Friday, August 1, 2003

the exploded library is now one year old

I wasn’t planning on updating this blog today, but then I realized the date - which happens to be the exploded library’s first birthday.

I started this blog as a lark. I was writing an article on blogs and thought that the best way to really understand what blogs are about was to make one of my own. During the past year, my intentions have changed a number of times, as have the content & style of this blog.

I am surprised that this I’m still doing this. The blogosphere seems even more transitory than the rest of the web - better blogs than mine have arrived and then faded in the past year. I think that this is because blogging is so personal. Even if a blog isn’t about personal events, its oxygen supply is dependent on the blogger’s personal life, which we often don’t know about.

Here are some important happenings of the past year: Switching to Salon blogs; switching to blogging on my iMac; taking a few more risks with my content - especially about political issues. Most importantly, it has been slowly discovering what I really want to do. I prefer to take a limited number of issues and look at those from a slightly different angle. Maybe this is looking at the law as a librarian, or viewing library issues with a legal eye. Viewing the US against my Australian perspective, or commenting on Australia from my viewpoint as an ex pat who's living across the Pacific. This blog is about ambivalence as much as it’s about law libraries.

So what’s on the horizon for the next year? Hopefully more regular updating. I know that Google prefers it when I update every day or so - but that doesn’t fit in with my temperament and circumstances. I find myself very attracted to writing a lot when the inspiration takes me, and then doing nothing for a little while.

I can promise that I’m not switching this blog to Movable Type - which everyone else seems to be doing - not unless they make an idiot proof version. I may consider switching to iBlog. I’d like to personalize this blog even further with some of my own graphics.

Input into this blog - I have a low tolerance for information overload and if I added every worthy blog or news source into my aggregator, I would never get anything done. That said, I would like my aggregator to be dynamic and up-to-date while still manageable.

I want more value-added content. Although bare links (called "mere mentions" in this blog) and unsubstantiated rants have their place, they are more ephemeral than pieces which combine links and the other fruits of research with analysis, commentary and opinion. This also shows how librarians can add value in the exploded library. I plan to be updating my article on news aggregators (which thanks to Yahoo, gives me a large proportion of my hits).

Most importantly, I still want to be blogging in another year.

Music: Björk, Live at the Royal Opera House DVD, Human Behaviour

8:35:00 PM    

  Thursday, July 24, 2003

tinkering with AOL Journals
The first AOL journal (blog) I've seen.

Via Hylton Joliffe I've clicked through to an AOL Journal called sound & fury. The branding at the top (below the generic AOL nav) reads "AOL Journals: Your Thoughts. Your Blog."

I was hoping I could find my way from that blog to other AOL blogs but there doesn't seem to be any central jumping-off point (or blogroll/sidebar, for that matter).

[Radio Free Blogistan]

I was playing around with AOL Journals yesterday. My attempt was very experimental & silly so I'm not going to link to it. As I expected, it was very easy to set up - there are various templates for choosing how the Journal looks and how functions it has. Updating is also easy - you just send an instant message to the AOL Journal bot. This means that you can use all the formatting that you can use in an instant message, which is quite a lot. But I also a discovered a bug with this. If I add an entry with AIM and then want to edit that entry in AOL to give it a title or information about my mood or the music I'm listening (like LiveJournal), then most of the formatting goes away. If I initially created the entry in AOL, then there's no option to use anything but plain-text - and no HTML tags for bolding, italicizing, changing colours or fonts. This isn't an issue, so long as they fix that bug about editing entries created with AIM - or allow you to give the title, mood and music in the instant message. Hopefully they'll fix this by the time it's officially released.

An AOL Journal does provide an RSS feed, but not any news aggregator functions. Because of this, I think that AOL Journals is more equivalent to LiveJournal (albeit not as good!) than software like Radio Userland or Blogger. And I agree that AOL needs to provide a way of locating other AOL Journals.
6:54:24 PM    

  Wednesday, July 23, 2003

gated information and the role of libraries

Recently I got access to digital cable – it’s not something that I pay for, but is a nice perk provided by my generous landlady. It made me realize that I am on the über-privileged side of the digital divide: hundreds of TV channels, broadband internet connection. I also have access to non-public material sites such as on Salon and AOL Then through my work I have Westlaw and Lexis passwords, and free interlibrary loans – within reason.

