Saturday, March 29, 2008

Simple English Wikipedia

I had no idea there was such a thing as Simple English Wikipedia until I read about it in Research Buzz, nor did I know about Charles Ogden's principles of basic English , published in 1930. Ogden found that "if one were to take the 25,000 word Oxford Pocket English Dictionary and take away the redundancies of our rich language and eliminate the words that can be made by putting together simpler words, we find that 90% of the concepts in that dictionary can be achieved with 850 words." Those words are known as the BE850.

Googles "Comments by people in the news"

User comments are eagerly solicited all over the web, and are an expression of the "participatory architecture" that defines web2.0. It would be hard to deny that the wealth of informative and insightful commentary one finds on the web is valuable; and equally hard to deny that the vast quantities of astonishingly moronic, hateful and misinformed commentary dumb the web down to a lowest common denominator. Comments and thumbs up/thumbs down ratings attached to controversial stories on news sites often strike me as a particularly mindless use of comments, and it's depressing to think that this kind of feedback will impact what editors decide is newsworthy. About a year ago, Google News implemented comments, but with a twist; only those mentioned in the news story, or affiliated with organizations in the story, are entitled to comment. This strikes me as a new and constructive use of comments, and if it catches on could raise the quality of news on the net and be a useful corrective to irresponsible journalism. Here's an example. You can see all the Google News comments by clicking on the "Comments by people in the news" link at the bottom of the "Edit this personalized page" section in the upper right part of the screen. You can also search for comments on particular topics using the "source:google_news searchword" syntax.

Friday, March 28, 2008

U. Michigan Election site

The University of Michigan Document Center's Election 2008 website favors a 199os web aesthetic, replete with stars and stripes wallpaper, but it sure does have - and organize - a lot of useful information. And, a concise table of contents (below) that will lead you to just about anything you need to know about the election.

Comprehensive Web Sites | Election Process

Plum Book | Prune Book

Books | Periodicals | News Sources

Saturday, March 22, 2008

More on running web applications from the desktop

This post from elaborates on running web applications from the desktop. In addition to Prism, which I posted about below, it discusses Adobe Air, Bubbles, and Google Gears.

Read the Words

What an amazing service this is, and hours and hours of fun! Just type or paste in a text, and reads them back to you. You can choose from a selection of readers - male or female, English (UK or US accents), Spanish or French. There's even Nina, a U.S. female with an Indian accent! You can submit the name/url of a website, pdf or word document for reading, and you can embed the readings on your blog or website. This makes it very easy to provide audio of texts on your website for visitors with reading disabilities. The readings are perfectly intelligible, albeit with an unmistakable non-human lilt that is merely charming. For the endorsement of knowbodies in the sample below, I chose the insufferable British snob Charles.
(if the audio plays back at very high "chipmunk" frequency, you need to download the newest vision of Flash Player)

Powered By

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

80 sites for booklovers

Visit Zigmas Bigelis list of's the referring post from iLibrarian

80 Online Resources for Book Lovers...

Zigmas Bigelis creates a mega-list of 80 tools and applications sure to be of interest to librarians and other book lovers. I knew quite a few of these, but was pleased to find some that were new to me such as Paperback Swap and Free Tech Books. The list is categorized into the following sections:

  • Social Networking for Book Lovers
  • E-books
  • Online Bookstores
  • Find the Best Prices for Books
  • Audiobooks
  • Study Guides and Summaries
  • Library Resources
  • Bibliography and Research
  • Book Exchanges/Swapping
  • Online Documents
  • What to Read
  • Miscellaneous

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Advertisement - Pocket Britannica/Oxford Dictionary

When I was issued a shiny new PDA a few years ago, I was saddened to realize I didn't have any to-do items to enter into the gadget - and no completed tasks either. My life is evidently too unimportant and lacking in note-down worthy contacts, appointments, and events to populate even the most basic Palm Pilot; the occasional post-it note will do. A second disappointment was that a good electronic encyclopedia/dictionary for a PDA was much harder to find than I had anticipated. There were plenty of basic student dictionaries and bilingual dictionaries, but none that contained the more obscure words that one really needs a dictionary for. And for me, it's essential to look up an unfamiliar word immediately when I come across it, reading on the train, for example, otherwise I forget about it. So, after a few failed attempts to find some use for it, I put the PDA in a drawer where it has languished ever since. Two years ago I was at Marks and Spencer in London and discovered - with a great cry of "Eureka" - the Seiko ER8000 electronic Concise Britannica and Oxford Concise Dictionary. Just £99, and I've carried it with me ever since, and have had the definitions and facts I need at hand. Rarely do I look up a word without finding it - though I admit, today I looked in vain for "rudas" (The Unspeakable Skipton), but I did find "peridot" (same book). The ER8000 runs (for years) on two AAA batteris, and is decidedly low-tech. With portable gadgets nowadays boasting gigs of memory and internet connectivity - the ER8000 is fast becoming an obsolete artifact, like an electronic typewriter. But for someone as easily distracted as me, having the internet with me at all times would be completely debilitating. In addition to the dictionary and encyclopedia, the ER8000 has synonyms, phrases, and 9000 quotations. And even some edifying games - last summer in Florence, I contentedly sat on a bench and played jumble while my wife and daughter went shopping. Buy your ER8000 today, it will soon be a thing of the past!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Clapton's nightmare

