Piping Hot

Having some free time over Christmas, I have gotten around to playing around with some of the new mashup for dummies technologies being made available.

Besides Microsoft’s Popfly and Dapper, I have spent time trying to understand the basics of Yahoo’s Pipes. Some of the Pipes people are creating are quite complicated with geocoded maps and lots of localized information. In trying to figure out how to create something simple and at the same time wondering how tools like this can be used in the library environment I tried to think of ways to combine various RSS feeds. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

Ontario Nursing News
When I think about the future evolution of the traditional library subject guide I feel a big part of it should be automated updated content. We have a lot of nursing students in our library and I imagine a feed they could view which had up to date relevant information to them would be useful.

So I went about creating a Pipe from 3 different feeds. I created a simple Google News RSS feed for a search for stories that mention Ontario Nurses. But I also wanted to extract the news sections from the Canadian Nurses Association and the Ontario Nurses Association which do not provide their stories in a RSS feed. Pipes mentions using the tool Feedity, which scrapes a basic web page and creates an RSS feed from it. You can see below what this Pipe looks like:


The results list is not as perfect as I would like. For some reason when Feedity scrapes the ONA site for stories it includes the ads from the site in the results of the Pipe. But overall, it does what I intended it to do. And now I can use the output of this Pipe as an RSS feed.

Access Copyright News
With all the news about copyright law changes coming I wanted to create a Pipe that combined a variety of feeds that mention everyones’ favorite copyright collective Access Copyright. This pipe is fairly basic and combines a feed from an Ebsco search and ones from Google Blogs, Google News and Yahoo News.


The Filter module was needed to make this Pipe useful because with the Ebsco, Google and Yahoo searches it was not easy to verify that the phrase “Access Copyright” was returned and not the word access and copyright separated by a paragraph or a period. Before I put the filter in I was getting a lot of unrelated stories which had the word access as the last word of the articles and the copyright notice at the bottom of the article. Now I have a useful feed that keeps me up to date when Access Copyright news is happening or when articles that discuss the collective are written.

Library Catalogue Alerts on NCAA/College Basketball
Finally, I wanted to try a library focused Pipe. Knowing that there are a growing number of libraries with modern OPACs that create RSS feeds for searches I created a Pipe on the topic of basketball with a filter for NCAA/College basketball. I used the catalogues from Ann Arbor District Library, Plymouth State University Library, and North Carolina State.


I’m not sure how useful this particular Pipe is. It was more of an effort to see if it would work. I can imagine that if WorldCat had a way to create similar RSS feeds, the ability to filter results that Pipes has would allow you to create some interesting alerts about books on very specific topics being added to libraries across the continent.

“A fair for all and no fare for anybody!”

In the ever shifting world of copyright and user-rights there have been some interesting developments over the last few weeks.

This New York Times article begins:

“A trade group that includes Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and other high-tech companies has asked federal regulators to order changes in copyright warnings.”

It is the Computer and Communications Industry Association’s position that the strict (and somewhat fear-inducing) copyright warnings that content owners (NBC, NFL, etc.) are placing on their products are misleading consumers about their rights under fair use laws. Of course in Canada we have our fair dealing provisions but the basic principal is the same, regarding the question about whether content owners are overreaching in their efforts to protect their materials.

In an effort to bring more attention to this issue, an American professor has been going through an ongoing battle with the NFL over the use of a brief Superbowl clip she put up on YouTube.

A Wall Street Journal article also reports on this issue and mentions how it also applies to printed materials:

The CCIA said copyright holders should let audiences know they may have a right to reproduce some of the work. They even provide examples of how it can be done, as in this warning in the John Wiley & Son’s 2007 book “Hotel California.” The warning says, “No part of this publication may be reproduced…except as permitted under Section 107 or 108 of the United States Copyright Act,” referring to the sections that deal with fair use and reproduction by libraries and archives.

While the CCIA has some praise for how John Wiley & Sons provide a “fair and balanced” copyright warning they apparently don’t feel the same way about Reed Elsevier:

“A spokesman for Reed Elsevier PLC’s Harcourt Inc., one of the publishers named in the complaint, said he hadn’t seen it and declined to comment.”

It is interesting to see the group making this complaint includes Microsoft and Google, considering that a few months ago Microsoft was trying portray themselves as the righteous protectors of copyright compared to Google who they accuse of having a laissez-faire attitude to copyright violations on their services.

This article from IP Democracy and this one from Search Engine Land provide some interesting quotes and analysis that make you wonder how it is possible that these two companies are now working together on the issue of copyright. I suppose the answer can partly be summed up by a quote from the New York Times article above by law professor Roger Schecter:

“We’re getting into these fights because the law is lagging behind technology.”

Or to put it another way, digital media, copyright law and mutual self-interest make strange bedfellows.

Focusing on this issue from a library perspective, Howard Knopf at Excess Copyright mentions that the American based Library Copyright Alliance has come out in support of the CCIA’s efforts and mentions that:

“It would be really nice if Canadian libraries could more often take such strong, unified and useful positions on copyright matters.”

