The Shifted Librarian - Shifting Libraries at the speed of byte
 Friday, December 20, 2002

Be Sure to Pronounce It Correctly

Shibboleth Project

"Shibboleth is an initiative to develop an open, standards-based solution to the needs for organizations to exchange information about their users in a secure, and privacy-preserving manner. The initiative is facilitated by Internet2 and a group of leading campus middleware architects from member schools and corporate partners. The organizations that may want to exchange information include higher education, their partners, digital content providers, government agencies, etc. The purpose of the exchange is typically to determine if a person using a web browser (e.g., Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, Mozilla) has the permissions to access a resource at a target resource based on information such as being a member of an institution or a particular class. The system is privacy preserving in that it leads with this information, not with an identity, and allows users to determine whether to release additional information about themselves. An open solution means both an open architecture and a functioning, open-source implementation. Standards-based means that the information that is exchanged between organizations can interoperate with that from other solutions. We are accepting contributions for further development." [via More Like This WebLog]

I'm posting this mostly to get it in my archives and on others' radar screens. It's a project that Clifford Lynch is tracking, which means it's worth tracking period. As Bill Humphries notes in his original post on MLTW, libraries are and should be interested in this project because it will improve our authorization abilities for databases and catalogs. I'll have to take some time to read through the site and figure out if there's a way to bring this into SLS (and ultimately all of the Illinois Library Systems), especially as we move forward with VIC (including patron-initiated interlibrary loan requests - someday!), LibraryU, and continued statewide access to FirstSearch.

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Age-appropriate Video Games

How the Grinch Stole Gaming

"It was bound to happen. Less than a month after toy retailer Zany Brainy declared it would jettison sales of video games because too few titles are being produced for young children, word has now come down from another of the world's leading toy distribution channels: Santa is discontinuing deliveries of video games, effective immediately....

'The majority of games out there just don't match my demographic,' Santa said in a telephone interview from his North Pole headquarters. 'The kids who believe in me are too young to be unwrapping things like Grand Theft Auto or BMX XXX. In fact, I question whether those games are appropriate for any age.'

When asked why he thinks game developers have fallen behind in the production of games rated 'E' for 'everyone,' the Jolly Old Elf replied, 'Beats me. Last time I checked, there were plenty of children on the 'nice' list who deserve toys that don't advocate illegal behavior.'

Gaming companies were quick to issue statements downplaying the importance of the decision.

'Our game machine is aimed at the hard-core, 16- to 35-year-old male gamer. Our customers don't want or need the support of overweight anachronisms like Santa Claus,' said a spokesperson for a major software company that recently plunged into the video game hardware business....

This controversy appears to beg an age-old question: Where are the parents of these young virtual delinquents? Some--alas, too few--are out picketing in front of a Toys 'R' Us somewhere. A few of us at least try to take an active interest in what games our children are playing. But most parents are, unfortunately, absentees on the whole matter.

In testimony before the U.S. Senate in March 2000, David Walsh, president and founder of the National Institute on Media and the Family, provided the following statistics:

  • Ninety percent of teens say their parents never check the ratings of the video games they buy or rent.
  • Only one percent of teen video gamers say their parents have ever prevented them from getting a game because of its rating.

So as you sit wrapping presents in the predawn hours this holiday--presents that Santa himself may have deemed too offensive to carry on his sleigh--take a minute to note the rating on those video games, and think about whether or not it's an appropriate gift for the child in your life. You're not just giving a toy, you're making an important statement about your values. And remember, Santa is watching." [ZDNet]

Although the article starts out facetiously, this is an important topic. It's a constant battle in our house to explain to Brent why he can't have or play games that are rated T (teen) or M (mature). It's especially problematic when he goes next door and his friends play them at their homes. It will become an even bigger problem when gaming gets powerful and pervasive on cell phones and PDAs, making it even more difficult for parents to control what their kids play. I'm far more concerned about what my kids see on TV and and at the movies and what video games they play than I am about their chances of accidentally viewing pornography on my computer or the library's. Sometimes it's hard being the adult.

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A Success Story

How Perl Powers Christmas

"You know, it's not easy having the happiness of billions of children around the world resting with your organization, and it's even harder on the IT department. The incorporated elves and pixiefolk of the North Pole, under the direction of their jolly old leader, have to deal with massive quantities of data, huge manfacturing flows and what is possibly the strictest delivery timetable in the world. Despite these challenges Santa and his reindeer have been able to meet their tight deadline and achieve one of the highest customer satisfaction ratings in industry.

