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The Unstoppable Rise of Sci-Hub (2019)

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How do early career researchers (ECRs) use Sci-Hub and why? In this post David Nicholas assesses early career researcher attitudes towards the journal pirating site, finding a strong preference for Sci-Hub amongst French ECRs. He raises the question, will Sci-Hub prove the ultimate disruptor and bring down the existing status quo in scholarly communications?

When we started the Harbingers Project in 2016 – a longitudinal study of the scholarly communication practices of 116 early career researchers (ECRs) from China, France, Malaysia, Poland, Spain, UK and USA – one of the things we most wanted to discover was whether ECRs, as Millennials, would take to pure-play online, social media friendly platforms, such as ResearchGate (RG). It turned out that they did and in the case of RG, to such an extent that in the space of just three years, it moved from disruptor to mainstream.

However, as surely as night follows day, as one disruptor ceases to disrupt, another emerges. Thus, as the use of RG plateaus, Sci-Hub – not so much a disruptor, as an out and out copyright pirate – has gained increasing traction with ECRs. From finding only a handful of users in 2016, a quarter of our sample now appears to be using the site in 2018. Not bad for an illegal platform, especially so considering researchers are likely to play down participation in an illicit activity. It is possible that the real proportion of users could be as high as a third, if true that would translate to millions of researchers world-wide.

Interestingly, Sci-Hub’s attraction, unlike RG’s, is not its social media features (it has none), but that it offers free and relatively easy access to millions of papers harvested (illegally) from publishers’ websites. It is an open one-stop full-text warehouse, which is thought to be more convenient to use than clunky heavily regulated library platforms.

There is another, possibly, more important explanation for Sci-Hub’s popularity and that is it speaks to ECRs’ sharing beliefs and open access (OA) sympathies. It is, after all, supported by academics with open agendas and/or those protesting against the high costs of journal subscriptions, who provide Sci-Hub with their institutional passwords. Sci-Hub might not have an online community to join, but is has a much better OA offering than RG. 

Much of the growth of Sci-Hub is therefore ideological, no more so than in France, where nearly all our ECRs were Sci-Hub users. For French ECRs Sci-Hub was considered to be merely a way of providing open access to the scientific literature: part and parcel of the OA movement, which is to be supported by whatever means necessary. From this perspective, publishers are seen as the enemy, whose greediness erects unnecessary barriers, thereby obstructing the advancement of science. National infrastructures, such as HAL and ISTEX, have been created to break the publishers’ monopoly, but ECRs are wondering whether Sci-Hub (and ResearchGate) can accomplish the task more cheaply and effectively? In fact, Sci-Hub is seen as a ‘Robin Hood’ figure. There then is an element of defiance about the French use of Sci-Hub and they certainly do not view it as being wrong, because they are breaking the rules for good reason, to increase access to scientific knowledge.

ECRs elsewhere lag behind the French in their use of Sci-Hub, although they might be catching-up. Approximately one-third of our Spanish and Polish ECRs use Sci-Hub. Malaysian use is low, but the latest findings indicate growing interest. Sci-Hub users, as a proportion of the total ECR population, are lowest in the UK and US, which is in line with previous findings showing a preference for Sci-Hub outside the Anglosphere. The reason for the low use might be that US/UK university libraries are better provisioned. China, as always, is an interesting and special case, as in China Sci-Hub is banned, but still used by a few ECRs. They also have at their disposal a Sci-Hub clone, which is not banned, www.91lib.com and provides users with access to the offerings of all the main commercial publishers for a small fee. The service is alleged to hack into publishers’ websites or steal library IDs in order to obtain access to journal papers. 

In France ECRs refer to Sci-Hub as the ‘Russian’ platform, partly because to escape attempts to close it down it has sheltered its domain in the Russian Federation and partly because its founder comes from Kazakhstan. While we did not cover Russia in the original study, we decided to survey Russian ECRs to ascertain their perceptions of the site. We found, despite a Moscow City Court ruling blocking Sci-Hub on behalf of STM publishers, they are avid users and, like their French counterparts, believe it delivers open science in a simple and free fashion and really don’t care or understand why it is labelled a pirate. 

