Category Archives: Librarianship

Graduate degree…accomplished!

As I get older and go through fairly common or average life experiences (e.g. marriage, graduating, watching TV shows, etc.), I find it is harder and harder not to write in outright clichés. Yet here I am, saying goodnight to the weekend of my graduation from the University of Iowa with a Master of Arts degree in Library and Information Science, and I am dumbfounded by how fast the last two years of my life flew.

This weekend has brought some noteworthy realizations to the surface for me. While I have enjoyed the chance to be in school again and learn new skills and new ways to think about information in a society that is unwittingly ruled by information, I’m more vividly aware of the support system I have in my life. There is a network of humans that care for me very strongly, are proud of me and love me, and true awareness of this is tremendously overwhelming. If I had the inclination, I could expound on the grand theories of the field of librarianship, but I think as I put the final touches on my institutional education, I want to use this space to say thank you to some of the heavy hitters. This is by no means a comprehensive list, so if you’ve contributed even the slightest bit to my education and even more so to my life in the last two years, know that I am grateful.

I want to start by thanking my parents and my grandparents. You have been mentally and financially supportive during my time in school, and without your support, I would be in a far worse position than I currently find myself. But even more so, your care and admiration towards me is enormous. It means a lot to make you four proud, and I was overjoyed to share in this celebration with you. Thank you.

I’d like to thank my in-laws. You both have been an emotional support system to both Colleen and me for a long time now, and it’s been a pleasure and a comfort to be able to get to know you both better and hang out with you. Living this close has been a blessing for Colleen and me, and it will be a tough adjustment to be farther away. A patio date at Red’s is on us before we go. Thank you.

To a few specific classmates who most likely won’t stumble upon this post, you helped me through some fairly harrowing class assignments and experiences. I appreciated your help then and I certainly appreciate it now that I’m done. This degree was not all fun and games and your input and advise on homework and projects helped a great deal. Thank you.

To those not mentioned, I apologize for not mentioning you by name, but I garnered so much emotional and mental support from many people I wasn’t expecting these last two years. Thank you.

Finally, to my beautiful, caring, and eternally-understanding wife Colleen. There is no way I could have accomplished this without you. You have this uncanny ability to be exactly what I need, exactly when I need it. Whether it’s a chance to vent about a frustrating assignment or day at work, or a drive out to Kent or a walk to Red’s, or simply a night in watching Conan, you constantly know what I need and how to provide it. It has been, and continues to be, my goal to do the same for you. You’ve also kept a wonderfully clean and comforting home for us these last two years and it has been an immense blessing to me. I’m excited to be more available to help with the general upkeep of our life together, aside from just balancing the checkbook. Dibs on cleaning the fishbowl from here on out. I love you so much. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. The minute you decide school is your next step is when I get the cookbook out and start learnin’. You won’t cook another meal until you graduate…probably.

I am very happy and very proud to be finished with this phase of my life. On to the next, and thank you again to all who supported me in one way or another. You have blessed me beyond what you know, and I am forever appreciative of it. Now go and support your local library.

-Jon

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Librarianship, Life, Random

A-A-R-D-V-A-R-K!

EDITED 10/19/11: Google has since shut down the Aardvark site. Damn these corporate bigwigs who think they can stamp out the little innovators and I wish would just hire me already!

Cool new thing you should check out. Ever had a question but didn’t know how to get an answer? Sure, you can hop online and see if you can turn your question into a search for which Google will return some results, but Google is an engine, a program, not a human. For example, Colleen and I are new to North Liberty and it’s time for our six month teeth cleaning. Since we don’t know anybody in North Liberty that we can ask for recommendations, we pop on the web to see what we can find. But how do you use Google for this kind of query? You can’t exactly search “friendly dentist, north liberty” and hope to get any sort of legitimate return that you can use. So much for the most popular search engine in the world.

You should check out Aardvark. This is the new generation of searching. In the last five years we’ve seen social media and networking blow up like nothing anyone expected. It only makes sense that search and discovery would find a way to incorporate the social aspect into itself. So here’s the deal with Aardvark. There’s a text box in which you type your question in natural human language, anything like “Which is the friendliest dentist office in North Liberty?” or “What’s the most reliable brand of tires?” or “What’s the best bbq sauce that pairs well with Sam Adams beer?” Aardvark takes your query and finds another human user that can provide an answer. So rather than just getting a list of links that might or might not be what you’re looking for, you get a response in human language from another human who has a better idea of what you’re looking for.

It works like this, and this might be what turns some new users off initially. You do have to sign up to even ask your question. But it’s nothing more than an email and a zip code. It also asks you what subjects about which you’d consider yourself able to answer questions. So you sign up, and Aardvark then takes your query and sends it on to its ever-growing set of users, hopefully one of which will answer your question. Depending on the type of question and the key words that are found within the query, your query is sent to users who have specified that they have some knowledge about the key word subjects. Real life example, I recently queried “What is the most trustworthy auto repair shop in North Liberty, IA that can repair a broken exhaust pipe?” The main key words picked out of this query were car maintenance and North Liberty and the question is sent to other users who have specified that they have some knowledge about car repair, and even more optimal, users who are located close to North Liberty. My query was received by Josiah M. in Iowa City, IA and he replied back through Aardvark “I can highly recommend All Season’s Auto”. Boom. Now I’ve got at least an idea of where to start looking for auto repair from someone locally.

