the stacks. I found this statement in the front matter.
The authors and publishers have attempted to trace the copyright holders of all material reproduced in this publication and apologize to copyright holders if permission to publish in this form has not been obtained.

CRC Press, you should know that you aren’t the first to include my glory photo in print. Professor Jozsef Cserti once “traced” me from Hungary to ask my permission. He mailed me a hard copy of the physics journal when it was printed and it now sits on my parents’ coffee table. Prof. Cserti, had seen my photo on the Atmospheric Optics website. Below the photo is the text “© Jonathan Lansey, shown with permission

Contacting me is simple. My homepage is clearly linked from where the photo is posted online and my homepage has a prominent ‘contact’ link in the navbar plus more contact options in the footers. “Tracing the copyright holders” is so easy now that it took all of a few minutes for me to contact the two other people whose photos you used in the figure.

Simon whose fogbow picture was also published on Atoptics replied:
No, they haven't contacted me at all, let alone offered any payment.

Paul’s corona graphics were originally published in a scientific paper and he said:
This is the first time something like this has happened to me, and I rather don't
like it! … What they did is wrong!

To learn more about how this happened, I emailed the professor who wrote the book and asked what role he played in choosing these images. He replied:
CRC was doing the sourcing for me.

It is good to have lawyer friends in these situations and I am very fortunate to know Andy Sellars. We discussed the options available for myself, Paul and Simon. He advised that there was likely a valid copyright claim here, but the legal fees would be very costly. Me and my family are all individuals while CRC - you rest in the lap of an enormous corporation with almost $2 billion in revenue. No, I am not particularly interested in sparring with you in court. I much prefer to implore you with this open letter.

Even though Paul, Simon and I put our creative works on the Internet, we still have rights and feelings. Eric Weisstein has feelings too, he lovingly nurtured his “Treasure Trove of Mathematics” before you acquired it and shut it down. Though the Internet provides unimaginable opportunity - govern your actions not by the limits of what you are capable, but by the limits of common decency.

Respect the copyrights of others on principle, even when your size seemingly protects you from litigation.

Apologize to me, to Paul and to Simon, for not asking permission to use our photos in your textbook.

But most importantly, use your power as a publisher to spread knowledge, not to restrict access to knowledge.

CRC Press, please do what is right.