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LibraryBox v2.1 Public Beta

I’m thrilled to finally have the ability to announce that the v2.1 release for LibraryBox is now available as a Public Beta. What does that mean? It means that while we think we have all the bugs ironed out, we can’t be sure, and we need some brave souls that are willing to help us make sure. The benefits of the v2.1 release are many:

  • CSS styled directory listings that are fully responsive
  • The addition of the Mozilla l10n translation engine that allows for multi-language support for theLibraryBox interface. In the initial v2.1 release, we have 10 languages supported:
    • German
    • English
    • French
    • Spanish
    • Croatian
    • Swedish
    • Italian
    • Korean
    • Norwegian
    • Kiswahili

    If you would like to add a language, please let us know.

  • LibraryBox now has a built in miniDLNA server for media playback on DLNA clients
  • There is now an automated updater built-in to LibraryBox that will allow for future updates to be a matter of copying a file onto the USB key and rebooting…no SSH necessary.
  • Even more hardware choices that you can use to build your own.

This is a release that sets us up for even more work to be done. The auto-updater will allow for much, much easier updates to be delivered, and means that we can iterate even faster on our releases. The language support is easily updated to new languages, so if you don’t see one that you speak, use the link above to send me an email and we can make sure that your language is included in the v2.1 official release. DLNA means that you can now use your LibraryBox to stream videos to any compatible DLNA client, including smart TVs, Blu-Ray players, game consoles, and much more.

I’m very pleased with this release, and I hope that you are too. If you have any questions or issues, please use the contact form to drop us a line.  I expect that we will have an official v2.1 release in the next few weeks, after we get feedback on the Public Beta.

Apple Watch Sport Band Flip Trick

So here’s a tiny hack for the Apple Watch that I found really useful. In all of the promo shots, Apple shows the Sport Band attached to the Watch with the Pin side at the top of the Watch, and the holed-side attached at the bottom.

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I was having a terrible time actually putting the Watch on, because one-handed, I found that holding the Pin down and trying to pull the strap upwards to it was very awkward.

The solution? Flip the bands.

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The band halves are completely reversible, and having the Pin on the lower part means that I can hold it in place with my thumb and pull the other band down towards it. Much easier for me, and you can’t tell at all once the Watch is on your wrist.

If you’ve got a Sport Band on your Apple Watch, give it a try and see if you think it’s easier.

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10 Days with the Apple Watch

I was one of the lucky few that received their Apple Watch order on April 24th, the day the  Watch was released to the public. Here’s the story of my first 10 days to try to give you some idea about the technology (and aesthetics) behind the newest Apple product.

Order

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First up, what I ordered. My order was time stamped at 12:02am Pacific Time on April 10, the day that the Watch went on sale to the public, so I literally ordered mine within the first 120 seconds of availability. From the time the Watch was announced, I had been coveting the Stainless Steel with Milanese loop band. It was, to my eye, a wonderful throwback mid-century modern look that I love. When it came time to order, I decided that since it’s likely I’m wearing this thing every single day for the next 2+ years, I should just get the one I really liked rather than “settling” for the less expensive Sport version in aluminum.

That decision-making process illustrates one of the huge differences in this particular product. Every other Apple product that I’ve purchased (and I’ve purchased plenty at this point, a decade plus into my obsession with the company and its products) was purchased on the strength of the abilities of the technology. Apple isn’t a stranger to using design as a differentiator among their products…the classic iMac is the textbook example of style selling a technology. But over the last few years they have primarily used their design sense and engineering skills to differentiate themselves from other manufacturers, and not within a line of their own products.

The stainless steel Apple Watch functions literally identically to the less expensive aluminum Apple Watch Sport (and, of course, also identically to the much, much more expensive Apple Watch Edition). So the fact that they convinced me to pay for a purely aesthetic choice shows just how different this particular market is from Apple’s normal business. But they did convince me, and thus at just after midnight on April 10th, I placed my order.

