Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Google and Microsoft Push US Feds to Update Privacy Laws

It's only in the States, but it's worth noting: A coalition of the net’s biggest online service providers, including Google and Microsoft, are joining with the top internet rights groups to demand Congress modernize the nation’s privacy laws.

“With the emergence of location services and the transfer of a huge amount of data to the cloud and our huge reliance on cloud storage of e-mail messages, the law has become outdated and needs to be updated,” Dempsey said in the conference call.

For instance, when the law was crafted, e-mail was almost always downloaded from a central server to a user’s computer. Any messages left after 180 days were considered abandoned, so the law allows police to obtain any e-mail older than six months simply by issuing a subpoena — meaning no judge is involved. If those e-mails had been downloaded to a user’s computer and removed from the server, the police would need a search warrant, based on probable cause, to get at them.

But now that Americans store gigabytes of e-mails on Yahoo’s, Google’s and Microsoft’s servers, those different standards make no sense, and the law should be platform independent, according to Dempsey.

Old School vs. New School Libraries

From the UK Times Online: The transformation from fusty institutes to hi-tech hubs has resulted in a schism in local libraries.

...There is a clear schism between traditionalists and modernisers. For one it is about books and silence, for the other it’s about community usage, Facebook and cups of coffee or, in the words of Andrew Motion, the former Poet Laureate and now the chairman of the Museums Libraries and Archives Council, “shhh and fining or Starbucks and PCs”.

Smelling Books (Again)

In Which, Emphatically And Forever, I Decline To Care How Books Smell, Linda Holmes. I kind of want to marry this woman now.

My day-to-day experience of reading generally involves things that I am reading now, which often means relatively new books -- either new books, or newly acquired copies of old books. Now, I freely admit that if I get my nose within in inch of the paper, I can smell "book." Which, loosely defined, means "paper and ink." I cannot smell wisdom. I cannot smell memory, or the past, or people who were reading a hundred years ago and have handed down their tradition of reading by firelight.

You know when I sense wisdom? I sense wisdom from the words. For me, language contains wisdom and tradition and history, whether printed on a page, heard aloud, read on a screen, or recalled because it was meaningful.

Weird book smell people. Weird, weird, people.

Monday, March 29, 2010

How Will the End of Print Journalism Affect Old Loons Who Hoard Newspapers?

How Will The End Of Print Journalism Affect Old Loons Who Hoard Newspapers?

The Onion is not a serious news site. Except the AV Club section, that's actually not made up.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Eye Tracking Technology

Also from Wired:

The best thing about reading a book on a tablet (so far) is how closely it approximates reading a “real” book — which is why the Kindle’s screen is matte like paper rather than luminescent like a laptop. Some (not all) fear for the demise of real reading and writing, but it’s more likely we’re really at the leading edge of an innovation curve that could breathe new life into the written word.

For example: What if those written words were watching you reading them and making adjustments accordingly? Eye-tracking technology and processor-packed tablets promise to react, based on how you’re looking at text — where you pause, how you stare, where you stop reading altogether — in a friction-reducing implementation of the Observer Effect. The act of reading will change what you are reading.

This one's pretty curious. I doubt I'm going to like it too much; my dedicated reading time is before I go to sleep. As I grow more and more sleepy, my ability to focus changes. I sometimes close one eye or the other to focus better on the words. If definitions kept popping up I think I'd go crazy. On the other hand, if the technology was sensitive enough... definitions might help, particularly late at night when I don't feel like hauling myself out of bed to look something up in my gigantic dictionary.

New RFID Technology

From Wired:

Researchers from Sunchon National University in Suncheon, South Korea, and Rice University in Houston have built a radio frequency identification tag that can be printed directly onto cereal boxes and potato chip bags. The tag uses ink laced with carbon nanotubes to print electronics on paper or plastic that could instantly transmit information about a cart full of groceries.

“You could run your cart by a detector and it tells you instantly what’s in the cart,” says James M. Tour of Rice University, whose research group invented the ink. “No more lines, you just walk out with your stuff.”

RFID tags are already used widely in passports, library books and gadgets that let cars fly through tollbooths without cash. But those tags are made from silicon, which is more expensive than paper and has to be stuck onto the product as a second step.

“It’s potentially much cheaper, printing it as part of the package,” Tour says.

Cool, though I'm still weirded out by carrying around things that emit radio waves and allow people to track me. Maybe I should get some stock in tin foil.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Tiny Art Director

Bill Zeman's A Tiny Art Director is a book about Bill drawing things that his daughter Rosie requests and her reactions to the results. It looks hilarious. I must find this and read it.

Don't Block It, Take it Down

From Boing Boing, source of so many Megducation articles: Child-abuse survivors oppose EU censorwall.

