Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Firefox 1.5 is here

It's up on their site. I'm hoping this will be the version that lets us add Firefox to our public workstations. The current IE security issues have made it more attractive to the systems folks. As I've pointed out here, there are lots of extensions that would be great for library patrons. For example, I've added LibX to Firefox on my computer at work and I'm liking it.

Bring your laptop to ALA this summer

As part of its reconstruction New Orleans is getting free, municipally-run Wi-Fi system. A number of companies have donated equipment. It's begun operation in the French Quarter and central business district and should cover the entire city within a year.

can we send these guys to the Netherlands?

Marketplace has a brief story about the FCC's recently declared support for a la carte pricing for cable. Think we could get them to talk to Elsevier? (it's a podcast so have your earphones on)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Brits caption their Inet video

Pretty cool. BBC is experimenting with adding captions to the internet editions of their technology programs.

Of course, I often need captions to understand half of Masterpiece Theater but that's just me.

Easy come, easy go

Now all a merchant needs to charge a sale to your credit card account is a cell phone and a swipey device . Personally I thought we might jump straight to voice recognition or maybe eyeball scanning.

The article says Domino's won't use the device because it makes it hard for the delivery guys to drive. Correct me if I'm wrong but aren't these the guys that had to finally quit promising delivery in 30 minutes because too many of their delivery guys were getting into car crashes trying to make the deadline.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

One place Google is not king

The OCLC newsletter for 21 Nov gives Nielsen data for online newspaper paper use and Yahoo comes out on top as a place to go for news.
The top five brands ranked by unique visitors for October 2005 were Yahoo! (101,790,000), Microsoft (95,879,000), MSN (89,769,000), Google (83,350,000) and AOL (75,355,000).
And they give interesting numbers on top advertisers as well.
The top five advertisers and their estimated spending for October 2005 were Vonage Holdings Corp. ($30,444,700), DeVry Inc. ($17,201,600),, Inc. ($13,744,100), Dell Computer Corporation ($9,230,700) and Apollo Group, Inc. ($8,819,700).
Wow! Vonage spent more than $30M for advertising on the net last month! And Dell only spent a little over $9M -- those cheapskates.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The grass is always greener

Now that I'm no longer working in a Horizon/Dynix/whatever-they're-calling-it-this-month library, why do I keep hearing about all of this cool stuff related to Horizon?

Apparently someone's been playing with generating a tag cloud from Horizon and displaying it in HIP. Is this not cool?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

PenTop computing

David Pogue has an article about the Fly Pentop computer, a new toy for . It is an oversized pen with an AAA battery and a computer and a camera. You have to use it with special grid paper so that the camera can keep track of where the pen is in space and a speaker to reply -- 'cause there's no screen. The cool thing is there are programs that let you draw things and then use the drawing. For example, you draw a calculator and then tap the keys and the pen tells you what the anwer is. Or you can draw a keyboard and play. The market is 8-14 year olds.

It brings to mind the PDA-sized gizmo I heard about not so long ago that you use to project an image of a keyboard on a flat surface in front of you. Then you type on the image and the gizmo stores your typing.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

taxonomy is to folksonomy AS database is to ???

GoogleBase is up in Beta. Despite being quite ill the last week or so, both Danny Sullivan and Gary Price have written about Google Base this week in Search Engine Watch. ResearchBuzz also has a write up. The articles are worth purusing.

I noodled around a bit on GBase. It's kind of primitive but interesting. Google gives you a forms interface where you can add things (fields) like attributes, keywords, and notes. Merchants could enter info about what they are selling in a self-structured way. Sort of taking tagging to the next level.

Wonder what kind of stuff people will put up there?

LibX update -- try it, you'll like it

For those of you who are interested in the LibX toolbar, someone who styles himself Godmar sent me this link to install a LibX toolbar that works for JHU.

If you aren't at JHU these days, well, we miss you. But I bet if you wrote Godmar he'd be glad to write a URL for you, too. Write him at

Crankable laptops?

As reported today in the Chronicle e-newsletter, MIT has announced the crankable laptop.
My first thought is that this is pretty darn cool. The shoulder strap doubles as the power cord.

It will cost $100 and have either 500 MB or 1 G of data storage. It won't have a CD or DVD drive, but will have a flash drive and will operate on Linux.

My Library, My Bookstore, My sister, My daughter....

OCLC announced a pilot with Google. Now if you come up with an Open WorldCat 'find in a library' hit, the full record will include a noticable box on the right side of the screen that says Ready to buy? and gives price and a link to Amazon. The blurb says that the library will get credit on their OCLC bills but I'm not sure how that will work--how they will know which library to credit.

The problem. of course, is finding a Find in A Library book record in the humongous Google database. The contents of WorldCat may seem big but they are only a teeny, teeny, tiny spec in GoogleWorld.

