Georges Méliès, mad magician

June 30, 2007

For your viewing pleasure…The Melomaniac (Le Mélomane) by Georges Méliès, 1903. Please enjoy this bit of immaculately timed surrealism from the master of cinema magic.


Pencil shavings in the infosphere: Zines and libraries

June 30, 2007

“There are several striking differences between our concept of education today and that of any contemporary primitive society, but perhaps the most important one is the shift from the need for an individual to learn something which everyone agrees he would wish to know, to the will of some individual to teach something which it is not agreed that anyone has any desire to know. Such a shift in emphasis could come only with the breakdown of self-contained and self-respecting cultural homogeneity.” –Margaret Mead (1942)

Education Building uploaded to Flickr by my new wintercoat on March 8 2007, creative commons

Blogs are in a way a very visible extension of the breakdown Ms. Mead was writing about; they are at heart extremely successful and easy to publish zines. (I know, that idea makes some people purple with frustration, but I think the analogy is valid and does not denigrate zines’ uniqueness; libraries should be archiving bogs as well, but that’s another post entirely) One 2005 count found there to be over 70 million blogs — numbers that suggest more than a passing fad, I would think.

The impulse to create paper zines has not passed on by any stretch (Quimby’s Bookstore, anyone?), but is has diffused itself digitally into innumerable outlets. The most obvious perhaps are MySpace and Facebook, whose users are often younger and remarkably passionate about their content. (I’m not a talking about the commercial sites, or the music networks — I prefer blogs and basic review aggregators for that kind of content anyway.) For more targeted searching, many are making use of Technorati, Google Blog Search, Stumble Upon, Digg and Ice Rocket, or just collecting personal RSS and Atom feeds through Netvibes and its ilk. The possibilities are staggering…

Personal web pages can also fulfill the need to publish a zine, especially all the discographies, filmographies and crazy fan fiction out there. For people who don’t have the time to blog, there are always the tumblelogs from Tumblr: ” To make a simple analogy: If blogs are journals, tumblelogs are scrapbooks.” Then there’s social networking like you might find through Ning, Second Life, 43 Things, Flickr, Vampire Freaks, XING, Mixi, Ecademy and…well, hundreds of others, which offer opportunities for personalization and community like never before.

Part of the fun of publishing a zine is creating a social network and seeing the mad passions of people everywhere in the world. The wondrous thing about the web, exactly like zines, is just how diverse it is; one can find support for almost every interest in existence, from the mainstream (Baseball Almanac — The Official Baseball History Site) to the obscure (Breeding Mbuna Cichlids) to the baffling (the Codex Seraphinianvs by Luigi Serafini). Plus, the web can easily compliment zines — if Bananafish mentions some hopeless obscure Argentinean composer Nelson Gastaldi then I can certainly find a link to an mp3 sample somewhere, or even video on Youtube if I’m lucky.

Paper zines are so valuable for their rarity and viewpoint, but often delightfully affordable for small libraries. Plus, minority communities that might not think of the library otherwise could find themselves valued and respected through representation in their local libraries’ collection. There are numerous libraries that already have significant zine collections, including the Barnard College Library and the New York Public Library. Growing recognition of zines is obvious from the burgeoning list of scholarly advocates — current articles are trying to lay down the ground rules for collecting zines, as well as convince wary administrations of their value and uniqueness. Many library workers write zines too! For an even more overwhelming number of resources check out these links to zine-related articles, suggestions, and public, private, college and volunteer library collections.

A wonderful resource (that needs a lot of help with content, so sign up) is ZineWiki. They are attempting to catalog a dangerously bulging briefcase of zines, with histories and links offering real-time life support for deceased projects, and pointers highlighting ongoing publications. “As content grows, it has been suggested that ZineWiki act as a central catalog for zine librarians. The ZineWiki site is the first of its kind, in that any zinester or librarian could catalog a new issue/title as it becomes available, and the result would be instantly searchable, for free, from anywhere around the globe. Building a universal cataloging system would also assist the effort towards persuading public libraries to include zines in their collection.”