My point isn’t to brag, but I can say that I have access to a lot of stuff which is out of reach of less privileged people. Before I had access, I had no idea of the type of things that I was missing. I’m disturbed to see how effective technology has been in separating information from the haves and have-nots. Ten years ago in Australia, there was no pay-TV and barely a world-wide web (and what there was limited to educational and scientific purposes). The main sources of information were printed publications and the free broadcast media of radio and TV. I know printed magazines and journals have never been exactly cheap, but many of these were freely usable in public and academic libraries.

Is there any way of categorizing information as essential or non-essential information? I wonder if there are some types of information – particularly legal and governmental - which all people have a right to access and use in a free society. Especially when society says that ignorance is no excuse for not obeying the law and everyone has equal rights & duties in the political process, irrespective of their income. So does mean that everything else would be non-essential information – entertainment for which it is entirely fair that people pay for. I’m not sure if there’s a clear dividing line between what’s essential and what’s entertaining. For example, national (and especially local) news provide information without which it would be very difficult to participate in the political process, but they also contain entertainment sections. And if news is essential, then what about magazines or lifestyle programmes aimed at particular groups – women, men, different ethnic groups – these may contain more entertainment than news, but what news they cover might be the only way that their particular constituents access any news.

Another quandry is with the arts, sciences and other academic disciplines. If it’s in society’s interests that all people are able to make advances in the arts, sciences and other fields of learning, how is this possible if only elites have access to this material? Are we saying that only the elites – those with the means to pay for this material – have anything to contribute in these areas and that the poor deserve to shut out? Or do we think that great art can happen in a vacuum and that it is not necessary to know of what’s been tried before?

The point of all these unanswerable questions is that libraries are the buffer zones – or safety net, if you want a different metaphor – of the digital information divide. Fund public libraries adequately, and you won’t need to answer these questions about who is worthy enough to receive which information. Most importantly, libraries are no longer about books. They are just not about books, microfiche, videos, audio tapes, CDs, DVDs or online databases – important as all these things are. Libraries are repositories of information, in whatever form. In an ideal world (and I am allowed to be idealistic and naive sometimes), libraries would collect all useful information which has been broadcast (via TV, radio or the web) and is not otherwise available in fixed formats, such as tapes or discs produced by the broadcaster. </idealism>: Of course, this is not going to happen because of two big reasons. Firstly, libraries are currently too understaffed and underfunded to imagine adding this to their workload. Secondly, this would be against existing copyright laws.

9:22:53 AM    

wondering about big media biases (with a postscript about left & right tactics)

I wrote earlier about the unlikely story of how I first experimented with AOL. I’m surprised to say that I still use it from time to time – on a plan which gives me a very small number of dialup access hours. The reason is that now my iBook doesn’t seem to work well with any other dialup ISP. I would be tempted to think that this is something that AOL did to my computer, except that I remember that this problem predated the first time that I used AOL. It’s probably a hardware problem – but because most of the time I use a broadband connection without any problems on my iBook – I’m reluctant to send it in if it’s not really urgent.

My first use of AOL coincided with the beginning of the Iraq war. At the time I noticed a real pro-war bias in the way the war news was reported. It’s interesting to see how this has changed lately.

Last week, they reprinted Salon’s article about John Mellencamp and patriotism.

Am I paranoid to wonder if AOL Time Warner decided to pander to the government’s dogs of war in the lead up to the execrable FCC decision about media ownership, to show the Republicans in power that big media could be supportive of their interests? And that now the FCC rules have been released, AOL Time Warner can be a little more centrist (definitely not left-wing).

