StephenK's blog

A quick cross-post from Blip.TV

The video below sums up the current question in "Talk to LISNews".

Resiliency And Redundancy Underscored

CNN, among others, reports that an earthquake ranging 5.6-5.8 hit in Chino Hills outside Los Angeles. It will be days before a final magnitude score for the earthquake is settled upon. The report by MSNBC notes that location is key to whether damage occurs.

Much of this brings up a point we don't think about in librarianship too much. If we rely on a remote server that gets hit by a natural disaster, what do we do? Do we have local backups? Is there something we can fail over to?

A prime example of a problem is Twitter. The majority of Twitter's servers are located in one of the most geologically active areas of North America. If an earthquake hit, Twitter would be probably toast without a backup outside San Francisco.

Great centralization may be great for cognitive processing but it is so vulnerable. During the Cold War it was found that a way to disrupt the Soviet side was to blow up a factory. Typically all production was centered in a single factory. If you hit the shoe factory, there might not be shoes for a while. If you hit the radio factory, folks might have to turn to smugglers from Western Europe to bring in Telefunken devices and other such things.

While there are Web 2.0 sites with great promise, the biggest worry is excessive centralization. If a site goes down, what do you do? If you had important documents saved only to GoogleDocs, what do you do when it goes away? The recent Amazon S3 outage showed just how fragile cloud computing is as it requires a near-perfect world without disruption in which to operate effectively.

There are some moves afoot for decentralization. The PGP web of trust is one great example of decentralizing a backbone to a public-key encryption system. identi.ca is based off a program licensed under the GNU Affero General Public License. The underlying software, known as Laconica, allows for decentralized microblogging across multiple servers. A major step forward in creating resilience is decentralization.

When the one big server blows up, where will you go for your data? -- Read More

Testing something in editing I haven't tried before

This shows a nice intersection between iMovie and GarageBand as tools:

Granted, I did have that one relative offer to build something running Cinelerra but I do not think that the time is ripe for that yet.

As to my previous blog post

The previous post which apparently touched quite of bit of nerves has been deleted. It shall not return.

Cringeworthiness

I am posting this early although it is a draft script and quite subject to revision prior to airing on the next episode of LISTen.

As this is recorded, ALA Annual 2008 is underway. I will admit upfront that I am not a member of the American Library Association and never have been. I simply cannot afford it while I can afford Christian College Librarians which is headquartered at Harding University in Arkansas. I can manage annual dues of twenty dollars far more easily than what is asked by ALA.

While following Twitter and lurking on Blip-Dot-T-V, I have noticed some things. While librarians are supposed to be masters of information, we cannot present it all that well. Although we like the new vistas opened to us by today's great Web 2.0 tools, we are somewhat lacking in understanding how to use them effectively to serve those we are supposed to serve.

When I see a technology thought leader post a video running only seven minutes but with a file size in excess of three hundred megabytes I cringe. When I see Twitter used for things it was never meant to support I cringe. I wouldn't be surprised if such was why Twitter would not even give me a "fail whale" for a good chunk of Friday as ALA Annual began with I presume plenty of tweeting librarians.

Just as much as there are style guides for students who write papers, there are also guides for production. We try to follow a blend of TV and radio pacing in the production of LISTen where our "ads" are used basically as transitions between segments. There are styles of presentation that exist and can be chosen among. When we produce for video we follow prevailing standards for how things are done in that form. We rarely release things in video with dimensions beyond 720 by 480 pixels because that is equivalent to analog broadcast television in North America already. While we could provide more resolution the problem is a lack of viewers who can use such. Sticking to a web standard of 320 by 240 pixels in MPEG4 format allows us to post video that is the most portable whether watching it on-screen, on an iPod, or eventually on a device like an iPhone. For other cell phone types, 3GP is the encoding standard used to knock things down to a format accessible over current networks even though it is somewhat degraded through fairly severe compression.

While I see "disruptive technology" applauded, I can say it is perhaps a mis-appropriation of a phrase. Librarians have championed disruptive technology advances in the past. The engineering feat that was the shared academic catalog now known as WorldCat is one of them that continues today to impact the world around us. My biggest fear, though, is that we use that turn of phrase as an excuse for creating things with tools we don't know fully how to utilize and to accept such produced items regardless of their quality.

