Pascal’s place


Views on technology and libraries

Indiana Linux Festival 2011

We’ve just finished up the inaugural Indiana Linux Festival this past weekend, held at the Wyndham airport down in Indianapolis, and for a first Linux conf, I think this was a success overall.

This was my first experience as an Event Owner, responsible for organizing Fedora’s presence at the show, and I learned a fair amount. I’ve organized multi-day conferences and workshops before in my $DAYJOB, but the organizational culture and set of norms is different in every community, so there are always things to learn.

Ben Williams from Virginia Tech and I were the Ambassadors responsible for the Fedora Booth at ILF this year, and I was very pleased and thankful to have Ben’s presence this year, since it has been about 18 months since I last worked a Fedora booth at the Ohio Linux Fest 2009. Ben arrived Thursday night, and I drove down from South Bend Friday morning.

First off, I continue to be impressed with the help that the Fedora Ambassador team has for these events. I was able to request both the Fedora Event banners and one of the four North American EventBoxen easily with a TRAC request, both shipped to my home via UPS. The EventBox holds all the essentials that an Ambassador needs for a Fedora booth at a conference:

  • OLPC XO-1 and HP netbook with Sugar and Fedora 14, respectively
  • lots of the latest release media, in 32-bit DVD, 64-bit DVD, and 32-bit Live CDs
  • t-shirts to give away
  • pens and pins
  • temporary tattoos, case badges, stickers, and the new windows keyboard button sticker

We did find that we needed to add a multi-outlet surge protector aka “FriendFinder” and a pair of scissors, which Ben and I procured Friday at good ole K-Mart. We also updated the HP mini to have the latest Fedora 14 install on it, replacing some of the live-bootable images on the netbook. Friday was also an InstallFest day, so we headed in to the Wyndham after returning from Wal-Mart and met Dru Lavigne, the new Community Manager for BSD-PC, based out of Ottawa, Canada. It was nice to meet another distro community manager, and we swapped details on the state of hardware driver support in BDS-PC and Fedora a bit. We had one chap, Tom, visit us and ask to get some help on installing Fedora on his older Windows XP PC. Tom, a adjunct faculty member at the local Ivy Tech community college, brought back the deskside unit with two LCD monitors shortly before we were to close up the InstallFest room for the day, and so we moved to the vendor exhibit area and commandeered a table to get Tom started. Booting off a USB stick with Fedora 14 64-bit, we ran into a bit of weirdness when Fedora installed the bootloader on sda1 (as expected), but which was actually on the USB stick and not the internal drive. We backed out of that and I headed up to our hotel room to grab a F14 64-bit DVD, which did the trick. Tom took copious notes while Ben was installing F14 in a dual-boot setup so he could retain his Windows XP partition. Tom left happy and enthusiastic about making the switch to free software as his spring schedule permitted. Success!

Saturday was the main conference day, and Ben and I headed down to the vendor exhibit area around 7:30 am to set the booth up. We were a bit groggy, as we’d been up until midnight watching the VCU-Florida State Men’s NCAA game, which resulted in a thrilling win for VCU, heading to its first NCAA final four! I’m usually a breakfast person, but this morning I was fine with a Starbuck’s from the hotel and an apple I’d brought along with me. The Fedora banners set up easily, although I was a bit vertically challenged to hook them at the top of the banner pole; I’ll need to use a chair if I ever have to set these up myself! 🙂 We were able to negotiate a different table than the organizers had originally assigned us to so that we were less squeezed in and the banners wouldn’t block traffic flow in the room. We ended up next to the good folks from <a href=";Dual Core, in from Cincinnati, and who were going to perform at the after party Saturday night. Some of the other sponsors at the fest included, where we met Fedora Board member David Nalley who had some pretty cool CBGBs-inspired t-shirts, the good folks from Ohio Linux Fest, which was the inspiration for ILF, BeagleBoard, BSD-PC, the husband and wife team from Linux in the Ham Shack, who did some interviews at the Fest, as well as some local IT consulting firms. It was also great to see Brian Pepple, who drove over from Columbus for ILF. Brian, a former Fedora Engineering Steering Committee chair and active Gnome contributor and packager is an old friend from OLF and Ben and I joined him for lunch on Saturday to catch up on news, Fedora and otherwise.

