TriLUG, open source software, and satisfaction

This is posting about TriLUG, open source software, and satisfaction for doing a job well-done.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, I lived in Raleigh (North Carolina), and a fledgling community was growing called the Triangle Linux User’s Group (TriLUG). I participated in a few of their meetings. While I was interested in open source software, I was not so interested in Linux. My interests were more along the lines of the application stack, not necessarily systems administration nor Internet networking.

I gave a presentation to the User’s Group on the combined use of PHP and MySQL — “Smart HTML pages with PHP“. Because of this I was recruited to write a Web-based membership application. Since flattery will get you everywhere with me, I was happy to do it. After a couple of weeks, the application was put into place and seemed to function correctly. That was a bit more than ten years ago, probably during the Spring of 2001.

The other day I got an automated email message from the User’s Group. The author of the message wanted to know if I wanted to continue my membership? I replied how that was not necessary since I had long since moved away to northern Indiana.

I then got to wondering whether or not the message I received had been sent by my application. It was a long shot, but I enquired anyway. Sure enough, I got a response from Jeff Schornick, a TriLUG board member, who told me “Yes, your application was the tool that had been used.” How satisfying! How wonderful to know that something I wrote more than ten years ago was still working.

Just as importantly, Jeff wanted to know about open source licensing. I had not explicitly licensed the software, something that I only learned was necessary from Dan Chudnov later. After a bit of back and forth, the original source code was supplemented with the GNU Public License, packaged up, and distributed from a Git repository. Over the years the User’s Group had modified it to overcome a few usability issues, and they wanted to distribute the source code using the most legitimate means possible.

This experience was extremely enriching. I originally offered my skills, and they returned benefits to the community greater than the expense of my time. The community then came back to me because they wanted to express their appreciation and give credit where credit was due.

Open source software not necessarily about computer technology. It is just as much, if not more, about people and the communities they form.

Raising awareness of open access publications

I was asked the other day about ways to make people aware of open access journal publications, and this posting echoes much of my response.

Thanks again for taking the time this morning to discuss some of the ways open-access journals are using social media and other technology to distribute content and engage readers. I am on the board of [name deleted] recently transitioned to an open access format, and we are looking to maximize the capabilities of this new, free, and on-line format. To that end, any additional insights you might be able to share about effective social media applications for open-access sources, or other exemplary electronic journals you may be able to recommend, would be most helpful.

As you know, I have not been ignoring you as much as I have been out of town. Thank you for your patience.

I am only able to share my personal experiences here, and they are not intended to be standards of best practices. Yet, here are some ideas:

  • Exploit RSS – RSS is an XML technology used to syndicate content. It is the foundation of blogs. Do what you can to make sure your journal content is syndicated via RSS. This way people can “subscribe” to your journal and they will get alerts when new content becomes available.
  • Create a mailing list – On your journal’s site, allow people to submit their email addresses. Keep these email addresses in a list (database) and when new issues of your journal are created, send messages to the people in the list. Do not use the list for any other purpose.
  • Advertise – Identify mailing lists where discussions take place surrounding the topic of your journal. When your journal creates new issues, send a table of contents sort of message to the mailing lists.
  • Blog about your journal – If you or any of your colleagues who edit the journal blog, then write up things you find interesting in your journal in your blog. As long as your write up are sincere, people will not see this sort of things as self-promotion.
  • Use Facebook & Twitter – Do you and your editorial colleagues use Facebook or Twitter? Maybe your journal can have a Facebook page and/or a Twitter account. In either case, post messages about your journal on social networks.
  • Exploit SEO – SEO is code for “search engine optimization” which itself is code for “make it easy for Google to crawl your site”. If Google can easily crawl your site, then your content will more likely appear in Google search results, and therefore you will get more exposure.
  • Be regular – Publishing serial publications (blogs, journal articles, etc.) is difficult, but I believe your readers will build up trust for you if you make content available on a consistent basis. Otherwise, I think your publication will loose credibility.
  • Make your content searchable – When people come to your website, make sure people can easily search & browse the backfires. People will say, “I remember seeing an article on that topic at… I wonder if I can find it again?” Put another way, make sure your website is “usable”.
  • Allow for comments – While the articles you publish go through some sort of review, make it possible for the readership to comment as well. We no longer live in isolation, nor are we governed by the centralized elite. It is increasingly about the wisdom of the crowd.

The right software makes many of the tasks I outlined easier. I suggest you take a look at Open Journal Systems.

Good luck, and I commend you for going the open access route.

How “great” are the Great Books?

In this posting I present two quantitative methods for denoting the “greatness” of a text. Through this analysis I learned that Aristotle wrote the greatest book. Shakespeare wrote seven of the top ten books when it comes to love. And Aristophanes’s Peace is the most significant when it comes to war. Once calculated, this description – something I call the “Great Ideas Coefficient” – can be used as a benchmark to compare & contrast one text with another.

Research questions

In 1952 Robert Maynard Hutchins et al. compiled a set of books called the Great Books of the Western World. [1] Comprised of fifty-four volumes and more than a couple hundred individual works, it included writings from Homer to Darwin. The purpose of the set was to cultivate a person’s liberal arts education in the Western tradition. [2]

To create the set a process of “syntopical reading” was first done. [3]. (Syntopical reading is akin to the emerging idea of “distant reading” [4], and at the same time complementary to the more traditional “close reading”.) The result was an enumeration of 102 “Great Ideas” commonly debated throughout history. Through the syntopical reading process, through the enumeration of timeless themes, and after thorough discussion with fellow scholars, the set of Great Books was enumerated. As stated in the set’s introductory materials:

…but the great books posses them [the great ideas] for a considerable range of ideas, covering a variety of subject matters or disciplines; and among the great books the greatest are those with the greatest range of imaginative or intellectual content. [5]

Our research question is then, “How ‘great’ are the Great Books?” To what degree do they discuss the Great Ideas which apparently define their greatness? If such degrees can be measured, then which of the Great Books are greatest?

Great Ideas Coefficient defined

To measure the greatness of any text – something I call a Great Ideas Coefficient – I apply two methods of calculation. Both exploit the use of term frequency inverse document frequency (TFIDF).

TFIDF is a well-known method for calculating statistical relevance in the field of information retrieval (IR). [6] Query terms are supplied to a system and compared to the contents of an inverted index. Specifically, documents are returned from an IR system in a relevancy ranked order based on: 1) the ratio of query term occurrences and the size of the document multiplied by 2) the ratio of the number of documents in the corpus and the number of documents containing the query terms. Mathematically stated, TFIDF equals:

(c/t) * log(d/f)


  • c = number of times the query terms appear in a document
  • t = total number of words in a document
  • d = total number of documents in a corpus
  • f = total number of documents containing the query terms

For example, suppose a corpus contains 100 documents. This is d. Suppose two of the documents contain a given query term (such as “love”). This is f. Suppose also the first document is 50 words long (t) and contains the word love once (c). Thus, the first document has a TFIDF score of 0.034:

(1/50) * log(100/2) = 0.0339

Where as, if the second document is 75 words long (t) and contains the word love twice (c), then the second document’s TFIDF score is 0.045:

(2/75) * log(100/2) = 0.0453

Thus, the second document is considered more relevant than the first, and by extension, the second document is probably more “about” love than the first. For our purposes relevance and “aboutness” are equated with “greatness”. Consequently, in this example, when it comes to the idea of love, the second document is “greater” than the first. To calculate our first Coefficient I sum all 102 Great Idea TFIDF scores for a given document, a statistic called the “overlap score measure”. [7] By comparing the resulting sums I can compare the greatness of the texts as well as examine correlations between Great Ideas. Since items selected for inclusion in the Great books also need to exemplify the “greatest range of imaginative or intellectual content”, I also produce a Coefficient based on a normalized mean for all 102 Great Ideas across the corpus.

Great Ideas Coefficient calculated

To calculate the Great Ideas Coefficient for each of the Great Books I used the following process:

  1. Mirrored versions of Great Books – By searching and browsing the Internet 222 of the 260 Great Books were found and copied locally, giving us a constant (d) equal to 222.
  2. Indexed the corpus – An inverted index was created. I used Solr for this. [8]
  3. Calculated TFIDF for a given Great Idea – First the given Great Idea was stemmed and searched against the the index resulting in a value for f. Each Great Book was retrieved from the local mirror whereby the size of the work (t) was determined as well as the number of times the stem appeared in the work (c). TFIDF was then calculated.
  4. Repeated Step #3 for each of the Great Ideas – Go to Step #3 each of the Great Ideas.
  5. Summed each of the TFIDF scores – The Great Idea TFIDF scores were added together giving us our first Great Ideas Coefficient for a given work.
  6. Saved the result – Each of the individual scores as well as the Great Ideas Coefficient was saved to a database.
  7. Returned to Step #3 for each of the Great Books – Go to Step #3 each of the other works in the corpus.

