Analog Knowledge in a Digital World

Working in a public library for the last two years has given me an interesting perspective on the divide between printed and digital information.  The emergence of web tools like Google and Wikipedia have greatly reduced the amount of time and effort it takes to find information.  Even academic journals are offering their publications in PDF format, downloadable from sites like JSTOR and Google Scholar. 

Does this mean that libraries are becomming increasingly irrelevant?  Not immediately, I don’t believe, but there is a real possibility for their demise if they do not adapt and evolve into a place that can be the hub of information that they once were. 

If the growth and maturity of Web 2.0 has taught us anything, it’s that the collaboration and sharing of ideas is what really drives today’s innovation.  Ask a question on FriendFeed and you’ll get an almost instant response, sometimes many great ideas and thoughts can arise from a single stimulus post.  Libraries, while once the place where information and knowledge was stored, must now take on a new role, one that is a hub of communication and sharing.  Libraries should be embracing their communities with tools like Twitter and FriendFeed.  Information that cannot be acquired from a source in the stacks could be requested from the community, and as people join the knowledge network, the reliability of the service increases. 

The reverse is also true.  People should be able to @yourlibraryhere a question that the reference librarians would receive, research, and reply with an answer that the sender would know to be reliable, removing the uncertainty of information posted online. 

The idea here is that libraries should no longer just be a place to go get a book to read.  They need to reinvent themselves and places in the community where ideas are exchanged and knowledge is created.  Today’s digital world means information is needed faster, and by using Web 2.0 tools, libraries can provide that service and remain relevant.   

Do you use your library to aquire information?  How could it better serve you and your community?  Share your ideas below.

July 28, 2008 at 7:48 pm 1 comment

Mo’ money, mo’ problems.

As the federal minimum wage increases to $6.55 today, I imagine I can hear millions of business owners screaming in agony.  Many people (especially Liberals) would argue that everyone in the country deserves to make a “living wage” and that even with today’s increase many people are still not making enough to make it out of poverty. 

The problem with increasing the minimum wage is that business owners that were paying their employees $5.15 last year are now paying those same employees over a dollar more per hour.  Most workers at the minimum wage level are teenagers with summer jobs or people with very few skills.  An increase in the minimum wage is a mandated raise for these workers, whether or not they’ve actually gained new skills or increased their productivity. 

Alan Greenspan famously recommended the abolishment of the minimum wage on grounds that it would exclude unskilled teenage workers from gaining the necessary experience to succeed in the work force.  The 1923 case Adkins v Childrens Hospital deemed the 1918 legislation establishing a minimum wage unconstitutional (it was later overruled, obviously). 

The real point here is that increases in the minimum wage hurt workers that are affected by the minimum wage.  If an employer doesn’t feel that a hire will provide $6.55 worth of productivity, then he or she has two choices: either do not hire the person and save the money it would take to train them to output their salary’s worth of production, or add those duties to another position and hire an already trained worker that is guaranteed to work to their expected output.

Eliminating the minimum wage would allow unskilled workers to be added to a payroll at a wage level proportional to their productivity, and would allow them to gain work experience and move up the pay scale as they gain new skills. 

Federal minimum wages really only apply to half the country, as most states have their own that are much higher.  The same problems apply, and many businesses as well as unskilled workers are being unnecessarily adversely affected.  Unfortunately most people feel that wage equality is the moral thing to do, and that it’s necessary to keep people out of poverty.  It really has no place in a capitalist system, and does more harm than good to the people who supposedly need it.

July 24, 2008 at 6:06 pm Leave a comment

Facebook points out a societal problem

After reading Stanislav Shalunov’s post on the two types of Facebook users, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the reason why I never log on to MySpace.

The problem is the majority of users as described in the article, those that use the animated GIFs and have auto-playing music when the profile loads.  These are the things that make MySpace unusable for me.  MySpace profiles are almost always cluttered and improperly formatted, leaving an asymmetric mess of a web page that makes me more inclined to close the browser and walk away from the Internet than stay and find out about someone.

Facebook (pre-redesign) was moving in this direction, with its pages sprouting app after app filled with hatching animals and bumper stickers that were lifted off humor websites (like someecards.com).  Not only does this make a page difficult to use, but I believe it points out a deeper problem.

