Friday, June 27, 2008

Collaborative search

One (small) drawback of the librarian profession is that one rarely gets to be a part of those exciting search parties and posses that one sometimes sees on television and in films. However, as Greg Notess points out in a recent Infotoday article (SearchTogether: A Tech Preview of Social Search Programs), librarians may soon be able to get a taste of that excitement without leaving their terminals. Notess focuses primarily on Microsoft's Search Together, which requires IE and a plugin and Live Messenger accounts on both the searcher and collaborator side. Collaborative search seems to me to be a very interesting concept for any consortium of librarians, and though I'm not ready to migrate from Firefox to IE, I'm looking forward to other download-free applications of the concept. Three products that incorporate aspects of social searching are Yoople (human ranking of search results), Delver (refines results according who the searcher is - e.g. teenager or senior citizen - and what social group has created and referenced the information), and Wikia Search (allows you to add sites, related terms, and images to search results)

100 useful niche search engines

Laura Milligan at College@Home offers a  list of 100 niche search engines. Particularly useful for college students, as the name of the site suggests. She organizes the search engines sorted in the following niches:
Extracurricular|Quick Answer Guides|City Guides and Travel|Shopping Search Engines|Business|Academic and Reference|Social Media and People|Multisearch|TV, Video and Radio|Medical Students and Health Search|Law Students|Metasearch and Megasearch Engines|Photos, Images and Visual Search Engines|News Searches|Jobs and Real Estate

Genealogy resources by state

Genealogists and family historians, see's list of links to state genealogy resources.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Open ended ratchet wrench

You might think Knowbodies is my only "get rich quick" scheme, but that would be wrong. I also devote quite some time to pondering inventions that might propel me upwards in life. For instance, recently I was wondering why nobody sells an open-ended ratchet wrench or snow tires with retractable studs. I went to Google Patents, and ended up spending the day; not only do they  have multiple versions of open-ended ratchet wrenches and retractable stud tires, they have lots of other stuff that you wouldn't even suspect existed. And illustrations galore!!! A particular pleasure is the clarity of language that is typical of inventors. In 1933, for example, the optimistic Joseph De Merolis and Alexander di Lizio, probably struggling to contain their excitement, introduced their illuminated shoe with this pithy preamble: "Our invention relates to improvements in electrically illuminated shoes, and particularly to dancing shoes." Google Patents is truly an amazing site. (and if this particular shoe is not to your liking, there are many other illuminated shoes to choose from)
Oct 31 1933 J DE MEROLIS ET AL ILLUMINATED SHOE Filed Feb 7 1933 67

Thursday, June 19, 2008

World Wide Science

From DOE

June 12, 2008

DOE Announces International Agreement on Global Science Online Gateway

WASHINGTON, DC - The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced the establishment of a multilateral alliance to govern the rapidly growing online gateway to international scientific research Officials from organizations representing 38 countries formalized their commitment today in Seoul, Korea, by signing a WorldWideScience Alliance agreement to sustain and build upon joint efforts to provide a single, sophisticated point of access for diverse scientific resources and expertise from nations around the world.

" is already a wonderful tool for communication, bringing scientific databases from many countries to the fingertips of those advancing the frontiers of knowledge across the globe. It is well on its way towards becoming a complete, comprehensive, international source for scientific inquiry," DOE Under Secretary for Science Dr. Raymond L. Orbach said. "Unleashing global scientific discovery, through, will accelerate scientific progress. That is why we are so excited about this alliance and the global access to science it will provide." is the result of an agreement—signed in January 2007 by Dr. Orbach and Chief Executive of the British Library Dame Lynne Brindley—to partner on the development of a global science gateway to accelerate scientific discovery by giving people faster and more convenient access to online scientific databases.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Arrested for blogging

(from beSpacific)
"The World Information Access 2008 Report presents important trends in the distribution of information and communication technologies around the world. The 2008 WIA Report explores information access by looking at trends in the blogger arrests worldwide, diversity in the ownership of media assets in the 15 largest media markets in the Muslim world, and the ideological diversity of political content online in 74 countries with large Muslim populations." Howard, Philip N, and World Information Access Project. World Information Access Report - 2008. 3. Seattle: University of Washington, 2008.


For the modern reader, there is wordle. Paste in the old-fashioned linear text, and out comes a word cloud. The foregoing post is rendered thus:

7 things you should know

A few months ago I posted about Common Craft, where you can find short pithy videos about things you might be wondering about...or struggling to explain to others (rss, wikis, Twitter, etc.) Common Craft's style is - how shall I put it - lighthearted. For the bilious, who do not suffer breeziness gladly and perhaps prefer reading to watching, an excellent alternative is Educause's "7 Things You Should Know" series. Here is how they present themselves: 7 Things You Should Know About pieces provide quick, no-jargon overviews of emerging technologies and related practices that have demonstrated or may demonstrate positive learning impacts. Any time you need to explain a new learning technology or practice quickly and clearly, look for a 7 Things You Should Know About... brief from ELI. The briefs are professional looking 2 page pdfs, and make a very nice 1 sheet handout. Check it out! (and many other valuable resources at too!)

Is Google making us stupid?