I am sometimes outright horrified at what I do see by way of Twitter in terms of what is being said at ALA Annual as to tech. While we fancy ourselves as being quite adept at tech, it should be noted that systems administration abilities to keep an integrated library system running do not translate well into handling Adobe Premiere or Final Cut Pro let alone Audacity. We do not teach showmanship in library school and assume that students pick such up during their undergraduate studies. In a world where we are expected to perform for an amorphous, faceless audience, librarians are ill-equipped to handle things. Just as much as we can "write" with Word we cannot have something accepted if style conventions are not followed. Why is it any different from the tech tools we have like YouTube and social networks?

We must avoid the cloister. Librarianship is turning upon itself to be a monastery that keeps to its seemingly pious works while feeling it does good for a world it is increasingly not connected to. I can only hope that we are at a precipice now rather than having already taken a leap off it. -- Read More

Thoughts from behind the microphone

So where do I start? My boss at my day job went AWOL today. What was supposed to be a three hour short shift turned into quite a bit more. When the boss finally reappeared it was noted that the boss would have to go in for open heart surgery on top of the diabetes complications already.

Why was there no episode previously? I have been watching my boss decay physically. It has been impacting work and there has been nothing I could do to fix things. My team has been getting physically ill from things. I know it has been taking a toll on me physically. My co-workers are also at the point that we are going to have to force things to be brought to resolution.

Last week, we really had no news to talk about. While dealing with the on-going emergency at work, I kinda could not get home to record anything. On Sunday I got home late enough that we would not have been able to start recording until the very early hours of Monday morning. Rather than produce something with me sounding whiny yet exhausted, we went with speech synthesis. Such saved equipment set up while also allowing us to be sensitive to users who download right in iTunes or another podcatcher instead of going to the web page. That it was downloaded faster than a normal podcast had us initially disturbed but then quite amused. -- Read More

Where has imagination gone?

Is librarianship a profession that nurtures creativity? Lately I am not so sure. Reaction to the recent do-it-yourself project released about modifying a talking teddy bear to speak your RSS feed of your tweets as well as your friends brings something to mind.

Why just condemn it and move on? This actually present a unique opportunity. For example, purchasing a good Text-to-Speech voice from an outfit like Cepstral would allow you to cannibalize the software for that project to create a running audio stream reading an RSS feed you generate. If your OPAC supports generating RSS feeds of data like new books or newly returned books, you have a unique data set to play with. You could use an audio feed of such to give airport-like announcements of new books on their way in to the library. You could use that as your "hold music". While you might need a programmer on-hand to smooth over the rough edges in the software, this is an easy way to be creative.

One big thing about our profession is that we do not define creativity as the world around us does. That can be both good and bad. The way to handle the omnipresent relevance question is to take stock of two key things. The first is understanding what the minimum acceptable level of service is that your patrons expect. The second is being able to creatively work with what you have rather than what you don't have to either meet or beat those expectations.

Glitz and tech won't always get people in the door. There are people out in the world who don't know what a blog is or why Twitter should matter to them. There are people who cannot live without Twitter every moment of the day. For public libraries in particular, a key mission is to serve all sorts of demographic groups who make up the "public" you serve. In other library types the pressure is not as significant but it remains.

As culture splinters into ever-smaller niches it becomes an issue in serving those niches. Libraries cannot necessarily be all things to all people. Getting to the point of being something to most people is a start from which you have to build off using creative talent held by library staff.

After all, the splintering into niches has yet to cease in the United States...

Piercing the fog of production

Rarely is it good to talk about the inner-workings of editorial decision-making. Such ranks up there with the making of sausage and the creation of laws as things best not known. Sometimes it is necessary to do so, though.

This week's episode of LISTen features five separate Public Service Announcements. We received absolutely no compensation for running such. The five discrete ads are all available as free downloads from a federal agency, namely the Federal Communications Commission. While it may sound fairly odd to some and perhaps quite condescending, there is a purpose to such.

