Joho the Blog

January 7, 2015

Harvard Library adopts LibraryCloud

According to a post by the Harvard Library, LibraryCloud is now officially a part of the Library toolset. It doesn’t even have the word “pilot” next to it. I’m very happy and a little proud about this.

LibraryCloud is two things at once. Internal to Harvard Library, it’s a metadata hub that lets lots of different data inputs be normalized, enriched, and distributed. As those inputs change, you can change LibraryCloud’s workflow process once, and all the apps and services that depend upon those data can continue to work without making any changes. That’s because LibraryCloud makes the data that’s been input available through an API which provides a stable interface to that data. (I am overstating the smoothness here. But that’s the idea.)

To the Harvard community and beyond, LibraryCloud provides open APIs to access tons of metadata gathered by Harvard Library. LibraryCloud already has metadata about 18M items in the Harvard Library collection — one of the great collections — including virtually all the books and other items in the catalog (nearly 13M), a couple of million of images in the VIA collection, and archives at the folder level in Harvard OASIS. New data can be added relatively easily, and because LibraryCloud is workflow based, that data can be updated, normalized and enriched automatically. (Note that we’re talking about metadata here, not the content. That’s a different kettle of copyrighted fish.)

LibraryCloud began as an idea of mine (yes, this is me taking credit for the idea) about 4.5 years ago. With the help of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab, which I co-directed until a few months ago, we invited in local libraries and had a great conversation about what could be done if there were an open API to metadata from multiple libraries. Over time, the Lab built an initial version of LibraryCloud primarily with Harvard data, but with scads of data from non-Harvard sources. (Paul Deschner, take many many bows. Matt Phillips, too.) This version of LibraryCloud — now called lilCloud — is still available and is still awesome.

With the help of the Library Lab, a Harvard internal grant-giving group, we began a new version based on a workflow engine and hosted in the Amazon cloud. (Jeffrey Licht, Michael Vandermillen, Randy Stern, Paul Deschner, Tracey Robinson, Robin Wendler, Scott Wicks, Jim Borron, Mary Lee Kennedy, and many more, take bows as well. And we couldn’t have done it without you, Arcardia Foundation!) (Note that I suffer from Never Gets a List Right Syndrome, so if I left you out, blame my brain and let me know. Don’t be shy. I’m ashamed already.)

The Harvard version of LibraryCloud is a one-library implementation, although that one library comprises 73 libraries. Thus the LibraryCloud Harvard has adopted is a good distance from the initial vision of a single API for accessing multiple libraries. But it’s a big first step. It’s open source code [documentation]. Who knows?

I think it’s impressive that Harvard Library has taken this step toward adopting a platform architecture, and it’s cool beyond cool that this architecture is further opening up Harvard Library’s metadata riches to any developer or site that wants to use it. (This also would not have happened without Harvard Library’s enlightened Open Metadata policy.)

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January 6, 2015

Been working on something (and it’s not this poemsicle).

I haven’t been blogging because I’ve been working many, many hours a day on a project that’s set to go live on Thursday at 10am EST, or so we hope.

Hopefully you’re going to love it or hate it.

In the meantime, here’s a tiny poem that is apropos of nothing. (Seriously. It’s not a clue to something – just something I woke up with.)

The hole in a teacup
is not for the tea
but for your finger.
Thus does a nothing
give intention a lift.

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December 27, 2014

Oculus Thrift

I just received Google’s Oculus Rift emulator. Given that it’s made of cardboard, it’s all kinds of awesome.

Google Cardboard is a poke in Facebook’s eyes. FB bought Oculus Rift, the virtual reality headset, for $2B. Oculus hasn’t yet shipped a product, but its prototypes are mind-melting. My wife and I tried one last year at an Israeli educational tech lab, and we literally had to have people’s hands on our shoulders so we wouldn’t get so disoriented that we’d swoon. The Lab had us on a virtual roller coaster, with the ability to turn our heads to look around. It didn’t matter that it was an early, low-resolution prototype. Swoon.

Oculus is rumored to be priced at around $350 when it ships, and they will sell tons at that price. Basically, anyone who tries one will be a customer or will wish s/he had the money to be a customer. Will it be confined to game players? Not a chance on earth.

So, in the midst of all this justifiable hype about the Oculus Rift, Google announced Cardboard: detailed plans for how to cut out and assemble a holder for your mobile phone that positions it in front of your eyes. The Cardboard software divides the screen in two and creates a parallaxed view so you think you’re seeing in 3D. It uses your mobile phone’s kinetic senses to track the movement of your head as you purview your synthetic domain.

I took a look at the plans for building the holder and gave up. For $15 I instead ordered one from Unofficial Cardboard.

When it arrived this morning, I took it out of its shipping container (made out of cardboard, of course), slipped in my HTC mobile phone, clicked on the Google Cardboard software, chose a demo, and was literally — in the virtual sense — flying over the earth in any direction I looked, watching a cartoon set in a forest that I was in, or choosing YouTube music videos by turning to look at them on a circular wall.