Here's a search that should bring up the Find in a Library link fairly close to the top:

Kpelle Bledsoe Women marriage society 'find in a library'

If you haven't looked at Open WorldCat in a while, have a look. They've added tabs for "reviews"-- be the first person to review. And the "details" tab include ToC and notes spaces open for the public to add their 2 cents.

Maybe Google will add a separate search tool for Open WorldCat... nah, not likely.

NOTE: For the young and not-terribly-interested-in-Roman-Polanski-films reader, the 'my sister, my daughter' reference is to Chinatown [use the Find function]. It's Faye Dunaway's line and it's a very useful catchphrase when you don't feel like saying 'It's a dessert topping. It's a floor wax. . . . Stop, you're both right.'
That by the way is a line from an SNL skit joking on the old Certz commercial. Oh I've got to stop the links never end.....

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

RLG & Looksmart -- peddaling cultural materials?

According to Info Today, these two are getting together. Looksmart will include in their resources. I took a quick look at and it seems to be a way to sell to the public the images in the RLG Cultural Material collections.

Amazon forms tag team

You may have heard it already, but Amazon is experimenting (the 400 lb gorilla “experimenting”) with tags, a la Flickr.

Original Post

An Example (only some users may see the tags)

Coverage here, here, and here.

Also, again with the innovation is Kayak, a cool little search engine for travellers integrated with Google Maps (via Ben).


OK, I promised to write about the DLF meetings and I will soon but check out this article by John Hockenberry about soldiers in Iraq blogging--what they can get by with, where the army draws the line. There's stuff about how one guy got brought in equipment so that he could extend the network connection to the trailors (I guess they don't use tents).

My favorite line is from near the end when a Hopkins graduate is explaining how useful he found his undergraduate degree while serving in Iraq,
"Neuroscience actually came in handy when I had to explain to my guys exactly why doing ecstasy in a tank when it's 140 degrees out on a road that's blowing up every day is a really bad idea."
Call me crazy but I think guys who need to be told that should not be allowed to handle guns or heavy machinery. They should be peeling potatoes and doing laundry where they will be infinitely less dangerous.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Storage space

Dear Scrapplelites,

I remember when I was at Hopkins, I think somebody (maybe you Woody?) found this great website where you could upload documents? Then from another location you could download them? It wasn't the Hopkins shared space. It had no affiliation with JHU.

Sound familiar?

Sunday, November 06, 2005

OK, I'll admit it-- I'm e-paper obsessed

Through a series of links I landed on a Guardian article about yet another company's plans for introducing thin, flexible screens. This time it's Siemans and they are promoting it as cheap -- 1 square meter for about £30, which is about $51.10. They are thinking about 'Harry Potter like inserts in magazines' and then maybe some kind of computer game.

That seems like really trivial uses of the technology. I'm still looking for the small pda-like object that you can load up with your books and then read them on the flexible screen.

Oh, man, you gotta see this

LibX is a Firefox extension that does some kind of magic! On a web page you see an ISBN or a journal article citation, do a little highlighting, right-click and it takes you to your library's resources. Check out the screenshots and screencasts.

Now, what I really want is to get Firefox added as a browser for all our public workstations... and start adding some of this truly cool functinality.

Promise of better postings in the near future

I've been behind in postings for the last few weeks as I've been eyeball deep in the implementation of MetaLib here at Hopkins (we're calling it JHsearch.) But I hopw to make it up a bit. I'm leaving this afternoon for Charlottesville and the fall DLF conference. I'll try to write up a bit each evening on what I saw.

I'm going to a meeting on the Aquifer Project -- a big digization project. I'll be able to tell you more once I've been to the meeting. Also, Adam Chandler is giving a presentation on where DLF is heading with E Resource Mgmt so I'll go to that.

Slouching to e-paper

Another report on the development of e-paper. LG.Philips has combined with E-Ink, folks who've been on this quest for many years, and by the end of the next year they plan to be mass-marketing a rollable 5" display. They will price competitively with a comparable LCD--I haven't priced 5" LCDs lately so I can't give a ball park there.

They won't start with text, though. Instead they say Seiko is going to produce a watch with a curved paper display. I'm wondering who's gonna wear a watch with a display that big but hey, I'm not a visionary when it comes to marketing.

They quote a Forrester Group analyst as tut-tutting the project and warning that it can't be a technology in search of a problem. Hello! Google-Print, Open Content Alliance and now Microsoft in cooperation with various British Libraries are all ready to scan the world. Not to mention all the other digitization projects out there from the likes of LoC and Virginia. I think that's plenty of text to read.

I see the main problem is -- can they make it waterproof so you can read in the bath or at the beach?

