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Tom’s Thoughts

“a closet Marxist” ???

OK, Christine, please provide me with a specific quotes from a notable Marxist that would suggest that all Marxists are all about raising taxes. Oh, excuse me, have you read anything about Marxism? Or do you understand anything about economic policy and taxation? Do Delaware citizens really follow your logic? I certainly don’t.

And speaking of the Tea Party…let’s have a party! Despite what some “members” have revealed to the press, the tea bags are not actually all that diverse, angry, yes, diverse, no. With a penchant for “conservative values” what can we expect from the “members.” And yet, scratch the surface and you will find disagreement. As soon as the details are revealed, the “movement” disappears. Ever wonder why in most political discussions among amicable adherents there is agreement only when the conversation remains at the abstract level?

Please, all, recognize that if you want to reduce the federal budget…and thus the deficit…you need to support less money going to defense, medicare, and medicaid. The other suggestions are just screwing with the margins. It sells, but it accomplishes little to argue for other reductions. Educate yourself, your representatives certainly won’t do it for you, not those in power now and not those wishing to be.

Don’t be stupid!

Why Reference and Instruction Librarians Hate Federated Searching and NextGen Catalogs

Nina McHale (University of Colorado Denver) discussed the hype of federated search engines and discovery interface tools.  These high levels of overblown expectation have led to consistent disappoint with the performance and lack of features of these systems, hence the title.  [Unrealistic expectations, I might add.]

The lack of features is in comparison to the native interfaces that vendors provide with their databases.  Over all performance relates to speed and the failure of functions such as limits on search results.  And since many resources either because of vendor restrictions or because of licensing models (simultaneous users, fee per search), not all resources can be searched from within these technologies. These troubling features appear to be across the board, and not vendor or product specific.  The extended search times in federated search engines also disrupt the flow of instruction sessions and reference transactions, and at times force a switch in pedagogy therein.

There seems to be a shared [mis]understanding among some reference and instruction librarians that discovery tools dumb down the research process by not supporting the use of controlled terms.  Usability studies show, however, the weakness of assuming that users see the world the same way librarians do.

Some earlier implementation issues with these tools have improved dramatically, thus helping to reduce the frustration.   Implementation times have improved drastically, as have de duping routines.  These tools now also tend to integrate better with other tools.

Despite the concerns expressed by reference and instruction librarians, these discovery tools can restore faith of users in coming to the library’s web presence.  They work more like what users expect…or at least some of them.

Are discovery tools the holy grail?  Certainly not.  But they can and do serve a purpose in getting users to appropriate resources.  After all, isn’t that what they are for?  A used tool that is good enough is better than an unused one that is arguably more precise.

Notes from the LITA Forum 2009

Reporting from Salt Lake City, UT.

The first day of the conference was filled with presentations and conversations about many technology related issues. The ones that I attended focused on mobile technologies mostly.

In the opening plenary, Joan Lippincott overviewed a variety of ways in which libraries can deliver resources and services to users via mobile devices and the market penetration of such options within higher education (only about 13% according to a 2007 survey). She also talked about the need to plan in anticipation of these services and to avoid duplicative and possibly conflicting directions throughout the parent institution. Audience members added comments such as distinguishing between mobile apps and web sites designed specifically for mobile devices that can address the need for platform-specific solutions.

Another session I attended was sponsored by the ALA Washington Office. In the past they have given a Washington Office Update, much like they do at ALA Annual and Midwinter. This year they attempted to focus the content on policy issues related to mobile devices and services. Unfortunately, a significant portion of the session covered issues unrelated to mobile policy. It was, however, a good overview of the variety of issues that impact the provision of digital content in libraries (e.g., copyright and licensing, accessibility), some of which related directly to mobile devices (e.g., managing content of Kindles). It seems to me that one challenges is defining two things: What constitutes a mobile device? And which devices are designed to be personal, as opposed to something one would borrow, say from a library?

The Hilton Hotel is a great place to have a conference this size, easily navigable and convenient, well appointed and appropriately configured venues. The location is good as well with a variety of restaurants nearby.

Distracted Drivers

OK, so now the discussion about automobile drivers being distracted while on the road has reached a fevered pitch. Many states have some sort of law forbidding the use of cell phones while driving; many other have them under consideration. Hardly a week passes without some news item on the subject.

