How to Quantify Culture? Counting the Bookstores and Libraries Is a Start

February 7, 2017

The article titled The Best Cities in the World for Book Lovers on Quartz conveys the data collected by the World Cities Culture Forum. That organization works to facilitate research and promote cultural endeavors around the world. And what could be a better measure of a city’s culture than its books? The article explains how the data collection works,

Led by the London mayor’s office and organized by UK consulting company Bop, the forum asks its partner cities to self-report on cultural institutions and consumption, including where people can get books. Over the past two years, 18 cities have reported how many bookstores they have, and 20 have reported on their public libraries. Hong Kong leads the pack with 21 bookshops per 100,000 people, though last time Buenos Aires sent in its count, in 2013, it was the leader, with 25.

New York sits comfortably in sixth place, but London, surprisingly, is near the bottom of the ranking with roughly 360 bookstores. Another measure the WCCF uses is libraries per capita. Edinburgh of all places surges to the top without any competition. New York is the only US city to even make the cut with an embarrassing 2.5 libraries per 100K people. By contrast, Edinburgh has 60.5 per 100K people. What this analysis misses out on is the size and beauty of some of the bookstores and libraries of global cities. To bask in these images, visit Bookshelf Porn or this Mental Floss ranking of the top 7 gorgeous bookstores.

Chelsea Kerwin, February 7, 2017

Obey the Almighty Library Laws

January 23, 2017

Recently I was speaking with someone and the conversation turned to libraries.  I complimented the library’s collection in his hometown and he asked, “You mean they still have a library?” This response told me a couple things: one, that this person was not a reader and two, did not know the value of a library.  The Lucidea blog discussed how “Do The Original 5 Laws Of Library Science Hold Up In A Digital World?” and apparently they still do.

S.R. Ranganathan wrote five principles of library science before computers dominated information and research in 1931.  The post examines how the laws are still relevant.  The first law states that books are meant to be used, meaning that information is meant to be used and shared.  The biggest point of this rule is accessibility, which is extremely relevant.  The second laws states, “Every reader his/her book,” meaning that libraries serve diverse groups and deliver non-biased services.  That still fits considering the expansion of the knowledge dissemination and how many people access it.

The third law is also still important:

Dr. Ranganathan believed that a library system must devise and offer many methods to “ensure that each item finds its appropriate reader”. The third law, “every book his/her reader,” can be interpreted to mean that every knowledge resource is useful to an individual or individuals, no matter how specialized and no matter how small the audience may be. Library science was, and arguably still is, at the forefront of using computers to make information accessible.

The fourth law is “save time for the reader” and it refers to being able to find and access information quickly and easily.  Search engines anyone?  Finally, the fifth law states that “the library is a growing organism.”  It is easy to interpret this law.  As technology and information access changes, the library must constantly evolve to serve people and help them harness the information.

The wording is a little outdated, but the five laws are still important.  However, we need to also consider how people have changed in regards to using the library as well.

Whitney Grace, January 23, 2017

The Robots Are Not Taking over Libraries

December 14, 2016

I once watched a Japanese anime that featured a robot working in a library.  The robot shelved, straightened, and maintained order of the books by running on a track that circumnavigated all the shelves in the building.  The anime took place in a near-future Japan, when all paper documents were rendered obsolete.  While we are a long way off from having robots in public libraries (budget constraints and cuts), there is a common belief that libraries are obsolete as well.

Libraries are the furthest thing from being obsolete, but robots have apparently gained enough artificial intelligence to find lost books, however.  Popsci shares the story in “Robo Librarian Tracks Down Misplaced Book.”  It explains a situation that librarians hate to deal with: people misplacing books on shelves instead of letting the experts put them back.  Libraries rely on books being in precise order and if they are in the wrong place, they are as good as lost.  Fancy libraries, like a research library at the University of Chicago, have automated the process, but it is too expensive and unrealistic to deploy.  There is another option:

A*STAR roboticists have created an autonomous shelf-scanning robot called AuRoSS that can tell which books are missing or out of place. Many libraries have already begun putting RFID tags on books, but these typically must be scanned with hand-held devices. AuRoSS uses a robotic arm and RFID scanner to catalogue book locations, and uses laser-guided navigation to wheel around unfamiliar bookshelves. AuRoSS can be programmed to scan the library shelves at night and instruct librarians how to get the books back in order when they arrive in the morning.