The Warning Signs

As Shalunov mentions in his post, “giggly” users are far less likely to read blocks of text, and are more inclined to communicate by clicking (Poking and playing games).  As the internet grows up and moves to the services found under the umbrella of Web 2.0, I cringe to think that these “giggly” users are still stuck in the days of Hamster Dance (see: WebHamster…the original HamsterDance has actually cleaned up its act a little).

Web 2.0 is (at least in my opinion) centered around the exchange of ideas and information, and using the power of the internet to connect people instantly, and allowing those people to generate new knowledge on the fly (that’s not to say that Web 2.0 isn’t about having fun at the same time; see: Flickr and Last.fm). If the majority of users can’t focus on text and only want to see glittery animations, then the problem runs a lot deeper than a profile page.

Who they are and how to fix it

Shalunov further explains who a “giggly” user might be:

Giggly users love to have fun with their friends, love to chit-chat and giggle, forward things easily and without a second thought. Giggly users generally don’t review applications because it requires typing. They don’t visit the about pages much. The prototypical giggly user is a female teenager who might later go to a party school to major in English.

This notion of not reading what an application is about before installing it, about being those that forward silly emails to their friends (and facilitate the spread of viruses) and are only in school to party is a real issue.  These are the college students that will be moving into the workforce soon, and what are we to do when our interns and junior associates can’t concentrate long enough to read a memo? Are companies going to cater to them, adding Lisa Frank stickers to their letterheads? No, they’re going to fire these people for being incompetent, and in the famous words of Ross Perot, there’s going to be a sucking sound as the pool of skilled workers dries up.

This country is moving eerily toward the situation seen in the movie Idiocracy where flashing lights and sensationalism attracts our eyes and our brains, and where laziness and apathy lead to underachievement and an economy that underproduces.

We need to take a serious look at our society and where we are headed. Facebook’s redesign that de-emphasizes the glittery applications is a start, and I’m happy to see them catering more to the serious user, who wants a place to exchange those ideas and find other people with similar interests. Images and media can be used in smart ways, and plenty of fun can be had interacting on the web, but the written word is something that we should never be too lazy or too giggly to appreciate and use.

July 21, 2008 at 3:32 pm 2 comments

“What really grinds my gears” republished

A friend of mine, Kyle Brockman, just wrote this amazing piece on capitalism as a note on Facebook.  He’s allowed me to republish it here so I can share it with my Friendfeed and Twitter followers:

You know what really grinds my gears?
So, you are sitting around with your friends, having an intellectual discussion, and all of a sudden the word communism get mentioned. This in itself is not a problem, or at least, it wouldn’t be if it weren’t for a particular social nuance associated with the word. Inevitably as the bloody tides, someone will just have to add in a nasal ivy-league voice before acting smug:

“Well, communism is a good idea… in theory.”

NO. COMMUNISM IS A TERRIBLE THEORY.

Every time any reasonable number of people have attempted to establish a communist society, they have managed to bring about not only total economic failure, but an inevitably fascist state that throws human rights out the window and ushers in a newfound era of human suffering. If communism is a “good theory”, then it is officially the poorest implemented theory in human history… ever.

Oh wait, here comes the self-righteous anti-capitalism brigade, demanding that someone acknowledge the suffering capitalism causes. Except… wait a second… It is completely, 100% impossible for capitalism to cause suffering. The very idea of capitalism is that all exchanges are voluntary and optional. If you think a trade or exchange is going to make you worse off, don’t make it. If you don’t have a choice, surprise! That’s not capitalism! Any supposed sins of capitalism are not only fabricated outright lies, but completely overshadowed by the bloodbath that is communism anyway.

This isn’t an opinion piece. There is no viewpoints for us to share or respect. Humanity already figured this out guys, it’s a solved issue. The earth is round, not flat: arguing otherwise makes you both ignorant and stupid, not “respectful” or anything of the sort. A centrally planned economy and group ownership of resources sounds like a clever idea to maximize productivity; so did the idea of the Earth being the center of the universe surrounded by ether-filled spheres that the other planets and bodies glide around on. Clever, but completely wrong.

Communism brought out the worst in humanity, and speaking fondly of it only makes you sound like an idiot for digging it out of its well-deserved grave.

July 19, 2008 at 8:52 pm 2 comments

Life after the flood. (not the zombie things from Halo)

I’d like to direct your attention to an article that was just posted on Inhabitat.  Some of these pictures almost make me hope the ridiculous claims that global warming fanatics make come true.  These are some gorgeous pics.

June 28, 2008 at 2:19 pm Leave a comment

Pod cars, ftw!

