Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Trans Texas Corridor

On December 16th, the Texas Transportation Commission selected a vendor to develop TTC-35 (Oklahoma to Mexico portion of the Trans Texas Corridor). Remember that this corridor is supposed to provide:
  • separate lanes for passenger vehicles and large trucks
  • freight railways
  • high-speed commuter railways
  • infrastructure for utilities including water lines, oil and gas pipelines, and transmission lines for electricity, broadband, and other telecommunications services (emphasis is mine)

This Corridor should provide some type of conduit or infrastructure for broadband capabilities.

The press release from the Texas Department of Transportation states that the chosen group -- Cintra -- proposes to initially build a four-lane, divided toll road between Dallas and San Antonio by 2010. In return, Cintra would like a 50-year contract to maintain the toll road.

While this is interesting, I didn't see anything in this press release about providing telecommunications, or even conduits for telecommunications, in this project. Still, they may be there, but just a small piece of the project itself.

If you are interested, there should be more regional meetings in February and March 2005. Dates should be on the web site soon.

Federal Web Site Requirements

The Office of Management and Budget has created policies for federal agency web sites. Most of the policies should come as no surprise. By December 31, 2005, federal agency web sites must:
  • Provide and maintain product inventories, priorities, and schedules.
  • Ensure quality of information product.
  • Ensure external links are necessary and ensure their quality.
  • Provide links to agency strategic and annual performance plans; agency organizational structure, mission and statutory authority; information about FOIA; privacy policies; FirstGov.gov; statistical data about EEO complaints; and agency point of contact for small businesses on their major entry pages.
  • Communicate with public, state, and local governments to determine which or what type(s) of information products are needed.
  • Provide a search function that includes all files intended for public use.
  • Use only .gov, .mil or .fed.us domains.
  • Provide security controls to maintain accuracy as well as confidentiality.
  • Protect privacy of the public.
  • Ensure accessibility.
  • Manage records.

I would have expected that almost all of these would have been in place in any federal (or state) agency web site. I am very glad, however, that the search function is now required. Sometimes it is very difficult to find specific information on a government web site. (I was just trying to find NPRM and Federal Register information about an FCC ruling this morning -- it took too long!)

Carol Brey-Casiano

Carol Brey-Casiano, director of the El Paso Public Library and president of the American Library Association, was interviewed by Michele Norris on All Things Considered. You can listen to the segment, entitled The Future of Libraries in the Digital Age. She talks primarily of the Google project, which intends to digitize parts or all of five major libraries, and the effect of these types of projects on libraries. Great interview . . . take 4 minutes to listen.

13-digit ISBNs

If you haven't started seeing them yet, you should this year. As of January 1, 2007, all ISBNs will have 13 digits, as opposed to the 10 digits with which we are familiar. NISO has put out an FAQ for librarians concerning this interim period. Three important questions are answered:
  • How will I order books when I only know the 10-digit ISBN?
  • Will I have to switch to using 13-digit ISBNs for searches in my library database?
  • What are library vendors planning and when will we see changes?

The Library of Congress and the British Library will provide records with both 10-digit and 13-digit ISBNs for the interim. LC will provide pairs of 020 fields with the 13-digit ISBN in the first field and the 10-digit in the second field.

More Text Access Via the Web

Soon after Google announced its digitization effort with five libraries, the Internet Archive announced its initiative. Eleven international libraries will provide textual materials to the archive. Some may see this as competition to the Google effort, but I really like the statement near the end of their announcement: "We are encouraging of these [commercial] efforts and hope most of these materials will be also available through Text Archives, which would be an alternative and complimentary means of getting to these digital materials. Deeper and less commercial access can augment the commercial offerings." I whole-heartedly agree!

Eight Copyright Myths of the Online World

Kathy Biehl, an attorney licensed to practice in New Jersey and Texas, has written "Bloggers Beware: Debunking Eight Copyright Myths of the Online World." Although written for bloggers, the advice is good for anyone with questions about copyright on the Internet. Most of these myths should be familiar to librarians as myths, but . . . it's always good to review. If you have a few minutes, it will be worth your time to check it out.

Wireless in 5 State Parks as of January 1

If you are near:
  • Three Rivers (Choke Canyon State Park)
  • Blanco (Blanco State Park)
  • Toyahvale (Balmorhea State Park)
  • Rockport (Goose Island State Park)
  • Pilot Point (Ray Roberts Lake State Park)

after January 1, 2005, you may be getting questions about wireless access in those parks. As a pilot project, the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife is providing free access for the first 3 months; after that, the cost will be around $15 per day.

Windows Software with No Adware/Spyware

CleanSoftware.org is a site that provides Windows-based software that has no adware or spyware in it. There are currently five categories:
  • Internet
  • Multimedia
  • Office
  • Security
  • Utility

As I scanned through, I saw many programs I recognize. Good first step in identifying "clean" software.