A recently leaked European Council proposal seeks to create a "Great Firewall of Europe," instituted to block sites that depict the abuse of children. As with other censorwalls, it's unlikely that this will performed as intended, since paedophiles will circumvent it with proxies, or by using P2P or email or private websites to trade illegal material. But the creation of a continent-wide network censorship scheme is likely to cause new problems, inviting authorities to shoehorn ever-greater slices of the net into the "illegal" category -- this has already happened in Australia and other countries that have built Chinese-style censorship regimes.

A German organization of child-abuse survivors, MOGis e.V, opposes the proposal on the grounds that these images shouldn't just be blocked; they should be taken away comepletely. Remove them, don't just look away.


While I enjoy comic books, I find I don't have the cash to collect them. I mean to organize myself and read library collections, but I'm lazy. Anyway, the one series I do collect is Fables, a comic about fables from every time and land being chased from their homes and into modern-day New York City, where they live in a particular city block and try to stay hidden from ordinary mortals. Some manage that better than most; the ones that can't manage - the three little pigs, for example - are sent to The Farm. Snow White, Rose Red, and the Big Bad Wolf - Bigby - are prominent characters.

Cory Doctorow's review of the latest collection at Boing Boing sounds very interesting:

In Crossover, the Literals (literal embodiments of philosophical and literary ideals, such as the Pathetic Fallacy and a trio of beautiful, ass-kicking embodiments of librarianship) suck the Fables into a new kind of fight -- a fight against the Writer, himself a Literal, bent on rewriting reality and making a better one, in order to rein in the characters and situations who've run away from him.

As with previous volumes, it's whacking great fun, as well as being an education in the ways of storytelling and a philosophical rumination on the nature of belief, reality, and the power of stories. Willingham's humor and scenarios grow more meta with each installment, but somehow, it never degenerates into a mere exercise -- Fables is always, first and foremost, a wonderful story.

Time to make some early birthday and Christmas list additions. I'm so behind on the series.

Snopes is actually run by a husband and wife team. I had no idea; I figured it was a bunch of people. I suppose I always envisioned them as being hipsters in their twenties with the big thick-rimmed glasses. (Which I love, and which I own and wear.) (Glasses, not hipsters. I don't wear hipsters.)

The site debunks myths; if you're not sure if a story you've heard is real, you look to I got hit by the Family Scammer, though my variant was a friend. They'd gotten into his Google mail and Facebook accounts. I did not believe he was in Wales and didn't send them anything, but it's still the most plausible money-grabbing scheme I've ever been emailed. (It also didn't involve a phone call.) Far more convincing than that Nigerian guy.

The Streak

When his second daughter was in fourth grade, Jim Brozina proposed The Streak: he and his daughter Kristen would read together every night for a hundred nights without missing once. A hundred nights turned into a thousand nights, and eventually went up to 3,218 nights.

It's a cute story, going from fourth grade all the way up to Kristen's first day of college. I have to say, though, I feel a little bad for his first daughter, Kathy, who declared she would take over from her father reading to her at bedtime in fourth grade. Maybe she didn't like being read to; I can empathize. I'd rather read on my own, it's faster. And maybe she missed out on something big that her father had with her little sister. And even if she didn't want to be read to, I imagine she has at least a little regret.

E-book Sellers and the iPad

From LISNews: E-Book Sellers Face a Battle to Win iPad Customers. Wait, people bought iPads?


Friday, March 19, 2010

Quiet Zones

More about quiet in the library - some libraries in Houston will start having 'quiet zones' where talking will be discouraged.

In mid-December, a library worker at the Robinson Westchase Neighborhood Library in the 3200 block of Wilcrest was hit, knocked to the floor and stomped by a 23-year-old patron when she asked the man to leave. Other library patrons tackled the offender, who had been singing loudly.

The attacker eventually was convicted of assault and sentenced to 140 days in jail.

Maybe all those kung fu lessons will come in handy for my chosen career.

Human-Flesh Search Engine

It's about as creepy as it sounds: the human-flesh search engine. Vigilantes in China hunt down people with unpopular opinions and find their offline identities, including addresses, details about their personal lives, where they are employed, and where they go to school. The people they have tracked down seem to be forced to make apologies or harassed by phone or by email; there are cases where people have been fired or detained by police.

In one infamous case in 2006, a woman now dubbed “the kitten killer of Hangzhou” posted a video of herself stomping a kitten to death with her stiletto heels. China’s netizens erupted with rage and hundreds of amateur sleuths traced the video to Hangzhou, a city south of Shanghai. They discovered the woman’s name and that she had recently purchased a pair of high-heeled shoes on eBay. They attacked her until she apologized on a local government website and lost her job.

