Thursday, September 27, 2007

Server Farms and Carbon Footprints

To paraphrase a high school cheer, "Victory, victory that's my cry: V-I-C-T-O-R-Y." I've finished the 23 things, without them finishing me off.

All in all, it was good for me (was it good for you too?) -- not always fun, but educational. Sort of like library school classes in cataloging.

As I wrote in some earlier posts, the 23 things identify resources that can be used to fill particular needs of libraries and their patrons. Find a need, then consider the resources, evaluating them in terms of time and dollar cost, employee skills, and patron access to electronic gadgetry. A handy mantra might be "Be not the first by whom the new is tried, nor the last to put the old aside." Or, look before you leap. The Quechup email is an example: respond to an email about a new social networking site, and your computer is infected. Even Infopeople got caught (see their September 4th blogpost.)

And then, of course, time catches up with us, faster than we may think. A September 27, 2007 article or post in Fortune magazine's column or blog "The Browser: Analyzing the Tech Biz" is titled "Are we already moving on from traditional social networking?" Traditional! But I just got here! Imagine how non-trendy a library's web presence on a social network might be in one year. Imagine the need to keep up. Not reasons to not go online, but certainly time costs to be evaluated.

My utility company (Pacific Gas & Electric, PG&E for short, pronounced by some as "piggie") just sent out a mailer inviting customers to sign up for a program to pay some extra dollars per month to balance out the carbon footprint of the gas/electricity used. The funds will be used to provide alternative methods of energy production. I'm considering it, in part because I figure it won't cost much. According to the brochure, the cost to the average customer will be about $5 per month. Whenever PG&E (spurred on by the state Public Utilities Commission) announces a rebate on past charges, I get a lot less than the average refund, presumably because I use low amounts of gas & electricity.

Carbon footprints, however, bring up the question of the hidden environmental costs of the web. Server farms and web hosting services use massive amounts of electricity for both cooling and operation. On July 8, 2006, Fortune magazine had an interesting article or blog post, "Behold the Server Farm! Glorious Temple of the Information Age!" The subtitle started: "They're ugly. They require a small city's worth of electricity. And they're where the web happens." That rhetoric, for some reason, conjures up in my mind the mosaics of Justinian and Theodora, and their courtiers, at San Vitale in Ravenna. The mosaics would have to be inside the buildings housing the servers, as the exteriors would, at least metaphorically, be coated in carbon footprints from all that energy expended to keep photographic ephemera, among other things, online forever.

Example: I recently took a cruise, but not a camera. Searching Flickr for the cruise ship and that same itinerary produced about a trillion photos by one person who apparently spent her entire cruise with a camera to her eye, photographing everything. Someone should have told her she could poke her eye out. It was pleasant to see a photo of the fruit bowl in her cabin, looking like the one we had in ours, but perhaps the carbon emitted from power plants to keep that online forever is not worth the hidden costs to all of us. I'm reminded of a scene in the movie Soylent Green, a dystopian view of an overpopulated future, in which an elderly Edward G. Robinson wearily mounts an exercise bike to create some electricity by pedalling away ------ and gee, that's maybe a solution to the problem! Maybe server farms could provide free or cheap gyms to the surrounding populations, using the bikes (and treadmills?) to generate some of the power needed! Of course, the sweaty gymn rats would add to the need for cooling ....

23 Things #23 (callooh callay)

School Daze

While I'm willing to share my blunderings through the technological forest with a colleague, guiding them through one of the 23 things (just follow the crushed bushes I navigated through, ignore the paved path nearby), there seems to be a lack of either enthusiasm or time on everyone's part.

Nevertheless, "each one teach one" is our current motto on a slightly different technological front. On Tuesday, our branch had new telephones installed, with exciting features our previous system lacked: voice mail, with new phone numbers for all, except for the public line! automatically forward your own calls to a different desk! a nice pop-up (or is that propped-up?) screen with the date and time! Who knows what else!

We aren't quite sure of what else because these phones, while new to us, are phones previously used at the main branch. They came without user manuals, and with the buttons either unlabelled, or with the previous users' notes. They also initially didn't allow outgoing calls. By Wednesday, the phone company rep had come back and done whatever was necessary (it's all magic, science, or technology to me) to get them all working so we could make outgoing calls. We also got from library headquarters an email with a chart of each person's phone, showing what the 16 buttons were for, and a document listing "phone features" with an explanation.