This is such an awesome idea, even though there are some obvious cons. The pros are pretty great though. Firstly, the design and user interface is just perfect. The main page has great colors and hardly anything except just the one text box to enter in the query. It’s very Google-esque in its design without immediately recalling Google. The other huge pro is that returns are going to be far more user specific than you’d get from Google. Having your query sent to other human users who can understand your natural language question lets them answer it in a way that you, another human user, will be able to understand. It’s awesome.

Plus, by becoming a user of Aardvark, you also become an answerer. When you sign up, you pick a list of subjects in which you’ve got a little expertise, and if another user asks a question that involves one of your subjects, you might get an email or instant message (or whatever specific type of communication you’ve listed with the site) from Aardvark that says something like, “Hi (your name), want to try answering this question? (then it lists the user’s question)” This is a great system because it allows the answerer many options. The answerer can go ahead and answer the question with an easy reply email, they can simply choose to ignore it and the query will get sent on to another user, they can flag the question as inappropriate, or they can refer the query to another user they have in their network that might be able to answer it. Example: I get a question from a user about the best sushi around North Liberty. Unfortunately, I don’t like sushi so I know I can’t give a good answer. Luckily, I have a friend in my Aardvark network that does live in the area and loves sushi, so I refer the question on to them to see if they can answer it. Also, as you get answers to your questions, you can add the users whose responses you like the best to your network to continue to query those users most often. That’s what makes this interface so great; it is so user-centric and really boosts the social networking aspect of search and discovery.

More about the communication that this interface allows between users. With a site like Google, you query some terms and get some returns. That’s the end of it. You can tweak your query a bit to get different returns but it’s still querying a generic machine search engine. With Aardvark, the whole search/return system is like a giant conversation between users. I query something, another human user responds, and if I want, I can respond back to continue on a conversation between us. This allows a huge amount communication, conversation, and concept searching among users.

Here is a great example of this. I submitted a query, “What are some good blues albums that are stylistically and sonically like the album ‘Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton’ by John Mayall?” I got four responses:

1. Vera S. (27, female, from Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine) said: “you can check out ‘Similar Artists’ section at http://www.last.fm/music/John%2BMayall%2B%2526%2BThe%2BBluesbreakers

2. Jim B. (59, male, from Bowling Green, KY) said: “Hi, Try Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Derek and the Dominoes, Otis Rush, Cream, Johnny Winter, and one of my all time favorites Albert King. Jim. Also, try Peter Green Jim”

3. Tolgahan K. (22, male, from Rockville, MD) said: “John Mayall has plenty of albums with great guitarists, Clapton is just one of them. “A Hard Road” with Peter Green, and “Blues Breakers” with Walter Trout are very similar to the one with Clapton, just pure electric blues. Also check out Clapton’s “From The Cradle”, one of the best blues albums that is modern, yet pays respects to the traditional stuff.”

4. Michael E. (male, Chickawauga, GA) said: “Try Jonny Lang, Buddy Guy, Jimmie Vaughan, Taj Mahal, Little Ed and the Imperials, Steve Vai and the rattlers, Robert Cray, Dr. John. Just to name a few Mayhal was a St. Louis style Blues. Try a little Chicago style with South Side Johnny(has a brass section) Hope this helps.”

This is a pretty good sampling of responses I’d hope to receive from most queries. The first one is pretty dumb; if I had wanted to use Google for this query that’s what I would’ve found. Not helpful. But the other three are great; people who have actually listened to the album and know what other albums sound like it suggest those and artists with similar styles to John Mayall. The last guy even got specific with different genres of blues style. Awesome. And I can respond back to any of these that I want to, basically starting an online dialogue.

Clearly this engine is not without its set of disadvantages. The fact that the entire system is based upon communication with other human beings rather than just pulling up a list of links means that timing is an issue. For every query I’ve tried so far, responses have taken upwards of an hour to come back. Not optimal if you’re looking for the best Mexican in town and you’re hungry right now. But for less urgent queries, this is such a unique way to find answers to questions.

Another big con for me is that Aardvark was recently acquired by Google. I was a little disappointed to hear this, even though it will mean the system getting more publicity and more users, thereby improving the quality of its output. Google is such a giant monopolistic company, and while the products that they offer are absolutely great, it’s always nice to see an upstart with an idea that actually has something to offer that Google doesn’t. But this isn’t a dealbreaker for me, and I’ll still continue to use it when I need.

