Category Archives: Gadgets


What is LibraryBox? It’s my newest hack, a hardware and software project that takes the “pirate” out of PirateBox to produce a tiny, battery-powered, linux-based, anonymous file server capable of serving arbitrary types of digital files to anyone with a wifi-enabled device.

But, you may ask, what is it for? It’s for any situation where you need to distribue digital files but don’t have or don’t want Internet access. LibraryBox is based on a fork of the PirateBox project, using the TP-Link MR-3020 router, an 802.11n router that is capable of running on a USB 5 volt power source. This means that for about $40 and some time, you can have a file server that fits in your pocket. I loaded my demo unit with the top 100 Public Domain ebooks from Feedbooks and Project Gutenberg, and hooked it up to an iPad battery pack that will run it for 16 hours.

This means I can be a walking digital library, giving people access to eBooks anywhere I happen to have the LibraryBox. These could be used in a million different ways, from bringing eBooks, Audio, even movies to areas with digital devices but without Internet access to just being a personal file server for conference slides or other resources.

More information, including pictures and such, are all up on the LibraryBox website. The code is all licensed under the GPL and is available on Github. Several people have looked at the project, and I’m hoping that others will see the value and help me make it better. There’s lots of improvements possible, and I (and hopefully many others) will be working on making the process easier and better for users.

Improv Electronics Boogie Board – CES 2012

Here’s a product that intrigued me, but I can’t really nail down why. It’s not immediately apparent what sort of problem this solves. But it was interesting enough that I’d love to see if anyone out there sees a use for libraries. I’m going to see how it works for writing practice with my daughter, so there could be an instructional use for toddlers…

Color eInk demonstration from CES 2012

Here’s a look at color eInk, the next generation of the technology currently found in just about every eReader on the market. This particular screen (the eInk Triton display) is good for just over 4000 colors, and certainly isn’t the fastest page-turn we’ve seen…but the display is very, very pretty. Great contrast, sharp lines, and the color really adds a lot to the feel of the thing. Check it out:

InFocus Mondopad from CES 2012

Some more video from CES 2012, this time a new presentation/smartboard from InFocus with some interesting features, the best of which didn’t make the video. I was told after I stopped filming that the software that drives it can use the Windows web tools/IIS to make the display publicly available to the web…so with just an IP address, you could share everything that was happening on the board to the world. That’s pretty cool!

CES 2012

On Sunday, I leave for CES 2012 in Las Vegas and will be reporting from the show as I go. My current plan is to use a combination of Ustream and YouTube for video content, SoundCloud for audio-only content, and everything important will end up here on my blog. If you want to try and catch any live broadcasts, I’m going to have the channel embedded right here for you to watch, and if you follow me on Twitter you’ll get a message the second I go live with anything.

What am I likely to see at CES that would be interesting to libraries? I would argue that nearly everything I see should be interesting at some level, but I’m betting on a lot of Android and Windows tablets (hopefully a Windows 8 tablet will make an appearance), a lot of cheap video cameras, and ridiculously nice 4K displays among the thousands and thousands of gadgets on the show floor. I’m looking forward to meeting with Barnes & Noble as well as hopefully getting a chance to talk with the Makerbot guys, and I’m probably too excited about seeing the first demo of the OLPC XO 3.0 Tablet.

Lots, lots more once I hit Vegas. Stay tuned!

Ready, Aim…Fire!

Head over to the ALA TechSource blog to see my take on the new Amazon Kindle announcements. The new models announced yesterday, along with pricing, are:

There’s lots more at TechSource, but the pull-quote from the article is probably:

For libraries, however, with the exception of cheaper cost-per-device you want to provide…well, nothing really changes. Amazon is still providing books at the publisher’s set cost that are licensed in such a way that limits the ability of libraries to circulate them (the books, not the devices). The Kindle/Overdrive deal doesn’t change at all…you can just buy a Kindle to circ to patrons for $40 less than you could yesterday. But the technological hurdles for our patrons on the user-experience front as well as the backend limitations of the DRM provided files are still the same as ever.

Predictions for WWDC 2011 and iCloud

This coming Monday, June 6th, Apple will give their annual keynote at the World Wide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) 2011. This is traditionally the stage for announcements about software and operating systems…things that developers for the Apple platforms (iOS and OSX) are centrally concerned with.

This year, in an unprecedented move, Apple’s press release for the WWDC keynote includes details about what they will present, and it centers around three things: the next version of OSX (code-named Lion), iOS 5, and a brand new offering called iCloud. From the press release:

At the keynote, Apple will unveil its next generation software – Lion, the eighth major release of Mac OS® X; iOS 5, the next version of Apple’s advanced mobile operating system which powers the iPad®, iPhone® and iPod touch®; and iCloud®, Apple’s upcoming cloud services offering.

Practically nothing is known at this point about iCloud. There has been speculation that it could be everything from an enhanced media locker in the vein of Amazon Cloudplayer or Google Music Beta to something like enhanced syncing API’s for developers. Apple has been making deals of some type with the major record labels, which means that some form of music sync/streaming is likely, but details will make all the difference about whether it’s more compelling than the above services.

It’s no secret that Apple’s success with web-based services is almost the exact inverse of its success with hardware…nearly every web-based service that Apple has launched has sucked.  From iTools, to .mac, to MobileMe, in every case the promise has been much more impressive than the delivery. For each of the pieces that make up MobileMe, other online services provide the service better. Calendar syncing and eMail are both done better by Google, online storage and public web access is done better by Dropbox, and MobileMe gallery is outdone by YouTube and Flickr. Services that are uniquely Apple’s, like Find my iPhone, are well done, but even in this case it’s not universally good…for instance, Back to My Mac is only great when it works. Which is almost never.

I love nothing more than putting on my “make shit up” hat, so I thought I’d give prognostication a shot for what Apple is doing with iCloud. How can Apple move in the right direction with its online services? Here’s what I hope to see from iCloud:

First off, I expect that iCloud will be a suite of services in the same way that they have chosen to brand their iWork and iLife suites. iCloud will be analogous to these local services…the branding for all of Apple’s online offerings. I’m hoping that the reason that Apple is choosing to announce iCloud at the same time as Lion and iOS 5 is that they are all tied together. Or, rather, that iCloud becomes the glue that ties iOS and Lion together, merging a number of local services from iOS and OSX and allowing for seamless data transmission and interaction. Think Dropbox, but deeply integrated into the filesystem, allowing for documents to be edited on any platform, music to be played anywhere, whether mobile or desktop.

If they do this, and then further allow access to the service via API so that app developers can tap directly into your iCloud for file storage, Apple will seriously have changed the game. Not only would it solve syncing issues, but it could also theoretically be a solution for backup…all of your documents and settings for your desktop and mobile devices could be backed up as they are synced. Even better for things like games, iCloud could enable syncing of game states, so that you could play Angry Birds on your iPod Touch, then pick it up on an iPad and have the game pick up just where you left off.

One last prediction…if this is the route that Apple goes (and I hope that it is), one thing that I would love to see in iOS 5 is the addition of account management/multiple accounts on iOS devices. Syncing only works if it’s tied to an identity, and it’s very hard to manage identities on shared mobile devices without some form of account management. There’s no technical reason that iOS can’t support multiple accounts on a single device, and it would actually simplify some parts of the syncing issues for Apple.

We’ll find out everything on Monday…I’m looking forward to seeing if I’m right about any of it.