Friday, May 29, 2009

Alice Munro

Unlike Alice Munro, I'm not "totally amazed and delighted" that she has won the 2009 Man Booker prize...only totally delighted.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A heartwarming project of staggering beauty

Dave Eggers was recently honored for his efforts to promote reading through the 826 National project, which describes itself as a nonprofit tutoring, writing, and publishing organization with locations in seven cities across the country. Our goal is to assist students ages six to eighteen with their writing skills, and to help teachers get their classes excited about writing. Our work is based on the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Global Post

Global Post seeks to fill the void created as traditional news organizations are cutting back and even abandoning international news coverage. According to a review in the NYT, Global Post has "65 correspondents worldwide — drawn from a surfeit of experienced reporters eager to continue working in their specialties even as potential employers disappear — GlobalPost has begun offering a mix of news and features that only a handful of other news organizations can rival."

Publishers Weekly on Google Books

Publisher's Weekly provides a look at the uncertain fate of the Google Books settlement...Deal or No Deal: What if the Google Settlement Fails? including a handy timeline that follows the program from its inception as "Google Print" in 2004.

Sunday, May 24, 2009, mentioned here a few weeks ago as just around the corner, has now arrived. Here's how it describes itself..

The purpose of is to increase public access to high value, machine readable datasets generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government.
As a priority Open Government Initiative for President Obama's administration, increases the ability of the public to easily find, download, and use datasets that are generated and held by the Federal Government. provides descriptions of the Federal datasets (metadata), information about how to access the datasets, and tools that leverage government datasets. The data catalogs will continue to grow as datasets are added. Federal, Executive Branch data are included in the first version of

Participatory Democracy

Public participation and collaboration will be one of the keys to the success of enables the public to participate in government by providing downloadable Federal datasets to build applications, conduct analyses, and perform research. will continue to improve based on feedback, comments, and recommendations from the public and therefore we encourage individuals to suggest datasets they'd like to see, rate and comment on current datasets, and suggest ways to improve the site.


A primary goal of is to improve access to Federal data and expand creative use of those data beyond the walls of government by encouraging innovative ideas (e.g., web applications). strives to make government more transparent and is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. The openness derived from will strengthen our Nation's democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

A Memorial Day application

From ReadWriteWeb:
Map the Fallen, gathers and aggregates information on war casualties in the Middle East from U.S. and coalition nations, giving dead servicemembers' names, ages, pictures, hometowns, places of death, and the cause or incident of death. The app mashes up data from Google Earth 5.0, the Department of Defense's Statistical Information Analysis Division,,'s Honor the Fallen, the Washington Post's Faces of the Fallen,,, and other sites to create an interactive digital map of casualties from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Lessig on Helprin on Digital Barbarism...and riffraff generally

Mark Helprin, to quote from his website "belongs to no literary school, movement, tendency, or trend. As many have observed and as Time Magazine has phrased it, 'He lights his own way'." His new book Digital Barbarism, is a "defense of private property in the age of digital culture, with its degradation of thought and language, and collectivist bias against the rights of individual creators." Potentially interesting stuff, but Helprin comes across as so comically full of himself that it's hard to take him seriously, especially when served up in concentrated doses as here by Larry Lessig and here by Michiko Kakutani.  Lessig does take him seriously, however, and his 12 page  review is not only entertaining, but instructive for those of us who have not thought much about one of the central complaints of Helprin's book, ie. why intellectual property does not entail the same kind of perpetual ownership  as real property. Helprin's many other complaints - about “mouth-breathing morons in backwards baseball caps and pants that fall down, beer-drinking dufuses who pay to watch noisy cars driving around in a circle for eight hours at a stretch; and an entire race of females, now entering middle age, that speaks in North American Chipmunk and seldom makes a statement without, like, a question mark at the end?” etc. etc., might be more amusing were they offered as the bewilderment of an uncomprehending observer rather than shrill self-righteousness.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Kahle on Google Books and libraries. Disquiet, please!

Although I still buy books and CDs, I've become so accustomed to not paying for information, software applications, and other intellectual property that I actually find it quite galling when something I want to read or use requires subscription or payment. Those commercial providers sure have a lot of nerve!!! (sometimes they'll even lure you to the product with an abstract or excerpt!)  But what if the effort to come to terms with the new free economy founders, and paying for quality information again becomes the rule rather than exception? Many newspapers will have fallen by the wayside during the giddy information-wants-to-be-free spree, and libraries will perhaps have carved out entirely new niches for themselves...e.g. as internet cafes and social gathering places. Brewster Kahle's Washington Post (A book grab by Google) raises questions about what happens when the mightiest players decide they need to redefine the rules of the game. Some excerpts...(the article can be read free of charge):

Google will have permission to bring under its sole control information that has been accessible through public institutions for centuries. In essence, Google will be privatizing our libraries.

