Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Now for a real treat - Baker on Kindle

I've raved before about Nicholson Baker's reviews, and how they always put me in a good mood, and then make me buy another book. Now he reviews the Kindle...I'm only into paragraph two, but already he has delighted with knuckle-gnawer of a novel and [Kindle as]an alpenhorn blast of post-Gutenbergian revalorization and the Bowflex of bookishness (ie. something expensive that, when you commit to it, it forces you to do more of whatever it is you think you should be doing more of.) More than any writer I know, Baker reminds me - especially in his reviews and essays - of the pleasure of reading sentences per se. "The Size of Thoughts" (for example) is chock full of sentences that make you gasp with delight.

Now that I've read the whole thing, more quotables:
[decrying the difficulty of quoting precisely from the Kindle] If you want to quote from a book you’ve bought, you have to quote by location range—e.g., the phrase “She was on the verge of the mother of all orgasms” is to be found at location range 1596-1605 in Mari Carr’s erotic romance novel “Tequila Truth.”

[about the Kindle DX's presentation of newspapers] A century and a half of of evolved beauty and informational expressiveness is all but entirely rinsed away in this digital reductio.

[on night-reading from the iPhone, which Baker much prefers to the Kindle] Each time you need to turn the page, just move your thumb over it, as if you were getting ready to deal a card; when you do, the page will slide out of the way, and a new one will appear. After a while, your thoughts will drift off to the unused siding where the old tall weeds are, and the string of curving words will toot a mournful toot and pull ahead. You will roll to a stop. A moment later, you'll wake and discover that you're still holding the machine but it has turned itself off. Slide it back under the pillow. Sleep.

[going back to the Kindle from the iPhone] It was like going from a Mini Cooper to a white 1982 Impala with blown shocks. But never mind: at that point, I was locked into the plot and it didn’t matter.

So, ultimately, it doesn't matter...because before the power of the book (Michael Connelly's "The Lincoln Lawyer", which Baker forces himself to read on the Kindle out of a sense of duty) Poof, the Kindle disappeared, just as Jeff Bezos had promised it would.

Once again, a Baker review causes me to run out and buy something, this time a Michael Connelly paperback.

Monday, July 27, 2009

My Experiment

A web2.0 collaboration tool for scientists:

The myExperiment Virtual Research Environment enables you and your colleagues to share digital items associated with your research — in particular it enables you to share and execute scientific workflows.

You can use to find publicly shared workflows. If you want further access, and the ability to upload and share workflows, you will need to sign up.

The software that powers is downloadable so that you can run your own myExperiment instance. For more information visit our developer pages. The source code is maintained on RubyForge and is available under the BSD licence.

Google Book Search Settlement site

The Public Index is a site (made possible by a grant from Microsoft) to study and discuss the proposed Google Book Search settlement:

The Public Index is a project of the Public-Interest Book Search Initiative and the Institute for Information Law and Policy at New York Law School. We are a group of professors, students, and volunteers who believe that the Google Book Search lawsuit and settlement deserve a full, careful, and thoughtful public discussion. The Public Index is a site for people from all points of view to learn from each other about the settlement and join together to make their voices heard in the public debate.

The lawsuit and its proposed settlement have generated their share of controversy. This is a site for everyone, dedicated to no particular point of view other than the advancement of dialogue and understanding. We hope that the site will help the settlement’s fans and foes dispel misunderstandings and find common ground, and that those who have not made up their minds will find the facts and explanations they need to reach informed decisions for themselves. All we ask of participants is that they be respectful of each other and work in good faith to advance the dialogue.

Novels about immigrants in U.S.

WSJ's Matthew Kaminski's 5 favorite novels about immigrants in U.S.

3.Roth/Call it Sleep
4.Diaz/The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
5.Lahiri/Interpreter of Maladies

Thursday, July 23, 2009

61 essential postmodern reads

LATimes blog Jacketcopy defines the post-modern novel and offers a list of 61 essential titles.