Arrival

IMG_8569On April 24th, my Watch arrived. The package that was delivered was surprisingly heavy, almost shockingly so, and that is entirely due to the incredible packaging for the Watch. It is not hyperbole to say that I believe that Apple spent more time in R&D on the box for the Watch than some companies do on devices themselves. The retail box is a heavy, thick white plastic that feels as if it could be used for home construction…it’s that solid. On the inside the Watch was cradled in suede covered custom cutouts, isolated in the middle of a box that was at least 3 times larger than it needed to be purely to protect the device inside. Again, this is Apple’s aesthetics impinging upon a technology experience. “This is not a gadget”, is what this packages says “this is a piece of jewelry.”

My first impressions are of the Watch as Object: This is a gorgeous piece of design. Some have criticized the look of the Watch for its rounded rectangleness, or for being “bulbous.” I will say that on my wrist it is a great size, not heavy at all, and feels entirely like an analog watch would feel. Slimmer and lighter even than some men’s watches, which are enormous at times. I think it’s beautiful work, and shows Apple’s unparalleled heights of manufacturing. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that no other company on the planet could make something this nice at this scale.

Use

Beyond the aesthetics, however, there are definitely issues. The primary function of the watch is clearly to tell the time, and Apple provides about 10 different faces to choose from, each with some level of customizability. Through the selection of detail, color, and complications, it’s possible to really focus the main interface of the watch on the information that you want at a glance: the time, your calendar, the date, the weather, and more. I find myself wishing that third-party apps had access to these complication areas, instead of being limited to just Apple’s first-party apps. For instance, a complication from Dark Sky telling me when it was going to start raining would be amazing, and I’m certain that there are lots of other really useful apps for the main face of the Watch. I’m hoping that’s one of the first bits of usability exposed during the next software update.

The other central concepts in using the Watch are Notifications, Glances, and Apps. Notifications are just what they sound like, and display as either a pop-over style update or in a list after pulling down from the top of the initial Watch screen. Aside from telling the time, Notifications have been the most game changing piece of the Watch in my life. It really is the case, as reported by lots of other reviewers, that I am looking at my phone a lot, lot less than I did prior to wearing the Apple Watch. Notifications on my wrist allows me to glance and decide whether any individual thing needs the escalation of “Deal With Now” or if I can just…not. As just one example, I wore the Watch at Computers in Libraries the day after receiving it, and realized after a few meals that I hadn’t taken my phone out of my pocket at all during lunch or dinner. I don’t remember the last time I didn’t take my phone out and put it on the table beside my plate…it’s nearly an automatic gesture from everyone I hang out with. With the Watch, I avoided the psychological habit of needing to be “connected” with the phone. It was shockingly liberating.

Glances are mini-apps, accessible by swiping up from the bottom of the main watch face. They are displayed as a linear row of full-screen windows that are swiped through, left or right, that are single-screen displays of an app’s information. For instance, going back to my favorite weather app, Dark Sky, the “glance” is just the weather in your current location, whereas the full application contains multiple screens of information. Glances can be useful, but since the only way to navigate is literally by paging through them one after the other, if you have more than 5-8 Glances active, finding the one you want becomes an exercise in futility. Luckily you can control which apps allow Glances and which don’t, as well as the order left-to-right of your glances, from the Apple Watch app on your iPhone.

Finally, we have what is the least useful bit of the current incarnation of the Apple Watch…the Apps. This is surprising, given that it was the app store and 3rd party app development that really ignited the iPhone as a mobile platform. However, the current status of Apps on the Watch as second or third class citizens makes them very difficult to use effectively. Currently, third-party apps don’t run on the watch natively, the run on the tethered iPhone and push display items to the watch when called. This means that the process of opening an App on the Watch is roughly: Press the digital crown in once, tap an App icon from the screen, and wait as the Watch tells the app on your iPhone what it wants, the app on the iPhone spins up and calls out for network resources if needed, the network traffic comes back, the iPhone app builds the view for the Watch, and finally the view is sent back to the watch over Bluetooth. This is roughly like sending an email to tell your neighbor to order a pizza, then having it delivered to her house and having her walk it over to you. It does end with you getting pizza, but there’s clearly a better way to accomplish this task.