The crowd at ILF was about what one expects at a Linux festival, the majority of the crowd is 18-25, with a significant 40+ demographic as well. There were 250 pre-registrants for ILF, which is a good number for a first year conf. We handed out plenty of media, trying to get these in the hands of users before Fedora 15’s mid-May release date that is steadily approaching. There are always a few families that also come together, and the kids always gravitate to the OLPC XO to explore that. We face theis and the netbook out to the crowd with the webcam turned on, which always draws people in, and they continue to be amazed that Fedora-based Sugar runs the XOs.

Fedora has an excellent reputation for supporting the Linux community, and many people remarked to us at the booth that Fedora seems to “be everywhere” at Linux conferences nationwide. Indeed, we do try to have a presence at as many events as we are able. There was a Indiana Ubuntu community booth across from us at the meeting, but it was unmanned, with media on the table and a couple issues of Ubuntu Magazine. Attendees appreciate having people at a booth who can answer questions and help troubleshoot issues they may be having.

After a full day on the exhibit floor, we packed up the banners and the EventBox, now much lighter than we brought it in at. Overall a great linux festival. The hotel was nice, with generally good free wireless, a great location that was easy to get to, and a good community that came out to participate in the very good series of talks and birds of a feather events around the meeting.


Filed under: fedora, travel reports,

Drupal 6 and Fedora Insight: Working with Views and CCK

I’ve been helping out with a new site for Fedora Project (linux distribution) information that we’re calling Fedora Insight, and here’s my recent worklog on this, specifically finding out how CCK and Views work.

Paul had created two fields using the Content Construction Kit (aka CCK) module in Drupal for FWN issue and beat, and added these to the content creation form . The default view for this was to associate each beat’s Drupal node to a Book that constituted an FWN issue See FWN 239 as an early example. What we needed to do next was create a new View that would display all of the nodes from a particular issue in a single page. Being someone who works in libraries, there are a lot of sites that use Drupal, and I knew of this active group, Drupal4Lib, a discussion list for libraries that use Drupal, so I joined and asked around. Several posters pointed me to “passing an argument via node id” to the view. That was a start, and I poked around a bit and created a new View, with the content_issue field that Paul created in the CCK passed to the view, and I set the path for the new View to use /fwn. Finally, I entered some sort criteria to display the issues in descending order, and applied a filter for the node type = weekly news beat. Now I can reference all of the beats associated with an issue easily — ie. /fwn/247. I’ve marked up the latest FWN in just such a way.

What remained was to display the title of each beat, since this was passed in the CCK as a hidden variable. So I edited the “Weekly news beat” content type, managing the fields, and turned the Beat Label from “Hidden” to “Above” in the “Display fields” tab. For some reason this didn’t work at first, so I figured I still have to mess around with the View to make it visible. I can’t actually see the title of each beat yet, so will still keep on working with this, but have made definite progress!

Filed under: fedora

Jazz Traditions, May 18, 2010 8:00-10:00 pm WSND 88.9 FM Notre Dame, IN

Its great to be back at the station after a month hiatus, and celebrated with some awesome stuff I haven’t played on the show before, including git funky wit Herbie:

Herbie Hancock – Headhunters (Sony 1973; 1997 remaster)
Herbie Hancock – keyboards
Bennie Maupin – horns
Paul Jackson, Harvey Mason, and Bill Summers – rhythm section

1. Chameleon
2. Watermelon Man
3. Sly
4. Vein Melter

Don Cherry – El Corazon (ECM 1982; remastered 2000)

Don Cherry – pocket trumpet
Ed Blackwell – percussion, piano

1. Mutron
2. Bemsha Swing
3. Solidarity
4. Arabian Nightingale
5. Roland Alphonso
6. Makondi
7. Street Dancing
8. Short Stuff
9. El Corazon
10. Rhythm For Runner
11. Near-In
12. Voice Of The Silence

Horace Silver – Live at Newport ’58 (Blue Note 2008)

1. Tippin’
2. The Outlaw
3. Senor Blues

Filed under: WSND

eXtensible Catalog Organization (XCO) Spring 2010 Meeting

For the kickoff XCO meeting, there were attendees from both partner institutions from the XC grant period as well as new institutions and other organizations interested in XC’s development. OCLC sent John Bodfish, who is primarily interested in seeing where XC software can be leveraged with existing OCLC software. Rick and I found out that OCLC has written a SIP2 to NCIP connector, for example, and so we could probably refactor this to add support for Aleph for the functions that are currently provided for by the SIP2 server in Aleph.

