Wednesday, January 25, 2012

ALA MidWinter 2012

I just returned from ALA MidWinter in Dallas, TX. It was my first MidWinter & my first strict ALA conference (I attended to ACRL in Philadelphia). Here are some loosely organized impressions.

MidWinter is different. I spent the majority of my time, from the unconference first thing on Friday to the LITA Townhall Monday morning, sitting at a round table discussing pressing issues. Interest groups, unconferences, committee meetings, townhalls...these are MidWinter fair. It was nice. There were many intelligent, interesting things said & it's one thing to hear them from a podium & another to hear them from the person sitting next to you. Overall, I would say MidWinter is defined by talking with people while ACRL—which consisted of panels, research papers, & presentations—is more about people talking at you.

But there are downsides to open & equitable conversation. Quite frankly, I like hearing presentations from people at the top of their field. I can learn about innovations more quickly from a structured panel of experts (the LITA Top Tech Trends panel at MW, for instance, was effective) than a digressive conversation with those same individuals. I find this has counter-intuitive implications for instruction, too. We've all been told not to be a "sage on stage" but a "guide by the side" (I apologize for repeating it...). However, that is not always the most effective method of spreading information, especially when you're the most knowledgeable person in the room.

Last but not least, I met a bunch of people I follow on Twitter but had never met. They were, without exception, just as smart & interesting in person. It does cement the correspondence, being able to put not only a face but a body language & mannerism with each person. We're far more human face-to-face than we could ever be in text, static images, & case anyone doubted that. I removed a profile pic that showed my face for my favorite Matta painting awhile back in the name of a modicum of privacy & consistency (I try to use the same image across the Internet, like Tom from MySpace [remember him?] whose picture is the same on his Facebook account) so I think it's nice that people can picture me.

That's all, folks. Overall, I think I'll enjoy ALA Annual more, but we'll see. It was nice to work with my committees & converse. Definitely worth my while & a nice contrast from other conferences.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Senselessly Long List of Web Browsers

Some fruits of my obsession with Internet browsers. The layout will be: Browser | Platforms <br /> Single sentence pitch. I am trying to stick to the positives :)

Mozilla Firefox | Linux, Mac, Windows
Single Sentence Pitch: Because of its massive suite of powerful extensions, Firefox is the Transformers of browsers & capable of almost anything.

Google Chrome | Linux (c.f. Chromium in package mgmt systems), Mac, Windows
SSP: Whether you like it or not, the omnibar & Google Chrome's minimalist, er, chrome has straight-up revolutionized the way that internet browsers are designed.

Opera | Linux, Mac, Windows
SSP: Opera is lightweight & comes full-featured out of the box, with a particularly nice launching page, mail reader,& a decent password manager.

Safari | Mac, Windows (Funny, but true. Anyone running Safari on Windows just has to leave me a shout out in the comments.)
SSP: Safari's easy integration with so many common Mac applications, both Apple's native & third-party ones, makes it a super convenient choice on OS X.

Midori | Linux, Mac, Windows
SSP: A purposefully simplistic browser with a built-in User-Agent switcher, which is pretty sweet for Linux users who need to work around terrible web development decisions.

Camino | Mac
SSP: Camino runs like a stripped-down Firefox that's optimized for OS X, & it would be a fine option for the OS if it was better maintained.

Konqeuror | Linux, Mac, Windows
SSP: The unheralded mother of many modern browsers (the Webkit rendering engine that undergirds Safari, Chrome, Midori, & many others was based off of Konqeuror's KHMTL), Konq is utterly unique in that it doubles as a file manager/viewer, combining perhaps the two most common OS functions in one place (imagine if Windows/Internet Explorer were merged).

rekonq | Linux, Windows
SSP: The default browser for Kubuntu, rekonq is slick & an aesthetic joy to behold in the K desktop environment.

SRWare Iron | Linux, Mac, Windows
SSP: Iron is a fork of Chromium that focuses on privacy, meaning users get all the technological advances of Chrome without sending tracking data back to Google.

RockMelt | Mac, Windows
SSP: For social media addicts, the ability to easily access many networking sites while benefitting from the technology & extensions of Chrome is a potent combo.

Raven | Mac
SSP: Another newcomer, Raven has a different take on RockMelt's sidebar, focusing on the web app element of many modern sites by adding buttons for common functions like RSS feeds, social sharing, & more.