Borrowed from August 24th 2006 post on Let’s Be Friends blog

I suppose I have a fairly inclusive view of what is educational. The Internet makes it so easy to participate, to be involved and to communicate, that lifelong learning does not seem like something we need to promote to a resistant public. Literacy is not only about learning to read, it is just as important to be able to write, and today to be able to respond to what our peers are creating across the breadth of the Internet. I feel as though librarians are struggling to catch up, by learning to corral floating threads of human interest into flexible arenas. I love seeing all of the efforts to legitimize alternative collections, and find value through more than just scholarly journals or books. It’s all a matter of how we pay attention to our respective communities.

New Urbanism and libraries

June 29, 2007

I am thinking a lot lately about the organization of our cities, and about the idea of New Urbanism. It is not hard to understand some of the concerns about new urbanism, and the worry that a blind devotion to aesthetics will subvert equitability and affordability. Even though popular culture is beginning to understand that the spaces in which we live need purposeful organization, it is difficult to move beyond emotional subjects such as zoning. We need to get over our reliance on cars, and embrace flexible, modern forms of public transportation. We also simultaneously need to wean ourselves from our waste culture while we embrace long-term building projects, reusable product packaging and hold large scale waste producers accountable.

“ON AVERAGE, each person in the U.S. throws out 4.5 pounds of trash a day. Over the last thirty years, the amount of rubbish the United States produces has doubled. Eighty percent of U.S. products are used once and then thrown away. And, unfortunately, this isn’t a problem that remains confined to U.S. borders: Today, the middle of the Pacific Ocean is six times more abundant with plastic waste than zooplankton.” (from Heather Rogers’ article The Conquest of Garbage)

Contrasts (downtown Seattle) uploaded to Flickr by A Boy and His Bike on March 29 2007

In 1956 Eisenhower signed into law the Federal-Aid Highway Act, more generally known as the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways Act. The build up to this legislation was remarkably complex, and there was definitely a significant measure of desire for it from general American citizens. The social, economic and governmental effects of the highway were far different that the establishment of the railroads. Our cities and rural centers spread out at first like a drop of water in the middle of a toothpick star; by the sixties and seventies, the drop became a stream of water, and the toothpicks clung to the land chaotically like sediment.

Suburbs, as we conceive of them today, arguably began in the middle 19th century, in England and other industrial centers, where employees were isolated from cities by the nature of their work. They rose to prominence though in the middle to late 20th century, a post-war phenomenon encouraged by complex social agitation, but ultimately made possible by the growth of highways. Highways consumed public and private lands like starving termites, supported by Federal appropriation and continuing a process of grants and subsidies offering lands to big business that started with railroad networks. Post WWII is when suburbs became desirable for more affluent homeowners, and the urban centers so fetishized today started to lose their economic foundations.

Jane Jacobs had commented on this in 1954 — “The erosion of cities by automobiles proceeds as a kind of nibbling. Small nibbles at first but eventually hefty bites. A street is widened here, another is straightened there, a wide avenue is converted to one way flow and more land goes into parking. No one step in this process is in itself crucial but cumulatively the effect is enormous.”

Celebration, Florida uploaded by RiffRaff to Flickr on March 18 2006, creative commons

This is part of why Disney’s Celebration, Florida is so fascinating. It is a town build not from need or natural population accumulation through the endemic value of its natural resources. Celebration is a much hyped face of New Urbanism that has none of the underlying structures that keep communities stable. Instead it offers residents a quaint, walkable downtown with a library, post office, “town hall” (which actually houses offices for the homeowners association), and store fronts. Homes and stores open directly onto the sidewalk, and naturally they have a golf course and a soda jerk fountain.

What they do not have is native industry, social infrastructure or democratic government. The local school is owned and administered by Disney corporation, and the teachers are trained “in a teaching academy established in Celebration by Disney.” Their downtown has had a remarkable amount of turn-over since business is heavily reliant on tourism. Celebration is almost entirely dependent on Highway 192, the same road that services nearby Kissimmee and leads to Orlando, the prime location of employment for Celebration’s residents. A major necessity of urban downtowns is high population density, guaranteeing enough foot traffic to justify increasing urban business owners’ monthly rent. Disney could subsidize shop owners’ rents and still there is not enough business for many of them to stay.