Lyushu University in Japan sent a representative, and had one participate remotely. They will be using XC components in a production environment in the next few months. Library of Congress had Rebecca Guenther and Beacher Wiggins attend. LYRASIS was represented by Cathy Wilt. VUFind sent Demian Katz. There were several people who are active with the OLE project, including John Little from Duke and Mike Winkler from U.Pennsylvania. Then there were several people from the XC component partner institutions, including Susan Singleton from CARLI, Chris Lerch from RIT, the team from Rochester (David Lindahl, Susan Gibbons, Jennifer Bowen, Nancy Fried Foster, Randall Cook and a developer, Sharmila Ranganathan), and UNC-Charlotte participants Stanley Wilder, Chuck Haymaker, and Michael Winecoff, who will also be using XC in production, along with Rochester and CARLI. Peter Murray from OhioLink attended, Diane Hillman formerly from Cornell and now with her own metadata consulting firm, and Nannette Naught from another consulting firm, IMT (Information Management Team, Inc.)

This meeting is both a capstone for the completion of the Mellon grant phase, as well as a kickoff to the new XCO, which will provide governance and financial support to XC activities going forward. I’ll report on the content of today’s meetings towards the end of the day.

Filed under: eXtensible Catalog, librarianship

Visit with School of Information Science and Technology, East China Normal University

On Friday we visited faculty of the School of Information Science and Technology, East China Normal University as well as several staff of the University Library.

Established in 2001, the School of Information Science and Technology Institute includes the departments of Electrical Engineering, Computer Science and Technology and the Communication Engineering and Computer Center.

Within the research academy of engineering, they focus on establishing a science research and teaching system in the field of information and technology; forming a graduate education base; becoming a research link from basic theory; software and hardware design; application to product development; building an interdisciplinary group network, including new material; functional devices; communication and information; computer software; chip design; and complex systems.

This was the largest group we’ve met during the delegation, with seven members from the Library and another three from the School. I personally got the most relevant to my areas of interest with this meeting out of any of the delegation meetings.

The session started with an overview of the Library, after we finished introductions and some general discussion of the delegation’s areas of interest. The Library is a large one, with 143 staff, collections in excess of 4 million printed volumes, 1.3 million e-books, 1 million e-dissertations, and a suite of sophisticated web-based services spanning their III Millennium ILS, a federated search system, citation linking, and significant resource discovery and digitization programs.

I learned definitively that there is no credentialing system in place for those professionals who work in academic (and other) libraries in China, and that orientation to the profession and practices of library work is highly localized, with each library being responsible for this following a new hire. A Director of the Systems Division for the Library attended this meeting, and so I established a contact that I can follow up with for more information on the staff in his Division. Generally speaking, the Division there and in Systems divisions in libraries hires staff trained in computer science, information technology and information management.

Filed under: librarianship, travel reports

Beijing Cultural Day: visit to Tian’an Men Square, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall of China

This past Wednesday was our cultural day for seeing some of the significant cultural sites in and around Beijing. The bus first left us off adjacent to Tian’an Men Square (yes, it is officially this and not the Tiananmen Square as we know it in the West), the world’s largest square which can hold more than one million people. I had hoped to be able to visit the mausoleum of Chairman Mao Zedong, which is also on the Square, but in recent years one needs to bring official documentation (in our case, passports) and queue up several hours to file past Mao’s body, so we had to miss this unfortunately. The Chinese people still revere Mao for his leadership and accomplishments, and on this morning there were many people obviously from the rural areas in Beijing to see Mao’s embalmed body. We did get a group photo on the Square, which I will digitize and update this post when I get back home to Indiana.