Manual labor is still needed to put the books in order after the robot does its work at night.   But what happens when someone needs help with research, finding an obscure citation, evaluating information, and even using the Internet correctly?  Yes, librarians are still needed.  Who else is going to interpret data, guide research, guard humanity’s knowledge?

Whitney Grace, December 14, 2016

A Literary Magazine by a Machine?

October 14, 2016

Literary magazines are a great way to read short stories, the latest poetry, and other compelling pieces by a variety of authors.  What if those authors are machines?  CuratedAI is the first literary magazine written by machines for human readers.  Computers are presented as sterile, uncreative items, but technology programmed with machine learning and content curation can actually write some decent pieces.

Here is the magazine’s mission statement:

“CuratedAI is a literary magazine with a twist– all stories and poems are generated by machines using the tricks of the Artificial Intelligence trade. Editing, for now, is still the domain of us humans, but we aim to keep our touch as light as possible.”

Poetry is a subjective literary form and perhaps the most expressive.  It allows writers to turn words into art and stray away from standard language rules.  In other words, it is the perfect form for computers.  They insert adjectives wherever the algorithm states and the sentences do not always make sense.

Prose, on the other mouse, is not its best form.  The stories read like a bad Internet translation from Japanese to English.  It will be some time before computers are writing comprehensible novels, at least for some of them.   Machine learning was used in Japan for a novel writing contest and the machine that wrote the book, actually won a prize.   So machine cans write prize-winning literature.

However, no one can program imagination…not yet anyway.

Whitney Grace, October 14, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

The Automated Library Robot

August 11, 2016

Libraries have evolved from centers that allow people to borrow books and conduct research to a one-stop shop for Internet usage.  People love to say that libraries are useless and only archive outmoded knowledge, but they still provide useful services for people and cannot be easily replicated with a machine.  Science Daily shares that “High-Tech Librarian Knows Its Books” and relates how robotics are entering libraries.

No, an automated machine is not replacing librarians, but one of the biggest problems that libraries face are disorderly books. It is the bane of libraries everywhere and it makes librarians want to weep when a clean, orderly shelf is messed up within minutes by a lackadaisical hands.  It takes a lot of hours and staff to keep shelves in order, time that could be better spent doing something else:

“At A*STAR’s Institute for Infocomm Research, researchers Renjun Li, Zhiyong Huang, Ernest Kurniawan, and Chin Keong Ho are designing robots that can relieve librarians of many menial tasks, while enhancing searching and sorting of books. Their latest project is an autonomous robotic shelf scanning (AuRoSS) platform that can self-navigate through libraries at night, scanning RFID tags to produce reports on missing and out-of-sequence books.”

Taking away this task will save some time and even locate missing materials with (perhaps) more accuracy than a human.  Robots will not be destroying this sacred institution of knowledge, only improving it.  Budget crunches are a bigger problem for libraries than being replaced by robots.

 

Whitney Grace, August 11, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

There is a Louisville, Kentucky Hidden /Dark Web meet up on August 23, 2016.
Information is at this link: https://www.meetup.com/Louisville-Hidden-Dark-Web-Meetup/events/233019199/

 

Library Search and Survival

July 29, 2016

I read “Library Systems Report 2016.” Interesting round up of niche player companies. The focus is upon library systems. This is today’s equivalent of the card catalogs I used when I was a wee lad in central Illinois.

