Disaster Scenario Part One

I was honored to give the opening keynote for the SEFLIN 2016 Virtual Conference, entitled “Innovation & Disruption: Past, Present, Future” where I talked about why innovation is important in libraries, how structures disempower innovation, and what technologies I am watching for their capacity for disruption. It was this last topic that garnered the most comments during the talk, and even afterwards via email and twitter.

I have come to believe that we’re on the cusp of some truly weird societal changes due to the exponential growth of technology. AI/Machine Learning, Robotics, ubiquitous presence and sensornets via the Internet of Things, decentralization….all of these things are beginning to turn the corner from interesting ideas into realized technologies in the world. A couple of them in particular that I spoke about have what I think are truly frightening outcomes over the next decade, and I’m hoping to expand my thinking on why and how here. Let’s start with robots, in the form of autonomous automobiles.

Robots, in the form of self-driving or autonomous vehicles, are going to transform the US economy in ways that, for certain populations, may be disastrous. I think it’s fairly clear at this point that we are moving towards autonomous vehicles at breakneck speeds, and there seems to be a pretty clear map that gets us from the current state of somewhat-partial autonomy to autonomous-on-interstates and finally to fully doesn’t-need-a-human vehicles. The consensus among people who do this stuff is that the easiest problem to solve is that of long-distance interstate or highway travel, and the largest target for disruption to this type of driving is that of commercial trucking.

When it comes to automation, commercial trucking has a lot of things going for it. From the perspective of the companies doing the movement of goods around the country, fewer drivers is better in almost every way: fewer accidents almost assuredly, but also lower fuel costs (as computers are very, very good at optimization algorithms), fewer delays (same reason), and over time huge costs savings…robots do not yet require health coverage and retirement plans. There are benefits of partial autonomization as well…we don’t have to have fully self-driving trucks for there to be huge benefits for the companies involved, since the reduction of humans in the equation will garner cost savings immediately, and one can easily imagine a pathway that begins reducing drivers gradually: instead of needing 3 drivers for 3 trucks heading across country, 1 driver in the first truck acting as “lead” could be followed by 2 robotic trucks in sort of psuedo-autonomous caravan.

This move from One-Human-per-Truck to One-Human-per-X-Trucks to No-Human-At-All is going to happen over the course of the next 5-10 years. Currently, one of the most common middle-income jobs in the entire US is that of a truck driver…not always over-the-road, but again as we move from pseudonymous to autonomous the disruption will happen at ever-more-local levels. As this job is displaced by automation, there will be larger and larger numbers of workers that go from middle-income to greatly reduced or no income over the course of the next decade. These workers disproportionately live in rural areas of the country, and are the most vulnerable economically as there are fewer secondary labor options for them.

The people in rural areas often also have higher than average relocation burdens to overcome. Simply “moving to where the jobs are” isn’t really an option at all, for both emotional and practical reasons. In my areas of interest (KY, TN, the rural South) there is a huge emotional and psychological connection to the place and the community…getting out has a huge cost and those that do move to more economically vibrant areas are seen as deserters or traitors. More practically, there is a cost-of-living gap between the rural US and cities/suburbs that is a barrier for movement for many. When you sell your $50,000-$100,000 home and the land that your great-grandfather settled and was passed down to you, the move to any city is simply impossible financially. The math just doesn’t work to be able to reasonably move your family into a home even in the suburbs for that much, and trading the stability of a mortgage for renting an apartment when the entire reason you are moving is wage depression and loss…well, it just isn’t possible.

We have a situation where, over the course of the next decade, one of the most common middle-income jobs in the rural US could disappear, and it could mostly affect areas where the secondary job market for these workers is very constrained. The social services for everything to information about re-skilling to job application fulfillment will fall to the public library in their communities, as they are very often the only easily accessible and well-trusted governmental program in rural areas.

In addition to largely helping to deal with this crisis on an individual level, libraries will be stuck with ever-decreasing budgets in areas where said budgets are based on local taxes. The slow-motion economic collapse of rural america that has played out in the areas that I care about the most (the rural south, Eastern Kentucky, Middle Tennessee) will accelerate, and as these jobs collapse, families will be devastated and the tax base for library support will dwindle.