For many centuries, the elves needed to work for only a couple of months of the year to manufacture every gift for every child, but recent advances in technology and the increasing global population have, in the past two decades, left them working day and night all year round, with only a few days of holiday before work had to begin again in early Janurary. During the early '90s, some workflow improvements were made and some time savings were gained by using a mainframe to coordinate the route Santa would take on the night before Christmas, ensuring he could still visit every client during the 24 hours available. By 1995, these savings had made only a small difference to the performance of the operation, with representatives of the Amalgamated Present Production and Sleigh Mechanics' Union threatening to leak to the media predictions that Christmas might need to be cancelled in 1998 and held bi-annually from then on if every child was to receive presents on the same day. The elves even considered going on strike in 1996, but they reconsidered after seeing the reaction of a young boy to his older brother's proof that Santa Claus could not physically exist. (Santa is, of course, entirely real -- he just doesn't pay too much attention to natural laws.)...

That was seven years ago, and now Perl powers Christmas. Its diverse realm of application, not to mention its slightly idiosyncratic nature, fit the mindset of an elf perfectly and -- more importantly -- help them to get everything done in November and December, leaving them the rest of the year to enjoy themselves.

The first application of Perl was in the Health and Safety department. For many years, the Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Avionic Reindeer was worried about the risks presented during landings on roofs and increasingly from the potential for midair collisions with aircraft. An effort was undertaken to carefully map international air corridors, catalog hazardous or unstable landing patches and (as Santa's diet was underperforming) details of chimney widths for every dwelling on the planet. Needless to say maintaining this was a nightmare -- until, that is, a custom set of tools was written in Perl to allow Santa's scouts to take reports from the field using a primitive Web interface. The major benefit of Perl here was the speed with which new types of reindeer strip could be added to the database as the time needed to program the necessary logic to handle them was reduced....

The naughtyness database was, for many years, simply a set of paper files kept in a filing cabinet in a dungeon by a troll. Every year, the troll would carefully collate every good deed and every black act of every boy and girl the world over. Before distributing presents on Christmas day, Father Christmas would ask the troll if there were any children that deserved coal instead. Of course, due to his meticulous record keeping the troll could honestly, if gruffly, reply "no, not a single child has been that bad." The mounting volumes of data near the end of the last century left the troll unable to keep up with developments. Soon he began to confuse one child with another, sometimes he couldn't enter every good thought of every child and eventually the system failed. A child was assigned not one but two sacks of coal. Thankfully an internal investigation revealed the problems faced by the troll and corrected the error, but it was decided that the troll must be retired in favor of a system based on the latest developments in artificial intelligence technologies. The review also concluded that the system should also modified so that especially good children would get better presents delivered, and coal was retired in favor of a good talking to from the troll who now relishes his new line in community work....

The recent explosion of the Internet has been both good and bad for the elves in the mail room. Santa receives many millions of letters each year from all around the world, and now also gets about 10 times as many e-mails. For a time, these were processed in the same way as the letters, but soon a new solution was required. In the end, rather than develop an in house tool, the elves adopted RT -- a trouble ticketing and bug tracking system written in Perl -- to handle the assignment of requests to manufacturing areas. This allowed a much closer match between the wishes of the children and the presents they unwrapped come Dec. 25. The elves also encountered a growing problem from e-mail spam. For a while, they naively assumed that Santa should be sending viagra and his bank details to relatives of the President of Nigeria, but eventually they twigged that odd things were afoot. A bit of research, and some help from the Perl community, led them quickly to Mail::Audit and spamassassin as an optimal filter." []

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Hidden Will Ferrell Switch Ad

"From MacSlash, this link works for me, in addition to these movies." [Too Much News]

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Video Goes Blog


"Welcome to a new age of blogging: video blogging. I've created two video weblogs -- one about the new World Trade Center designs and one about my Christmas tree -- because (a) there's new software that makes it easy [more on that below] and (b) I'm becoming convinced that video is the next frontier for blogging." [BuzzMachine]

Harold Gilchrist has been tracking audioblogging for several months, but Jeff Jarvis has made himself the first (to my knowledge) videoblogger. It will be interesting to see how frequently he keeps up with video entries, considering how much more work is involved than in regular blogging. It makes perfect sense that Jeff would lead this charge given his background.

My only quibble is that my broadband connection was wasted reading the regular blog entry about Jeff's Christmas tree vlog. I would much rather have had it sent as an RSS enclosure so I could just click on it directly in my news aggregator. Full multimedia functionality in what has become my single greatest source of information - which commercial entity will be the first to figure out how to reach me this way?

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