Postscript: Along with the Salon article, AOL had one of their ubiquitous polls. The question was along the lines of “Who is more patriotic? – a) the Left, b) the Right, c) Neither – each side is patriotic but they have different opinions.” My recollection of the result was that almost 50% answered “C” for neither, 40% answered “B” for the Right and a measly 10% chose “A” for the Left.

I chose the Neither answer – because I do think that many of the Right-wingers genuinely care for their country, even if their methods or goals are misguided. My reading of this poll – and be assured that I don’t put too much stock in its results – is that people on the left are more reasonable and are mature enough to admit that the other side might sometimes have a point, or at least a legitimate concern. Whereas people on the right (I choose not to call them Conservatives because they a radical agenda of tearing up long-standing social supports and threatening civil liberties) are more fanatical – and refuse to see any good in their opponents or flaws in themselves. I know, it’s kind of petty to be fighting over the high moral ground but it’s still legitimate point. What do you do against an opponent who refuses to play fairly? Do you to stick to your principles and lose (praying that someday the wrongs will be righted) – or adopt their rough-handed tactics in the hope of beating them at their own game?

9:18:41 AM    

Safari, Opera and Explorer

It’s a chicken or the egg type question – did Safari come about because Microsoft was not working on new versions of IE for Mac, or did Microsoft stop working on IE for Mac because Apple started competing with Safari?

When Safari first came out, I was annoyed. First of all, it had that tiresome brushed metal interface (although I’ve since found out that this can be removed with Metalifizer). Secondly, it made me concerned the other Mac browsers, such as Opera, OmniWeb and Camino wouldn’t be able to compete. Although I like all the software which Apple throws in with its computers, I want there to be a viable market for third party software developers for the Mac.

I’ve since come to like Safari. I think that it’s arguably the best free browser for any operating system. It’s very fast – both to load and for browsing. It has tabs and it renders pages very nicely.

Overall, I still prefer Opera 6 for Mac for the following reasons.
I already paid for it, so might as well get my money’s worth
I really, really like some of Opera’s time-saving shortcuts: how you can use the “z” and “x” keys as backwards & forwards buttons; how you select the location bar by just pressing F8 (in this way, it’s much better than Safari, which makes you drag over the whole URL or press Command-L); how bookmarks can be given brief nicknames which retrieve the bookmarked site when entered into the location bar; full screen browsing is easily turned on or off with F11.

Opera’s not without its problem. It takes more time to load than Safari – which I can forgive because Safari’s got an innate advantage in this area. The most two severe problems are that less pages seem work in Opera than Safari and that it is more prone to crash than Safari. These are major problems, and if they continue to get worse, I will reluctantly have to switch to Safari.

9:09:17 AM    

Safari and internet banking sites

Macintouch has had some interesting postings concerning the fall out from Microsoft’s decision to discontinue developing IE for Mac. There is concern because some sites, notably online brokerages internet banking sites, only work with IE. People are worried that if IE for Mac atrophies, Mac users will be shut out of many sites because so many lazy web developers design only for IE.

I think that there is a little bit of panic occurring with this issue. There are already sites which only work well with IE 6.x for Windows, not IE 5.2 for Mac. By the way, my credit union’s internet banking and online bill paying works well with just about any web browser. If the big, mean banks and brokerage firms are being troglodytes about only supporting IE, I say that Mac users should take their business elsewhere – especially to credit unions which have lower fees and are usually more responsive to their customers.

Now that Microsoft has won the first browser war, it has little incentive to develop IE for any platform. So their announcement about discontinuing upgrading IE 5.2 for Mac comes at the same time that IE 6.x for Windows also goes onto the back-burner, at least until Longhorn is developed.

9:04:00 AM    

my thoughts about designing web pages for users of different browsers

If you don’t use Internet Explorer for Windows, you are on the margins of the internet. It’s kind of like being a non-American in our unipolar world. The mighty behemoth, IE does what it likes. Standards be damned, its practices are the de facto standards which matter.