I hope that New Urbanism does not become solely identified with corporate interests or with futurist nostalgia, which will only damage its reputation. New Urbanism has promise, and much of that promise comes through broad support of efficient, affordable centralized public transportation networks. Even more important is the value of keeping necessities such as construction, agriculture and water supplies local. An intriguing proposal for downtown NYC is for something called vertical farming.

Is this how farms will look in the future? (from BBC article)

“Professor Despommier lists many advantages of this revolutionary kind of agriculture. They include:

  • Year round crop production in a controlled environment
  • All produce would be organic as there would be no exposure to wild parasites and bugs
  • Elimination of environmentally damaging agricultural runoff
  • Food being produced locally to where it is consumed”

I hope for more creative and viable plans such as this one. It may sound nutty, but it is not unrealistic from either an engineering or agricultural perspective. Either way, to me it signals an attempt to encourage long-term sustainable urban planning and the more ideas the better. The number of urban dwellers will equal that of rural dwellers this year, the first time this has happened in human history. The more land made available outside cities for the natural growth of heritage and heirloom agricultural varietals the healthier our global ecosystem will be — cities simply need to start supplying their own food.

Anything that fosters pride in local community will be good for libraries as well, and will not only provide visibility for library programming but will make provision of library services easier. Just look at the work of the Project for Public Spaces website to see how positive effective planning can be. Or look to our southern neighbors in Bogotá, who sponsored the amazing International Seminar on Human Mobility in 2003.

Then there is the IDTP, whose mission is worth quoting in detail: “The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) was founded in 1985 to promote environmentally sustainable and equitable transportation policies and projects worldwide. ITDP was created by leading sustainable transport advocates in the U.S. to counteract promotion of the U.S. model of costly and environmentally damaging dependence on the private automobile in developing countries…Our programs include bus rapid transit, congestion pricing, pedestrianization, bicycle and pedestrian planning, brownfield revitalization, bicycle and cycle rickshaw modernization, the development of buyers’ cooperatives among independent bicycle dealers, and emerging work in health service delivery logistics. All of our projects are used to leverage additional resources from international development institutions, inspire these institutions to change their own priorities, encourage private sector participation, and encourage more participatory and transparent decision-making.”

In the meantime, perhaps librarians can step up the efforts to create joint-use facilities by integrating public and academic, public and school or public and museum libraries. These types of facilities are much more common outside of the United States, and offer so many benefits for 21st century communities. See this Donald E. Riggs article for basic considerations, and then check out this ALA bibliography for more in-depth study.  With digitization, libraries are able to work more effectively in tandem with disparate agencies in organizing, preserving and presenting the human record; the ability to tailor services to both individual and community needs through sophisticated content management systems is also improving.  Anything that enables us to serve larger populations, consolidate resources, and reduce eventual waste (in the form of subscriptions, energy use and land use) is a good thing.

Brother, can you spare a trackback?

June 28, 2007

I’m very sad to discover the modest value of my blog today:

My blog is worth $2,258.16.
How much is your blog worth?

You can find out about your own as well by clicking the link below the dollar amount. I don’t know how accurately the Dane Carlson Business Opportunities Weblog gauges economic realities of the AOL-Weblogs Inc purchasing deal; perhaps any of my economically savvy readers could elucidate his coded analysis for me. But how do I compete with the big boys?

Well, as I figure that out, in the meantime any links, pings and trackbacks would be appreciated. Help me get some return on this little investment. I know, being a librarian I should be more concerned with a return on emotional investment… O, the questionable vagaries of the Hennen (HALPR) Index!

Quiz Night: He kindly stopped for me

June 28, 2007

Welcome to this Thursday’s Internet Quiz, vouchsafed and vetted for you by your friendly neighbourhood Robotic Librarian.