For a daily fix of things to read/think/write about, a visit to Eurozine is a good habit to get into; it's "a network of European cultural journals, linking up more than 75 partner journals and just as many associated magazines and institutions from nearly all European countries. Eurozine is also a netmagazine which publishes outstanding articles from its partner journals with additional translations into one of the major European languages". Also offers an RSS feed and an email newsletter.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Fascinating self-destruction

Nicely apropos of Amazon/Orwell, this University of Washington press release raises some fascinating perpectives on the future of digital information and things like accountability, the public record, trees, etc. etc. A new system, called Vanish, enables users to schedule the self-destruction of their electronic texts, thereby limiting the damage of those errant emails and deeply regretted least those that did not find their way to the printer! The system can be implemented with a Firefox plugin or, for the timid, by using an online "modest-scale Vanish service, which can be used to create or read Vanish data objects without requiring any installations." 

From the press release:

A team of UW computer scientists have developed a prototype system called Vanish that can place a time limit on text uploaded to any Web service through a Web browser. After a set time text written using Vanish will, in essence, self-destruct. A paper about the project went public today and will be presented at the Usenix Security Symposium Aug. 10-14 in Montreal.


Usage Scenarios

Vanish enables privacy-aware users to ensure the timely self-destruction of their sensitive data stored at uncontrollable locations, such as in cloud services or on laptops that can get stolen. For example, users can use Vanish to control the lifetimes of certain of their data on Facebook, Gmail, Hotmail, or Google Docs. Because of the technical difficulties associated with deleting Web data (e.g., replication, content delivery networks) or sometimes because of uncooperating Web service policies, data on some of these services can persist long after the user requests its deletion. This unbounded data persistance on the Web raises huge concerns in our current litigious society, where old, forgotten copies of your emails or Facebook posts can serve as exhibits during a divorce or insurance dispute. Vanish is a good first tool that allows you to "sanitize your personal Web," by configuring your sensitive data to self-destruct automatically after a period of time.
Example Scenario

To illustrate the utility of Vanish, let's consider a concrete example. Ann and Carla are close friends, who love to use popular Web services, such as Gmail, Hotmail, Google Docs, and Facebook, to communicate between and collaborate with each other. Ann is experiencing problems in her marriage and has started drafting divorce-related documents. She would like to request Carla's advice and help on the documents. Ann trusts her confidante completely, however she fears that the electronic footprint of her sensitive and still tentative communications might later be used by her husband's lawyers as part of a future divorce trial.

To protect their communications, Ann and Carla decide to limit the lifetime of their their sensitive communications and documents using Vanish. The screenshots below show how Ann and Carla upload divorce-related data into Vanishing Data Objects (VDOs) on various Web services. (1) Ann has sent a VDO-encapsulated email from her Gmail address to Carla's Hotmail address, asking for advice on her problems. (2) Carla has responded back to Ann's Gmail address with her advice. (3) Ann and Carla encapsulate draft information in a divorce document inside VDOs, until they finalize the terms. (4) Ann has sent a VDO-encapsulated Facebook message to Carla asking her about a specific term. Eight-hour timeouts for all of these VDOs are reasonable and reassuaring for the two women. Once the VDOs expire, all copies of the encapsulated data disappear. For example, for the first email (1), both Ann's Gmail copy and Carla's Hotmail copy of that email self-destruct at the same time.

