W. Patrick McCray, author of our forthcoming book THE VISIONEERS, on Elon Musk and SpaceX for CNN.com

Over the weekend, CNN.com published a wonderful opinion piece by University of California-Santa Barbara science historian W. Patrick McCray on the fascinating “visioneer” Elon Musk and his successful launch and docking with the International Space Station last month.

We are publishing Professor McCray’s forthcoming book THE VISIONEERS: How a Group of Elite Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies, and a Limitless Future in January 2013 and one of the main characters of the book, Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill, is compared to Musk in the CNN.com piece.  Enjoy!

Recently, technology enthusiasts around the planet had the opportunity to get better acquainted with Elon Musk, the creator of SpaceX, the first privately owned company to send a spacecraft to the space station.

Launched in the same manner as a Silicon Valley startup, SpaceX designed and manufactured the Dragon capsule, which successfully completed a mission with the International Space Station before splashing down into the Pacific Ocean.

I see Musk, a 40-year-old entrepreneur who made his fortune by co-founding PayPal, as a “visioneer.” That is to say, he is someone who combines scientific and engineering prowess — in his case, a degree in physics — with an expansive view of how technology will upend traditional economic models, and has the ability to inspire others to support his work.

Musk has bold visions for the future. When he finished college, he identified three areas that could change the world. One was the Internet; another was new sources of energy; and the third was transforming our civilization in such a way so that it could expand out into the solar system….

To read the entire article on CNN.com, please click on this link.

Princeton staffers interviewed by Yahoo! News on the Press’s new Princeton Shorts ebook program

We were delighted to see a Q&A appear this morning on Yahoo! News with Princeton University Press staffers regarding our new Princeton Shorts ebook program. Executive Editor Rob Tempio and Associate Marketing Director Leslie Nangle were interviewed by Yahoo! News contributor Brad Sylvester on a variety of ebook topics including the Princeton Shorts, our ebook program, ebook-hardcover sales comparison, and book publishing in a digital age. It’s a very good look at how we are thinking about our ebook future.

Print Publishers Adapting to E-books and Digital Downloads

By Brad Sylvester

 

With the rising popularity of tablets, Kindles, iPads, and other capable e-reader devices, one wonders whether e-books will surpass the printed book in the same way that downloadable music has outpaced disk sales in recent years. Are publishers fighting the e-book trend or embracing it? One publisher, Princeton University Press, has a new e-book Shorts Program designed to leverage print material in the e-reader market, not by simply republishing the book in electronic form, but by using it to
create a different product for a different audience.

I recently spoke with Rob Tempio, the Executive Editor overseeing the Princeton Shorts Program and Leslie Nangle, Associate Marketing Director at Princeton University Press to discuss their new approach to e-book publishing and to find out how the advent of online content and e-books have affected the publishing business in general.

What is the Shorts Program at Princeton University Press?

Rob Tempio: The Shorts Program is an effort to extract content from our existing works and publish them as e-books. We take books that we’ve already published and extract a chapter or a set of chapters from those books and repackage them as e-book only products.

What’s your goal for the program? Is it aimed at gaining additional revenue from your existing properties directly through the e-book sales or to help market the hard-copy form of the full book?

Rob Tempio: Additional revenue is definitely one of the purposes, but it’s also to get our content out in a different format for a different audience that we think exists for the book: an audience that might be looking for a briefer version of our longer books. If
someone reads the shorter version or chapter, they might have their  appetite whetted for the whole book. That’s certainly the hope. We tie them together pretty closely. There are live links within the e-book leading to the full book. We give them new titles, but the sub-titles indicate that it’s a selection from the larger work.

Leslie Nangle: They are stand-alone chapters. You can read them and enjoy them without ever reading the full book………..

Click here for full interview

Yeah, We’ve Got a Book on That — Delete edition

Our resident tech-guru and online privacy advocate pointed me to recent news out of Spain. Several citizens are suing for the right to have their names “deleted” from Google — among them is a plastic surgeon who wants articles about a botched operation taken out of Google’s search results and a man who wants a notice that accuses him of non-payment of social security removed. This case has been referred to the EU’s top court for deliberation, but it could be a landmark ruling on privacy rights online.

