Category Archives: Personal

Monoprice Mini Delta 3D Printer

The world of low-price 3D printing has been upended by Monoprice over the last several months. They’ve launched a handful of very inexpensive but well-reviewed printers at price points that basically no other manufacturer can touch.

Their latest printer, the Monoprice Mini Delta was launched earlier this year on Indiegogo, and I just received one of them. It’s a very small delta style 3D printer that’s rated to handle ABS and PLA. It has a heated bed, and more importantly, an auto-leveling feature, even if the build volume is only 120mm x 120mm (Delta printers have circular beds, which makes the bed size a diameter rather than an X/Y plane measurement). It even has wifi built in, so that prints can be sent wirelessly.

Did I mention that the printer is rumored to cost only $149? Fully assembled, ready to go out of the box.  They haven’t publicly announced retail pricing yet, but it looks like they are aiming at a $149 as the price, which will make this an amazing deal.

Even $149 is still a fair amount of money for many people, but relative to other 3D printers it is an amazing entry-level price.  For that price, you don’t get the long-term reliability of something like a Lulzbot Mini…the Monoprice Mini Delta is all metal, but is clearly not as well-built as more expensive printers. The tech support alone is going to be far, far less competent that companies that specialize in 3D printing. It’s louder, it rattles a bit, the fit and finish isn’t perfect. But in my testing, the quality of the prints it is putting out for me is much higher than one might expect given the price point.

I’ve printed a couple of Benchys at different orientations, and they have all been well within my expectations for accuracy.

All in all, this is a heck of a printer for the price. The reports online are that Monoprice is having a few issues with first-round production errors…bad control boards mostly. Those are being fixed with new machines immediately, though, so it looks like they are handling the launch and initial support problems fairly well.

I’m not yet certain if I’d recommend the Monoprice Delta Mini to libraries, as I haven’t had time to put hours and hour of printing on the thing to test its reliability. Given the overall build quality, I’m betting that this printer will need a bit of attention to keep running smoothly, which is something that libraries often can’t take the time to do. For libraries, I still recommend going with proven workhorses like the Lulzbot Mini as an entry level printer, or the Taz 6 as a high-end production machine. Even though the Delta Mini is almost 1/10th of the price of the Lulzbot Mini, I’m not convinced it’ll last 10 times as long, or print reliably 10 times as often.

What I would do is recommend the Delta Mini to librarians who are interested in playing around with the technology without a huge investment. For $150, you can have your own 3D printer to play with sitting on your desk at home….one that takes up about as much space as a large houseplant. This is the perfect sort of printer for individuals that just want to play around with printing things for the house, or their kids.

It has definitely made me set up and take notice of what Monoprice is doing in this space. I expect we’ll keep hearing from them over the next year or so with bargain-basement prices on interesting hardware. I’ll keep my eyes out.

Measure the Future project goes Public Beta

Over on the Measure the Future project blog, I posted about going formally into public beta. I’m very proud of the work that’s been done to get the project to this point. I couldn’t have gotten this far without help from so many people, including especially the Alpha testers and the development team (Clinton Freeman, you’re a miracle worker). Here’s an excerpt from the longer post over on the MtF blog:

Measure the Future is also adding additional locations for installs with a new round of 4 Beta partner libraries. These additional locations (announcement soon on who those are) will give us even more feedback and will work with us to determine the best way to present this new type of library usage data. We will be answering the questions that our Beta partners want answered, so if you have questions you want our help with, please let us know. We have room for a couple more libraries in our Beta testing, and would love to work with you.

The big development goal for our Beta period is the move from local visualization of activity and attention in library spaces to a cloud-based portal that will allow for much richer visualizations. We are dedicated to making this move from local-to-cloud as privacy-focused and security-aware as possible, and so we will be taking great care in how we move forward.

Head over to read the full announcement, and visit Measure the Future to see all the code, instructions, and more that we released this weekend. There’s more to come, including a walk-though of a setup as soon as I can get some video and screen recordings together.