No explanation of voice mail. No explanation of how to transfer a call manually (from the circulation desk, to the reference desk.) No explanation of how to use the speakerphone feature. The intuitives in the library are busy discovering how things work, and sharing the info. Today, Thursday, our student intern, who used to work in the library's tech department is going to see what he can figure out, or pry out of someone.

My contribution was to make a valiant search of the internet, hoping to find a manual online. No such luck. The company's website doesn't have any online. Thank heavens we have some intuitives working here.

23 things #22.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

With Rings on their cell phones ....

With rings on their cell phones,
and who knows where else on their bods,
at last it's easy to spot
(Just a little ditty in memory of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.)

Thanks to the Yahoo podcast FAQ, I know that one does not need an iPod to listen to a podcast. I can add to the volume level in the workroom by listening at my PC.

I got to that site from the 23 Things link for item #21. It's a beta site, and a notice said that the site would be closed on October 31, 2007. The FAQs were informative and got me up to speed on the concept, but I found the site difficult to search. The search line wanted one to specify series or episodes (or both) -- doing both for "library" brought up only two links. I couldn't see how to search the tags, but perhaps I just missed the link.

I then went to, another directory. This is extremely well-organized, with a clear line for searching for tags. A search of tags starting with L came up with an alphabetical list, so I could see that there were links to podcasts under libarian, librarians, libraries, library (I think those are in alpha order.) Clicking on the "library" link brought up a lot of on-point podcasts. I think this is a great site.

I then tried podcastingnews, another directory. Entering a search for "library" brought up a rather large close-up photo of a very buxom blonde, in a not-so-buxom black bra, holding a drink. You could see the bra and its contents (the main focus of the shot) because her shirt was unbuttoned, and her bow tie untied; there were a few locks of her hair visible (but not face,) enough to show the viewer that this was not just any buxom lass, but, rather, a BLONDE buxom lass. The drink was very visible, as the photo was illustrating an "Art of the Drink" video podcast, and the text included "drink library." Keyword searching has rarely been this interesting before.

Podcasts seem a good way to send to recipients wealthy enough to afford the recievers (ipods, pcs, some music players) a variety of oral programming: stories for kids, talks given at the library, library education. I guess those not wealthy enough would be in the same position as before podcasts: not able to listen in without going to the library for an event. This bothers me, but I can't think of a solution, and, I suspect, probably people in all income ranges acquire ipods or music players.

23 Things #21

Friday, September 21, 2007

Yourtube, not Mytube

Others have said it better than I can:

From a tech colleague I have cited before: "YouTube -- the ultimate in channel flipping. ... YouTube let's you do it at your PC." Why do I feel this is more fun for males than females?

From a friend's email: "Pug bowling is fun to watch --- useless, but fun." (Well, it was something close to Pug bowling -- I no longer have the email.)

My library system (not SF Public Library) just installed Websense, the data protection and filtering application, on the staff computers, in part to address bandwidth problems, including increased usage of streaming audio and video. Maybe everyone was working on their 23 Things assignment at the same time?

I suppose YouTube could be used to show videos of library events, although the library pictures I noticed on Flickr tended to be fairly drab: who knows what the videos would be?

23 Things #20

Columbus should have had this map site

At last -- Google Maps is a site that is easy to use. (Well, I didn't try to add a picture of our library to the map.)

I particularly liked the fact that the directions to/from the library include total mileage and driving time, with extra time "in traffic" noted --- so when is there no traffic in San Francisco? I tested directions to our library from the San Francisco Bay Bridge: for directions coming to the library, total distance is 12.3 miles, about 17 minutes, up to 30 minutes in traffic; returning to Bay Bridge from our library, time is 18 minutes, up to 40 minutes in traffic. The one time I tried driving to work, on a Saturday, it took more than an hour to get to the Bay Bridge from the library at 5pm --- that was the last time I didn't take public transit. (It was quite fast at 7am, though, getting to work.)

The directions print out very nicely, in large type with the exits in bold: easy to read while driving. I've been using the California State Automobile Association's map/directions for my personal use; I'll probably switch to Google's site.

23 Things #19

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Soap Opera Blurbs

I'm somewhat interested in Google's online word processing and spreadsheets, but of course, the "reeeeeeely big" (as Ed Sullivan used to say) question is PRIVACY. (The link to the home screen for those applications is horrendously long, and I have no idea how to paste it into the screen for "add a link," so just go to the 23 things link below and click on number 18.)

I can see one application in our library, with a number of staffers working on what might or might not be a spreadsheet; since it is just arranging non-cataloged items, privacy wouldn't be that big an issue . Staffers could work from the circulation desk, or their own desktops.