We published Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger in which he makes the case for forgetting as a natural way for human brains (and hopefully machines) to deal with old, unimportant, or incorrect information. As the book’s description notes, “The digital realm remembers what is sometimes better forgotten, and this has profound implications for us all.” Viktor’s solution? Expiration dates on data coded into electronic files — after a user-set period of time, the file would simply no longer exist.

What do you think? Now that we have access to so much information and for unlimited time — should technology be forced to “forget” data after a certain amount of time? Do people have a right to be “forgotten”?

Bill Cook launches companion app to book In Pursuit of the Traveling Salesman

Twenty-four years ago a 2,392-city example of the TSP was solved in a 23-hour run on a super computer to set a new world record. This same problem now solves in 7 minutes on an iPhone 4 thanks to a free app: Concorde TSP Solver!

iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/concorde-tsp/id498366515
Press release for Concorde TSP Solver: http://blog.press.princeton.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Cook-TSP-app.pdf

Bill Cook, author of In Pursuit of the Traveling Salesman, has just launched a FREE app in the iTunes store called CONCORDE TSP SOLVER. The app allows users to plot TSP routes for an uploaded list of cities or any number of random cities.

The CONCORDE TSP SOLVER app is a powerful display of the potential to solve on mobile devices large examples of even the most difficult computational problems. This makes it an ideal tool for understanding and teaching the mathematics behind the most successful line-of-attack on the salesman problem. The colorful graphics show step-by-step how a tool called linear programming zeros in on the optimal route to visit a displayed collection of cities.

CONCORDE TSP SOLVER is a great companion to Cook’s book In Pursuit of the Traveling Salesman for general readers and mathematics students alike.

Some early reviews from Twitter:

@CompSciFact (2/5/12)
“We have an embarrassment of computational riches when we can solve traveling salesmen problems on a phone.”

@misterbrash (2/5/12)
“This unravels by University degree and hurts my brain! Solve traveling salesman problem(s) on your iPhone. In seconds.”

@ehtayer (2/5/12)
“Computational life is lush: traveling salesman app.”

@miketrick (2/4/11)
“Touring lots of cities? There’s an app for that! Amazing work by @wjcook and gang.”

SPARC honors Michael Nielsen as an Innovator of 2012

In a press release posted online this week (http://www.arl.org/sparc/media/12-0117.shtml), SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), lauded Michael Nielsen’s work “for bringing Open Science into the mainstream,” and added him to a prestigious list of SPARC Innovators.

The timing for this announcement couldn’t be better as the ScienceOnline conference is set to get underway tomorrow and Michael was featured in a New York Times article by Thomas Lin yesterday.

SPARC cites Michael’s popularization of Open Science–in particular his hefty tour schedule of 2011 and his book Reinventing Discovery–in their announcement. They also have a wonderful profile with comments from SPARC Executive Director Heather Joseph, Melissa Hagemann from the Open Society Foundations, biochemist Cameron Neylon, and John Dupuis, the head of the Steacie Science and Engineering Library at York University (the blogger behind Confessions of a Science Librarian).

Princeton University Press is happy to join in with congratulations to Michael on this tremendous honor!

Biella Coleman, guest blogging at Concurring Opinions

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, we will publish an ethnography of hackers from Biella Coleman. So it is fairly serendipitous that I found her introductory post to a series of articles she is writing for the Concurring Opinions blog (well serendipitous in the sense that her editor sent me the link ;). I hope you will check our her posts over the next month.

I would like to thank Danielle Citron for the invitation to pen some thoughts here on Concurring Opinions, and letting an anthropologist enter this legal arena. For my first post, I thought I would ease in slowly and give a taste of my work on hackers, geeks, and digital activism along with some of the themes and issues I will likely explore over the month.

Being there are not a whole lot of anthropologists of my ilk ( as I like to joke, I am an “arm chair anthropologist” who sits in front of her computer to study the high tech digerati of the west), I often get asked how or why I came to the study hackers, many people assuming that I had some hacker relative in my life or was myself a budding young hacker, both of which were not the case. Fitting to this blog, I got to hackers via the law. In 1997, when my friend—an avid free software developer—found out I had a keen but personal interest in patents and access to medicine, he sat me down to tell be about this legal concept called the “copyleft.” It was one of those moments that I still remember so vividly as I was nothing but floored, astonished, excited, and puzzled, especially when I learned of the full depth and extent of this legal alternative that had been dreamed up, not by lawyers, but by geeks and hackers.

