Reconstructing My Grandfather (JP Rangaswami) — this is how libraries will be used in the future, by ordinary people (i.e., not professional researchers) reconstructing their families. See my library essay for more thoughts on this.
Physical Conservation vs Digitisation for Preservation (Leeds) — they chose deliberately compromised paper materials (acid-riddled paper) and found that it still would take 50 years for digitisation to pay off. Digitisation, even destructive, is bloody expensive compared to just keeping the paper ticking along.
Libraries: Where It All Went Wrong — I was asked to provocatively help focus librarians on the opportunities offered to libraries in the Internet age. If I ask you to talk about your collections, I know that you will glow as you describe the amazing treasures you have. When you go for money for digitization projects, you talk up the incredible cultural value. ANZAC! Constitution! Treaties! Development of a nation! But then if I look at the results of those digitization projects, I find the shittiest websites on the planet. It’s like a gallery spent all its money buying art and then just stuck the paintings in supermarket bags and leaned them against the wall. CC-BY-SA licensed, available in nicely-formatted A4 and Letter versions.
On the Perpetuation of Ignorance (PDF) — ignorance about an issue leads to dependence leads to government trust leads to avoidance of information about that issue. Again I say to Gov 2.0 advocates that simply making data available doesn’t generate a motivated, engaged, change-making citizenry. (via Roger Dennis)
Massive Wikimedia Donation — I missed it when it happened, but the State Library of Queensland made the 4th largest ever donation of high-resolution out-of-copyright images to the Wikimedia Foundation. The image metadata are available through Wikimedia under liberal licensing terms, too. This is what your national and state libraries should be doing!
Face-Tracking KiddyZoom Video Cam (YouTube) — I’m always startled most when the future turns up in kids’ toys. Tablets and face-tracking? Soon it’ll be face recognition (“hello mommy!” says the doll), brainwave-triggered activity, and 3D printers. (via BERG London)
Nudge Policies Are Another Name for Coercion (New Scientist) — This points to the key problem with “nudge” style paternalism: presuming that technocrats understand what ordinary people want better than the people themselves. There is no reason to think technocrats know better, especially since Thaler and Sunstein offer no means for ordinary people to comment on, let alone correct, the technocrats’ prescriptions. This leaves the technocrats with no systematic way of detecting their own errors, correcting them, or learning from them. And technocracy is bound to blunder, especially when it is not democratically accountable. Take heed, all you Gov 2.0 wouldbe-hackers. (via BoingBoing)
Ebook Users Wanted — Pew Internet & American Life project looking at ebooks, looking for people who use ebooks and tablet readers in libraries.
The Public Library, Complete Reimagined (KQED) — the Fayetteville public library is putting in a fab lab. [L]ibraries aren’t just about books. They are about free access to information and to technology — and not just to reading books or using computers, but actually building and making things. (via BoingBoing)
Just Say No To Freegal — an interesting view from the inside, speaking out against a music licensing system called Freegal which is selling to libraries. Libraries typically buy one copy of something, and then lend it out to multiple users sequentially, in order to get a good return on investment. Participating in a product like Freegal means that we’re not lending anymore, we’re buying content for users to own permanently so they don’t have to pay the vendor directly themselves. This puts us in direct competition with the vendor’s sales directly to consumers, and the vendors will never make more money off of libraries than they will off of direct consumer sales. What that does is put libraries in a position of being economic victims of our own success. I would think that libraries would remember this lesson from our difficulties with the FirstSearch pay-per-use model that most of us found to be unsustainable.
Cost of Computing in Coal (Benjamin Mako Hill) — back-of-the-envelope estimation of the carbon costs of running an overnight multicore Amazon number-crunching job. Thinking about the environmental costs of your crappy coding might change the way you code, much as punched cards encouraged you to model and test the program by hand before you ran it. How many tons of coal are burnt to support laziness or a lack of optimization in my software?
Friction in Computer Human Symbiosis (Palantir blog) — Weak human + machine + better process was superior to a strong computer alone and, more remarkably, superior to a strong human + machine + inferior process. (via Tim O’Reilly)
Basel Wear — to answer the question I know was burning on your lips: “what *did* the Swiss wear in 1634?” Impressively detailed pictures from a 1634 book that is now online. One of the reasons I’m in favour of digitizing cultural collections is that we’re more likely to encounter them on the net and so ask questions like “how did people dress in 1634?”, “why did everyone carry keys?”, and “what is a Sexton?”
databranches: Using git as a Database — it’s important to approach your design for using git as a database from the perspective of automated merging. Get the merging right and the rest will follow. I’ve chosen to use the simplest possible merge, the union merge: When merging parent trees A and B, the result will have all files that are in either A or B, and files present in both will have their lines merged (and possibly reordered or uniqed).
