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SNIP — what a destructive load of nonsense.

I feel compelled to make a few comments on the recent changes to the way in which journal publications are to be evaluated in many research organisations and funding bodies.

There is a thing called a SNIP (Source Normalized Impact per Paper). It sounds very plausible, but sadly it is just more nonsense used to berate researchers. For example, it says, “The impact of a single citation is given higher value in subject areas where citations are less likely” — which seems like it makes sense since it is harder to get highly cited in those areas. But maybe some areas have low cites because the citations are not the traditional measure of success.

More importantly for researchers, is the question of granularity. Is it harder to get highly cited in biological crystallography or solid state? Or do you lump them all into a single heading called ‘crystallography’ even though solid state crystallography borders on physics and protein crystallography on biology? Maybe you normalise a journal’s score according to the fields it says it publishes in — opening the way for a journal to ‘tune’ its stated field to maximise its score. Suddenly, we have more options for manipulating the terms of reference to get the result we want. The very fact that the normalisation is attempted adds a whole new layer where graft, misdirection and manipulation can happen. And does. For example…

Here are three journals that cover condensed matter physics. They have the same mandate, effectively, and researchers think of them as part of the same cohort, even if they are distinctly not considered as of equal quality.

  • Physical Review B: IF: 3.7 SNIP: 1.204  Ratio IF/SNIP: 3.1
  • J. Phys.: Condensed Matter: IF: 2.2 SNIP: 0.901 Ratio IF/SNIP: 2.4
  • Physica B: IF: 1.4 SNIP: 0.918 Ratio IF/SNIP: 1.5

So, Physica B gets a SNIP higher than JPCM despite having a much lower impact factor. Why? Because presumably it is being normalised against a different subset of journals. But there is a  more insidious reason… Physica B is published by the same publisher that is hosting the SNIP data. No doubt they can completely justify the scores, but the bottom line remains that the SNIP is clearly misleading and more open to manipulation. Physica B‘s SNIP score suggests that a citation in Physica B is about twice as valuable as one in Physical Review B, (because it takes about 3 PRB cites to get a point of SNIP but only 1.5 Physica B cites) which is a complete and utter lie. It should be the other way around, if anything.

It’s all rubbish, but it is dangerous rubbish because I know that people’s careers are being evaluated by reference to numbers like these. People will get fired and hired, though more likely the former, based on numbers like these.

At least a bloody toss of a coin isn’t rigged.

End rant.

Ignorant reflections on US politics

But There’ve been some comments in the light of the recent US election about reforming/abolishing the electoral college — after all, apparently, like Gore in 2000, Clinton got more votes but they were in the wrong places and so Trump won. Votes in less populous states count more, and so on.

I would argue, based on what I’ve read and seen, that there are more important things. The US needs an electoral commission, independent of Federal and State governments, that makes sure polling booths are equally available to all groups across the country. Voting systems need to be uniform. There need to be as many booths in non-white communities as in white, for example, and they need to be open. It needs to be easy to vote by post, in advance and from overseas. Recall Florida 2000 — Federal votes need to be immune from state-based interests.

That is a far bigger factor than the EC. I mean, sure, reform that — but you need to fix the bigger problems first. It needs to be easier to vote, equally easy everywhere. Once everyone gets to vote under a more uniform system, then you can get the inputs into the EC system to be more representative. At the moment the EC is GIGO, Fix the garbage going in first.

Second, once you’ve made it easy for everyone to vote, you would (ideally, though this will never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever happen) introduce what I call ‘compulsory attendance’. Put simply, you can fail to vote if you want to, but you have to show up (or postal vote or whatever) and tick the Brewster’s Millions box (draw a funny face on the ballot paper, whatever) or the Feds come after you. Failing to vote through apathy, or showing up and choosing not to vote for anybody because they all suck are two very different things, and send two very different messages, and what it does — and this is very important — is it removes the effect of voter turnout. Getting out the vote is discounted as a factor. That means there can be more focus on policy and genuine comparison of the parties. And you have to appeal to a wider range of voters, which tends to cut down on the more extreme ideas like Mexican walls. it is not undemocratic, because you do not have to vote, you just have to actually choose to not vote, rather than just be lazy.