 

Read more here: http://www.concurringopinions.com/archives/2012/01/anthropological-introductions.html

From traffic to business to genes, the everyday side of agent based modeling

An Everyday Approach to Agent-Based Modeling by Steven Railsback and Volker Grimm

How can scientists understand and predict the complex behavior of systems made up of unique, adaptive beings, or “agents”? These systems surround us every day: the traffic we drive to work in, the economic sectors that provide our food and energy, the financial markets we invest in, the ecosystems we depend on and work to preserve, and even our own bodies. These systems have complex and seemingly unpredictable behaviors that arise from the actions and interactions of the agents (the drivers, businesses, investors, plants and animals, genes and cells) that make them up. What makes agent-based systems complex is that the agents are all different from each other, interact with some but not all others, behave in ways that promote their own well-being, and are strongly affected by the system they make up. Each driver in traffic speeds up, slows down, or switches routes depending on the traffic ahead, the capabilities of its vehicle, and the driver’s relative motivation for safety vs. speed—which can depend on how much it has already been delayed by the traffic it is part of.

Agent-based models (ABMs) are a natural tool for studying these complex systems. ABMs are computer simulation models that explicitly represent the agents, their environment, how the agents interact with each other and their environment, and how agents make decisions and adapt to changing conditions. It is tempting to think of ABMs as virtual worlds that reproduce the complexity of the real system, but actually trying to reproduce the real system in a computer leads to problems: how do you program all this detail, especially how intelligent agents make decisions? And if you did, wouldn’t the model be as complex and hard to understand as the real system? Instead, ABMs are best thought of as highly simplified and containing just enough of the real system’s complexity to be help us solve particular problems.

In some fields ABMs have been so successful for so long that they are just routine tools. Agent-based traffic models are used every day to design roads and driving rules. Individual-tree models have been used in forest management for decades. In other fields, ABMs are making the transition from experimental to practical use. Some examples are:

  • ABMs of how rabies spreads in European foxes included dispersal of young foxes seeking territories, a way that rabies can spread long distances in short times. These models were used to design new strategies for containing rabies outbreaks that have proven more effective and less expensive.
  • Systematic Inflammatory Response Syndrome is a common cause of death in hospital emergency rooms. Clinical trials of inflammation-control drugs produced counterintuitive results, sometimes aggravating instead of controlling the syndrome. A cell-level ABM was able to reproduce and explain much of the unexpected response, and ABMs are now increasingly used to investigate cell- and organ-level medical problems.
  • Several ABMs of wildlife and fish populations are now in general use for predicting impacts of habitat modification (e.g., how coastal development affects shorebirds; how dams affect trout and salmon downstream) and designing cost-effective mitigation measures.
  • An ABM of the US electricity market identified ways that traders could extract profits by manipulating local electricity shortages; subsequent investigation of real market data indicated that this kind of trading did in fact occur.
  • The 2008 crisis in real estate and banking lead some to call for use of ABMs to regulate financial markets because traditional economic models failed to predict the crisis despite the clues that now seem so obvious.

The use of ABMs is still not widespread in most fields. Why has the use of this new technology grown slowly when others, such as genetics, seem to be ubiquitous almost instantly? One reason is that almost all scientists are trained in modeling with differential equations and statistics, but few are trained in the techniques of computer simulation. Another reason is that agent-based modeling uses a different concept of theory: models of individual-level phenomena (especially, behavior) that cause ABMs to produce useful system-level results. What model of individual investors produces realistic stock market fluctuations? What theory for how a bird feeds produces realistic patterns of habitat use and survival in populations? This across-level kind of theory is new to many scientists. Finally, building ABMs can require more knowledge about the specific systems being modeled; many traditional models are “theoretical” instead of representing a specific system or, when they do address a specific system, depend on statistical analysis of data instead of detailed understanding of mechanisms.