Broad access is the greatest promise of our digital age. Giving control over such access to one company, no matter how clever or popular, is a danger to principles we hold dear: free speech, open access to knowledge and universal education. Throughout history, those principles have been realized in libraries, publishers and legal systems.

p.s. - Walt Crawford has contested Kahle and others' use of the phrase "privatizing our libraries" as inaccurate and counterproductive. For more on that, see Crawford's comment to this posting, and a lengthy exchange (May 23, 2009) at Walt at Random...including comment by Siva Vaidhyanathan

p.p.s - and here is a response to Kahle in yesterday's Washington Post by Paul Courant, Dean of Libaries at U. Michigan, one of the collections that Google has "privatized.." Perhaps Kahle will clarify what he means..

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Google options

Google recently unveiled a new feature that provides some of the same functionality provided buy DeeperWeb (see post below). To activate the feature, look for "show options" just below and to the left of the search box after you've conducted the search. Watch the video below to see what it does...

Goodwill toward mankind

This blog is primarily devoted to library matters, and days and even weeks go by without mention of urinals. Librarians are curious about many things, however, and I thought these two patents might be of interest here - at least to my male readers. They will know the feeling of thoughtful contentedness - or mindless joy, if one has imbibed - that descends upon the swaying urinator, staring happily down at the porcelain. Often the situation involves a feeling of intense goodwill toward mankind; these ingenious devices will encourage that feeling, and I salute their inventors. 
A forehead support apparatus for resting a standing users forehead against a wall above a bathroom commode or urinal or beneath a showerhead. The apparatus includes a mounting member adapted for attachment to an upright bathroom wall either above the commode or urinal or below the showerhead. A compressible head support member is attached to and extends from the wall and said mounting member. The head support defines an elastically deformable or resilient forehead support surface which is spaced above the floor and from the wall a distance sufficient for the user to lean his forehead thereagainst and be supported while using the commode or urinal.

An amusement device for a toilet bowl or a urinal comprising a urine detector for detecting a urine flow from a human and for providing an electrical signal for activating a sensory stimulus device. A control unit connected to the urine detector converts the electrical signal to a signal for activating the appropriate indicator. In one embodiment of the invention, a plurality of pressure and temperature sensors are imbedded in a plastic base which is disposed in close proximity to the urinal or toilet bowl drain. Disposed alongside each temperature and pressure sensor is an associated LED lamp or buzzer which is activated by that sensor. The device may be connected to a video screen or a speaker disposed above the urinal for providing additional audial and visual stimulation to the user. In another embodiment, a plastic base is disposed entirely within the toilet bowl or urinal in close proximity to the toilet or urinal drain. A plurality of supports extend upward from the base and... .(Source)

The hat makes the shred?

Poor quality on this, but it proves that Santana is the undisputed master of the shred. Maybe it's the hat...

Stevie Ray's not far behind though, also with hat. And that badass scowl at the beginning is priceless...

Read this - it's one of our most popular posts

An article in the WSJ by Carl Bialik about the web2.0 obsession with joining the crowd, reminded me of this old picture of Bob and Joan. One of Bialik's points is that popularity is self-enhancing and self-perpetuating;  more than 40 years ago Daniel Boorstin (a Librarian of Congress, among other things) defined celebrity as a person known for his well-knownness. Bialik also notes that popularity and merit/importance are not the same thing - that's pretty obvious too, and it grows truer day by day. But what I the statement by one Professor Sagalnik; "If we view the role of cultural products as giving us something to talk about, then the most important thing might be that everyone sees the same thing and not what the thing is."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Deeper Web

DeeperWeb looks like a neat add-on to filter, organize and display your Google search results in a more useful way. See the thorough write-up at MakeUseOf  The Firefox search engine plugin is very handy.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Just in...Mashable has a nice overview of what Wolfram/Alpha does vastly better than Google

There's been much talk of Stephen Wolfram's computational knowledge search engine Wolfram/Alpha lately, and now it's better take a look. Its modest goals:

Wolfram|Alpha's long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything. Our goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.

Wolfram|Alpha aims to bring expert-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people—spanning all professions and education levels. Our goal is to accept completely free-form input, and to serve as a knowledge engine that generates powerful results and presents them with maximum clarity.

Wolfram|Alpha is an ambitious, long-term intellectual endeavor that we intend will deliver increasing capabilities over the years and decades to come. With a world-class team and participation from top outside experts in countless fields, our goal is to create something that will stand as a major milestone of 21st century intellectual achievement.

Conrad Wolfram, brother of Stephen and, said to the Daily Telegraph: “If you use a search engine, it’s a bit like a librarian who gives you a whole set of papers that you need to look through to get the answer. If you use Wolfram Alpha, it’s more like having your own personal analyst who takes the question you’ve got and tries to come back with a specific set of answers unique to your question.” Cocky fellow.