Personal International Infosec

This year I have a small number of international speaking engagements, and I just returned from the first of those in 2017…which means it was the first since the recent spat of increased DHS and Customs enforcement. It was also my first trip to a Muslim-majority country, and while not one on the magic list, it still made me consider my re-entry into the US and the possible attention therein. These things combined to make me far more attentive to and aware of my personal information security (infosec) than every before. This post will be an attempt to catalog the choices I made and the process I used, as well as details of what actual technological precautions I took prior to leaving and when actively crossing the border.

This trip was to the SLA Arabian Gulf Library Conference, held this year in Manama, Bahrain, where I was on a panel discussing future tech. This means flying internationally through a major city, which for me meant flights from Nashville to JFK to Doha International Airport in Qatar, then finally to Manama, Bahrain. The return was was the same, with the exception of flying back into the US via O’Hare in Chicago rather than JFK. This meant crossing into at least 2 foreign countries physically on each leg of the trip, although in Qatar I remained in the international section of the airport and didn’t go through customs and enter the country proper. Still, there were LOTS of checkpoints, which meant lots of potential checks of my luggage and technology.

Threat Model

What was my concern, and why was I thinking so hard about this prior to the trip? After all, I’m a law-abiding US citizen, and as the saying goes, if you’ve nothing to hide, why worry? First off, the “if you’ve nothing to hide” argument is dismissible, especially given the last 6 weeks of evidence of harassment and aggression at the US border. I am a citizen of the US, but I have also been very outspoken online regarding my feelings for the actions of the current administration. On top of that, information security isn’t just about the individual…it’s about everyone I’ve exchanged email with, texted, messaged on Facebook, sent a Twitter DM, and the like….the total extent of my communications and connections could, if dumped to DHS computers, theoretically harm someone that isn’t me, and that was not ok in my book. A primary goal was to prevent any data about my communications or contacts from being obtained by DHS.

DHS and Border Control has very, very broad powers when it comes to searching electronic devices at the border. I was not certain of the power granted to Border Agents in Qatar and Bahrain, but my working assumption was they had at least the powers that the US Agents did. I also assumed that the US agents would probably have better technological tools for intrusion, so if I could protect my data against that threat, I was safe for the other locations as well.

A secondary goal in my particular model was to attempt to limit the possibility for delay in my travels. If I could comply with requests up to a certain point without breaking my primary goal of data protection, that would likely result in less delay. When considering these levels of access, I thought about questions like: could I power on my devices without any data leakage? Could I unlock my devices if requested and allow the Agent to handle my phone, for instance, without risking data leakage? Could I answer questions about my device and the apps on it (or other apps in question, for instance social media accounts such as Facebook or Twitter) honestly without risking data leakage?

With all of that in mind, here’s how I secured my technology for border crossing. Your mileage may vary, as your threat model may be very different, and the manner in which you choose to answer the various questions above may be different. If everything had gone south and my devices were impounded, I’d be writing a very different post (and contacting the EFF). But for this particular trip, this is my story.

What to Take

First off, I decided quickly that I wasn’t going to travel with my MacBook Pro. I was lucky enough that I didn’t need it for this trip, because there wasn’t any work that I would be doing on the road that necessitated a general purpose computer. I had work to do, but it all involved writing…some email, some writing text for a project, some viewing of spreadsheets and analysis of them. Simple and straightforward things that luckily could easily be done with a tablet and a decent keyboard. I already had an iPad with the Apple keyboard case, which made for an easily-carried and totally capable computing device for the trip. I could load some movies and music on it, fire up a text editor, answer email, and generally communicate without issue. It’s also iOS based, which makes it enormously more secure than Mac OS from first principles.

Since both my main computing device and my phone ran the same OS, I was able to also double-up any planning and efforts in security, as any decision I made could be equally applied to both devices. This turned out to be very, very convenient, and saved me time and effort.

The first thing that I did was backup the both the iPad and iPhone to a local computer here at my house (not iCloud) and ensure that those backups were successful. I stored those backups on my home network to ensure their safety…if anything went wrong later, these would be my “clean” images that I could revert to upon returning home. Then I used Apple Configurator 2 to “pair lock” my devices to my laptop, which would remain at home.