Air Force Provides Instant Messaging

In late December, the Air Force opened their instant messaging (IM) program to friends and family of Airmen. For the past two years, IM has been used through an encrypted portal within the Air Force. Now, an Airman can "sponsor" up to five people that will also have access to the portal. If you know of anyone that might be interested: https://www.my.af.mil/ For more information: http://www.af.mil/stories/story.asp?storyID=123009448

Gingerbread Computers

I wish I had found this one before Christmas. Thanks to Slashdot for:

We had one of our desktops open this holiday season -- wish I would have thought to use it as a model. ;-)

Anti-Spam Product Reviews

Network World Fusion did a pretty comprehensive test of 41 anti-spam products. If you're interested: http://www.nwfusion.com/reviews/2004/122004spampkg.html

Email Containing Sexually Explicit Information

The Federal Trade Commission has issued its final rule regarding the CAN-SPAM Act. The FTC was asked to define how to determine the purpose of an email message, specifically commercial email messages. If your library sends email messages to non-patrons (i.e., a mass email message) concerning fund-raising or commercial services you provide, you might want to read it -- just to be sure there will not be a problem. (There is a good summary on the FTC website.) In my relatively brief perusal of the rule, I did not see a reference to governmental entities (or non-profits) being exempt. In addition, this rule finalized the phrase that should be used as a warning label on commercial email that contains sexually oriented material. This phrase should be the first characters used in the subject line: SEXUALLY-EXPLICIT: Note that:
  • there are 19 characters -- you must include the colon and the space after the colon in the phrase.
  • there is a hyphen between the two words.
  • the letters are all capitals.

This phrase must be exact. So, you might see a subject line that looks like: Subject: SEXUALLY-EXPLICIT: Care to trade?

Apart from being interesting, how can this help you? Find the filter in your email software package and filter all email messages with a subject line that starts with "SEXUALLY-EXPLICIT: " This will not get rid of all sexually explicit email messages, but I'm hopeful it will decrease the number.

Style Sheets Include Speech

The World Wide Web Consortium has been working on ways to add speech elements to the creation of web pages. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) version 2.1 has already started providing properties to enable this. Version 3, which is currently in draft form, strengthens these properties. Although most browsers have not yet included this functionality, soon we should be able to write web documents that provide properties such as:
  • volume
  • balance (between channels or speakers)
  • pauses
  • sounds that provide cues before and/or after specific elements
  • voice characteristics (e.g., type of voice, rate of speech, pitch, emphasis, time taken to speak text)
  • phonetic pronunciation

Right now, alternative browsers use the elements within the HTML/XHTML/XML documents themselves to provide indications of how to speak the text. With these CSS properties, your ability as a web author will be enhanced by providing not only the words, but also control over how they are spoken.

Keep tuned . . .

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

More Digital Documents from the Federal Government

According to Government Computer News, the Government Printing Office has created a new strategic plan. Among other things, the plan states:
  • By 2008, 70% of all historic (from the year 1787) federal documents will be digitized.
  • The 53 regional depositories will be consolidated into 2 databases, one on each coast.
  • Special web search tools and training will be developed for librarians so they can locate federal information.

So, if you wondered what you would be doing in 2008, my guess would be . . . learning to use and teach a new search interface! ;-)

. . . some things will never change . . .

Icons for Your Web Site

There has been a very interesting discussion on the Web4Lib list on using icons on web sites, e.g., who uses icons, are they understandable, are they helpful, do they need to be standardized. Frank Cervone of Northwestern University mentioned that IFLA (The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions -- an international group representing library issues) had created a "standard set of icons for use with bibliographic database applications." Called the "Bibliographic Standard GUI Icon Set," it is copyright-free and available at: http://www.scran.ac.uk/fcgi-bin/IFLA_Icons.pl These icons are 32px x 32px and use gray-scale. You have seen some of these before, particularly variations on Home, Information, Help, Find, navigation between records, Print and Save. However, there are many others here as well. If you're interested, take a look. Remember, however, to add both an alt and title attribute to each image. The alt text will display if the image does not; the title text will provide a tooltip when you hover over the image (whether the image is there or not).

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Safe Computing

I hear a lot about "safe computing," but I rarely see a list of things that are relatively simple to remember and implement. Bruce Schneier has updated his list of PC security recommendations. Read the article for details, but the summary includes:
  • Turn the computer off when not using it
  • Keep your laptop with you at all times
  • Back up regularly
  • Don't use Microsoft Windows if you have a choice
  • Install applications you need; delete others
  • Don't use Internet Explorer as your browser
  • Be careful to whom and how you provide personal information
  • Use good passwords for important sites (i.e., banking)
  • Turn off HTML email
  • Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software
  • Use a firewall
  • Encrypt sensitive email messages

I like this list. Most of it is relatively easy to accomplish -- even for librarians that are not very technically-oriented. Even if you are not able to implement all of ideas, the more you can implement, the safer you will be.