When you launch a third-party app, pretty much any of them, there’s a 3-10 second delay while it does its little dance from the watch to the phone to the network and back again. This isn’t to say that the apps aren’t usable….many are, and some are very well designed and thought out. A few stand outs are Transit, Dark Sky, Workflow, and Lastpass. But for apps to really be usable, they have to be on-Watch, and not dancing between the two devices. The good news is that Apple has already announced that “this year” there will be an SDK for third-party native Watch apps…the only mystery is whether that will be an announcement at WWDC in June, or are they going to take “this year” literally and push that ability well into the Fall or Winter.

Two other Watch abilities that I haven’t yet mentioned are the Digital Touch haptic communication and Apple Pay. Haptics between Watches include the ability to “tap” someone else on the wrist to get their attention to communicate something, or to send them your heartbeat via the built in heartrate sensor. These are both interesting, and the taptic engine is a marvel of possibility, but until it’s opened up to third parties it strikes me as a parlor trick.

Apple Pay, on the other hand, is a revelation. With Apple Pay active on the Watch, you can double-press the side button and pay for something faster than you could even pull your iPhone from your pocket, and in the best sort of Apple way, it Just Works. It’s so easy and useful that I can see preferentially choosing to go to one store over another based on the fact that their payment system is compatible…it’s that good.

There are dozens of other services that the Apple Watch throws at you: activity measurement, maps, Siri on your wrist, taking a phone call from your wrist, music controls, remotes for your music or Keynote presentation. All of these are well done, and fine reasons to use the Watch. But if I have to boil my use case down using just the first 10 days, notifications, apple pay, and the fact that it is…well….a really nice watch are the things that keep me using it. It’s clearly going to be an ongoing platform for Apple, and they have a very, very good track record for incremental improvement of experience. I’m very bullish on the Watch overall, even if my recommendation for most people right now is to wait for version 2 or 3.

Libraries

Apple Watch So what’s the library play for Apple Watch? Given the existing capabilities, I would say that using some of the older, proven tech in Apple’s stack gets much better with the Watch. Passbook for your patron’s library card is a no brainer, and a fantastic use, and Apple Pay for fines/fees is going to be interesting as adoption of that service continues to grow. Also, Apple Pay is among the most secure and private mechanisms available for the use of a debit/credit card, which I think is a huge patron privacy benefit.

If your library already supports an iOS app, adding Watch functionality now is probably not really worth it. At the very least, waiting until WWDC in June and seeing what they announce (or don’t) for the next version of WatchKit is warranted. It’s interesting to consider what a library Watch app might do…it isn’t possible to do text entry other than via Siri and voice transcription, so actually searching a catalog in the traditional manner isn’t really going to work. On the other hand, a Watch app that displayed a patron’s “cart” of interested books with the call numbers would be really handy while browsing in the stacks.

Conclusion

I said aboveapple watch closeup that I am recommending that the average technology consumer wait on the Apple Watch until v2 or v3. This will give Apple time to work out the issues with some of the biggest hardware flaws (no on-board GPS, and like all Apple devices it will get thinner and lighter). It will also give the ecosystem time to evolve, 3rd party apps to run natively on the Watch, and for the price to drop a small amount. By version 3 the low end of the line will be under $300, the design will be slightly improved, and there will be more and better app experiences that enrich the experience of wearing the Watch. Until then, I’m going to keep mine, because even with its flaws it’s an absolutely incredible piece of tech engineering that has already shown that it can improve my relationship with my information ecosystem. And I think it will get better and better at doing just that, allowing me to deal with the information flows in my life. That, turns out, might just be worth the cost of the Apple Watch.

Formal Speaking

Spring & Summer Speaking schedule

Spring and Summer are bringing another round of speaking appearances, all of which I am very excited to be doing. I’m heading to some great conferences and am really excited to meet awesome librarians across the country.  If you are going to be attending any of the following, please say hello!

