The Shifted Librarian - Shifting Libraries at the speed of byte
 Monday, April 01, 2002

New Novels Cinch Jules Verne's Reputation as the Nostradamus of Technology

"Before he died in 1905, Verne had depicted--in some 60 novels--a world eerily like ours: airplanes, movies, guided missiles, submarines, the electric chair, air conditioning and the fax machine. Even Islamic terrorists make their precocious debut in Invasion Of the Sea (1905), in which they face off against Western technocrats. The book, now translated into English for the first time (Wesleyan University Press, $25), is but one of five newly released Verne novels coming out over the next two years....

Verne never studied science formally. Pushed to get a law degree by his lawyer father, he toiled as a stockbroker, not publishing his first novel until 1863, at the ripe old age of 35. He sucked in scientific knowledge from 15 newspapers a day, as well as a half-dozen magazines and the bulletins of various scientific and geographic societies. His genius lay in extrapolation. Everything he wrote had as its foundation the best engineering and best science of his day. His future was the present on steroids...." [, via MetaFilter]

Don't you just know Jules Verne would have loved the internet and blogs?

"Verne books are freebies for publishers, since European and U.S. law puts previously published work into the public domain 70 years after an author's death. Movie and television producers are also cashing in. The Disney film Atlantis, partly inspired by 20,000 Leagues, is perhaps the most recent example."

That's quite an irony, considering that Disney's Eisner wants to lock down his copyrights for an undetermined amount of time. What do you think he would say if Verne's ancestors came knocking at the door asking for royalties? Do you think he'd pay them?

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Well, congratulations Terrapins. I won't truly recover until November, but I'll give credit where it's due. What was up with "One Shining Moment," though? It was completely wrong this year. The comets (if that's what they were supposed to be) were superfluous at best, and showing players and plays in a second small screen was a horrible metaphor. March Madness is larger than life and whatever editor tried to contain it in smaller sub-frames should not be banned from all future tournament coverage.

I know you think I'm crazy, but I love college basketball.

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Mobile Gaming Coming of Age?

"ID Gaming has released what they are billing as the 'first ever multi-player game for both PDA and PC.' Mobile Chess allows users to play chess against other players via mobile Internet connections as well as chat with players. The game is available for free as a trial version (2.66MB download) but you'll need to buy a $25 key and a 1 year subscription to the service to play matches of longer than 2 minutes....

I recently saw a demonstration of a mobile darts game on Smartphone 2002 devices and I was very impressed, as such I grabbed a photo of the demo and have posted it in the discussion thread for this news item. []

picture of darts game on cellphone

10:10:06 PM  |   Permanent link here  |    |   Trackback [] | Google It!

Adobe-Hack Lawyers: Toss the Case

"Elcomsoft intended its reader to be one such 'lawful circumvention device,' he said -- people can use the program to make a backup copy of their e-book, for example, which Burton contends is a legitimate use....

Joseph Sullivan, an assistant U.S. attorney, responded that Congress did not intend to make any allowances for technologies which might have lawful circumvention purposes, and instead it wanted 'a blanket prohibition on any device that's designed to circumvent (copyright restrictions),' regardless of whether the device may have some legitimate purposes." [Wired News, via Tomalak's Realm]

This is truly scary that an assistant U.S. attorney would interpret Congressional intent this way. Hasn't he heard about Congress' assurances that the DMCA would not be misused (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)? Hey, Bruce and Ernie - if this defense of the DMCA is allowed to fly, wouldn't purse-snatching lawsuits actually become viable?

9:59:38 PM  |   Permanent link here  |    |   Trackback [] | Google It!

Why couldn't Maryland have played this poorly on Saturday night?! I'm still not sure who I'm rooting for....
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Media Torrent

"Sociology professor Todd Gitlin writes about the causes of 'national attention deficit disorder'

'There's music flooding into the hotel where I'm staying, video screens all over the airport and on the plane, people sending and receiving information on their Blackberrys. The culture is twitching with this overload, with this rather doomed attempt to give us the illusion we are coping with all this stimuli.'