The end result was a file in the form of a matrix with 222 rows and 104 columns. Each row represents a Great Book. Each column is a local identifier, a Great Ideas TFIDF score, and a book’s Great Ideas Coefficient. [9]

The Great Books analyzed

Sorting the matrix according to the Great Ideas Coefficient is trivial. Upon doing so I see that Kant’s Introduction To The Metaphysics Of Morals and Aristotle’s Politics are the first and second greatest books, respectively. When the matrix is sorted by the love column, I see Plato’s Symposium come out as number one, but Shakespeare claims seven of the top ten items with his collection of Sonnets being the first. When the matrix is sorted by the war column, then Aristophanes’s Peace is the greatest.

Unfortunately, denoting overall greatness in the previous manner is too simplistic because it does not fit the definition of greatness posited by Hutchins. The Great Books are expected to be great because they exemplify the “greatest range of imaginative or intellectual content”. In other words, the Great Books are great because they discuss and elaborate upon a wide spectrum of the Great Ideas, not just a few. Ironically, this does not seem to be the case. Most of the Great Books have many Great Idea scores equal to zero. In fact, at least two of the Great Ideas – cosmology and universal – have TFIDF scores equal to zero across the entire corpus, as illustrated by Figure 1. This being the case, I might say that none of the Great Books are truly great because none of them significantly discuss the totality of the Great Ideas.

box plots of great ideas
Figure 1 – Box plot scores of Great Ideas

To take this into account and not allow the value of the Great Idea Coefficient to be overwhelmed by one or two Great Idea scores, I calculated the mean TFIDF score for each of the Great Ideas across the matrix. This vector represents an imaginary but “typical” Great Book. I then compared the Great Idea TFIDF scores for each of the Great Books with this central quantity to determine whether or not it is above or below the typical mean. After graphing the result I see that Aristotle’s Politics is still the greatest book with Hegel’s Philosophy Of History being number two, and Plato’s Republic being number three. Figure 2 graphically illustrates this finding, but in a compressed form. Not all works are listed in the figure.

normalized great books
Figure 2 – Individual books compared to the “typical” Great Book


How “great” are the Great Books? The answer depends on what qualities a person wants to measure. Aristotle’s Politics is great in many ways. Shakespeare is great when it comes to the idea of love. The calculation of the Great Ideas Coefficient is one way to compare & contrast texts in a corpus – “syntopical reading” in a digital age.


[1] Hutchins, Robert Maynard. 1952. Great books of the Western World. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica.

[2] Ibid. Volume 1, page xiv.

[3] Ibid. Volume 2, page xi.

[4] Moretti, Franco. 2005. Graphs, maps, trees: abstract models for a literary history. London: Verso, page 1.

[5] Hutchins, op. cit. Volume 3, page 1220.

[6] Manning, Christopher D., Prabhakar Raghavan, and Hinrich Schütze. 2008. An introduction to information retrieval. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, page 109.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Solr –

[9] This file – the matrix of identifiers and scores – is available at, but a more useful and interactive version is located at

Text mining Charles Dickens

This posting outlines how a person can do a bit of text mining against three works by Charles Dickens using a set of two Perl modules — Lingua::EN::Ngram and Lingua::Concordance.


I recently wrote a Perl module called Lingua::EN::Ngram. Its primary purpose is to count all the ngrams (two-word phrases, three-word phrases, n-word phrases, etc.) in a given text. For two-word phrases (bigrams) it will order the output according to a statistical probability (t-score). Given a number of texts, it will count the ngrams common across the corpus. As of version 0.02 it supports non-ASCII characters making it possible to correctly read and parse a greater number of Romantic languages — meaning it correctly interprets characters with diacritics. Lingua::EN::Ngram is available from CPAN.


Concordances are just about the oldest of textual analysis tools. Originally developed in the Late Middle Ages to analyze the Bible, they are essentially KWIC (keyword in context) indexes used to search and display ngrams within the greater context of a work. Given a text (such as a book or journal article) and a query (regular expression), Lingua::Concordance can display the occurrences of the query in the text as well as map their locations across the entire text. In a previous blog posting I used Lingua::Concordance to compare & contrast the use of the phrase “good man” in the works of Aristotle, Plato, and Shakespeare. Lingua::Concordance too is available from CPAN.

Charles Dickens

In keeping with the season, I wondered about Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. How often is the word “Christmas” used in the work and where? In terms of size, how does A Christmas Carol compare to some of other Dickens’s works? Are there sets of commonly used words or phrases between those texts?

Answering the first question was relatively easy. The word “Christmas” is occurs eighty-six (86) times, and twenty-two (22) of those occurrences are in the the first ten percent (10%) of the story. The following bar chart illustrates these facts:

bar chart

The length of books (or just about any text) measured in pages in ambiguous, at best. A much more meaningful measure is number of words. The following table lists the sizes, in words, of three Dickens stories:

story size in words
A Christmas Carol 28,207
Oliver Twist 156,955
David Copperfield 355,203

For some reason I thought A Christmas Carol was much longer.

A long time ago I calculated the average size (in words) of the books in my Alex Catalogue. Once I figured this out, I discovered I could describe items in the collection based on relative sizes. The following “dial” charts bring the point home. Each one of the books is significantly different in size:

christmas carol
A Christmas Carol
oliver twist
Oliver Twist
david copperfield
David Copperfield

If a person were pressed for time, then which story would you be able to read?

After looking for common ngrams between texts, I discovered that “taken with a violent fit of” appears both David Copperfield and A Christmas Carol. Interesting!? Moreover, the phrase “violent fit” appears on all three works. Specifically, characters in these three Dickens stories have violent fits of laughter, crying, trembling, and coughing. By concatenating the stories together and applying concordancing methods I see there are quite a number of violent things in the three stories:

  n such breathless haste and violent agitation, as seemed to betoken so
  ood-night, good-night!' The violent agitation of the girl, and the app
  sberne) entered the room in violent agitation. 'The man will be taken,
  o understand that, from the violent and sanguinary onset of Oliver Twi
  one and all, to entertain a violent and deeply-rooted antipathy to goi
  eep a little register of my violent attachments, with the date, durati
  cal laugh, which threatened violent consequences. 'But, my dear,' said
  in general, into a state of violent consternation. I came into the roo
  artly to keep pace with the violent current of her own thoughts: soon 
  ts and wiles have brought a violent death upon the head of one worth m
   There were twenty score of violent deaths in one long minute of that 
  id the woman, making a more violent effort than before; 'the mother, w
   as it were, by making some violent effort to save himself from fallin
  behind. This was rather too violent exercise to last long. When they w
   getting my chin by dint of violent exertion above the rusty nails on 
  en who seem to have taken a violent fancy to him, whether he will or n
  peared, he was taken with a violent fit of trembling. Five minutes, te
  , when she was taken with a violent fit of laughter; and after two or 
  he immediate precursor of a violent fit of crying. Under this impressi
  and immediately fell into a violent fit of coughing: which delighted T
  of such repose, fell into a violent flurry, tossing their wild arms ab
   and accompanying them with violent gesticulation, the boy actually th
  ght I really must have laid violent hands upon myself, when Miss Mills
   arm tied up, these men lay violent hands upon him -- by doing which, 
   every aggravation that her violent hate -- I love her for it now -- c
   work himself into the most violent heats, and deliver the most wither
  terics were usually of that violent kind which the patient fights and 
   me against the donkey in a violent manner, as if there were any affin
   to keep down by force some violent outbreak. 'Let me go, will you,--t
  hands with me - which was a violent proceeding for him, his usual cour
  en.' 'Well, sir, there were violent quarrels at first, I assure you,' 
  revent the escape of such a violent roar, that the abused Mr. Chitling
  t gradually resolved into a violent run. After completely exhausting h
  , on which he ever showed a violent temper or swore an oath, was this 
  ullen, rebellious spirit; a violent temper; and an untoward, intractab
  fe of Oliver Twist had this violent termination or no. CHAPTER III REL
  in, and seemed to presage a violent thunder-storm, when Mr. and Mrs. B
  f the theatre, are blind to violent transitions and abrupt impulses of
  ming into my house, in this violent way? Do you want to rob me, or to

These observations simply beg other questions. Is violence a common theme in Dickens works? What other adjectives are used to a greater or lesser degree in Dickens works? How does the use of these adjectives differ from other authors of the same time period or within the canon of English literature?