The role of the librarian in today's Amazoogle world is to meet information needs. When you start from that philosophical standpoint you have to consider some things. When there is a lack of a clutch in a coming paradigm shift, what responsibility do you have to those you serve? How does such impact serving their information needs?

For the audience that LISTen serves, the whole discussion of the digital television transition in the United States probably seemed meaningless. Such misses the forest for the trees. While we acknowledge that librarians are striving today to be technological elites, the people who are served by librarians more often than not are not such elites at all. The whole Tech for Techies discussion was an attempt to discuss the transition in terms of how to approach patron questions. Rather than tell a patron you don't know, why not take a look at some of the common questions patrons might pose let alone some uncommon ones?

I made a conscious choice to use all five of the ads I used. Those are the US government's best effort to reach out to the public. Have you ever heard such outside LISTen, though? With reports of somewhere around eighty percent of the population not even knowing this is coming, can we take steps to at least prevent catastrophic information seeking sessions that barely help anyone involved?

I will not order anyone to "be creative". That's not the way such works! Considering that ALA is entering into a public education partnership with an electronics retailer to try to get word out to folks, it is not like this is an issue that the profession's organization in the United States is ignoring. I would much rather you heard the government's best effort at outreach and be stirred to action on your own to try to do better. As information professionals who deal with the information-seeking needs of rather diverse populations, this should be an easy one to plan a program on! The ALA is already trying to make it easier for you to get speakers in as it is. If a listener can come up with something creative on their own, the result is probably going to be far better than my sounding like a drill sergeant barking orders.

Part of the infrastructure to our Amazoogle world is changing fundamentally. What is the role of libraries in trying to be relevant to their served populations? I do not argree that being hip and trendy is the way to go. Establishing a firm foundation and reputation as being the source for good information is what you build relevance on top of. In an unorthodox way I tried to show something that would be an easy thing to start with.

This wouldn't require an investment in new servers or software. This would not require necessarily an infrastructure investment. If anything this is something that libraries do well but have gotten away from over time. Being the "People's University" doesn't always require a new social network and sometimes requires merely a meeting room as well as speakers and potentially refreshments.

Testing something

Wednesday, Wednesday, Wednesday...

It appears I am appearing on Digital Home episode #17. Oddly enough, I actually come up first in the podcast episode I believe. Such depends upon how editing turned out.

Value for Money

As I write, Twitter has been unreachable for a little over forty minutes. The outage is starting to stretch into an hour. Frankly I question what will come first tonight, the return of Twitter or the kick-off to Uncontrolled Vocabulary #42. This ping shows that the machine lives but is just not responsive:

PING twitter.com (128.121.146.100): 56 data bytes
64 bytes from 128.121.146.100: icmp_seq=0 ttl=245 time=315.044 ms
64 bytes from 128.121.146.100: icmp_seq=1 ttl=245 time=219.245 ms
64 bytes from 128.121.146.100: icmp_seq=2 ttl=245 time=447.906 ms
64 bytes from 128.121.146.100: icmp_seq=3 ttl=245 time=221.922 ms
64 bytes from 128.121.146.100: icmp_seq=4 ttl=245 time=238.351 ms
64 bytes from 128.121.146.100: icmp_seq=5 ttl=245 time=216.497 ms
64 bytes from 128.121.146.100: icmp_seq=6 ttl=245 time=233.835 ms
64 bytes from 128.121.146.100: icmp_seq=7 ttl=245 time=227.089 ms
64 bytes from 128.121.146.100: icmp_seq=8 ttl=245 time=276.421 ms
^C
--- twitter.com ping statistics ---
9 packets transmitted, 9 packets received, 0% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 216.497/266.257/447.906/71.099 ms

This has given me pause to think. Yes, online services that are free can be nice things. As CNet's Charlie Cooper has noted in a column, there is even some talk about nationalizing Twitter. The biggest question is what people want and how is it going to be paid for?

Free services online truly are not free. There are fixed overheads to consider such as connections between the server and the rest of the world let alone the electricity to keep the server running. Without an influx of cash regularly, such things do burn out. This is a fear expressed over Twitter.