Obviously I’m sold on the concept. But I’m also sold on the pure cheekiness of Google’s replicating the core functionality of the Oculus Rift by using existing technology, including one made of cardboard.

(And, yeah, I’m a little proud of the headline.)

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December 25, 2014

Instant review: The Interview

I watched The Interview tonight in part because for $6.00 I wanted to see it, and in part because I want to encourage this mode of distribution — no, not by the intervention of terrorists but over the Web.

Given the build up, I was surprised that it’s not a political satire at all. It’s a media satire. The butt of the jokes are the media, with Kim Jong Un there merely as a convenient villain.

The first two thirds were pretty funny. The last third is more predictable and pointlessly violent. Sort of like Pineapple Express. I don’t get why that sort of violence is supposed to be funny. It’s like the Three Stooges with hatchets.

Anyway, I liked it more than I expected to.

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December 24, 2014

Fame. Web Fame. Mass Web Fame.

A weird thing happened yesterday. First I got a call from a Swedish journalist writing about a Danish kid who has become famous on the Net for nothing in particular and is now weighing his options as a possible recording star. Since I’ve written about Web fame (in Small Pieces Loosely Joined, in 2002) and talked about it (at the keynote of the first ROFLcon conference in 2008), he gave me a talk and we had a fun conversation.

That conversation prompted me to write a post about how Web fame has changed over the past few years. I was mostly through a first draft when I got a call from a journalist at a well-known US newspaper who is doing a story about Web fame, and wanted to talk with me about it. Huh?

Keep in mind that I hadn’t yet posted about the topic. He got to me totally independently of the Swedish journalist. And it’s not like I spend my mornings talking to the press. It’s just a completely weird coincidence.

Anyway, afterwards I posted what I had written. It’s at Medium. Here’s the beginning:

It’s a great time to be famous, at least if you’re interested in innovating new types of fame. If you’re instead looking for old-fashioned fame, you’re out of luck. We’re in a third epoch of fame, and this one is messier than any of the others. (Sure, that’s an oversimplification, but what isn’t?)

Before the Web there was Mass Fame, the fame bestowed upon lucky (?) individuals by the mass media. The famous were not like you and me. They were glamorous, had an aura, were smiled upon by the gods.

Fame back then was something that was done to the audience. We could accept or reject those thrust upon us by the the mass media, but since fame was defined as mass awareness of someone, the mass media were ultimately in control.

With the dawn of the Web there was Internet Fame. We made people famous…[more]

(Amanda Palmer, whom I use as a positive example of the new possibilities, facebooked the post, which makes me one degree from famous!)

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December 15, 2014

[cluetrain] How Uber could end its PR nightmare

Uber’s hamfisted behavior continues to get it bad press. The latest: its “surge” pricing, algorithmically set according to demand, went up 400% in Sydney during the hostage-taking event.

Uber has responded appropriately, offering refunds, and providing free rides out of the area. At the same time, it’s keeping its pricing elevated to encourage more Uber drivers to get into their cars to pick up passengers there.

Some of my friends are suggesting that when someone at Uber notices surge prices spiking and it’s not snowing or rush hour, they ought to look into it. Fine, but here’s a radical idea for decentralizing that process:

Uber creates a policy that says that Uber drivers are first and foremost members of their community, and are thus empowered and encouraged to take the initiative in times of crisis, whether that’s to stop for someone in need on the street or to help the population get out of harm’s way during a civic emergency.

Then Uber rewards drivers for doing so.

That is, Uber’s new motto could be “Don’t be a dick.”

 


And for the other side of humanity: The #illridewithyou [I’ll ride with you] hashtag – Sydney folks offering to accompany Moslems who fear a backlash — makes you proud to be a human.

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December 14, 2014

Jeff Jarvis on journalism as a service

My wife and I had breakfast with Jeff Jarvis on Thursday, so I took the opportunity to do a quick podcast with him about his new book Geeks Bearing Gifts: Imagining New Futures for News.

I like the book a lot. It proposes that we understand journalism as a provider of services rather than of content. Jeff then dissolves journalism into its component parts and asks us to imagine how they could be envisioned as sustainable services designed to help readers (or viewers) accomplish their goals. It’s more a brainstorming session (as Jeff confirms in the podcast) than a “10 steps to save journalism” tract, and some of the possibilities seem more plausible — and more journalistic — than others, but that’s the point.

If I were teaching a course on the future of journalism, or if I were convening my newspaper’s staff to think about the future of our newspaper, I’d have them read Geeks Bearing Gifts if only to blow up some calcified assumptions.