Google is cooking up some "computational search" of its own called "Google Squared," expected to be dished out later this month at Here's a preview with some screenshots.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Keeping us safe

"If there's intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, wouldn't such creatures have conquered mankind and colonized the earth long ago?" It's a tough question, but one plausible reason is the Eurovision Song Contest, which Norway won yesterday.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Sophisticated Twitter search

If you want to know how to make the most of Google to search Twitter, you should read this post at Research Buzz.


l is search engine that limits its search to RSS feeds. Neat! A search for "libraries 2.0" brought up lots of interesting feeds.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"some days you make me clutch my head like a clubbed salmon"

The Annoyed Librarian is sure hard to figure out! I confess I'm frequently amused by her snarky cleverness, but I also admire the moral probity (she'll be cackling now) that fuels her impatience with the "twopointopians" who sacrifice lofty aims of librarianship to the latest whim of the public (she'd ridicule the very notion of "lofty aims of librarianship," but she sure knows what they ain't!) Today's contribution, however, comes from a person who also seems to ridicule the very notion of ethics and's just "intellectually lazy trollbait," as someone put it more succinctly than I ever could. Funny too how AL embodies all the worst qualities of web2.0 - the longest threads of idiotic, anonymous, "piling on" commentary you'll find anywhere in the library blogosphere (actually, some of the comments reacting - indignantly - to today's post were excellent...particularly "More Annoyed Than Thou" who had to clutch her head like a clubbed salmon.) But of course the joke is on us...

Good riddance to newspapers

Not everyone is equally saddened by the death of  newspapers…take for example Al Giordano

But reading through the comments to the post,  one is struck by how consistent and self-gratulatory the opinion is  – an example of  Daily Me groupthink?  2 or 3 commenters  do in fact provide (apologetically) some nuance and mild dissent,  but there's a price to be paid for the demise of corporate newspapers, e.g. the high cost of  maintaining correspondents and prodcuing quality foreign news.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Times Wire

Traditional newspapers, with their attention to detail, spelling, fact-checking, editorial clearance and other such niceties that bloggers needn't trouble with, are often hopelessly out of date when it comes to breaking the news; a digested story regurgitated in the New York Times might reach us hours after the same event is old news in the blogosphere. To remedy that, the NYT TimesWire shows you NYT articles, blog posts and some wire services as they are placed on the web (and here's the feed). It updates each minute,  the most recent items appearing at the top in the reverse chronological order of a blog.

Citizen's briefing book

If citizens of the U.S. were given a platform to present their concerns to the new administration,  a summary  might look like the Citizen's Briefing Book (but shouldn't it be Citizens' briefing book? - it's a briefing by the citizens, not for the citizen):

As a closing act for the Transition, Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett requested that the Office of Public Liaison create a process by which Americans outside of Washington could come together to present ideas directly to the President – a “Citizen’s Briefing Book.”

The idea was to use the Transition website,, to create a grassroots version of the research binders that presidents receive every day. But instead of advice from top government officials, the Citizen’s Briefing Book is composed of ideas submitted by ordinary people and reflecting the enthusiastic engagement from the public we saw throughout the course of

125,000 users submitted over 44,000 ideas and cast over 1.4 million votes, with the most popular ideas accumulating tens of thousands of votes each. This book contains some of the top ideas, broken into groups by issue area. You can tell how popular each idea was by looking at the number next to it – it represents how many people voted for the idea, with 10 points awarded for each positive vote. In addition, you will find a “word cloud” for each category of ideas representing the frequency with which various words and concepts appeared through the entire process.

Out of the tens of thousands of submissions, these ideas found the most support; here they are, unvarnished and unedited.

Monday, May 11, 2009


"GovFresh is a live feed of official news from U.S. Government Twitter, YouTube, RSS, Facebook, Flickr accounts and more, all in one place."

Phatic communion

I recently stumbled up on and scoffed out loud at some new and fancy sounding concepts - phatic communion, ambient intimacy -  but have now relented and adopted them as more productive for understanding Twitter, Facebook and web2.0  than my own perspective (contemptuous dismissal).  This short and clear post at Micronarratives  highlights the interesting and thought-provoking (for me) distinction between phatic and instrumental communication.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Spreadtweet tweetsheets

Elliot Kember has developed Spreadtweet, a Twitter client thickly disguised as a workaday Excel spreadsheet (tweetsheet?) -  perfect for fooling supervisors who frown upon employees wasting company time on Twitter and other web2.0 nonsense.  Once "deep into Twitter and web2.0"  has become de rigeur for the cred of any self-respecting company (soon!),  there will probably be an application that disguises a spreadsheet a aTwitter interface, for employees who need to fool supervisors and get some real work done.