If you are planning a conference in the Fall or Winter and are looking for someone to talk libraries, technology, the failures of the present and the promise of the future, or the promise of the present and the failures of the future, get in touch. I would love to speak for your libraries and librarians.

Photo credit: Cindi Blyberg

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Measure the Future and Privacy

If you are curious about the Measure the Future project (using simple and inexpensive sensors that can collect data about building usage to make strategic decisions that create more efficient and effective experiences for patrons) and how that might overlap with library patron privacy concerns, I posted a lengthy outline of the ideas and concepts on that front over on the Measure the Future blog.

An excerpt:

The thing that I’ve gotten the most comments and emails about is the degree to which Measure the Future is “creepy.” There is both and implicit and explicit expectation of privacy in information seeking in a library, and when someone says they are thinking about putting cameras in and watching patron behavior…well, I totally see why some people would characterize that as creepy.

So here’s why what I am planning isn’t creepy. At least, I don’t think so.

Go and read the rest if you’re interested.

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Carbon3D Printer Analysis

This morning, a new 3D printing company (Carbon3D) won the marketing lottery, by appearing in a story in the Washington Post, and then being featured pretty much everywhere possible online. They were tweeted hundreds of times.

While I trust that they really are doing something different, the overall technology isn’t new…it is a variation on stereolithography,  which predates fused deposition modeling (what most library 3d printers are using) as a technology. It’s not even the first consumer level stereolithographic printer! The Form 1 (http://formlabs.com/products/form-1-plus/) has been out for a couple of years now, and at least one library (Darien) has one in operation.

In order to figure out what it was that they were doing differently, I had to read their paper that was published yesterday in Science. Unsurprisingly, WaPo got a lot of the tech wrong, or at the very least wrote it in such a way that it is very confused. Take this section:

“To create an object, CLIP projects specific bursts of light and oxygen. Light hardens the resin, and oxygen keeps it from hardening. By controlling light and oxygen exposure in tandem, intricate shapes and latices can be made in one piece instead of the many layers of material that usually make up a 3D printed object.”

“Bursts of oxygen”? You can’t “project” oxygen into a liquid like you can a laser. And “instead of the many layers” is also raising red flags. There may not be distinct layers in the same way as FDM printing, but there must be some form of progressive building.

What is actually going on is that they are, indeed, using a UV projector to selectively harden a photosensitive resin. What is different about their approach is that they are projecting through a membrane that is selectively oxygen permeable, which allows for a “dead zone” of resin that can’t harden (due to the oxygen level), above which the UV sensitivity kicks in and the resin hardens. They call this process “continuous liquid interface production technology” or CLIP.

The paper doesn’t say it outright, but knowing the technology, I’m guessing that their hardening process is a continuous build. Rather than a laser-based traditional resin printer, they are using a projector, which I can imagine is more like a video, continuously painting the surface to be hardened. It would be more like pulling sugar, where the liquid becomes solid as you lengthen it, and there would be no layers per se, but more of a crystalline lattice. This would account for the smoothness of the prints. It is also, to be fair, a complete guess on my part.

This change in the traditional stereolithography process apparently gives them a huge increase in speed, which is the key differentiator here. They appear to be able to print objects very, very fast. It also looks like they have the cash to research and develop it commercially, with both Silver Lake and Sequoia as backers.

So what does this mean for libraries? Honestly, not much for the moment. This particular technology could be very inexpensive to make…or, given the proprietary nature of the membrane and resin, it could be ridiculously expensive. The company hasn’t announced any pricing or even availability, so we really have no idea when it might be available. When it is, I’ll revisit and see what I think for libraries. For now, this is interesting, but just a news item.

LibraryBox at Computers in Libraries 2015

LibraryBox AnimatedWay back in March of 2012, I debuted the very first proof-of-concept for the LibraryBox Project at Computers in Libraries in Washington DC. It was the first time a LibraryBox was tested in public, and the reactions and feedback were integral to moving the project forward to where it is today. The first one was actually embedded in a real book (I liked the irony of the presentation).