But there’s no way you can have a law like that until everyone has an equal chance to vote, and right now that’s not the case.

A Fearful World of Walls

As I write this, Trump looks like wining the presidency of the USA. His capturing so much of the vote says much about the mindset of many people, and not just in the USA.

A happy people would not vote for Trump. A hopeful people would not vote for Trump. Forward looking people would not vote to Brexit, and generous people would not vote for governments that persecute people fleeing persecution — as both sides of politics do in my own country of Australia.

Clearly, the world, even (especially? no) the bits of it that are supposed to be wealthy, is not a happy place. Not confident. ‘Progress’ has let us down. Globalisation has given us cheap TVs but lousy job prospects, or so the narrative goes. The climate is about to make our way of life a lot more difficult. Things do not look good, whether you are following your gut or thinking very carefully. It looks more and more like the baby boomers will be the peak of western affluence, with the seemingly endless climb finally cresting and falling away as we spend our time dealing with the world as we have made it and they have left it.

And so countries want to retreat, to blame somebody then keep them out.

Trump is not a cause, but a symptom. Despite all the interconnections in the world, the web being pre-eminent these days, we either have not come to understand each other any better, or if we have we don’t like what we see.

His win is not the cataclysm some would suggest. He is such a policy-free zone (except for thought bubbles) that what really matters is which GoP figures end up pulling his strings. When, after the election, he is desperately casting about for actual programs and policies, then the GoP establishment can swoop in, present him with a ready-to-go program which he can preside over. The question is, what will that program be?

The real impact of a Trump presidency depends on who gets to put the agenda in front of him. We are in the hands of a Republican Party that has the House, the Senate and the Oval Office.




My Fortran rotating star and cost of screen output.

Ignore this post.

Got a Fortran program that does some numerical work and I just have it outputting a single character (‘-‘) to the screen each cycle, so I know it’s ticking along. It looks like this, sort of:

-------------------------------> done
Whoa! Exciting.

Whoa! Exciting. This was made using gifsicle.

But I thought that was ugly, so I’ve got something much nicer now. You know how in some text-based programs the fact that it has not completely locked up is shown by having little rotating bar, made just by printing |, /, -, and \ in the same place one after the other? Well, this is one way to do it in Fortran (note, just a snippet, not a working program):

! declare array 'star()'

       character,dimension(1) :: star(4)     

       star(1) = '|'
       star(2) = '/'
       star(3) = '-'
       star(4) = '\'

!other code...

       do iloop=1,nloop
!content of loop...
       end do

So all that this does is write an ‘achar(8)’ character to make the output backspace, use “advance=’no'” to avoid adding a line return, and use ‘mod’ to run through the four characters in the array over and over again.

‘achar(13)’ also works but only if you want to return to the beginning of the line and overwrite everything.

While thinking about this, I wondered: The loop is fairly big (searches some big arrays, does some calculations, works out an energy in a Monte Carlo simulation, that sort of thing) and so since this starry thing is the only screen output, I was wondering — how much does it cost in runtime?

using Gfortran, with -O2 optimisation. With and without the above ‘write’ statement, times are:


 $ time ./Dom2016G_tests < inputsG 

real	2m50.757s
user	1m57.032s
sys	0m1.616s


real	2m49.191s
user	1m56.895s
sys	0m1.587s

So there we have it, a time cost (looking at the ‘user’ time) of less than 0.2s, and only about 0.1%. So I think I’ll keep it. It looks nice.

Oh, and making the animated gif: I made four little bitmaps by screen grabs from LibreOffice, all the same size, and called them a1.gif, a2.gif a3.gif and a4.gif. Then just this command line (I put loopcount in to stop it after a finite number of loops. –loop and it goes forever…):

gifsicle --loopcount=100 -d 30  a?.gif > star.gif








Productive For Whom? The Productivity Commission and Copyright in Australia.

So some months ago the Productivity Commission of the Australian Government released a draft report on ‘Intellectual Property Arrangements‘. The summary of recommendations can, as of October 2016 when I write this, at least, be found here:

It suggests that copyright should expire much sooner…

DRAFT FINDING 4.2 While hard to pinpoint an optimal copyright term, a more reasonable estimate would be closer to 15 to 25 years after creation; considerably less than 70 years after death.

