Self Driving Cars

Google's Self Driving Car

While this has nothing to do with library science, it is an interesting development in technology and I’d love to hear what everyone else is thinking about it.

I read about self driving cars a while ago and was torn between thinking “Oh Cool!” and “Fat Chance!” The fact is that self driving cars are becoming much closer to a reality and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I think that if everyone in the country was in a self driving car I’d be okay with it – but having computer controlled cars alongside human controlled just offers way too many possibilities for the computer to fail in predicting stupid human behavior.

It sounds like the plan is to ease us in to these self driving cars by starting incrementally.

Experts like [Lawrence] Burns say we won’t suddenly jump to a fully autonomous car. Instead, we will start to see systems that can take over in certain specialized situations, like traffic jams. For example, if you get caught on a Los Angeles freeway at rush hour, with miles to go and bumper-to-bumper traffic, just press a button and let the car do the mindless task of moving ahead a few inches at a time. If the car needs help, it will let you know.

Already we have cars that can tell us when drift out of our lane or are about to back in to a wall, so it will be more little things like this until before we know it (10 years is the prediction) our cars will be driving us not the other way around.

Learn more in this article on Yale Environment 360.

Technology Grant Success Stories Needed

I received this via email and figured that some of my readers might be interested.

Pam MacKellar is looking for technology grant success stories to include in her new book: Writing Successful Technology Grant Proposals: A LITA Guide.

If you have been successful at winning a grant for a library project of any kind that utilizes technology, she’d love to hear from you! Just go to www.pamelamackellar.com/techgrants and complete the form by April 30, 2011. One lucky person who submits a success story will win a copy of the new book.

Questions: Contact Pam at pmackellar182@gmail.com

101 Free Tech Books

A couple of months ago I wrote about 101 Free Tech Books for you all. This month I want to remind you that this site is a must for anyone interested in technology or getting free books! Because of my previous post I just won five free tech books! This will bring my count of free books to 7 since signing up in the fall (and have seen my librarian friends get free books too). For all of the librarians reading this, sign up and try to get some updated books for your collections!!

Google and Data

Two new(ish) tools from Google make it easier to examine and organize your data. Back in November they announced Google Refine (which looks totally awesome if I do say so myself):

Google Refine is a power tool for working with messy data sets, including cleaning up inconsistencies, transforming them from one format into another, and extending them with new data from external web services or other databases. Version 2.0 introduces a new extensions architecture, a reconciliation framework for linking records to other databases (like Freebase), and a ton of new transformation commands and expressions.

And this week was the announcement for opening up the Public Data Explorer to be used against your own data:

Today, we’re opening the Public Data Explorer to your data. We’re making a new data format, the Dataset Publishing Language (DSPL), openly available, and providing an interface for anyone to upload their datasets. DSPL is an XML-based format designed from the ground up to support rich, interactive visualizations like those in the Public Data Explorer. The DSPL language and upload interface are available in Google Labs.

If I had more time to play with organizing and analyzing data I would be playing with these tools! Instead I’m sharing the info with you all so you can tell me your experiences!!

Are you backing up?

There was an article on TechCrunch today about a massive mistake made by Flickr:

IT architect and Flickr user Mirco Wilhelm couldn’t log on to his 5-year old account yesterday, and when he asked the Flickr team about this issue they flat out told him they had accidentally flushed his entire account, and the 4,000 photos that were in it, straight down the drain.

Apparently Wilhelm reported a Flickr user with an account that held ‘obviously stolen material’ to the company last weekend, but a staff member erroneously incinerated his account instead of the culprit’s.

Now those who know me, know that I post all my pictures on Flickr but you may not know that I do keep a copy of all of my pictures on my computer and on an external hard drive. Basically I have my pictures in three places so that if something like this happens I’ll still have my pictures. So my question to you is – are you backing up your data?

I got a recommendation for a Flickr backup application called Bulkr. It works on Windows, Mac and Linux so it’s an option for all of us. I also have a lot of other Flickr applications bookmarked on my Delicious account (which I also back up) if you’re interested in trying other options.

What you choose doesn’t matter, as long as you’re backing up the content you keep online because accidents happen!

Nook Color Review

This Christmas I got a Nook Color from my hubby and mother. I’ve been using it for a few days and I think it’s time to share my opinions.

First things first, if you have an ebook reader you must download Calibre. Calibre is an open source ebook management application that runs on Windows, Mac and Linux (a flavor for everyone). It’s a great way to convert files from one format to another, to manage all of your books and to download news from the web to your reader.

I have started with a bunch of free and public domain materials (nothing purchased yet). I chose the Nook over other alternatives because it could open so many formats of ebook and it runs on the Android operating system so that gives me some options for openness should I decide to root the device (a practice that has recently been declared legal). However I have found some downsides to the supposed openness of the Nook. While I can read materials purchased or downloaded from other sites, these materials are treated like second class citizens on the Nook. What do I mean? Well my EPubs and PDFs can’t be mounted on the home screen. I can only access these materials by browsing my shelves or files. I also can’t use the built in social networking functionality on materials that are not from Barnes & Noble. Basically I can read these materials, but they’re harder to get to and not as functional.