Joshfire — open source (dual-licensed GPLv2 and commercial) multiplatform development framework built on HTML5.
Poor Economics — this is possibly the best thing I will read all year, an insightful (and research-backed) book digging into the economics of poverty. Read the lecture slides online, they’ll give you a very clear taste of what the book’s about. Love that the website is so very complementary to the book, and 100% aligned with the ambition to convince and spread the word. Kindle-purchasable, too. Sample boggle (one of many): children of children born during the Chinese famine are smaller, and children who were in utero during Ramadan earn less as adults.
The Web Is Shrinking (All Things D) — graph that makes Facebook look massively important and the rest of the web look insignificant. It doesn’t take into account the nature of the interaction (shopping? research? chat?), and depends heavily on the comScore visits metric being a reliable proxy for “use”. I’d expect to see other neutral measures of “use” decreasing (e.g., searches for “school holidays”) if overall web use were decreasing, yet they don’t seem to be. Nonetheless, Facebook has become the new millennium’s AOL: keywords, grandparents, and a zealous devotion to advertising. At least Facebook doesn’t send me #&#^%*ing CDs.
Orphan Works Project (University of Michigan) — library will digitize orphaned works for researchers. Lovely to see someone breaking the paralysis that orphaned works induce. (via BoingBoing)
log.io — node.js system for real-time log monitoring in your browser. (via Vasudev Ram)
webshell — command-line tool for debugging/exploring APIs, open sourced (Apache v2) and written in node.js. (via Sean Coates)
sample — command-line filter for random sampling of input. Useful when you’ve got heaps of data and want to run your algorithms on a random sample of it. (via Scott Vokes)
Yale Offers Open Access To PD Materials in Collections — The goal of the new policy is to make high quality digital images of Yale’s vast cultural heritage collections in the public domain openly and freely available. No license will be required for the transmission of the images & no limitations imposed on their use. (via Fiona Rigby)
Resistance to Putting Lectures Online (Sydney Morning Herald) — lecturers are worried that their off-the-cuff mistakes would be mocked on YouTube (they will be), but also that students wouldn’t attend lectures. Nobody seems to have asked whether students actually learn from lectures.
Chinese Internet Cafes (Bryce Roberts) — a good quick read. My note: people valued the same things in Internet cafes that they value in public libraries, and the uses are very similar. They pose a similar threat to the already-successful, which is why public libraries are threatened in many Western countries.
SIFT — the Scale Invariant Feature Transform library, built on OpenCV, is a method to detect distinctive, invariant image feature points, which easily can be matched between images to perform tasks such as object detection and recognition, or to compute geometrical transformations between images. The licensing seems dodgy–MIT code but lots of “this isn’t a license to use the patent!” warnings in the LICENSE file. (via Joshua Schachter)
The Secret Life of Libraries (Guardian) — I like the idea of the most-stolen-books revealing something about a region; it’s an aspect of data revealing truth. For a while, Terry Pratchett was the most-shoplifted author in England but newspapers rarely carried articles about him or mentioned his books (because they were genre fiction not “real” literature). (via Brian Flaherty)
Sweble — MediaWiki parser library. Until today, Wikitext had been poorly defined. There was no grammar, no defined processing rules, and no defined output like a DOM tree based on a well defined document object model. This is to say, the content of Wikipedia is stored in a format that is not an open standard. The format is defined by 5000 lines of php code (the parse function of MediaWiki). That code may be open source, but it is incomprehensible to most. That’s why there are 30+ failed attempts at writing alternative parsers. (via Dirk Riehle)
Programming the Commodore 64 — the loss of the total control that we had over our computers back when they were small enough that everything you needed to know would fit inside your head. It’s left me with a taste for grokking systems deeply and intimately, and that tendency is probably not a good fit for most modern programming, where you really don’t have time to go in an learn, say, Hibernate or Rails in detail: you just have to have the knack of skimming through a tutorial or two and picking up enough to get the current job done, more or less. I don’t mean to denigrate that: it’s an important and valuable skill. But it’s not one that moves my soul as Deep Knowing does. This is the kind of deep knowledge of TCP/IP and OS that devops is all about.
Kids do Science — scientists lets kids invent an experiment, write it up, and it’s published in Biology Letters. Teaching the method of science, not the facts currently in vogue, will give us a generation capable of making data-based decisions.