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Written by Nash

February 15, 2009 at 9:28 pm

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Why Scientists won’t use Twitter…

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Twitter doesn’t need an introduction. The microblogging service is widely popular, and most Twitter users swear by its wonderful utility. It is a “Social Commons”, as one enthusiastic web junkie put it. But a few months into using Twitter, I realized that there are very few scientists – and I mean natural scientists, on Twitter. For instance, at the time of writing this post, the Twitter account science had 2,247 followers , while some popular individuals have followers 10-fold that number.


It seemed perplexing – science today is collaborative, everything depends on communication and sharing ideas , it seems perfect for scientists to share information fast, on a one on one basis if required or tweet to the community. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of tech-twitter services that discuss the latest gadgetry to hit the markets, but none that discuss the fundamental subjects – the quartet now known as STEM – Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics. So I pondered on the reasons, using my own department as a small study group to try and ascertain why scientists don’t seem to use Twitter, despite the hype.

Here’s a list of reasons I came up with :

1. The Twitter Reputation : Some might say allusion to little bird sounds is cute, hip – but it also gives Twitter the image of something frivolous, not really useful , and part of the MySpace/Facebook category (collectively chided as being a narcissistic phenomenon a.k.a MyFace). Most scientists hold the impression that Twitter is a social network – a place where one wastes time, and real discussions happen only on mailing lists and forums.

2. The Social Activation Barrier : It isn’t just a stereotype. Scientists are substantially asocial – feeling more at home dwelling on the workings of their pet problem rather than interested in what other people are thinking about. Of course, scientists have a tinge of megalomania, and generally will assume that anyone who hasn’t earned credibility with brilliant ideas or research is not really worth listening to. This does not mean they are impolite to lay men, but they rarely take laymen seriously. It is not a reflection of personality , merely a result of the widespread examples of utter silliness among laymen (Intelligent design? ),  poor understanding of how the natural world works on the part of laymen and the stringent standards that scientists are used to apply to themselves and their peers (oh, is my megalomania showing here? ).

3. Email vs. Twitter : Scientists will talk of course to experts in their field , but the preferred method of communication is email. Scientific discussions tend to involve lot of fact-stating and elaboration of theories, and the 140 character limit is simply ill-suited for this purpose. Email is also private, let’s you communicate with people you know are interested and stays as a permanent record. Even if Twitter does some of those things, but it doesn’t top email when it comes to communication. So why change?

4. Privacy (read ‘Secrecy’) : The data and models a scientist generates and the insight they provide is the usually the culmination of a long arduous process. In most cases, it represents years of sacrifices, blood and sweat (of the researcher, metaphorically and his lab rats, literally). As such , the culture of Twitter , which is to openly pass out information is entirely antithetical to the culture of science. Scientists will protect their data from all eyes until it can be represented to the public through a legitimate medium. Only a peer-reviewed journal or a patent is a legitimate medium , by the way, Twitter is not. It is a vicious circle. Twitter is not a legitimate source because of Point 1-3…and Points 1-3 would be rectified if Twitter was considered a legitimate source.

5. Science Media : Speaking of legitimate publication media, the science publishing industry hasn’t quite taken to Twitter. Although some journals (Science , for example) offer podcasts and other “Web 2.0” methods of disbursing information, the core process of publishing science remains tied to the Print/Paper method. All other methods are , in the psychology of a typical scientist simply “Pop-Sci” offerings – the real technical stuff is in the ‘Paper’. Discussions and debates also proceed through a process of writing to the Corresponding Author over email or the Editor of the Journal , who then publishes it and so on. A painfully slow process , I might add, especially in this day and age.

Unfortunately, the above points are also applicable to other “Web 2.0 “ Science resources. Social Networks for scientists (see ResearchGate, Nature Networks) have received only lukewarm reception even when backed by a highly rated research journal – and the few who register are mostly graduate students. Serious scientists still don’t seem to care. I personally, the enormous potential of services like Twitter to encourage dialogue between scientists, and to act as a fast information highway. To be fair, there are isolated cases of scientists actually using these resources ( OpenWetWare ). But until the culture of science undergoes a paradigm shift, I am afraid Twitter and its brethren will remain excluded from the scientific community, to be the subject of blog posts by individuals have who taken to it, and to be ignored by the institutions.

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Written by Nash

February 15, 2009 at 1:51 am

TED Blog: His TEDTalk on the base system was better

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Written by Nash

February 9, 2009 at 11:16 pm

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How To : Install Windows 7 on VirtualBox

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I am assuming you are using the latest version of VirtualBox.

Note : I took these screenshots on Windows XP running on Bootcamp, however, VirtualBox runs identically on Mac OS X and Linux. Therefore , all Options and Menus are the same across various platforms. I have already installed Windows 7, hence you see the Windows 7 entry on the left of the screen. Ignore that if you are beginning with a new installation.