Libraries will be in a situation where they are asked, yet again, to do more for their local communities when the very communities that they are trying to save can’t possibly contribute to their budgets.

Since we love to argue with each other, when I pointed out on Twitter than I thought this round of economic upheaval due to automation was different, Tim Spalding of Librarything said:

 

Tim points out a common refrain from people who are skeptical of the ability of automation to “take jobs” from humans. He’s right to be skeptical, as every previous time this has happened, the overall economy has grown and individuals have re-skilled and found new jobs. Automation hasn’t, in the past, actually ended in a removal of jobs on average from a country, nor has it decreased average earnings.

The problem with that argument is that it generalizes from large-scale to small-scale. On average, the numbers for the US might still look ok…but the small towns, the places that are only still places at all because of their ready access to an interstate, those places and the people in them are going to have a very rough time of it. There are more jobs in the energy sector than ever before, but that doesn’t help the coal miners in Appalachia.

This highly localized effect will disproportionately affect the rural parts of the US, and thus will also disproportionately affect the libraries in those areas….libraries that are often already vulnerable to small changes in budget. My concern is that as this change begins, we will see a sort of wave of challenges: first the trickle of job loss, which begins to put pressure on local economies, and as the trickle becomes a swell and then a wave the combination of decreasing wages and localized economic depression will increase the movement out of rural areas. This will further depress the tax base, and rural library systems will see an ongoing downwards slope of budget.

There is an admitted problem of what the timeline looks like for this entire process. The automation of trucking is likely to begin affecting local economies in the next 5-10 years, but the rest of my prediction (the increased exodus of youth from rural areas, the mobility of those that can move quickly as opposed to the generational resettling that this movement begets) will take perhaps decades to fully unfold.

Is it possible that there will be a counter-balancing effect of some type that maintains the economy of these areas? Some form of job replacement that offsets, even partially, the jobs lost to autonomous trucks? For the country as a whole, of course there will be. There are going to be yet-unimagined new opportunities. As depressing as this possible-future is for rural America, I am overall a technological utopianist. I think that big-picture, we are moving in positive directions. If nothing else, I would absolutely be willing to trade localized economic disruption for the massive savings of human life that we will see as humans are replaced as drivers.

But the places that I love are going to be hurt. And even when I know that the good outweighs the bad, the bad is still bad.

How can libraries make a difference? Simply being aware of this possible future is the first step, and watching for leading indicators in their communities. Strategically, getting in front of the job loss wave by preparing for re-skilling and educational opportunities, making connections with other community resources in those arenas as well as other governmental offices that will be needed could be a way of preparing to be of the most use to the community. Rural libraries should have a relationship with their nearest community colleges or other formalized higher education options and should have strategies in place that help people move into formalized training or other economic recovery options.


In the next installment of Disaster Scenarios, I hope to take a look at AI/Machine Learning and see if there’s a similar story to tell about the way it is going to change not only how people interact with information, but how they are able to interact with information and the risks therein. I think information professionals might be in for some real weirdness in the next decade.

 

Blockchain & Intellectual Property @ Internet Librarian 2016

Below are the slides from my presentation given at Internet Librarian 2016 concerning the blockchain and how it may change our perceptions about intellectual property. The blockchain provides for something unique in the history of our digital world, that of provable digital scarcity. The fact that we can have scarce digital objects for which ownership is publicly provable is a very odd concept, and is contrary to the last 20 years of thinking about digital objects. That concept, along with the peculiarities of data storage on the blockchain, should interest information professionals for its potential.

Alongside the general interest, blockchain driven tech stands to change the way the Internet and Web are structured and move power away from the center and towards the edges and the users of the systems. I’ve written about why this should be interesting to libraries, and I continue to believe that the next 5 years will see a slow motion movement towards these technologies.

Video of Keynote from Colombia

Here is the keynote I delivered last month in Cali, Colombia (link to original post with slides and more). The topic is trends and the future of technology, with a focus on how that future should concern libraries. This is the first time I’ve done a dual-language presentation…my wonderful wife gave me the assist on the slideshow, and the conference provided real-time English-to-Spanish translation over radio for participants, and Spanish-to-English for me where necessary. It was a fascinating and wonderful experience, although exhausting.