The combination of the Internet, copious amounts of freely available full text, and ubiquitous as well as powerful desktop computing, it is now possible to analyze texts in ways that was not feasible twenty years ago. While the application of computing techniques against texts dates back to at least Father Busa’s concordance work in the 1960s, it has only been in the last decade that digital humanities has come into its own. The application of digital humanities to library work offers great opportunities for the profession. Their goals are similar and their tools are complementary. From my point of view, their combination is a marriage made in heaven.

A .zip file of the texts and scripts used to do the analysis is available for you to download and experiment with yourself. Enjoy.


The second annual AngelFund4Code4Lib — a $1,500 stipend to attend Code4Lib 2011 — is now accepting applications.

These are difficult financial times, but we don’t want this to dissuade people from attending Code4Lib. [1] Consequently a few of us have gotten together, pooled our resources, and made AngelFund4Code4Lib available. Applying for the stipend is easy. In 500 words or less, write what you hope to learn at the conference and email it to We will then evaluate the submissions and select the awardee. In exchange for the financial resources, and in keeping with the idea of giving back to the community, the awardee will be expected to write a travelogue describing their take-aways and post it to the Code4Lib mailing list.

The deadline for submission is 5 o’clock (Pacific Time), Thursday, December 17. The awardee will be announced no later than Friday, January 7.

Submit your application. We look forward to helping you out.

If you would like to become an “angel” too, then drop us a line. We’re open to possibilities.

P.S. Check out the additional Code4Lib scholarships. [2]

[1] Code4Lib 2011 –
[2] addtional scholarships –

Eric Lease Morgan,
Michael J. Giarlo, and
Eric Hellman

Crowd sourcing the Great Books

This posting describes how crowd sourcing techniques are being used to determine the “greatness” of the Great Books.

The Great Books of the Western World is a set of books authored by “dead white men” — Homer to Dostoevsky, Plato to Hegel, and Ptolemy to Darwin. [1] In 1952 each item in the set was selected because the set’s editors thought the selections significantly discussed any number of their 102 Great Ideas (art, cause, fate, government, judgement, law, medicine, physics, religion, slavery, truth, wisdom, etc.). By reading the books, comparing them with one another, and discussing them with fellow readers, a person was expected to foster their on-going liberal arts education. Think of it as “life long learning” for the 1950s.

I have devised and implemented a mathematical model for denoting the “greatness” of any book. The model is based on term frequency inverse document frequency (TFIDF). It is far from complete, nor has it been verified. In an effort to address the later, I have created the Great Books Survey. Specifically, I am asking people to vote on which books they consider greater. If the end result is similar to the output of my model, then the model may be said to represent reality.

charts The survey itself is an implementation of the Condorcet method. (“Thanks Andreas.”) First, I randomly select one of the Great Ideas. I then randomly select two of the Great Books. Finally, I ask the poll-taker to choose the “greater” of the two books based on the given Great Idea. For example, the randomly selected Great Idea may be war, and the randomly selected Great Books may be Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Plato’s Republic. I then ask, “Which is book is ‘greater’ in terms of war?” The answer is recorded and an additional question is generated. The survey is never-ending. After 100’s of thousands of votes are garnered I hope too learn which books are the greatest because they got the greatest number of votes.

Because the survey results are saved in an underlying database, it is trivial to produce immediate feedback. For example, I can instantly return which books have been voted greatest for the given idea, how the two given books compare to the given idea, a list of “your” greatest books, and a list of all books ordered by greatness. For a good time, I am also geo-locating voters’ IP addresses and placing them on a world map. (“C’mon Antartica. You’re not trying!”)

map The survey was originally announced on Tuesday, November 2 on the Code4Lib mailing list, Twitter, and Facebook. To date it has been answered 1,247 times by 125 people. Not nearly enough. So far, the top five books are:

  1. Augustine’s City Of God And Christian Doctrine
  2. Cervantes’s Don Quixote
  3. Shakespeare’s Midsummer Nights Dream
  4. Chaucers’s Canterbury Tales And Other Poems
  5. Goethe’s Faust

There are a number of challenging aspects regarding the validity of the survey. For example, many people feel unqualified to answer some of the randomly generated questions because they have not read the books. My suggestion is, “Answer the question anyway,” because given enough votes randomly answered questions will cancel themselves out. Second, the definition of “greatness” is ambiguous. It is not intended to be equated with popularity but rather the “imaginative or intellectual content” the book exemplifies. [2] Put in terms of a liberal arts education, greatness is the degree a book discusses, defines, describes, or alludes to the given idea more than the other. Third, people have suggested I keep track of how many times people answer with “I don’t know and/or neither”. This is a good idea, but I haven’t implemented it yet.

Please answer the survey 10 or more times. It will take you less than 60 seconds if you don’t think about it too hard and go with your gut reactions. There are no such things as wrong answers. Answer the survey about 100 times, and you will may get an idea of what types of “great books” interest you most.

Vote early. Vote often.

[1] Hutchins, Robert Maynard. 1952. Great books of the Western World. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica.

[2] Ibid. Volume 3, page 1220.

Dan Marmion

Dan Marmion and ISDADan Marmion recruited and hired me to work at the University of Notre Dame during the Summer of 2001. The immediate goal was to implement a “database-driven website”, which I did with the help of the Digital Access and Information Architecture Department staff and MyLibrary.

About eighteen months after I started working at the University I felt settled in. It was at that time when I realized I had accomplished all the goals I had previously set out for myself. I had a family. I had stuff. I had the sort of job I had always aspired to have in a place where I aspired to have it. I woke up one morning and asked myself, “Now what?”

After a few months of cogitation I articulated a new goal: to raise a happy, healthy, well-educated child. (I only have one.) By now my daughter is almost eighteen years old. She is responsible and socially well-adjusted. She is stands up straight and tall. She has a pretty smile. By this time next year I sincerely believe she will be going to college with her tuition paid for by Notre Dame. Many of the things that have been accomplished in the past nine years and many of the things to come are results from Dan hiring me.

Dan Marmion died Wednesday, September 22, 2010 from brain cancer. “Dan, thank you for the means and the opportunities. You are sorely missed.”

Great Books data dictionary

This is a sort of Great Books data dictionary in that it describes the structure and content of two data files containing information about the Great Books of the Western World.

The data set is manifested in two files. The canonical file is great-books.xml. This XML file consists of a root element (great-books) and many sub-elements (books). The meat of the file resides in these sub-elements. Specifically, with the exception of the id attribute, all the book attributes enumerate integers denoting calculated values. The attributes words, fog, and kincaid denote the length of the work, two grade levels, and a readability score, respectively. The balance of the attributes are “great ideas” as calculated through a variation Term Frequency Inverse Document Frequency (TFIDF) cumulating in a value called the Great Ideas Coefficient. Finally, each book element includes sub-elements denoting who wrote the work (author), the work’s name (title), the location of the file was used as the basis of the calculations (local_url), and the location of the original text (original_url).

The second file (great-books.csv) is a derivative of the first file. This comma-separated file is intended to be read by something like R or Excel for more direct manipulation. It includes all the information from great-books.xml with the exception of the author, title, and URLs.

Given either one of these two files the developer or statistician is expected to evaluate or re-purpose the results of the calculations. For example, given one or the other of these files the following questions could be answered:

  • What is the “greatest” book and who wrote it?
  • What is the average “great book” score?
  • Are there clusters of great ideas?
  • Which authors wrote extensively on what great ideas?
  • Is there a correlation between greatness and length and readability?

The really adventurous developer will convert the XML file into JSON and then create a cool (or “kewl”) Web interface allowing anybody with a browser to do their own evaluation and presentation. This is an exercise left up to the reader.

Text mining against NGC4Lib

I “own” a mailing list called NCG4Lib. It’s purpose is to provide a forum for the discussion of all things “next generation library catalog”. As of this writing, there are about 2,000 subscribers.

Lately I have been asking myself, “What sorts of things get discussed on the list and who participates in the discussion?” I thought I’d try to answer this question with a bit of text mining. This analysis only covers the current year to date, 2010.

Author names

Even though there are as many as 2,000 subscribers, only a tiny few actually post comments. The following pie and line charts illustrate the point without naming any names. As you can see, eleven (11) people contribute 50% of the postings.

11 people post 50% of the messages

The lie chart illustrates the same point differently; a few people post a lot. We definitely have a long tail going on here.

They definitely represent a long tail

Subject lines

The most frequently used individual subject line words more or less reflect traditional library cataloging practices. MARC. MODS. Cataloging. OCLC. But also notice how the word “impasse” is included. This may reflect something about the list.

subject words
The subject words look “traditional”

I’m not quite sure what to make of the most commonly used subject word bigrams.

subject bigrams
‘Don’t know what to make of these bigrams

Body words

The most frequently used individual words in the body of the postings tell a nice story. Library. Information. Data. HTTP. But notice what is not there — books. I also don’t see things like collections, acquisitions, public, services, nor value or evaluation. Hmm…

body words
These tell a nice story

The most frequently used bigrams in the body of the messages tell an even more interesting story because the they are dominated by the names of people and things.

body bigrams
Names of people and things

The phrases “information services” and “technical services” do not necessarily fit my description. Using a concordance to see how these words were being used, I discovered they were overwhelmingly a part of one or more persons’ email signatures or job descriptions. Not what I was hoping for. (Sigh.)


