Monday, July 27, 2009

A tale of two completely inaccessible data silos

Anybody who spends more than, say, fifteen minutes around me will quickly discover that I am a big fan of open source and open access. If you'd asked me fifteen years ago about open access, I probably wouldn'tve even know what it was, but nowadays I think about it a lot and I'm a little embarassed to admit that open access just might trump open source in the grand scheme of things. Of course, that means if someone ever shoves me in a time machine I'm going to have to apologize to this guy and maybe tell him to get a haircut while I'm at it.

In approximately 1988, when I was fifteen, my dad gave me a copy of this book, which I then proceeded to read approximately, no joke, more than a hundred times in the same year. I was so consumed by it that I thought, for maybe a day, I should try applying to this university despite my then-and-now complete lack of any facility in science, math, or critical thinking. So you can imagine my total nerd-frosted sense of delight when I first heard offhand about Project Tuva, which then turned to frustration and sorrow when I learned that it was a Microsoft Silverlight thing, which means that I can't watch it. So all that Feynman and BBC awesomeness put behind an artificial wall, thanks a whole bunch. Note that yes, I did try this, and it doesn't work, and I'm not surprised.

OK, I realize that the Feynman thing is a driver to get people to use Silverlight, but honestly, what's wrong with putting up straight video files and having some accompanying text? Or plain streaming video? GAH.

(edit: the awesome reidid did a me a solid and told me that Silverlight can be gotten 'round with some monkeying. Thanks Didier!)

OK. I told you that story to tell you this one:

I fully expect this sort of shenanigans from the private sector, and I double-super-triple expect it from Microsoft, who have sort of a reputation for doing these sorts of things. I'm even not terribly surprised to find out that universities also do this -- iTunesU is a prime example of universities jumping on the next gee-whiz delivery method without giving a thought towards, you know, standards and accessibility.

But I did not expect this out of libraries. Especially not out of a big Stateside school, but here you go -- Duke University's library has this really exciting archive of TV ads from the 1950s to the 1980s. Exciting looking, that is -- it's on iTunes, I can't view it because I can't run iTunes. Would it have killed them to make a streaming video? Even Flash would have been a drastic improvement.

Note that I don't really have a problem with iTunes as a delivery mechanism per se. It's when it's the only option that I get ornery. Bad move, Duke.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

brief lessons from Montreal:

This really deserves a way bigger post, but I'm very very (very) tired; consequently, let me present some brief lessons from my time at etigcamp in Montreal:

1) 1% of librarians are indifferent, 1% of librarians are actively evil, and 98% of librarians are made of PURE BADASSERY and general awesomeness and were entirely represented at etigcamp.
2) The language thing bugs me more than perhaps it should. I feel bad when I can't communicate.
3) Roller derby is a lot like cricket until you get the hang of what the rules are.
3a) Pabst Blue Ribbon helps with roller derby rule comprehension.
4) I will endure any amount of angry pedestrians and cab drivers yelling at me in French for my poor driving and/or navigating if bagels eventually result.
5) The world needs many, many, many more etigcamps.
6) man, am I sleepy.

My presentation at etigcamp is up here: warning though, it's very unlike my previous presentations in that it's image heavy, verbiage light. If you want me to explain some slides, let me know.

Friday, April 03, 2009

HOWTO: make a vendor presentation that does not suck

Yesterday I was at a conference in Waterloo, Ontario. Not a library conference, weirdly enough, but one about software licensing, development methodology, stuff like that. I don't want to talk about everyone who was presenting at the conference, but I do want to talk about the opening keynote guy and another guy who spoke later, just to compare and contrast and rant a little bit. It'll be fun! For me, anyway.

OK then:

1) Opening keynote guy, from a commercial Linux vendor. We'll call him Guy A.
2) A panel with three people from companies that incorporate open source into their products to some extent, the main person we're concerned with here works for a censorware company whose products run on Linux. He's Guy B.

Now, all the guys speaking are vendors. They make a product. They have an interest in presenting their products in a favourable light, right? This conference though wasn't about hawking products; it was about licensing and open source.