Not long ago I wrote about the city of the future, which included the idea of “pod cars” which were basically small electric cars that I felt were one of the best new ideas in transportation.  Without repeating myself too much, I believe they allow for the feeling of owning and controlling personal trasnportation that I know a lot of older people feel is almost a human right, but they also provide a very specific service.  They allow for an alternative when making short urban trips, which comprise a large percentage of total trips made in this country.

Well, leave it to Europe to beat us to the punch in implementation.  The Guardian has this article detailing Paris’s plans to have a pod car system.  It’s only a matter of time now…

June 24, 2008 at 4:02 pm Leave a comment

Congratulations

A special congratulations is in order for Gus, the Chinese crested dog who won the title of Worlds Ugliest Dog over the weekend.  Gus sports only three legs, no hair, and skin cancer.  If you want to read more you can go here or here.

The three-year defending champion, Sam (also a Chinese Crested) recently and sadly died at the ripe age of 14.  His website is here.

 

June 23, 2008 at 8:34 pm Leave a comment

A global trend as seen through my life.

When the writers strike happened in late 07/early 08 it was primarily a result of new media, the new phenomenon that caters to the mindset of “I want my media whenever, where ever.”  Being able to watch tv shows on demand, online, outside of their scheduled time slot was a hard thing for “old media” people to understand, and they paid the price with the strike.

That’s all old news, but it relates to a shift I’ve recently noticed in my own life.  With the exception of big sporting events (the US Open, NBA Finals), I’ve all but stopped watching TV.  Scripted TV is almost as bad as reality TV, and the few shows that are still good enough to watch (Lost, The Office), can be watched online now.

Another TV killer has been my addiction to podcasts and having my eyes opened to revision 3 shows.

My current top 4 podcasts are:

Between those and downloadable Lost and Office episodes, I really have no reason to turn on the TV, and it feels good.  I’ve got a lot more time to think, read, and golf and I’m having a great summer.  Moral of the story: try out some podcasts and back away from the TV, and use the extra free time for something productive.

June 16, 2008 at 8:57 pm Leave a comment

Wishful thinking?

I always love a good plan for a future city, especially one with pretty graphics like this one

The good news about the components of this plan is that it’s a good place to start thinking about how urban areas will be organized in the future.  While algae ponds and vertical farms might be a little far-fetched, the ideas of short-term-use cars and new high-tech forms of mass transit are things that leaders should start looking at and implementing yesterday.  I really love the idea of a pod car beacuse it allows people to maintain that feeling of being in control of their transportation, but it limits that use to a certain area, more specifically the area that we travel the most, which usually includes short trips to shopping, dining, nightlife, or work.

While a lot of these ideas are almost sci-fi in nature, there are many things here that are great for the urban area of today.  Car pods (lol, a boy can hope), rainwater collection, wide use of solar energy, and focused and efficient mass transit are all things all cities (large and small) should be looking at right now. 

June 15, 2008 at 9:33 pm 2 comments

Bureaucracy at its finest

This article from Business Week is surely one of the most disgusting displays of why governments from the local level to the federal level all need to get their act together. 

I have little doubt that the age-old bureaucracy problem is in play here, especially when I read this:

Clarkson, who works for the state Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet, said she believes she was working the switchboard at the cabinet offices on April 1. She said the employee who works in the mailroom left early that day, and the FedEx agent required a signature for the package. She said 14 Reilly Road, the Frankfort address where the cabinet offices are located, is a five-building complex; the waste management division is located in another of the five buildings.

It’s actually kind of sad to hear that something as simple as signing for a package and getting it to where it needs to go can’t be successfully completed in our state government, especially in the year 2008.   

While it would be obvious to say that these people need to be fired for being so incompetent, it might also be good to say that there are some solutions to this problem.  FedEx could stand to make a little money on this type of situation by creating some sort of Twitter-like program that can alert the proper recipient of a package as well as the sender of a package upon delivery.  This could all easily be stored electronically on a package label and would word via the web and the established tracking system already in place.

So imagine if this document containing the proposal for grant money had been delivered to the Department of Waste Management instead of the proper Department of Environmental Safety (I know, not so hard to imagine) and FedEx had this program.  Ms. Clarkson would have been sent a “tweet” either on her desktop or on her mobile phone/pda/pager, and would have known what it was and who it was intended for (her).  Problem solved, they can thank me when they make millions.

June 14, 2008 at 9:47 pm 1 comment

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