Category Archives: Technology


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.

Interview with Jason Chen – Storybundle

I was lucky enough to interview Jason Chen via email about his new ebook startup Storybundle. He had some interesting things to say about the ebook market. Unsurprisingly, as a new ebook startup, he didn’t even consider libraries at first.

As to whether or not this is good for libraries, at the current time I hadn’t even considered libraries, so I’m going to aim for personal use for the first few bundles and see where things go from there. It depends heavily on the author, because the promo is a limited time thing, and making a sale to a library becomes a forever thing.

Head over to TechSource to read the full interview!

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:

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.

Apple Thinks Different, Part 1

Apple Think DifferentIn 1997, Apple Computer launched an advertising campaign that asked people to “Think Different”, a slogan that some believe is a play on the classic IBM motto “Think”.  Apple has become infamous over the years for pushing change onto its users, even when the commonly held belief was otherwise. Apple was the first to manufacture a home computer with a Graphical User Interface (GUI) with the Lisa, the first to ship a home computer with only USB ports (the first iMac), the first to drop the floppy drive, the first to pioneer the multitouch mouse, and they appear to be pushing the demise of the physical external media completely with their new Macbook Airs and Mac Minis. With the launch of the iPhone and the iPad, it’s pretty clear now that they have revolutionized one industry and created another. Apple’s CEO, Steve Jobs, is maybe the only corporate head that could claim not one, not two, but four revolutionary products under his leadership (the Macintosh, the iPod, the iPhone, and now the iPad) and in the meantime he helped reshape the music industry as we know it with iTunes and the art of making movies with Pixar.

I didn’t write the above to gloat about Apple’s success, or to cement the “fanboy” status that I’ve been labeled with at times. I wrote it to put some context and history behind this statement:

If handled properly, iCloud and the “file system” changes in Lion may be the biggest change in personal computing since the GUI.

icloudiCloud was one of the big announcements at the Apple World Wide Developer Conference on June 6, 2011. In most of the writing that’s been done on iCloud around the web and in print, it’s described as a “syncing” solution for data. I think this is the wrong way to think about iCloud. If it’s handled the way I believe it will be over the next few years, iCloud is going to solve a lot of user problems, and refine how we interact with data on computers. It will also introduce a ton of problems for IT administrators unless Apple has something up its sleeve that it hasn’t shown us yet.

So what is iCloud? iCloud is Apple’s answer to services like Dropbox,, and others who attempt to answer the the problem of dealing with data across multiple machines. Anyone who is involved in knowledge work (and I would argue this includes nearly all librarians) is probably dealing with more than one computer at some time during their working life, and thus must contend with the problem of either moving their personal data around with them or having everything in a central location online (The Cloud) and accessing it as needed. In their usual fashion, Apple looked at the problem, and are suggesting a solution that is at once elegant and remarkably different than any before it. Apple wants to destroy the file system.

The whole concept of iCloud seems to emerge from the lessons of iOS. Make things easier, more intuitive, less cumbersome…in other words, remove friction….and people will flock to your product. One of the criticisms of iOS devices is, I believe, actually its secret sauce; you don’t have to understand a file system. With the release of OS X Lion and the introduction of iOS 5, it’s clear that Apple wants alll information to be application driven. That is, any piece of data lives in the app that can deal with it. You can read a PDF on an iOS device, but you can only interact with it while using an application to do so. There’s no “saving” the file to a location in a file system (the “desktop” or “documents” folder) on an iOS device. There is just application, and data, and no other metaphor. This is what iCloud and Lion are bringing to the desktop, and where Apple has the potential to push us towards yet another new metaphor of computing.

Apple is making the iCloud infrastucture available to anyone developing applications for either OSX on their desktops or for iOS on their mobile devices. The way iCloud will work is that you will create a document/spreadsheet/image/presentation…any piece of data, really…using an iCloud-compatible app. That piece of data is automatically pushed to iCloud servers, and available anywhere you call it. With the new file management tools in OSX Lion, you never have to hit the save button, you never have to choose where to put the file, the data is just saved as soon as you start creating it. Close the program, open it on the same computer or on your iPad or iPhone and the same file, and the same data is just there.

At the WWDC announcement, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that “the truth is in the cloud.” The cloud is going to be the definitive place for your data, and the local access to it via your applications will be just a window into that truth. While the newest version of OSX doesn’t do away completely with the file and folder metaphor, it does its dead best to get you to stop thinking about folders and organization. By default, when you open a Finder window in Lion, the sidebar doesn’t even list your hard drives…and the topmost option in the choices for viewing your data is “All My Files”, a completely non-hierarchical view that organizes your files by type (Images, Music, Movies, etc). Once Lion gets fully integrated into, it will vastly decrease the importance of local storage.

I’ve posted in the past about how different a touch-based interface is than a mediated user interface. Changing the metaphor does more than just alter our perceptions of the use of a computer…it actually changes the uses themselves. New and different interactions are possible with touch that would never have been possible in a mediated interface (and, of course, the reverse is true…interactions are possible with mediated interfaces that aren’t with touch). This move from a desktop metaphor (folders and files) to a new one (data lives where it can be accessed) is going to provide new abilities to programs, new workflows to users, and new and different ways to think about our data.

I’ve a bit more to say about this as it relates to libraries and public systems, but for that I’m going to throw you over to ALA Techsource and my post there. Please excuse the blatant cross-promotion. :-)

Really excellent discussion happening over on Friendfeed around this post. Embedded below.

Next writing project

I decided that the only thing worse than a writing project is a writing project without a deadline…so here’s me self-imposing a deadline via public announcement. For the last month, I’ve been working on revising my Library Technology Report from April of 2010, Gadgets & Gizmos: Personal Electronics and the Library.

