Archive for December, 2006

Etymology and the spread of language

Some years ago, a friend of mine introduced me to a newsletter on the etymology of english words. I get an email once a week with a fantastic investigation into the growth of the english language and the way in which words become archaic and forgotten. Its a great read and I often discover interesting things about books and current affairs, simply keeping abreast of an evolving language. Head on over to Michael Quinon’s website and sign-up for the newsletter, or simply have a browse around the site to pick up some interesting tidbits that you can throw into conversation over your christmas dinner!


December 12, 2006 at 1:17 pm Leave a comment

Two wrongs apparently make a right.

The search engine blogosphere is all abuzz this morning. Jeremy Zawodny, of Yahoo, has posted an article on how Google has blatantly copied Yahoo’s web page advertising their new IE7 toolbar. Of course, this could not go uncommented by Matt Cutts, the friendly face of Google, who with a lame apology on behalf of Google immediately goes out of his way to point out how Yahoo sponsored adverts have copied Google’s sponsored adverts. Popular blogger and ex-Microsoft employee, Robert Scoble, picked up on the post taking Matt’s side on the issue. One of the comments on Scoble’s blog points out that there is something of a difference in copying a well-thought-out UI and copying the actual artwork for a design. And, in a sense I have to agree, although Matt’s post does point out that the UI has been copied down to the choice of pastel shading as well. Which is perhaps a little beyond the scope of just capturing the usability of a good design.

Stealing design seems commonplace for the corporate giants. Yesterday, Mac advocate, John Gruber posted an article showing how Microsoft had lifted a Macintosh icon for their Vista Workgroup Manager application. And last year, it looked like Quark had stolen the Scottish Art Council’s logo. Quark eventually threw in the towel in the first quarter of this year, and managed to save face by redesigning their logo.

Of course, all of this is very irrelevant to the rare book trade, but these things are interesting nonetheless. And I must admit that I am amused when the furor around these sorts of events reaches a fervor that allows for distinguished representatives of the great monolithic corporations of our time to enter into a bitch-slapping contest that boils down to a “two wrongs make a right” sort of argument.

December 12, 2006 at 11:14 am Leave a comment

Questionable Content at the Library

I enjoy reading the occassional online comic. And there are a lot of great artists out there that publish their stuff up on the net for free. One of my regular reads (in fact I get it as an RSS feed every morning) is Questionable Content by J.Jacques. The comic is actually about a bunch of young people and is centred around a coffee shop that they are responsible for running. Some of the characters keep pet robots that are generally intelligent enough to be almost human. The main robot character is named Pintsize. Pintsize’s owner, Marty, is currently working at a college library. I found today’s comic, set at the library, amusing.

Also, if you don’t really read the comments on these posts, you might miss my bit of advice on portable printers. Ian Kahn was asking for some advice on which portable printer to buy to take to fairs for invoicing. My general recommendation is to go with a Canon printer.

December 8, 2006 at 11:31 am Leave a comment

A few interesting links

Ian Kahn, kindly added me to his blogroll on Lux Mentis, which is one of the blogs that I keep a keen eye on. Ian has exceptional commentary on things happening in the trade and is outspoken about things that he feels strongly about. Of course, I noticed the trackback to his site and discovered a few new links for myself. And as is the nature of the web, these led me on to a few others that were just a little more obscure, so I’m gonna list them here briefly for your own amusement:

Firstly, Ian pointed out Hugh’s Blog, which seems like an excellent resource for information and which has now been added to my own list o’ links. Hugh is currently in the process of compiling a list of links that prove to be useful resources for people in the rare book trade. So head on over to his site and help him out with some suggestions of your own.

Billy Guffey’s Biblio-Technician blog has also been given special mention on Lux Mentis, and I must admit that I had only recently discovered it and was still just browsing through some of his posts. But Mr Guffey has also ventured into an interesting project, where he has set up a separate blog to stick up photographs of the interior and exterior of various bookshops as well as providing location and contact detail. I’m sure that this will be a pleasure to keep track of and will be a great bit of free advertising for shops all over the world. Thanks Bill.

I’ve also recently discovered Rare Book Spot, which is dedicated to reviewing (so far) modern first editions with a view to helping out new collectors. Unfortunately updates have been taking place monthly and I have not seen much activity since September, so I hope this isn’t going to be a dead end.