I’m reading The Art of Community right now and have just figured out how to highlight passages (a big plus). I can also access all of my highlights and notes in one menu. Now for the minus – I can’t find a way to download or share these quotes. If this were a Barnes and Noble publication I could share the quotes one by one with the ‘share’ function, but because this is a PDF (converted to Epub in Calibre) I can just highlight and that’s the end of it. This seems like a huge oversight on the part of Barnes and Noble (or maybe just an anti-feature put in place to make me want to root the darn thing).

Regarding reading on the device, I like it! It’s not E Ink and some people might be turned off by that, but I altered the brightness, font, and background color so that it’s not too harsh on my eyes. I like how each it is to turn the pages and find your bookmarks or highlighted passages. A neat feature we found last night was the ability to search a dictionary for a highlighted word. I can also search for it in Google or Wikipedia (if connected to the wifi).

My overall review is that I’m happy I have the Nook Color and as each day goes by I get closer and closer to wanting to root it so that I can have a truly open system (like I thought I was getting). If you happen to have more knowledge than me please comment here so that I can learn even more about my Nook.

Get yourself some free tech books

Tech books are expensive! A few months ago I signed up for 101FreeTechBooks.com to try and offset some of that cost. It only took me a month before I won my first tech book!! Basically, you sign up, put some books on your wish list and then if you win you get one of the books shipped to your for free. You really can’t beat it. So, just a quick tip for all you techies and librarians who want to learn to be techies :) Sign up at 101FeeTechBooks.com – you’ve got nothing to lose and lots of awesome books to gain.

No more Delicious?

Some of you have probably heard that Delicious is possibly going to be turned off by Yahoo!. One of my favorite mashups examples is using Delicious to create ‘link rolls.’ In fact link rolls power the links page on both my Library Mashups and Practical Open Source Software book sites. So the question now is what the heck do I do?

Well, first I’m all for petitioning Yahoo! to open source Delicious so that it can not online live on, but probably get more development attention than Yahoo! ever gave it. If you like this idea you can try to get that to happen by participating in this petition (click the flame to the right or this link).

Next, I recommend that you backup your links now and regularly while we wait to see what is going to happen to Delicious.

Finally, some colleagues have already switched to Diigo, a tool that I tried a while ago but ended up leaving to return to Delicious. It looks like I’ll be giving it another shot now that it might be my only option. For this post I did a search on Diigo to see if I could use it for my mashups still and have found that I can. Diigo offers linkrolls just like Delicious did. I haven’t tested them at all, but this is promising to say the least.

[update] There is a blog post out there saying that Delicious will move on and not close, but I can’t get it to load, so I haven’t read it yet. [/update]

Rant about the cloud

Cloud computing is the new big things and in many cases I live my life in the cloud. I work in a virtual office and share files with my colleagues using various cloud servers. Our customers’ systems are in the cloud (a benefit of using Koha) and this works well for both them and us. But when it comes to my personal computer there are some things that just don’t belong in the cloud – or at least shouldn’t be cloud only.

A few months ago I ranted about StarCraft II and the fact that I couldn’t play offline. Many said it was possible, but no matter what I did, I had to be online to play the game. This meant that when I was in airports and airplanes I couldn’t play the game. Now, my husband tells me that a tool he likes to use is going to be moved to the cloud. This too is a big problem when traveling in particular, but in other instances too.

Right now we’re in a hotel that makes us pay for wifi. We’re not going to pay for both of us to be online at the same time so we’re swapping the wifi connection back and forth. Yesterday I was able to work on answering emails and chatting with friends while he used his tools offline. That won’t be possible soon if things are changed with this application.

My point here is that while the cloud is all fancy and new and very very useful most of the time, there are some things that we need to think carefully about before moving all of our applications to the cloud – the first being that high speed Internet is not available to everyone – and if it is available to everyone, not everyone can afford it – so in order to stay accessible we need to think twice before moving everything out into the ether.

Rant done.

An Open Source Government

There was an interesting article on internetnews.com about open sourcing government. At first I read the title as getting government to use open source software – but what it really talks about is opening up government so that they can harness the power of crowdsourcing and the wisdom of crowds!! How awesome is that?

As an example in place well before Obama came to office, [Beth Noveck] cited the Patent and Trademark Office’s Peer-to-Patent project, where members of the scientific community are invited to assist in a patent examiner’s review of an application.

Patent examiners are famously overworked. The backlog of applications is believed to be around 1 million, and examiners have less than 24 hours to determine if an innovation is, in fact, new. Tapping into the community of scientists, engineers and inventors who are experts in the field has proven a practical way of crowd-sourcing patent reviews, with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of patents and speeding up the process, Noveck said.

“Within one institution within one firm we don’t always have all the skills necessary to actually do the tasks at hand,” she said. “This is the phenomenon that I like to think of as collaborative governance.”

If the wisdom of the crowds can improve the Patent Office, why not other areas of government?

This will an interesting process to keep an eye on. For now, you can read up on the project at the patent office by reading my summary of a talk at NFAIS earlier this year.