Many books are still valuable properties of the authors at 15 years out. An author writes a book at 25 and loses their own rights to it when still only 40 years old? Under such a recommendation, once a book is 15 years old, the publisher (any publisher?) can make money from it, a bookseller, a wholesaler, Amazon (poor, living-on-the-breadline Amazon) can make money from it, but not the person who wrote it. Madness. At least let them own it until they die. I agree, 70 years past death is a bit generous (is that the Walt Disney provision?) but at least let an author own their own work while they’re alive.

How about this one:

DRAFT RECOMMENDATION 5.2 The Australian Government should repeal parallel import restrictions for books in order for the reform to take effect no later than the end of 2017.

So while the UK and the USA and nearly every other major market in the world has such restrictions, we should remove them, handicapping our own industry. This one does make sense in one perverse way; we have already killed off manufacturing in Australia, and are currently in the process of killing off agriculture, by opening up our market to other countries who do not open up to us. No, of course I am joking; this one does not make sense. It might make books a little cheaper (though I doubt it. I can’t see the handful of big publishers (who such a change would put in an even more powerful position) passing on any savings; I don’t think there is real competition), but it will mean that Australian stories are harder to find at any price. Now, a significant amount of what the report suggests is not unreasonable, but some things are untenable. I wrote a submission to the commission, on the draft report, which I discovered is available freely on the web Please ignore the typo in the second paragraph (winces). Since it is freely available, I reproduce it below, because I can.



May 23, 2016

To whom it may concern:

I’d like to address the issues of copyright and parallel imports, though I am not a commercial author, editor or publisher or working in the industry at all.

Lifting of parallel import restrictions will reduce the number of locally made, written and published books. The case of New Zealand makes this clear, where multinational publishers have closed NZ offices. Since major players like the USA have parallel import restrictions, it is not like we are even creating a level playing field. It may be time to open an international dialogue about PIR, it is not time for self-destructive unilateral action. Unless we like the idea of local voices being even more maginalised.

As to ‘DRAFT FINDING 4.2’, this is clearly a discouragement to create. It is also absurdly inequitable. It may be true that most works have a short commercial life, but this is far from universal. How can the commission simply assume that all books have the same pattern of sales? Many books go through multiple editions over twenty, thirty or more years, especially in technical fields. Successful books by living authors remain in print for decades. Why after 15 or even 25 years is it acceptable for a publisher to make money from a book but not the author? What gives the publisher more rights than the actual originator and creator of the work? This priorities are, well, backwards.

And if an author does not want a book back in print, they need to keep that right, too. An author’s reputation is a major asset. Allowing publication of early, inferior works, or of works that the author no longer believes in, against the author’s wishes, has the potential to damage their reputation and hence livelihood. One can easily imagine a well-resourced publisher putting a non-copyright version of an early work up against a newer book by the same author, capitalising on the publication of the new book, but paying no royalties and possibly muddying the waters and reducing sales of the new book, which after all has to pay royalties where the out-of-copyright edition does not. That is not equitable. Maybe it is or is not a bad financial decision for an author to not allow a work back into print – but it must be their decision.

Just because it is easy to reproduce a work, especially in the electronic age, does not make it right. It is easy to slap a baby; that does not make it right. We download stuff for free all the time, legally and easily. We must guard against the attitude that we should get stuff for free just because it is easy.

Productivity includes ensuring that the creators have a position from which to create, otherwise there is no industry, no productivity. While it may be true that artists and writers are driven to express themselves, that does not mean laws should be changed to make them easier to exploit. If they cannot make a living from their work, they will do it part time or not at all, and we will all be the poorer.

Perhaps the pendulum needs to swing, but in this case it is swinging too far.

Best wishes

Darren Goossens



Shouting at the void.

Pure Spectacle at AWM

Perhaps it is me, but pure spectacle seems to lack entertainment value, at least, it does now that I am old and boring. This came to mind because of a recent trip to the Australian War Memorial. Now, AWM does a pretty good job of striking the baclance benwteen the sacrifices and appalling sadness of war and the ‘cool machinery’ like Spitfires and Me 262s.