There is a tiny bit of technical difficulty in the middle of the thing…had to do some fast editing just before giving the talk due to my laptop audio getting fried by a bad cable (Protip: don’t plug an electrically live cable into your computer’s minijack). Please excuse a bit of fumbling on my part. Otherwise, I hope this is useful!

Libraries, 3D Printer management, and Octoprint

Way back in 2014 I wrote a Library Technology Report  called 3D Printers for Libraries, one of the first long form works that set out to explain 3D printing to librarians. It is licensed under a CC BY-NC license, and 2 years seems like plenty of time for me to avoid linking to a copy here on the blog, so if you’re interested, here’s a PDF copy of it for you.

Since then, the market for 3D printers has exploded, but there have emerged a few new leaders that weren’t as well established when I wrote the LTR. Since that report was released, my favorite printers and the ones that I recommend for libraries are the Lulzbot Mini and Lulzbot Taz 6…they are spectacular FDM printers, capable and easy to use. Even better, they are certified Open Hardware and use Open Source software top to bottom, which means that they are easily repaired and have a myriad of options for printer management, slicing, and control.

One of those options is something that I’ve not seen recommended for libraries, but that I feel like they and others could get a huge amount of mileage from. Octoprint is an open source control program for 3D printers that runs on a variety of hardware (there are install instructions for Windows, OS X, and Linux) but by far the most interesting and useful method for using it is via the OctoPi project that uses a Raspberry Pi as a host for the Octoprint system and all its requirements. You can download pre-built images for a Raspberry Pi, flash an SD card, boot up the Pi, and have a robust and flexible management system for your 3D printer ready to go.
Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 11.23.48 PMWhat does Octoprint do? For compatible printers (which includes nearly any that use the industry standard gcode instructions to print), Octoprint can control every aspect of the printer, including:

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 11.23.36 PM

  • Print queuing
  • Slicing
  • Physical control (movement of printhead, temperature, etc)
  • Gcode previewing, including printhead movement
  • Start, stop, and pause prints
  • Full plugin architecture that allows for everything from cost estimation and filament usage, printer usage statistics, and integration with a variety of messaging apps (get Slack notifications when a print is completed, for example)
  • Native support for video streaming via an attached webcam, including the ability to use the same camera for time lapses of your prints

3D printing MtF Case Wood

The best part? All of the above take place in a web browser. No client software needed, no keeping up with installs of Cura or other printer-specific software. Suddenly you can start a print or monitor your printer from anywhere on your network, or from anywhere in the world if you forward the appropriate port externally. I recently uploaded and started a new print on the printer in my basement while in a different hemisphere…

You can preset the available plastic types and quality settings through printing profiles for slicing of uploaded STL files. For my part, since my primary printer is a Lulzbot Mini, I just downloaded the profiles directly from the manufacturer and uploaded them to Octoprint, and can now upload any STL that I find directly to my printer, from anywhere I am in the world.

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For most libraries, just the ease of statistics and usage tracking would be enough to make Octoprint useful enough to try out.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.46.06 PM Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.46.22 PM

But add in the ability to control your printer(s) from any computer, to video stream the printing and watch for errors remotely, to be alerted when a print completes…it’s just a much more robust way of managing your 3D printing. And for the cost of a Raspberry Pi and maybe an hour of setup, you can be up and running.

This isn’t to say that Octoprint solves all 3D printing problems. It’s largest shortcoming in my opinion is its lack of plating tools…if you have an STL, you are stuck with just printing that single STL with Octoprint. If you need to plate several STL files together on a single print plate, you would have to do that in Cura or other program (you could even do it in Tinkercad if you wanted to stay in-browser I suppose) and then either save the collection as an STL or go ahead and slice it to gcode and upload the gcode directly to Octoprint. It is technically possible for a single install and Raspberry Pi to control more than one 3D printer, but it isn’t built in to the system and is something I’d only recommend to technical users. RPi’s aren’t expensive, and having one per printer isn’t the end of the world, but hopefully over time the OctoPi setup will evolve to handle multiple printers natively.