Sci-Hub, more so than RG, therefore seems to have a greater potential for disrupting the current order of things and poses a significant threat to publishers and librarians, who cling to the mistaken belief that the key to Sci-Hub’s success is its alleged seamlessness (a single sign-on), which if they can replicate will go away. As to whether it is the ultimate disruptor, in the short to medium term, the answer is probably, yes. Certainly Sci-Hub is no fly by night platform, as its status among French ECRs proves. Thus, while it would be inaccurate to say that it has widespread support among ECRs, it attracts few negative comments and has a growing number of users. 

The bigger question is whether in the longer term Sci-Hub will still exist? The answer is: not in its current form, but, as Napster was for music, it might be the precursor to the collapse of the status quo. However, unlike RG, Sci-Hub does not have the opportunity to sell its platform, there is no advertising, or ‘social networking’ to obtain vital user data that it can monetise; it is a pure and unashamed ‘pirate’. 

 

This blog post is based on the author’s co-written article, Sci-Hub: The new and ultimate disruptor? View from the front published in Learned Publishing.

Image Credit: Free-Photos via Pixabay (Licensed under CC0 licence)

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Impact Blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please review our comments policy if you have any concerns on posting a comment below

About the author

David Nicholas is a director of CIBER Research Ltd, an independent research company specialising in scholarly communications. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee. Other members of the Harbingers research group contributed to this blog:, Abrizah Abdullah, Chérifa Boukacem-Zeghmouri, Blanca Rodríguez Bravo, Marzena Świgoń, Jie Xu, Eti Herman and David Clark


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zwol
8 days ago
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The only reason I don’t use sci-hub myself is that in my field it’s basically always possible to find an open-access copy of whatever I want to cite on an author’s website, or on the arXiv or a similar repository.

If some paper that might be relevant to my work was only legitimately available from a paywalled source, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t even read it, let alone cite it.
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Pro-privacy search engine Qwant announces more exec changes — to ‘switch focus to monetization’

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More changes have been announced in the senior leadership of French pro-privacy search engine Qwant.

President and co-founder Eric Leandri (pictured above) will be moving from an operational to a strategic role on January 15, the company said today — while current deputy managing director for sales and marketing, Jean-Claude Ghinozzi, is being promoted to president.

Leandri will leave the president role on January 15, although he is not departing the business entirely but will instead shift to chair a strategic and scientific committee — where he says he will focus on technology and “strategic vision.”

This committee will work with a new governance council, also being announced today, which will be chaired by Antoine Troesch, investment director of Qwant investor Banque des Territories, per the PR.

At the same time, Mozilla veteran Tristan Nitot — who was only promoted to a new CEO role at Qwant in September — is returning to his prior job as VP of advocacy. Although Leandri told us that Nitot will retain the spokesman component of the CEO job, leaving Ghinozzi to focus on monetization — which he said is Qwant’s top priority now.

“[Nitot] is now executive VP in charge of communications and media,” Leandri told TechCrunch. “He has to take care of company advocacy. Because of my departure he will have now to represent Qwant in [the media]. He will be the voice of Qwant. But that position will give him not enough space and time to be the full-time CEO of the company — doing both is quite impossible. I have done that for years… but it’s very complicated.”

“We will now need to focus a lot on monetization and on our core business… to create a real ad platform,” he added, by way of explaining the latest round of exec restructuring. “This needs to have somebody in charge of doing that monetization process — that execution process of the scale of Qwant.”

Ghinozzi will be responsible for developing a “new phase” for the search engine so it can scale its business in Europe, Leandri also said, adding: “For my part I take on the strategy and the tech, and I’m a member of the board.”

The search engine company is also announcing that it’s closing a new funding round to support infrastructure and scaling — including taking in more financing from existing backers Banque des Territories and publishing giant Axel Springer — saying it expects this to be finalized next month.

Leandri would not provide details on the size of the round today, but French news website Liberation is reporting it as €10 million, citing a government source. (Per other reports in the French media, Qwant has been losing tens of millions of euros per year.)

