Baby, it’s cold outside

Fortunately, I can still bask in the warm glow of the Interweb.  I like it when libraries make information available online; I love it when they do so in a format that regular people can understand.  Some librarians are completely unaware that using the library can be considered a customer experience; what’s more, most librarians eschew the word ‘customer’ when referring to users of the library.  To me, the only difference is that people have already paid for library services, whereas they have a choice of what to buy in a store.

I’ve noticed that library websites tend to resemble old Carnegie library buildings; many of them look a bit dated, there’s too much material in too little space, and it can be quite difficult to find what you want.  In defense of the Carnegie buildings, they possess a bookish atmosphere that can be very welcoming.  For websites, however, the effect is mostly negative.

The trouble seems to be that librarians want library websites to be created in their own bookish image-  organized by some long-dead system of classifying information, with one-click access to a dizzying array of bibliographic information, online databases, and other library bricabac.  Not easy to use at all, if you don’t have your Master’s degree in library science.

In fairness, there should be some continuity between the physical library and it’s website- that’s  natural.  But for library websites, the medium is the message.  It’s our way of staying relevant- and the time has already come that library users are expecting more than we are giving them.

Anyway, what all this was leading to is that I found a library website that impresses me- and right in my neck of the woods:

www.haynerlibrary.org

Best of all, it runs on wordpress, just like my blogola.  Is there anything that can’t be done with open-source software?

*If you guessed ‘open a Microsoft Publisher file’, then you’re right

….And now, a word from our sponsors

img_2987Forgive me for the interruption in service, but ’twas all for a higher purpose: a belated new beginning for Quebecker.

With the countdown to the 100th post (this one being #96), it became evident that I needed a new webhost.  Selecting a webhost is a major life decision, and I’ve been putting it off for too long.  I have high expectations for a hosting company:

  1. Don’t nickle and dime me (looking at you, Godaddy)
  2. Give me the tools I need to maintain a site, not some crappy tool developed just for your site
  3. Give me something to believe in- I’m talking Green hosting or Open Source Software or something

3 simple needs, how hard can it be?

Real hard, as it turns out.

A lengthy search only left me with a few choices, all of which involved compromising one of my requirements.  Damnit.

I put it out of my mind for a few days, along with going to the doctor and getting my piano tuned.  While casually browsing the web yesterday, I remembered a colleague mentioning Dreamhost.  My only knowledge of Dreamhost was that they hosted 1-click WordPress installs, something I’d seen advertised alot.  This struck me as the Microsoft approach to software, and we all know how well that tends to work.  Still, I felt obliged to explore the possibility.

2 hours later, my Dreamhost account was established, including a new domain.  That left me with the task of migrating my WordPress database from a derelict desktop computer to the glitz-and-glam Dreamhost server.  It wasn’t easy, but I’ll say that my initial estimation of Dreamhost was way off- I had absolutely everything I needed to manipulate my Mysql databases, upload images, setup mail (which is handled by Google Apps), the whole works.

Expect more posts, more action, and more shameless self-plugs.

A Geek Tragedy

I nuked the Quebecker blog today. Not on purpose, of course. I was trying to build a Scriblio demo for the Liberry, and both the Quebecker blog and Scriblio run on WordPress. I mistyped the name of the my Scriblio demo, which meant I’d have to clear the MySQL database and start with a clean slate.

Stupid me. I selected the database titled WordPress and click ‘Drop all tables’. It asked me if I really wanted to do this, which I affirmed. That was all it took.

The consequences became clear just a few seconds later, and without lifting a finger, I knew exactly what had happened. The database I’d intended to delete was titled Scriblio, not WordPress.

D’oh.

I had a backup of the majority of my posts, and the 10 most recent were to be found in the google cache. I lost about 4 posts forever.

In memory of those four posts, an obscure Latin quote (since Latin quotes impart a gravitas that’s so hard to match):

Qua resurget ex favilla

Good news everyone!

Goodnews1 150x150The great image-uploading dryspell of WordPress 2.5 is over!  If I were smarter, it would’ve been over alot sooner.  Turns out I didn’t replace all of the old files during the upgrade…

Ah, the vagaries of Command Line Interface….

