Things that gave me pause this week I

Last Friday at the airport, when I was queuing to board the plane, the man in front of me was reading the Economist. I couldn’t help but notice a double-page ad placed by the Templeton Foundation. The ad featured a set of interesting essays by a number of prominent scientists, philosophers and theologists on the question “Does science make belief in God obsolete?”.

Then I came across a column by David Brooks titled The Neural Buddhists in yesterday’s NY Times Op-Ed pages. Ironically, it might be paraphrased as “The question of whether science makes belief in God obsolete is obsolete”.

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Private beta test

I just wanted to give you a short update on our beta test. First of all, we’d like to say thank you to our existing testers (your feedback was very encouraging!) and also to all the new testers who’ve signed up. We are expecting to roll out a new version for testing next week, so please stay tuned…

This week's roundup

Busy week again at Mendeley HQ, so just a few short notes of what we’ve been up to. Besides Mike joining us – and of course ongoing development work on both Mendeley Desktop and Mendeley Web – we’re still on the lookout for a new office.

We did see a few interesting ones, such as an old abandoned jewellers’ workshop in a house full of gold and diamond traders close to Farringdon. The place was oozing character (and big safes hidden behind the shelves) while being relatively affordable, but it was in dire need of refurbishment which most likely couldn’t have been completed in time for our moving.

Unrelatedly, I wanted to show you an interesting bit pertaining to the design of Mendeley. Yesterday, I set out to create the new default profile picture shown on a researcher’s web profile before an own photo is uploaded. This is how it went down:

You may notice that I’m certainly not an artist and that I couldn’t draw a straight line if my life depended on it. However, a certain co-founder of mine is even worse. That’s why Paul and I do most of the design work on Mendeley.

As a researcher, you’ve certainly heard the phrase that research is “10% inspiration and 90% perspiration”. I believe that this ratio might be skewed even more heavily towards perspiration when you’re designing things – because it will almost never look good on the first attempt. Case in point: Getting to a decent-looking profile picture didn’t just take the five attempts above, but at least another 20 unsightly failures.

For the 10% inspiration part, I’d recommend heading over to Smashing Magazine – they’re simply amazing.

Are you advising Master Theses?

Well, I am. Currently I have six students writing their master thesis under my supervision, and if you’ve ever done this before, then you know the amount of work that goes into that job. Especially when you have to compile and distribute literature lists to each of the students, it can be quite a hassle to pluck this list from your own pool of references – depending on how well you’ve organized your library. In the end you want to have an up-to-date list of references which you can give to the student, and you also want your student to be able to directly use and analyze these references for his own work.

This is, again, one of the day-to-day problems of researchers that we’re aiming to solve with Mendeley. In Mendeley, you’ll be able to just set up document groups according to the different topics you are currently researching, and drag & drop references from your library into these groups. You could then either export a formatted list or, even better, give the student access to this group so that he would be able to import this information into his Mendeley account and start building up his own library. And every time you add a new reference to one these shared groups, your student will see this new reference in his library as well.

Obviously, this would also make the lives of research groups easier. I believe we could figure out plenty of additional scenarios which make sense in this context. If you have some ideas, just send us an e-mail and let us know!

Mike Arthur joins Team Mendeley

This week marks the end of Jan, Paul and me spending our days at Mendeley HQ all by our lonesome. Beause this week, dear readers, we are joined by our new software engineer Mike Arthur whom we managed to snatch from the claws of British Telecom! That’s him there, on the right. Mike

Mike has signed up for our mission to develop Mendeley into the best tool there is for managing, discovering and sharing research. His expertise in Qt and C++ (the development framework and language we’re using) will be a great help towards achieving that goal. What else can we tell you about him? For one, he claims to be Scottish. I can’t testify as to the veracity of this statement, since both kilt and bagpipe remain conspicuously absent (he’s a very talented Jazz bass player, though). Besides, he is devoting a lot of his free time to open source development, especially for the K Desktop Environment (KDE).

One amusing bit: When he came in for the job interview, it was already quite late at night and I hadn’t had dinner yet. The only thing edible in reach were two juicy mangoes which I had brought to the office that day. I was happily munching the mangoes while we talked to him, and I offered him some slices, too. He declined, and I thought he was merely being polite because he didn’t want to eat during a job interview. So I kept pushing the mango slices over to him, and he kept refusing. In the end, he asked us whether having to eat mangoes was actually a job requirement – he didn’t like them. You may think that’s silly, but the notion that someone could possibly not like my favourite fruit in the world had previously been inconceivable to me. Mike is the only person I know that doesn’t like mangoes.

Welcome to Mendeley, Mike. We’re glad you’re here!

Edo anatomy

I recently wrote about how some of the statistics I designed for Mendeley Web vaguely reminded me of Edo period woodprints. So when I stumbled across these captivating Kaibo Zonshinzu anatomy scrolls painted in 1819, I wanted to share them with you.

Edo anatomy

Edo anatomy 2

I was fascinated by Pink Tentacle’s observation that

“Unlike European anatomical drawings of the time, which tended to depict the corpse as a living thing devoid of pain (and often in some sort of Greek pose), these realistic illustrations show blood and other fluids leaking from subjects with ghastly facial expressions.”

Indeed, I chose not to post the more gruesome depictions.

For comparison purposes, Anatomia del corpo humano from 1599:

Anatomia del corpo humano

The full collection of the Kaibo Zonshinzu anatomy scrolls can be found here for your perusal. Pink Tentacle again:

“The fact that the bodies used in scientific autopsies in Edo-period Japan generally belonged to heinous criminals executed by decapitation adds to the grisly nature of the illustrations. […] In 2003, Japan’s Ministry of Culture designated Kaibo Zonshinzu an important cultural property, saying that the scrolls, which were produced as a result of actual observation and based on Dutch scholarship, demonstrate the level of knowledge that medical science reached in the Edo period.”

Finally, another anatomic drawing which I discovered a few years ago (unfortunately, I forgot where that was). I saved it knowing that it would come in handy sometime. You may object that it is misplaced next to the masterful scholarship of the Kaibo Zonshinzu. And yet, this drawing might well save your life one day, in case the depicted subject attacks your city and you have to aim for the vital organs:

monster