Pair Locking

This process was best described back in 2014 by security researcher Jonathan Zdziarski. While his instructions are fairly out of date, the general idea is still there and still works in iOS 10 and Apple Configurator 2. Basically, pair-locking an iOS device is a method by which the device is flashed with a cryptographic security certificate that prevents it from allowing a connection to any computer that doesn’t have the other half of the cryptographic pair on it. This means that once locked to my laptop (which, again, wasn’t in my possession and was still at my home), my iPhone and iPad would simply refuse to connect to any other computer in the world…whether that was someone that stole it from me and and attempted to reflash it using iTunes on their computer, or whether that is a diagnostic device being used by law enforcement.

This process is designed with the concept of using it for enterprise installation of iOS devices that need high security procedures to prevent employees from being able to connect their home computer to their work phone and retrieve any information. But it works very well for the purposes of preventing any possible attacker from accessing the phone’s memory directly through it’s lightning port. This processes ensures that even if the phone is unlocked and taken from my possession, DHS or other attacker cannot dump the memory directly or examine it using typical forensic information gathering devices.

Password Manager

Once both devices were pair-locked, I was left with two freshly installed iOS devices that I needed to reload with apps and content that would be useful for me. After loading a set of games and apps that would allow me to pass the time and still get some work done, as well as media I might want to consume on the road, I loaded my password manager (I use and am very happy with 1Password) and created a very, very long and complicated vault password that there was no possibility I could remember. I recorded that password on paper (left at home in a fireproof safe) and gave it to a trusted person that had instructions not to give the password to me until I had cleared the border and only over a secured channel.

I then changed the 1Password vault password to be that password plus a phrase that I knew and could remember (a sort of salt). 1Password was set up to allow me to login with TouchID, so I could still operate normally (logging into services and such) until such a time as that TouchID credential was revoked. Once revoked, I would be completely locked out of my passwords, with no ability to access them, until through a pre-arranged time and secure channel I got the vault password from either of the mentioned trusted sources. Those trusted sources, meanwhile, couldn’t access my password vault either, since the salt was resident only in my head.

It may be obvious, but I also ensured that everything in my life that was accessed with a password had a very strong one that was held by 1Password, and that I didn’t know and couldn’t memorize even if I tried. My bank, social media, dropbox…everything that could get a password, had a very, very secure one. Any service that supported 2-factor authentication had said 2 factor turned on, with the second factor set to an authentication app that supports a PIN (or, in the case of Very Important Accounts, a physical Yubikey that was left in TN as well). This is security 101, and not directly related to my border crossing…but if you don’t have the basics covered, nothing else really matters.

Sanitization

I made sure that iOS had most iCloud sync services off….no contact syncing, no calendar syncing, really the only thing I left syncing was my photo gallery. I did not install any social media apps (no Facebook app, no Twitter app, etc) and only logged in and out on the websites in question. The browser on both devices was set to not remember passwords, and I clear cache and history regularly when traveling. As far as I could, I eliminated anything that stored conversations or messages between myself and others…no Facebook Messenger app, etc. I deleted my email app, and didn’t enter my account information for email into the standard iOS mail app.

This was, keep in mind, just for the transit period. Once in country and across borders, I could use a VPN to connect to the ‘net and download any apps needed, log into them after retrieving the password from one of the trusted sources, and effectively use both devices normally (with basic security measures in place all the time, of course).

Crossing Borders

At this point, I had a device that couldn’t be memory dumped, that had very little personal information on it, and even less information about my contacts on it. It mostly acted normally for me, because 1Password handled all of my logins and I used TouchID during daily usage…right up until I needed to cross a border. Before I did so, I deleted my TouchID credentials via Settings (by deleting the fingerprint credential), and powered-cycled my phone. Those two actions did several things all at once:

The first was that it prevented me from being able to know or retrieve any passwords for anything in my life. That’s a pretty scary situation, but I knew it was fixable in the future (this wasn’t a permanent state). It also meant that if I were asked to unlock my phone, I could do so pretty much without anything of interest being capable of access. Without the ability to dump the phone forensically, officers could ask me for passwords for accounts and I could truthfully say that I had no way of telling them, because the password manager knew them all and I didn’t. And I couldn’t give them the password vault login because I literally didn’t know it.