In this article from the Atlantic Monthly, Nicholas Carr ponders how the internet may be affecting our brains. Sven Birkerts - much reviled and dismissed as a luddite by the digerati - covered some of the same ground more than a decade ago in his Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. Perhaps a rebellious slow reading movement, prodded forward by technology, is finally gathering spee..momentum; for testimonies from readers about how hard it is to read these days, see Carr's blog Fortunately, even those of us with hardly any attention span left can still enjoy a good picture, if it's not too big.

(Sign next to reader being ticketed reads Minimum Speed, 186 282 397 MPS)

Wake up and take a nap

Monday, June 16, 2008


FeedSweep is yet another rss feed aggregator. It's very easy to use, requires no programming, and provides many options for customizing the layout and appearance of your feeds. Below is an aggregate of feeds from some library/technology sites. The aggregate uses the "peach melba" color theme, is set to show the 5 most recent posts from the aggregated blogs, and to display them in 600px width.

Firefox 3

Firefox 3 is due for release tomorrow, June 17. I've been using the beta for a couple of weeks, and really like it - it's noticeably faster than Firefox 2.x, and has some nice new features. Naturally, not all of the add-ons I've come to rely on have been upgraded for Firefox 3 compatibility, but I expect that will come with the official release. For a preview of new features, see Walt Mossberg's review.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Google Ajax API feed

Over on the right, where it says "Google Dynamic Feed - Libraries & Technology", you see an example of an rss feed courtesy of Google's "Dynamic Feed Wizard." To create a feed, you enter the names of some feeds, or type in some search terms (in this case, "libraries and technology"), and the Dynamic Feed Wizard makes an RSS feed of the search results, then generates some javascript so you can channel the feed to your website or blog. The default is 4 results, but if you sign up for a Google API key, have some programming ability, and do a little tweaking with the code, you can change that and many other parameters by following the instructions in the Dynamic Feed Control Programming Guide. For an example of an rss aggregator built with the Google Ajax API, see Smashing Feeds.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Interesting Pile

How CharlieRB manages to compile his mighty interesting pile I do not know (and would like to), but if you like lists, and enjoy being distracted, this is a great place to spend some time.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Open Government Guide

The Reporter's Committee for Freedom of the Press (which is itself a very interesting site!) has created the Open Government Guide, "a complete compendium of information on every state's open records and open meetings laws. Each state's section is arranged according to a standard outline, making it easy to compare laws in various states." This a good place to check whether something is even worth looking for!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Good news

The pleasure of reading news is sometimes tainted by a) the news being bad and b) the news being true. Here, at last, is a site that provides news that is at least good, if not true.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Government Data and the Invisible Hand

This is a draft of an article that will appear in the Yale Journal of Law and Technology in Fall 2008. (it kindly asks us not to cite the draft, but - since it's out there for everyone to read - I assume a little quoting in a blog post like this is in order) The article argues that federal agencies should stop dabbling in webmastery, and leave to the pros the important job of providing government information to the people. The authors make some very resonant points; e.g., "Today government bodies consider their own websites to be a higher priority than technical infrastructures that open up their data for others to use...It would be preferable for government to understand providing reusable data, rather than providing websites, as the core of its online publishing responsibility." This reminds me, with a piercing scream, of our age-old pleas for re-purposable information. The authors also argue that "the federal government has shown itself consistently unable to keep pace with the fast-evolving power of the Internet" - couldn't help thinking wistfully of bleeding edge technology like the Google toolbar when I read that. And a third point - and I don't think any article has ever made me nod furiously and smile grimly quite so much - is that "an online compliance checklist for designers of government websites identifies no fewer than 24 different regulatory regimes with which all public government web sites must comply...But the stultifying cumulative effect of these rules has not been, and probably would not be, endorsed by anyone." (a bit of touching naivete there...) And finally, "as long as government has a special role in the presentation and formatting of raw government data, certain desirable limits on what the government can do become undesirable limits on how the data can be presented or handled." Yes! And, I would add, "retrieved." The authors are David Robinson, Harlan Yu, William Zeller, and Edward W. Felten of Princeton University. God preserve them.

Paper Cuts, a NYT blog about books

Paper Cuts describes itself as "a blog about books and other forms of printed matter, written by the editors of The Book Review. Look here for book news and opinion, interviews with writers, regular raids on the Book Review's archives, and other special features."
(Paper Cuts rss feed)

Nicholson Baker and indecency

I'm not talking about his book Human Smoke, for which he's taking such a terrible, terrible beating (Anne Applebaum in The New Republic is just one example of the fury Baker's pacifist revision of WWII history hath wrought - among some very heavy hitters!), but of his delightful review of The Flash Press: Sporting Male Weeklies in 1840s New York, by Patricia Cline Cohen, Timothy J. Gilfoyle and Helen Lekfkowitz Horowitz. There's a fundamental decency about Baker that I see in all his books and reviews, including Human Smoke, though I'm not sure I accept his (implied) argument there. I believe it springs from his respectful wonderment about the world - that's what enables him to be a scholar and a Wikipedia enthusiast - and I'm so glad he hasn't lost the spirit, despite the roasting Human Smoke has occasioned. Nothing like a Baker review to march me off to the library... "thanks to the meticulous research of these three scholars, we once again have a way of looking through a tiny, smudged window into New York's long-past illicit life." Keep up the good work, Nick!