My Unscientific Assumption about Longevity and Its Consequences

If you have run into me recently, I may have bugged you with the following question:

Given the rapid pace of development in medical technology, I expect my generation to live to 100 years of age. A child being born today may live to the age of 250 years of age. Under this assumption, what health issues do I need to watch out for most to achieve that age?

I have little scientific fact to backup the assumption; it is based solely on my perception of the acceleration in medical technology today. Once you make the assumption that the average life span may be growing rapidly, you start to wonder how to take advantage of it. Or, put another way: What are the parts of your body should you be caring for most?

For example, I see three layers:

  1. Mechanical stuff. If you have a bad knee, I expect that this will be fully fixable within the next 10-20 years or so. It seems to me to be a purely mechanical issue.
  2. Systemic stuff. More difficult to fix, if anything goes wrong, are systemic issues, for example, arthritis or a bad lung. It is not clear to me how easily this can be fixed.
  3. The brain. At the high end sits the brain. Things that can go wrong are illnesses like Alzheimer or Parkinson, but also loss of energy to live. How to avoid those?

These are all hypotheses, but the question is real. What are the most difficult things for medical technology to tackle and how to avoid that they’l become a problem once we are starting to live longer and longer lives?

The Five Stages of Open Source Volunteering

Abstract: Today’s software systems build on open source software. Thus, we need to understand how to successfully create, nurture, and mature the software development communities of these open source projects. In this report, we review and discuss best practices of the open source volunteering and recruitment process that successful project leaders are using to lead their projects to success. We combine the perspective of the volunteer, looking at a project, with the perspective of a project leader, looking to find additional volunteers for the project. We identify a five-stage process consisting of a connecting, understanding, engaging, performing, and leading stage. The underlying best practices, when applied, significantly increase the chances for a successful open source project.

Keywords: Open source software, open source communities, volunteering process

Reference: Dirk Riehle. The Five Stages of Open Source Volunteering. Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Dept. of Computer Science, Technical Reports, CS-2014-01, March 2014.

The report is available as a PDF file, on FAU’s OPUS, and as HTML.

Upcoming Public Talks on Open Source

Here are three upcoming talks on open source for the next six months in 2014:

I wish I was more consistent in announcing public talks…

The Economics of Financing Ph.D. Students as Company Contractors

Occasionally companies approach me with the following proposal: If I’m willing to supervise one of their employees for an external Ph.D. thesis, they’ll pay into my University budget an annual lump sum, typically something like EUR 10000. I almost always reject such proposals, unless I can change some of the critical terms, because these proposals are highly problematic. To understand this, please follow along.

The company does the following math: They’ll hire someone with a recent Master’s degree, typically for a research project at the company and on a contractor basis. Then, they’ll promise the contractor that he or she can use some of their time to complete a dissertation, because they argue the project will provide enough research substance. To prove this, they’ll use the professor to confirm to the contractor that they will take them on as a Ph.D. student. A going rate for such type of contractor is (a surprisingly low) EUR 2000 per month. Times twelve months + the professor’s lump sum makes EUR 34000 per year for the company (ignoring company overhead). The official cost of a Ph.D. student at a Bavarian University is EUR 75000. Voila, the company just saved EUR 41000 a year (ignoring other University costs). However, the contractor is much worse off, because no social duties are being paid for them.

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Appropriate Reviewer Remuneration

As an academic, I perform a fair number of reviews. Usually, that’s part of the system, i.e. it is a give and take and fair exchange between colleagues and publishers without any monetary remuneration changing hands at all.

Then my university library complained about Elsevier’s predatory pricing and I decided to stop reviewing papers for Elsevier publications to support freedom of research and my university’s budget.

Next, I ran into the situation of wanting access to an Elsevier paper. Usually I don’t cite Elsevier papers; I just ignore them. In this case, however, I was actually curious about the paper content and wanted to use it for a talk.

Getting access to that paper took two weeks and it came too late for my talk, see this anecdotal description. However, this gave me the following idea: Why not ask for full free access to the journal in return for the reviewing service I’m providing?

Sounds like a no-brainer and I guess many folks have already asked for it. So did I, just now. Not that I’m expecting to receive a yes but it is important to make clear that predatory pricing like Elsevier’s should come to an end.