'Media Unlimited' definitely aims for the big picture, as Gitlin pulls together video games, the Internet, Hollywood blockbusters, Muzak, books, advertising, popular music and, of course, television -- the whole 24/7 brain-bulging shebang. This 'media torrent' is not just some adjunct to our lives, he writes: 'Living with the media is today one of the main things Americans and many other human beings do"; it has moved from 'an accompaniment to life' to 'a central experience of life.'

Part of that tradition involves updating the familiar but necessary statistics. The average American child lives in a home with 2.9 TV sets, 1.8 VCRs, 3.1 radios, 2.6 tape players, 2.1 CD players, 1.4 video game players and 1 computer. The average sound bite of a presidential candidate on network news shrank from 42 seconds in 1968 to 7.8 seconds in 2000. In his own admittedly small and unscientific sampling, Gitlin found that the average sentence length in best-sellers decreased from 23 words in 1936 to 13 words in 2001.

When confronted with this, we tend to say that we are living in the Information Age, where we get more data faster than at any time in history. That may be, he believes, but information is generally less important in the media onslaught than the feelings it evokes, and that keeps us coming back for another emotional fix.

'I do think the media-saturated life is something of a travesty of human existence, and something of a defeat of the values we claim to cherish,' Gitlin says." [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, via MetaFilter]

It sounds like his new book is a sequel to James Gleick's Faster, except that it focuses on information. What librarian doesn't recognize all of the above symptoms? The problem comes when you're an information junkie and it's your job.

I'm adding all of the titles mentioned in this interview to The Shifted Reading List.

9:44:11 PM  |   Permanent link here  |    |   Trackback [] | Google It!

Stealth P2P Network Hides Inside Kazaa

"Brilliant Digital Entertainment, a California-based digital advertising technology company, has been distributing its 3D ad technology along with the Kazaa software since late last fall. But in a federal securities filing Monday, the company revealed it also has been installing more ambitious technology that could turn every computer running Kazaa into a node in a new network controlled by Brilliant Digital.

The company plans to wake up the millions of computers that have installed its software in as soon as four weeks. It plans to use the machines--with their owners' permission--to host and distribute other companies' content, such as advertising or music. Alternatively, it might borrow people's unused processing power to help with other companies' complicated computing tasks.

Brilliant Digital CEO Kevin Bermeister says computers or Internet connections won't be used without their owners' permission. But the company will nevertheless have access to millions of computers at once, almost as easily as turning on a light switch....

The immediate plans for Altnet, Brilliant and the new peer-to-peer network remain unclear.

Bermeister said the company had been testing the technology along with ad giants DoubleClick as a way to serve ordinary Web ads more quickly. Under this plan, an ad that a person sees on a Web site might be hosted by a nearby computer running Brilliant's Altnet instead of on a central ad server, as now typically happens with DoubleClick." [CNET]

I was hoping this was an April Fool's Day joke, but it appears to be real. Privacy concerns abound, but here is yet another business model that takes advantage of the digital environment. Don't get me wrong - I'm NOT endorsing it, but you have to wonder how the entertainment industry could leverage their existing distribution channels, partnerships, and content if they'd just quit relying on Congress to do everything for them.

9:28:55 PM  |   Permanent link here  |    |   Trackback [] | Google It!

Alfred H. Lane, Philanthropic Librarian, 85, Dies

"Mr. Lane was the volunteer librarian at the Writers' Room, a haven for novelists, historians, cookbook writers and anyone else able to prove seriousness about writing. About 400 members pay $225 a month for 24-hour access to the loft space at 10 Astor Place.

Mr. Lane showed up at the Writers' Room in 1988, a decade after its founding, and volunteered to be the librarian, a position that had never existed. At the time, the room owned one book: a dogeared dictionary.

