Category Archives: Technology

Why I love new librarians

So here at UTC we’ve hired a few new faculty and staff, and this week I’ve been blown away by one of my new colleagues. She attacked a problem that we were having, and found a solution that was elegant and awesome, all at once.

Here’s the setup: one of my reference librarians is maintaining a file that describes, for each of our databases, how you use Endnote Web…which filters, how to make it happy, etc. With dozens of interfaces, this is a non-trivial amount of info, and finding a balance of how to display it to users and keep it easy to update for the librarian became an issue.

Enter: Caitlin and Exhibit! Somehow, I had never seen or heard of this marvelous little tool! Exhibit will take data, and build you a webpage that can be manipulated and sorted in a myriad of ways. Best thing? You can use a Google Docs Spreadsheet as your data source.

So Caitlin worked to get the data file up as a Google doc in the appropriate format, got Exhibit working with it, skinned the results to fit our look & feel, tweaked the CSS, and generally went web-fu on the whole problem.

The final result is a page that’s easy for our patrons to use, and easy for the librarians to manage. Take a look at the result: here’s the Google Spreadsheet with the data, and here’s the final webpage using Exhibit.

I was really impressed with the way she handled this problem, and I can’t wait to continue to be surprised with the solutions she comes up with.

BiblioMashups – Reading Radar

There’s a ton of good work being done in libraryland with mashups and bibliographic data (I’m looking at you, LibraryWebChic!). But for user experience and overall awesome, I love this mashup by John Herren of just the New York Times bestseller list and Amazon APIs:

Reading Radar

ReadingRadar

He detailed how he did it in this great blog post, and it set my mind to racing with possibilities for libraries. For one, I didn’t know that the NYT bestseller list had an API! Public libraries all over should be leveraging this on their websites, with links to their holdings.

Homepage Update

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks monkeying with different looks and feels for a homepage update. For a long while, I’ve had my homepage set as a lifestream, running SweetCron, but decided awhile back that with my tenure dossier coming due that I would like to rework it into something more polished. Also, the lifestream presented me as what I’m doing, and didn’t adequately represent either what I’ve done, nor what I’d like to do in the future.

So: redesign!

I wanted something clean, without a ton of design overhead, but also something that was flexible enough to take whatever I thought to throw at it. I also decided that I wanted to try using a pre-existing framework, specifically as CSS framework, and then tweak it to my needs. After looking around a bit, I decided to use Blueprint, a lovely CSS framework that allowed me to not worry about positioning, other than to figure out how Blueprint does it. Blueprint is extensible, and I wanted tabs, so off I went to the Blueprint Tab plugin.

The basic icons for my “social” tab were found here, and I took the look/feel and created a handful that they didn’t have using Photoshop. I also created the “rollover” images for everything using photoshop, and am using a clever little javascript simpleswap to handle that bit. I also had to install jquery for the first time, for the tab fade effect.

Other tools used in putting this together include: Blip.tv and slideshare for the presentations and videos, scribd for my CV, FriendFeed for my Lifestream, and Meebo and Google Voice for the Contact page.

After getting all the pieces in place, it took some time to work out the bugs. My wife convinced me to stick with the black/green scheme that I’ve been using for years…I’ve used it since graduate school, and I like it because it reminds me of the good old days with the green phosphor CRT terminals.

See what you think, and I’d love to have any feedback, especially if it’s broken in some way. :-)

Catching the Wave

No sooner do I mentioned the thinking I’ve been doing about Proactive Reference, and Google throws all my thinking into a tailspin. Just a few days ago, Google announced a brand new product, called Google Wave. So what is Google Wave? It’s not easy to grok at first glance, but a the elevator pitch might be: Communication for the 21st Century. It takes the most popular communication formats (email, IM, Txt) and mashes them together with the new, real-time web (Twitter, Friendfeed, etc) and you get something that is greater than both parts.

There’s a TON to say about this, and at first blush I’m going to bet that it’s the biggest revolution in communication online since the invention of email. It’s both a platform and protocol, and will push existing thought-leaders like Twitter to open up in ways they might not be ready for.

Here’s a video of the launch preview…I’m trying hard not to gush about the possibilities. Look for much, much more on this from me over the next few weeks.

InfoLink Tech is IT Day 2009

On Thursday, I’ll be speaking on the campus of Rutgers in New Brunswick, NJ for InfoLink’s 6th Annual Tech is IT day. I was asked to talk about podcasts and videocasts, and given two and a half hours total to try and educate people about practical how-to stuff about both.

This will be the first speaking gig where I’m going to try and do the trip with my Hackintosh (a Dell Mini 9 running OSX). I’ve tested the video-out, and aside from a minor glitch it works well. Keynote runs well on it, and I’m curious how it will hold up displaying Keynote and recording audio at the same time, but we’ll see!

As long as the recording holds out, I’ll post my talk, along with slides and such, next week. If you’re going to be at Tech is IT day, make sure you say hi!

Copyright Clearance Center = FAIL

Sometimes, it’s just nice to laugh at industries that are desperately attempting to hang on to their relevancy in a changing world. Exhibit A for today is the Copyright Clearance Center, and their interesting attempt to educate users about copyright via their Copyright Basics video. Let’s examine the ways in which CCC fails at modern web usage.

First: here’s the opening screen of the video

cccfail

I think that’s enough said, yes? Among the nearly-unreadable text is the prohibition to “distribute copies of the Program to persons outside your company, or post copies of the Program on any public website (including any video sharing or social networking site).”  Yep, that’s the CCC…all about education. Wouldn’t want those non-paying people to easily get your content that explains why they should pay for your content. 

Second: To get a copy of the video to use internally, on a non-public server that is limited to only your employees, you have to fill out a form on this page. Or, you know, just look at the page source:

cccpagesource

Where the FLV file is handily linked for anyone who might want to use it. 

If ever there was a direct example of how the modern web breaks copyright, the CCC just gave it to us. The answer, of course, isn’t to ignore the de facto standards for the distribution of video on the web, to limit the ability to share and distribute content, and to generally treat people who want to use your content like criminals. The way to make yourself valuable and heard is to share what you make as widely as you possibly can…something that the CCC can’t bring itself to do.  It’s really hard to participate in the modern conversation when your very business model is tied to archaic and irrelevant legalese.