From here, we walked across the remainder of the Square and towards the gates of the Forbidden City, which from the fifteenth century until 1911 was the exclusive residence of the Emperor of China and his thousands of concubines, eunuchs and senior staff. The nearly 9,000 buildings in the Forbidden City are slowly being restored to their former glory after being neglected from 1911 to sometime in the 1970s when the Chinese government recognized the value of the City as a tourist destination and cultural heritage gem. The Forbidden City these days is known as the Palace Museum, open to everyone and chronicling this most important of Imperial China’s splendour. We walked through the Gates of Heaven and succeeding gates through to the places immortalized in Bertolucci’s wonderful film, The Last Emperor. I was in absolute awe. I never had thought that I’d ever see this in person, and was absolutely delighted with the experience. The scale, grandeur and extreme sophistication of the buildings we toured was breathtaking. I understand about 500 of the nearly 9,000 buildings have been restored to date, and as I thought about the need for whole new specializations in architectural antiquity preservation and restoration I realized what a daunting task this was. We only got to spend about 2.5 hours in the Forbidden City, and if I ever come back here, I’ll set aside a couple days to explore the huge compound.

For lunch, we went to one of Beijing’s Friendship Stores upstairs to have lunch. After lunch, we had some time for shopping in the state-run large store, mostly of Chinese cultural souvenirs, artwork and jewellery. I picked up a few things, and then we were off to the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China. Several miles outside of northwest Beijing, this was the section of the wall that President Barack Obama visited in a 2009 visit of China. There are actually two paths one can take at this section of the wall, an easy route and a hard route. I and another delegate chose the easy route, and started our trek up the wall.

After walking a few minutes on this, I was thoroughly winded. This section of the wall was about 10-12 feet wide, and follows the contours of the geography that it goes over, with extreme inclines and descents as one might expect in this part of China’s mountainous regions. The width of the wall would make a possible military highway for Chinese imperial troops, but boy would this be hard work moving men and supplies for very long. Added to this, along the wall are battlements every few hundred meters or so, and these only allow enough space for an average man to pass through. So why then did they make the Wall so wide? The wall is an average of 3-4 metres high at least in this section of it, and this was the main disincentive for troops outside of China’s northern borders for getting in. Approximately 5,500 miles in length, the Wall was not usually manned except in particular sections that had active battles/skirmishes ongoing. So we got to the third battlement, and the next section looked incredibly gruelling, so we decided to stop, take photographs and enjoy the scenery for a few minutes before heading back.

We headed back to the hotel after this thoroughly enjoyable day. Dinner was at a nearby restaurant with reasonable prices, excellent service and decor and good food although somewhat bland to my taste. I prefer fiery Sichuan, and there was none to be had on this menu, unfortunately.

Filed under: librarianship, travel reports

Information control in China: some observations

This past Wednesday, a national day of mourning was observed for the 2800 dead in the recent earthquakes in western China. At 10:00 am China time (there is one time zone for the entire country), three minutes of reflection were held nationwide, which also encouraged people in cars to honk their horns and otherwise make much noise in the observance of this. Most interestingly, for the entire day the government decreed that all entertainment of any kind should not be held — no movies, no arts & culture or popular performances, no televised entertainment, and, very interestingly, no internet entertainment!

Turning on HBO and CineMax in our Beijing hotel room on Wednesday brought up a notice that programming was not available in observance of the national day of mourning. BBC World News was still available, as was CNN, but other television channels of the CCTV (Chinese government television service) all had the same programming on, covering memorial services around the country and later a ‘telethon’ event that raised over 2.2 billion yuan (approximately US$275 million) over the course of the day, pledged by Chinese throughout the country. Stories of workers donating their wages for the day to the relief and reconstruction effort were reported in the newspapers the following day.