Qwant’s co-founder did trail some “very good announcements” he said are coming imminently on the user growth front in France, related to new civil companies switching to the search engine. But again, he declined to publicly confirm full details at this stage — saying the news would be confirmed in around a week’s time.

Liberation‘s report points to this being confirmation that the French state will go ahead with making Qwant the default search engine across the administration — giving its product a boost of (likely) millions more regular users, and potentially unlocking access to more government funding.

The move by the French administration aligns with a wider push for digital sovereignty in a bid to avoid being too reliant on foreign tech giants. However, in recent months, doubt had been thrown on the government’s plan to switch wholesale from Google’s search engine to the homegrown search alternative — after local media raised questions over the quality of Qwant’s search results.

The government has been conducting its own technical audit of Qwant’s search engine. But, per Liberation — which says it obtained an internal government memo earlier this month — the switch will go ahead, and is slated to be completed by the end of April.

Qwant has faced further uncomfortable press scrutiny on its home turf in recent months, with additional reports in French media suggesting the business has been facing a revenue crunch — after its privacy-respecting search engine generated lower than expected revenues last year.

On this, Leandri told us Qwant’s issue boils down to a lack of ad inventory, saying it will be Ghinozzi’s job to tackle that by making sure it can monetize more of the current impressions it’s generating — such as by focusing on serving more ads against shopping-related searches, while continuing to preserve its core privacy/non-tracking promise to users.

The business was focused last year on putting in place search engine infrastructure to prepare for scaling user growth in Europe, he suggested — meaning it was spending less time on monetizing user searches.

“We started to refocus on the monetization in November and December,” he said. “So we have lost some months in terms of monetization… Now we have started to accelerate our monetization phase and we need now to make it even better in shopping, for example.”

Leandri claims Qwant has already seen “a very good ramp up,” after turning its attention back to monetization these past two months — but says beefing up ad inventory including by signing up more ad partners and serving its own ads will now be “the focus of the company.”

“For example today on 100 queries we were sometime during the year at 20 ads, just 20% of coverage,” he told us, noting that some “iPhone 11” searches done via Qwant haven’t resulted in any ads being served to users in recent times. “We need to go to 30%-40%… We need to make it better on the shopping queries, brining new customers. We need to do all these things.

“Right now we have signed with Havas and Publicis in France for Europe but we need to ad more partners and start adding our own ads, our own shopping ads, our own technology for ads. That’s the new focus.”

Additionally, there have also been a number of reports in French media that have alleged HR problems within Qwant. Articles — such as this one by Next Inpact — have reported at length on claims by some employees that Leandri’s management style created a toxic workplace culture in which staff were subject to verbal abuse, threats and bullying.

Qwant disputes these reports but it’s notable that the co-founder is stepping back from an operation role at a time when both he and the business are facing questions over a wave of negative domestic press, and with investors also being asked to plough in fresh financing as a key strategy customer (the French government) is scrutinizing the product and the business.

The health of workplace culture at technology companies and high-pressure startups has come in for increasing attention in recent years, as workplace expectations have shifted with the generations and digital technologies have encouraged greater openness and provided outlets for people who feel unfairly treated to make their grievances more widely known.

Major scandals in the tech industry in recent years include Uber being publicly accused of having a sexist and bullying workplace culture by a former engineer — and, more recently, travel startup Away, whose CEO stepped down in December after a bombshell report in the press exposing a toxic culture.

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zwol
8 days ago
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Ad-supported business models are inherently incompatible with respect for privacy, example # infinity minus one
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fxer
9 days ago
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Uhh
Bend, Oregon

Verizon’s great FiOS offer to me: Pay $50 extra for slower Internet

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A Verizon FiOS TV remote control.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | wdstock)

Verizon today claimed that it is "disrupt[ing] the cable industry" with new broadband-and-TV deals that eliminate "traditional cable bundles" and hidden fees, and the move immediately received positive press from the likes of The Wall Street Journal and Consumer Reports.

Verizon claims the new deals are available immediately for both new and existing subscribers. But actually getting one of these great deals is, so far, difficult or impossible if you already have Verizon FiOS service.