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December 13, 2014

[2b2k] The Harvard Business School Digital Initiative’s webby new blog

The Harvard Business School Digital Initiative [twitter:digHBS] — led by none other than Berkman‘s Dr. Colin Maclay — has launched its blog. The Digital Initiative is about helping HBS explore the many ways the Net is affecting (or not affecting) business. From my point of view, it’s also an opportunity to represent, and advocate for, Net values within HBS.[1] (Disclosure: I am officially affiliated with the Initiative as an unremunerated advisor. Colin is a dear friend.[2])

The new blog is off to a good start:

I also have a post there titled “Generative Business and the Power of What We Ignore.” Here’s how it starts:

“I ignore them. That’s my conscious decision.”

So replied CV Harquail to a question from HBS professor Karim Lakhani about the effect of bad actors in the model of “generative business” she was explaining in a recent talk sponsored by the Digital Initiative.

Karim’s question addressed an issue that more than one of us around the table were curious about. Given CV’s talk, the question was perhaps inevitable.

CV’s response was not inevitable. It was, in fact, surprising. And it seems to me to have been not only entirely appropriate, but also brave… [more]

  


[1] I understand that the Net doesn’t really have values. It’s shorthand.
[2] I’m very happy to say that more than half of the advisors are women.

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Cézanne’s unfortunate wife

We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for its amazing, bottomless collection, but while we were there we visited the Madame Cézanne exhibit. It’s unsettling and, frankly, repellant.

Please note that I understand that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m the sort of museum-goer who likes the works that he likes. I can’t even predict what is going to touch me, much less make sense of it. Which is, I believe, more or less the opposite of how actual criticism works.

The Met has assembled twenty-four paintings and sketches by Cézanne of his wife Hortense. As compositions some are awesome (he is Cézanne after all), but as portraits they seem technically pretty bad: her face is sometimes unrecognizable from one picture to the next, even ones that were painted within a couple of years of one another.

Madame Cézanne (Hortense Fiquet, 1850–1922) in the Conservator

Hortense Fiquet in a striped skirt

But what does that matter so long as Cézanne has expressed her soul, or his feelings about her, or both? Or, in this case, neither. You stare at those portraits and ask what he loved in her. Or, for that matter, hated in her? Did he feel anything at all about her?

The exhibit’s helpful wall notes explain that in fact there seems to have been little love in their relationship, at least on his part. The NY Times review of the show musters all the sympathy it can for Hortense and is well worth reading for that.

We know little about Madame Cézanne. And we learn little more from these portraits. It is fine to say that Cézanne was interested in shape, form, and light, not personality. But the fact that he had her sit immobile for countless hours so he could paint a still life made of flesh is a problem, especially since Cézanne seems to have loved his peaches and pears more than he loved this woman.

Cézanne: Still life with apples

Here’s a little more eye-bleach for you: a quick Picasso painting of a woman who sleeping is yet more alive than Madame Cézanne as represented in her husband’s careful artistry:

Picasso's Repose

 


On the far more positive side, we also went to the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit of Matisse’s cut-outs.

Matisse's cut-outs, at MOMA

I’ve always liked Matisse, but have never taken him too seriously because he seems incapable of conveying anything except joy — although a full range of joy, from the sensuous to the spiritual. I’m sure I’m not appreciating him fully, but not matter what, oh my, what a genius of shape and color. I didn’t want to leave.

If you can see this collection, do. So much fun.

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December 7, 2014

[2b2k] Agre on minds and hands

I recently published a column at KMWorld pointing out some of the benefits of having one’s thoughts share a context with people who build things. Today I came across an article by Jethro Masis titled “Making AI Philosophical Again: On Philip E. Agre’s Legacy.” Jethro points to a 1997 work by the greatly missed Philip Agre that says it so much better:

…what truly founds computational work is the practitioner’s evolving sense of what can be built and what cannot” (1997, p. 11). The motto of computational practitioners is simple: if you cannot build it, you do not understand it. It must be built and we must accordingly understand the constituting mechanisms underlying its workings.This is why, on Agre’s account, computer scientists “mistrust anything unless they can nail down all four corners of it; they would, by and large, rather get it precise and wrong than vague and right” (Computation and Human Experience, 1997, p. 13).

(I’m pretty sure I read Computation and Human Experience many years ago. Ah, the Great Forgetting of one in his mid-60s.)

Jethro’s article overall attempts to adopt Agre’s point that “The technical and critical modes of research should come together in this newly expanded form of critical technical consciousness,” and to apply this to Heidegger’s idea of Zuhandenheit: how things show themselves to us as useful to our plans and projects; for Heidegger, that is the normal, everyday way most things present themselves to us. This leads Jethro to take us through Agre’s criticisms of AI modeling, its failure to represent context except as vorhanden [pdf], (Heidegger’s term for how things look when they are torn out of the context of our lived purposes), and the need to thoroughly rethink the idea of consciousness as consisting of representations of an external world. Agre wants to work out “on a technical level” how this can apply to AI. Fascinating.


Here’s another bit of brilliance from Agre:

For Agre, this is particularly problematic because “as long as an underlying metaphor system goes unrecognized, all manifestations of trouble in technical work will be interpreted as technical difficulties and not as symptoms of a deeper, substantive problem.” (p. 260 of CHE)

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