Guy A: has a *badass* presentation style. Doesn't use slides. Uses a whiteboard -- like a real whiteboard -- is very energetic. I am totally going to steal some of his presentation style for my upcoming things. But, but, but, but but -- here's the important thing: he talks about big concepts, talks about various ways of doing things, and only as an aside says things like "Oh, and that's sort of how we did things at my company and it worked out pretty well for us". None of the readings he cited or the people he quoted were people from his shop. The shop is the afterthought, not the purpose, of this guy's speech.

Sorry to italicize the hell out of the above paragraph but I think this is key, if you're a vendor, and especially if you're a library vendor. Nothing pisses me off more than going to a conference and having a vendor get up and make what is essentially a 60 minute sales speech with a couple of nods towards whatever-the-theme-of-the-moment is in an effort to engender the speech with legitimacy. And it double-super-pisses me off when it's a keynote or something high-profile. 60 minute vendor pony shows are not for conferences, unless somehow the conference is supposed to be a big vendor parade float, and if it is please let me know so I can avoid it and tell everyone I know to avoid it too.

Guy B: First off, he's from a censorware company, so he automatically sucks. I don't care if he volunteers weekends at the soup kitchen or rescues feral cats in his spare time, he works for a censorware company. And to make matters worse, when someone in the audience tried to bring up a point, he made the following analogies in a lame attempt to justify his company's existence:

1) If we don't have censorware millions of children around the world will get online and then start making bombs.
2) Censorware isn't evil -- look at libraries. They keep Playboy around but not everyone can see it.

I wish, wish, wish, wish I was making these up. Honestly, I almost went up to him after the presentation to tell him to please stop using libraries in his analogies because it makes us look bad, but sadly I did not. I don't know how many of you were around in the profession in the mid-90s but there was a long running flame war about censorware on Web4Lib, in which one librarian basically showed up and went "Censorware is awesome!" and nearly everyone else said "No it isn't!" and then had a months-long on-again off-again flamewar. This guy's speech brought that back in an unpleasant way. But the really egregious sin here is not the fact that he's in an industry which is basically made of pure evil with a chocolate frosting, but:

1) He talked up his company *relentlessly*, in stark contrast to Guy A who barely mentioned it at all.
2) None of his software was open source, it just happened to run on Linux and oh yeah maybe they used GCC to compile it. No talk about patents or licensing either.

It felt honestly for all the world that he had a generic promo sheet that he used to sell his rancid pile of uselessness and didn't know what the conference was about until he showed up, and maybe not even then.

Still reading? OK, to recap, if you're a vendor and you're speaking at a non-vendor-parade-float-conference -- make sure you know what the conference is ahead of time, don't try to sell us on your product or company, only bring up your product or company if the example is relevant and the situation really, really warrants it and even then keep it brief, please.

Oh, and don't work for censorware companies.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

this is one fire water won't put out

So on Friday I went to my first Unconference and had a blast. Thanks very much to the fine folks at York U. who put it on, and super extra doubleplus thanks to the people who attended my Evergreen session -- it was wonderful to talk with you! I'd put up my slides, but I didn't have any, and my notes are nigh unreadable.

Random impressions:

* The two-track format was good to fit more speakers in, but dammit, I would have *really* liked to have gone to George Duimovich's copyright session which was, uh, at the same time as mine.

* This may run counter to the very nature of an Unconference, but I really felt badly for the folks who might have put some prep into their sessions only not to be voted the coolest kid^H^H^H^H^H picked to speak. Through pure chance I managed to talk a bit with Dan Sich about his unpicked session on IM reference, and I really wish I could have seen him speak at length about it because I've been working over how to do queued, multi-librarian IM reference to AOL/MSN/Yahoo for, geez, two years now? Not solidly, mind you, but once every few months I'll think "Man, I wish I knew how to do queued, multi-librarian IM reference to AOL/MSN/Yahoo. Wouldn't that be awesome?" and perhaps libraryh3lp is the answer. Or will be the answer, when they get around to going cross-platform.

* I did however get to see Dan Scott lead a wonderful discussion on mobile devices in which I probably complained more than I should have about the less-than-sufficiently-free nature of mobile phone providers. I did get a mention of Splashtop in though, which I've seen pop up in bookmarks here and there.