Maxthon | Windows
SSP: Highly customizable, MaxThon is a strong choice for Windows users who want all the options of Firefox without researching & installing twenty extensions to get there.

Arora | Linux, Mac, Windows
SSP: A cross-platform combination of the strengths of Linux browsers, Arora has a User Agent switcher like Midori alongside the simplicity of Epiphany's user interface.

Lunascape | Windows
SSP: Lunascape boasts perhaps the strangest super power with its triple-rendering engine insanity (it has Gecko which powers Firefox, Trident which powers Internet Explorer, & Webkit which powers Safari & Chrome) which makes it an intriguing tool for web designers.

Lynx | Linux, Mac, Windows
SSP: Lynx is another unique browser in that it just presents text without any other media, which actually has a tremendous number of use cases such as when running a browser on a web server or doing quick accessibility checks.

Epiphany | Linux
SSP: With its decent speed & simple user interface, Epiphany is a great browser for new users, but it can use Firefox add-ons making it very customizable as well.

Dooble | Linux, Mac, Windows
SSP: Dooble has a simple interface with some surprisingly complex options, especially under its Security and Safe settings tabs, and a built-in file browser.

Internet Explorer | Windows
SSP: The latest version of IE (9 as of this writing) is fast as hell & surpasses even Chrome in terms of minimalist user interface.

So there you have it. I know I left some out (Dillo, Flock, Galeon, K-Meleon) but I hope to check them out & come back to update this post. What's more, there's a rapidly evolving set of mobile browsers–from Android Browser to Firefox Mobile to Mobile Safari–that I haven't had the time to do my due diligence on. Also worth mentioning is the Wikipedia article that helped me research these software packages.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Music vs. Text, mp3s vs. eBooks

In November, I saw probably the best library talk ever by Eli Neuberger of Ann Arbor Library. He covered a lot of ground that I won't touch, but I wanted to think a little deeper about a format comparison that I've heard in several contexts. First, he showed an excellent graph that illuminated the rise and fall of each music format, from vinyl to digital (here's something similar, except animated). Then, the comparison goes eBooks :: books : mp3s :: vinyl. It's not always those specific terms, but the gist is that the lessons we've learned from format migrations in video (film reel > VHS > DVD) & music (vinyl > cassette > CD) apply to books (which, after all, started as cuneiform and have evolved to present day eBooks). While there's a lot to be learned from past format migrations, I don't think this analogy holds when we think about text content.

Active vs. Passive Consumption

Here's why: we consume text in a fundamentally different manner from music & video. When I watch a video, I don't wait until I've absorbed each frame before choosing to push forward to the next. Instead, the media washes over me, defining its own pacing. Books, on the other hand, require engagement. I necessarily dictate the speed of my own consumption; I develop an understanding & perhaps a visualization of the action, then proceed to the subsequent segment. Marshall McLuhan said everything I'm saying here in a more philosophical manner with his spectrum that ranges from "hot" to "cool" media, arguing that movies, for instance, enhance our visual sense so much that the audience need not participate to fill in the details.
But the difference between books & music/video isn't limited solely to consumption. We are proactive with texts in other ways, too. When I read a book, I underline notable passages, jot notes in the margin, skip back & forth to contrast sections with each other. I pause to look up a word in a dictionary, or an event/personage/concept in Wikipedia. A good book is more circular than linear*, it becomes a conversation, it connects with other objects. And I would argue that the biggest failure of eBooks lies precisely here: they don't facilitate easy annotation or nonlinear navigation...yet. They will eventually, though. The "pause to look up a word" action, for instance, is fertile ground for eBooks and there are already browser extensions that provide definitions without interrupting the surfing experience.

I feel pretty qualified to talk about this. Why? Because I'm a librarian who hates paper. I cringe whenever someone hands me a printed email. I've tried to digitize as much of my life as possible. Yet I still read paper books. I'm not nostalgic, I don't love the smell, & it's not because it's a break from the screens that persistently mediate my life. It's because books are the best way to consume text right now, period.

*English major aside: my two favorite books are James Joyce's Ulysses & Deleuze & Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus, both of which are explicit about their circular/rhizomatic qualities (as opposed to linear/arboreal). Perhaps I'm wrong, but "plot writing" (as I think of it) is terribly boring. You don't read a book to find out what happens in the end, you read a book to get lost in the middle.