While Twitter is a nice thing, I have migrated more of what I do over to Pownce. On Pownce I do have my own site where I can post Twitter-like things but can also do more. For the things that Twitter needs extensions to do, Pownce seems more readily equipped to handle such.

Why do I bring this up? The key question in dealing with free services is their reliability. Is Twitter something that is necessarily reliable for what one might do on a day-to-day basis? Do you truly get what you pay for with Twitter? Think about that for a moment.

I am not against micro-blogging. As a way to promote comity it serves a good purpose. I would almost be more in favor of a subscription site being created for library types using WordPress and the micro-blog template known as Prologue. A subscription rate of USD$1 per month per participant would certainly not pay for all costs but it would defray some.

As we enter into what will be the second hour of the Twitter outage, I can only wonder if this makes more sense than what we're in now. After all, doesn't this outage show we've gotten our money's worth? My pinging of Twitter will likely continue until they're back up.

If they're back up today...which may be according to Lynx. They're perhaps just getting crap-flooded right now. Then again, maybe I am too optimistic. -- Read More

Do I really want it all?

The planning wiki for Uncontrolled Vocabulary showed a piece from ACRLog impacting NexGens. -- Read More

The Mechanics of Podcasting

Some days it is a good thing I can somehow afford VOIP service through something like Skype. Skype allows me fairly cheap rates for calling outside the United States. Considering that the per-minute rate for calling abroad with my cell phone is USD$1.49 I think I can manage paying around USD$0.20 or less per minute with Skype.

Fortunately I got up early on Tuesday morning. The time difference between the Las Vegas and London is 8 hours. Yes, I refer to the London that is home to several palaces including one that houses the United Kingdom's parliament. Calling the London found in Ontario would only result in a three hour time difference.

With a service that only went live last Friday and had not been promoted yet there was a bit of a disturbance in the Twitterforce that morning. A ruckus was raised about text lifts from LISTen as well as other US-based library science podcasts. The text concerned was found on a website operated by the British equivalent to the American Library Association, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.

After getting a wee bit concerned by what was brewing on Twitter, I called the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals to speak to their web manager. The web manager and I had a great chat when we talked about what his organization was intending and how I could assist them in working with our content. In more than a few respects it appears that the team's goals with LISTen match those held by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. The goal is to create somewhat of a mirror portal to help bring other perspectives on librarianship to British librarians.

As the effort coincides with the matter that LISTen's audience is concentrated throughout the British Commonwealth, this has implications for us in producing the podcast. As much as I might wish otherwise, the podcast's listeners are found most frequently in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Great Britain. As the effort is one to help increase exposure of the podcast without drawing away traffic from us I have no problem with it. Although the beginning of the effort might appear unusual from an American perspective, it can be considered okay from others.

I applaud the British equivalent to the ALA undertaking an effort like this. Even though Computers in Libraries 2008 just ended and we learned about great undertakings in technology, where is there any sort of directory for this? This would be an excellent opportunity for the ALA and yet I have not found any action there. While there is a wiki devoted to matters like this, I would imagine that this is an area where a directory should be created that would help exemplify best practices.

I've made inquiries to radio stations here in the United States as well as beyond about syndicating the show over the air. So far, I have gotten no replies whether up or down. As this situation is effectively akin to syndication, I have no problem with it. All that remains is working out technical details so that everybody is happy on either end.

Admittedly, this is not an optimal situation. Then again, what is in this contemporary world?

If you missed the live recording session for LISTen #18...

Here is the whole video even though the first ten minutes have no audio due to a technical issue on our end:

The official podcast episode will be available for download as an audio file at the usual date and time.

To donate funds in a one-off manner, clicking the relevant link below will take you to PayPal where all you need is a credit card:

US

Canada

New Zealand

UK

To spread out support over a three month period, the links below may help:

US

Canada

New Zealand

EU

For those interested in supporting LISTen and getting a physical item out of the deal, the online web outlet has new items being added over time. -- Read More

Night of the Living 503

How odd is it that Twitter offers up a 503 error again? This means that it is very possible that the servers are overly taxed. I cannot fathom how such traffic might be arrayed, though.