Based on these observations, as well as my personal experience, I believe the NGC4Lib mailing list needs more balance. It needs more balance in a couple of ways:

  1. There are too few people who post the majority of the content. The opinions of eleven people do not, IMHO, represent the ideas and beliefs of more than 2,000. I am hoping these few people understand this and will moderate themselves accordingly.
  2. The discussion is too much focused, IMHO, on traditional library cataloging. There is so much more to the catalog than metadata. We need to be asking questions about what it contains, how that stuff is selected and how it gets in there, what the stuff is used for, and how all of this fits into the broader, worldwide information environment. We need to be discussing issues of collection and dissemination, not just organization. Put another way, I wish I had not used the word “catalog” in the name of the list because I think the word brings along too many connotations and preconceived ideas.

As the owner of the list, what will I do? Frankly, I don’t know. Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

How “great” are the Great Books?

In the 1952 a set of books called the Great Books of the Western World was published. It was supposed to represent the best of Western literature and enable the reader to further their liberal arts education. Sixty volumes in all, it included works by Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Milton, Galileo, Kepler, Melville, Darwin, etc. (See Appendix A.) These great books were selected based on the way they discussed a set of 102 “great ideas” such as art, astronomy, beauty, evil, evolution, mind, nature, poetry, revolution, science, will, wisdom, etc. (See Appendix B.) How “great” are these books, and how “great” are the ideas expressed in them?

Given full text versions of these books it would be almost trivial to use the “great ideas” as input and apply relevancy ranking algorithms against the texts thus creating a sort of score — a “Great Ideas Coefficient”. Term Frequency/Inverse Document Frequency is a well-established algorithm for computing just this sort of thing:

relevancy = ( c / t ) * log( d / f )


  • c = number of times a given word appears in a document
  • t = total number of words in a document
  • d = total number of documents in a corpus
  • f = total number of documents containing a given word

Thus, to calculate our Great Ideas Coefficient we would sum the relevancy score for each “great idea” for each “great book”. Plato’s Republic might have a cumulative score of 525 while Aristotle’s On The History Of Animals might have a cumulative score of 251. Books with a larger Coefficient could be considered greater. Given such a score a person could measure a book’s “greatness”. We could then compare the score to the scores of other books. Which book is the “greatest”? We could compare the score to other measurable things such as book’s length or date to see if there were correlations. Are “great books” longer or shorter than others? Do longer books contain more “great ideas”? Are there other books that were not included in the set that maybe should have been included? Instead of summing each relevancy score, maybe the “great ideas” can be grouped into gross categories such as humanities or sciences, and we can sum those scores instead. Thus we may be able to say one set of book is “great” when it comes the expressing the human condition and these others are better at describing the natural world. We could ask ourselves, which number of books represents the best mixture of art and science because their humanities score is almost equal to its sciences score. Expanding the scope beyond general education we could create an alternative set of “great ideas”, say for biology or mathematics or literature, and apply the same techniques to other content such as full text scholarly journal literatures.

The initial goal of this study is to examine the “greatness” of the Great Books, but the ultimate goal is to learn whether or not this quantitative process can be applied other bodies of literature and ultimately assist the student/scholar in their studies/research

Wish me luck.

Appendix A – Authors and titles in the Great Books series

  • AeschylusPrometheus Bound; Seven Against Thebes; The Oresteia; The Persians; The Suppliant Maidens
  • American State PapersArticles of Confederation; Declaration of Independence; The Constitution of the United States of America
  • ApolloniusOn Conic Sections
  • AquinasSumma Theologica
  • ArchimedesBook of Lemmas; Measurement of a Circle; On Conoids and Spheroids; On Floating Bodies; On Spirals; On the Equilibrium of Planes; On the Sphere and Cylinder; The Method Treating of Mechanical Problems; The Quadrature of the Parabola; The Sand-Reckoner
  • AristophanesEcclesiazousae; Lysistrata; Peace; Plutus; The Acharnians; The Birds; The Clouds; The Frogs; The Knights; The Wasps; Thesmophoriazusae
  • AristotleCategories; History of Animals; Metaphysics; Meteorology; Minor biological works; Nicomachean Ethics; On Generation and Corruption; On Interpretation; On Sophistical Refutations; On the Gait of Animals; On the Generation of Animals; On the Motion of Animals; On the Parts of Animals; On the Soul; Physics; Poetics; Politics; Posterior Analytics; Prior Analytics; Rhetoric; The Athenian Constitution; Topics
  • AugustineOn Christian Doctrine; The City of God; The Confessions
  • AureliusThe Meditations
  • BaconAdvancement of Learning; New Atlantis; Novum Organum
  • BerkeleyThe Principles of Human Knowledge
  • BoswellThe Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.
  • CervantesThe History of Don Quixote de la Mancha
  • ChaucerTroilus and Criseyde; The Canterbury Tales
  • CopernicusOn the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres
  • DanteThe Divine Comedy
  • DarwinThe Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex; The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection
  • DescartesDiscourse on the Method; Meditations on First Philosophy; Objections Against the Meditations and Replies; Rules for the Direction of the Mind; The Geometry
  • DostoevskyThe Brothers Karamazov
  • EpictetusThe Discourses
  • EuclidThe Thirteen Books of Euclid’s Elements
  • EuripidesAlcestis; Andromache; Bacchantes; Cyclops; Electra; Hecuba; Helen; Heracleidae; Heracles Mad; Hippolytus; Ion; Iphigeneia at Aulis; Iphigeneia in Tauris; Medea; Orestes; Phoenician Women; Rhesus; The Suppliants; Trojan Women
  • FaradayExperimental Researches in Electricity
  • FieldingThe History of Tom Jones, a Foundling
  • FourierAnalytical Theory of Heat
  • FreudA General Introduction to Psycho-Analysis; Beyond the Pleasure Principle; Civilization and Its Discontents; Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego; Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety; Instincts and Their Vicissitudes; New Introductory Lectures on Psycho- Analysis; Observations on “Wild” Psycho-Analysis; On Narcissism; Repression; Selected Papers on Hysteria; The Ego and the Id; The Future Prospects of Psycho-Analytic Therapy; The Interpretation of Dreams; The Origin and Development of Psycho- Analysis; The Sexual Enlightenment of Children; The Unconscious; Thoughts for the Times on War and Death
  • GalenOn the Natural Faculties
  • GalileoDialogues Concerning the Two New Sciences
  • GibbonThe Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
  • GilbertOn the Loadstone and Magnetic Bodies
  • GoetheFaust
  • HamiltonThe Federalist
  • HarveyOn the Circulation of Blood; On the Generation of Animals; On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals
  • HegelThe Philosophy of History; The Philosophy of Right
  • HerodotusThe History
  • HippocratesWorks
  • HobbesLeviathan
  • HomerThe Iliad; The Odyssey
  • HumeAn Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
  • JamesThe Principles of Psychology
  • KantExcerpts from The Metaphysics of Morals; Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals; General Introduction to the Metaphysic of Morals; Preface and Introduction to the Metaphysical Elements of Ethics with a note on Conscience; The Critique of Judgement; The Critique of Practical Reason; The Critique of Pure Reason; The Science of Right
  • KeplerEpitome of Copernican Astronomy; The Harmonies of the World
  • LavoisierElements of Chemistry
  • LockeA Letter Concerning Toleration; An Essay Concerning Human Understanding; Concerning Civil Government, Second Essay
  • LucretiusOn the Nature of Things
  • MachiavelliThe Prince
  • MarxCapital
  • Marx and EngelsManifesto of the Communist Party
  • MelvilleMoby Dick; or, The Whale
  • MillConsiderations on Representative Government; On Liberty; Utilitarianism
  • MiltonAreopagitica; English Minor Poems; Paradise Lost; Samson Agonistes
  • MontaigneEssays
  • MontesquieuThe Spirit of the Laws
  • NewtonMathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy; Optics; Twelfth Night; or, What You Will
    Christian Huygens
    ; Treatise on Light
  • NicomachusIntroduction to Arithmetic
  • PascalPensées; Scientific and mathematical essays; The Provincial Letters
  • PlatoApology; Charmides; Cratylus; Critias; Crito; Euthydemus; Euthyphro; Gorgias; Ion; Laches; Laws; Lysis; Meno; Parmenides; Phaedo; Phaedrus; Philebus; Protagoras; Sophist; Statesman; Symposium; The Republic; The Seventh Letter; Theaetetus; Timaeus
  • PlotinusThe Six Enneads
  • PlutarchThe Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans
  • PtolemyThe Almagest
  • RabelaisGargantua and Pantagruel
  • RousseauA Discourse on Political Economy; A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality; The Social Contract
  • ShakespeareA Midsummer-Night’s Dream; All’s Well That Ends Well; Antony and Cleopatra; As You Like It; Coriolanus; Cymbeline; Julius Caesar; King Lear; Love’s Labour’s Lost; Macbeth; Measure For Measure; Much Ado About Nothing; Othello, the Moor of Venice; Pericles, Prince of Tyre; Romeo and Juliet; Sonnets; The Comedy of Errors; The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eighth; The First Part of King Henry the Fourth; The First Part of King Henry the Sixth; The Life and Death of King John; The Life of King Henry the Fifth; The Merchant of Venice; The Merry Wives of Windsor; The Second Part of King Henry the Fourth; The Second Part of King Henry the Sixth; The Taming of the Shrew; The Tempest; The Third Part of King Henry the Sixth; The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark; The Tragedy of King Richard the Second; The Tragedy of Richard the Third; The Two Gentlemen of Verona; The Winter’s Tale; Timon of Athens; Titus Andronicus; Troilus and Cressida
  • SmithAn Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations
  • SophoclesAjax; Electra; Philoctetes; The Oedipus Cycle; The Trachiniae
  • SpinozaEthics
  • SterneThe Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
  • SwiftGulliver’s Travels
  • TacitusThe Annals; The Histories
  • ThucydidesThe History of the Peloponnesian War
  • TolstoyWar and Peace
  • VirgilThe Aeneid; The Eclogues; The Georgics

