The Shifted Librarian - Shifting Libraries at the speed of byte
 Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Fifth Wall Services

For those of you that read through yesterday's post of Ryan Greene's thoughts about roll-up displays and how they will affect the way we access information, Ryan gave us some pushback on how libraries can help someone like him in that type of environment. We need to hear from more people like Ryan in order to help us figure out how best to serve them in this brave new world. It makes me realize how interesting it would be to have ALA convene a panel of folks like Doc Searls, David Weinberger, Howard Rheingold, Ed Felten, Larry Lessig, etc. to discuss the topic.  Thanks, Ryan!

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I Don't Believe I'll Be Downloading These for the Kids Just Yet

"Rumplestiltskin gets torn in half, Cinderella's stepsisters get their eyes pecked out, and Snow White's stepmother dances in red hot iron shoes until she dies from exhaustion. These are the original endings to the non-sweetened, and sometimes unsavory, fairy tales collected or written by by reclusive librarians Jacob and Wilhelm, better know as The Brothers Grimm. Their first book, Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Childrens' and Household Tales) was published in 1812. Several more books, mostly of folk tales collected from willing relatives and friends, followed, some containing bizarre and disturbing stories with less than happy endings. As the National Geographic Grimm site puts it, "Looking for a sweet, soothing tale to waft you toward dreamland? Look somewhere else. The stories collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the early 1800s serve up life as generations of central Europeans knew it - capricious and often cruel." Check out the strange 1960 Mp3s and RealAudio files of some Grimm tales." [MetaFilter]

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PDAs for Kids

There's an interesting article in this month's issue (October/November) of Handheld Computing. It expands upon a story I tell in my presentations about the kids and my PDA. A couple of years ago, Brent fell down the stairs and sprained his ankle on a Sunday night. We took him to a local clinic, knowing we'd have to wait to get in to see a doctor. Naturally we took some toys and coloring books to keep the kids occupied during the wait. I pulled out my own toy, my PDA (which at the time was a Palm IIIx).

I started to read some articles in AvantGo when Brent popped up next me and asked what I was doing. He wanted to play with my PDA, too. We ended up using Diddlebug to do flash cards, and he and Kailee later drew pictures and played Solitaire. They took to it right away, and now they ask to play with my newer Clie when they're bored in places like the supermarket. Imagine the look on their faces if I pulled out the GC10 Game Controller for the Clie!

Anyway, back to the article in HHC, which is titled "PDA: Parental Diversion Assistant" and includes a section of "Book Smarts" software you can download for Palms and Pocket PCs.

"We found a smattering of e-books designed specifically for kids. For Palm Powered handhelds, Childrens Illustrated eTales is a collection of four illustrated, toddler-oriented stories priced at $9.99. Pocket PC users can visit the Childrens section at PDA Bookstore, home to three illustrated books - one each for different age groups (3-6, 7-10, and 8-12). Priced at $4.10 each, the stories are also available for Palm OS - but they're not illustrated. There's a much larger selection of Pocket PC-formatted kids' books at Barnes & Noble including Elmo's New Puppy ($2.99), Shrek: Tell Your Own Tale ($6.99), and My Teacher Is an Alien ($2.95)." (Jenny: I would also add a couple of Berenstain Bears books and Elmo's Tricky Tongue Twisters.)

B&N has some interesting children's books in Acrobat format (Caveat Lector), including The Adventures of Spider-Man, Shrek eStorybook, and Harriest Spies Again. Why someone hasn't started porting the Choose Your Own Adventure books to PDAs is beyond me. I would easily buy a couple to have on hand whenever we're at the doctor's office, airport, or even on long car rides. What I'd really like to see, though, are my favorite Dr. Seuss titles as animated ebooks. This could become a reality if publisher's could figure out how to create them in Flash, make them accessible, and make them legible on smaller screens. Of course, it's also true that Flash is only available for Pocket PCs at the moment, but it makes you wonder if libraries will need to circulate Flash files someday.

On the other hand, the genre of children's literature for PDAs has definitely expanded since the last time I looked at it, so I'll have to survey it again soon. Does anyone know if there are any libraries circulating these types of titles? I doubt there's even a way to do it at this point, with the possible exception of using the Acrobat Content Server just for Acrobat files. (Side note: I just noticed that Adobe provides a PDF report about eLib, "Sweden's largest eBook distributor [using] Adobe Content Server and Adobe PDF to help public libraries across Sweden lower costs and extend access for patrons.")