A case in point is ‘the biplane movie‘ as we call it. In the ANZAC gallery, up one end, is the World War I aerial warfare gallery. It possesses an SE5a, an Avro 504 and an Albatros D.Va amongst other rare and unusual artefacts. And a few years ago they launched their movie about fighting above the trenches. Through the wonder of modern CGI film-making (Weta, I believe) we witness Sopwith Camels and Fokkers and RE8s battling it out over France and/or Belgium. We see the brave young men plummet, parachuteless, out of their burning planes. It’s really kinetic, using a curved split screen that forces the viewers to turn their heads to follow the action. As an accompaniment to the static displays it works brilliantly.

It’s not a feature film and should not be judged as one, but it does act as a jumping off point for some thoughts, because even the very first time I saw it I found that I was quite happy for it to end after the 15 or so minutes that it runs.


The lack of story, I think. At first while watching I was sitting there thinking, Wow! It really is time for a Hollywood special effects extravaganza about dog-fighting in WWI. It would absolutely shake you by the throat in IMAX, and would be so inherently life-and-death, because the pilots did not get parachutes (brass was afraid they might not fight hard enough, I read somewhere — another reason to be glad our military leaders are less of an elite drawn from the nobility than they used to be). Ten minutes later I was still impressed. I still felt like I’d been drawn into that world better than ever before. There was still the moment to moment excitement. But watching the swarm of buzzing biplanes dodging and weaving around (at a density I suspect was not exactly realistic) wore out surprisingly quickly. Soon technical admiration was the dominant feeling.

War makes me angry. So many people get hurt to salve men’s egos. War needs the story as well as the spectacle.

So I still think there’s a great movie to be made there; it’s a genre that could (profitably?) be revisited using today’s technology, to really bring out the intensity and the wind whistling in the wires of the planes.

But as always the primacy of story remains, especially when amongst the cool machinery we need to remind ourselves of the terrible truth.

Sanctimoniousness ends.


Whatever and ever.

Pigs don’t sweat like pigs.

Some old drawing I did for someone years ago that I might as well bung into the blog.

Some old drawing I did for someone years ago that I might as well bung into the blog.

Of course, pigs don’t ‘sweat like a pig’.  This is just an old picture I did for someone for some reason I can’t even remember.  I’m just putting it up here since I haven’t done a comic/cartoon post for a while.

Andromeda Spaceways Customer Satisfaction Survey

The below was first published in an early issue of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, a fine magazine to which I have rarely contributed. Due to my poor manuscript formatting, the footnotes were left out of the print version.  Here, at long last, what nobody has been waiting for; the final, complete version, dumped into a WordPress blog and formatted badly…


We at Andromeda Spaceways work very hard to provide a quality service at an affordable price.  To do this, it is crucial that we obtain as much feedback as possible from our patrons [ i ] — we are here to serve you, so we need to know what you want.  Please take the time to fill out this survey and hand, foot, levitate, tentacle or pseudopod it to your cabin crew as you exit the spacecraft.  As an incentive, each month [ ii ] we will draw one filled feedback form out of a barrel and the lucky winner receives a flight to any Andromeda Spaceways destination of their choosing [ iii ].

1.  How did you hear about Andromeda Spaceways?

□ Television    □  DEP advertising [ iv ]

□  Word of mouth/other organ □  Current Affairs Program

□  Travel agent   □  Cellmate

□  Other: Please specify________________________________

2.  Why did you choose to travel with Andromeda Spaceways?

 Price       Service

 Banned from other lines     Range of destinations

 Blackmail by shareholders     I breathe H2S

 Other: Please specify_________________________________

3.  Would you like to join out frequent flier program [ v ]?

 I have already joined    No     Yes

If no, please give your reasons__________________________

If yes, please give your reasons_________________________

4.  Please rate your travel experience with Andromeda Spacewaysvi?

 Good     Very good     Excellent

5. We have updated our services recently and would like to know if the changes are for the better.  Please help us by placing a cross on the scale to indicate your agreement or otherwise with the following statements.