I’m in charge of a web site and know first-hand how tedious it is develop a site which works tolerably well for almost all browsers, without being intolerably bland. I recently had a discussion/argument with a respected colleague about this issue. He said that there are so many different permutations of browsers, that getting our sites to work for all of them is an exercise in futility which leads to the dreaded Lowest Common Denominator. For me, this is not an all or nothing matter. I try to support what I subjectively think are the main types of people on the web – and the browsers they often choose.

There’s Mr and Ms Average – people who use IE for Windows, 5.x and 6.x – the browser that everyone uses when they don’t have a choice (or exercise choice) in what browser they use. Needless to say, it’s got to work very well for this browser. I admit, some people might consciously choose this solid but boring browser. For me, I only use this browser when none of the others works or I might to use some third-party software which only works with IE – such as the Google toolbar.

You have to acknowledge the technical laggards of the world – people using IE and especially Netscape 4.x. I’m not saying that a site has to work well for these people, but see how the home page looks and hope that the site is functional. Sometimes minor tweaks in the code will improve performance in these oldies without mucking things up for everyone else. If that’s not possible, use a script to redirect them to a text-only of your home page. This text-only version could also benefit the visually impaired who are using a text-only browser.

You also can’t ignore people who are bravely (or stupidly, depending on your point of view) using non-Microsoft software – namely Mac and/or Linux users. I don’t know where the market share statistics come from, but I work in education and see a lot of Macs around and talk to a lot of people who are passionate about Macs. So even if you are a hard-nosed Windows-head, you don’t want to needlessly piss these persistent people off, because they can be vocal in their criticism. If nothing else, make sure that the site works in IE 5.2 or Safari. If you don’t have access to a Mac, send the URL to a friend, acquaintance or relative who has a Mac and ask for feedback. The same goes for Linux, make sure that it works for at least one Linux browser, especially if you know that Linux people will be using your site.

Another small but influential group are the geeks who may be using alternative browsers such as Mozilla or Opera. They may very well be your peers. They are also the people who often look at web pages critically. You don’t want them to be sending you emails saying that your web site isn’t working for them.

At the other extreme are the AOL users. Although Windows AOL is based on IE, it is not identical. AOL for Mac OS X is based on Netscape 7 for OS X. Although testing maybe difficult for AOL, if you become aware of a problem, try to find out what it is and how it might be fixed. Because there are still a lot of people using AOL as their browser.

All this sounds like a lot of extra work, but the only significant task is to get out of the “IE 6.x for Windows or bust” mindset. Because once you start testing your website on a few different browsers, you’ll get a feel for what works and what doesn’t work on the other browsers.

These are only suggestions for the minimum. Because I am a Mac head, I’m going to make sure that my web sites don’t work well for just one current Mac browser, but for as many as possible.

8:55:59 AM    

  Wednesday, July 16, 2003

what is the value of a vote?

Before I mentioned how the summer has been busy for me, and that this has taken a toll on my blogging. Now I’d like to talk about the catalyst which helped me decide to get back into it. I was asked to vote in Robert’s Virtual Soapbox poll (of Salon bloggers) about Democratic candidates for Presidents. It’s a big deal for me to vote. Because I’m not yet eligible for US citizenship, I can’t vote here. Because I no longer have a permanent address in Australia, I can’t vote there. Fortunately, opinion polls aren’t limited to citizens. It’s sad to say, but it also seems that participating in opinion polls or supporting candidates with donations has a greater impact than voting anyway. Of course, everybody with a vote should use it! Recall Florida in 2000. But another lesson from Florida is that when things are really close, people on the other side will cheat so that your vote won’t be counted. I really hope that this last sentence is not true.