But these obstacles to use of ABMs are being overcome. NetLogo is a high-level software platform, produced by the Center for Connected Learning at Northwestern University, that makes it much easier for scientists to implement ABMs on the computer and conduct simulation experiments on them. A standard set of concepts (emergence, adaptation, interaction, etc.) has been widely adopted as a common way to think about and describe ABMs, providing the kind of conceptual framework that calculus and probability theory provide for differential equation and statistical modeling. And “pattern-oriented modeling” is a set of strategies for using many kinds of knowledge about a real system to develop across-level theory and design ABMs with just the right level of complexity. These tools and techniques are spreading through an increasing number of research programs, and university classes in agent-based modeling are appearing in many different fields of biological and social science. These changes may be the start of a major transformation in our ability to understand and even predict the behavior of complex systems.

Dr. Steven Railsback is an environmental scientist with extensive experience modeling environmental management problems. Prof. Volker Grimm is a senior scientist in the Department of Ecological Modeling, Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research, Leipzig; widely regarded as a leading thinker on individual-based ecology. They have co-authored the new textbook Agent-Based and Individual-Based Modeling: A Practical Introduction.

David Alan Grier: new president of the IEEE Computer Society

David Alan Grier, author of When Computers Were Human, a book which tells the story of a no-so-distant time in which “computers” were actually people, has been elected by the IEEE Computer Society membership as the 2013 President.

With nearly 85,000 members, the IEEE Computer Society is the world’s leading organization of computing professionals.  The largest of the 39 societies of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Computer Society is dedicated to advancing the theory and application of computer and information-processing technology, and is known globally for its computing standards activities.

Grier’s book was recently praised in the Atlantic Monthly:

When Computers Were Human is a detailed and fascinating look at a world I had not even known existed. After reading these accounts of ingenuity, determination, and true creative breakthrough, readers will look at today’s computer-based society in an entirely different way.

–James Fallows

Yale sociolgoist Charles Perrow on how technology can nudge climate change politics in the Bloomberg View

Yale university sociologist and three-time Princeton University Press author Charles Perrow published a thought-provoking op-ed in the Bloomberg View.  Check out some of his popular books ORGANIZING AMERICA: Wealth, Power, and the Origins of Corporate Capitalism, THE NEXT CATASTROPHE: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters, and his classic work NORMAL ACCIDENTS: Living with High Risk Technologies.

From the Bloomberg View:
Reducing carbon-dioxide emissions is primarily a political problem, rather than a technological one. This fact was well illustrated by the fate of the 2009 climate bill that barely passed the U.S. House of Representatives and never came up for a vote in the Senate.

The House bill was already quite weak, containing many exceptions for agriculture and other industries, subsidies for nuclear power and increasingly long deadlines for action. In the Senate, both Republicans and Democrats from coal-dependent states sealed its fate. Getting past these senators is the key to achieving a major reduction in our emissions.

Technological challenges to reducing emissions exist, too. Most pressing is the need to develop the know-how to capture carbon dioxide on a large scale and store it underground. Such technology could reduce by 90 percent the emissions from coal- fired power stations. Some 500 of these facilities in the U.S. produce 36 percent of our CO2 emissions….(continued at Bloomberg View)

“The Silicon Jungle” reviewed by Significance Magazine, mentioned by the Financial Times

Shumeet Baluja’s novel The Silicon Jungle has received some exciting press this month. Claire Packham’s review at Significance Magazine offers a brief overview of the book, praising Baluja’s accessible approach to the importance of data protection on the internet:

The fundamental point [of the novel] remains clear – that the internet contains a wealth of information on almost every aspect of every part of the lives of a vast proportion of the world’s population. This is a level of personal information that has never before been available, and the potential, either for good or for bad, is endless.

In the Financial Times, contributing editor John Lloyd explores the mysterious world of cyber-hacking and “cybercrime” and questions why these issues are largely untroubling to the collective, “public” imagination of Americans. He mentions The Silicon Jungle as one of the only modern cybercrime novels, praising how Baluja dramatizes the issue:

Baluja illustrates well the obsessive nature of advanced internet work, where the huge banks of information to which Ubatoo/Google has access can be manipulated to produce intimate profiles on almost everything and everyone.

Lloyd, like Packham, is concerned about what books like The Silicon Jungle suggest: that the masses of information available on the internet will soon be used against us. As he quotes from the novel’s preface:

It is important to remind ourselves that the technology, policies and sheer enormity of the amount of personal detail amassed about all of us is new. It’s breathtaking. It’s unexpected. All of us, those who are being watched and those who are watching us are, quite literally, in uncharted territory.

Click here to read the full article in the Financial Times

And the full review in Significance Magazine