I was very entertained by the User examples (blurbs on successful usage) on the site (much shorter URL) : I particularly liked the "son-in-law par excellence" (self-named, but well-earned IMHO) helping out his mother-in law on the opposite coast, and the retired police officer in Poole, England who, along with his wife, uses the service to create the shopping lists: no more poorly-scribbled wifely lists for him to read while pushing his trolley around the market. What's not to like when those two, and a drag strip operations coordinator in Las Vegas, all find it useful? Not to mention the family/friends fighting over Boston Red Sox (or is it the White Sox?) tickets. Really, it's almost a soap opera in those user comments. I note that the site is a beta version: if things don't work out, maybe Google could just market the comments.

23 Things #18

Wiki equals Fast: Do we know who's driving our car?

Wiki in Hawaiian means fast. (Ukulele in Hawaiian means jumping flea.)

Probably because of Wikipedia I tend to think of a wiki as an encyclopedia-type site. Some of the library sites I looked at seem closer to blogs. Probably not a big difference.

The Bull Run Library wiki is a good example of a problem: It looks like an official library site, with a heading consisting of photos of interiors of the branch library (it's part of Prince William County (VA) Public Library system), but under "About this website" is the statement "This wiki is not sponsored by nor associated with the library system. It is maintained by one library patron." That perhaps explains a later statement under the same heading: "If this wiki does not meet with your expectations, please feel free not to use it." So much for the image of a friendly librarian. With friends like that, do we need enemies?

I didn't add to the Infopeople wiki (challenge 17) as there is no privacy policy on the site, and also because I'm tired of trying to figure out if my login name needs to be my email address, or Marianaria Sra. Bibliotecaria. I think I'm getting burnt out from entering all the different sites for the 23 things.

23 Things 16 & 17

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Joining Miranda in Awe and Wonder

At one point in The Tempest, Miranda, who has been raised on a desert island by her father and has finally met other Europeans thanks to the shipwreck caused by the title's storm, says with awe and wonder of those others, "O brave new world, that has such people in it." (Act V, scene 1.)

That was pretty much my reaction at reading the 23 Things links to Web 2.0 and to Library 2.0 and the Future of Libraries. (My reaction to the Wikipedia Web 2.0 article was really to the discussion portion.) A more modern term might be shock and awe, minus the heavy artillery.

Otto von Bismarck (speaking of war) is credited with saying "Laws are like sausages: it is better not to see them being made," at Well, let's add to that trends in the making.

In some respects, the discussion portion of Wikipedia's Web 2.0 entry wasn't wildly different from the September 9, 2007 Dilbert comic strip. (A lot longer, less funny, and at times a lot snarkier, yes.) In that strip Asok, the intern, deflects a question about his progress by asking if the company's service is Web 2.0 or 1.0. Predictably, arguments ensue about just what Web 2.0, and the company's service, are. Somehow it was funnier in a cartoon than in the Wikipedia discussion.

I'd like to see Dilbert's take on Library 2.0. Maybe he would just pound his head against a wall -- certainly that's my reaction. I think that Walt Crawford, who wrote the piece that was linked to, might have the same reaction (head-pounding) on a dark and dreary day -- instead, he addressed Web 2.0 on an apparently bright and sunny day, producing all 32 pages of the article.

His bottom line, as I see it, is that Library 2.0 is a bandwagon sent out by a few circus owners; it has captured attention and enthusiasm with something a lot closer to "Hey kids, let's put on a show!" than a show itself. Or maybe it's closer to a pied piper entrancing children ....

The elements that may or may not be part of Web 2.0 (see Dilbert, above, and the Wiki discussion) are tools that libraries can use to meet identified needs. (A tip of the hat to my
tech colleague who repeatedly makes this point in his blog.) Web 2.0 tools are not the only tools; they are tools that in turn use popular methods of communication, and the ability to use them will vary from library to library depending on funding, skills available to the library, and the skills/communication resources of the patrons to be served. (I adore Mr. Crawford for disliking "customers" as the term for those using a library; unfortunately, my library likes it.)

Let's all focus on how we can make library patrons even happier -- they will let us know when they are unhappy -- by using new approaches, just as libraries have always done (see Crawford's article and quotes in it about past technological advances -- like telephone reference.)

Let's not worry if we can call ourselves Library 2.0 or not: heck, let's just all say that yes indeedy, we are a Library 2.0 library, and see if anyone sues us.

23 Things #15.

Friday, September 14, 2007

No Technorati

Technorati doesn't make it easy to find out much, except by trial and error (I specialize in the latter.) I finally went to "Help" and found FAQ -- which for the most part deal with tech questions, although it did include "What is Authority" as one.

