26 July 2012

No bikes?

Sometime this afternoon a painted 'nobike' sign appeared on the pavement outside the Chrystal Macmillan bldg on George Square.  (actually on the only dropped kerb along the north of george square.)

Yes people - including me - do cycle (gently) along there to access bike racks and covered storage from MMW.  Doubtless we shouldn't, but is that really the most important thing that needs fixing on George Square?

I would not mind so much if there were equivalent 'no pedestrian' signs on Meadow lane.  But you can't even cycle on the road (much less the cycle contra-flow lane) because of people wandering across obliviously, usually texting or chatting.  Last week a coach was parked on Meadow Lane, going the wrong way, on the double yellows, blocking all access up and down the Lane.

I would also not mind it if there were also some 'no stopping' signs along the edges of the square where the Heriot's parents idle their engines while collecting their little darlings.

Or if the setts on George Square were kept in something resembling decent quality, but they are loose,  uneven, and full of holes.

All these factors combine to make George Square a nightmare for cyclists.  Why pick on them?

25 July 2012

What a great ride on Sunday!

Asleep...but not for long
What a great ride on Sunday.  No, not Wiggo and Cav but us - and half the rest of the population of Edinburgh who braved the wind and threatening clouds.   (actually, we had a lot of sun. To quote a small person 'it's like another world mummy!')

We finally made it out the Innocent past Duddingston, which we'd wanted to do for ages, and it was the perfect ride because it was so sheltered.  Thanks to our Spokes maps we were rightly guided all the way - with only a few minutes confusion nr Brunstane Station before a kind passing cyclist came over to advise us (thanks!).  After exploring the waterfront at Musselburgh and then meandering up the Esk, we followed NCN1 signs all the way back to Newcraighall, completing our loop and getting back on the Innocent for the ride home (stopping off at the cool climbing thing which according to the map may be called Jewel Park).  We'd never ridden much of the NCN before, and it was a good experience.  Between that and the Spokes maps, we really felt in good hands. I'd based the loop back from the Esk based on the Spokes map and didn't realise it would be as well signposted as it was.  Really nice not to have to stop at every corner and consult the map. 

We did discover one big gap in the Spokes maps -- they don't show playparks! Would be good to get these included in the next editions. Helpful to know when they're coming up - either so that a stop can be planned, or avoided.

En route we saw a 'weehoo' trailer which was the rider clearly really liked, although I'm glad I didn't go down this route.  We also 'spotted' another Helios tandem on Clerk St, in convoy with what looked like a family bike and trailer. And just lots of cyclists. Friendly cyclists (except the roadies who clearly thought I was obstructing their access to the narrow bridge over the Esk). And friendly walkers too.  

Best thing of all, not only did we all gets lots of exercise, and explore a huge area, but we got home in lots of time for lunch and that other cycle ride in France. Yay! 

(Only slight downside - we all thought of lots of bits of 'technical' clothing and kit that we really need if we're going to do this again!)

24 July 2012

In praise of on-line communities...

I've been reflecting on why I didn't blog for many years.  One of the big reasons is that others put things so much better than I can.  Sure, I can pontificate about the evils of the current government, or political shenanigans in Zimbabwe, or the upcoming Scottish referendum, but, on the whole I'm not sure I have much to add that's not out there already.  Secondly, if I blogged as a 'vent' a lot of my writing would have been about the toils and travails of editordom.  Which would have been hard to keep anonymous (and professional).  Which is why I had such fun blogging about Open Access last week - I had something to say that no one else was saying, and I felt free (free!) to say it.

But, the plan is for the resurrected blog to be mainly about cycling.  And the reason I've not blogged about cycling is that a few years ago I discovered the wonderful CityCyclingEdinburgh Forum. And not only have they let me vent many insecurities and frustrations, but they have provided advice, a secondhand trailer, good deals on bikes, the occasional free accessory (schrader valve pump anyone?) and a lifetime's suuply of empty jam jars.   But beyond the excellent advice and esoteric knowledge, they've created a generous and warmhearted community right here on the internet, welcoming even the middle aged, technically incompetent mum that I have become.