I’ve been using the latest version of Octoprint for months now, and it’s simplified so much of my work with my 3D printer. If you are responsible for running the makerspace or 3d printer service in your library, check out Octoprint. I’m guessing it will make your life easier.

I’m considering putting together a workshop on how to install and use Octoprint with your 3D printer…would anyone be interested in such a training? If so, leave me a comment and let me know, I’ll see if I can find a venue and do it sometime this winter.

Tendencias y futuros en bibliotecas

UPDATE: here’s a link to a second post that includes video!

This morning I had the great honor of delivering the opening keynote for Los Profesionales en Gestión de la Información y la Documentación de América Latina and their 3rd Congreso International GID. In beautiful Cali, Colombia, a few hundred librarians and information professionals gathered from all across Latin America to talk about the future of libraries.

Here are the slides and a video of my slides, and there will be a video (I am promised) of the presentation later. I presented for the first time with a live translator, which was an amazing experience and I am in awe of her ability to do that so well. I took questions and answered via the same translator, and overall I think it went very well. Aside from a few technical difficulties, I’m very happy with the way this came together.

Sexism, meeting dynamics, attention analysis: who talks during meetings

Yesterday, Andromeda Yelton posted this excellent blog entry, Be Bold, Be Humble: Wikipedia, libraries, and who spoke. It’s about the well-known social sexism dynamic of meetings, where in a meeting that has both women and men, men speak more frequently, use fewer self-undercutting remarks (“I’m not sure….” or “Just…” or “Well, maybe…”), and interrupt others speech at a much higher rate than women in the same meeting.

The post got passed around the social nets (as it should, it’s wonderfully written and you should go read it now) and one of the results was this great exchange:

 

Which prompted me to reply:

I couldn’t get the idea out of my head, which basically means that it needs to show up here on the blog. I thought all night about how to architect something like that in hardware/software as a stand alone unit. There is always Are Men Talking Too Much?, which Andromeda linked to in her essay, but it has the downside of requiring someone to manually press the buttons in order to track the meeting.

I’ve been basically obsessing over attention metrics for the last couple of years as a part of bringing Measure the Future to life. The entire point of Measure the Future is to collect and analyze information about the environment that is currently difficult to capture…movement of patrons in space. The concept of capturing and analyzing speakers during a meeting isn’t far off, just with audio instead of video signal. How could we built a thing that would sit on a table in a meeting, listen and count men’s vs women’s speaking, including interruptions, and track and graph/visualize the meeting for analysis?

Here’s how I’d architect such a thing, if I were going to build it. Which I’m not right now, because Measure the Future is eating every second that I have, but…if I were to start tinkering on this after MtF gives me some breathing room, here’s how I might go about it.

We are at the point in the progress of Moore’s Law that even the cheapest possible microcomputer can handle audio analysis without much difficulty. The Raspberry Pi 3 is my latest object of obsession…the built-in wifi and BTLE changes the game when it comes to hardware implementations of tools. It’s fast, easy to work with, runs a variety of linux installs, and can support both GPIO or USB sensors. After that, it would just be selecting a good omnidirectional microphone to ensure even coverage of vocal capture.

I’d start with that for hardware, and then take a look at the variety of open source audio analysis tools out there. There’s a ton of open source code that’s available for speech recognition, because audio interfaces are the new hotness, but that’s actually overcomplicated for what we would need.

What we would want is something more akin to voice analysis software rather than recognition…we don’t care what words are being said, specifically, we just care about recognizing male vs female voices. This is difficult and has many complicating factors…it would be nearly impossible to get to 100% success rate in identification, as the complicating factors are many (multiple voices, echo in meeting rooms, etc). But there is work being done in this area: the voice-gender project on Github has a pre-trained software that appears to be exactly the sort of thing we’d need. Some good discussion about difficulty and strategies here as well.

If we weren’t concerned about absolute measures and instead were comfortable with generalized averages and rounding errors, we could probably get away with this suggestion, which involves fairly simply frequency averaging. These suggestions are from a few years ago, which means that the hardware power available to throw at the problem is 8x or better what it was at that point.

