Take ebrary’s survey… please.

Last week I ran across a link (via Paul Pival) to ebrary’s current survey about the future of their platform. If you have any experience with ebrary, you’re likely as frustrated with their UI and limitations as I am. So you should go take it. I’ll wait.

Good, you’re back! When I first saw this survey I was very excited. Ebrary as it stands right now is an awful user experience and interface, to the point that I often order a print copy of a book for work instead of an ebrary copy. And while I’m excited that they want to improve, even this survey itself shows how far they have to go: it uses terminology (“tethered systems”) that I’ve never encountered in this context before, and honestly the whole thing doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. One question seems to imply that mobile apps can be used on desktop machines. If such a major provider of academic library ebooks thinks that’s true… well they genuinely need our help.

So take the survey, if you haven’t already. It sounds like they’re at least considering some sort of offline reading ability, which is a step in the right direction and should be encouraged.

Link Dump

-I’ve been playing with Twitter recently: http://twitter.com/HiddenPeanuts

In addition to just being plain old fun, twitter has been more useful than I expected; I’ve managed to get help with some issues at work very quickly. But even so, I’m fast approaching my limit on how many people I can mentally follow there. There’s a fine line between keeping Twitter a productive tool and letting it become a time waster.

-I’ve got an account listing all my books at GoodReads: http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/901545?view=main

I think I like Librarything better overall, but: Goodreads has the advantage of being better designed to accomodate books you’re reading but don’t own.

-Netvibes, my homepage/RSS reader for the last couple of years, has had too many stability issues lately. Today I took the plunge and dove into Google Reader. I’m pretty happy so far.

-Lastly, on a fun note: the ARG/viral marketing/game promoting this summer’s Batman movie is a lot of fun. Currently, Harvey Dent (he who eventually becomes Two Face) has a site up for his election campaign: http://www.ibelieveinharveydent.com/

And, a random question: Does anybody have experience building iGoogle gadgets? I’m interested in stories dealing with library applications in particular. I’m going to be putting a lot of time into them at work, and would love to have someone to bounce ideas off.

Libraryh3lp – Javascript based IM reference service

My supervisor, Pam Sessoms, has spent years building up the IM reference service throughout campus at UNC. Up until recently, we’ve been using a combination of a custom Pidgin client and Meebo widgets to make the system run. But recently we swapped out the Meebo widget for a custom javascript-based chat widget that Pam and her husband have coded up on their own.

It’s still pretty early in development, but I think their ‘libraryh3lp’ system is an amazing step forward. For one thing, javascript has a much higher compatibility rate than Meebo, which relies on flash. I even got it to work on my iPod touch’s browser! It is also much better from an accessibility point of view, and plays nicer with screen readers for the visually impaired. Also also, the service runs on a custom Jabber server which gives the library much more internal control than relying on a third party network.

Eventually routing and queueing functions will be added, steering the product much more toward library-based usefulness than any of the IM clients currently out there. I’m really excited to see where this goes!
Here’s the project wiki: http://libraryh3lp.com/wiki/Main_Page

And the Google Code page: http://code.google.com/p/libraryh3lp/

And lastly, you can sign up for an account and get your widget up and running with these instructions:

Now Hiring

I discovered today that NBC is running some sort of online game/competition for The Office this fall, called Dunder Mifflin Infinity.

I signed up to manage the Dothan branch. I need 15 employees to cement my manager status. Anybody want to work for me? I promise to provide punch and pie in the breakroom, and a generous benefits package.

Sign up for the Dothan, AL branch with this code: 2r2qrrjqvg

It is important that you select that branch along with the code. Sign up here: http://www.dundermifflininfinity.com

I don’t know know what the game is yet, other than that it involves schrutebucks. And that’s good enough for me.

(I love this show, if you couldn’t tell)

Spiralfrog – free music, with a catch

I’ve been playing around quite a bit with Spiralfrog recently. They’re in closed beta at the moment, but I like what I see so far. The quick description is that Spiralfrog lets users download music legally for free. Now don’t get too excited, the music has Microsoft DRM built in 🙂

Right now the site has a partnership with EMI and a bunch of smaller music labels. So while selection is a bit limited, there are albums worth downloading. I’ve gotten albums from Snow Patrol, U2, Spoon, Maroon 5, Queen, Nine Inch Nails, and a bunch of others. You won’t find every band you’ve ever liked, but there’s probably something for everyone. And the music does play on any any “PlaysForSure” certified portable device (almost anything but an iPod qualifies these days).

In return for the freeness, Spiralfrog asks that you fill out a survey every 30 days to keep your downloaded music active. Music videos are also available.

My one major complaint is that the download process is very clunky. You can’t just queue up a bunch of tracks and walk away – it is necessary to click a button to download the next track after each one finishes. This is such an obvious problem that I feel like it has to be in place on purpose, but I can’t quite figure out why. Maybe I see more ads this way? I also experience periodic errors that cause a track to not download for no apparent reason. The only fix I’ve found is to wait a while and try again.

I also question the accuracy of the top downloads list. The same Gwen Stefani song has been stuck at #1 since I signed up three weeks ago, and I haven’t noticed any changes in the lower ranks either…

So, Spiralfrog is very much a beta product. But I find that I don’t mind DRM quite so much when my music is free.

Librarians vs. Zombies – the eternal struggle

Horror author David Wellington built a name for himself by publishing his novels online, serialized one chapter at a time. He grew a massive fan following, and a number of his books are now printed traditionally as a result. His newest novel, Plague Zone, takes a more scientific approach (if there is such a thing) to a zombie story. I’m a bit behind on it, still catching up.

But the main reason I’m pointing it out is that Tim, the main character, is a librarian. A couple of flashback chapters even take place at ALA’s 2005 annual conference in Chicago (which I was at, so I get a kick out of it), and at one point Tim uses his super-librarian knowledge of how RFID systems work to escape from a military camp. I’m anxious to see if any more of his professional skills come in handy – maybe zombies could use a little reader’s advisory now and then?

According to Wikipedia, Wellington is currently working on a degree in library science. “Write what you know”, indeed.

Here’s chapter 1. Enjoy!

Books I’m reading soon(ish)

While I’m enjoying George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, it is long. 800 pages of small print long. I haven’t had a ton of free time for leisure reading lately, and after two months I’m only halfway through. Here’s the top of my queue at the moment:

Where’s My Jetpack? A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future That Never Arrived, by Daniel H. Wilson

The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead, by Max Brooks

Tesla: Master of Lightning, by Margaret Cheney

Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi

I’m getting really antsy to read these, and may have to give A Game of Thrones a break soon.

Yahoo Pipes

The new Yahoo Pipes service is something I really want to like, but am pretty frustrated with right now.

The concept of the pipes service isn’t easily explainable. The best I can do is to say it provides an intuitive drag and drop interface for mashing up content from different sites. Ebay searches, flickr photos, rss feeds, etc. In theory, anyway.

I’ve spent the last couple days trying to put together a pipe that would merge all of my online presences into one RSS feed: posts from this site, my flickr photos, updates on what games I’ve played on my 360, etc, all sorted by date with the most recent item at the top. Not the most useful feed in the world to be sure, but it would be handy to be able to give it out to friends and family.

I can get to the step where I mash all the feeds together just fine. But the sorting algorithm does absolutely nothing. The resulting feed shows all my blog posts, then all the blog comments, then all the flickr photos, then all the 360 updates. The date isn’t taken into account for any of them, there’s no actual sorting and merging of the feeds done at all. All four of these feeds have the pubdate attribute in their raw code, so there should be no reason I can’t sort by it.

I think you can see my pipe here, if anybody wants to take a crack at telling me what I’m doing wrong: http://pipes.yahoo.com/people/ZulVVVA1oXWEOpI5loGw

I think there’s a lot of potential in the Pipes concept – lowering the technical barrier to entry on mashups would be a great thing. I just wish I could figure out how it works. Maybe the promised eventual tutorials will help.

I’m also really interested to see any useful library-related projects that have come from Pipes.

Extraneous data

I have a an odd fascination with pointless data that will never be of real use to me in daily life. Here’s a few links in that spirit:

Enter in a tracking number from any service – UPS, USPS, FedEX, or DHL – to PackageMapping.com and this site does a whole suite of processing on the tracking information. You can view the raw timestamps just like on each carrier’s official site, as well as view a map of progress, an RSS feed or email notifications, a grand total transit time, and a calculated average speed of your delivery. My recent order from Barnes & Noble made it here in 48 hours and 45 minutes, with an average speed of 61.52mph. A lot of these features (especially the RSS feed) really should be provided by the shippers themselves. But until they do, this works nicely.

I recently received a “bag of crap” from woot.com. Periodically they sell a random pile of items for $1 under that name. My package included a Thermohawk 200 no touch thermometer. It measures the infrared radiation coming off an object, instead of the more traditional air or interior temperature. So, for example, my microwaved pizza was 118 degrees. My laptop’s screen is running at 86 degrees. By and large it seems pretty accurate compared to my more traditional thermometer, but I’m a bit concerned that my forehead measures as 91.5F… Of course, I have no practical use for the thing, but for $1? Not too shabby.

360voice.com has a fun gimmick – it monitors the progress of your Xbox Live gamer profile, and automatically updates a blog as if it was written by your console. You can see what my Xbox thinks of me here.

That’s all for now!