LibXciting

I’ve rediscovered something I wrote off a long time ago, and it’s name is LibX. It is a free tool that creates a Firefox/IE toolbar to let users search your library’s catalog. A nice feature, but LibX is even craftier- if you’re browsing books on Amazon, it will automagically create a link (next to the title) to that item in your catalog. The setup takes just a few minutes, gives you control over every option, and even has version management. I’d post a picture of the awesomeness, but WordPress 2.5 still doesn’t let me upload pictures. Curses!

Be that as it may, you can still download my toolbar (for firefox)

It’s no understatement to say that every library in the world should use this.

It’s cool being green

Don’t worry, this isn’t some worn-out anecdote about being eco-friendly. It’s about being small, sturdy, and adorable. I have the great pleasure of writing these words with an XO, courtesy of the assistant librarian and OLPC program. Here’s the shakedown:

The good

The XO

*edit*- This is exactly how far I made it before being interrupted by a phonecall from an elderly Chinese woman wanting to complain about the billing practices of her dial-up provider.  Le sigh.

So anyway, the good:

  • The XO is cute, extremely cute.  You can’t help but love it.
  • It’s also quite rugged and easy to carry around thanks to the molded plastic handle (take note, other laptop manufacturers).
  • The novel interface makes you use your brain
  • Converts into tablet-pc
  • Battery life around 4 hours
  • Small wall charger!
  • The screen is crisp and easy to read

The Bad

  • I can type about 11 words per minute with the keyboard, probably for two reasons:
  1. It’s essentially little squares of rubber with contacts embedded within, so there’s no tactile response.  I know this is for durability sake, but it needs to be improved.
  2. It’s small, as in child-size.  Not really it’s fault, I feel
  • The interface can be challenging, mostly because of the wrap-around menu options that pops up every time you approach the edge of the screen.
  • No touch screen.  The tablet-ness is wasted!
  • It can be sloooooooow.  I’m not sure why this should be, since the XO uses the Amd Geode chipset, which I know from experience can perform very well at low-speeds.  Perhaps the flash storage is the slow car in the fast-lane?
  • Webcam looks sharp when you’re chatting, terrible when you record video.

All things considered, I really liked it.  Will it drastically improve the lives of children in developing nations?  Probably not.  Here’ the rub:

The XO is the brainchild of idealism and tech-savvy, whose intent was to make laptops affordable to people everywhere.  A very noble sentiment, but the execution of such a plan is fraught with difficulty.  On the production side, there are constant delays (this XO was supposed to arrive in 2007, and only arrived 4 days ago).  Orchestrating such grand operation can’t be easy, and the give-one/get-one program may have made things worse.  But there are bigger fish to fry- certain corporate entities (*cough* Wintel *cough*) are not about to let the sub-prime laptop market go to a non-profit competitor, and have sprung into action to furnish Wintel-based laptops for the same purpose as OLPC.  On the other side of the equation, it seems that getting developing nations to sign up (and pay) for the OLPC program is becoming difficult.  I sympathize with their leaders, since at it’s inception, the OLPC was going to cost only $100, instead of the $200 it currently fetches.  Double the cost?  That can’t sit well with a nation struggling to feed and vaccinate its populous.

It continues to be a noble effort, but the OLPC program’s greatest triumph is being witnessed on the shelves of retail outlets everywhere.  I’m referring to the race to the bottom, as one myopic suit put it.  The race to produce the smallest, cheapest portable devices has scores of new competitors, each with a pint-sized product that does everything its owner needs at half the cost (and heft) of a laptop.

Using the XO in a room filled with laptop users made me feel like I was driving an MG on a road filled with Buicks.  Of course, some people need the Buicks.  The XO clearly has limitations, and genuine power-users would be appalled by it’s spartan feature-set.  Conversely, people who don’t need all the trappings of a regular laptop have traditionally been forced to purchase them anyway, since there were few alternatives.  Truthfully, most everyone would be perfectly happy using an eeepc or XO, and I’m one of ’em.