More on similar search

Re similar site search engines, there's a list of them...and other kinds of search "This",  Phil Bradley, tells us "is still my most popular page and on it I list a variety of different search engines and what they are particularly useful for. It's not a complete list, and it isn't intended to be. Instead, it's a list of engines that I use on a regular basis, or which are of particular interest, and which I think you'll find helpful as well"

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

How to get here from anywhere

Most people will be familiar with the amazing "get directions" function of Google Maps, which provides driving/walking/public transportation directions between any two coordinates on the map. With this new Google Maps gadget, you can easily put that functionality on your own website/blog. Just enter your address, and Google generates a gadget like this that you can add to your website.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Say Everything

"Say Everything" Emily Nussbaum writes in New York Magazine about Kids, the Internet, and the End of Privacy "As younger people reveal their private lives on the Internet, the older generation looks on with alarm and misapprehension not seen since the early days of rock and roll. The future belongs to the uninhibited."
(Neil Postman was evidently on to something, both with Amusing Ourselves to Death and The Disappearance of Childhood)

Scott Rosenberg has just published a book, also entitled Say Everything , about the history and future of blogging. In a post on his blog, Rosenberg complains that too many people seem to think fame and or money is what motivates bloggers to blog; what in fact motivates them is simply a natural urge: "the desire to express themselves, to think out loud, to exult in the possibilities of writing in public"

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

ǝɟıן ɟo ƃuıuɐǝɯ ǝɥʇ

Sometimes it seems like we spend our entire lives looking for something...something we do not quite understand what is, until we find it. And then it causes quite a when I found this neat site
, which takes your typed input and turns it upside down for you! From there, you can cut and paste it into emails, blog posts, and do many other interesting things. The site also claims you can turn everything on your monitor upside down by using the ctrl-alt-down combination, but I couldn't get that to work...

The Second Pass

I've owned up about this before, and know it's wrong, but sometimes I enjoy reading reviews that savage the books/films that everyone else seems to love. The Second Pass is a very elegant site that only occasionally stoops to that kind of thing - as here, in "Fired from the canon."  Mostly, it's just "an exclusively online publication devoted to reviews, essays, and blog posts about books new and old. It is updated every weekday." Very nice!

Similar search engines

Phil Bradley's site pointed me to, which delivered some very good results when I searched for sites similar to Knowbodies. It gauges "similarity" primarily on the basis of user annotations or tags on websites. It also does a good job of finding sites similar to itself,  while comparable sites -  and - performed less impressively.  Also very useful when looking for similar sites is the "similar" option that appears in the Google search results lists, or - for the pro-active - the "related" Google search operator, with syntax

Dumber? Smarter? Neither?

Yet another article on this hotly debated topic...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Newsy splices together 2-3 minute video presentations of a particular story, drawing  from news organizations of (presumed) differing political perspective. The idea is that "Global access to multiple perspectives helps provide the real story."  This yields coverage of commendable balance and perspicacity -  or coverage of inconclusive postmodern relativity, depending on your perspective.

Here's how presents itself... is a multiperspective online video news site that monitors, synthesizes and presents the world's news coverage.

In an increasingly connected world, access to multiperspective news is in demand by global citizens. News sources are abundant yet redundant. delivers context with convenience to help keep you better informed. Through short video segments available on the web and mobile devices, offers a way to accelerate your global understanding of a news story. takes a step back to show how the world's news organizations are reporting a story - providing an unprecedented global and macro point of view. You'll find CNN right next to Al Jazeera, the BBC right next to ABC. also covers major newspapers, news magazines as well as top blogs from around the world.

What are the key differences in reporting? Who has a unique insight?
By monitoring the world's new coverage, we provide immediate analysis of news perspectives so you can form your own opinion. You'll find it an informative and a convenient resource that you will want to check daily. We will not change the news, but we will change your view of it. Global access to multiple perspectives helps provide the real story,

Search Google News by author

The Google News blog announces a new option, search by author. Useful for tracking the work of a particular journalist.

Guess the Wordle

Guess the tool for teachers ...

Making conversation

Rob Walker's review of Plinky will resonate with those of us who have nothing to say but, for various reasons, need something to say. "Plinky" to the rescue - "an automated version of the person at the party who takes an interest and asks you a question."  Plinky says "We know you've got something interesting to say. Plinky is here to help you say it in a fun and compelling way." Pinky also helps you think of something to say by asking questions that might not have occurred to you, e.g. "Who would win a fight between a bear and a shark?"

p.s. - since posting, I discover Plinky is neither new nor unique; see for example "The Daily Meme: an easy spot to find a meme to blog about..."

