Inspection copies

July 28, 2015

Some years go, I worked at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, in the campus that is now called the “Harwell Oxford”, and got there every morning through a long journey involving a short car ride to Banbury train stations, two trains to Didcot Parkway (change at Oxford) and finally what should have always been a short hop on the bus from the station to the laboratory, but often became the worst part of my commute, with long and frequent delays. Didcot itself had another campus, a hi-tech looking business park called “Milton Park”. I used to look at the Milton Park shuttle buses with envy: they were frequent, free and new, with a nice exterior designed to suggest that whatever went on inside that campus was very high tech. I always wondered what they did – though I suspected it wouldn’t be as cutting edge as what we did at RAL (neutron scattering, synchrotron radiation, high-power lasers, space hardware and my speciality – theoretical physics).

Today I have had my first conscious experience of a business based at the Milton Park campus. It is certainly academic-related, but I wouldn’t say it is very high tech. I had ordered inspection copies of a couple of recent textbooks by reputable authors, from a reputable publisher. I am revamping my teaching of Quantum Mechanics and I was hunting for an introductory text on the subject that would use a modern language (Dirac notation) but without burdening the students with large mathematical preliminaries at the start of the book. I received the copies from a company (not the publisher) describing themselves as a “book services” operation, with a bill enclosed and precise instructions to either adopt the texts, return the books within 30 days or else pay a hefty bill to retain the books for my personal use. Right, so that’s what they do there.

Basically, this company working from Milton Park offers outsourcing services to publishers. What they outsource is the provision of inspection copies to academics. But the standard at which this outsourced version of the service is provided is quite different, compared to what has been the norm in the academic publishing world. Normally, in my experience, academics are allowed to keep the book for free. Because I had to return it within 30 days, I had to make a hasty decision on whether to adopt the texts, without a chance to properly compare them to those offered by other publishers. Moreover, I had to re-package the books, etc. making me waste valuable time which could have been spent writing better lecture notes for my students or – Heavens! – even doing some research.

So, yes, I always suspected what they did at Milton Park was less cutting-edge than what we were doing at Harwell – but now I know at least one company there seems to be making a negative contribution to the progress of Science.

¿Estamos ante un golpe de estado? ¿Qué podemos hacer los europeos al respecto?

July 13, 2015

Artículo de Paul Krugman en el New York Times:

Killing the European Project –

Estoy absolutamente horrorizado por lo que está pasando en Bruselas. Mi europeísmo está siendo puesto a prueba. ¿Fue correcto permitir a Alemania acumular tanto poder dentro de la Unión?

Se habla mucho de países que están en la “periferia” de la Unión. Incluso se oyen llamadas a la secesión de esa periferia – a la formación de una Unión Europea de los países periféricos. Me atrevería a añadir (en un plano simbólico): ¿por qué el país que creó los ideales políticos, filosóficos y estéticos clásicos (Grecia), el país que llevó a cabo la primera unificación de Europa (Italia) y los que crearon los primeros imperios trans-oceánicos, que caracterizarían la historia del continente durante varios siglos (Portugal y España) tienen que asumir la etiqueta de “periféricos”?

Si ocurre una rebelión, es más probable que se produzca en el seno de las instituciones europeas. Como, por lo que tengo entendido, señalaba un político griego esta mañana en BBC Radio 4, el gobierno griego no tiene opciones porque están políticamente aislados, así que se están concentrando en sobrevivir a la espera de un cambio en el equilibrio de fuerzas (hay elecciones pendientes en otros países del Sur en breve). Ahora somos los ciudadanos de otros países europeos ños que tenemos que estar a la altura del heroísmo griego.

Where does the future of the Euro lay?

July 13, 2015

Short-sighted politicians (especially in Germany) are ignoring the powerful symbolism of ejecting such a central Euro country (Europe is a Greek word, for heaven’s sake!), with potentially fatal consequences for our Union. Europe must be based on solidarity as well as financial convenience.

If Europe is just a marketplace, instead of a union of the most advanced countries in the world, countries that are proud of their shared heritage and above all care for the wellbeing of all their citizens, then the question of which country will be next is hard to avoid. This coyld be the beginning of the end for the Euro and even the Union.

Why aren’t France, Italy and Spain deciding Greece’s fate?

July 8, 2015

What is remarkable, in view of recent events, in the following graph showing who owns Greek debt at present:


That’ right: France, Italy and Spain own as much Greek debt between them as Germany, the IMF and the ECB put together.

Why, then, is it widely perceived that the future of Greece is in the hands of the latter, and not the former?

I suspect it may have something to do with how much French, Italian and Spanish debt the other three own but, still, it does seem like the voice of the Mediterranean Euro nations is not being heard, and any insights into why this is the case would be appreciated.

The graph is from the following BBC article: