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Jessamyn West

I run librarian.net and metafilter.com. I am a techie librarian who lives in Vermont and travels the world.

At the edges of libraries

186-Booklabel.jpg Here's an annotated list of things that are not quite libraries, not just books. Thanks for hosting me as a guestblogger this week as I've scooted around the country with a bag full of books and a laptop. - Shelf and ownership marks at the Princeton University library including a list of ownership marks of collections and libraries absorbed into the main collections (highlights). - Library of Dust - BLDGBLOG's review of a book of photography and essays.
an Oregon state psychiatric institution began to cremate the remains of its unclaimed patients. Their ashes were then stored inside individual copper canisters and moved into a small room, where they were stacked onto pine shelves.... Over time, however, the canisters have begun to react chemically with the human ashes held inside them; this has thus created mold-like mineral outgrowths on the exterior surfaces of these otherwise gleaming cylinders."
- Publishing Food #2 - Edible Geography looks at miniature cookbooks and chocolate letters and robotic food chefs. - Fore-Edge book painting comes in classic and modern forms - Brian Dettmer's book art - American Woodworker shows people how to make a Lumber Library to show off fancy woods. Another Wood Book. - Typo of the Day for Librarians - a compilation of common library catalog typos. - The International Edible Books festival album pages always make me hungry, for words and snacks - A few more library mash-ups from an old MetaFilter post. And BibliOdyssey is always good for more biblioporn. In memory of Steve Cisler, Apple's digital librarian and all-around awesome guy.

What's really on bittorrent anyway?

800px-Leech_bittorrent.png Ed Felten from the Freedom to Tinker blog has written a post with Princeton senior Sauhard Sahi called Census of Files Available via BitTorrent. The survey takes a random sample of files available on a trackerless BitTorrent system. The article is full of caveats--discussion happening in the comments--but does dig into the likely copyright status of the works they found.
"[A]ll files that were available were equally likely to appear in the sample -- the sample was not weighted by number of downloads, and it probably contains files that were never downloaded at all. So we can't say anything about the characteristics of BitTorrent downloads, or even of files that are downloaded via BitTorrent, only about files that are available on BitTorrent."

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Phil Agre located, search not quite over

Follow-up on an earlier post. Phil Agre has been found and is safe according to the LAPD Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. The facebook group Fans & Friends of Phil Agre is not as sure about the "safe" designation and is continuing to investigate.

"The only perfect reference work" Nelson's Perpetual Loose-Leaf Encyclopaedia

From Popular Mechanics from 1910 comes this advertisement for Nelson's Perpetual Loose-Leaf Encyclopaedia.

nelsonlooseleaf-sm.jpg
Reviewed by the New York Times in 1908, the set was supposed to be

"A book that never grows old, that is, never antiquated, that will give answer years after its publication to the most modern of queries -- such a book, one imagines, may be found in the great classic of poetry whose verse, metaphorically speaking, breathes the spirit of perpetual youth." Nelson's claimed it had a permanent editorial staff who were "constantly on watch for all important new facts for the benefit of Nelson's subscribers"
It was advertised heavily in many types of publications (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). Loose leaf was big business in the early part of the 20th Century. Companies were offering "a loose-leaf system for every purpose." One loose-leaf company began in New York City in 1908 and still makes at-a-glance calendars to this day. Other loose-leaf titles flourished such as Nelson new loose-leaf medicine, Winston's cumulative loose-leaf encyclopedia (read online) and Oxford loose-leaf surgery (read online) Nelson's was still going strong in 1930 where a set cost $99.50 plus $6/year for updates -- buy a set, get a free bookcase -- Nelson's stopped publishing updates sometime in the 1930s. Thomas Nelson & Sons is still around today, the world's largest Christian publisher, but their company history curiously makes no mention of their innovative encyclopaedia. See also: "A Solution to the Problem of Updating Encyclopedias" by Eric M. Hammer and Edward N. Zalta, 1997.

Airplane bird strikes are now public information

3288866270_23cb40f37c.jpg The FAA has a lot of public data on air traffic safety if you know where to look for it. Last year, in response to a highly publicized bird strike, the FAA went live with their Wildlife Strike Database. The US Bird Strike Committee has had their presentations published in the science journal Human Wildlife Conflicts. Read about A decade of U.S. Air Force bat strikes, Forensic bird strike ID techniques and Suspending vulture effigies from roosts to reduce bird strikes. Not for the squeamish: the wildlife strike photo gallery.
Releasing the data was an about-face for the FAA, which refused to release the records because it felt doing so would jeopardize safety. If the information were made public, the argument went, it would discourage airlines and airports from reporting bird strikes. The agency changed its position under pressure from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who says the move is part of a larger shift toward full disclosure. "The Department of Transportation is, among other things, a safety agency," he wrote on his blog. "Public disclosure is our job. The sea change in government transparency is beginning, and we are happy to be a part of it."
See also: trends in unruly passengers. [Photo from Australian War Memorial]

Slime as Engineer - brainless mold mimics Tokyo subway

slimemold.jpg Physarum polycephalum + oat flakes = Tokyo subway map?
Because they couldn't mathematically determine a "perfect" solution, the researchers decided to task the slime mold with a problem human designers had already tackled. They placed oat flakes (a slime mold favorite) on agar plates in a pattern that mimicked the locations of cities around Tokyo and impregnated the plates with P. polycephalum at the point representing Tokyo itself. They then watched the slime mold grow for 26 hours, creating tendrils that interconnected the food supplies. Different plates exhibited a range of solutions, but the visual similarity to the Tokyo rail system was striking in many of them
[via jetlib express, abstract of full article]

The peculiar challenges of Chinese Braille

chinesebraille.jpg The Braille system, in which the characters of a language are represented via the position of dots in a six-dot cell, is called "the world's first binary encoding scheme" for the characters of a language. Though text-to-speech technology enables many blind people to read via computer, Braille is still considered an integral part of literacy for blind people. Most languages use one cell to represent one language phoneme. All Braille encodings employ the left-to-right evenly spaced cell patterns. Japanese Braille, Korean Braille, and Tibetan Braille (developed in 1992) have reassigned all the Braille blocks to sounds in their own languages. Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese Braille, based on pin-yin, use three characters per syllable: onset, rime and tone. The tone characters are frequently disregarded, creating ambiguity and problems for Chinese Braille students. See also: Chinese-designed super cool Braille embossing printer/labeler, DotlessBraille for info on open source LaTeX and XML to Braille translation software and a terrific Braille FAQ, Moon Code and an early Braille book burning. [photo of performance art exhibit via impact lab]

Read Houdini's books via Google Books and Library of Congress

houdini-book-loc.jpg
houdini-chains.jpgThe Harry Houdini Collection from the Library of Congress is available (at least 30 or 40 full texts of published materials) through Google Books.
Read titles such as The right way to do wrong: an exposé of successful criminals and Ventriloquism explained: and juggler's tricks, or legerdemain exposed: with remarks on vulgar superstitions. Also at the Library of Congress: Houdini a Biographical Chronology and the Variety Stage: Harry Houdini collection. [via more or less bunk]

Catch a cold for the holidays: a history of The Common Cold Unit

coldwars.jpgThe Common Cold Unit was formed in 1946, "a collection of huts" in Salisbury, Wiltshire, UK. Volunteers were recruited to come and get infected with cold germs in an effort to understand how the rhinovirus incubates and spreads. Created by David Tyrrell who, in the course of his work "discovered almost everything we know about cold viruses" and published extensively worked at the CCU until its closure after which he published this book.
Its aim was to undertake laboratory and epidemiological research on the common cold, with a view to reducing its human and economic costs... Thirty volunteers were required every fortnight during trial periods. The unit advertised in newspapers and magazines for volunteers, who were paid a small amount. A stay at the unit was presented in these advertisements as an unusual holiday opportunity. The volunteers were infected with preparations of cold viruses and typically stayed for ten days. They were housed in small groups of two or three, with each group strictly isolated from the others during the course of the stay. Volunteers were allowed to go out for walks in the countryside south of Salisbury, but residential areas were out of bounds.
The unit was closed in 1989 after failing to find a cure. The British Library has archived a series of interviews with doctors and other CCU staff, part of their Archival Sound Recordings collections. Wonky sniffling details can be read in this PDF "The Common Cold--My Favourite Infection" written by a CCU researcher.

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Skin contact between performers creates a positive social environment

Luke Fishbeck aka Lucky Dragons demonstrates his Make A Baby project. [more]
[W]hen you hold one of the wires in your hand and someone else holds one and you touch each other, it makes noises. If you have ever touched someone and had them make noise, you know it's nice. And when that's shifted by a computer and a tall, soft spoken, half halo-haired man from California it's extra exaggerated.
[via Fader]

"If we're there, where aren't we?" -- PBS looks at life online

Former BB guestblogger Douglas Rushkoff and PBS produccer Rachel Dretzin have created a documentary called Digital Nation. PBS has added some learning resources along with the standard mini-movies with titles like "Getting Ready for Robots." Viewable Feb. 1 online, Feb. 2 on Frontline at 9 pm.
doug.jpgDretzin and Rushkoff begin on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, home to some of the most technologically savvy students in the world. Many of these "digital natives," who have hardly known a world in which they weren't connected 24/7, confess to having increasingly limited attention spans that make it difficult for them to read books or learn in conventional ways. "Honestly, I can't sit somewhere for two hours straight and focus on anything," says a student named Alex. "Maybe it's some technology dependence I've developed over the course of the years, but at this point I don't think I can go back to just focusing on one thing."

Copyright disputes in the 1840s

Charles_Dickens_by_Daily_Joker.jpgWho is Charles Dickens ranting about in this letter to Henry Austin?
"Is it tolerable that besides being robbed and rifled, an author should be forced to appear in any form - in any vulgar dress - in any atrocious company - that he should have no choice of his audience - no controul [sic?]over his distorted text - and that he should be compelled to jostle out of the course, the best men in this country who only ask to live, by writing?"
The not entirely surprising answer: American Publishers. Read more about the debate at the Literary and Debating Society at the Mechanics' Institute of Montreal (now known as the Atwater Library and Computer Centre).

Lessig on Copyright and Culture: "Things could have been different"

For the Love of Culture, Google, Copyright and our Future. Astute and moving commentary by Lawrence Lessig, a love letter to the real-space library.
Whatever your view of it, notice first just how different this future promises to be. In real libraries, in real space, access is not metered at the level of the page (or the image on the page). Access is metered at the level of books (or magazines, or CDs, or DVDs). You get to browse through the whole of the library, for free. You get to check out the books you want to read, for free. The real-space library is a den protected from the metering of the market. It is of course created within a market; but like kids in a playroom, we let the life inside the library ignore the market outside. This freedom gave us something real. It gave us the freedom to research, regardless of our wealth; the freedom to read, widely and technically, beyond our means. It was a way to assure that all of our culture was available and reachable--not just that part that happens to be profitable to stock. It is a guarantee that we have the opportunity to learn about our past, even if we lack the will to do so. The architecture of access that we have in real space created an important and valuable balance between the part of culture that is effectively and meaningfully regulated by copyright and the part of culture that is not. The world of our real-space past was a world in which copyright intruded only rarely, and when it did, its relationship to the objectives of copyright was relatively clear. We forget all this today.

Funny kayak.com easter egg

For LOST fans: Search kayak.com for Sydney to LAX one-way non-stop on 9/22/2010.

oceanic.jpg [via the Franklin Fellow]

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A concise history of the [Judas] Priest logo. [via modcult]