And if we have network connectivity, we could even harness the power of machine learning at scale and push audio to something like the Microsoft Speaker Recognition API, which has the ability to do much of what we’d ask. Even Google’s TensorFlow and Parsey McParseface might be tools to look at for this.

Given the state of cloud architectures, it may even be possible to build our gender meeting speech analysis engine entirely web-based, using Chrome as the user interface. The browser can do streaming audio to the cloud, where it would be analyzed and then returned for visualization. I have a particular bias towards instantiating things in hardware that can be used without connectivity, but in this case, going purely cloud architecture might be equally useful.

Besides gender, the other aspect that I had considered analyzing was interruptions, which I think could be roughly modeled by analyzing overlap of voices and ordering of speech actors. You could mark an “interruption event” by the lack of time between speakers, or actual overlap of voices, and you could determine the actor/interrupter by ordering of voices.

Once you have your audio analysis, visualizing it on the web would be straightforward. There are javascript libraries that do great things with charts like Chart.js or Canvas, or if working in the cloud you could use Google Chart Tools.

If any enterprising developer wants to work on something like this, I’d love to help manage the project. I think it could be a fun hackathon project, especially if going the cloud route. All it needs is a great name, which I’m not clever enough to think of right now. Taking suggestions over on Twitter @griffey.

This is What Great Customer Service Looks Like

I normally don’t post things like this here on the blog, but this was too good a story to pass up. Here’s what great customer service looks like.

Over a year ago, I was upgrading my luggage and travel kit, knowing that I was going to be doing a lot of it 2015-2016. I have a soft spot for really good bags, and one of the companies that I had been watching and reading reviews of was Tom Bihn. Years and years ago I had bought one of their Ristretto bags that I used for traveling with my iPad, and it had become one of my favorite things to carry. But I’d resisted buying more from them…I had gotten the Ristretto during a big sale, and the regular prices were a bit much for me to swallow.

But now that I was going to be traveling professionally, I wanted something that was going to be the perfect 3-5 day carry on. I went back to looking at Tom Bihn and decided to pull the trigger on a few accessories that would make packing easier. I bought a few of their Stuff Sacks to make wrangling cables and such easier, and decided to go with one of the Spiff Kits as a toiletry bag.

Bear with me. We’re getting to the customer service bit. 

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 8.25.46 PMThe one I bought has this little shelf at the bottom when you unfold it that is covered in the loop side of velcro, and small screw-top bottles that fit on the shelf came with hook-sided stickers that you affixed to the bottom of them. They stuck to the shelf and were thus able to be used for hair gel or medicine or whatever you needed. Clever and useful.

Except that…the stickers didn’t really stick. They didn’t adhere to the bottles very well, so over the course of using the Kit  I found that the bottles, one by one, lost their velcro. And while I kept using the Kit for all my travel, I found other solutions to using the bottles, and they went in a drawer at home.

Here’s the customer service bit.

Last week, I got an email from Tom Bihn telling me that they had gotten some customer service feedback that the velcro didn’t really work they way they wanted. And they had found a better solution, new stickers that really did work and that they had tested, and since I had ordered a Spiff Kit from them literally over a year ago, they were going to just send me the fix, free of charge and without me asking for it. The email thanked me for my business with them, and had a tracking number for me to use.

And then, sure enough, a few days later an envelope showed up, and it had not only the velcro button stickers for the bottles, but one of their Mini Organizer Pouches as a “sorry we messed up” present.

To review: I bought a thing I was perfectly happy with, and worked well. It didn’t work exactly like the manufacturer wanted, but the issue with it wasn’t one that bothered me. They were unhappy enough with the fact that it didn’t do what they wanted that they sent me a fix, without me even having to ask for it, as well as a token of their appreciation for being a customer.

That is amazing customer service. Making things right, not because they were asked or because they had to, but because they wanted their product to do what they expected of it.

Consider this a hearty endorsement of Tom Bihn. If you’re looking for a laptop bag, new luggage, or just a way to keep your knitting organized, they have you covered.

Fall 2016 Speaking & Travel

After spending much of 2015-2016 spread between home here in Sewanee and my residency as a Fellow at Harvard, this summer has been a much-needed break from work travel. That break is just about over, however, and I’ll be doing a few trips in the Fall that I thought might be of interest to some. If you’re going to be around at any of these, please say hello!