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Click “New” and the following wizard will appear :

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On clicking “Next”, you are presented with options for the name (can be anything) and Type (Presumably Windows 7)

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If you select “Windows 7” in the above screen, VirtualBox will choose the best options for the OS by default. You are only required to accept them or increase the resources available to the virtual machine if your computer has a huge free resource bank. I recommend not reducing these settings.

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Next, VirtualBox will ask you to create a virtual hard disk for the virtual machine. Click “New” to create the new hard disk.

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This launches the Virtual Hard Disk Wizard.

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You can choose to have the virtual hard disk automatically expand as the Virtual Machine grows and accumulates data through use, or have it limited to a fixed size.

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Finally, you have to provide a value for the Hard Disk space – remember, if you chose “Dynamically Expanding storage” in the above screen, the hard disk will grow larger from the size you set here as and when the VM needs it.

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“Finish” to create the Hard Disk.

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“Finish” to create the virtual machine.

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At this point, you should see a new virtual machine on the left. Of course, this is still just an entry and no OS is installed in this VM. Select the VM, and from the Machine Menu, Click Settings.

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Under the CD/DVD ROM section , you can now define the where the Windows 7 install CD is located. If you burnt it and have a physical CD, insert the CD and choose “Host CD/Drive”, defining the drive letter. This is your real DVD drive. If you have simply the downloaded ISO file like most people, point the ISO image file field to this file.

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This should give you the following screen. The VBoxGuestAdditions ISO will be there by default. Leave it alone for the time being. Simply click “Add” and point to your Windows 7 Install DVD ISO.

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Finally , accept all Settings by click OK and click the Start Button. The VM will now start and go through the Windows 7 installation procedure. Keep your Windows 7 key handy as you will need it during installation.

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When you finish, you will see Windows Boot up as seen below.

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It is now a good idea to go to the Devices menu and install Install Guest Additions. While not necessary for using the OS, this adds support for Seamless Mode, additional display resolutions, direct file copy/paste etc between your VM and real computer.

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Look under the Machine Menu for various options regarding the style you want to use the VM in. In case you get stuck in Fullscreen mode, Right Ctrl + F (by default) will put the VM back into a window.

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Enjoy your Windows 7 experience. As you can see, VirtualBox is powerful enough and offers all the features of commercial virtualization software such as Parallels.

Written by Nash

February 3, 2009 at 7:53 pm

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PHD Comics: Abstract Mad Libs

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One of the most accurate templates of an abstract I’ve seen.

Written by Nash

January 16, 2009 at 2:26 am

Posted in Daily Updates

Bio Majors

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Written by Nash

December 22, 2008 at 11:17 am

Observer finds proof Qasab is Pakistani

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London: Reinforcing India’s assertion that the Mumbai attacks had Pakistani links, a leading daily here said on Sunday that the lone surviving terrorist belongs to a village in Okara district of Pakistan’s Punjab, an “active” recruiting ground for Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Mohammed Ajmal Amir Iman, alias Qasab, interrogated in custody after the terror attacks that killed 183 people, reportedly told Indian officials that he came from Faridkot village in Pakistan’s Punjab province. His father was named Mohammed Amir, married to a woman named Noor.

During the past week, Pakistan have cast doubt over the authenticity of the information about the terrorist.

But residents of a village in Pakistan Punjab’s Okara District have reportedly told The Observer that Amir Qasab hails from there.

According to the report in The Observer, electoral lists for Faridkot show 478 registered voters, including the name of Qasab’s father Mohammed Amir. The paper further goes on to say that a villager, who cannot be named for his own protection, said the village was an active recruiting ground for the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

“We know that boy [caught in Mumbai] is from Faridkot,” he said. “We knew from the first night [of the attack]. They brainwash our youth about jihad, there are people who do it in this village. It is so wrong,” he added.

‘The Observer’ report said that it conducted an investigation and obtained the electoral lists for Faridkot showing 478 registered voters, including one Mohammed Amir, married to Noor Elahi. Amir’s and Noor’s national identity card numbers have also been obtained.

At the address mentioned in the list, a man identifying himself as Sultan said he was the father-in-law of Mohammed Amir.

According to other locals, Qasab has not lived in Faridkot for about four years but would return to see his family once a year and frequently talked of freeing Kashmir from Indian rule.

The truth about Qasab’s origins are key to the ongoing investigation of where the attackers came from and will have a profound impact on relations between India and Pakistan. Islamabad has repeatedly said that no proof has been provided to back Indian accusations that all the gunmen came from Pakistan.

Copyright 2008 Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd. . All rights reserved.

Written by Nash

December 8, 2008 at 7:22 pm