It was interesting to observe the singular national focus on this and the solidarity the Chinese people felt for their fellow citizens suffering from the devestation in western China. It was also amazing how the government could fairly easily control news media throughout the country and even block satellite content from outside China as well as internet sites and services that constituted entertainment.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others are blocked here in China (these blog posts are posted automatically to my Facebook profile page, which is why those of you discovering them from Facebook can see these). Google’s site redirects to Google’s site in Hong Kong. There are conspicuous surveillance cameras wherever one goes. It strikes one as a fairly controlled society in some things, and in others it seems very much like an open capitalist country with flourishing commerce. It doesn’t quite feel like the paternalism that we see in Singapore, but it is, as our guide mentioned, “socialist centralism” (as it is now officially known in China) in terms of political and social environment.

Filed under: librarianship, travel reports

Meetings with China Science and Technology Information Institute and College of Information Science and Technology, Beijing Normal University

On Tuesday, we had two meetings, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. We first met with the China Science and Technology Information Institute. Founded in 1956, the China Science and Technology Information Institute is a state-level nonprofit research institution directly under the Ministry of National Science and Technology.

The institute is mainly engaged in information analysis; providing scientific and technological information services; promoting and developing new technology; personal training and continuing education, etc. Within the last 50 years, the China Science and Technology Information Institute has made great contributions to S&T information business, and have received several awards.

Interestingly, the Institute also has graduate and post-graduate programs in Information Science, something that we do not typically see in the west for scientific institutes. They sponsor faculty and students for foreign study exchanges also, and host students and faculty from outside of China to teach and study at the Institute as well. They also have a publications division that publishes and is responsible for several academic journals, meeting proceedings and other publications in the area of information and library science.

This meeting was quite different from our meeting at the library of the CAS on Monday in that almost all of the communication was performed through an interpreter. We found out later that the staff there had good facility in English but that because they were officially representing the government of China they communicated in Chinese.

In the afternoon, we visited the Beijing Normal University’s College of Information Science and Technology. The predecessor of the Information Science and Technology School of Beijing Normal University is the wireless electronics subject in the Physics Department, which has recruited students since 1964. The Wireless Electronics Department was established in 1980, and over the next several years also included education technology and computer science; and the School of Information Science and Technology soon followed. Throughout these changes, the curriculum evolved as well.

Currently the College of Information Science and Technology consists of two departments and many science research centers, specifically the electronics science and technology and the computer science and technology department. Students can receive a Bachelor’s degree in either Electronics Science or Computer Science or a Master’s in Communication and Information Systems, Signal and Information Processing, Computer Software and Theory, Computer Applied Technology, Computer Architecture, and Pattern Recognition and Intelligent Systems. There are 433 undergraduate and 170 graduate students currently enrolled.

The school encourages the students to actively participate in scientific research and innovation activities, as well as various competitions. In recent years, students have published more than 130 academic articles and have won over 90 internal and external awards, but participating in contests including; the National Undergraduate Electronic Design contest; Mathematical Modeling and Computer Application Competition; English Contests; and the Students Entrepreneurship Contest.

This was our first visit to an LIS school, and we met with two faculty members and one student who was in his second year of a Master’s level program at the College. Interestingly, most of the focus here was on undergraduate education, with many of the students having strong computer programming components of the curriculum, information management/engineering, and what we would consider non-traditional library areas in North America. Many of their students after graduation work in the private sector for search engine companies such as Baidu, which has a much larger visibility and usage in China than Google does. I exchanged cards with the faculty members and look forward to finding out more about their course offerings at the College. They do have graduate programs in information science and library science both. It seems that positions at academic libraries are highly sought after in China, so often students with advanced subject degrees are selected for subject librarian positions. There is no established credential for working as a ‘librarian’ in China, and new employees go through a training program in their new position to contextualize the work for the new employee, including teaching them what they may need to know about the work of libraries.

Filed under: librarianship, travel reports

Credentialing information professionals: the context of technology professionals in academic research libraries

I’m going to be leading a discussion on the formal and informal education of systems librarians later today when we visit the College of Information and Library Science at Beijing Normal University, and I’ve been thinking about what the crux of the main issues are to try to really focus discussion on areas that really invite collaborative thinking and work on this.

We touched very briefly on the issue of credentialling yesterday at our meeting at the National Science Library of China, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and there is interest from our Chinese colleagues in looking more closely at competency standards that have been established by Special Libraries Association, ALA and others.