The idea with all of this was to create a boundary of information access beyond which, if DHS wanted to try and access, they would need to impound the phone and potentially subpoena the information from me with a warrant. My guess (which turned out to be correct) was that they would ask to have it powered on, and maybe they would ask to see it unlocked, but that would be it. If they pried further, well…I was prepared to tell them truthfully that I didn’t know, that I couldn’t know. And I would call a lawyer if detained, and proceed from there.

The worst case scenario for me was minimal delay and discomfort. I am enormously privileged in my position to be able to think about this sort of passive resistance without actual fear for bodily harm or other forms of retribution. For me, the likely worst case, even if things had escalated to asking for social media passwords, would have been the confiscation of my devices and my being detained for a time. This is assuredly not the worst case for many, and it is extraordinarily important that each person judge their own risks when deciding on security practices.

For some, it is far better to simply not carry anything. Or to carry a completely blank device. Or purchase an inexpensive device when you arrive in the country of your destination. For me, I had the ability to prepare and be ready for resistance if needed. Your mileage may, and should, vary.

Conclusion

The results of all this thought and effort? Nothing at all. Not a single bit of attention was paid to me at the various border crossings, by either US or foreign agents. On the leg of my flight leaving Qatar, I went through no fewer than 4 security checkpoints from the time I landed until getting onto the plane taking me to O’Hare, and at each one there was a baggage scanner and metal detector, agents pulling people out of line for additional screening, and the like. When I finally got to my gate, it had its own private security apparatus,  again with metal detector and baggage X-ray. At this security checkpoint, I was randomly selected for additional screening, but the agent in question (a Qatar security agent) was incredibly professional, thorough, and neither invasive nor abusive. I got a pat down (much less severe than those I’ve been given at US airports), and they asked to look inside my carryon…they even asked me to power on my iPhone and iPad. But they didn’t ask to unlock them, and they didn’t ask for passwords of any type.

When entering into the US at O’Hare, the plane was greeted by DHS agents at the gate, who asked to check passports upon exiting the plane. The agent I was greeted by barely had time to glance at my US Passport before waving me through…again, the privilege of my appearance and nationality was evidenced by the fact that several of my fellow passengers were not waved through so easily. The last thing I heard as I walked up the jetway towards Customs was a DHS Agent saying to the robed gentleman behind me “So you don’t speak very much English, huh….”

The current state of our country cannot stand. We are a nation of immigrants many peoples1, and a nation that believes in the privacy of our affairs and effects. This concern I had for my own and my friends’ information shouldn’t have been necessary. We should be able to be secure in our possessions, even and especially when those possessions are information about ourselves and our relationships to others. I do not want to be in a position where I have to threat model crossing the border of my own country. And yet, here we are.

I’d love any thoughts about the process described above, especially from security types or lawyers. Any holes or issues, any thoughts about what was useless, anything at all would be great to hear. I hope, as I so often hope these days, that all of this information never becomes applicable to you and that you never need to use it. But if you do, I hope this helped in some way.

I was called out on Twitter for my use of “immigrant” as an inclusive term for people in the US, when, of course, many US citizens ancestry is far more complicated and difficult than “they chose to come here”. It was written in haste and while it works for the emotion I was attempting to convey, it definitely undercuts the violent and difficult history of many people in the US. I’ve edited the text to reflect the meaning more clearly and left the original to indicate my change.