Reading, 0.2%, Entertainment 5.4%

The source of this graph appears to be the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Reading is defined:
Reading includes subscriptions for newspapers and magazines; books through book clubs; and the purchase of single-copy newspapers, magazines, newsletters, books, and encyclopedias and other reference books.  Not sure why that's not folded into "entertainment" or "education," but BLS evidently sees it as a thing apart....

Friday, July 10, 2009

Write rhymes

With handy "Write rhymes" at your fingetips, you can craft a paean to Knowbodies
with robot ease.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Collecta says....The web is alive with real-time information. So why search a stale archive? Collecta monitors the update streams of news sites, popular blogs and social media, so we can show you results as they happen. Give it a try.

And some impressive testimony in Wired last month:

In the age of Twitter, there’s fierce competition to be the quickest indexer on the net — a feature even Google co-founder Sergey Brin admits his company can improve upon. IceRocket, OneRiot and Scoopler are typical of the trend.

The smartest one we found is Collecta. It scours the net for the most recent blog posts, news stories, tweets and comments and displays them in a continuous waterfall. It’s a torrent of information to keep track of, but if you are worried about your company’s online reputation or want the latest news on Iran, it’s indispensable

Monday, July 6, 2009

Nothing wrong with Kansas

(via Andrew Sullivan)a new paper posits a counter-intuitive relationship between national identity and acceptance of economic redistribution. Conventional thinking presumes that stronger identification with our countrymen means more solidarity and acceptance of economic redistribution as a tool  to spread the wealth. This paper argues the opposite; that that strong national identity goes together with high income inequality and low desire (among working class voters) for redistribution. The reasoning is that when working class voters identify more strongly with their class, they are likely to push for redistribution (which will favor their class interests), but often they will identify less with their class (perhaps because that class is ethnically heterogenous), and more with their nation, and are then less likely to want redistribution. The graph shows a clear negative correlation between economic redistribution and degree of national identity.

Two reflections on reading and mobility

Government by the people

This report from Accenture, Web 2.0 and the Next Generation of Public Service: Driving high performance through more engaging, accountable and citizen-focused service makes sense in the "government by the people" sense. The web2.0 savvy government, according to this report,
breaks down silos, improves citizen service and opens up the possibilities of collaboration and broader participation among agencies and by citizens themselves. In effect, Web 2.0 represents another step in the inexorable move to more citizen-centric and participatory government. New citizen-sponsored governance initiatives led by electronic, online, mobile and social networking technologies are augmenting, but not replacing, the traditional controls and value of governments and public service agencies.

Writing about reading 3

Nobody covers more ground in the liblog landscape than Walt Crawford, who offers a new survey of current writing about reading in Cites & Insights 9 (Writing about Reading 3)! This time he leads with a declaration of his beliefs and biases on the issue (first among them "I do not believe print books and the long narrative form are endangered—not by aliteracy, not by attention deficit preference, certainly not by ebooks."), and moves on to a discussion of ebooks and ebook readers. This issue of Cites and Insights also revisits the Library 2.0 discussion, and a memorable (from September 2007) quote from the Gather No Dust blog - The difference between library services provided with current tools (like strategic planning) and ones that provide services in a 2.0 type model is the difference between benevolent despotism and a democracy. I still  think there is a place for benevolent despotism within a democracy...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

We're all writers now

Few make that claim today. I would hazard that, with more than 200m people on Facebook and even more with home internet access, we are all writing more than we would have ten years ago.
Hard to argue with Anne Trubek here.