I can't say I have much sympathy for the kitten-killer, but schoolkids being detained for being insensitive jerks? Too far.

The New York Times has written a longer article on this subject.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Digital Media Teen Hangout

The Harold Washington Library in South Chicago runs a successful-sounding Digital Media Space for teens to be creative and network.

"Our goal is to draw students in so that they're comfortable hanging out in the library, and then get them to engage with the workshops and technology in the space," Neal said. "We're seeing more and more students who were hanging out, participating in workshops and on the social network. It's been great to see their interests develop."

This sounds like an excellent way to help kids get more tech-savvy and provide a safe place for them to go to that encourages their creativity, though it also sounds pricey:

The Digital Space offers eight desktop computers, 96 laptops, two PlayStation 3's with a library of games, and musical keyboards and a recording studio so teenagers can create music, art and poetry, or jump online and talk with peers in the secure, password-protected YOUMedia forum.

A recording studio? Really? Huh.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Turn Your Blog Into a Book?

Having just finished another post, an ad on the 'yay you just published a post' page caught my eye:

Turn your blog into a book!
Blog2Print from SharedBook turns your blog into a soft cover or hard cover book. You pick the cover, add an optional dedication, then preview and you're done. Prices start at $14.95.

Now I'm wondering what the difference between a blog and a journal is. I could pay $14.95 (and probably more, since that's USD and I'm Canadian) and get my blog published as a book with real, actual pages I could smell. And absolutely none of the links would work, and none of the articles linked would be included, and isn't that the point of a blog? Isn't it just a journal otherwise? If you make a new word for a new thing, use that word properly and don't lump other things in with that word.

Books to Pass On

A poll commissioned to mark World Book Day asked British People what books they would like to pass on to the next generation.

Number one: the Harry Potter books. Okay, yes. Not always the best written. Number two: The DaVinci Code. I still need to read this one, but I really don't want to based on opinions I've heard (Dan Brown is a hack being the most common) and the fact that I didn't much like his book with the Illuminati. I didn't like it enough to even look up its actual title. Anyway! Number five: Twilight.

No, no, no, was my immediate thought. Twilight? Not very well written, horrible message for young girls, blah blah blah. Then I thought about other books I found annoying, like Sense and Sensibility. I have never wanted a character to die as much as I did when one of the sisters fell ill in Sense and Sensibility. I tossed it down in disgust at one point. I guess that's how things like this get started: someone passes down something that's not all that great (yes, I just said Jane Austen's book wasn't all that great and I was being kind) and then years and years later it's a 'classic'. I hope I die before Twilight is ever considered a classic. I hope I am so, so dead.

Wikipedia Collaborators and Their Roles

A paper written by a University of Arizona professor and a graduate student found that quality Wikipedia articles are the result of the work of different kinds of collaborators.

Starters, for example, create sentences but seldom engage in other actions. Content justifiers create sentences and justify them with resources and links. Copy editors contribute primarily though modifying existing sentences. Some users – the all-round contributors – perform many different functions.

So basically, really good Wikipedia articles come about by embracing the core tenet of the project: many people working together provide better information.

The paper is also available for download.

US vs. UK Book Covers

Insert clever (or not-so-clever) comment about judging a book by its cover here. This article from The Millions compares the US and UK covers of several books.

More about covers: Black vs. White Covers.

I think the US cover of Burnt Shadows looks smutty!

Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200

More in the battle against late fees! A teenager in Colorado has been sent to jail for an overdue DVD.

Apparently the kid borrowed House of Flying Daggers and accidentally packed it up while moving. The DVD's about $30; it cost $200 to get the kid out of jail, another $200 to get his car out of the impound lot, and $60 in court fees.

Littleton Mayor Doug Clark said the city plans to change its policy on overdue DVDs and books as a result of the case.

"We're not going to arrest people who don't return $30 DVDs," he said.

Gee, y'think?

The Misogyny of Dr. Seuss

Here's another one of those 'has a point but goes too far' articles, this time about the lack of women in Dr. Seuss' books.

Here are a few of the comments:
I remember "The Cat in the Hat" ... about a boy and a GIRL. And there also were no blacks, gays, transgenders, Chinese, Russians, Germans, Indians, or Japanese. The author of this article is trying so hard to be a victim. Why not pick actual, significant cases of sexism to write about instead of looking for a problem where one does not exist?

I have daughters, I plan to empower them by not whining and moaning about girls not being portrayed in appropriate numbers by a beloved children's author. I guess from now on, we'll need to have special screeners to make sure that each children's book has a suitable quota of girls, gays, blacks and other special groups before being allowed to be printed.

