Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Librarian's Christmas

Of everybody at the family Christmas this year, I, the librarian, got the fewest books. Why this happened is pretty obvious after some thought: while wandering around the bookstore, everybody was picking up things they thought I might like and then putting them back down, afraid I might already have read them.

How easy it is to buy books for somebody is a function of not just how well you know them, but also how much they read. If a friend doesn't read, then it's easy: don't buy them books. If a friend reads a middling amount, and one knows them reasonably well, then it's also easy: buy them something that meshes well with their known reading habits, and they probably haven't already read it, but will like it.

For the voracious and broadly read reader, even her partner may have problems buying books. Of course, if you buy the voracious reader a book she's already read, then it's just a very bulky gift card, since it's easy enough to return the book and exchange it for something else, but it would be better to just buy something suitable.

In general, I'm not a big fan of "wish lists". At some level, I like the idea of finding something that the recipient will like, but didn't know about, or didn't ask for. But for certain people this can be difficult. Of course, there's also the problem of alerting one's friends and family to the existence of the wish list, which just feels tacky. So, while I do have an Amazon(.ca) wish list, nobody knew about it.

I guess I just have to start buying stuff for myself.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

My Misspent Youth

Most people, when talking about their misspent youths describe the wild and crazy things that they did and probably shouldn't have. Mine, on the other hand, was mind numbingly boring, for no good reason except, of course, that I was a totally introverted geek.

In May 1984 I was a freshman at the University of Waterloo when the Clash were touring and played the auditorium at the university.

I didn't go.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Grammar peeve of the day

There is a difference between "latter" and "last" people! One chooses the latter of two options and the last of more than two options:

Fred was given the choice of chocolate or vanilla ice cream and he prefered the latter. When choosing between chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, he always picked the last.

Unfortunately, some people get it wrong:

Note that Acrobat Standard and Acrobat Professional are not the same as Acrobat Reader, the latter[sic] being a free product with limited functions.

I feel much better now.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Decoding the "Library Pilot Project"

In chemical engineering, a "pilot project" is an attempt to move a process off the lab bench and into a small set-up that will allow the researchers to find out if their new process will actually work in a commercial setup, without the risk of a full-scale industrial plant. They regularly demonstrate that the original process, which worked well in the lab, doesn't scale up. That is, they fail.

In the library setting, people regularly talk about "pilot projects". In general, this seems to be code for "We're going to do this, but if we just tell staff that, they'll get upset." At least that's the way some staff seem to interpret such. This interpretation is reinforced by staff who react to any unsuccessful attempt to provide a new service as a total failure that throws the entire library systems into disrespect in the eyes of the user community.

It seems that the way around this for new web services is to label them as "beta", since "users are familiar with 'betas' from Google, so we can change it any way we want without going back to the committee for approval." Whatever we call it, we need to encourage trials, and we need to be honest about what happens when something doesn't work: we fire the... I mean, we learn from the experience and try to improve the services we continue based on what we have learned.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Unclear on the Concept

According to the Associated Press, Sinbad is not dead, in spite of what Wikipedia says:

A telephone call and an e-mail left for Wikipedia were not immediately returned Thursday night.

Information literacy is, apparently, not as universal as we might like.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Social Network Interoperability

In the "chat" context, I now have two MSN accounts (home and work), a google talk account, an AIM account (which I never use), and an IRC nick on the freenode network. In terms of "social network" sites, which I'll define very broadly, I've got MetaFilter, Flickr, (which I've actually used for work), Facebook, LinkedIn, (which has actually been somewhat useful), Blogspot (duh), and most recently Twitter. (Oh, and of course I have home and work email addresses, as well as the obligatory "hotmail" spam-magnet address.)

Facebook might be interesting, but it's clearly designed to pull users into it to see what's going on. Unfortunately, I would find it far more useful to have an RSS feed of my Facebook "News Feed", since I use Google Reader to aggregate my news feeds.

Almost none of these systems interoperate in any useful way. Facebooks claims that it can "import" my blog into the Facebook "notes" stream, which is one less place for people to look, but both Facebook and Twitter provide a status indicator, and there's no clear way for one to feed the other, which might be fun, since twitter acts as a web/IM/SMS gateway and narrowcast channel, allowing me to see what's going on with my "friends" in realtime, and to post what I'm doing easily without having to use a full web browser just to type in six words.

Although it might be argued that Facebook is social and LinkedIn is work, there's enough overlap and cross-fertilization between those two arenas that it would be interesting to see what might happen if they could join forces.

But, for the time being, I'm stuck searching for everybody I know every single time a new site pops up and everybody piles into it. I'm looking forward to the inevitable consolidation in this area.

Well, that or I'll just go back to being antisocial.