By the time he retired in February 2001, leaving a $25,000 contribution for the room's endowment fund, Mr. Lane had assembled a collection of 3,000 books geared to writers' interests, including encyclopedias, foreign language dictionaries, a text on medieval Icelandic drama and a history of hell....

He specialized in answering writers' obscure questions, from how to correspond with federal prisoners to who paid for Alice Liddell, the Alice of 'Alice in Wonderland,' to come from London to Columbia University to accept an honorary degree. ('Columbia, apparently.')

'I bamboozled some people into thinking that I knew everything under the sun,' he once said." [New York Times, thanks to Lee]

8:03:53 PM  |   Permanent link here  |    |   Trackback [] | Google It!

The Push for News Returns

"Now, in the latest attempt to automate the news, a group of Columbia researchers have launched Newsblaster, a project that uses natural language processing techniques to summarize top headlines.

The project attempts to cut the saturation of daily headlines by fusing content from multiple online news sources into concise summaries....

The University of Michigan is working on a similar service called NewsInEssence, which also uses natural language techniques to find and summarize multiple news articles on the Web.

A user enters a URL of a single news story from a news website (from a source that NewsInEssence understands, currently BBC News, Yahoo News, CNN, MSNBC or USA Today) and sets search parameters.

NewsInEssence's search agent, called NewsTroll, searches for stories related to the same event. The agent then enters keywords into search engines of news sites and produces summaries of a subset of stories that it finds." [Wired News]

Just a follow-up to a previous post so that I can refer back to this when I have more time to test these services. I'm curious how they supplement, complement, or don't interact at all with RSS news aggregators.

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Here's Chicago's April Fool's Day prank on me. It's freaking snowing here. As long as I live here I will never get used to how late spring starts in this part of the world. In Kansas City, the weather knows it is spring by now and acts accordingly. Not so in Chicago. In fact, I don't think they understand "spring" here at all. Evidence:

Chicago weather: light snow, 35 degrees, visibility one mile weather illustration for snow

Kansas City weather: fair and windy, 78 degrees, unlimited visibility weather illustration for sunny

Yes, it's a winter wonderland outside my window, folks.

3:16:48 PM  |   Permanent link here  |    |   Trackback [] |

Public Libraries to Test Digital Service

"An experiment in digital publishing will take a step forward this week, with six regional library systems scheduled to begin testing online research services from start-up Ebrary....

Harris added that online research companies that act as middlemen could be left out of the digital-publishing chain. She said publishers and libraries might prefer to place books and materials in digital formats themselves.

Ebrary said its service allows libraries to add to their existing digital resources and catalog services. For instance, the Ebrarian includes research tools that let people link to biographical information, definitions, maps and other digital resources. The service also eliminates the hassle of retrieving books that are not on a library's shelf." [CNET]

I love the idea of libraries as publishers of digital content, but there are very few that have the resources for it, especially public libraries. For example, I wanted to write a grant to let libraries with large local history collections digitize them and then circulate them on an ebook reader (back in the day when Everybook was still around) or a dedicated laptop. Add MP3 capability to have the history read to the user, and you have a powerful combination for education with students, preserving history with seniors, disseminating history within the community, etc. But I couldn't get anyone on board at SLS.

It's good to see eBrary working with public libraries, too, though. I'll have to start tracking this one. I'm not too sure about that "hassle of retrieving books that are not on a library's shelf" quote, though.

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Steve caught the April Fool's Day prank currently on at dmoz. Check it out today before it's gone!

"The MSN® network of Internet services, with more than 270 billion unique reboots worldwide, today announced the addition of the Gates Open Directory (GOD), formerly known as the Open Directory Project. The Gates Open Directory is part of Microsoft's vision to simplify copyright on the Internet by buying all copyrighted material. Once this goal is achieved Microsoft will be the single clearinghouse for all intellectual property, in effect streamlining the current legal bureaucracy surrounding patent and copyright suits by eliminating the need for costly lawsuits. If someone thinks they own intellectual property, they can submit it directly to Microsoft via the Web at or at any one of the MSN worldwide sites located at

Rich Skrenta, co-founder of the Open Directory Project, believes that "the Gates Open Directory was inevitable, so why fight it?" Bill Gates, future owner of all things ownable, concurs: "Resistance is futile."