Appendix B – The “great” ideas

angel • animal • aristocracy • art • astronomy • beauty • being • cause • chance • change • citizen • constitution • courage • custom & convention • definition • democracy • desire • dialectic • duty • education • element • emotion • eternity • evolution • experience • family • fate • form • god • good & evil • government • habit • happiness • history • honor • hypothesis • idea • immortality • induction • infinity • judgment • justice • knowledge • labor • language • law • liberty • life & death • logic • love • man • mathematics • matter • mechanics • medicine • memory & imagination • metaphysics • mind • monarchy • nature • necessity & contingency • oligarchy • one & many • opinion • opposition • philosophy • physics • pleasure & pain • poetry • principle • progress • prophecy • prudence • punishment • quality • quantity • reasoning • relation • religion • revolution • rhetoric • same & other • science • sense • sign & symbol • sin • slavery • soul • space • state • temperance • theology • time • truth • tyranny • universal & particular • virtue & vice • war & peace • wealth • will • wisdom • world

About Infomotions Image Gallery: Flickr as cloud computing

Infomotions Image GalleryThis posting describes the whys and wherefores behind the Infomotions Image Gallery.


I was introduced to photography during library school, specifically, when I took a multi-media class. We were given film and movie cameras, told to use the equipment, and through the process learn about the medium. I took many pictures of very tall smoke stacks and classical-looking buildings. I also made a stop-action movie where I step-by-step folded an origami octopus and underwater sea diver while a computer played the Beatles’ “Octopuses Garden” in the background. I’d love to resurrect that 16mm film.

I was introduced to digital photography around 1995 when Steve Cisler (Apple Computer) gave me a QuickTake camera as a part of a payment for writing a book about Macintosh-based HTTP servers. That camera was pretty much fun. If I remember correctly, it took 8-bit images and could store about twenty-four of them at a time. The equipment worked perfectly until my wife accidentally dropped it into a pond. I still have the camera, somewhere, but it only works if it is plugged into an electrical socket. Since then I’ve owned a few other digital cameras and one or two digital movie cameras. They have all been more than simple point-and-shoot devices, but at the same time, they have always had more features than I’ve ever really exploited.

Over the years I mostly used the cameras to document the places I’ve visited. I continue to photograph buildings. I like to take macro shots of flowers. Venuses are always appealing. Pictures of food are interesting. In the self-portraits one is expected to notice the background, not necessarily the subject of the image. I believe I’m pretty good at composition. When it comes to color I’m only inspired when the sun is shining bright, and that makes some of my shots overexposed. I’ve never been very good at photographing people. I guess that is why I prefer to take pictures of statues. All things library and books are a good time. I wish I could take better advantage of focal lengths in order blur the background but maintain a sharp focus in the foreground. The tool requires practice. I don’t like to doctor the photographs with effects. I don’t believe the result represents reality. Finally, I often ask myself an aesthetic question, “If I was looking through the camera to take the picture, then did I really see what was on the other side?” After all, my perception was filtered through an external piece of equipment. I guess I could ask the same question of all my perceptions since I always wear glasses.

The Infomotions Image Gallery is simply a collection of my photography, sans personal family photos. It is just another example of how I am trying to apply the principles of librarianship to the content I create. Photographs are taken. Individual items are selected, and the collection is curated. Given the available resources, metadata is applied to each item, and the whole is organized into sets. Every year the newly created images are archived to multiple mediums for preservation purposes. (I really ought to make an effort to print more of the images.) Finally, an interface is implemented allowing people to access the collection.


orange hot stained glassTilburg University sculpturecoastal homebeach sculpturemetal bookthistleDSCN5242Three Sisters

Fickr as cloud computing

This section describes how the Gallery is currently implemented.

About ten years ago I began to truly manage my photo collection using Apple’s iPhoto. At just about the same time I purchased an iPhoto add-on called BetterHTMLExport. Using a macro language, this add-on enabled me to export sets of images to index and detail pages complete with titles, dates, and basic numeric metadata such as exposure, f-stop, etc. The process worked but the software grew long in the tooth, was sold to another company, and was always a bit cumbersome. Moreover, maintaining the metadata was tedious inhibiting my desire to keep it up to date. Too much editing here, exporting there, and uploading to the third place. To make matters worse, people expect to comment on the photos, put them into their own sets, and watch some sort of slide show. Enter Flickr and a jQuery plug-in called ColorBox.

After learning how to use iPhoto’s ability to publish content to Flickr, and after taking a closer look at Flickr’s application programmer interace (API), I decided to use Flickr to host my images. The idea was to: 1) maintain the content on my local file system, 2) upload the images and metadata to Flickr, and 3) programmatically create in interface to the content on my website. The result was a more streamlined process and a set of Perl scripts implementing a cleaner user interface. I was entering the realm of cloud computing. The workflow is described below:

  1. Take photographs – This process is outlined in the previous section.
  2. Import photographs – Import everything, but weed right away. I’m pretty brutal in this regard. I don’t keep duplicate nor very similar shots. No (or very very few) out-of-focus or poorly composed shots are kept either.
  3. Add titles – Each photo gets some sort of title. Sometimes they are descriptive. Sometimes they are rather generic. After all, how many titles can different pictures of roses have? If I were really thorough I would give narrative descriptions to each photo.
  4. Make sets – Group the imported photos into a set and then give a title to the set. Again, I ought to add narrative descriptions, but I don’t. Too lazy.
  5. Add tags – Using iPhoto’s keywords functionality, I make an effort to “tag” each photograph. Tags are rather generic: flower, venus, church, me, food, etc.
  6. Publish to Flickr – I then use iPhoto’s sharing feature to upload each newly created set to Flickr. This works very well and saves me the time and hassle of converting images. This same functionality works in reverse. If I use Flickr’s online editing functions, changes are reflected on my local file system after a refresh process is done. Very nice.
  7. Re-publish to Infomotions – Using a system of Perl scripts I wrote called flickr2gallery I then create sets of browsable pages from the content saved on Flickr.

Using this process I can focus more on my content and less on my presentation. It makes it easier for me to focus on the images and their metadata and less on how the content will be displayed. Graphic design is not necessarily my forte.

Flickr2gallery is a suite of Perl scripts and plain text files:

  1. – Used to create pages of images based on photos’ tags.
  2. – Used to create pages of image sets as well as the image “database”.
  3. – Used to create the Image Gallery home page.
  4. – A shell script calling each of the three scripts above and thus (re-)building the entire Image Gallery subsite. Currently, the process takes about sixty seconds.
  5. images.db – A tab-delimited list of each photograph’s local home page, title, and Flickr thumbnail.
  6. – A really-rudimentary Perl module containing a single subroutine used to return a list of HTML img elements filled with links to random images.
  7. – Designed to be used as a server-side include, calls to display sets of random images from images.db.