Shucks, this looked so promising....I thought I'd finally found a service that would wake me when Wikipedia articles of my choice had been updated! Dream on. What it does do, however, is send you an email alert when selected articles are edited. And furthermore, we're told, you can
  • Track unlimited pages
  • Monitor your products & brand names as well as competitors
  • Pages monitored every hour 24 hours a day 7 days a week
  • Send the email alerts to as many people as you like
  • Emails include full visibility on changes made
Don't let your company get caught out in a damaging online reputation management situation or even a Wiki Circularity disaster – signup to wikiAlarm today and safeguard your reputation on the Internet’s most popular information channel. 

I have no idea what a "Wiki Circularity disaster" is, and a bit of searching found no other reference to it, but it sure sounds terrible!!!

For emails alerting you to changes in any selected page, including Wikipedia pages, you could use

Friday, May 8, 2009

Twitter is short and sweet

Readers of this blog in every corner of the world, and readers of the literature about this blog in every corner of the world, will know that I'm not greatly enthused about social media, "status updating", and the technologically enabled narcissism that is web2.0. Nor do I buy the argument that giving everyone a voice necessarily enhances democracy - a townhall meeting where everyone talks is neither fun nor productive. But I'm very happy to discover that the enforced brevity of Twitter gives it a pith (not piff) that I had never expected, and that is otherwise lacking in web2.0. While there will always be those who use every available platform to share uninteresting musings and doings, many of the Twitterers I follow use the platform mostly just to share discoveries of useful sites and interesting bits of information with others; the brevity of the medium encourages rigorous pruning of extraneous editorializing - not unlike the way I excise the slightest sign of excess, dross or impurity in this blog, come to think of it. A peek at my Twitterfox window this morning alerted me to a great new digest of current periodical literature alert service (also available on Twitter! - and a perfect example of the kind of useful twitter deployment I'm talking about), two books (one must read, and one must-not read), and pointers to 5-6 journal and news articles, several of them interesting. For a blogger like me, always looking desperately for something to share with people, Twitter is turning out to be an unexpected tweet!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

50 Useful Twitter Tools for Writers and Researchers

Here's a nice, crisp overview of 50 useful - as opposed to merely social - ways to use Twitter. Thanks for the tip, Ian!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Mind and the gap

A while ago I posted about Jerry Fodor's review of Andy Clark's book about extended mind theory (EMT) In a subsequent letter to the LRB, Clark responds to Fodor's "amusing, insightful, but fatally flawed review" of his book. Clark begins his rebuttal of Fodor's arguments reassuringly with "Let's start small"  and proceeds one step at a time, very readable and persuasive. To me the extended mind theory raises interesting questions about whether the value of the mind is purely instrumental. Will it be OK to extend one's mind with the Berlitz Instant Italian implant before visiting Venice, or will that be frowned upon?

Cites & Insights, June

The spanking new Cites & Insights tells you everything you could possibly want to know about the Liblog Landscape 2007-2008; trends in posting frequency, length of posts, number of comments, conversational intensity (# of comments per post), age, authorship, patterns of change, content, and many other metrics. In short, The Liblog Landscape 2007-2008: A Lateral Look is by far the most complete review of changes in blogging behavior within the library field, and quite possibly in any field.  It sounds dry, but makes for fascinating reading. And of course, mention of loads and loads of interesting library related blogs, and one conspicuous, I should say glaring, omission...which I assume is there merely to pique readers' interest.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Nod Off Office

As I've noted before, no occasion in life is so important that it should prevent you from taking a nap. Office designers do not always respect this principle, but thankfully, Steven M. Johnson - "a sort of R. Crumb meets R. Buckminster Fuller" as Allison Arieff puts it - has applied his genius to the problem:

Picking fights with the wrong people

Kutiman's mashup that I posted about here earlier this year as a neat musical phenomenon, is also a hot IP issue; TechDirt reports that Warner Music has ordered Lessig to take down one of his own presentations (below, app. 30 minutes) from the internet because it displays the mashup. Lessig makes distinctions between ReadOnly and ReadWrite cultures, quoting Huxley - and before him Sousa - on the lamentable transition of "culture" from an act of creation to an act of passive consumption, wrought by the advent of technologies such as the record player and radio. He argues that the proliferation today of mashups - a hybrid of commercial and sharing economies - represents a a positive new development, and a revival of ReadWrite type creativity, and that the concept of copyright must be updated and adjusted to accommodate it.

Outline of American Literature

The State Department's website provides a handsome "Outline of American Literature" free of charge (along with many other publications available for download)

NYC on CRS reports to the people

Yesterday's New York Times has a story on the ongoing struggle to have CRS reports made publicly available.

Monday, May 4, 2009


Andrew Keen argues that 2009 will turn the page on the(printed)book business; a combination of digital book technology, print-on-demand innovations, and enhanced reading functionality in devices like the Iphone, will make 2009 a "tipping point" year for the book business.