Picture credit: Mike Licht, (via Flickr)

The Story's Story

Just discovered  The Story's Story - if  you're interested books, writing and culture, this blog  has much to recommend it. Concise writing, engaging topics, updated every few days, and lots of interesting links, e.g. to a James Wood interview in the L.A. Weekly which yields this quote: “My true enemies skulk in a deep Dostoevskian Underground called the Internet, and never see the light of day — that is their punishment for hating me so much; it matches the sin, as in Dante.”

Friday, July 3, 2009

Dogs and reading

I know that my hoary conception of librarians as shepherds for sheep is no longer de rigueur; today's librarians lean more toward precepts like the Librarians 2.0 Manifesto, so I've reluctantly abandoned my sheep simile and begun looking for middle ground. That's why a Boston librarian's tweet about a visit from Lucy the Reading Dog made my ears prick up - a new market for public libraries! This was something different though, as I learned from the Massachussetts Pet Partners page.  For several years now, READ dogs (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) have been helping kids learn how to read. In a nutshell, the dogs are trained to "listen" while children read to them; the dogs attentiveness boosts the child's confidence. More importantly, teacher Pat Howe points out, "The dog listens without making any comments, judgment, or criticisms". Very much like what humans used to do in the classroom, before the advent of backchanneling.

The Library News

The Library describes itself as "a collection of RSS feeds of various Library related blogs and websites.  Here you’ll find the latest information about what is going on in technological realm of Libraries. We also have a finely tuned Google search engine to search through all those blogs."
Very nice! A similar though more modest tool is the Knowbodies Library&Technology Metagator, which I monitor feverishly many times a day to find stuff to blog about.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


With the prevalence of shortened urls on Twitter and mobile media these days, a good url expander is an essential "look before you leap" precaution. LongURL works great, and is compatible with Firefox 3.5.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Diary of a Nobody 2.0

If you loved Diary of a Nobody - which was web2.0 a century before its time - you'll also enjoy DrKissingerPhd on Twitter. Hilarious!


FeFoo is a handy multi-search engine with a neat and orderly interface. There is an option to add Fefoo to the list of search engines in the Firefox dropdown search, but I couldn't get it to work...nor can I imagine how it's supposed to work, since fefoo is not a search engine, but (like the Firefox search window itself) merely an interface that coordinates access to many search engines. When installed among the search engines in the Firefox dropdown, fefoo simply defaults to Google...and sticks to Google, even if you go to fefoo and select a different engine. The best way to use it, as far as I can see, is to pull it up via a bookmark.

p.s. - re my remarks about Firefox addon above, see helpful comment by Vivek Jishtu about using commands in the Firefox dropdown window to specify search engines, e.g. ":bing libraries" will search bing for "libraries."

TwitterSearch to track people or topics

This TwitterSearch is not the one at or (due for launch in July, 2009....exciting!), but the gadget designed by Robert Arles at 32hours, which you can view in action over there on the right side of this page. You enter a search term - e.g. #libraries - and TwitterSearch will update every 60 seconds to display tweets about the topic. If you want to change the topic, go ahead! Here's how  Arles presents it:

TwitterSearch will let you set a search term, and it will update every 60 seconds to let you know what is going on in the Twitter universe. You can simply put in a search word or term, or be a little more tricky.

Try setting one of these as your search:

    * "#hashtag"  to track a topic of interest. I like to follow #ubuntu to see the latest topics on my favorite Linux distro.
    * "@username"  to follow all mentions of someone. You could see what people are saying to @ev, or about him!
    * "to:username"  You can see what people are saying ONLY to a specific person.
    * "from:username"  You can track what a specific person is saying.

My favorite: Just enter a username without the "@" You'll get to see the combo of what someone says, what is being said to them, and anything anyone says about them.

The application is free and can be embedded in any blog or website.
For searching twitter, you can always go to, but even better is Mark Carey's GreaseMonkey script Realtime Twitter Search Results on Google. I've been using this for a couple of weeks now and find it extremely useful. When you use Google to search for a term, it adds the 5 most recent Twitter search results at the top of the list, like so: