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Archive for the ‘Technology Today’ Category

Since I got Internet service at home, I’ve been completely addicted to streaming video. Being able to get movies and TV shows and plays on demand is just like having the contents of the library’s video collection right in my own home. I have been disappointed, however, by the various streaming video services I have tried.

Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and others advertise themselves as not just a replacement for, but a better service than cable. Consumers are urged to “cut the cord” and replace their cable package with fee-based streaming video. The idea looks good at first and I highly recommend that anyone considering signing up take advantage of the free trial period many of these services offer. Unfortunately, my experience of these services was that the movies and shows I wanted to watch were not available. Again and again I would search (mainly Netflix and Amazon Prime) only to find myself renting the show from Amazon Instant Video instead. In the end I cancelled my trial subscription and simply rented (or purchased) the episode or movie I wanted to see from Amazon Instant Video.  In brief, streaming video services seem to be replicating cable TV: lots of things available, but very little that you actually want to watch.

The best part about streaming video is being able to get things like theater productions from the UK’s Digital Theatre On-line that simply aren’t available on DVD. The worst part about streaming video is the bizarre pricing structure. Some movies, for example, have both a rental and a purchase price. Other films, even though they’ve been out for a while, are still available only to buy.

 

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One of the burning questions of the music industry today is how do artists get their music out there and how do they get paid for it and, by extension, make a living at it. Amanda Palmer answers that question from her own experience as a punk-cabaret singer/songwriter, street performer, blogger, successful Kickstarter fundraiser, and performance artist.

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We’ve attached our reel to reel tape player to a new computer terminal and we’ve noticed a problem: while the sound is recording, we can’t monitor the reel as it plays. We’re getting nix through the headphones, nothing, and no matter which sound levels we adjust, it’s still not working. After what must have been a half hour of cursing and calling on the God of Technology to blight all  infernal devices, we discovered the problem: the input monitor button on the Roland Duo-Capture audio interface (a kind of mini-soundboard) hadn’t been pushed in. Stupid button.

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I’m gonna be a celebrity/That means someone everyone knows

They’re gonna recognize my eyes, my hair, my teeth, my boobs, my nose

–Roxie Hart, “Chicago”

This is the video of a monologue late night talk show host, Craig Ferguson, gave in 2007. In it, he talks about why he will no longer make fun of Britney Spears or other easy-to-mock celebrities. His point is that comedy and comedians should make fun of the rich and powerful, not those people who are having drug, alcohol, or mental health issues in the public eye.

I’ve become a fan of Craig Ferguson is because of thoughtful moments like this. One of the things that occurred to me watching this video is how little we’ve come to regard celebrities as real people. Yes, yes, we’ve all read the little screeds in various magazines where movie stars and singing sensations will claim that in spite of their fabulous wardrobes and mountains of cash, they really enjoy the simple things in life. The moral of these little write-ups is these beautiful people are just like the rest of us.

At best, that’s a half truth. Seriously, the rich and well-known are leading the kind of lives most of us will never know and never have an opportunity to know. So it’s easy to dehumanize them, to not treat them as real human beings in need of help. In his monologue, Craig talks about his own struggles with alcohol and drugs. Left unspoken is the question that if he had the same degree of fame he has now and been  subjected then to the same widespread ridicule that celebrities face now at the lowest point in his life, would he have survived? Indeed, would any of us survive being mocked by complete strangers across the nation?

Once upon a time, it was difficult to become a celebrity. You had to make a real effort to become “someone everyone knows”. Usually, that celebrity was job-related–you became an actor, for example, signed a contract with a movie studio, and, during the course of promoting your work, the studio made it a point to plaster your likeness across every newspaper and movie magazine. Now, thanks to the magic of the Intertube, any Joe Citizen, wittingly or unwittingly, can wind up with their image featured across the Net. Think about it. There you are doing the “Hokey Pokey” at your cousin’s wedding. Somebody films it on their camera phone and posts the video on YouTube. Sure, it might just get a few hits and no harm done, but it might also go viral across the Web. The next thing you know comedians are cracking jokes about the video on late night talk shows and reporters are calling you up to ask for comment.

Is this democratization of celebrity necessarily a bad thing, you ask? Okay, for every embarassing home video out there, there are people using the Net to share their talents, passions, energy (and possibly, the “Hokey Pokey”) with the wider world. I don’t deny the Internet’s ability to empower talented citizens, but at the same time, I’m concerned about the blurring of the lines between public and private figures.

At some point, do all of us become public figures whether we want to be or not?

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“Half a tick, Mr. Holmes. Ye can’t go walkin’ into someone’s residence, pokin’ about their personal possessions, disruptin’ their privacy… That’s for Scotland Yard.” –Inspector Lestrade, “Without a Clue”

The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom is promoting “Choose Privacy Week” and as part of that they have put together the following video featuring writers Neil Gaiman and Cory Doctorow among others.

As a librarian, one of the things that I find frustrating about discussing the importance of privacy with young people is their belief that they will never be on the business end of an inquiry or investigation by the duly designated authorities.  If you talk about privacy with young people, especially when you talk about the importance of not putting personal information on-line, you generally get a shrug and response along the lines of “don’t care who knows that”.

The truth, of course, is that when that information is taken down and used against them, they will care–very much so. Case in point: about a year or so ago, my tween-age niece wound up in the principal’s office at her middle school. Why? It seems that she and a couple of her girlfriends had been horsing around in the girl’s locker room and one of her friends had taken a couple of pictures of them in their skivvies with the friend’s cell phone. That friend had passed the “knicker pikkers” in question onto another one of her friends who had wound up showing it to some boys.  The fact that the knicker pikkers were seen by members of the opposite sex meant that the school’s sexting–texting or sending others messages with a sexual content–policy had been violated which was why my niece wound up in the principal’s office with her girlfriends. She hadn’t taken or distributed the photos, but she had posed for them and was thus considered equally guilty in the eyes of the school administration.

My niece didn’t think she was doing anything wrong or anything that someone else might consider wrong. After all, cellphones are common and it’s acceptable to take pictures with them in all sorts of situations and to send those photos to your friends. She didn’t have the experience to understand how putting private information onto a public networking device like a cellphone could come back to haunt her.

In her father’s and my day, of course, such a situation wouldn’t have arisen. No one brought their camera to school unless it was a special occasion. And even if one of the girls had brought a camera into the gym locker room, the rest of us would have raised a ruckus. I could rant about the moral decline of modern youth, but the fact is that portable technology and the spread of social media are treated differently by different generations.

At the Arnorian Library Association conference I attend a couple of months ago, one of the presenters was a paralegal who worked with a large Midwestern law firm. Part of her job was to research the on-line presence of the plaintiffs in various cases.  She would seek out whatever obvious web presence they had (blogs, websites, Facebook pages, etc.) and then using what she gleaned there about their screen names (Twitter user names, for example) she would then proceed to hunt for their other postings.

I was surprised to discover that any comment made to someone’s blog, for example, is actually searchable. In a way, it shouldn’t have been a surprise–after all, comments are usually viewable by the public. It stands to reason that if you can search for a blog post, you should be able to search for the comments to that post, but it was a shock, all the same.  I think twice now before commenting on blog posts now and if I do comment, I make it a point to post under a pseudonym wherever possible.

Now someone out there is bound to argue that I’m simply kidding myself, trying to preserve my privacy on-line. After all, a truly motivated investigator could learn a great deal about me, my profession, my likes and dislikes just from perusing the information I’ve chosen to share with the public on this blog and my Flickr account. One fellow librarian I know of made the choice to blog under his own name on the basis that if he wrote it, he should be responsible for it. I applaud his gutsiness and yet at the same time I cherish the thin veil of privacy that blogging under a “handle” affords me.

Jessamyn West, who was also a presenter at the 2010 conference, pointed out that cellphones, among many other high tech devices,  are set up to give out their geographic location and attach that location to any photo taken with it. So if you unwisely post a nekkid photo of yourself up onto a website that accepts those kind of photos, you are essentially giving out your home address to any scary stranger who wants to look you up in person.

It’s that sort of hidden technological spying that I think provides the greatest threat to our privacy in the 21st century. My take away from West’s presentation was that it’s not enough to just use the technology or the software that’s provided to us without fully understanding it. We must educate ourselves about HOW applications and technology work in order to properly evaluate how much private information we may be inadvertantly providing to the public.

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Human powered search engine

“Human powered search engine” is Internetese that means that real people read, summarize, and rate various Internet resouces. Brijit is more of a serious, current awareness service. The others–Mahalo, ChaCha, Squidoo–seem to be more socially oriented and less informative. Not mentioned is the Librarians’ Index to the Internet which I highly recommend. Real librarians check out, summarize, and catalog internet resources for you. Sadly, this fine organization recently just had its budget cut by 50%. Cruel hard as Samwise Gamgee would say. Check out their weekly current awareness feature while you still can. Available by e-mail and RSS.

Book Art

Proving that necessity is sometimes the mother of art as well as invention, this is a little, thrown-together video done as a marketing demo for Marion Bataille’s upcoming art book, ABC3D. It is a pop-up book of the alphabet, but that bland description really doesn’t do it justice.

Addictive new game

A warning: check out the below game at your own risk. It’s very simple to play–just line up the jewels to make rows of three or more, but whoa baby, is it addictive! Bejeweled reminds me of those jump-the- peg board games we played when we were kids. You can only move jewels that are directly above, below, or to the side, however, so there’s no moving from several squares away. You don’t need to download anything to play Bejeweled. However, if you want to play other on-line games from this site, you will need to download one of their plug-ins.

Bejeweled

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It’s amazing what you can learn surfing around the Net. New words for me:

Tumblelog–basically a blog that is more like a scrapbook than a journal. You can create one with software like Tumblr.

Chimping–showing people the cool new digital photos you just took while going “Oooo! Oooo!” Used by Scott Kelby in The Digital Photography Book. Yes, I have chimped and I plan to chimp again :-).

Long tail–coined by Wired editor Chris Anderson in this 2004 article. Essentially, Chris points out something that librarians have known for a long time. The popularity of a particular book often generates interest in similar, lesser known works. Chris takes the concept a little further, however, noting that businesses can make more money by selling to many niche markets than they can by selling to a few highly popular markets (think “bestseller” or “blockbuster”).

Check out this cool LibraryLookUp bookmarklet created by John Udell. If you’re browsing Amazon.com and you want to see if your library already has this book, just click on LibraryLookUp and it will automatically do an ISBN search of your library’s catalog. Won’t work with our catalog, possibly because the public interface doesn’t have an ISBN search option.

Here’s a cool idea involving handmade journals. The Wisconsin South Central Library System distributed 60 blank journals to participating libraries. Patrons could check them out, add their own content, and then bring them back. The University of Wisconsin is now digitizing the completed journals. A neat intersection of old (bookmaking) and new (digitization) technologies.

If you’ve ever wanted to find out what book you are, take the quiz here. My results are as follows:

brave-new-world-cover.jpg

You’re Brave New World!
by Aldous Huxley
With an uncanny ability for predicting the future, you are a true psychic. You can see how the world will change and illuminate the fears of future generations. In the world to come, you see the influence of the media, genetic science, drugs, and class warfare. And while all this might make you happy, you claim the right to be unhappy. While pregnancy might seem painful, test tube babies scare you most. You are obsessed with the word “pneumatic”.

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