If you are someone who is currently looking for a speaker for an event or conference in 2017, now would be the time to take a look and see if I might be a good fit for your needs. I love speaking to groups about the future of libraries and information, innovation and how your organization can become more flexible and responsive, privacy and information security, and a lots of other topics. Please feel free to contact me and let’s see if I’m a good fit for your group.

August 2016

The most exciting trip this Fall is undoubtedly going to be doing the Opening Keynote at the 3rd International Congress for Information Management (Congreso International GID) in Cali, Colombia. It’s a rare opportunity to meet and learn from international librarians from all over Latin America, and I’m so very excited that I have the opportunity to work with Los Profesionales en Gestión de la Información y la Documentación de América Latina to make it happen.

September 2016

I’ll be traveling a lot in September for Measure the Future, working to make sure that our first three installations are going well and answering the questions that people want answered. And I can’t say much more than that until I get to that point, but keep your fingers crossed for us.

October 2016

For the first time in a few years, I’m attending Internet Librarian! It’s the 25th anniversary of the conference, and early in my career it was really important to me. IL helped me in so many ways, from getting early presentations under my belt to meeting people that would turn out to be lifelong friends and vital colleagues and collaborators. I’m doing two different presentations there: one on Blockchain and what it might mean for digital information, and the other on Measure the Future and what room-use analytics can do to improve your services to your patrons.

November & December 2016

If everything goes according to plan, these will be the months where Measure the Future is being evaluated and polished for launch at ALA Midwinter 2017, because oddly I don’t have any speaking engagements for these months yet. If you’d like to talk to me about a workshop or presentation for your library or library system, get in touch! I’d love to work with you.

LibraryBox mentioned on TWiT’s Triangulation

My friend Nathan Freitas was a guest on TWiT‘s Triangulation this week, and was kind enough to give a little mention to both myself and The LibraryBox Project in his intro of The Berkman Klein Center at Harvard. To be mentioned in the same breath as his Guardian Project and Amanda Palmer (not to mention Zittrain and Benkler and Tufekci and the rest) is quite an honor. Thanks, Nathan!

I’ve queued the video below to the beginning of his discussion of Berkman Klein, but obviously the entire discussion is worth watching.

Anniversaries and New Roles

This morning I woke to a few “remember the day” emails that I thought were worth marking here on the blog for future reference. The first was that it was almost exactly 2 years ago that I officially left my position at UT-Chattanooga, walked away from an associate professorship and tenure, and went out on my own to try to start an independent business. So far, I’ve been very lucky and able to continue in this self-employed mode, although the downside is that it means I’m always looking for a job. 🙂 If you have a consulting need, workshop or training need, or are organizing a conference and want a great keynote….feel free to contact me. I’d love to work with you.

The second is that one year ago I became a Fellow at the Berkman Center, and spent the academic year 2015-2016 mostly living in Cambridge and enjoying the intellectual fruits of Harvard and MIT. I cannot speak highly enough of the amazing group that I was a part of…I learned so much from everyone there, and they are the most caring, careful, and thoughtful group of academics and scholars that I’ve ever been affiliated with.

And now, today, I can say that I am overwhelmingly pleased to be included in the 2016-2017 Berkman Klein community as an Affiliate. This means I get to continue my association with this amazing, wonderful community of learning…although from a distance, as I’ll not be in residence in Cambridge. I am going to be visiting as much as I can manage, though, because I have to get my 23 Everett Street fix occasionally. I’m also really pleased to be in the “transitional” class, the last to be Berkman Fellows and the first to be Berkman Klein, and to see how the Center evolves under the new nom de guerre .

To those in the incoming class at Berkman Klein: buckle up, you’re in for an amazing trip. I hope to meet all of you in September at the opening of the Center for the year.

And to everyone in the library community: I’ve got big things brewing this year. This Fall will see (finally) the launch of Measure the Future, and while I still can’t share all of my news about the project….it’s gonna be big. I’ll be doing some announcements about that over the next couple of months, including information about how your library can get involved. Soon!