I know the Flickr API has been around for quite a while, and I know I’m a Johnny Come Lately when it comes to learning how to use it, but that does not mean it can’t be outlined here. The API provides a whole lot of functionality. Reading and writing of image content and metadata. Reading and writing information about users, groups, and places. Using the REST-like interface the programmer constructs a command in the form of a URL. The URL is sent to Flickr via HTTP. Responses are returned in easy-to-read XML.

A good example is the way I create my pages of images with a given tag. First I denote a constant which is the root of a Flickr tag search. Next, I define the location of the Infomotions pages on Flickr. Then, after getting a list of all of my tags, I search Flickr for images using each tag as a query. These results are then looped through, parsed, and built into a set of image links. Finally, the links are incorporated into a template and saved to a local file. Below lists the heart of the process:

  use constant S => '
  use constant F => '';
  # get list of all tags here
  # find photos with this tag
  $request  = HTTP::Request->new( GET => S . $tag );
  $response = $ua->request( $request );
  # process each photo
  $parser    = XML::XPath->new( xml => $response->content );
  $nodes     = $parser->find( '//photo' );
  my $cgi    = CGI->new;
  my $images = '';
  foreach my $node ( $nodes->get_nodelist ) {
  # parse
  my $id     = $node->getAttribute( 'id' );
  my $title  = $node->getAttribute( 'title' );
  my $farm   = $node->getAttribute( 'farm' );
  my $server = $node->getAttribute( 'server' );
  my $secret = $node->getAttribute( 'secret' );
  # build image links
  my $thumb = "http://farm$$server/$id" . 
              '_' . $secret . '_s.jpg';
  my $full  = "http://farm$$server/$id" . 
              '_' . $secret . '.jpg';
  my $flickr = F . "$id/";
  # build list of images
  $images .= $cgi->a({ href => $full, 
                       rel => 'slideshow',
                       title => "<a href='$flickr'>Details on Flickr</a>"
                      $cgi->img({ alt => $title, src => $thumb, 
                      border => 0, hspace => 1, vspace => 1 }));
  # save image links to file here

Notice the rel attribute (slideshow) in each of the images’ anchor elements. These attributes are used as selectors in a jQuery plug-in called ColorBox. In the head of each generated HTML file is a call to ColorBox:

  <script type="text/javascript">
      $("a[rel='slideshow']").colorbox({ slideshowAuto: false, 
                                         current: "{current} of {total}",
                                         slideshowStart: 'Slideshow',
                                         slideshowStop: 'Stop',
                                         slideshow: true,
                                         transition:"elastic" });

Using this plug-in I am able to implement a simple slideshow when the user clicks on any image. Each slideshow display consists of simple navigation and title. In my case the title is really a link back to Flickr where the user will be able to view more detail about the image, comment, etc.

barn ceilingkilnHesburgh Libraryself-portraitGiant EraserbirdsChristian Scientist ChurchRedwood Library

Summary and conclusion

I am an amateur photographer, and the fruits of this hobby are online here for sharing. If you use them, then please give credit where credit is due.

The use of Flickr as a “cloud” to host my images is very useful. It enables me to mirror my content in more than one location as well as provide access in multiple ways. When the Library of Congress announced they were going to put some of their image content on Flickr I was a bit taken aback, but after learning how the Flickr API can be exploited I think there are many opportunities for libraries and other organizations to do the same thing. Using the generic Flickr interface is one way to provide access, but enhanced and customized access can be implemented through the API. Lots of food for thought. Now to apply the same process to my movies by exploiting YouTube.

Shiny new website

Infomotions has a shiny new website, and the process to create it was not too difficult.

The problem

A relatively long time ago (in a galaxy far far away), I implemented an Infomotions website look & feel. Tabbed interface across the top. Local navigation down the left-hand side. Content in the middle. Footer along the bottom. Typical. Everything was rather square. And even though I used pretty standard HTML and CSS, its implementation was not really conducive to Internet Explorer. My bad.

Moreover, people’s expectations have increased dramatically since I first implemented my site’s look & feel. Curved lines. Pop-up windows. Interactive AJAX-like user experiences. My site was definitely not Web 2.0 in nature. Static. Not like a desktop application.

Finally, as time went on my site’s look & feel was not as consistently applied as I had hoped. Things were askew and the whole thing needed refreshing.

The solution

My ultimate solution is rooted in jQuery and its canned themes.

As you may or may not know, jQuery is a well-supported Javascript library supporting all sorts of cool things like drag ‘n drop, sliders, many animations, not to mention a myriad of ways to manipulate the Document Object Model (DOM) of HTML pages. An extensible framework, jQuery is also the foundation for many plug-in modules.

Just as importantly, jQuery supports a host of themes — CSS files implementing various looks & feels. These themes are very standards compliant and work well on all browsers. I was particularly enamored with the tabbed menu with rounded corners. (Under the hood, these rounded corners are implemented by a browser framework called Webkit. Let’s keep our eye on that one.) After learning how to implement the tabbed interface without the use of Javascript, I was finally on my way. As Dan Brubakerhorst said to me, “It is nothing but styling.”

None of Infomotions subsites are driven by hand-coded HTML. Everything comes from some sort of script. The Alex Catalogue is a database-driven website with mod-Perl modules. The water collection is supported by a database plus XSLT transformations of XML on the fly. The blog is WordPress. My “musings” are sets of TEI files converted in bulk into HTML. While it took a bit of tweaking in each of these subsites, the process was relatively painless. Insert the necessary divs denoting the menu bar, left-hand navigation, and content into my frameworks. Push the button. Enjoy. If I want to implement a different color scheme or typography, then I simply change a single CSS file for the entire site. In retrospect, the most difficult thing for me to convert was my blog. I had to design my own theme. Not too hard, but definitely a learning curve.

A feature I feel pretty strongly about is printing. The Web is one medium. Content on paper is another medium. They are not the same. In general, websites have more of a landscape orientation. Printed mediums more or less have portrait orientations. In the printed medium there is no need for global navigation, local navigation, nor hyperlinks. Silly. Margins need to be accounted for. Pages need to be signed, dated, and branded. Consequently, I wrote a single print-based CSS file governing the entire site. Pages print quite nicely. So nicely I may very well print every single page from my website and bind the whole thing into a book. Call it preservation.

In many ways I consider myself to be an artist, and the processes of librarianship are my mediums. Graphic design is not my forte, but I feel pretty good about my current implementation. Now I need to get back to the collection, organization, preservation, and dissemination of data, information, and knowledge.

How to make a book (#2 of 3)

This is the second of a three-part series on how to make a book.

The first posting described and illustrated how to use a thermo-binding machine to make a book. This posting describes and illustrates how to “weave” a book together — folding and cutting (or tearing). The process requires no tools. No glue. No sewing. Just paper. Ingenious. The third posting will be about traditional bookmaking.


Like so many things in my life, I learned how to do this by reading a… book, but alas, I have misplaced this particular book and I am unable to provide you with a title/citation. (Pretty bad for a librarian!) In any event, the author of the book explained her love of bookmaking. She described her husband as an engineer who thought all of the traditional cutting, gluing, and sewing were unnecessary. She challenged him to create something better. The result was the technique described below. While what he created was not necessarily “better”, it surely showed ingenuity.

The process

Here is process outlined, but you can also see how it is done on YouTube:

  1. Begin with 12 pieces of paper – I use normal printer paper, but the larger 11.5 x 14 inch pieces of paper make for very nicely sized books.
  2. Fold pairs of paper length-wise – In the end, you will have 6 pairs of paper half as big as the originals.
  3. Draw a line down the center of 3 pairs – Demarcate where you will create “slots” for your book by drawing a line half the size of of the inner crease of 3 pairs of paper.
  4. Draw a line along the outside of 3 pairs – Demarcate where you will create “tabs” for your books by drawing two lines from one quarter along the crease towards the outside of the 3 pairs of paper.
  5. Cut along the lines – Actually create the slots and tabs of your books by cutting along the lines drawn in Steps #3 and #Instead of using scissors, you can tear along the creases. (No tools!)
  6. Create mini-books – Take one pair of paper cut as a tab and insert the tab into the slot of another pair. Do this for all of 3 of the slot-tab pairs. The result will be 3 mini-books simply “woven” together.
  7. Weave together the mini-books – Finally, find the slot of one of your mini-books and insert a tab from another mini-book. Do the same with the remaining mini-book.

The result of your labors should be a fully-functional book complete with 48 pages. I use them for temporary projects — notebooks. Yeah, the cover is not very strong. During the use of your book, put the whole thing in a manila or leather folder. Lastly, I know the process is difficult to understand without pictures. Watch the video.

Good and best open source software

What qualities and characteristics make for a “good” piece of open source software? And once that question is answered, then what pieces of library-related open source software can be considered “best”?