I have FiOS broadband and TV at my home in Massachusetts, so I was able to test whether Verizon would provide one of the new deals without any hassle. This probably won't surprise you, but I wasn't able to get one of the new deals at all, and a Verizon rep I spoke with didn't know when the system would be fixed.

The Verizon rep recommended trying again later, but I didn't get any guarantee that it would ever be fixed. Meanwhile, the options available to me include some that would raise my price while lowering my Internet speeds and the number of TV channels available.

Under Verizon's new mix-and-match offer, customers should be able to choose from broadband plans ranging from $40 to $80 a month and TV plans ranging from $50 to $90 a month:

Pay more—for the same service

Including all fees and taxes, I'm currently paying $161 a month for 100Mbps broadband and the "ultimate" TV package, which has hundreds of channels I don't care about but does have all the sports channels that my rooting interests require. Under Verizon's new mix-and-match offer, I should be able to get the exact same package for $129.99—that's $49.99 for 100Mbps Internet and $90 for TV, minus $10 for the auto-pay discount.

I'm not sure what the final price should be after extra charges are added, but Verizon's announcement promises that the new packages include "No added surcharges, no broadcast or regional sports network fees," and that "The price is the price, plus tax." My current price of $161 includes more than $14 in the broadcast and sports fees, so the newly available price should be significantly less than what I pay now.

The $129.99 deal is available at my address to new customers if you go to the verizon.com/mixandmatch page. But choosing that deal and then selecting "change service at my current address" redirects me back to the "My Verizon" dashboard where my only options are much, much worse.

Not only can I not get the deal that costs $31 less, but changing my package in almost any way would raise my bill. Even though I have 100Mbps already, Verizon's account management page gives me the option of paying $50 a month more for slower 75Mbps service. And selecting the same TV package that I already have would add $40 to my monthly price. Somehow, downgrading to a TV package with fewer channels would raise my bill up to $25 a month:

Verizon rep: You can’t un-bundle

Obviously, this makes no sense, so I started a customer-service chat and explained the situation to a Verizon rep. He told me that "As the services are bundled on your current account, we do not have access to un-bundle the service to add the mix and match."

This defeats the whole purpose of Verizon's deal, as the company claimed today that "No bundle [is] required to get the best rates."

"Say goodbye to traditional cable bundles," Verizon said in its announcement, shortly before a Verizon rep told me it's impossible to un-bundle my service.

I'm not under contract with Verizon anymore, as I chose to go month-to-month in the middle of last year when my latest two-year deal and discounts expired. My bill was raised about $25 a month at the time, even though a FiOS customer-service rep told me over the phone that I would only get a $10 increase if I let the contract lapse. The prices Verizon offered me for a new contract in mid-2019 were still in the $160 range, so I let the deal expire.

The Verizon rep in the chat box today went on to tell me that I could call Verizon's account management team to get the mix-and-match deal. I did that and got nowhere. The account rep I spoke with over the phone initially told me the mix-and-match deal is "only being offered to new customers right now."

I pointed out that Verizon said the deal is for both new and existing customers, so the rep put me on hold to do some research. Eventually, she told me that "we don't have the ability to place this order at all when you're an existing customer." Since the customer-service reps can't apply the deal to my account from the Verizon office, it is only possible for me to get the new deal by ordering it online, she said.

While she acknowledged that it's currently impossible for me to order the deal online, she advised me to keep trying the website "throughout the day" because it's a new deal, and the website may not have been updated fully yet. However, she didn't seem to have any direct knowledge of whether Verizon was working on fixing this.

In summary:

  • Verizon boasted that its new mix-and-match prices are available today for both new and existing customers, and that you can change your plan online
  • Actually changing my plan to get a better price online was impossible
  • A customer rep on Verizon's online chat service said I could make the change by calling Verizon's account management division
  • On the phone, a Verizon account manager told me they can't change my plan from their end and that I can only make the change online—which, as my second bullet point notes, is not currently possible

I'll update this story if the system gets fixed. If you're a current FiOS customer, I'd say it's worth going to the mix-and-match page to try to get one of the new deals, but doing so today might be a waste of time. Let's just hope Verizon actually fixes this at some point.

