Category Archives: LibraryBox

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When online is offline: the case for hyperlocal webservers and networks

Attention Library (and Library-friendly or Library-adjacent) people!

If you’ll be in the Boston area on September 15th at Noon, I’ll be doing a talk as part of the Berkman Luncheon series at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University entitled “When online is offline: the case for hyperlocal webservers and networks.” I’ll be talking about LibraryBox (and other similar projects) and why I think they are interesting. The formal description is:

The LibraryBox Project (along with other emerging projects like PirateBox, occupy.here, IdeasBox, and others) is an attempt at bridging the divide in delivery of digital information in areas where there is a lack of communications infrastructure or where that infrastructure has been damaged or is overly monitored or controlled. As self-contained, non-connected portable servers, these devices can be used to circumvent governmental firewalls, distribute information in areas of political upheaval, reach the most remote areas to deliver healthcare information, and help recovery efforts after natural disasters. This presentation will be an overview of the LibraryBox project and its current state,  goals and development roadmap, and a discussion of possible next directions and needs.

If you want to attend in person, you can register at the Berkman site, the talk will be on the Harvard Law School campus, Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East B. If you aren’t in the area it will be webcast at that same link the day of, and archived for later viewing. But if you’re a library type, I’d love to see you there…would mean a lot to have some friendly faces in the audience.

Benevolent Access Points from DEFCON

Here’s a presentation by Kevin Carter from DEFCON 2015 about the Piratebox project, but almost everything he points out as a benefit is equally applicable to LibraryBox. I would argue that in a few ways, LibraryBox is even better…mainly in the ease of customization for your own uses. LibraryBox puts all of the files for the web interface on the USB drive, which makes customizing much more straightforward.

He definitely gets the variety of benefits this sort of device can bring, from routing around censorship to providing a secure place to communicate in politically charged areas. These issues are exactly what I’m going to be working on as a Fellow at the Berkman Center this upcoming year.

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Berkman Fellow

I am thrilled to be able to announce that I have been invited to be a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University for the 2015-2016 academic year. While there, I will be working to explore communities’ engagement with open, inexpensive hyperlocal digital networks, with special emphasis on bridging inequality of information access…for example, studying how LibraryBox and systems like it are used in areas with limited or no infrastructure. From my initial statement of research for Berkman:

My research plan would include communication with the creators and users of these networks initially through conversational inquiry, and then eventually through a formal survey instrument designed to analyze technical skills and reasons for use of these hyperlocal micronetworks….I believe that this research has the potential to be important as we move into the next 5-10 years of technological development. Moore’s and Koomey’s Laws will continue to drive hardware into ever-more-capable and cheaper packages. It will never be more expensive or more difficult to create these networks than it is right now in this moment; for every passing day, it gets less difficult and less expensive. There will be a point in the not-so-distant future where this sort of ad-hoc networking and hyperlocal server use will be trivial and potentially omnipresent. What changes will that create for the broader Internet? What happens when individuals can carry their own private piece of cyberspace with them anywhere they go?

I will be doing a partial residency in Cambridge during the Fellowship, for several months in the Fall and again in the Spring semester. Betsy and Eliza cannot do so with me, and I will be going back and forth every 2-3 weeks to spend time with them.

There are challenges ahead, the central one being that while the Berkman Center is a world-renown research center, they do not provide funding for Fellows. The residency requirement and travel combined with being self-employed is going to make for some very interesting financial times over the next year…if you are interested in bringing me to speak for your library group, now is a good time to ask. Or even better, if you are or know of a group that is interested in sponsoring this type of scholarship and open source/open hardware work, please do get in touch. I will be actively blogging while at Berkman, producing videos about my research, and I would be happy to talk with the right group about sponsorship of that work.

I am very excited about working with the other 2015-2016 Fellows. There are some terrific projects in the mix, and I cannot wait to have the chance to work with them. The list of faculty associates and affiliates, both new and returning, are a smorgasbord of talent. I am humbled to be included in their ranks, and I look forward to working with each and every one of them. I am equally excited about the potential for putting library concerns front and center during discussions, in being a bridge for the library world to the larger Berkman ecosystem.

I have lots to say about this opportunity, more than is appropriate for this post. I would be remiss if I didn’t say thank you to everyone who helped to bring me to the point in my career where this is possible, and of course thanks to my family, Betsy and Eliza, for sacrificing to make this work.

pinches self

Yep. I’m going to be a Fellow at Harvard.

OMFG.

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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.

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.

Marriott & other hotels petition to kill non-approved wifi devices

Wifi signal around here
Marriott hotels, along with the American Hotel & Lodging Association and Ryman Hospitality Properties have petitioned the FCC to allow them to kill non-approved wifi signals within their hotels and conference centers. This is of particular interest to me, not only because I’m a Tennessee resident and Ryman is a huge presence here in TN (they own the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, along with the Grand Ole Opry and the Ryman Auditorium). The main reason that this is of special interest to me is that their attempt to kill “rogue” wifi hotspots will also kill the ability to use a LibraryBox in the same manner.

If you would like to read their petition, the full text is available on the FCC’s website, along with the very long list of opposition comments. Major technology players are lining up to agree this is a terrible idea, from Google to Microsoft and even universities. For a really good summary of the filing and the issues behind it, take a look at Glenn Fleishman’s BoingBoing post.