The more I think about this, the more we need our ILS vendors to figure out how to circulate digital content period, regardless of file type, rather than relying on an Adobe server for Acrobat content, a Macromedia server for Flash content, an Audible server for Audible content, etc. We really need to initiate this conversation with them now to begin preparing for the future.

Back again to the HHC article for some further suggestions for PDA diversionary tactics:

There are a few other suggestions in the article, so it's worth a look if you're considering letting your kids use your PDA. Next time we're stuck somewhere, I'm going to be prepared with more than just Tetris and Solitaire. :-)

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Will NEC Be First Out of the Gate?

NEC Devices to See 'Keyboard of Light'?

"Apparently, there's no way we can get enough alternatives to choose from when it comes to inputting text to mobile devices. Previously covered here at infoSync, NEC is now evaluating electronic perception technology from Canesta for applications in several of NEC's product lines - with an initial focus on using the Canesta Keyboard Perception Chipset, which implements the technology in mobile and wireless devices.

Canesta claims its Electronic perception technology, launched last spring, is the first low-cost, practical technology to enable everyday machines and computer devices to 'see' by tracking nearby objects in three-dimensions in real time. In September, the Canesta Perception Chipset was introduced to enable the world's first integrated projection keyboards to be designed into such mobile products as smartphones, PDAs, tablet PCs, or cell phones....

'Canesta's technology has the potential to drastically change the way people think of and use electronic devices,' said Kazuhiko Kobayashi, NEC Solutions' Company Deputy President. 'In particular, it will be a key technology in making a 'Ubiquitous Computing' environment a reality. This will mean that people will be able to use computers and access the Internet anytime, anywhere.' " [infoSync]

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"It has absolutely NOTHING to do with libraries, but this Realistic Internet Simulator made me giggle. I've got to improve my mouse skills. Someone I know got 108 before she gave up. [It is work safe, but I wouldn't open it while working a service desk, and you should turn down the speakers 'cuz there is (g-rated) background music.]" [LibraryNotes]

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Why You Want Librarians to Be Caretakers of Information, Not Companies

"BBC: A government is saying to Google: 'we don't like that website -- so drop it from your database' and the company is acquiescing." [Scripting News]

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Why PDF Sucks

"I wish PDF-for-ebooks would fold up and die, but it won’t. Therefore I need to explain why, except in certain limited circumstances, relying on it for electronic books is a terrible idea....

No, it isn’t the much-touted “reading experience” that frustrates me about PDF. Partly, it’s Adobe successfully creating the widespread illusion (mentioned in the apologia) that PDF is non-proprietary.

Of course it’s proprietary. It is completely owned by Adobe. “PDF” is an Adobe trademark, for Pete’s sake! (I think. It’s not listed in Adobe’s official trademark list, though the PDF logo is. Anybody got the real scoop on that?) Read my lips: PDF IS PROPRIETARY. I tell you three times: PDF IS PROPRIETARY. PDF IS PROPRIETARY. PDF IS PROPRIETARY. Don’t make me repeat myself on this again, please; I am enormously tired of saying it....

A more serious flaw with PDF is its accessibility problems. Again, much has been written; I need not comment, except to say that Adobe has had plenty of time to solve these problems and just plain hasn’t.

My chief quarrel with PDF: it is a dead-end format; it as well as its inputs are utterly putrid for archival purposes. Once you have a PDF, you are not guaranteed to be able to back it out to anything useful. (If you’ve saved it right, you can get at the PostScript, admitted. Sure you save your PDFs right? And PostScript is no treat to convert to anything useful, either.) It’s simply not futureproof, something that ebooks ought to be.

How do you get a PDF in the first place? Via typesetting. (Some people word-process; doesn’t affect my argument.) If your archived PDF dies, or Adobe comes out with a nifty new feature that you want to add to an already-published ebook, you have to return to your typesetting files. If your typesetting files are no longer usable, you are out of luck....