The current staff of Open Directory Project is being replaced by an Artificial Intelligence developed at the Microsoft Research Lab. The A.I. was build on top of the original Microsoft Windows digital assistant "Clippy." Users of the Gates Open Directory interact directly with Clippy, who interprets the requests and carries out the user's wishes....

Editors and contributors to the Directory are asked to stay calm and not to struggle. Clippy will find them and assimilate them." [via WEB4LIB]

2:01:13 PM  |   Permanent link here  |    |   Trackback [] |

Lori shared with us one of her "secret treasure" sites that she uses to keep current with what other libraries are doing on the cutting edge. This time, it's NOLA in Ohio. I'm torn about highlighting them because they beat me to the punch on audio ebooks (drat!), but they're doing a lot of interesting things that I either have proposed at SLS or have been contemplating proposing. Links of particular interest to me:

Now I'm even more upset I didn't talk to them when they were here last week to find out about SWAN and Innovative. Double drat! I'll definitely be sending them some questions.

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Paolo saw my post questioning how easy it would be for me to set up intranet services using Radio in the same way he has done at evectors. I'll be reading through his answer, but I also wanted to point out his observation about daylight savings time:

"Networked time. Yesterday in Europe we switched to daylight saving time and I almost didn't noticed. This is because my alarm clock is synchronized via radio with some German atomic clock, my VCR with the time broadcasted trough teletext (great feature: no more blinking 00:00), the satellite set top box is in synch with the satellite, my computers with some other time server. Basically I just woke up and everywhere I looked the time was right, no more clocks to move forward manually. Cool."

I've also been noting this to myself for the last year, but more because I still have to change too many clocks manually - the stove, microwave, alarm clock, VCR (which blinks midnight anyway because it's used only to watch kids videos these days), in the car, and those hanging on the wall. Half the fun is trying to synchronize them all to roughly the same time when you are losing time running around the house trying to find them all. It's frustrating that we haven't moved further ahead in this area.

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"Eric Alterman has a handy list of columnists broken down based on whether they support Israel or the Palestinians. It may be useful to people who are reading a column and don't know where the author's general bias lies, but I can't say that any of the names on the list surprised me." []

Although I very rarely mention politics or the Middle East on my blog, that doesn't mean I'm not concerned about these things, especially the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I read Rafe's site daily because he does such a great job of collecting links on this (and other) topics.

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Cam also highlights Andy Oram's analogy If Copyright Infringement, Why Not Purse Snatching?

"Let's say there was a rash of thieves riding by women on bicycles or scooters and snatching purses. So the federal government passes a law saying that no transportation device may be manufactured or sold unless it incorporates protection against purse snatching.

That may sound ridiculous, because nobody knows how to design a bicycle or scooter that can foil purse snatching. But the situation is the same with computers under the CBDTPA. No secure protection scheme has yet been invented; all have been broken fairly quickly. What the CBDTPA would do is put enough barriers in the way to keep the average CD or DVD user from doing ordinary things like playing it on his computer, while not putting barriers in the way of the pirates who make a living off of copyright infringement.

It gets worse, when you consider innovation. Using my hypothetical transporation analogy, someone with a substantially new idea--such as Dean Kamen with his Segway--would have to go before a Board of people who know very little about transportation (and don't really care about it) to prove that his device couldn't be used to snatch purses. The equivalent under the CBDTPA is a vaguely defined bureaucratic institution that the entertainment industry would set up under the guidance of the FCC. Clearly, innovation would move offshore until Congress wised up." [O'Reilly Network]

I made a similar argument about cars being used to kill people. Why don't we legislate the manufacturing of cars that have embedded technology to prevent accidents? Because it's absurd, it would kill the auto industry, and it's impossible. The same holds true for the CBDTPA and tech industry.