Other than that, not much more news from me. I will be off on leave pretty soon, so I may only get around to doing further updates next year. Thanks for all your support, and once again, thanks to Ian for the honorable mention. 😉

December 7, 2006 at 6:20 pm 2 comments

Misdirection and the politics of the Internet

This post is a little bit off topic when it comes to the general theme of my blog, but it has captured my interest from a general cataloguing point of view. Some time back I came across a blog where the Title of the post that I was reading had absolutely nothing to do with the content that followed. The article was far from spam, but I believe the author was attempting to make a statement about the nature of popular link titles and methods of improving ranking. At the time I was mostly interested simply from an SEO perspective.  But recently I have noticed that the same methodology is being employed as a means to carry out political attacks on the Net.

My recent favourite attack is a ‘feminist’ attack on the proliferation of pornographic images on the Net. In particular, the internet has been aflutter with a group of photographs that were taken of Britney Spears’ crotch that revealed that she did not wear underwear to a variety of functions. A group of feminists who take offense at the objectification of female genitalia on the Internet are fighting back.

A similar technique was employed some time back by the recording industry in an attempt to combat pirates who were keen to illegally download Madonna’s latest album. Madonna flooded filesharing networks with fake tracks from her album that simply consisted of her actually telling off pirates who were trying to download the album. The attack on piracy reached the mainstream media, but in the end it seemed that while it had discouraged a number of small number of users, the album continued to be downloaded regardless. The approach has since been carried much further with Macrovision attempting to do fake p2p flooding on a grander scale, in an effort to protect music and software from piracy.

In a way, a lot of this activity ties into a ‘meme/counter-meme‘ war. Mike Godwin, an attorney who was on the Usenet in the 1990’s created his own counter-meme in an effort to combat the nazi-comparison meme that was prolific on newsgroups of the time. His counter-meme took off and was ultimately referred to as Godwin’s Law. A number of corollaries were invented to follow. And eventually each reference to ‘nazi-like behaviour’ on the Usenet was faced with the rebuttal of Godwin’s Law.

So, what am I really getting at with this post? Well, I’m intrigued as to what all of this activity is slowly doing to our ability to find particular information on the Internet. And to how it documents social responses to particular events in time. In essence, it is taking the methods that people use to search and turning them against the people that are doing the searching. What that means is that we already understand how important titles and links are on the Internet. Matt Cutts, at Google, demonstrates how important titles, headings and naming are to improving visibility when it comes to search. But if we are slowly working out ways to reverse-engineer search methodology and we are using that knowledge to counter the productivity of search to a specific end, will we ever be able to undo the mess that we are making?

Technically, what the feminist group mentioned earlier in this post is trying to achieve is a method of saturating the Pornography shelves of the Internet library with Feminist literature. When really, their posts should appear on shelves that deal with Feminism/Commentary on Pornography. I’m not saying that there is a moral leaning either way in this sort of activity, but it is eventually going to have a major impact on our ability to categorise information on the Internet. In essence, a search engine is not wrong in presenting these articles to anybody that searches for ‘Britney’s crotch’ online, because these articles are relevant commentary on exactly that. However, in all likelihood the results returned will rarely be relevant to the searcher.

All in all, misdirection is commonplace on the Internet, and has been used for years. It is at the heart of most malware, and is common in the political sphere. But from the perspective of any librarian or cataloguer or search specialist, it seems that memes themselves threaten the very possibility of the Net ever becoming an easily searched resource for information.

December 7, 2006 at 1:41 pm Leave a comment

DabbleDB – your Web based database application

Now this is one of the most promising web application I have seen in a long long time. If you have a few minutes to kill, head on over to DabbleDB and watch their demo video. With a little bit of work, you could probably build quite a complex online application in DabbleDB to handle a basic stock database, perform CRM tasks and quite possibly deal with all of your invoicing requirements.

If you could get your whole business database running in this sort of environment, you could quite likely do away with any need for VPN software etc. Unfortunately, as its hosted by the DabbleDB group themselves, you have no control over downtime or backups. But, for small businesses that can’t afford to administer servers, buy expensive database systems and need to have remote access to their data, this looks like a radical solution. Pricing could work out pretty steep in the long run, but if you’re not having to deal with the overhead of running your own server you’ll probably do quite well out of an option like this.

December 5, 2006 at 6:26 pm Leave a comment

Tabbed browsing circa 1588

I love this. Appearing on popular social bookmarking site Reddit, today, was this link with the same subject as this post. For antiquarians and technophiles alike, the post is an interesting and amusing read.


December 5, 2006 at 5:00 pm Leave a comment

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