We meet up occasionally for coffee or beer, some crazy folk do time trials on Arthur's seat, others go to races together, or just for a ride.  But most of the interaction is on-line, and it is great feeling to know that if I've had a bad experience with a driver, or my bike's making a funny noise that there's a place where I know I'll get support and encouragement.

We wouldn't have done half the things we've done as a family without the gentle prodding from CCE-ers, who don't think going on holiday by bike with kids is crazy.  We also wouldn't have our much-loved tandem, and I don't know how we would have managed to get around the past year - certainly my schedule would have been nearly impossible.  We also probably wouldn't have found out about balancebikes and islabikes, which have so helped K. 'find her wheels'.   Yes, there are useful books, and you can go on training courses, but honestly, I don't know how people sustain life as cyclists without the sort of support we've gotten from CCE.  

It's given me lots of material for the blog too....

Open access links

I need somewhere to post links to OA stuff, and until I get better organised, that's going to be here:

Recent articles: (24 July 2012)

UK government will enforce open access to development research


Is the Academic Publishing Industry on the Verge of Disruption?  US News

Research paywalls tumble down  Telegraph

Brought to book Academic journals face a radical shake-up Economist

Why panning for gold may be detrimental to open access research The Guardian

Recent (thoughtful) blogs:

From the publisher's perspective:

Critical perspectives from OA supporters: http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2012/jul/17/uk-to-support-open-access

Here's The Guardian article that started all the hoo-ha: 

And the THES's first coverage - they have also published some shorter interesting interventions:

18 July 2012

Open access: impoverishing academia?

We all love to hate the big publishers that are bankrupting our libraries (is it true that UK universities only spent 2.7% of their budgets on libraries? something's wrong there).  But not all publishers are exploitative - many University publishers run as not-for-profit corporations. And publishers don't retain all the profits of journals. Far from it. 

I've been associated with two journals which have completely different models:  the learned society model and the collective ownership model. In both these models, the publishers have a contract to publish the journal, which usually guarantees them a % of the profits, the rest is passed on to the learned society or collective group of academics.

Learned societies, which rely on these not-inconsiderable sums to run conferences and support their administrative overheads, would also suffer under the proposed Gold Open Access business model.  A journal which publishes 20-40 articles in a year would have a maximum income of £40 000 - £80 000, if authors paid £2000 to publish with them (some are arguing this amount would be much lower). That may be plenty for a publisher that owns and runs hundreds of journals.    But it will be a blow to the learned society, which relies on their income for many good purposes - usually using it to subsidize conferences, and sometimes to provide honoraria for editors and book review editors. 

In particular, collectively owned African studies journals such as those started in the 1970s have used the 'windfall' profits of publishing to sponsor travel of African academics to attend conferences and present papers, or send their members to attend conferences and workshops.  

These journals also tend to have extremely reasonable subscriptions, which are set at cost for members, or even subsidized.  If they lose subscription income from libraries  then small grants that have sustained annual conferences and one-off workshops may disappear, along with the ability of learned societies to administer their membership and represent their interests.  Academia will be poorer, because these journals will pay the price for the rapacious behaviour of Elsevier and a few other 'big' publishers. 

The Finch report, rather condescendingly, tells learned societies to 'diversity their income' as if they've not been doing this for years? Yet more additional burdens for the academic community to shoulder, as we struggle to in search of an elusive work-life balance. 

Gold open access: a pathway to two tier publishing?

Proposals to embrace open access and throw open the doors of academe have been met with great enthusiasm. 'Progressive' scholars (and everyone frustrated by paywalls and limited journal holdings) has jumped for joy.  But has too little thought has been given to some of the implications?