5 = strongly agree, 1 = strongly disagree

a) The staff were friendly and helpful

  1 <—–|—–0—–|—–> 5

b) The staff were friendly and helpful except for that ‘Dave’ guy

1 <—–|—–0—–|—–> 5

c) The M.C.Escher wallpaper in the infirmary helped cure my spacesickness

1 <—–|—–0—–|—–> 5

d) The extra 75 cm3 space in the economy class cages was a big improvement

1 <—–|—–0—–|—–> 5

e) The drugs were very effective, especially the sedatives

1 <—–|—–0—–|—–> 5

f) The restraints were not too tight

1 <—–|—–0—–|—–> 5

g) The unispecies toilets are easy and convenient to use

1 <—–|—–0—–|—–> 5

h) I would happily travel with Andromeda Spaceways again

5 <—–|—–0—–|—–> 5

Please add any further comments on and only on the lines below:





Please date and sign the following statement [ vii ]:

I _______________ do hereby absolve Andromeda Spaceways of any responsibility for that awful accident which occurred when I tried to use the rowing machine in the gymnasium.

Signed  [ viii ]____________       Date [ ix ] _____________.

Andromeda Spaceways thanks you for your care and consideration in filling out this form and wishes you a pleasant journey [ x ].  We would like to reassure passengers that, regardless of any odd sounds emanating from the rear of the spacecraft during take-off and landing, nothing could possibly gow rong.

i Please refrain from physical violence.

ii This is a Betelgeuse standard month.  1 BSM = 3×105 Earth months.

iii Subject to availability, background checks and industrial action.  Negotiations will not be entered into; the vendor’s decision is final; by filling out this survey the patron waives all rights as regards legal action for compensation as a result of negligence, stupidity or vindictiveness on the part of the vendor in perpetuity.

iv Andromeda Spaceways accepts no liability for shoppers injured by direct eyeball projection advertising.  Those seeking a return of their eyesight should deal directly with the advertising service provider.

v Frequent flier points accrue at 0.00001 points per light year, and can be redeemed in person at any Sirian Cockroach Soup Export office (two offices around the Universe!) for flights to any Andromeda Spaceways destination, subject to availability, background checks and industrial action.  Negotiations will not be entered into; the vendor’s decision is final; by redeeming points the patron waives all rights as regards legal action for compensation as a result of negligence, stupidity or vindictiveness on the part of the vendor at any point in space and/or time.

vi One of these options must be selected.

vii Failure to do so will result in immediate ejection from the spacecraft.  Please refer to clause 324-5-b3α, section 6754, paragraph א0-b7 of the ‘Conditions’ on your ticket stub, unless you’ve been foolish enough to throw it away in which case, boy, are you in trouble.

viii The deposition of genetic material is an acceptable substitute for a signature.  Please signal your flight attendant, who will provide the appropriate apparatus and privacy.

ix Please use galactic standard dates.  Use of ‘Stardate’ notation is not considered amusing and will result in immediate ejection from the spacecraft.

x These statements do not necessarily reflect the opinions of senior management and should not be considered binding upon any staff member of Andromeda Spaceways or its subsidiaries.

Governing for Whom?

When Australian parliament sits, the Speaker (in the House) and the President (in the Senate) ask God, the Christian God, to see that all goes well:

Almighty God, we humbly beseech Thee to vouchsafe Thy special blessing upon this Parliament, and that Thou wouldst be pleased to direct and prosper the work of Thy servants to the advancement of Thy glory, and to the true welfare of the people of Australia.

Our Father, which art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Symbolically, to me, it says: We do not govern for Jews, we do not govern for Muslims, we do not govern for atheists or Hindus or Buddhists. Now, is it any more than a symbol?  Yes, because it remains in place!  It is therefore an indicator, a litmus paper, for the underlying beliefs of the bulk of our politicians; it is a little window into the subconscious of our governments, a view of the unquestioned foundations that shape policy, leadership and therefore the country.  The fact that there has not been more argument about it is evidence enough; our parliament was created to serve the Christians, to be guided by the Christian God to build a Christian state, for Christians.

And so it remains.