Concerns & Travels

It has been quite a couple of months since my last post, and I suppose the best I can say right now is that my fears that were outlined in Stand, Fight, Resist have only amplified. Fascism is no longer a theoretical threat, it is real and it is working systematically to tear down the checks and balances of our republic, from an open and free press to judicial oversight of legislative and executive overreach. In the midst of all of this, I have never been prouder to be a librarian, to watch the profession react (sometimes poorly, but react all the same) to these political times. I’ve been doing what I can as a citizen to communicate to my elected representatives how important their choices are, and what they might mean for our collective future. I’m also looking for opportunities to write and present on privacy and information security for libraries and librarians, trying to help where my particular set of knowledge and skills may.

As a librarian and technologist, I’m doing several thing over the next few months that I wanted to mention here…if you are attending any of these events, please let me know!

February 24-26th – MisInfoCon, Cambridge, MA – http://www.misinfocon.com

I’m incredibly excited to be a part of this event, which is being hosted by the MIT Media Lab and the Neiman Foundation for Journalism. From their website:

MisinfoCon is a community of people focused on the challenge of misinformation and what can be done to address it. The gathering seeks to strengthen the trustworthiness of information across the entire news ecosystem: journalism, platform, community, verification, fact checking and reader experience.

Bringing together participants from different backgrounds to lead discussions and develop and test product prototypes, our goal is to connect leaders and develop actionable steps on how the various sectors can work together.

This is obviously somewhere where I think librarians have enormous knowledge and potential to make a difference. I often find that, unfortunately, journalists and policy makers don’t think about librarians in this capacity, but I’ll be there flying the librarian flag high. I hope others are there to help me in that quest.

March 5-10th – Special Libraries Association, Arabian Gulf Chapter Conference, Manama, Bahrain
http://slaagc.com/

I am very excited about the opportunity to meet and speak with librarians from the Middle East, as it is a part of the world where I have very little personal knowledge of their challenges and opportunities. At the same time, the last couple of weeks have made me extremely cautious of international travel…especially to a Muslim-majority country. Not because I am concerned about my safety there, or that I have worries about Islam, but because of the recent actions of my own country relating to re-entry into the United States. Reports of highly-improper questioning, requests for social media information (including passwords), and seemingly arbitrary delays and overly-aggressive confrontations with DHS officers have all made me carefully consider what I am comfortable with on those fronts. And I’m a white male American, cis-presenting and everything…I am, as Scalzi pointed out, playing this game on easy mode. I cannot imagine the difficulties and considerations that must go into this sort of travel if I were not.

June 10-15th – Next Library 2017, Aarhus, Denmark
http://www.nextlibrary.net

I will be participating in the Next Library conference, as a part of a panel on Smart Libraries. It will be the European debut of Measure the Future, and I am very excited to be a part of it. I’ve spent most of the last 2 years thinking about and working on the development of sensor-based metrics that give librarians much better ideas of usage and attention in their spaces. I can’t wait to meet and learn from the amazing librarians in Aarhus.

There are a couple of open possibilities in April and May, but those aren’t quite nailed down yet, including maybe a couple of online “Personal Information Security” classes that I’m hoping to offer very soon. If you’re interested in that, watch this space.

Stand, Fight, Resist

The idea that libraries are neutral spaces has been well and disabused over the last few years. From the services we offer to the collections that we curate, the decisions that libraries and librarians make are political ones that reflect values. Sometimes those are the values of the organization, sometimes the values of the individuals, and sometimes they are the values of the communities that the library serves. Those values are illustrated by our technologies, our ontologies, and our descriptors. Those who attempt to hold that “neutrality” of information access is an ideal for which to strive have had a hard time holding to that stance as increasing numbers of librarians question and deconstruct our profession. I would like to suggest something even stronger…that even if it were possible for libraries to be neutral spaces, that to create such a space would be morally questionable, and potentially actively morally wrong.

I say this as someone who firmly believes in the maxim of combating bad speech with more speech. I am not here advocating controls or restrictions on speech. But it is not the responsibility of every library to collect and distribute literature of hate, or falsehoods, or lies. Some libraries do need to collect everything, the good and the bad, for archival and historical study purposes, but those libraries are fairly obviously identified in practice and the vast majority of libraries should and could take a stand with their actions, programs, policies, and collections to be on the side of justice and scientific fact.