Many people daydream about suddenly being able to play guitar like Eric Clapton, and Clapton perhaps has nightmares about suddenly being (un)able to play guitar like Santeri Ojala in this overdub of a Clapton performance. Besides being hilarious, this makes one think - not only about what can be done to a reputation with a little bit of technical cleverness, but also about the emperor's new clothes; how would the audience respond if Clapton really started playing like that..? (Ravi Shankar is reported to have remarked to an appreciative audience, "if you liked the tuning that much, you'll love the music")

p.s - here's another one, this one of Clapton and Santana going bonkers
Seems to be a new genre, called "shred"
for comparison, here's the original...

CSM Election site

Yet another election's a blurb from Information Today...
"The Christian Science Monitor announced the launch of Patchwork Nation ( , a new election 2008 site that says it offers a fresh approach to covering politics. Funded by the Knight Foundation, a nonprofit philanthropic organization, the new website replaces the conventional red-state/blue-state maps with one that examines the election through the lens of 11 different types of communities around the country. Bloggers from the 11 designated locales are writing about key issues in their communities, how the issues affect residents’ votes, and how the candidates tailor their messages to a particular audience."

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Explainer

For a daily dose of edification, nothing beats Cecil Adams' (World's Smartest Human Being) Straight Dope column. I thought the site had been retired years ago, but discovered today that it's still up and running. Although primarily entertaining, answers are thoroughly researched and might once in a while match your reference desk needs. Another column to visit is Slate's daily The Explainer - see a list of recent sample questions below. The one about why Italian men grab their crotches to ward off bad luck was illuminating to me. Though not much of an expert on football (soccer) , I was always puzzled by why Italian men cover their privates when lining up to defend against a free kick - you'd think stretching the arms high in the air would be more effective, but I guess some people put more stock in superstition than in common sense!

Porn vs. Prostitution Why is it legal to pay someone for sex on camera?
Help Wanted
Legally Blind? How bad is David Paterson's vision?
Deadly Sins 101 Is stem-cell research worse than sloth?
How To Prosecute Eliot Spitzer Which federal laws might the governor have broken?
Can't Touch This Why Italians grab their crotches to ward off bad luck.

Friday, March 14, 2008


12 years ago James Fallows, in a remarkably prescient article about "Java theory", argued that computing would gradually migrate from the personal computer to the web. Web computing has indeed become a distinctive feature of web2.0, and Mozilla Prism takes web applications out of your browser and lets you run them from your desktop as separate applications (but still using the web, or the "cloud" as some now call it) as its cpu. Why would you want to do that? Chris Kasten has some thoughts on the matter, and I agree with him that it is sometimes a relief to escape the distraction that ever-more open tabs represent. If you're using chat software, for example, it's easier to keep the chat open if it's running in a separate application, rather than shuttling to and fro between many confusable tabs. Another example of the move from desktop to web - and back again - is Adobe's Air. It and the phenomenon of offline web computing is discussed in an article in Technology Review's (March/April) survey of emerging technologies. Web computing looks like a promising development for those of us who work in environments where security and/or bureaucracy make innovation difficult. I wonder, for example, what we might be able to do with something like Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Custom Einstein

And while we're at it, another tool in same vein, also posted here previously. Type in your text, and Einstein puts your words of wisdom on the blackboard. Could be put to creative use in promoting a new website, library event, etc.

Newspaper clipping generator

This post is 2 years old, but the Newspaper Clipping Generator is still there, and still fun, so here it comes again..
The Newspaper Clipping Generator is a fun tool that bears some resemblance to the Einstein blackboard tool, reviewed above. Just type in a text, and the Newspaper Clipping Generator will produce an authentic-looking newspaper article containing your text. With the help of this little tool, it is truly amazing what you can find in ProQuest's Historical Newspapers database!