The issue of Canadian libraries/educational institutions and copyright can’t be discussed without bringing in our friend Access Copyright. The U of T Faculty Blog delves into this, claiming that a copyright warning Access Copyright requires schools to affix to material in coursepacks, “is highly inaccurate and misstates the law.”

Michael Geist mentions the novel idea of requiring that the cultural bodies that receive some-level of public funding should be required to use non-misleading copyright notices on their published works or they would not receive funding.

While Canadian institutions grudgingly accept Access Copyright’s role in overseeing usage of print-based materials, their is a wariness of allowing them to gain a foothold in the growing sphere of digital materials (online course reserves, course management systems, etc.).

This does mean that schools are responsible for contacting individual publishers for the use of their materials in an electronic format. Needless to say this is a labour intensive process that often leaves those requesting the use of the material frustrated.

It appears that the Copyright Clearance Center (the US version of Access Copyright) is moving ahead with an annual license for academic institutions that goes beyond the blanket paper-to-paper license most Canadian institutions have.

“Copyright Clearance Center, Inc. (CCC), the world’s largest provider of text-licensing solutions, today announced the launch of the Annual Copyright License for academic institutions, a single license that provides faculty and staff with convenient, pre-approved permissions to use content in course management systems, paper and electronic coursepacks, electronic library reserves, research collaboration and more.”

Some people raise the issue about whether signing on to agreements like this will lead to a weakening of efforts to maintain fair use rights.

The June 29, 2007 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education has an article (password protected) about Middlebury Colleges’ partnership with the CCC in shaping this licensing product.

While the article has praise for how this license simplifies the copyright clearance process, this article from a California State University at Northridge paper points out how the gaps in the number of participating publishers means they currently are not interested in signing up for such a license.

For those of us stick in the middle of the tug-of-war between users and content providers there is some hope that steps are being taken to acknowledge the reality that in the digital age users want more flexibility with how they can use material they have paid for.

Is Vista’s ubiquity inevitable?

A few weeks ago I had my first encounter with Microsoft’s Vista operating system. As sometimes happens at the reference desk a student came up to us and said they could not connect their laptop to the school’s wireless network.

She said it was a new computer and when she showed it to me I could see it was running the new OS. I was pleasantly surprised that when I took a look at the screen, Vista appeared to be providing the user with a fairly clear path to resolving the problem. The problem the user was having was that she needed to navigate Vista’s many layers of security permissions in order to connect to the wireless network. This new feature, intended to address the security concerns about previous Microsoft OS’s, was poked fun at in one of the Mac vs. Windows ads.

To Vista’s credit after going through the steps, she was able to connect to the network, and this encounter got me thinking about what other new features of Vista we will need to get familiar with in the library. But after reading a lot of articles since Vista’s release, I am starting to think that Vista’s eventual takeover of our school computers may not be inevitable.

As a backgrounder, my computer ownership life began with the Windows 3.1 computer I went off to university with. To be generous, 3.1 had its share of weaknesses so along with most average computers users I looked forward to news of new Microsoft operating systems with their promises of greater ease of use, fewer crashes, etc. In the back of mind I had been assuming that the move from XP to Vista would follow the similar Microsoft OS adoption patterns, with organizations large and small quickly choosing to get on-board with the newer versions since they were clearly superior to the ones they were replacing. These two article, Windows Vista – Broken by Design & Vista – Arrogance & Stupidity point out some of the major features of Vista that should be of concern to any organizations considering deploying Vista based machines.

Issues like all of the DRM built in to Vista (the costs of which are discussed here) makes me think that there will be some forward thinking/brave schools (this does not appear to include the University of Arizona) will take the leap to platforms like Linux. This article from the WSJ discusses the possibilities of Linux making its way to more desktops.

In a sign that schools are becoming less tolerant of cumbersome DRM, MIT chose to cancel access to a database over the issue. And when it comes to their computer hardware, why should schools accept that the software they install on their machines can impede their ultimate control of how they choose to use it?

Of course particular programs in colleges and universities will necessitate providing access to computers with Apple and Microsoft operating systems, but for the vast majority of staff machines, general computer labs and terminals in libraries other options are becoming more attractive. At the same time as Microsoft is making their marquee product more restrictive and bloated, the growth in web-based applications continues to explode.

One interesting project is Adobe’s Apollo. Applications like this one, built on standard web technology, can provide an ease of use that is familiar to the average computer user, making the underlying OS irrelevant to the work they need to do.

If I had to guess, 95 percent of the work done on the computers in our library is on the web or involves word processing. How does having Vista installed on computers being used in this way make any sense?

Microsoft is not dumb and they must be aware of some of these concerns. The author of the Vista – Arrogance & Stupidity article is not confident about them changing their approach:

What should Microsoft do? Their most basic mistake is “one size fits all”, holding that an entertainment device is equally suited for business. This is now obviously and painfully false. Microsoft should immediately develop a version of Vista for business with DRM completely stripped out. Perhaps they could disable playing of “premium content” entirely if they could do it cleanly – “premium content” has no place on business computers anyway.

Will Microsoft do this? No. Instead they will “stay the course”, increasing PR expenditures, working on ways to kill Windows XP to force Vista adoption, and ramping up their misinformation and FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) attacks on Linux to “full rabid” shrillness.

April 2 updated link about Desktop on Demand