One door opens, another shuts behind

About a year ago I created a Facebook application just for the sake of trying to create one. Thanks to the Dapper service, the process was fairly easy to create a one-stop shop for library technician job postings in Canada.

Lately I’ve noticed that the listings were no longer being updated in Facebook even though the RSS feed still worked.

It turns out Dapper is shutting down their support of their Facebook App Maker so I’ve decided to close down my Facebook App. I was able to get 22 Fans of my application so hopefully some people found it of use.

I’ve decided to migrate the service to a new page using free web page provider synthasite.com.

Canadian Library Technician Jobs is a basic site that uses a Spring Widget to showcase the latest job postings.

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DIY Facebook Applications

Ever since Facebook opened up their platform to outside applications I have noticed that a number of services have developed tools for us non-programmers to create Facebook applications.

The one I read the most about was Dapper. ReadWriteWeb has a good post and short video about the service.

So I thought I’d give Dapper a try (also, I didn’t have time to commute to Stanford). I decided to create an application using a basic RSS feed from Google News. I tried to think about what ongoing news story I would want updated stories about in my Facebook profile. Of course I thought about the upcoming Rambo movie. So using the Google News feed I followed the simple steps laid out in Dapper’s AppMaker. A few minutes later I had created and published my first Facebook Application. At this point two strangers have added this application so I consider that a success. However you can’t officially add your creations to Facebook’s application directory until you have at least 5 users.

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After I got this basic one out of the way I thought about how to create a library-themed one. Since I can’t create a technical wonder like the University of Alberta’s search application, I thought about a tool I would have appreciated during my periods of unemployment, a one-stop RSS feed that brought together the library technician job postings from various job boards.

The problem in creating such a tool is that few job boards provide an RSS feed. Again Dapper came to the rescue. All you have to do is enter in a URL and it can distill which content you want to track and create an RSS feed for.

Then I took the 6 different RSS feeds I had for library technician job postings and entered them into a new Yahoo Pipe. While creating a basic Pipe from multiple feeds is simple, the problem was that without filtering the results in some way, I was getting a final feed that included jobs for librarians, unrelated technical jobs and other off-topic postings.

The solution to this was to use the Filter tools provided. After much trial and error I ended up with the following Pipe:

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Considering the fact that I was pulling out content from very different types of web pages I am quite happy with the final result. In order to track and continually refine this tool I have created a new page on my blog which will detail my progress and provide links to the Canadian Library Technician Jobs Facebook application and a separate RSS feed.

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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

Screencasting on your browser

TechCrunch had news today about a free screencasting tool that you can use from your web browser.

It has the catchy title of Screencast-o-Matic.

Reading the quick write-up, it sounds like it is a little rough around the edges and won’t replace the not-so-free ViewletBuilder software we use. But unlike ViewletBuilder, Screencast-o-Matic actually catches the action on the screen like a video recorder, like the more expensive Camtasia and Captivate.

I may try to play around with it on the weekend, but tools like this (please Google, create your own version) may have a place in creating quick, how-to and navigation guides for library web sites.

This blogger has a fairly positive review.

Caveat: I had to do a Java download in order to to use the tool so prepare for an annoying download if you don’t already have it installed.

One of us….One of us…

It appears that another institution is joining the Google Apps family.

As I mentioned in my maiden posting, a growing number of institutions are choosing to let Google handle all the software and hardware hassles of student email systems.

Now Humber College is set to join Lakehead as one of the Canadian schools jumping in to this brave new world.

Go to the following URL and see for yourself:

 https://www.google.com/a/humbermail.ca

I have no doubt that students will find this service more familiar and functional than other options out there. But stories like this one remind us just how much personal information Google continues to store and no doubt uses for data mining purposes to keep those Google advertising dollars coming in.

There is also the issue that the personal information of students, their emails, etc. is being put in the hands of an American corporation. Google clearly states that Gmail emails are scanned in order to insert ads that roughly correspond to the content of the email.

They can state that:

No humans read your email to target the ads, and no email content or other personally identifiable information is ever provided to advertisers.

but we know that with “W” and “Mr. Cranky” in the White House, companies like Google are being pressured to hand over supposedly private material over to law enforcement in the name of national security.

Maybe in the near future some student will end up on a terrorist watch lists for something they write in their student email. I’ll admit my own ambivalence about whether this trend towards greater monitoring of our online activities makes me stay up at night or makes me sleep better.

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

Google’s gonna get you!

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As Google’s inevitable march towards world domination continues, there is more news on their entry into the educational sphere.

They have shifted their Librarian Newsletter into a blog. While this should help us to keep on top of the latest news on nifty tools like Google Earth and Google Scholar, this development has provided another opportunity for those who cast a wary eye on Google’s intentions to speak their minds.

Over at Library Stuff they speculate that this is another step in Google’s “brainwashing” of librarians so they can go in and scan all of our books. While I wouldn’t go that far, there is an undeniable push and pull between library staff’s desire to get students to learn to research with our tried and tested tools and an acknowledgement that students today are used to tools like Google and we need to integrate them in our approaches to information literacy. See this report from the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative for more information about this.

In other Google news, Lakehead University in Thunder Bay Ontario has, according to this press release, “recently aligned with Google to be the first large-scale deployment of Google Apps for Education in Canada.”

This arrangement might concern those uncomfortable with the entire university’s email, calendering systems, etc. being hosted by Google and not the university’s own I.T. department but for the cost of $0 it’s not a bad trade-off. The other benefit mentioned there and in this article about Arizona State’s adoption of the Google Apps, is the amount of money and labour that can now be redirected to more forward looking projects than making sure that ageing email server the school purchased 8 years ago keeps from breaking down twice a day.

These web-based Apps will also constantly receive updates and improved functionality, which I can only see as the way ahead from the current model of purchasing a fairly static suite of software tools that can’t take advantage of evolving tools and technologies.

Speaking as someone who works at a school that has not yet established a central email system for the students, I can’t help but feel a little jealous of our friends on Lake Superior.