Update at 5pm ET: A Verizon spokesperson told Ars that the company is "seeing some issues with existing customers attempting to migrate to the new pricing. Our teams are working through the issues." Verizon didn't say when the problem will be fixed.

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zwol
9 days ago
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Huh, perhaps another reason why creating a brand new account for service at my new house was a good plan (I thought I was just avoiding having service cut off at my old house before I actually move)
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TLS 1.0 and 1.1 Removal Update – Mozilla Hacks - the Web developer blog

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zwol
9 days ago
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acdha
10 days ago
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This is coming soon…
Washington, DC

12 Excellent SFF Books You Might Have Missed in 2019

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12 Excellent SFF Books You Might Have Missed in 2019

It’s the time of year that hard-working book reviewers publish lists, declaring the “Best of 2019!” and so on. Now, organized reviewers have theirs lists done by early December, thus missing out on most of a month of releases. I’ve waited until the very end of December before drafting my own list. Sometimes procrastination pays.

Books are listed in alphabetical order by author’s name.

 

Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron

This West African-inspired fantasy novel focuses on Arrah, a young woman descended from powerful magicians who appears to have inherited no magical talent at all. Determined to prove her worth and protect her land, Arrah makes an ill-fated bargain for power. She discovers all too late that she has comprehensively misunderstood the nature of the crisis facing her kingdom.

Arrah is everything one might want in a protagonist: good-hearted, sympathetic, and in the wrong place at the wrong time.

 

Queen of the Conquered (Islands of Blood and Storm, Book 1) by Kacen Callender

Sigourney Rose is an anomaly in her world: black but rich. She isn’t a slave, like so many of her dark-skinned distant kin. Sigourney is determined to claw her way to supreme power, then wreak thorough revenge on the light-skinned enslavers.

Callender’s debut novel works as a seamless blend of Elizabethan revenge play and mystery.

 

Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse and Other Possible Situations by S.B. Divya

This single-author collection features fourteen short pieces, including the Nebula Award nominee “Runtime.” Divya’s interests fall firmly within the classic SF mainstream; “Loss of Signal” recalls an early Niven, “The Egg” is steadfastly Bujoldian, “Ships in the Night” is reminiscent of a Poul Anderson tale, and so on. Divya draws on a more diverse background than most U.S. authors and writes accomplished prose. Almost all of her works to date can be found in this collection. One hopes a novel will soon follow.

 

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter is, as one might expect, a mystery. Once again a stolid veteran returns from a disappointing foreign war and becomes the roommate and amanuensis of a brilliant consulting detective. Straitlaced Captain John Wyndham dutifully documents the exploits of flamboyantly decadent sorcerer(ess) Shaharazad Haas. Not only is Haas far more interested in the pleasures of the flesh than was stuffy Holmes, the world in which her mysterious diversions occur is far richer in eldritch monsters than that inhabited by the English detectives. Hall delivers a hilarious comic cosmic horror novel populated by characters who are, to use a technical term, “queer as fuck.”

 

The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday by Saad Z. Hossain

Roused from long slumber, the djinn Melek Ahmar wakes to a world transformed. His fellow djinn are nowhere to be seen. Even humans seem to have vanished, save for one lone man, the former soldier Bhan Gurung. In fact, humans have not disappeared, but have merely retreated into hi-tech cities, Kathmandu being the nearest. Gurung is not interested in urban utopia. What he would like is vengeance. The powerful but naïve djinn will be his chosen weapon. One would expect a grim and bloody tale…what one gets is a delightful light comedy.

 

The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

Mouse shoulders the task of cleaning out her malevolent grandmother’s North Carolina home. Amidst the detritus hoarded by the old lady, she finds a journal left by Cotgrave, her grandmother’s long-suffering second husband. An editor by trade, Mouse cannot help but glance at the text. It is an error that will entangle Mouse in a horror best left hidden. What follows is an escalating tale of awful relatives, terrible neighbours, and atmospheric horror.