Where it is today is amazing! We are polishing the v2.1 release of the open source code that lets anyone in the world build their own offline digital file sharing device, which includes a really improved interface, better performance, built-in text translation of the interface into 8 different languages (with an easy framework for adding more), and support for even more hardware.

Back in 2012 at Computers in Libraries, I couldn’t have begun to predict the success that the Project has had. LibraryBoxen are sharing files to those without reliable Internet connectivity all over the world at this point:

View LibraryBox Around the World in a larger map

On April 26, at Computers in Libraries 2015, I will be giving a half-day workshop on the LibraryBox Project and how it can be used by you and your library for outreach, serving the underserved, and more. I will walk you through commonly-requested customizations (how to customize the look and feel of the interface, add your own logo, etc), walk through an installation so that you can see just how quickly you can build one yourself, and demonstrate all of the more advanced tricks you can do with these hyperlocal networks (from using one as a bridge for controlling presentations to using LibraryBox as a LAN for sharing files privately between computers).

One lucky participant will walk away with their very own prebuilt LibraryBox…I’m going to give away the one we build and work with during the workshop to one of the workshop participants. :-)

Register now!

If you are anywhere in the DC area and just want to learn about LibraryBox, it is possible to register just for the preconference, full attendance at CiL isn’t necessary.

Come and join me! After this workshop, you’ll be a card-carrying LibraryBox expert.

EDIT

Thanks to a fantastic suggestion from Nate Hoffelder, if you wish to attend the workshop and build your own LibraryBox to tinker on, we’ll do a “build your own” at the very beginning of the session. Here’s a quick list of the things you’ll need in order to do so:

  • TP-Link MR3040 router
  • A USB drive to use in the LibraryBox. I recommend the SanDisk Cruzer Fit line, and the sweet spot for price/GB looks to be 32GB right now. This is the Boxen’s hard drive, so the larger capacity means more things can be shared.
  • A laptop with Ethernet capability, for flashing the router, and the ability to SSH, in order to connect to the LibraryBox you build if you want to further customize it.
Apple Watch

Apple Watch Predictions

Tomorrow is March 9th, and that means that we will get the formal Apple announcement of the Apple Watch. As always, I’ll be live tweeting the announcement, but I wanted to make a couple of predictions here about pricing, mostly because I think they are going to surprise everyone.

All that Apple has said thus far about pricing is the quote from the initial announcement of the product that “Apple Watch will start at $350″. There are three tiers of the watch, each made of different materials: Apple Watch Sport, which is aluminum and glass; Apple Watch, which is stainless steel and sapphire; and Apple Watch Edition, which is 18K Gold and sapphire. The assumption from pretty much everyone is that the Sport edition is the entry level, due to the less expensive material construction.

And I think that’s probably right, that the Sport will be the lowest priced model. But I don’t think that the lowest price will be $350.

My guess, which I admit is a huge stretch and will probably end with me making a massive retraction after the announcement, is that the Apple Watch, the stainless construction one, will start at $350, because that’s exactly what Tim Cook said. They don’t accidentally say things at Apple. I’m guessing that the stainless version will start at $350, with upsell on the various types of bands. I’m betting that the Milanese loop will be an extra $100, and the metal clasp band will be at least $150.

As a result, I think that the Sport will be cheaper, maybe in the $250 range. Cheaper materials, rubber (excuse me, elastopolymer) bands, and I think they could get away with a $200-250 price and still be making their legendary profits.

I’m probably wrong. They are probably going to have the stainless versions starting at $499. But they’ve done this sort of thing before. With the launch of the iPad, there were rumors of a $1000 price point, and then they announced a starting price of $499 at launch. But if Cook stands on the stage tomorrow and says “You know, I told you that the Apple Watch started at $349, and it does, but the Sport is going to be only $249″ I will not be surprised in the least.

On the other hand, the Apple Watch Edition, with it’s 18K solid gold (even if Apple did find a way to make gold with less gold), is gonna be thousands. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if it was $10K.