I have decided to offer a quiz about mortality this time around, but finding the right one has proven to be a challenge. So many sites are attached to products, usually books that promise to increase your quality of life. Boring. Even HBO’s Six Feet Under has a quiz to help you determine your death date. Hmm…nah. Not quite right. Hopefully I can find something more unique.

The first one I tried is called the Death Clock — it told me I am going to die Monday, February 19, 2024. It’s counting down the seconds of my life as you read this, and at this point I’ve fewer than 525, 182, 401 seconds left to live. The Death Clock is a bit grim and short on both questions and answers, since it’s based mainly on my body mass index and birth date…let’s try another one.

Next I tried another OkCupid quiz, the same compilation site that supplied last week’s geek, nerd and dork questionaire; this one is called the Death Test.



As you can see, I am given a little more time on earth from this one. The questions were slightly more creative, but I feel like I can find something better.

Next I tried the Day4Death quiz, very similar to the Death Clock in ways but it provides percentages rather than just a nail for my coffin. It told me “When you will die: Monday November 20, 2062, at age of 89.” as well as

Where you will die:
Nursing Home 43.10%
In Patient 33.70%
Residence 15.30%
Out Patient/ ER 4.00%
Other places 2.80%
Dead on Arrival 1.00%
Status unknown 0.00%
Place unknown 0.00%
How you will die:
Heart disease 38.20%
All other causes 19.60%
Malignant cancer 11.70%
Stroke 10.20%
Influenza and pneumonia 4.80%
Alzheimer’s disease 4.30%
Lower respiratory disease 4.20%
Diabetes 2.10%
Kidney disease 1.80%
Accidents 1.80%
Blood poisoning 1.40%

And not only that, I got a quick little list of

Who died on November 20:
2002 – Satellite TV pioneer – Henry Taylor Howard, dies at 70, plane crashed
1995 – Olympic Gold Skater 1988.1994 – Sergei Grinkov, dies at 28, heart attack
1985 – Cartoon voice, Bullwinkle – Bill Scott, dies at 65.

They win points for creativity and research at the very least. None of these feel right, though. Maybe I’m looking for something less predictive, less self-help. I know what I should be eating, how I should be exercising, and I know what diseases run in my family. Maybe what I’m looking for isn’t afraid to point a finger and judge me for who I am. A quiz that considers not only my impending mortality but my own attitude about it as well. In the end, I think I found the right quiz —

The Dante’s Inferno Test has banished you to the Seventh Level of Hell!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:

Level Score
Purgatory (Repenting Believers) Very Low
Level 1 – Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers) High
Level 2 (Lustful) High
Level 3 (Gluttonous) High
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious) Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy) Low
Level 6 – The City of Dis (Heretics) High
Level 7 (Violent) High
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers) High
Level 9 – Cocytus (Treacherous) Low

Take the Dante’s Inferno Hell Test

That’s right, it’s Dante’s Inferno Test. Now you can find out just where you may wind up if you do not live as you know you should. After today’s quiz, I think I ought to finish reading that biography of Saint Francis of Assisi… Good Luck!

The Internet is closed today, please check back tomorrow

June 27, 2007

Filtered! uploaded to Flickr on july 2 2006 by elishka, creative commons

Clearly I am preoccupied with issues of privacy, since it surfaces in so many of my posts. I am also worried about the concomitant efforts to censor or limit availability of the net, often in the name of a nation’s right to privacy. (Just look at Dick Cheney’s maniacal protection of his own privacy) I am talking of course not only about impending Illinois legislation requiring mandatory library Internet filtering. (Check out the Geneva Public Library spot about HB1727, it’s a nice encapsulation of the issues for anyone just hearing about it; this ILA action alert is good for further education & talking points) There is a larger issue surrounding the filtration of the Internet across entire nations, where people are “protected” from dangerous information in an effort to quell social activism. North Korea is noteworthy for how effectively news of international affairs is kept at bay, and Castro has also maintained the means to foster widespread disinformation.