Google Digitizing Library Collections

The news is finally out -- Google is digitizing parts or all of five major library collections. Harvard, Stanford, and the New York Public Library have agreed to pilot projects with Google, primarily scanning public domain works. Oxford University has agreed to have everything published before 1900 scanned. The University of Michigan, however, will have their entire collection digitized. This includes material in the public domain, as well as material that is still under copyright. Google will provide resources for the scanning, which will happen at each location. Ultimately, Google will search these digitized materials. The libraries will also received a copy of their digitized collections. Copyright is, of course, a big issue. If a Google user finds a document in the public domain, it will be displayed to them. If they find a document still under copyright, the user will see a few sentences surrounding the search term(s) and methods for obtaining the original, e.g., online bookstore, library. It will be interesting to see how this will all work itself out. Keep watching!

Monday, December 13, 2004

Microsoft NT 4.0 Support is Ending

FYI -- Microsoft paid support is ending December 31, 2004 for Windows NT 4.0. The online help should still be available for another year. If you are still running NT 4.0, it is past time to move to something else . . . Microsoft or not.

.md Domain

According to the New York Times, most of the .md top level domains are in the hands of the medical community. Originally, the .md domain was given to the country of Moldova, a former Soviet state and current the poorest nation in Europe. Although some companies worked with Moldovan companies to use the .md domain, in 2003 MaxMd now has "long-term rights from Moldova to market .md in more than 90 countries." If you haven't seen it yet, you may start noticing hospitals, clinics, medical centers, and doctors using it, e.g., phil.md.

More Internet Domains

The last time ICANN approved new domains for the Internet, it was 2000. They gave us:
  • .aero
  • .biz
  • .coop
  • .info
  • .museum
  • .name
  • .pro

Although not quite final, it looks like we will also be seeing:

  • .jobs -- identifies human resource management web sites, e.g., companyname.jobs
  • .mobi -- identifies web services and content optimized for mobile users.
  • .post -- identifies the postal community, e.g., usa.post
  • .travel -- identifies a web site dealing with the travel industry

Digital TV Over Cell Phones

A bit much? Maybe . . . but prototypes are already being created using Nokia phones near Pittsburgh. This article in Slashdot says that a standard has been finished. I shudder to think how this will affect any other data using the cell infrastructure. Is it robust enough to carry digital video, as well as data and voice? What will get precedence?

Millions of Firefox Downloads

Version 1.0 of the Firefox browser came out November 9th. On December 11th, Mozilla recorded its 10,000,000th download. Ten million downloads in just over a month. According to Information Week, Pennsylvania State University contacted their students and staff to recommend that they use a browser other than Internet Explorer because of its security problems. Don't get me wrong -- Internet Explorer is not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. However, the percentage of people using IE is decreasing -- slowly -- but it is decreasing.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Google Suggest - Revised

Richard Wiggins has provided the information I didn't have. The words provided by Google during a Google Suggest search represent the most popular user searches Google has for the letters you typed -- not necessarily the most popular web sites. What an interesting way to implement this service . . .

Friday, December 10, 2004

Just 20% of Your Time

In a posting from a Google employee, he said that "Google allows their employees to devote 20% of their working hours to any project they choose." In his case, he has been working on Google Suggest. Just think . . . what project(s) would you work on if you had 20% of your working hours to devote to it? A book? A re-write of the web site? A new service? More outreach? Reading? Learning new technologies? Attending college classes? What a great organizational idea!

Comparing Multiple Fonts on Web

Jeff Howard, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, has created a web page you can use to compare multiple fonts and their sizes. There are three columns, each with the same text. You can change each column to a different font and to a smaller or larger size. This is great if you want to see what certain fonts might look like before creating the page.

Creating PDFs

Every once in a while, I need to create a PDF. I don't do it enough to purchase the full Adobe package, though. PrimoPDF allows me to create a PDF document from Office applications, which is what I usually need.

Magnifier

The next couple of posts are mainly for me . . . so I don't lose these links. The Magnifier is a mix of CSS and javascript that allows one to magnify parts of an image. There is a great example at persistent.info, where it was created. If you have a detailed graphic (this one is a jpg; haven't tried it with a tif), this might be helpful. If you view the course of the page, you can see the CSS and javascript used to create the magnification. With a little finagling, you should be able to use this with other graphics.

Google Suggest

Some of the most interesting stuff is found in the Google Labs. Google uses this area for "not ready for prime time" applications. In this case, they have a beta version of Google Suggest. If you have a minute (that's all it will take to see how it works), check it out. As you type in characters, you will see a drop down menu of words and phrases that fit the characters you've already typed. It is interactive so that, as you add more characters, the list gets more specific. What is interesting is that you are not necessarily dropped alphabetically to the top of the list. For instance, if I type "karl" and I'm looking for "Karl Anderson," the list drops me to "Karl Rove." It looks like Google is also using their PageRank or something like it to suggest a term or phrase.