Given the past record of this (and previous) governments on Higher Education and Research kowtowing to big business, surely we should be a little more cautious, and not just think 'oooh, how nice, this time I agree with their policy'.  There's a catch in it.  Those of us in academic jobs in UK universities don't stand to lose much, but I don't think this is a win-win situation. There are likely to be losers as well - if we all just jump onto Gold Access without questioning its business model as closely as we question the Elsevier approach. 

In the recent Guardian piece, Universities and Science Minister David Willets, endorses the so-called ‘gold open access’ model, preferred by the large publishing conglomerates.  ‘Gold’ OA changes the business model from one where readers pay for access to the output of research, to one where scholars pay to publish work – anywhere from a few hundred pounds to £2000.  The ‘green open access model’ preferred by most of those who work in and advocate for open access, instead requires researchers to make their work available inrepositories – such as those most Universities are already establishing fordealing with the REF. 

Some large granting agencies, like the Wellcome Trust, already set aside funds for OA up front fees, being willing to pay to ensure that research they fund is as widely accessible as possible.  Other researchers may be able to include such amounts in research grants, or request support through their universities.  But for self-funded Phd students, independent scholars, and contract staff the implications are less clear – how will they find the money to publish in these ‘gold’ journals?  Will their fees be waived? If so, on what terms?  And who will decide? Will journals have annual quotas or budgets? 

But it is most telling that the Finch report and responses to it look only at the implications of OA for UK academia.  We assume that the rest of the world will be grateful to have access to all of our publications (and wish they’d reciprocate).  But what about scholars from developing countries who want to publish in OA journals?  Some area studies journals have already begun planning for this, with plans to waive fees, but will disciplinary journals follow suit?

Or do we risk establishing a two-tier publishing system?  Not the one we have at present where OA journals are too often seen as inferior new-comers, but one where some scholars can only afford to publish in ‘old-model’ journals, while the rest pay to publish in the ‘Gold’ band.

Given that UK university libraries struggle to pay journal subscriptions the widespread belief that scholars in developing countries can’t access journals published here is unsurprising. In reality, many publishers make their resources available free or heavily discounted although the range of options can be tricky to navigate – and it all depends on reliable electricity and internet access. But under the ‘Gold’ OA scheme, we could have the ultimate irony of African scholars able to read our research, but unable to publish their own alongside it. 

Open access is coming; the internet and our expectations of instant access to documents makes it inevitable, but in moving towards a global flow of research, we need to consider the losers, as well as the winners, and seek to avoid creating new divisions and hierarchies within academia. 

17 July 2012

Is Edinburgh's water hard or soft?

Those of you who live in Edinburgh will know that we have lovely tasty drinkable water; that your clothes wash in sudsy water, that your hair feels manageable.  And, perhaps, like me, you will have thought that this was because Edinburgh's water was soft. Wrong!  It took me 9 years and a brewing course to figure this out though.  Thanks to the patient Robert Knops of  http://www.knopsbeer.co.uk/  (and a Christmas present from my husband who cherishes the notion that I want to brew beer), I now know better.  And since this came up in the pub   I thought maybe I'd better share this little insight. Might make a good pub quiz question!

Anyway, according to Robert, there are two kinds of 'hardness' -- permanent hardness and temporary hardness.  Temporary hardness is caused by calcium and magnesium bicarbonate, and precipitates out when you boil your kettle.  Permanent hardness is caused by calcium and magnesium sulphate.  And it's the presence of the latter that explain why Edinburgh has traditionally been famous for strong Scottish ales.   Now - go try some. Great range to be had at Provenance wines in Tollcross @Provenance_Edin 
where we did the course.  

I learned a lot about hops too, but need to taste some more before writing about them ...

Loch Harrison

I know it's been a rainy summer. There are almost no pictures of the children, except in wellies and waterproofs.

Keeping to stereotypes....

After 8 years of silence, I've been 'prompted' into activity. Thanks Sally, Dave et al. Will have a go at a few short posts, then dig into some meatier topics (cycling, academia....). I gather that abandoned blogs litter the interscape, so won't apologize, but resolve to do better....