Asia Pundit: internet censorship map (.pdf file of a map based on the ONI Internet Filtering Map. See also ICE:Internet Censorship Explorer for more info)

Anyone interested in global Internet filtration should check out the ONI Internet Filtering Map. Their analytical tools are unfortunately far from representative, but they attempt to reflect current states of repression through political, social, conflict/security and Internet tool controls. As you’ll see, large swaths of the world are gray, meaning no reliable data has been collected. They have far to go, but it’s promising to see that the statistical tools are currently being refined and developed.

The problem stems from large corporations, specifically Microsoft, Google and Yahoo, who are all willing to offer their services to countries, most notably China, with embedded limitations at the outset. Often the corporations argue that they are following normative business practice by adhering to local laws and customs. That argument is a black hole as far as I’m concerned, and one need only look to the morally indefensible misuse of our 14th amendment to see what I’m talking about. Meant to protect blacks recently freed from slavery, the 14th amendment has a shameful history of misuse; see this Straight Dope article which discusses how exactly the personhood argument was snuck into the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company precedent. Lest anyone think that my example is not contemporary enough, just look at Wal-Mart’s corporate personhood claim for equal protection in a court case from 2004. Or how about Nike v. Kasky, where it was argued that suing a corporation for lying infringes on its natural First Amendment protections of free speech. (Too bad the supreme court sidestepped that one)

Privacy Digest, maintained by Paul Hardwick, is a wonderful resource which compiles news stories, business precedents and impending legislation that influence privacy issues. Nate Anderson for ars technica recently reported on an Amnesty International conference that described Internet filtering as a virus, and he reasonably notes several gray areas surrounding the issue. Amnesty International is actually pro certain forms of censorship — much in the way that Sandy Berman, while advocating for updating biased language in Library of Congress catalog designations, simultaneously called for the removal of select Christian works not only from his own Hennepin County Public Library but from all libraries across the country as well. Is censorship ever warranted? If so, who is invited to the table? Often the gray area centers on hate speech, and on insuring a world where people are free from hostility — indubitably worthwhile goals that deserve reasoned consideration free from invectives or politics.  But what of the gray area surrounding corporate responsibility?  Do we let the market and government limitation decide?

I definitely hope that libraries will not remain quiet about Internet filtration, and allow by default for legislation on either a State or Federal level to control the terms of service. We must also fight efforts by our own government to limit access to information that should be in the public domain. (We do elect them for public service, after all…) We must pay attention to privacy and filtration issues globally as well, and insure that our access remains free from stop-gap measures clogging misdiagnosed holes in the Internet.

Thankfully, the Internet is here to assist us to ensure accountability on all levels, if we let it. (There’s a reason the US military is by some accounts uncomfortable with real-time military bloggers in the age of embedded journalism… Daily blogging, by the way, is a great way for vetting your thought processes; I highly recommend it. )

Rush, lyrics to “Free Will” from Permanent Waves

There are those who think that life is nothing left to chance
A host of holy horrors to direct our aimless dance.

A planet of playthings,
We dance on the strings
Of powers we cannot perceive.
“The stars aren’t aligned
Or the gods are malign”
Blame is better to give than receive.

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice.
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose free will.

There are those who think that they were dealt a losing hand,
The cards were stacked against them
They weren’t born in lotus land.

All preordained
A prisoner in chains
A victim of venomous fate.

Kicked in the face,
You can pray for a place
In heaven’s unearthly estate.

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice.
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose free will.

Each of us
A cell of awareness
Imperfect and incomplete.
Genetic blends
With uncertain ends
On a fortune hunt that’s far too fleet.

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice.
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose free will.

Post #5: The Networked Book

June 26, 2007

A new publishing model is emerging that might strike fear in the hearts of librarians and booksellers everywhere.  With barely any time to breathe after Wikipedia inspired insecurities took a seat at the table, I now hold before you the networked book.  Possibly some of you are wondering, what exactly is a networked book?  Alright, here goes….

pluma uploaded to Flickr on feb 19 2005 by eelend

A networked book is a text offered to the web community to read, edit, contribute to and discuss over time.  Essentially a networked book is another type of social Web 2.0 application, very similar in theory to wikis and Wikipedia, but with an eventual definitive text in mind.  But that doesn’t even need to be the case, really, since they are so new and people are hashing out the limits as you read this.  In fact, with a little poking around you will find several ongoing texts in the works, some utilizing a blogging framework, others wiki models, and some are like online magazines with hosted editing capabilities. 