This poses an interesting point. With all of the chatter about Web 2.0 over the past few years, where does our infrastructure fit into the picture? While talking about infrastructure is not as sexy as showing a slide-sharing presentation, the slide-sharing presentation would not be possible otherwise.

Our economy pursued flash over substance. As the flash fades, what is there really to fall back on?

Sitting at the bar at Turtle Restaurant in the Lambert Beach Resort

This is one of the few times I am blessed to write a blog post on LISNews from another land. Right now I am trying to eat dinner at the Turtle Restaurant. It has been an interesting trip in and out of the British Virgin Islands. If anything I will spend more time airborne than I will on the islands.

Will LISTen happen this week? One way or another, yes. The dominant US-flagged air carrier out here is American Airlines and so far there have been only minimal flight disruptions. Saturday may be a different story.

Have a beautiful day and, barring anything unforeseen, LISTen returns at the usual point.

To explain something from the podcast further: podcasters-in-residence

I imagine that the opening to this week's podcast was a little jarring. All I can say is that that was necessary. I will try to explain such further.

What was in the script was:

The production team for Listen is looking for a new home. Due to workplace uncertainties we want to move the show soon. Any library, whatever the type, willing to host the production team that might have related tasks the team could work on is asked to think about it. Provided that work visas are possible, we are willing to consider moving to locations in the Commonwealth of Nations. Our main preference is to stay away from Lake Erie Lake Effect Snow areas within the United States. With a former federal contractor computer technician on the production team, we have knowledge and skills that could bring value to your institution. To talk about this, hit us at the contact form on LISNews but please make sure you complete ALL options shown so Blake is not flooded. You can also send us faxes and e-mails by following the instructions found at lisnews.org/podcast.

Perhaps I might have been too delicate in writing that. Unless we hear otherwise my father is out of a job on April 28th. To use a slang word popular in local television ads, we do not need a blamestorming session for that. Efforts are underway to keep him in place but due to the budget at work being in deficit for the second fiscal year running his departure may be unavoidable. In my own workplace environment things have become unstable due to circumstances beyond my control and the likelihood of a RIF is increasing.

Can the team find new work locally? Right now the mix of available jobs is not pretty in Las Vegas. I do not see either of us able to pull off being waiters all that well. Beyond that, there is not a whole lot out there.

For the purpose of having it on-hand, I put together a budget showing hold-in costs to keep us in place in Nevada until the end of the calendar year. The budget would assume that we would handle the podcast full-time with other production duties mixed in. The total budget including payroll, fixed costs like rent and utilities, and other such expenses came out to a little under sixty thousand dollars. The budget assumed nothing for benefits as frankly nobody here has that at the moment.

So, what was the pitch about at the beginning of the podcast? A potential way around that hold-in scenario would be to have the production team relocated. If there happened to be a library that could host us we would be happy to join your team on a visiting basis. The podcast audio engineer has a few years experience as a computer technician making all sorts of things work ranging from old boxes running CP/M to Sun SPARCStations to SGI Indy and beyond. I have limited experience in electronics and have been a serving cataloger.

The notion would be that a library, preferably academic or public, would host the production team on a visiting basis. The team would have normal and appropriate day to day duties but also have podcast production included in the mix. In terms of relocating, we will be free pretty soon to do such I fear. Some areas we would consider relocating to include:

  • Pacific Northwest
  • Areas of the southern United States not prone to hurricanes and otherwise not California
  • West Virginia
  • Mid-Atlantic states except for Lake Effect Snow areas
  • Canada
  • England
  • Guam
  • Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands
  • Australia
  • New Zealand

I am trying to be prudent in bringing this up. If anything I want to throw the notion out there for folks to consider. There are several ways to reach me. You can find those at http://lisnews.org/node/29265 with telephone numbers in standardized format. If anybody has interest in exploring this seemingly radical notion that is somewhat old-fashioned outside librarianship, please let me know.

Life sometimes throws curveballs. Living is not always a matter of determining how one might act. All too often this modern life requires more attention to how to react. -- Read More

How I look at being an LISNews author

I try to keep editorial statements to the podcast alone. -- Read More

LISTen is going after radio affiliates?