Of course, I can't find the cite for my previous post right now (my free Atomz search box doesn't work well since it capped at 500 pages a long time ago, and apparently Google doesn't index many of my back posts), but I'll post it as soon as I find it. I guess I'll have to figure out another search engine solution sooner than later.

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Cam points to a Database of Web Robots, which will be very useful for us as we continue tweaking WebTrends.
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Librarians Debate Internet Filters

Tag line: "It's not easy being a Dick, especially at the local library."

"As lawyers in federal court this week debated whether Internet filters for public library computers should be mandatory, librarians argued the law unfairly blocks out legitimate Web sites like those of House Majority Leader Dick Armey and pro golfer Fred Couples.

'We got a call this week from someone supporting the lawsuit whose last name was something like Hancock. He said he publishes work on the Internet and can't access it sometimes on certain computers,' said Penny Hummel, a spokeswoman for Multnomah County, Ore....

Not many kids are likely to be researching his site these days, Swett conceded. But they may well be interested in getting information about Declaration of Independence-signer John Hancock or Tale of Two Cities author Charles Dickens. And if they do, computer filters might block access to such information.

The same goes for anyone looking up the Earl of Essex or Sussex, or drama students interested in Dick Van Dyke, Dick Clark and the cult 70s movie Shaft. Science students might want to research prickly heat or, on a more serious note, breast cancer." [Fox News]

If the filters are set to block slang, would they block anything that includes our current President's name? The funny part is that U.S. Rep. Dick Swett, quoted above, is directly affected by this problem, but that "doesn't mean he thinks the act should be overturned." What exactly would it take for him to recognize how poorly written this law is and how restrictive implementing it would be for the millions of people that use libraries? This cluelessness is why I hold out such little hope on the copyright front.

8:24:04 AM  |   Permanent link here  |    |   Trackback [] | Google It!

This is how easy Radio makes things: my Dad is an avid reader, and that's putting it mildly. I'm always embarassed that I'm not reading as much print anymore when I'm around him or when we talk. He has adapted well to the web, and he reads quite a bit there, too, although I think I've got him beat there. My Mom would probably tell you he has adapted too well.

But now he's in China for three weeks, and for an information junkie like him, the most difficult part will be the disconnect from the news in particular. He'll never be able to catch up with everything I post while he's gone, so with a couple of clicks in Radio, I've created a new category called Dad. If I post something to my main page that I think he would enjoy, all I have to do is check that category as I'm posting.

8:05:13 AM  |   Permanent link here  |    |   Trackback [] |

Here's the first story to go in the Dad category, because he could have been a professional photographer had he not been so passionate about education.

WaterLogged Camera Turns Magic

"Farrell Eaves' camera was a perfectly ordinary Nikon CoolPix 990 until he accidentally knocked it into a pond last summer. Now it's a magic camera....

After the accident, Eaves spent weeks broiling, baking and blow-drying the camera ... but it still sloshed. So he decided to see what a soggy Nikon could do, and soon discovered the resurrected camera was creating curious effects in each image.

Glowing auras, symmetrical rainbow-hued streaks or pools of brilliant color appear in every image Eaves captures with the camera. The effects aren't visually random; they make perfect sense within the context of each image...." [Wired News]

I'd like to see a whole exhibition of these, or see more of the 8,000 images he has taken since the camera turned magical!

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"After playing with RSS/XML feeds for a while, I finally decided on Newscrawler. Very user friendly, plus I can post to the 'stuff' directly from the software which is a key time saver. This, plus Infominder, and my work has been cut in half. I can also get through more information from different sites." [Library Stuff]

Having done the Librarians' Site du Jour for four years without the benefit of blogging software and a news aggregator, I can appreciate how much easier Steven's job must have become. As I move forward with the SLS portal, my ultimate goal is to have the staff there say something similar when I get my vision in place.

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