Hermes came to mind

when I was talking to my parents. My brother is moving to Michigan to work for a software company that provides work-flow software. They described a software that cities use to track work orders and invoices. If any problem comes up along the workflow, the problem gets flagged and the appropriate person is notified. I immediately thought, wow, that sounds a lot like Hermes.

They do have a link for Higher Ed. While it's not exactly Hermes, if you scroll down you can see how they suggest tracking invoices.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Google Displays Books

That are not embroiled in the copyright battle

Making Visible the Invisible

Seattle Public Library has an interesting project on display called Making Visible the Invisible. The installation consists of 6 LCD screens locating on a glass wall behind the information desk in the Seattle Central Library.

The screens feature real-time visualizations of circulation statisitcs and catalog keywords that are generated by software that receives data each hour. Pretty neat project.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Collective Idiocy

A couple weeks ago I was at the gym reading over a recent issue of Time when an article caught my eye. The article gathered people (such as O'Reilly, Gladwell, Shirky, Dyson, etc) together to talk about the future trends most likely to affect us. Maybe it was due to editing, but I didn't really care too much for the article.

Boing-boing has an entry about the article that quotes the part I find the most interesting...even though I don't agree with O'Reilly.

From the article:


TIM O'REILLY, publisher and technology advocate: Collective intelligence. Think of how Wikipedia works, how Amazon harnesses user annotation on its site, the way photo-sharing sites like Flickr are bleeding out into other applications. I think we're at the first stages of something that will be profoundly different from anything we have seen before, in terms of the ability of connected computers to deliver results. We're entering an era in which software learns from its users and all of the users are connected.


O'REILLY: Right, but remember what Google did. They basically said, let's look at what all the millions of individual users are linking to, and let's use that information to get the good stuff to float to the top. That turned out to be a very powerful idea, the ramifications of which we're exploring in other areas, such as with tagging on Flickr or blogs. People are finding more ways to have the wisdom of crowds filter that signal-to-noise.

MARK DERY, author and cultural critic: I find the fetishization of the wisdom of crowds fascinating. It has a whiff of '90s cyberhype about it. I'm fascinated by the way in which it contrasts with individual subjectivity. A lot of technologies, such as Flickr, blogging, the iPod, seem to turn the psyche inside out, to extrude the private self into the public sphere. You have people walking down the street listening to iPods, seemingly oblivious to the world, singing. More and more, we're alone in public.

I have to say that I find the current treatment of the wisdom of crowds to be a bit droll. It's like saying that we're always going to go with the audience a la Who Wants to be a Millionaire. What happened to self-determination?

I think there is distinction to be drawn between wisdom of the crowd and the effects of social power on a society. Remember that blue eye vs. brown eye experiment or the failed prison experiment?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Digital Textbooks

A while back I wrote an entry on my blog about how some campuses were selling e-books to students in the campus bookstore. One such campus is West Virginia University, the place where I first learned how to be a science librarian. Anyway, I digress. According to a recent Wired News, from The Chronicle, sales have been somewhat sluggish, accounting for "5.7% of textrbook sales at those institutions."

For more on the digital-textbook project, see an article from The Chronicle by Andrea Foster.
--source Wired News from The Chronicle

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Gordian Knot

In case y'all aren't aware of it, The Gordian Knot is a collaborative blog for SirsiDynix customers. There's not much there yet, but it's a cool idea, I think.

(Now I need to find out of there's such a thing for Voyager customers...)

Computer Scientists Discover the Brandeis Model

BBC reports that two guys at Cambridge have come up with an AI system that automatically identifies and answers FAQs. Sony plans use it to provide tech support for Play Station 2 online. Questions that can't be answered by the system will be forwarded (by e-mail) to a human who will answer the question and add it to the MetaFAQ.

Look for more chicken little reports of how Reference Librarians are about to be replaced by machines. Take a deep breath. Do not be alarmed.

Play Station 2, a human designed computer system that is sold to customers on the assumption that it works. One would hope that most of the technical support questions would already be easily identifiable and aswerable. If that's what you are doing in the reference office then shame on you.

This work replicates Virginia's theory of reference service that's more than a decade old--and very misleadingly called the Brandeis Model. With the Brandeis model we use graduate students instead of a MetaFAQs to answer the easy, repetitive questions and human beings (not e-mail msgs) are passed back to the reference librarian when a question falls outside those limits.

Reference librarians in the RCO don't really answer questions. What they do is interview patrons to figure out what they need. More often than not, they can't articulate their research needs. A student might walk up to the desk and ask where the microform machines were. A half hour later we could easily be knee deep in the guide to ESTC on microfilm trying to find a pamphlet her professor mentioned in class.

My advice to people who are worried about Artificial Intelligence machines taking over human intelligence jobs is to read a bit in macro-linguistics, the philosophy of language and throw in a basic reader on the social construction of reality.

Just make sure you have a job that calls for creativity and human conversation and you're safe.