Awesome highlighter

Awesome highlighter is a neat tool - if you want to send someone a link to a document or newspaper article, for example, you might wish to highlight a particular section of the document for the recipient's attention. To do that, sumbit the url of the page to awesomehighlighter, highlight the section with the yellow marker, and click done. Awesomehighlighter creates a url for the highlighted page that you can pass along to your's a practical example.

This reminds me of an even more impressive tool, CiteBite, which I posted about a year ago at ircworld. It does essentially the same thing as awesomehighlighter, but it creates a within-page anchor directly to the highlighted segment, so the recipient doesn't need to scroll to find it. And best of all, there's a Firefox extension that allows you to add this useful tool to your right mouse button menu. Just highlight text on any page, right click, and CiteBite creates the url for you. Really awesome!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Superdelegate Transparency Project

"... is the central gathering place for compiling information on the 2008 Democratic Convention superdelegates, their endorsements and the delegate voting process, including for comparison to the district-by-district allocation of pledged delegates."

Guardian's 50 top blogs

Here is the Guardian's list of the World's 50 most powerful blogs, not including Full descriptions of each blog, good read for a commuter - but I'm saddened to note that many of these blogs are of no interest to me whatsoever.

The top 10 are

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Eclipse Crossword

Eclipse Crossword generates an interactive crossword puzzle for you on the basis of the words and clues you give it. A nice idea for a contest (e.g. "U.S. election process crossword puzzle") or getting people to return to your site. Try the "Crossword puzzle for Knowbodies" - it ain't easy! (but don't cheat!)

The War Card

The mission of The Center of Public Integrity:Investigative Journalism in the Public Interest website is "to produce original investigative journalism about significant public issues to make institutional power more transparent and accountable. To pursue its mission, the Center:
  • Generates high-quality, accessible investigative reports, databases and contextual analysis on issues of public importance.
  • Disseminates work to journalists, policymakers, scholars and citizens using a combination of digital, electronic and print media.
  • Educates, engages and empowers citizens with tools and skills they need to hold governments and other institutions accountable.
  • Organizes and supports investigative journalists around the world who apply the Center's goals and standards to cross-border projects.
  • Remains independent by building a strong and sustainable financial base of support, including a community of committed individuals and foundations.
The Center's War Card project has compiled a searchable record of the many false statements that were made by top U.S. officials in the two years following 09/11 and leading up to the Iraq invasion. The center purports to show that the Bush administration "waged a carefully orchestrated campaign of misinformation about the thread posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq." However that may be, the database and timeline of Iraq-related pronouncements by U.S. officials are unique resources for anyone studying the rhetoric and developments leading up to the invasion. See also earlier post about the Center's Buying of the President 2008 project.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Ready, Aim, Foreign Policy

This report, issued jointly by the Washington Office on Latin America, the Center for International Policy, and the Latin America Working Group Education Fund, identifies what it regards as a disturbing shift of authority on foreign policy and foreign aid decision-making from the State Department to the Defense Department.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Web2.0 and libraries

Some of the troubling web2.0 implications alluded to in the post below are discussed in a new special issue of First Monday...

This month: March 2008
Special Issue! Critical Perspectives on Web 2.0
This special issue, edited by Michael Zimmer of the Information Society Project at the Yale Law School, exposes, explores, and explains the ideological meanings as well as the social, political, and ethical implications of Web 2.0.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Good site for political speeches

A Wake Forest University site that collects political speeches, audio sites, individual presidential sites, and political debates.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

identifying a tune

One of my very favorite reference books is Denys Parsons' The Directory of Tunes (1975). Identifying a tune is essentially a reverse lookup process, since what you have in your head is the concept and what you want to look up is its designation. The challenge is to devise some sort of lookup table for those concepts; obviously alphabet, subject or chronology will not work, and even if you read music, how would you look up your piece among thousands of samples of musical notation? Parson's ingenious system is based on the relationships of the 12 first notes of a melody to one another. He designates the first note with an asterisk, then indicates whether each subsequent note moves up, down or repeats the pitch of the preceding note. Using the letters D(down) R(repeat) , and U(up), the opening of the Toreador's song from Bizet's Carmen would be rendered thus: *UDDRR DUUDU DUDDD. The entries - some 17,000 of them, mostly classical but also popular songs pre-1947 - are arranged alphabetically. Parson's book has been out of print for many years, and has become something of a collectors item...I was lucky enough to get a copy years ago through a book search agent. Now, however, the wonderful Musipedia has scanned Parson's entries and recorded them in a database...just select the "Melodic Contour" option and enter the Parson notation, and you can lookup the tune online. Musipedia also provides rhythm search, keyboard search, and even a recorder that allows you to hum or whistle your tune for identification. A wonderful site to explore if you're interested in music.