Here’s the link again: give it a try. It’s not a perfect replacement for Google; for most queries, you’ll probably want to stick to Google. But for those times when you need an opinion from someone, have some time to spare before you get an answer, and want more returns than the top ten corporate sponsors from Google, try Aardvark. And then let me know what you think. It’s a pretty cool thing.

-Jon

Leave a comment

Filed under Librarianship

"I don’t make home videos, I make home films."

I’ve been wanting to write about this for three months. Colleen and I finally gave our Christmas present to her family; the (nearly) comprehensive collection of their VHS home videos on DVD.

First, the how. Here’s what you need:

  • Computer (I used my Mac)
  • VCR
  • Adapter with audio/video cable ports and USB ports (and included software for capturing video) (Elgato Video Capture Device for Mac users)
  • DVD burner
  • Blank DVDs
  • Video editing software (iMovie for Mac users)
  • DVD burning software (iDVD for Mac users)
  • Photoshop software
  • VHS tapes

In a nutshell, here’s what we did. Recorded all the VHS tapes using the VCR and adapter software, loaded the raw video files into iMovie, edited all unwanted portions out, placed chapter markers on the files, grabbed still frames to use for menu screens and the DVD covers, transferred edited video files to iDVD, picked the specific menu template, formatted the menu and chapter selection screens so they would fit a normal television screen, loaded stills into the menus, double-double-checked everything and then burned the DVD. Time-intensive parts were capturing the raw footage from the tapes onto the computer and burning the actual DVDs because capturing the video required just starting a tape and letting it play the whole way through in real time and burning the DVDs took like 6 hours a piece. Thankfully they were time-intensive and not labor-intensive; I could get one started and go do homework or something. The labor-intensive part was the editing. The most frustrating part was making sure everything worked. The worst portion of this entire project was the afternoon I got a video down to the final edit and tried to burn it. For some reason, the software kept saying I wasn’t putting in a recordable DVD in the drive when clearly I was putting in a recordable DVD. I couldn’t find an answer anywhere, online, I called Best Buy, Staples, everybody’s gave me the same answer, “Huh. Weird, it should be working.” Thanks a lot everybody. So I ended up having Staples send in the drive and get me a replacement drive, which worked perfectly. But for that afternoon…yikes. I was not a pleasant person to be around. But for the most part, the editing went fairly smooth, the biggest hiccup was trying to find a version of iMovie that had a chapter marker functionality. For some insane reason, Apple removed that tool from the previous version of iMovie when they upgraded to the version I have on my Mac (iMovie ’09). Thankfully, Colleen’s Mac is still kicking four years in and that had the older version of iMovie so we used that. The only problem is that hers is wicked slow so the process was slowed down a bit, but we still managed to get it done.

The covers were easier; Colleen and I went to the UIowa Main Library and used Photoshop to create the covers. I found a free cover template online that I loaded into Photoshop and changed around to feature our chapter titles, DVD titles, and stills from each video. We also made the backgrounds of each a different pastel color so put together the set of eight DVDs looks awesome. We just had them printed at Copyworks after their graphic designers resized the file so it would print to fit an actual DVD case.

Now a bit of the why: this is very possibly the biggest gift I’ve ever given or been involved in. Not physically big but more in the emotional attachment Colleen and I have to it. I’ve given some gifts in the past to Colleen that I was excited about, but this one was different, because it was really a joint effort between the two of us. It connected me to her and her family in a way that I hadn’t really expected. We spent many hours recording the raw video, figuring out chronological orders, adding clips together, editing out the many unwatchable, damaged parts of the VHS tape or random stuff like the 1988 Iowa/Iowa State basketball game Jim had preserved. In the past, when the girls would get out the old VHS tapes and watch them, I would usually watch and enjoy them to a certain extent, not as much as the girls but still laughing at seeing how they were when they were young. But working on this project connected me to this videos more deeply because the end result is ultimately ours. I wouldn’t label us “creative” types, and I don’t mean in the sense of being a unique personality (we are both pretty odd), but more in the sense of doing actual creating. We don’t paint, never had many drawing skills, never been much for creative writing, and we both are very musical but we don’t exactly create it. However, this project was an act of creation for the two of us. We took raw materials in an untouched form and turned them into something beautiful and creative. And finishing it up to give away is an emotional thing because it’s like your baby.

What made this gift especially meaningful for me to give away is that it’s exactly what I want to do with my career. At the core, librarianship is about getting information into the hands of people who want it and can’t find it. It’s about preservation of information and extending access to anyone who needs it. Colleen and I had a lot of raw information and a specific user set and we’ve connected the two beautifully. It was a very rewarding experience and I hope to do it again soon. The best part about it is that next time I do this type of a project, it will be so much more efficient because I’ve worked out 75% of the kinks and can visualize each piece of the process so much better than before. That being said, anybody who’s interested in hiring me, I’ll do a better job than Walgreens and for an insanely lower price. Just let me know. Seriously, I am itching to start another project.

But after all is said and done, can you really put a price on this?

That’s what our kids will look like.

-Jon

2 Comments

Filed under Christmastime, Librarianship, Random