* Amanda and David Fiander also talked about Drupal implementations, which was awesome. I've done minor Drupal installs myself over the years, but nothing big scale so it was great to hear about issues with running Drupal in a production environment.

* McGill U had some recent graduates show up, which was decidedly badass. Wish I had thought to try to go to conferences when I was in grad school.

So all in all the unconference was a smash. Hit all my buttons -- local, free, and just informal enough to be useful. Thanks, York!

Monday, June 23, 2008

My life, summed up

I'm a frequent and veeeeery vigorous user of -- basically it's my brain dump, so anything that's even remotely notable gets duly tagged and marked. I'm almost up to 9000 bookmarks, yowch.

So when that wordle thing came along and I was near a 32 bit machine (an aside: okay, there's no Java plugin for 64 bit Linux? buh) I popped my through it, and kapowee, here's the result.

Wow. I really really like Metafilter, huh? In my defense, very few of the Metafilter tags are just straight Metafilter. It's almost always mixed in with something else.

Big thanks to Amanda for prompting me to post.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Where I'm Gonna Be

I've never been as good as I should be on the presentation front; I always think something's been played out and people will never be interested in hearing me yammer about it unless I happen to be right at the front to mid-front of the wave. That's happened a couple of times (with Zotero and wikis) but not often enough. So I'm trying to correct that, and here are some places I'll be speaking at in the next few months:

May 7th I'm speaking to the Hamilton Linux User's Group about Evergreen. It's pretty easy to sell the idea of coming to speak on Evergreen to librarians, but I have to figure out a way to make ILS software interesting to people who may not give a wet slap about it. We'll see.

June 27th I'll be at the York University One Big Library unconference. Since it's an unconference, there's no submitting of proposals or anything, so I hope to go there and get some yammering in about Evergreen and copyright issues, or maybe both.

Aaand the big big one, natch: Access 2008 here in sunny beautiful Hamilton, where Dan Scott and I will be talking about, you guessed it, Evergreen. Specifically Ontario/Project Conifer's role in same.

Are you going to be at any of these? Let me know.

Friday, February 22, 2008

My own tech-nots

Following this (and by extension a lot of other folks):

* I don't own a cellphone. Work gives me one, but I never remember what the number is and I'm not sure I could check my voicemail. I find the interface annoying and confusing.

* I don't own any desktop computer that is newer than five years old. I have a five year old laptop that I never use. The last time I bought a new computer was in 1996. At the same time, I *do* buy embedded computers new: my Nokia N800, my Linksys router, (arguably) my wife's EEE laptop.

* My TV is from 1987. It was the baddest, ass-kickingest tube TV in 1987. Now, people make fun of me for it. The speakers on it don't work so well.

* I don't have a PVR. I tape things, and I fast forward through commercials. Because of the peculiarities of the TV schedules where I live, about 90% of what I watch on TV is Simpsons reruns.

* I don't own a functioning MP3 player. I have an iRiver whose interface is somewhat broken, and I don't use it.

* I can't program very well. This one is actually the hardest one for me to admit; I have a lot of shame over it. I can do some shell scripting and some Ruby but that's it. I have lots of colleagues I look up to whose programming skills range from middling to mind-blowing, and here I am with 13 years of Linux experience and I sometimes have to ask the dumbest questions.

* I don't play many modern games. Part of this is not having Windows or a modern gaming console (I do have a PS2 for which I buy the occasional very used game, and I am inching ever-so-slightly towards a Wii; Spore for Wii might push me over the edge). At the same time, I'm pretty fond of old NES/SNES/MAME/Genesis type games. The concept of paying a monthly fee to play World of Warcraft weirds me out.

* The oven in my apartment confounds me. You have to press one button to wake it up, and then set the temperature with buttons, and then another button to turn it on.. or do you? What's wrong with analog dials, dammit?

* I hate e-books. I really hate Amazon's Kindle; something I see as a very promising device that got wrecked by DRM. At the same time, I'm very fond of e-journals, at least those of which you can get articles in PDF format. E-books are (usually) just too laden with DRM for me to give a wet slap about. I will make an exception here for Creative Commons e-books.
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