Three points jumped out at me:

  • Most of the companies mentioned in the report are unknown outside of the library market. That’s okay. One can make a great deal of money serving niche markets. The takeaway for me was the technologies referenced struck me as decidedly 1990s-ish. There are no Palantir Technologies in this collection of “high tech” leaders.
  • The industry, which strikes me as small, compared with Pokémon Go is consolidating. I have no problem with this, but it suggests that library funding may be further constrained. With fewer libraries, there will be fewer customers; therefore, only the “big” will survive. MBAs threaten MLSs it seems.
  • Open source software and Web based and cloud solutions are beginning to have an impact. As I said, 1990s-ish thinking perhaps.

This quote sums up how one of the big dogs approaches the financial challenges it faces:

EBSCO Information Services stands as one of the major forces in the library technology sector, despite not offering it own comprehensive management product.

Unlike Google or Facebook, EBSCO, a company once known for making three ring binders, wants to be everyone’s connectivity pal.

Which of these vendors will become a billion dollar company? Which library start up will be the next big thing on Shark Tank?

I think I know the answer to these questions. Do you?

Stephen E Arnold, July 29, 2016

Avast: Pirate Libraries

July 26, 2016

They are called “pirate libraries,” but one would be better-served envisioning Robin Hood than Blackbeard.  Atlas Obscura takes a look at these floaters of scientific-journal copyrights in, “The Rise of Pirate Libraries.” These are not physical libraries, but virtual ones, where researchers and other curious folks can study articles otherwise accessible only through expensive scientific journal paywalls. Reporter Sarah Laskow writes:

“The creators of these repositories are a small group who try to keep a low profile, since distributing copyrighted material in this way is illegal. Many of them are academics. The largest pirate libraries have come from Russia’s cultural orbit, but the documents they collect are used by people around the world, in countries both wealthy and poor. Pirate libraries have become so popular that in 2015, Elsevier, one of the largest academic publishers in America, went to court to try to shut down two of the most popular, Sci-Hub and Library Genesis.

“These libraries, Elsevier alleged, cost the company millions of dollars in lost profits. But the people who run and support pirate libraries argue that they’re filling a market gap, providing access to information to researchers around the world who wouldn’t have the resources to obtain these materials any other way.”

The development of these illicit repositories traces back to Russia and its surrounds, where academics had a long history of secretly sharing documents under the repressive Soviet Union.  In the 1990s, this tradition began to move online; one of the first pirate-library websites was Lib.Ru. Since then, illegally shared knowledge from more parts of the world has been made available, particularly from Western publishers and universities. Furthermore, the speed with which materials make it online has increased considerably.

Which is more worthy: protecting the stranglehold academic journals have managed to legally establish, and profit from, on research and other information? Or allowing people who possess great curiosity, but who lack deep pockets, to access the latest research? The scholarly pirates have made their choice.

 

 

Cynthia Murrell, July 26, 2016

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

There is a Louisville, Kentucky Hidden Web/Dark Web meet up on July 26, 2016. Information is at this link: http://bit.ly/29tVKpx.

 

More Palantir Spotting

June 27, 2016

Trainspotting is a collection of short stories or a novel presented as a series of short stories by Irvine Welsh. The fun lovers in the fiction embrace avocations which seem to be addictive. The thrill is the thing. Now I think I have identified Palantir spotting.

Navigate to “Palantir Seeks to Muzzle Former Employees.” I am not too interested in the allegations in the write up. What is interesting is that the article is one of what appears to be of series of stories about Palantir Technologies enriched with non public documents.

image

The Thingverse muzzle might be just the ticket for employees who want to chatter about proprietary information. I assume the muzzle is sanitary and durable, comes in various sizes, and adapts to the jaw movement of the lucky dog wearing the gizmo.

Why use the phrase “Palantir spotting.” It seems to me that making an outfit which provides services and software to government entities is an unusual hobby. I, for example, lecture about the Dark Web, how to recognize recycled analytics algorithms and their assorted “foibles,” and how to find information in the new, super helpful Google Web search system.

Poking the innards of an outfit with interesting software and some wizards who might be a bit testy is okay if done with some Onion type  or Colbert like humor. Doing what one of my old employers did in the 1970s to help ensure that company policies remain inside the company is old hat to me.