Music: Depeche Mode, Ultra, The Love Thieves

12:34:06 AM    

patriotism corrupted

I did take one little vacation to Iowa, south eastern Iowa to be exact. I attended my first ever Fourth of July parade in the small town of Morningsun. I enjoyed the experience, although it made me feel very much like the foreigner (or resident alien, as the INS prefers to call me). I was struck by the sense of community that I saw. I have never seen so many John Deere tractors in a single day, or beautifully restored old cars, beauty queens of all ages or American flags. Almost every single car or person in the parade bore an American flag, usually with a slogan such as “Support Our Troops!” Sometimes there was a variation, such as “Support our troops, they support you!” Other slogans mentioned the words Freedom and Liberty in connection with the supporting the troops. At this moment, I felt very bad for my American friends who went to the parade with me. They had no Real Freedom or Liberty to say anything like, “Support Our Troops, Bring Them Home!” without being shunned and excoriated by their community. Of course, they could think such thoughts, but that would be setting themselves against the clear message that their community was saying in this parade. The message was that patriotism means wholeheartedly supporting President George W. Bush’s decision to liberate (i.e., invade and occupy) Iraq. It must be hard to love one’s country when patriotism has been hijacked and defined to be jingoistic warmongering. So when did being a true American become reduced to loyally supporting the nation’s secretive and deceitful leaders? I may be an idealistic foreigner, but wouldn’t the true spirit of the Fourth of July involve demonstrating independence of thought from one’s leaders, as did the signatories of the declaration of independence? This travesty made me feel glad that I’m Australian, where there is a long-celebrated tradition of taking the piss out of our leaders, whether in good times or bad. (“taking the piss” might be described as irreverently putting people back in their place)

Music: Liz Phair, Liz Phair, Insanity

12:28:05 AM    

missing out on the AALL conference in Seattle

My biggest regret of the summer is that I’m not attending the annual meeting of the American Association of Law Libraries, which is currently taking place in Seattle as I type this. It would have killed me to go all the way to beautiful Seattle and just be in the conference venue – and not have any time (or money) to stay there a bit longer and go bushwalking (hiking). I don’t like the sort of travel that encourages people to ignore the differentness of place. And somebody had to watch the library here while most of my co-workers are away. Next year the conference is in Boston, somewhere I’ve also wanted to visit. I’ll make sure that I attend that conference and have the ability to explore that part of the world, if only a little.

P.S. One of my pet peeves is that all library professional associations are named after the buildings we work in. Would it be too shocking to have an American Association of Law Librarians?

Music: Liz Phair, Liz Phair, Take a Look

12:16:07 AM    

my flirtation with EverCrack

So things have been kind of busy at work. Then I am embarrassed to mention that EverQuest has just been released for the Mac and that I have wasted many an hour on that game. I have decided that although EverQuest has some good points, it is diabolically designed to be the biggest addictive timesink, even more so than Lineage. Furthermore, although I like all the different class/race combinations which EverQuest offers, this makes for some very specialized characters which can’t function well outside of a group. And although group adventuring can be fun – especially when it’s only with Mac users – it seems that finding a good group which plays at an appropriate time (in terms of hour of the day/night as well as duration) is very challenging. So having sampled it, I won’t be planning EverQuest. I will continue to play Lineage in moderation.

Music: Liz Phair, Liz Phair, Little Digger

12:07:06 AM    

  Tuesday, July 15, 2003

summer work

(All of what I’m writing tonight is really one entry, broken into different paragraphs, but I’ve decided to separate it into separate postings.) Many bloggers take a summer break. I wasn’t planning on doing such a thing, but it happened any way – hence the lack of the standard announcement of light blogging. As I have mentioned before, the summer seems more busy for me in the law library. Although there’s less reference work, we are expected to do more in the way of summer projects. For me, I prefer the randomness of answering people’s questions – most of whom are very nice to work with. This isn’t to say that all of my summer projects are boring – but they are more work.

  • Working on getting EZProxy working in my library so that our users will be able to authenticate to the proxy server and then access our IP address restricted databases from anywhere.
  • Include entries (with working URLs) for our full-text electronic journals – chiefly available via HeinOnline – into our online library catalogue.
  • Make new floor maps of the library that can be put onto the library website and integrated into the library catalogue.
  • Work with other public services staff on a faculty services handbook.
  • Participating in an IT committee that is investigating portal solutions for the university web site as a whole.

Music: Liz Phair, Liz Phair, Why Can’t I?