In April of this year, publication rights for the text reverted to me. Rather than just re-releasing it as is, I wanted to update it with more information about each of the Gizmos discussed in the original text. In addition, I’m adding a chapter related to to the iPad and tablet computing…believe it or not, when I delivered the text to TechSource for publication, the iPad hadn’t been released. So it’s pretty clear that any text about personal electronics has to take the new tablet space into account.

Here’s the interesting bit…whatever this becomes, it’s not going to be published by a “traditional” publisher. I’m still working on the specific details, but you can bet that it will be available as widely as I can possibly make it. As long as I can get the look/feel right for every eBook store, I will be making sure that it’s on the Amazon eBook store, the Apple iBook store, the B&N store, etc. I’m also going to be searching for a print on demand option for libraries that wish to have a print copy. I will also be making it available for free, under a Creative Commons license, through my website…although I’m also going to try to find an interesting way to make that happen.

To be fair to TechSource, I’m already under contract for a Gadgets & Gizmos 2.0, to be delivered and printed in 2012…so this is going to be Gadgets & Gizmos 1.5, in a sense. So in 2012, there will be an updated version from ALA, but in Summer 2011, there will be an update from me, directly. I get to test the waters of electronic self-publishing and hopefully learn a lot along the way. Stay tuned for more information, coming soon.

Amazon Cloud Drive & Cloud Player

On March 29th, Amazon launched two major new services, both of which seem to speak directly to my post guessing at an Amazon Tablet…as well as being shots across the bow of both Apple and the music industry. The two services are connected, but distinct in capabilities and effects, so let’s look at them separately:

Amazon Cloud Drive

The first is Amazon Cloud Drive, Amazon’s answer to other consumer-facing cloud storage similar to Dropbox or Windows SkyDrive. Amazon is giving everyone 5GB of space for free, with the ability to purchase additional storage for $1 per Gigabyte in chunks: 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, or 1000 GB levels are all available. While 5GB free is more than Dropbox’s 2GB, and way less than SkyDrive’s 25Gb, for raw storage in the cloud I still think Dropbox has everything else beat in usability. For Cloud Drive, you have to do all file interactions (uploading/downloading) within your browser, which isn’t as convenient on traditional computers as a locally-mounted drive. There’s no reason that Amazon couldn’t move this direction, however, and release a program that would allow more direct access.

The real killer here isn’t Cloud Drive by itself…it’s the associated Cloud Player and the model that Amazon is using for the connection between the two. Cloud Player is a web-based media player that has access to the files uploaded to your Cloud Drive. That is, if you use your Cloud Drive to hold MP3 or AAC encoded music files, those will be automatically available to Cloud Player, and can be streamed to nearly any browser. Cloud Player has the basic controls that you would expect from a music player, allowing you to view your collections by album, artist, or genre. It also allows you to build or import playlists, shuffle, and repeat songs in the same way that pretty much every music player does.

This means that with Cloud Storage + Cloud Player, I can take my own music, upload it to Amazon, and then listen to it anywhere I have a browser…or on the updated Amazon MP3 for Android app on any Android based phone or tablet. In a brilliant marketing move, Amazon is also letting you automatically cross-load any MP3 that you buy from the Amazon MP3 Store directly to your Cloud Drive…and anything that you buy from them doesn’t count against your storage limits. They are also offering a free upgrade to their 20GB storage level if you just buy any MP3 album from Amazon through the end of 2011. So you can purchase any amount of music from Amazon, and it will all be available for streaming to any computer or directly to your phone if you have an Android handset. For free.

Let’s not forget, this sort of service is exactly what got in hot water with the music labels a decade ago (with, admittedly, technical differences). Indeed, Sony has commented to Ars Technica that while they were hopeful they could work with Amazon on a licensing deal that they were “keeping their legal options open.” So it’s almost certain that Amazon will see some form of lawsuit about the service…but my money is on Amazon for this one. They have the pockets that didn’t, and have a great case for moving the industry forward if they can pull of a court victory.

This is a huge move by Amazon, and will put the pressure on Apple to respond. There have been rumors about a similar digital-locker server from Apple for years now, and their North Carolina Data Center has been rumored to be a part of Apple gearing up for a cloud-based service since it was announced. Google is also rumored to be getting into this market, with their Google Music service that is reported to be in internal testing now. It’s going to be an interesting year for these services, but Amazon has a compelling vision for Cloud Drive + Cloud Player. I’m excited by it, and really want to get my hands on an Android device so that I can play with the mobile access.

Tablets & Superphones from Computers in Libraries 2011

My very brief slide deck from Computers in Libraries 2011 for my Cybertour on Tablets & Superphones. Just showing off some of the new and shiny tech, and talking a bit about why we should care as libraries.

I also created a Lanyrd page for my presentation before it happened, just to see if anyone was using it or would refer to it. If you see any mentions of the Cybertour around the ‘net, please throw a link in the comments or on the Lanyrd page.

iPad HDMI adapter


Had a chance today to test the iPad HDMI out adapter (otherwise known as the Apple Digital AV Adapter) on my iPad 1, with some interesting results. While the iPad 1 won’t do full iPad mirroring like the iPad 2 does, the HDMI out still has some interesting tricks.

It does work with any app that supports video out, including Netflix, AirVideo, and YouTube. It also supports audio over HDMI, which means no need for any extra audio connections. Even better, it does so for audio-only apps, so if you just want to play audio over your home stereo system you can still use the HDMI out to do so. For those of us who travel frequently, hotel rooms often now have hookups for connecting mobile devices to the TV in the room, and this makes an iPad with the HDMI connector a great option for entertainment on the go.