In the write up, I noted:

The Silicon Valley data-analysis company, which recently said it would buy up to $225 million of its own common stock from current and former staff, has attached some serious strings to the offer. It is requiring former employees who want to sell their shares to renew their non-disclosure agreements, agree not to poach Palantir employees for 12 months, and promise not to sue the company or its executives, a confidential contract reviewed by BuzzFeed News shows. The terms also dictate how former staff can talk to the press. If they get any inquiries about Palantir from reporters, the contract says, they must immediately notify Palantir and then email the company a copy of the inquiry within three business days. These provisions, which haven’t previously been reported, show one way Palantir stands to benefit from the stock purchase offer, known as a “liquidity event.”

Okay, manage information flow. In my experience, money often comes with some caveats. At one time I had lots and lots of @Home goodies which disappeared in a Sillycon Valley minute. The fine print for the deal covered the disappearance. Sigh. That’s life with techno-financial wizards. It seems life has not changed too much since the @Home affair decades ago.

I expect that there will be more Palantir centric stories. I will try to note these when they hit my steam powered radar detector in Harrod’s Creek. My thought is that like the protagonists in Trainspotting, Palantir spotting might have some after effects.

I keep asking myself this question:

How do company confidential documents escape the gravitational field of a comparatively secretive company?

The Palantir spotters are great data gatherers or those with access to the documents are making the material available. No answers yet. Just that question about “how”.

Stephen E Arnold, June 27, 2016

An Early Computer-Assisted Concordance

November 17, 2015

An interesting post at Mashable, “1955: The Univac Bible,” takes us back in time to examine an innovative indexing project. Writer Chris Wild tells us about the preacher who realized that these newfangled “computers” might be able to help with a classically tedious and time-consuming task: compiling a book’s concordance, or alphabetical list of key words, their locations in the text, and the context in which each is used. Specifically, Rev. John Ellison and his team wanted to create the concordance for the recently completed Revised Standard Version of the Bible (also newfangled.) Wild tells us how it was done:

“Five women spent five months transcribing the Bible’s approximately 800,000 words into binary code on magnetic tape. A second set of tapes was produced separately to weed out typing mistakes. It took Univac five hours to compare the two sets and ensure the accuracy of the transcription. The computer then spat out a list of all words, then a narrower list of key words. The biggest challenge was how to teach Univac to gather the right amount of context with each word. Bosgang spent 13 weeks composing the 1,800 instructions necessary to make it work. Once that was done, the concordance was alphabetized, and converted from binary code to readable type, producing a final 2,000-page book. All told, the computer shaved an estimated 23 years off the whole process.”

The article is worth checking out, both for more details on the project and for the historic photos. How much time would that job take now? It is good to remind ourselves that tagging and indexing data has only recently become a task that can be taken for granted.

Cynthia Murrell, November 17, 2015

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

 

Product Hunt Adds Collections to Its Search Results

November 13, 2015

Product Hunt is a website for the cutting-edge consumer, where users share information about the latest and greatest in the tech market. The Next Web tells us, “Product Hunt Now Lets You Follow and Search for Collections.” A “collection” can be established by any user to curate and share groups of products. An example would be a selection of website-building tools, or of the best electronic-device accessories for charging electronic devices. The very brief write-up reveals:

Product Hunt, the Web’s favorite destination to discover new apps, gadgets and connected services, has updated its Collections feature, allowing users to follow and search for curated lists. You can now follow any collection you find interesting to receive notifications when new products are added to them. Collections will also show up in search results alongside products. In addition, curators can add comments to products in their collections to describe them or note why they’ve included them in their list.”

So now finding the best of the latest is even easier. An important tool for anyone with a need, and the means, to keep in front of the technology curve. Launched in 2013, Product Hunt is based in San Francisco. Their Collections feature was launched last December, and this year the site also added sections specifically for books and for games.

Cynthia Murrell, November 13, 2015

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

 

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