 

Catfishing on Catnet by Naomi Kritzer

Forced to move frequently to elude her abusive father, neither Steph nor her mother have the opportunity to make friends. In real life, that is. Online, Steph has an active social life on Catnet, an image-sharing forum. Among Steph’s virtual friends is one more virtual than the rest, the artificial intelligence CheshireCat. Steph has only her mother’s word that the father she does not remember is a stalker. In fact, he is much worse than he has been painted, and Steph’s efforts to learn about him have put her and her friends in danger. Smart, rich, and ruthless, her father needs few clues to find her. His plans, however, do not take into account an all-seeing, if terribly naïve, non-physical opponent. This is a remarkably good-natured thriller.

 

Broken Stars: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation, edited by Ken Liu (also translated by Ken Liu)

A thematic sequel to the anthology Invisible Planets, Broken Stars offers a wide-ranging overview of contemporary Chinese science fiction. Included are sixteen short stories, each with an accompanying thumbnail biography of each story’s author. Also included are three essays on Chinese SF and its place in modern Chinese society. While my favourites are the stories by Xia Jia and Tang Fei, there are no disappointments in this anthology. Special appreciation to the translator for his exemplary work.

 

Rediscovery: SF by Women 1958 –1963 (Volume 1) by Gideon Marcus

This delivers exactly what it promises: science fiction by women, published between 1958 and 1963. One danger for retrospective collections is that the stories that editors tend to remember are those that have already been anthologized multiple times. Marcus and his team sidestep this pitfall adroitly, drawing on Marcus’ familiarity with the era to deliver a diverse collection of little known but skillfully crafted short pieces. If you’re unfamiliar with the fiction of this era, you might want to start sampling.

 

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

As far as Cirilo Layba is concerned, his granddaughter Casiopea Tun is lucky. He forgave her mother’s ill-fated marriage and took in the orphaned Casiopea. Yes, the girl is lucky to be an unpaid live-in servant in backwater Uukumil. Casiopea is determined to escape. She finds an unexpected ally—a revived Hun-Kamé, Lord of Xibalba, god of death. The protagonist appeals and Moreno-Garcia’s prose is entrancing.

 

Girls’ Last Tour, Volume 6 by Tsukumizu

Sisters Yuuri and Chito spent five volumes exploring a desolate cityscape, rarely encountering other humans. Their long-term goal was to find their way to the city’s heights, where perhaps salvation from the inexorable entropy slowly smothering the city might be found. In this final volume, the reader learns what awaits the sisters at the end of their long quest. *sniff*

Despite being composed almost entirely of ominous foreshadowing, the story is charming, even heartening.

 

Magical Women, edited by Sukanya Venkatraghavan

Venkatraghavan delivers an assortment of stories by talented Indian writers. Three elements unite the stories: all are written by women, all are speculative fiction, and all are worth reading. A further element common to many (but not all) is an undercurrent of incandescent fury over the current condition of the world. Taken as a whole, the collection is not quite as upbeat as Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, but the craft of the writers is undeniable.

 

In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews and Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assAlsted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He was a finalist for the 2019 Best Fan Writer Hugo Award, and is surprisingly flammable.

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zwol
12 days ago
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note to self
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IBM Research Created a New Battery That Outperforms Lithium-Ion #IBM #Research #Batteries

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Rmm5tnzkoxkv5ndyrx8n

Intriguing research from IBM. While current lithium-ion batteries are incredibly effective and becoming more ubiquitous, they have significant environmental drawbacks. Via Gizmodo:

As a potential solution, scientists at IBM Research’s Battery Lab came up with a new design that replaces the need for cobalt and nickel in the cathode, and also uses a new liquid electrolyte (the material in a battery that helps ions move from one end to the other) with a high flash point. The combination of the new cathode and the electrolyte materials was also found to limit the creation of lithium dendrites which are spiky structures that often develop in lithium-ion batteries that can lead to short circuits. So not only would this new battery have less of an impact on the environment to manufacture, but it would also be considerably safer to use, with a drastically reduced risk of fire or explosions.

Read more and checkout the IBM research blog Free of Heavy Metals, New Battery Design Could Alleviate Environmental Concerns

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zwol
13 days ago
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I am darkly amused by how careful they are to avoid saying what the new chemistry actually is.
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JayM
14 days ago
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Nice
Atlanta, GA
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