Neutrality favors the powerful, and further marginalizes the marginalized. In the face of the current political climate, with the use of opinions as bludgeons and disinformation as the weapon of choice for manipulation and intellectual coercion, it is up to those who value fact and believe in the care of those in need to stand up and positively affirm that to do otherwise is evil.

For libraries and librarians, that means:

  • Making the physical space of the library safe for those that need it by publicly stating your stance on the targeting of marginalized communities and then following up with actions and policies that back up those statements
  • Protecting your patrons from targeting and oppression, even in the face of possible governmental pressures, by resisting calls for information about your patrons at every level
  • Making your digital spaces safe for patrons by limiting the data you collect, eliminating the data that you store, encrypting your communications at all levels and importantly insisting that your vendors do the same
  • Running programs that actively provide support for your at-risk patrons, whatever that looks like in your community
  • By being the voice of reason and compassion when dealing with your city or county government, and by modeling the same by advocating for those at risk

These things are vital and necessary. Especially now.

It has been barely more than a month since Election Night 2016, and the normalization of the President-Elect and his positions have already taken hold. Major media outlets report his actions but don’t follow up to question his statements or refute his words. When one of his key surrogates, Scottie Neil Hughes, says that facts aren’t real anymore, we that live in the real world must not simply accept these types of statements.

This moment in history is not the time for neutrality, it is not the time for libraries to quietly serve their communities. When I say that the next 4 years may be the most important in the history of our country, I am not doing so metaphorically or in an attempt at hyperbole. I sincerely believe that the fate of the republic is potentially at hand, and that the threat of fascism is real and imminent. In the face of such potential, the library is both refuge and target, bastion against disinformation and simultaneously at risk of being trampled under the boot of anti-intellectualism.

Neutrality should be abandoned, and we must stand positively against the threat of the removal of rights of citizens and noncitizens alike. We must eschew presenting false equivalency between two opposing explanations about the world when one is evidence-based and the other is not. We must continue to defend a fact-based world, rooted in the scientific method of understanding, an understanding of reality that is testable, refutable, and falsifiable . We must build collections that reflect the scientific consensus about the world, and not fall prey to the rhetoric of “balance” and “opinion”. Opinion does not hold once it begins impinging upon the personhood of others, nor when it stands in opposition to accepted scientific facts. We must be the defenders of fact and reason.

Maya Angelou said “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Our President-Elect has shown us who he is: a shallow, ignorant man who surrounds himself with those who seek power at the expense of the marginalized and will use every opportunity to demonize in order to dehumanize those they wish to trample. Our government will soon be composed of those who want to actively harm LGBTQ people among us, that wish to hunt down and persecute people for their religion, that have such base misunderstandings of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that they are prepared to roll back hard-won freedoms for the sake of their own comfort and power. If history shows us anything about those that seek this sort of power, it is that it is best for a society when that power is held in check and they are not allowed to be overly comfortable.

The library must be a space for all and everyone, but most importantly those at most risk, both now in the future. It must be a positive force for our understanding of the world and our compassion for the people within it. Neutrality and balance are not the way forward. We must resist the forces that seek to normalize segregation, aggression, and ignorance.

Libraries are powerful forces for good. Now is the time to muster our powers, to stand brave against the people who seek to limit and reduce our rights and our understanding of the world. Let us throw off the false cloak of neutrality and work to embrace and support a world of social justice, equity for all, and scientific understanding. This country, and the people in it, deserve a better world than the one that is currently being forced upon them. Use your power as pillars of your communities, as the guardians of knowledge and the providers of help, use that power now to resist the normalization of fascism and bigotry, of hate and fear and greed. Stand for truth and knowledge, justice and equity for all. Stand for facts, and stand for those who are most at risk. Stand against the horrorshow revealing itself to us, and fight with those who are determined to create equity among people, justice in the face of the unjust, and love out of hate.

Stand. Fight. Resist.


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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!

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.

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.