This just proves out, once again, what my mother used to tell me: If you go looking for things to be mad about, you'll sure find 'em.

The funny thing is, thinking back on all those books... I remember thinking quite a lot of the characters looked girly because of their long eyelashes. They just weren't necessarily human. I think women should be honoured, no matter what species. Otherwise that's just... humanist.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Quiet in the Library

A counterpoint to No Silence! The Effing Librarian writes about shushing in libraries in a positive manner.

Personally, I can see both sides. A quiet place that remains quiet to work and read in is pretty awesome. On the other hand, libraries being more interactive and community-based is also pretty awesome. Thankfully, may libraries still have quiet areas where shushing can happen.

Amazon's Unintended Comic Sale

This Sunday (March 7th), Amazon accidentally had a huge sale on hardcover comic book collections. Books normally selling for $62.99 USD were priced at $14.99. Some went even lower, to $8.24. Diamond Books Distributors distributes all the 'sale' titles.

Someone or something somewhere went wrong. Of course, people are demanding they get the books at the lower price anyway. Is this honest? No. Not really.

Plenty of people who took advantage of this error are feeling entitled, with some threatening class action suits if they don’t get their discount books. How selfish. You knew the pricing was wrong, and yet you ordered anyway. If you get any books at all out of the deal, you got lucky. Saying you should get them all is pig-headed. Trying to take advantage of someone else’s error isn’t good karma (although I ordered a few books myself). Trying to profit from it, by ordering multiple copies for later resale, for instance, is just greedy.

Little Billy's Letters

In the 1990s Bill Geerhart was an unemployed, not-so aspiring screenwriter in his 30s. To pass the time, he channeled his inner child, 10-year-old Billy, and started writing letters to famous and infamous people and institutions. These letters, written in pencil on elementary school ruled paper, asked funny but relevant questions to politicians, serial killers, movie stars, lobbyists, CEOs, and celebrity lawyers.

Little Billy's Letters to Famous and Infamous People sounds like a fun book. I feel like a shill, but I enjoyed reading the excerpts published in this BoingBoing article.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Popular Science

Popular Science articles are now online and free. You can browse by issue.

There better be stuff about ROBOTS in there or I'm gonna be disappointed.

Jenny Levine on Gaming in the Library

Partly to save this for later when I can sit down and listen to it, here is a talk by Jenny Levine about gaming in the library.

The Most Amazing Libraries in the World Part Two

From the Huffington Post, more of the most amazing libraries of the world. Photos! Number one on this list is the Canadian Library of Parliament. Very nice.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

World Book Day

Today is apparently World Book Day... in the UK and Ireland. I only stumbled across this article on it and immediately felt bad. World Book Day? What? I didn't know that! Some wannabe librarian I am! But it's not so much my fault, because World Book Day doesn't really happen in the rest of the world. Or something like that.

Name aside, this is still a very cool idea.

So on this World Book Day, if I have one modest wish, it is that, at least for a day, we ponder the real and spiritual poverty of a life lived without the ability to read, without the sheer joy of escaping into a good book. I can't put it half as eloquently as Julian Barnes who, explaining how books can help us steer through the tricky waters of life, said in Flaubert's Parrot: "Books say: she did this because. Life says: she did this. Books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren't."

Yeah, Barnes put it much better.

Memory Hole

The Memory Hole is a site that keeps track of changes to official government pages and other things procured by the Freedom of Information Act, like images of the coffins of dead US soldiers from Afghanistan.

The memory hole is a reference to George Orwell's 1984:

In the walls of the cubicle there were three orifices. To the right of the speakwrite, a small pneumatic tube for written messages, to the left, a larger one for newspapers; and in the side wall, within easy reach of Winston's arm, a large oblong slit protected by a wire grating. This last was for the disposal of waste paper. Similar slits existed in thousands or tens of thousands throughout the building, not only in every room but at short intervals in every corridor. For some reason they were nicknamed memory holes. When one knew that any document was due for destruction, or even when one saw a scrap of waste paper lying about, it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in, whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building.

Worst Mothers in Literature

BookFinder compiled a list of the worst mothers in literature. This is by no means recent, but I only just stumbled across it.

Onion Google Article

While only the AV Club section of The Onion is an actual news site, some people get a little confused. So: this is not a real news article about Google responding to privacy concerns in an unsettlingly specific apology.

"Americans have every right to be angry at us," Google spokesperson Janet Kemper told reporters. "Though perhaps Dale Gilbert should just take a few deep breaths and go sit in his car and relax, like they tell him to do at the anger management classes he attends over at St. Francis Church every Tuesday night."

"Breathe in, breathe out," Kemper added. "We wouldn't want you to have another incident, Dale. Not when you've been doing so well."