I do not believe there is any single, most important characteristic of open source software that qualifies it to be denoted as “best”. Instead, a number of characteristics need to be considered. For example, a program might do one thing and do it well, but if it is bear to install then that counts against it. Similarly, some software might work wonders but it is built on a proprietary infrastructure such as a closed source compiler. Can that software really be considered “open”?

For my own education and cogitation, I have begun to list questions to help me address what I think is the “best” library-related open source software. Your comments would be greatly appreciated. I have listed the questions in (more or less) priority order:

  • Does the software work as advertised? – If the program says it can do one thing, but never does, then this may be a non-starter. On the other hand, accomplishing a particular goal is sometimes relative. In most cases the software might perform excellently, but in others it performs less so. It is unrealistic to expect any software to be all things to all people.
  • To what degree is the software supported? – Support, can mean many things. Most obviously, users of the software want to know whether or not there are one or more people behind the software who can answer questions about it. Where is the developer and how can I get in touch with them? Are they approachable? If the developer is not available, then can support be purchased? Do I get what I pay for when I make this purchase? How expensive is it? Is their website easy to use? Support can also allude to software updates. “Software is never done. If it were, then it would be called hardware.” For example, my favorite XSL processor (xsltproc) and some of its friends work great but recommending it to friends comes with hesitation because I wonder about ongoing maintenance and upgrades to the newer versions of the API. Support also means user community. While open source is about “free” software, it relies on communities for sustainability. Do such communities exist? Are there searchable mailing lists with browsable archives? Are there wikis, virtual and real meetings, and/or IRC channels, etc?
  • Is the documentation thorough? – Is there a man page? A POD? Something that can be printed and annotated? Is there an introduction? FAQ? Glossary of terms? Is there a different guide/section for different types of readers such as systems administrators, programmers, implementors, and/or users? Is the documentation well-written? While I have used plenty of pieces of software and never read the manual, documentation is essencial if the software is expected to be exploited to the highest degree. Few thing in life are truly intuitive. Software is certainly not one of them. Documentation is a form of writing, and writing is something that literally transcends space and time. It is an alternative to having a person giving you instructions.
  • What are the licence terms? – Personally I place a higher value on the viral nature of a GNU-like license, but BSD-like licenses enable commercial enterprise to a greater degree, and whether I like it or not commercial enterprises are all but necessary in the world I live in. (After all, it enabled the creation of favorite personal computer’s operating system.) At the same time, if the licensing is not GNU-like or BSD-like, then the software is not really open source anyway. Right?
  • To what degree is the software easy to install? – Since installing software is usually not a process that needs to be repeated, a difficult installation can be overlooked. On the other hand, if tweaking kernels, installing a huge number of dependencies, requiring a second piece of obscure software that is not supported is required, then all this counts against an open source software distribution.
  • To what degree is the software implemented using the “standard” LAMP stack? – LAMP is an acronym for Linux, Apache, MySQL, and Perl (or PHP, or Python, or just about any other computer language), and the LAMP stack is/was the basis for many pieces of open source applications. The combination is well-supported, well-documented, and easily transportable to different hardware platforms. If the software application is built on LAMP, then the application has a lot going for it.
  • Is the distribution in question an application/system or a library/module? – It is possible to divide software into two group: 1) software that is designed to build other software — libraries/modules, and 2) software that is an an end-in-itself — applications/systems. The former is akin to a tool in a toolbox used to build applications. The later is something intended for an end user. The former requires a computer programmer to truly exploit. The later usually does not require as much specific expertise. Both the module and the application have their place. Each have their own advantages and disadvantages. Depending on the implementor’s environment one might be better suited.
  • To what degree does the software satisfy some sort of real library need? – This question is specific to my particular audience, and is dependent on a definition of librarianship. Collection. Preservation. Organization. Dissemination. Books? Catalogs? Circulation? Reading and information literacy? Physical place fostering community? Etc. For example, librarians love to create lists, and in a digital environment lists are well managed through the use of relational databases. Therefore, does MySQL qualify as a piece of library-related software? Similarly, as Roy Tennant was told one time, “Librarians like to search. Everybody else likes to find.” Does this mean indexers like Solr/Lucene ought to qualify? Maybe the question ought to be rephrased. “To what degree does the software satisfy your or your institution’s needs?”

What sorts of things have I left out? Is there anything here that can be measurable or is everything left to subjective judgement? Just as importantly, can we as a community answer these questions in the list of specific software distributions to come up with the “best” of class?

‘More questions than answers.

Alex on Google

Mini screen shot of Alex on GoogleI don’t exactly know how or why Google sometimes creates nice little screen shots of Web home pages, but it created one for my Alex Catalogue of Electronic Texts. I’ve seen them for other sites on the Web, and some of them even contain search boxes.

I wish I could get Google to make one of these for a greater number of my sites, and I wish I could get the Google Search Appliance to do the same. It is a nifty feature, to say the least.

Tarzan of the Apes

This is a simple word cloud of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes:


tarzan  little  clayton  great  jungle  before  d’arnot  jane  back  about  cabin  mr  toward  porter  professor  saw  again  time  philander  eyes  strange  know  first  here  though  never  old  turned  many  after  black  forest  left  hand  own  thought  day  knew  beneath  body  head  see  young  life  long  found  most  girl  lay  village  face  tribe  wild  away  tree  until  ape  down  must  seen  far  within  door  white  few  much  esmeralda  savage  above  once  dead  mighty  ground  stood  side  last  trees  apes  cried  thing  among  moment  took  hands  new  off  without  almost  beast  huge  alone  close  just  tut  canler  nor  way  knife  small  

I found this story to have quite a number of similarities with James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans. The central character in both was super human. Both includes some sort of wilderness. In the Last of the Mohicans it was the forest. In Tarzan it was the jungle. In both cases the wilderness was inhabited by savages. Indians, apes, or pirates. Both included damsels in distress who were treated in a rather Victorian manner and were sought after by an unwanted lover. Both included characters with little common sense. David and Professor Porter.

I found Tarzan much more readable and story-like compared to the Last of the Mohicans. It can really be divided into two parts. The first half is a character development. Who is Tarzan, and how did he becomes who he is. The second half is a love story, more or less, where Tarzan pursues his love. I found it rather distasteful that Tarzan was a man of “breeding“. I don’t think people are to bred like animals.

Dinner with Google

On Thursday, September 4 a person from Google named Jon Trowbridge gave a presentation at Notre Dame called “Making scientific datasets universally accessible and useful”. This posting reports on the presentation and dinner afterwards.

The presentation

Jon Trowbridge is a software engineer working for Google. He seems to be an open source software and an e-science type of guy who understands academia. He echoed the mission of Google — “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, and he described how this mission fits into his day-to-day work. (I sort of wish libraries would have such a easily stated mission. It might clear things up and give us better focus.)

Trowbridge works for group in Google exploring ways to making large datasets available. He proposes to organize and distribute datasets in the same manner open source software is organized.

He enumerated things people do with data of this type: compute against it, visualize it, search it, do meta-analysis, and create mash-ups. But all of this begs Question 0. “You have to possess the data before you can do stuff with it.” (This is also true in libraries, and this is why I advocate digitization as oppose to licensing content.)

He speculated why scientists have trouble distributing their data, especially if it more than a terabyte in size. URLs break. Datasets are not very indexable. Datasets of the fodder for new research. He advocated the creation of centralized data “clouds”, and these “clouds” ought to have the following qualities:

  • archival
  • librarian-friendly (have some metadata)
  • citation-friendly
  • publicly accessible
  • legally unencumbered
  • discipline neutral
  • massively scalable
  • downloadable via HTTP

As he examined people’s datasets he noticed that many of them are simple hierarchal structures saved to file systems, but they are so huge that transporting them over the network isn’t feasible. After displaying a few charts and graphs, he posited that physically shipping hard disks via FedEx provides the fastest throughput. Given that hard drives can cost as little as 16¢/GB, FedEx can deliver data at a rate of 20 TB/day. Faster and cheaper than the just about anybody’s network connection.

The challenge

Given this scenario, Trowbridge gave away 5 TB of hard disk disk space. He challenged us to fill it up with data and share it with him. He would load the data into his “cloud” and allow people to use it. This is just the beginning of an idea, not a formal service. Host data locally. Provide tools to access and use it. Support e-science.

Personally, I thought it was a pretty good idea. Yes, Google is a company. Yes, I wonder to what degree I can trust Google. Yes, if I make my data accessible then I don’t have a monopoly on it, and others will may beat me to the punch. On the other hand, Google has so much money that they can afford to “Do no evil.” I sincerely doubt anybody was trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

Dinner with Jon

After the presentation I and a couple of my colleagues (Mark Dehmlow and Dan Marmion) had dinner with Jon. We discussed what it is like to work for Google. The hiring process. The similarities and differences between Google and libraries. The weather. Travel. Etc.