Speaking strictly about text, well-constructed OEB 1.2-compliant XML files are a reasonable archive. They’re typesettable. They’re easily adapted to HTML for the Web. They’re accessible. They’re plain-text, so if all else fails you can pull the text out of them (with a single regular expression, if you’re slick) and try again. “All else” is unlikely to fail, however; good XML is pretty much as futureproof as text gets....

Don’t settle on a system that will someday make your data extinct!" [Caveat Lector, via TeleRead]

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London Library Teaches Critical Thinking Skills

"The London [Ontario] Public Library received the Best Practices award for its work with CHUM Television in establishing North America's first library-based Media Literacy Centre in the new Central Library. The Centre provides access to print, electronic and audiovisual materials aimed at helping users to develop an informed and critical understanding of the media's role in society.

'This fantastic project demonstrates how public libraries are becoming key partners in achieving the Government of Canada's Innovation Strategy,' said Mr. Fontana. 'By building partnerships with other community innovators such as CHUM Television, the London Public Library has been able to apply its information and communication technology capacities in an innovative way to create a valuable resource for the people of London.' " [Industry Canada, via LIS News]

I forgot to mention the Media Awareness program in Canada in my previous post about Canadians. Apparently the Canadian government wants its citizens to be information and media literate, so MNet was created back in 1996.

"MNet aims to encourage critical thinking about media information, media entertainment and new communications technologies, and to stimulate public debate about the power of the media in the lives of children and young people. Our work is based on the premise that to be functionally literate in the world today, young people need critical thinking skills to 'read' all the messages that are informing, entertaining and selling to them every day."

And check out the London Public Library web site. How cool is it that they've specifically added a sub-domain so that their URL is http://discover.lpl.london.on.ca/?! And if you search their online catalog, you'll notice it's an Innovative Interface system and they've added to the search results page a button for searching Google (oh, SWAN folks...). You can also have your kids take their Internet Safety Quiz (I know I plan to).

Now I wish we'd had time to stop by the London Library when we drove to the London Airport to fly to Calgary.  :-

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Digital Video Recorders Still Greater Than Sliced Bread

Rounding out news emailed to me, Jennifer Choate notes a study her company did about users of Digital Video Recorders (DVRs, also called Personal Video Recorders or PVRs). Some interesting statistics culled from the report:

  • 22% of PVR users (consistent across all three waves 877 interviews) claim they NEVER watch live television now.
  • News & Sports continue to be the top two types of programs watched live.
  • 65% claim they watch more kinds of programs now.
  • 55% claim they watch more channels.
  • 20% claim they “DON”T KNOW” the change in channels, “the PVR records what they want.”
  • 63% claim they watch more television with their children now, and 40% of their children know how to program the devices.
  • Top three channels watched with PVR by children and family: PBS, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network.
  • 60% say they rent fewer movies than before and 39% believe they are saving money because of it, despite their expense with PVRs.
  • 20% of the commercials are NEVER watched by PVR owners.
  • But, 80% claim they watch certain commercials deliberately for entertainment and product interest.
  • When testing new concepts in advertising, very interestingly 35% of these owners say they are “very likely” to “accept suggestions and visit a website for more information; and 23% are willing to accept “incentivized viewership” paving the way for truly interactive television.
  • 43% of these owners own multiple devices.
  • 74% of these households want one for every TV in the house.
  • 60% of current users are more satisfied now with their cable or satellite provider.
  • What they value most: CONTROL – customization, personalization, TV is more meaningful, something always available to watch.

And some user comments:

  • “I watch less BAD TV.”
  • “I treat it like my Internet now, I seek and find what I want, when I want it.”
  • “I watch more shows, in less time, and on my schedule.”
  • “My children don’t understand when they see regular TV.”
  • “After owning one, you would never consider watching TV without it.”

I haven't read through the whole report yet, but all of these observations and statistics are certainly true at my house. The majority of programming on the 60-hour ReplayTV is for the kids, and next year we're hoping to get a third Replay for the upstairs. I expect that in another year or so, the kids will rarely watch live TV anymore. As I say in my presentations, if you don't have a DVR, you should. Like wireless and broadband internet, it changes how you view and interact with information and entertainment.

You can get a copy of the report by contacting Jennifer Choate at jenniferc@ccubedllc.com. (Note: it's unclear in the email I received if you have to pay for it.)

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