Friday, February 15, 2008

Free Sci-Fi/Fantasy E-Books

This may not be so interesting for those of you 1.) uninterested in science fiction or fantasy and/or 2.) living near a public library in the United States, but as part of some promotion (revamping their website or something or other), if you go and sign up at (they ask for very little, just a name, an email, zip code, and age), they'll send you a free e-book every week (for 12 weeks, I believe). It comes pdf and I've heard (on Slashdot, of course) no DRM. The first book is Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, who is the author slated to finish off Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Can Someone Explain to Me What's Up with astro-ph?

I suppose the vast majority (4 out of the 5 of you) of people who read this blog are astrophysicists (the other person will just have to wait). So maybe one of you can explain to me what's the deal with astro-ph these days? Hm, that's just asking for a bunch of punchlines, isn't it? But I have a specific problem in mind.

The average astro-ph entry looks like this:

Title: Halo X-ray Something Cosmology
Authors: X. PhD ((1) Please Donate to Me U.)
Comments: 20 pages, 10 figures, submitted to some journal
Subjects: Astrophysics (astro-ph)

Last week, I noticed something new. Between "Comments" and "Subjects," some entries have a new field that often reads (this appears only in the listing and not the abstract page):

That URL states
  • I grant a perpetual, non-exclusive license to distribute this article.
  • I certify that I have the right to grant this license.
  • I understand that submissions cannot be completely removed once accepted.
  • I understand that reserves the right to reclassify or reject any submission.
  • This seems to be pretty typical stuff but what's the point? Isn't this the terms under which all astro-ph submissions are accepted (that is, isn't adding this field redundant)?

    So it didn't seem so important and I tried to put it out of my mind. Today, though, I saw something truly mind-boggling. The very first entry (arXiv:0802.1210, although once again, you can only see this on the listing page not the abstract page) has this "Comments" and "License" field:
    Comments: 21 pages, 5 figures, submitted to ApJ
    Now wait a second. It's true that everything I know about licenses and copyrights and such comes from skimming Slashdot, but something's not making sense. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (which that URL redirects to) says that the author has the copyright to this work and dedicates it to the public domain where "the Work may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, used, modified, built upon, or otherwise exploited by anyone for any purpose, commercial or non-commercial, and in any way, including by methods that have not yet been invented or conceived." I think this means that anyone can take any part of this paper and reuse for any reason without express permission of the author. That would be well within the authors' rights and, I think, acceptable to it being listed on astro-ph.

    But this paper is also submitted to ApJ, where presumably, they intend to publish the paper. And before they can publish, they have to sign the publication agreement (that link opens a pdf), which states "you grant and assign the entire copyright for this paper exclusively to the Society" and, later, "the Society, in turn, grants to you the non-exclusive right of republication, subject only to your giving appropriate credit to the Journal." Reading this, I think that if you are writing a book, some company (not self-publishing) has agreed to publish it, and you want to include a plot from this paper, you would need to have the express permission of ApJ. How is this not in disagreement with the Creative Commons license?

    So this is probably the most obscure, geeky, and pedantic blog post I've ever written, but I'm hoping I'm not the absolute only person who finds this interesting/puzzling.