IAU: The question of proceedings

The Real Gabinete Português de Leitura in Rio de Janeiro

The Real Gabinete Português de Leitura in Rio de Janeiro

In general, astronomers enjoy attending conferences. Particularly when they take place in nice locations. Rio de Janeiro, for instance, fits that bill nicely (thank you, IAU). Some of us even enjoy presenting our work to our colleagues at these events, be it by giving a talk or making a poster. It usually earns us a pat on the back from our peers, some useful feedback, new ideas and contacts, and more often than not a well-earned drink afterwards. Soon afterwards, emails start arriving from the conference organisers: send us your proceedings paper!

In one of last week’s editions of Estrela D’Alva, the daily IAU General Assembly newspaper, Rob Kennicutt, Professor at the University of Cambridge and recent co-laureate of the Gruber prize for cosmology, wrote an article on the boringness that is the conference proceedings paper. The full article can be read on page 2 of the online pdf edition of the paper. Kennicutt’s question:

Are printed proceedings another dinosaur that should become extinct along with printed journals, or do they offer something unique and precious that needs to be preserved?

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Tweeting Arxiv

tweprintsFellow astronomer, blogger and developer Rob (@orbitingfrog) has put together a great new site in recent months that makes the most of two of my favourite places on the web, arxiv and Twitter. Arxiv on Twitter, or Tweprints for short, tracks all tweets about publications listed on arxiv, the online preprint service where many scientists post their new papers in a variety of sciences, including astronomy. Authors often post their work to arxiv before they are officially published by the journals, so it’s an excellent way to disseminate new results to the community more quickly than the time it takes a journal to publish (months sometimes).

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Look UP!

Ever wished you had a place on the web where you can find out everything about an astronomical object? Comrade astroblogger Stuart over in the UK has written just the thing. It’s called LookUp and you can access it for free, here. I’ve been playing with it for a few days and it’s a lovely little tool that will come in handy for both the desk-bound professionals and the stargazers out in the field. [Read more…]

A big week for astronomy


This week, starting 2 April, one of the biggest events in the International Year of Astronomy will take place. 100 Hours of Astronomy, one of the year’s Cornerstone programmes, will get thousands of people looking through a telescope at the skies, just like Galileo did 400 years ago, over the course of 5 nights. Tons of great events are taking place, from star parties organised by local astronomy organisations around the world to global webcast events.

The webcast events look particularly fun. The first, called Live Science Centre, will allow anyone with a weblink to participate in discussions about space and astronomy throughout history with scientists in places as far-flung as Germany, South Africa and the US. The Science Centre webcast takes place on 2 April at 17:00 UTC (follow the link to see the time at your location). Around the World in 80 Telescopes is a really cool continuous 24-hour webcast, starting on 3 April at 09:00 UTC that hops around 80 world-class telescopes scattered around the globe and in space to follow live what astronomers are up looking at.And yes, that does include the space telescopes like Hubble, Spitzer and the newly launched Kepler!

This is really one of the big highlights of the IYA and it will be well worth your while to take a peek. So follow the jump over to the website to see what’s happening in your area and mark the webcasts in your diaries. You can also get updates via twitter (@100Hours and @telescopecast). If you own a telescope, take it out onto the street and get your neighbours out.

Web 2.0 for Travellers

Dopplr is a social networking site for travellers that helps you keep track of your friends’ whereabouts. If your locations coincide, Dopplr flags it up for you and you can catch up for a drink. I find it a very useful quick-reference for myself to check where I’ll be at a particular time in the future, and my family and friends can import an iCal feed of my trips into their electronic calendars like Google Calendar to get automatic updates of my travel schedule.  As well as being a nifty tool for frequent travellers, Dopplr is also a very smart-looking site and I love their design! Very simple, a white background, plain font and simple bock colours.

Earlier this year the Dopplr team made annual travel reports for all its users, and I got mine in my inbox a couple of weeks back. It looks super nice so I thought I’d post it up here. To announce the reports, the Dopplr folks actually did an annual report for Barack Obama – check it out on their Flickr site and spot the swing states. Their calculation of my mileage in 2008 is also remarkably close to my own estimate!

Trivia: Dopplr CTO Matt Biddulph was the first to coin the term Silicon Roundabout for the Old Street area of London,  aptly enough on Twitter. Old Street these days is home to a number of hot internet start-ups – other favourites of mine, Last.FM and Moo.com are also based there (as well as one of my favourite sporting venues, but that’s another story!).  I love that they’ve found a fun name for such an ugly part of the city and it almost makes me remember Old Street fondly. Almost.