The amazing thing about these social forums is how creative the web community is today, how open to public ridicule, revision and deconstruction.  But then, people who were paying attention from the beginning intuitively understood this idea of open source vs. proprietary networking. 

Many programming languages and servers used in producing content for the Internet are developed through networks of programmers using open source coding.  For example, Apache, MySQL, Perl, PHP and Python are all collaboratively edited.  An early example of this is Linux, a programming code which was developed as a counterpoint to UNIX, which was owned by and developed by Bell Labs.  Initially a free operating system distributed among universities, UNIX by the early 90s was a fairly expensive commercial platform for individuals to purchase.  Linus Torvalds in 1991, then a student at the University of Helsinki, and frustrated with the cost of UNIX, decided to begin programming what was to become the Linux operating system. 

Linux is a success story of what James Surowiecki calls the wisdom of crowds.  After Torvalds developed the initial core of the Linux operating system, it was made available to numerous interested programmers without restriction.  Soon Free Software Foundation’s GNU Project became involved, and by 1994 numerous user groups as well as Linux Journal magazine spontaneously began work on refining the user environment.  Linux 1.0 was launched in March of that year.  The term open source originated soon afterward, with the launch of the web browser Netscape Navigator, which was offered for free to the public in 1998

So, to risk redundancy and quote Tim O’Reilly again, here’s a bit of an interview from 2003:  “There’s so much now that if you start looking at the computer industry through the lens of how the Internet is changing everything, it makes you tell a very different story. So, for example, Open Source. I talk a lot about open source, but I don’t talk all that much about licenses; I talk about network-enabled collaboration because that fact is, I believe, an even deeper story than the software licensing story. Open source really grew up along with the Internet because it was about the way that developers could free-associate over the network. And so Linus could start something in Finland that could spread to the rest of the world. He could move to California and he could still work with this guy he had hooked up with in Wales, Allan Cox. You look at the Apache group, the core developers are from all over the world, or the Perl community. It’s really a very different model than the days in which if you wanted to start a company, you had to get a bunch of people into the same physical location.” 

(quoted from IT Conversations, a talk between Tim O’Reilly and Doug Kaye from 18 September 2003)

If you want to get technical about it, we’ve always had networked books;  just go back in history to the scriptoria of the middle ages.  Every time a text was queued up for copying, it was subject to revision, deletions and creative annotations.  It is very, very rare for any early text to be exactly the same edition to edition, no matter how hard a particular scriptoria might work toward that goal.  (I am thinking of Saint Columbanus’ work in France, and his later monastery in Italy, Bobbio)  Something has to be sui generis to achieve that kind of purity, like the Lindisfarne Gospels or the Voynich Manuscript.  One blog even suggested that the Talmud and the Bible are examples of networked, collaboratively edited books.

All of this takes me back to my undergrad years, when a good friend of mine spent a summer reading and annotating her copy of Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce.  It was a masterpiece of work which she subsequently lost, and I regret not being able to refer back to it today.  It’s too bad she wasn’t using FinnegansWiki to post her comments…

Part of me feels that these networked books will be much hyped, but that the commitment will be too large for them to catch on with ongoing communities.  A book here and there will catch fire, so to speak…but who knows?  Imagine networked poetry, or networked science…oh wait, some of that is already happening.  Code poetry has been around for over ten years, and Science Commons is hoping to encourage integrated global science and medicine collaborations. 

robot brain uploaded to Flickr on april 19 2005 by Will Pate, creative commons

I feel swallowed by the dust kicked up on the net, the collective sigh of relief people are sharing on the web in finding or founding their own networked communities.  Whether or not the networked book heralds a thunderclap or is a buzz word the meaning is clear.  Our intellectual environment is changing more rapidly than it was possible to prophesy, and as soon as the Japanese perfect those brain reading remote controls, or just a USB port to the brain…