11:55:42 PM    

  Tuesday, June 24, 2003

my thoughts on government-mandated web filtering in public libraries

It almost goes without saying that I think that this decision is wrong. Another example of the US Supreme Court being split down the middle with Justice O’Connor being the swing vote that gave the conservatives another thin majority. I hope that history judges the Rehnquist Supreme Court as harshly as it judges Dredd Scott.

That said, I do think that this is a difficult issue. I don’t want weird people viewing porn and wanking over the keyboards where I work! It horrifies me how the most innocuous search term in a search engine -- or mistyped URL can lead to some very nasty results. This may sound like heresy to some librarians, but I don’t think the status quo was working well. Something needed to be done, but I think CIPA went way too far. It’s wrong to make everybody (meaning the less privileged teens & adults on the other side of the digital divide who can’t afford their own internet access) view the internet through the filter of what’s appropriate for a child. Even the Supreme Court admits this, but says that it’s sufficient that an adult can request to have the filters temporarily turned off. A commentator on today’s FutureTense (I must give a link to this Minnesota production) was correct when he mentioned how people will be very reluctant to ask library staff to have the “porn filters” turned off.

So I call on all adult library patrons to thwart this paternalistic Supreme Court decision to demand that filters be turned off when they visit their public library. Not so you can look at porn, but just so that you can use the internet that hasn’t been filtered or dumbed-down or bowdlerized (now that’s a word that’s due for a revival!). Any librarian worth her or his salt would be happy to turn off the filters for this reason. Don’t expect such a positive reaction if you actually are planning on looking at porn in a public library.

Whenever I get a minute, I should reread some jurisprudence. The law is only one means (the very official and blunt tool) for governing people’s behaviour. There are also personal ethics and social mores. I would hazard to guess that although most librarians would fight for your legal right to read anything you want, they would not be thrilled about somebody viewing porn in a their library or any other public place. Generally, social restraints are more pervasive but less enforceable than legal rules. That is why there is a danger when conservatives want all their social mores embodied in the law. There is a place for socially disapproved but legal behaviour. It is a murky area which is both a nasty cesspool and a helpful compost heap – which is fertile for humour, self-analysis and new ideas. Furthermore, there is something about the smell of this cesspool/compost heap which keeps the Borg of Conformity & Tyranny at bay. Because as soon as you want the law to mirror social mores – the first issue is who’s mores get chosen. Because that’s the thing, although a lot of social mores are held in common, they are not uniform. And although in a democracy, the majority has the right to do what it wants according to its constitutional powers, it would be very dangerous for a majority to use the its power to impose all of its social mores on everyone else – whether that majority happens to been in Parliament / Congress or the Supreme court.

9:05:34 PM    

  Tuesday, June 17, 2003

metaphor watch: exploded content
firstmonday on eldred. ... In my view, reclaiming it would make it relevant. Exploding the content within the public domain in a context where it can be built upon and spread (ie, now, with the internet) will make people see again why the public domain is important. And if they see that, then they will again defend it. ... [Lessig Blog]
11:01:23 PM    

interesting post from a LiveJournal about library cataloguing today
In the old days, Pre MARC [Machine Readable Cataloguing], it was common to have almost as many catalogers as reference people. Books arrived. You hoped for a LC-Card number in the back and if that happened, you ordered cards from the Library of Congress. Eventually most of them came.

If the book was new, you knew you had to come up with your own cataloging ...

Catalogers are a fraction of the numbers that Reference types are.

Do you still need to catalog some things originally? Sure. Is it a substantial fraction of what you buy? hardly. I know of one university with graduate programs that hits over 95% on OCLC. What gets reviewed gets bought. What gets bought gets cataloged. ...

I hire catalogers. It's hard. ... I train every new hire. I do more training than cataloging these days. and at the same time, I can't tell prospective students that they'll be able to find work cataloging when they graduate. Medium sized libraries with one cataloger are common. It's like waiting for a tenant to die so you can have their apartment in New York. [librarian50]
10:22:25 PM