Yes, you read that title right. As of this morning there were some calls made. None were fruitful. A somewhat positive e-mail was received later in the day from one potential radio affiliate.

LISTen has gotten longer lately. If anything this was an accident. At the time of the review it was said that folks wanted more meat. Well, you've certainly got that now. The podcast has stabilized at just under thirty minutes in length. In dealing with network issues out here in Las Vegas there have been unique gyrations undertaken to ensure the episode gets posted. The compression has been somewhat harsh at points and I can imagine that that ticks some folks off. All I can say is that I am working on it. I just have not found an acceptable solution.

With a thirty minute run time I have started looking into what it would take to get LISTen available on radio stations. Since many college radio stations are looking for material to fill empty time slots I have started identifying prospects. The team here have been reviewing the prospects to see who to contact. Since the means of production result in modular files we can readily produce an edition that could be released to air for a radio audience while also preparing the podcast. The biggest thing I would have to do to make a radio edition is scrap all the advertisements due to legal restrictions placed on the stations seen as prospective affiliates.

For one thing, I see why Leo Laporte associates negative connotations with the term "podcast". Podcasting is merely a transport medium. In functional respects the use of RSS feeds to make materials available is no different from what comes over a feed for a radio station operating under automation. While one may quibble about the differences between "push" and "pull" it should be remembered that on the front line that is not a big concern. A radio show can be a radio show whether it is available via RSS straight to an iPod or available via a stream to an FM radio transmitter that results in what you hear on your radio.

So, what does all this mean? I have heard from one Canadian radio station already that is looking at the podcast. Calls made Wednesday morning by someone other than me were not necessarily fruitful. Efforts are continuing to see if we can get at least two stations to pick up a radio edition of LISTen. No money would be changing hands on either side in such transactions as presently envisioned. LISTen needs to reach more listeners. Campus radio stations have dead air to fill. This would effectively be a radio barter and not leased access which is good as LISTen has virtually no budget.

Why do this? The unique thing found in the research that was undertaken was that podcasts appeared to be times to gather around and listen to a show. While this makes it practically impossible for me to see any ad buys it does also indicate behavior. Podcasting has a unique reach. While the means of distribution are similar to journal distribution the content remains similar to radio. As violative of paradigms as this is an attempt to be rebroadcast via radio helps make content more accessible to more people.

So, what can a listener do to aid this project? Talk to your local campus radio station. If you think LISTen is a great program that more should have access to, tell the program director at the station. Mention that it is a podcast trying to make a leap into radio. Give them a way to contact us here in Las Vegas. You can find those details at http://lisnews.org/node/29265. If you local campus radio station is at an institution home to an ALA-accredited graduate program in library science it can be noted that carrying a radio version of the podcast would help support an academic program on-campus. Always remember to be nice, respectful, and moderate in talking to the folks at those stations. In many cases they are volunteers and have a ton of things on their docket leaving them with precious little mental capacity to devote to listening to you talk about a podcast out of Las Vegas on a strange topic.

Please remember that if you do not like what we have on LISTen, please contact us. The production team is open to suggestions.

Parts and Equipment Wish List for LISTen

You can find the wish list for the LISTen team in terms of equipment purchases online.

That list contains some of the bigger pieces that we are seeking to acquire. Right now we do not have the funds to do such. Our top two priorities on the list are the Mac Mini and the Nokia N800. The Mac Mini would swap out for the studio computer that is frankly getting very flaky. This is not to say that this would replace the non-networked computer that recordings are made to. We need a computer that is somewhat more reliable for proceeding with Skype calls and other matters. The Nokia N800 would allow for field recordings to happen. I am still trying very, very, very hard to get things in order so I can get into ALA Annual. Unfortunately I have been waiting over a month to hear back from the ALA Public Information Office.

The LifeBook and the external Sony drive are lower priorities. While they would be nice they would not necessarily reduce some of the interesting issues that arise with the hardware we've got right now. The LifeBook would be a more technically capable alternative to the N800 for doing fieldwork in terms of carrying out interviews. The Sony drive would help allow us to be able to back up the show's archives. -- Read More

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