All in all, I thought it was a great experience. “Thank you for the opportunity!” It is always nice to chat with sets of my peers about my vocation (as well as my avocation).

Unfortunately, we never really got around to talking about the use of data, just its acquisition. The use of data is a niche I believe libraries can fill and Google can’t. Libraries are expected to know their audience. Given this, information acquired through a library settings can be put into the user’s context. This context-setting is a service. Beyond that, other services can be provided against the data. Translate. Analyze. Manipulate. Create word cloud. Trace idea forward and backward. Map. Cite. Save for later and then search. Etc. These are spaces where libraries can play a role, and the lynchpin is the acquisition of the data/information. Other institutions have all but solved the search problem. It is now time to figure out how to put the information to use so we can stop drinking from the proverbial fire hose.

P.S. I don’t think very many people from Notre Dame will be taking Jon up on his offer to host their data.

Crowd sourcing TEI files

How feasible and/or practical do you think “crowd sourcing” TEI files would be?

I like writing in my books. In fact, I even have a particular system for doing it. Circled things are the subjects of sentences. Squared things are proper nouns. Underlined things connected to the circled and squared things are definitions. Moreover, my books are filled with marginalia. Comments. Questions. See alsos. I call this process ELMTGML (Eric Lease Morgan’s Truly Graphic Mark-up Language), and I find it a whole lot more useful than the use of simple highlighter pen that where all the mark-up has the same value. Florescent yellow.

I think I could easily “crosswalk” my mark-up process to TEI mark-up because there are TEI elements for many of things I highlight. Given such a thing I could mark-up texts using my favorite editor and then create stylesheets that turn on or turn off my commentary.

Suppose many classic texts were marked-up in TEI. Suppose there were stylesheets that allowed you to turn on or turn off other people’s commentary/annotations or allowed you to turn on or turn off particular people’s commentary/annotation. Wouldn’t that be interesting?

Moreover, what if some sort of tool, widget, or system were created that allowed anybody to add commentary to texts in the form of TEI mark-up. Do you think this would be feasible? Useful?

Steve Cisler

This is a tribute to Steve Cisler, community builder and librarian.

Steve CislerLate last week I learned from Paul Jones’s blog that Steve Cisler had died. He was a mentor to me, and I’d like to tell a few stories describing the ways he assisted me in my career.

I met Steve in 1989 or so after I applied for an Apple Library of Tomorrow (ALOT) grant. The application was simple. “Send us a letter describing what you would do with a computer if you had one.” Being a circuit-rider medical librarian at the Catawba-Wateree Area Health Education Center (AHEC) in rural Lancaster, South Carolina, I outlined how I would travel from hospital to hospital facilitating searches against MEDLINE, sending requests for specific articles via ‘fax back to my home base, and having the articles ‘faxed back to the hospital the same day. Through this process I proposed to reduce my service’s turn-around time from three days to a few hours.

Those were the best two pages of text I ever wrote in my whole professional career because Apple Computer (Steve Cisler) sent me all the hardware I requested — an Apple Macintosh portable computer and printer. He then sent me more hardware and more software. It kept coming. More hardware. More software. At this same time I worked with my boss (Martha Groblewski) to get a grant from the National Library of Medicine. This grant piggy-backed on the ALOT grant, and I proceeded to write an expert system in HyperCard. It walked the user through a reference interview, constructed a MEDLINE search, dialed up PubMED, executed the search, downloaded the results, displayed them to the user, allowed the user to make selections, and finally turned-around and requested the articles for delivery via DOCLINE. I called it AskEric, about four years before the ERIC Clearinghouse used the same name for their own expert system. In my humble opinion, AskEric was very impressive, and believe it or not, the expert part of the system still works (as long as you have the proper hardware). It was also during this time when I wrote my first two library catalog applications. The first one, QuickCat, read the output of a catalog card printing program called UltraCard. Taking a clue from OCLC’s (Fred Kilgour’s) 4,2,2,1 indexing technique, it parsed the card data creating author, title, subject, and keyword indexes based on a limited number of initial characters from each word. It supported simple field searching and Boolean logic. It even supported rudimentary circulation — search results of items that had been checked-out were displayed a different color than the balance of the display. QuickCat earned me the 1991 Meckler Computers In Libraries Software Award. My second catalog application, QuickCat Mac, read MARC records and exploited HyperCard’s free-text searching functionality. Thanks goes to Walt Crawford who taught me about MARC through his book, MARC For Library Use. Thanks goes to Steve for encouraging the creativity.

Steve then came to visit. He wanted to see my operation and eat barbecue. During his visit, he brought a long a video card, and I had my first digital image taken. The walk to the restaurant where we ate his barbecue was hot and humid but he insisted on going. “When in South Carolina you eat barbecue”, he said. He was right.

It was time for the annual ALOT conference, and Steve flew me out to Apple Computer’s corporate headquarters. There I met other ALOT grantees including Jean Armor Polly (who coined the phrase “surfing the Internet”), Craig Summerhill who was doing some very interesting work indexing content using BRS, folks from OCLC who were scanning tables-of-contents and trying to do OCR against them, and people from the Smithsonian Institution who were experimenting with a new image file format called JPEG.

I outgrew the AHEC, and with the help of a letter of reference from Steve I got a systems librarian job at the North Carolina State University Libraries. My boss, John Ulmschneider, put me to work on a document delivery project jointly funded by the National Agriculture Library and an ALOT grant. “One of the reasons I hired you”, John said, “was because of your experience with a previous ALOT grant.” Our application, code named “The Scan Plan”, was a direct competitor to the fledgling application called Ariel. Our application culminated in an article called “Digitized Document Transmission Using HyperCard”, ironically available as a scanned image from the ERIC Clearinghouse (or this cached version). That year, during ALA, I remember walking through the exhibits. I met up with John and one of his peers, Bil Stahl (University of North Carolina – Charlotte). As we were talking Charles Bailey (University of Houston) of PACS Review fame joined us. Steve then walked up. Wow! I felt like I was really a part of the in crowd. They didn’t all know each other, but they knew me. Most of the people whose opinions I respected the most at that particular time were all gathered in one place.

By this time the “Web” was starting to get hot. Steve contacted me and asked, “Would you please write a book on the topic of Macintosh-based Web servers?” Less than one year, one portable computer, and one QuickTake camera later I had written Teaching a New Dog Old Tricks: A Macintosh-Based World Wide Web Starter Kit Featuring MacHTTP and Other Tools. This earned me two more trips. The first was to WebEdge, the first Macintosh WWW Developer’s Conference, where I won a hackfest award for my webcam application called “Save 25¢ or ‘Is Eric In’?” The second was back to Apple headquarters for the Ties That Bind conference where I learned about AppleSearch which (eventually) morphed into the search functionality of Mac OS X, sort of. I remember the Apple Computer software engineers approaching the Apple Computer Library staff and asking, “Librarians, you have content, right? May we have some to index?”

motifTo me it was the Ties That Bind conference that optimized the Steve Cisler I knew. He described there his passion for community. For sharing. For making content (and software) freely available. We discussed things like “copywrite” as opposed to copyright. It was during this conference he pushed me into talking with a couple of Apple Computer lawyers and convince them to allow the Tricks book to be freely published. It was during this conference he described how we are all a part of a mosaic. Each of us are a dot. Individually we have our own significance, but put together we can create an even more significant picture. He used an acrylic painting he recently found to literally illustrate the point, all puns intended. Since then I have used the mosaic as a part my open source software in libraries handout. I took the things Steve said to heart. Because of Steve Cisler I have been practicing open access publishing and open source software distribution for longer than the phrases have been coined.

A couple more years past and Apple Computer shut down their library. Steve lost his job, and I sort of lost track of Steve. I believe he did a lot of traveling, and the one time I did see him he was using a Windows computer. He didn’t like it, but he didn’t seem to like Apple either. I tried to thank him quite a number of times for the things he had done for me and my career. He shrugged off my praise and more or less said, “Pass it forward.” He then went “off the ‘Net” and did more traveling. (Maybe I got some of my traveling bug from Steve.) I believe I wrote him a letter or two. A few more years past, and like I mentioned above, I learned he had died. Ironically, the next day I was off to Santa Clara (California) to give a workshop on XML. I believe Steve lived in Santa Clara. I thought of him as I walked around downtown.

Tears are in my eyes and my heart is in my stomach when I say, “Thank you, Steve. You gave me more than I ever gave in return.” Every once in a while younger people than I come to visit and ask questions. I am more than happy to share what I know. “Steve, I am doing my best to pass it forward.”