I searched for tags using one from one of my blogs, and, sure enough, my blog popped up.

I don't feel the need to join Technorati to count hits or popularity or whatever it is counting.

This is obviously a useful site for searching the blogosphere, so could be a useful link in a library's website. Libraries with blogs could also use it to measure the hits (etc.) as noted above.

23 things #14

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Golden Apple of the Web

One of my most frabjous days was the one on which the newspapers first reported that chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, is good for you --- callooh callay indeed indeed indeed. For weeks after, I avoided reading any more stories on the subject, for fear that a subsequent report would prove that the initial results were from an elementary school science fair project funded entirely by the dark chocolate industry. So far, no such breaking news ....

Now that chocolate is good for us, one my my remaining guilty food pleasures is golden delicious apples. It's a guilty pleasure because I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the capitals of foodies: people who go beyond gourmet to being concerned with terroir, transportation, and tiny farms. Jon Carroll, in his March 5, 2007 column in the San Francisco Chronicle very politely grumped that he didn't really want to discuss the food at dinner parties -- he wanted to eat it with some other conversations. I sympathize: I really don't need to know if the mushrooms on my plate were hand-grown and hand-harvested with loving attention on a slope darkened by pesticide-free old-growth redwoods less than twenty miles from the restaurant/dinner-part site, by a farmer wearing undyed organic cotton clothing woven by monks paid a living wage, a hat made from bark naturally shed by eucalpytus trees, and shoes handcrafted by a female-cooperative in a third-world country with funding from a micro-loan program dedicated to improving the lives of refugees, then shipped to the US by a company that uses carbon-offsets to improve the air quality both there and here.

Just to set the record clear: I like old-growth forests; I like redwoods; I like pesticide-free; I like cooperatives improving the lives of women/children/refugees; I'm for living wages for all; I guess carbon offsets are good; etc. etc. --- I just don't really want to spend an entire meal discussing the lineage of every ingredient in every item. I like conversation, but would prefer just to chow down while discussing something else.

Further clarification: I even like foodies. This year I celebrated April, National Poetry Month, by sending to the ones I know a copy of Donald Hall's poem "O Cheese" -- if he lived in the Bay Area, rather than New England, he might have titled it "Ode to the Cowgirl Creamery." (It's included in White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems, 1946-2006.) The (mostly) resulting silence probably means that sending people a poem to celebrate National Poety Month just adds new meaning to "April is the cruellest month" for the lucky recipients --- but maybe they all were too busy eating some cheese to express their delight?

I know of heirloom tomatoes, and that there are people growing, or trying to grow, what I guess would be heirloom apples. I picked up the info on heirloom apples from Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan (plus the fascinating fact that when Johnny Appleseed was scattering apple seeds, the apples from the resulting trees were good only for making hard cider.) I read that book as a result of reading Deadly Harvest: A Father Mark Townsend Mystery, by Brad Reynolds, S.J., a mystery involving a new strain (is that the word?) of apples. So I feel a bit guilty for liking plain old golden delicious apples, with no lineage to speak of, and produced far far away (and then coated with food-grade wax, probably distantly related to the carnuba wax sold for use on cars, which seals in the pesticides, and then kept in refrigeration, and not very recently picked, and when they were picked, may have been picked by machines and not people, etc. etc. A lineage worthy of Oliver Twist, not Alice Waters.)

And, surprisingly enough, I like social bookmarking at Finally, an application that solves a problem I can identify. At my library, the two librarians who share the reference desk log onto the terminal with their own user names/passwords. This allows each librarian to access her own email accounts. It also, however, means there is no shared bookmarking. Now we can come up with a combined list. Not as frabjous as dark chocolate being healthy, but still quite satisfactory.

(A tip of the hat to W.B. Yeats and Ray Bradbury for the title of this post.)

23 Things #13

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Rollyo in the Clover

I am slightly under-whelmed by Rollyo, but I think that's because I don't need to do a lot of research. I can see why Arianna Huffington finds it useful (she's one of two noted on the site -- the other is someone with shopping sites,) but for me, it's nothing I really need.

In terms of a library use, it would seem to be a shortened version of the Librarian's Internet Index which many libraries have links to. I suppose a library's staffers could use Rollyo to create links to sites on narrow topics, to assist users. Such a project, of course, raises questions over the criteria for inclusion/exclusion. Maybe websites could be added to books for the Banned Books Week observed by many libraries.

23 Things #12