Here’s my beef, a fairly regular cell phone user: How is one type of distraction worthy of reproach while others seem to go unnoticed? Certainly many individuals routinely demonstrate that they are not able to conduct a short phone call without dangerously impacting the quality of driving. Texting adds a new level of engagement that poses a significant attention grabber contrary to the safe operation of a vehicle. I will admit that over the years (cell phone user for nearly 20 years) I have successfully made calls while driving and more recently I have on occasion texted one to three word messages as well. But what about other forms of distraction for drivers? Shaving; applying makeup; eating; adjusting the temperature, mirrors, or audio; changing clothes; reading a map or book; opening windows on the opposite side of the car; having an involved conversation in the car (including hand motions and head shaking); dancing to the tunes; listening to music so loud that it can be heard and felt three cars away; etc. I have observed these all and their unfortunate impacts on driving ability.

Aren’t these all potentially equally distractive activities? And which of them have been studied as closely as cell phone use? Recent studies have also shown that a lack of sleep has a worse effect on driving than alcohol consumption. The point is that the cell phone use effect is not the only distractive element in the operation of a vehicle. Quite frankly some people are just distracted, even when they are not participating in the activities noted above. So legislate away! But that won’t stop these potentially dangerous actions. Pulling over any driver who appears not to be paying attention might!

Nanometers as Things

Last night a broadcast tv network station serving my area covered a story on the local evening news about luring to the area a high tech company that produces nanometers.  ???  Aren’t nanometers a unit of measure?  Did I miss something?

“Bonehead Idea” Understatement

Earlier today on the NBC’s Today Show it was suggested that there was pretty much a consensus that the White House’s plan to do a publicity shot of Air Force One around the Statue of Library was a “bonehead idea.” What an understatement!

There are so many layers of boneheaded-ness to this that it is laughable and sad at the same time.

  • Here was an opportunity to stage a patriotic celebration that could have generated even more positive feeling toward the White House…lost!
  • What a show of complete insensitivity to the citizens of New York City.

But more to the point: what was the need for secretiveness in this case? No one of importance was in AFO, so:

  • Why not make it a public event?
  • Why have F16s flying so close in?
  • Why ask the NYPD to keep quiet?

There is more than a little bit of “crying wolf” in this scenario for me: thinking or suggesting that there was any top-secret aspect of this stunt. In your dreams, Washington!

How are citizens of this country supposed to trust the level-headed judgment of those, in this case, in the White House and the military? We have long known about the $250 hammers and the lack of even a single military development acquisition not grossly over-budget. It would be one thing if only an opportunity were missed, but here harm was generated…and for no purpose whatsoever. They must be taking leads from the TSA…but I won’t go there today.

I’m sure that this sad event will, too, end in a simple apology and be forgotten amidst the swine flu hysteria and falling house prices.

Sun & Oracle?

I know that I can’t be the only one out there who at once finds the news that Oracle is buying Sun both amazingly humorous and disconcerting. Not too long ago the leaders of both spared quite regularly (Scott McNealy and Larry Ellison); now nothing but a tech love fest. As many analysts have stated, this could be good for the Sun/Solaris platform, at least for a few years in that Sun was on the downslide financially. It also provides Oracle with a hardware arm and could support more advanced system tuning.

In my mind, however, I wonder whither Java and MySQL. Larry Dignan in the ZDNet article noted above makes his thoughts clear, “MySQL is MyToast.” Ellison is not likely to suffer an open source option nip Oracle profits around the edges. So, is the MySQL community strong enough to rest further development and support from Oracle? Can they legally?

Java’s another question entirely. Oracle could employ and support it as a tool in developing middleware, but again there is this nasty little issue of being freely available, not a common practice for Oracle.

We shall see.

LITA TTT Pulls Off a Winner

[Session at ALA Midwinter, Denver, CO, January 25, 2009]

In high contrast to last year’s event, the LITA Top Technology Trends meeting at ALA Midwinter this morning went extremely well. The content, of course, is always interesting, but this time the technology employed to deliver the experience came off without a hitch. The use of Twitter and Ustream provided participants near and far to engage in the event. The use of several real-time bloggers/tweets and a videographer in addition to the trendsters created a well-formed and follow-able stream of information and discussion.

I think the beauty of this was that there was not a barrage of technologies, but instead a select few options that fit well with the format. Also, this time the room was equipped with appropriate WiFi connectivity that permitted those in the room to participate as well. Judging by several comments from “distance users,” the combination was deemed successful.

My hats off to all involved. If you missed the live event, seriously consider taking a look at:

It’s A New Day

The impact of last night is still dawning on me…it may take several days to appreciate fully what has happened. Let us celebrate this day for its significance and mark this experience in history and in our present, but let us not forget that there is more work to do…or undo as the case may be.

Today seems a bit brighter, my weariness a bit lighter. Hope has been re-ignited, not that which expresses itself in giddiness or self-satisfaction, rather that which reminds one of those who have gone before and not lost faith. This hope is grounded in work accomplished and in fervent devotion to what lie ahead.

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