This isn’t the first time that Marriott has tried something like this, but at least the last time they got smacked by the FCC.

Because of their continued attempts to limit persons abilities to use an unlicensed segment of public bandwidth (something that is clearly and unmistakably against the law of the US and, I would argue, firmly against the public good) I have filed an opposition filing on behalf of the LibraryBox Project. The text of my filing can be read here, and I will link to the appropriate FCC page as soon as it is approved. If you or your library, school, or other organization would like to file a comment in opposition to the attempted hijacking of a public good, you can go here and click “Submit a Filing in RM-11737“.

Photo by nicolasnova – http://flic.kr/p/4Exfo2

LibraryBox wins Excellence in Education at Chattanooga Startup Awards

CHA Startup Awards

Last night were the first annual Chattanooga Startup Awards, a part of Startup Week. About a week or so ago I got an email letting me know that LibraryBox was a finalist for an award, and could I please send them a logo and a song I’d like played if we won.

First: I got a theme song. That’s just cool.

Second: I assumed it was a formality that LibraryBox wouldn’t win. There are so many awesome companies and people doing stuff in Chattanooga that I was certain I’d go to the awards, talk to a few other nominees, and have a beer. The last thing I thought would happen was that LibraryBox would actually win one.

Color me surprised:

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LibraryBox won this:

Excellence in Education Award
This award may to go a person, teacher, parent, mentor or organization that has proven a commitment to educating and empowering the next generation of entrepreneurs.

I’m still befuddled at this given that among my competition were companies like Learning Blade, who are doing really interesting things with web-based learning.

I’m thrilled and humbled at winning any award for LibraryBox, and want to thank everyone that’s ever been involved in the project. There’s a lot more coming from LibraryBox in the near future…keep watching!

LibraryBox UI Translations Needed

For the last 6 months, I’ve been working on improving the LibraryBox user experience as a part of the Knight Foundation Prototype Grant that the project received. There were a number of improvements that were a part of the initial grant proposal, one of which was localization/internationalization of the interface. If you look at the map of LibraryBox locations…

View LibraryBox Locations in a larger map

…you can see that it’s a very popular project all around the world. While English may be my mother tongue, we really needed to work to make the interface available in other languages. As a result, in the upcoming v2.1 release, the LibraryBox interface will automagically change to the language your browser is set to use. If your computer and browser language is set to French, when you connect and use a LibraryBox running v2.1, the interface will be in French. Unfortunately, French is the only translation we have thus far.

But that’s where YOU come in. Do you speak another language? If so, we could use even a very rough translation from you in order to make LibraryBox as accessible as possible for people around the world. We’re talking about 350 words or so, total, 54 lines of text to potentially help people around the world. Help us!

 


 

How to Help!

  1. Download the English or French translation file(s)
  2. Open up the LibraryBox Languages spreadsheet, add your language to the list, and claim it!
  3. Translate the text into the appropriate language! Just the right-hand phrases, please…use the English/French files as a guide as to how to do it.
  4. Save your new language file as a text file
  5. Send the file, along with how you’d like to be credited on the website, to griffey at gmail.com
  6. Update the spreadsheet so that others know you’re done and that language is off the board.

 


 
That’s it! You’ve helped to make access to digital materials easier for people around the world.

No language is off base: if you can get us a translation in Klingon, we’ll take it. Because of course there’s an accepted ISO HTTP header code for Klingon (tlh). For the record there’s also one for Sindarin (sjn) and Quenya (qya). Get to it, geeks.

Seriously, thank you to anyone who decides to tackle a translation. I thank you, and the readers and students around the world thank you.

UPDATE: I was asked on Twitter if there was a deadline for translations, and while we will continue to take them as they come in, I would love to have as many as possible to be able to brag about at the upcoming Knight Foundation demo day. So let’s say first round deadline is Friday, September 12th. Get me any translation by then, and I’ll make sure it’s in the 2.1 beta build that I show off at Demo Day.

Directory Layout opinions needed

Ok, Internet. I have two options, both of which have their upside/downsides, and I need your feedback. I’m working on the new directory layout for LibraryBox, and need to break long names, especially those without spaces in them, because it does crazy things with the layout. Here’s an example of what the layout looks like without the hard-break behavior:

Photo Aug 27, 2 59 58 PM
Without Hard Break CSS

 

And here’s the same directory listing, WITH the hard-break CSS behavior in place:

 

Photo Aug 27, 3 00 20 PM
With hard break CSS

Better, right? Except then you get weird things like this:

 

Photo Aug 27, 2 59 50 PM
Text with spaces, no hard break CSS

 

 

Photo Aug 27, 2 59 18 PM
Text with spaces, with hard break CSS

 

Text that DOES have spaces, and would normally break across them, instead breaks at the arbitrary point where it hits the wall of the container.

So what’s your vote: With or Without the hard break CSS? The text in question will be all over the place, as it’s whatever filenames people use for the files they put on a LibraryBox…could literally be any text in the world. So I can’t predict…and it’s in CSS, so I don’t really have a way to detect spaces and do an if/then with it. Anyone have any ideas?