The issue from my standpoint is that I think we are nearing a crossroads in the utility of the traditional MLS in providing a solid foundation for information professionals who are responsible for library technology systems and services in research libraries. I am very fortunate to have a very talented staff of 9 others in our Library Information Systems department, with only myself and one other librarian. These talented computer science-educated staff add huge value every day with building, assessing, implementing, upgrading, maintaining, key information systems and services that further the mission of the library and the academy in which we serve. They do remarkably well in learning about libraries, our standards, mission and values, and act in concert with these with some context setting and occasional guidance from myself and our other systems librarian. What value would be added for some of these folks to get MLS degrees? Would it help them “go to the next level” in their work?

In libraries we are very concerned about the socialization process of bringing people into the library profession, and in some cases, I think this is to the detriment of the capability of the people we are able to attract to given positions. It was quite striking for me yesterday with the CAS library and the focus on advanced subject degrees and immersion in the research process, but without formal library credentials. These people are acting as subject librarians and information analysts for their own areas, and bringing a lot of credibility to the scientists and graduate students in which they serve. An interesting comment from the Executive Director in terms of outcomes: we are successful to the extent we provide satisfying (also implying strong outcomes) services to the scientists, graduate students, and scientific institutions which we serve. I can’t think of a more user-focused statement than that, and I was impressed.

I am optimistic in some of the new so-called iSchools programs, such as the University of Toronto’s ALA-accredited Master of Information, which offers course content of “information-focused fields of study from various disciplinary and professional viewpoints”. There is an approved track “Information Systems and Design” with core required courses in database modelling and design, systems requirements and architecture design and such, which is positive in adding technical capacity.

One area I am particularly interested in is the process of decisioning ongoing professional education and skill enhancement for information professionals here in China. In libraries in the US and Canada, the individual has to take a lot of personal responsibility in keeping their skills honed and identify areas to develop new skills that further the goals of their organization. To a large degree, most libraries are able to provide a modest level of financial support in these endeavours, with individuals having to contribute some themselves. I don’t know if the individual as as much responsibility for these here in China, which is something I’d like to explore in today’s discussion.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Found my Beijing soul kitchen

When I travel to new places, I always try to find places to eat off the beaten path that are authentic. Simple, good food, unpretentious, I’m looking for a soul kitchen!

Well, we found one of those last evening. About a ten minute walk from our hotel down a side street, this place was packed, which is usually a good indication of excellent food and value. I’ll call it “Cafe of Chairman Mao.” A tiny place with seating for perhaps 20-25, this place had wonderful Sichuan dishes and many, many posters of the Chairman from his young days as a Communist guerilla leader in the late 1920s and 1930s while fighting the Kuomintang, through a photograph of him speaking at a rally during 1949, the year the People’s Republic of China was established, and then Cultural Revolution period of the late 1960s. They even has a gold-colored statue of Chairman Mao with his hand outstretched and smiling by the front counter. Anyhow, this place was it. Filled with locals, we ordered two litre bottles of Tsingtao beer, a deal at 4RMB each (US$0.50), and then started going through the menu. There was some confusion on our part at the beginning as our waitress brought two bottles and wanted us to choose from them for some reason. I think she wanted to know whether we wanted chilled or non-chilled beer, but we just smiled and indicated these were fine. No English in there, but lots of pictures in the menu and prices clearly marked. We chose a hotpot of what looked to be squid (RMB48/$US5.75), although with cartilage still attached we couldn’t actually verify what it was, but it was delicious nonetheless. Also two bowls of white rice (1RMB/US$0.12), and another Sichuan dish that was finely ground beef (RMB18/US$2.25), ginger, bamboo shoots, leek, and lots of 1cm pieces of hot peppers in both of these. Absolutely wonderful food, and a deal at 76RMB/US$9.50 for the both of us. We left a tip of 10RMB/US$1.25 and left completely happy with the experience.

We have one more meal in Beijing that is on our own for Wednesday’s dinner and I’ll try to get some other adventurous delegates to make a return trip with me, and will take photos this time!

Filed under: Uncategorized