So am I gonna buy one? I’m probably 75% in the “yes” column, but a lot hinges on the pricing. If I do, I don’t want the Sport edition, I definitely want the stainless…I mean, it’s gorgeous. I am sort of in love with the stainless with Milanese loop.
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But I also can’t really see paying the prices that some bloggers have guessed for that combination. I suppose we will find out tomorrow.

Support Circulating Ideas

So my buddy Steve Thomas just launched a Kickstarter in order to have transcriptions made of his awesome podcast Circulating Ideas.  I shouldn’t have to explain why transcriptions are a fantastic idea for a podcast, but I will anyway:

  • It will make the content available to people with hearing difficulty
  • It will enable full-text searching of the podcast episodes
  • Transcripts will allow people to text-mine the content in interesting ways
  • There will be a book (A BOOK) of the podcast made

All of these are awesome reasons to back the Kickstarter, but I’m going to back it because I think that the work Steve is doing on Circulating Ideas is interesting and serves as an amazing time capsule of our profession. You should back it as well…supporting interesting library work is how, after all, we get more interesting library work into the world.

So listen below to Steve tell you about the Kickstarter in his own words, then click the link and go give him a few bucks. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.

Go support Recirculated! 


BONUS: for those of you that read this far, here’s the two episodes of Circulating Ideas that I was lucky enough to be a part of:


Episode 19


Special Episode on the LibraryBox Kickstarter

Daniel Boone National Forest

Poverty, Libraries, Jobs, Me

A bit earlier today I saw a handful of librarians on Twitter posting a link to a Library Director’s job with what appeared to be an appalling salary of $7.25 an hour.

Each of these tweets have been re-tweeted a dozen or so times as I’m writing this, so people are sharing it. Heck, I clicked through when I saw the salary, curious what sort of place thought they could get someone for that price, and where you could possibly live on that salary.

The answer? Just down the road from where I grew up, that’s where.

Elliot county

So the marker there is the library in question, and the little town north of it that’s circled, that’s my home town of Olive Hill, KY. The library is in the county seat of Elliott County, KY, in a town of just about 600 people called Sandy Hook. Here’s a larger map to give you some additional context about just exactly where this is located.

Elliott County large

 

This part of the world is where I spent the first 22 years of my life, as a kid and teenager in Olive Hill and then as an undergrad at Morehead State University just down the road. If you check the Google Street View of where the Library in question sits,  it is right next to an elementary school where I played basketball as a boy.

So when I say this, I say it with the conviction of someone who knows: there is very, very little likelihood that anyone posting about this on Twitter has ever seen poverty of the sort that they have in Elliott County, KY. Hell, the entire concept of the “War on Poverty” started just down the road from Elliott County, an hour southeast in Inez, KY, where LBJ launched his famous efforts to eliminate poverty in the US.  Elliott County is the 49th Poorest County by Median Household Income in the entire United States of America. For some more reference, the median household income for Sandy Hook in 2010 was $14,313.

If there is anywhere in this country where kids need a library to help them dream, this is that place.

I was curious after seeing this tweet…

…so I decided to take a look. And if this news report is to be believed, it’s true…the poorest postal code in Canada (B1W, the Cape Breton – Eskasoni First Nation) has a median household income of $19,392 Canadian, or $15,401 US. So there is literally not a single place in Canada that is poorer than Sandy Hook, KY.

With that said: should a library director be paid $7.25/hr? No, of course not. But in this part of Kentucky, believe it or not, that is a decent salary. Not because it is objectively an amount of money that someone deserves for doing their job, but only because the area around it has been forgotten. This part of the world has been given up on by the former industries that sustained it, by the clay and the tobacco and the lumber that were the only reasons money ever flowed into the economy of the area in the first place.

This is a place that I love, this Eastern Kentucky. Even now, decades after I left, I can close my eyes and see the soft clay streaking the soil. I can feel the limestone bones that make up the gentle foothills of the Appalachians. I can smell the warmth of a tobacco barn on a Fall evening.

These are people that need help. I hope they find someone for that job that can not only show the children of Elliott County that there is a wider world, but that just maybe one of those kids will find a way to help save my Eastern Kentucky.