"Where Would I Get a Book?"

Although this might have been said in jest, according to an AP report on CNN, this was the answer when a university professor told a class they would need to use at least one book for a project. As librarians, we see this trend every day. The younger you are, the more likely you are to research topics using only electronic resources that you can get immediately. I can't say this is all bad, as the Internet and commercial databases are my first stops when I begin research. If I see a print or older resource cited, then I will try to get it from a library. I normally don't start my research in the library building anymore. Of course, I am usually researching technical topics, so that may influence the research process. What is interesting . . . and maybe a little scary . . . is that most people will find a couple of websites on a topic and assume they've got everything they need. Having a diversity of opinion on a topic is a great thing . . . believing the first few you come across can cause problems. Right now, most of these problems are seen in college and high school papers. However, what happens when these same people are deciding on where you should place your money for retirement? Or which medication you should take? Or which new products a company should develop? Should be interesting to watch . . .

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Replacing PowerPoint

Eric Meyer (of Cascading Style Sheets fame) has created S5 (A Simple Standards-Based Slide Show System). First of all, I like it because it is standards-based and accessible. It runs using XHTML, CSS, and javascript. You create a single file and can both run a slideshow from it and get a printable version. The next time I create a short presentation, I'm going to try it out. Maybe it will replace PowerPoint for me (you never know).

Searching Handwritten Documents

Impossible? Maybe not. The University of Massachusetts Amherst has created a manuscript retrieval system. They have a demonstration available using 1,000 pages of George Washington's manuscripts. Wouldn't this be something if we found the technology was transferable? Now, if we want to search handwritten documents, it either has to be OCR's or re-typed and then the resulting files are searched. This actually searches the original handwritten documents. Wow!

Vulnerability That Affects All/Most Browsers

I think that many assume that Firefox has invulnerable. If you've been following it's development, you can see that this is not true. It has had its share of holes. The difference between it and Internet Explorer, however, is that the holes get fixed more quickly. Here, we have a vulnerability that affects all (or at least most) browsers. It allows another site to "hi-jack" or take over the page you expect to see. It isn't an extremely critical problem, but still something to watch for. There is a good explanation at Secunia, along with a test. What will be interesting here is to watch to see how quickly Microsoft provides a patch and how quickly Mozilla does. My money is on Mozilla . . .

Keeping Up with TSLAC Databases

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission has started a newsletter specifically for information concerning the databases they provide -- TexZine. All vendor updates, alerts, and newsletters will be sent through this electronic newsletter. At this point, it looks like it is a web page you should check every two weeks. Hopefully, they will send a reminder to the Texas discussion lists to let us know when the content has changed.

TX University Sued

Just in case you hear of this, Edupage has cited an article from the December 8th issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education stating that Trinity Southern University (Plano, TX) has been sued for consumer fraud and illegal email marketing. As you might guess, this isn't a university you would normally think of when you consider Texas higher education. Apparently, the deputy attorney general of Pennsylvania has a cat, which received an MBA from the school. Enough said.

Unplug Yourself!

A good article from the Associated Press on getting away from technology for a while. Easier said than done, it is wonderful to take a trip and not take your laptop or cell phone or PDA or . . . In the article, one person said she felt "free." Those in high school and college have grown up with multiple technologies and may be able to handle it more easily than those of us that area older. However, there has to be good things said for doing "other" things, e.g., hiking, meeting friends for lunch, baking, watching movies. If it wasn't for the fact that, after a break from technology, I come back to more messages and contacts than before, I'd do it more.

E-Rate Funding Will Continue

E-Rate funding should continue . . . for now. According to the ALA Washington Office Newsline, the Congress passed HR 5419 last night, which will enable funding for E-Rate to continue. This is great news! However, my guess is that the Congress is not finished with the E-Rate and this issue will come before them in future years.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Why am I doing this?

I'm not exactly sure. Well . . . I do have some ideas. I am doing this:
  • So I can learn more about blogging. I want to see it this is helpful to me and if I can actually find the time to do it right.
  • So I have a place to put all the information and data that I read about. Maybe this will be able to act as a repository I can search to remind myself of what I read six months ago.
  • So librarians and library staff in Texas have a place to go to help them keep up with technology.

I won't be getting into the highly technical stuff. I will leave that to other blogs that do it better than I could. I usually read about library and technical standards, web publishing, filtering, technology trends, state and federal legislation and court cases that may involve libraries, and anything else that I think a library might find interesting.

Where this goes from here, we'll see. If you're interested, come along for the ride!