Saturday, November 29, 2008

Lend Me Your Ears


After our video Thing, we come to our audio Thing: Podcasts.

I don't know why, but for some reason podcasts make more sense to me than video blogging. Maybe it's because I was raised on NPR, so audio broadcast of information just clicks with me. I'm also used to listening to NPR while I'm doing other things, and podcasts let me do that as well. So I'm a big fan of podcasts, even though I've never used them in the truest sense of the term-- that is, automatically downloading them onto my iPod. Usually, I just stream them as I need them.

Naturally, being raised on NPR, my most common source of podcasts is NPR. Not only can I hear articles that I missed and share articles that I especially enjoyed, NPR also offers other streams that I really like, especially their "Song of the Day." This has helped me discover all sorts of new music that I might not have checked out otherwise. The other musical feature that I really enjoy is the full-length streaming concerts that they have archived on their site. I wasn't going to spend $80 and drive to Cleveland to see Radiohead this past year, but lo and behold I can listen to the entire concert on NRP for free!

In addition to this, I'm also a podcaster myself. A year or so ago, the rector of my church asked me about podcasting the sermons from the church, since I'm the resident audio guru. I only knew how to record and edit the audio, but the church's webmanager could take care of uploading the MP3 once I had put it together. Initially this involved me taking my laptop to church every week and plugging it into the PA, but eventually we obtained a digital recorder, making my life much easier. The whole editing process takes me less than hour every week, and that even includes introductions and the occasional musical offering edited into the podcast as well. My favorite so far was a special sermon delivered by Mike Harden of the Columbus Dispatch on the Diocese's Appalachian Ministries Sunday.

Finally, no post on digital audio would be complete without mentioning the library's forays into the medium. For some time now, CML has participated in the unfortunately acronymed Mid-Ohio Digital Library Initiative, or MOLDI. MOLDI makes use of a service called Overdrive, which is used by libraries all over the country for delivering digital content. Not only can you get audio books and music through this service, there's also a selection of digital movies available as well.

I've used MOLDI once before, when my stepdaughter had to read "Frankenstein" for summer homework a few years back and was having trouble actually reading it. She was about to leave to visit her father for the summer, and we didn't have enough time to get an audio book from the library, so MOLDI to the rescue. We downloaded and burned the audio book that night, and she was good to go.

My only problem with Overdrive is the ongoing issue of digital rights management. Once again, the legal mess over these issues only winds up hurting everybody. The books people really want aren't available through Overdrive because the publishers want tons of money for them. And on top of that, only recently did the publishers decide to play nice and let Overdrive put up audio books in MP3 format despite that being the industry standard at this point. Essentially, they'd much prefer you pay for your audio books through iTunes. But once again, all this fighting over cash is only hurting the industry. The more difficult they make it for customers to get what they want, the more customers are going to seek other outlets, even if those outlets involve copyright violations. The only reason there isn't a "black market" in audio books like there is in music is because there's not enough demand for the audio books. But it's still a symptom of the larger problem.

So a final word on all this before we end our 23 Things: the world isn't changing, it has changed. Self-generated and free digital content is already here, and producers of content who don't realize this and get on board are going to die out.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Tubing



YouTube is awesome.

I know, a lot of people see YouTube as the next great time waster on the web-- people spending hours poking around for videos of bikini-clad exhibitionists or public brawls. But as with so many of the complaints about the Internet, the salacious anecdotes overshadow what's truly remarkable about this sort of website.

Many of my views about sites like Flickr and Wikipedia and YouTube have been influenced by Clay Shirky's book "Here Comes Everybody." The overall theme of the book and what links these sites together is a sort of economy of scale. Whereas in the past it took a great deal of energy to spread any sort of information, now it's easy for anyone to put any sort of information out into the public square. These sites are essentially information aggregators on a scale that has never been seen in human history. The scale is so vast that we tend to miss what it is accomplishing. In the past, it would have taken the few people who were able to put this sort of thing together days, weeks, or even months to compile this much information. Now one person can post one small clip very easily. But when 1 million people post one small clip, suddenly you have more information than you ever thought possible.

I primarily use YouTube when I want to see something that has been broadcast that I missed. This could range from news reports to historical events to TV shows to movie trailers. I have not yet been unable to find a clip on YouTube that I was looking for. Seriously.

I know a lot of people complain about copyright at this point. Distributing the work of the people who produce these clips without their being fairly paid for that distribution is a violation of our copyright laws. But again I come back to what I have said time and time again on this issue. Our current copyright laws don't work. If they worked, sites like YouTube wouldn't exist. Publishers, producers, and lawyers simply have no conception of how their world has changed on this issue. There is no way for an artist or producer to be paid for every broadcast of their work anymore. As soon as you take down one offender, the economy of scale kicks in again and if it's something people want to see, it's back up.

A perfect example of this was the recent leaking of the trailer for a new movie based on the Alan Moore breakthrough graphic novel "Watchmen." A friend who is much more of a comic book geek than I am sent out a tweet that the trailer was on YouTube, with a link. I clicked the link only to find that Warner was on the job and the video had been pulled. But I thought, "it's on the Internet, it's gotta be there somewhere." A few minutes of searching later and I had the clip.

So what's the point? You can't stop the flow of information. Artists and producers will still get paid, primarily for live work. People will still pay to go to a movie theater or a concert. People will still pay to own a physical copy of their favorite book. And, as Radiohead showed us, people will still pay to support their favorite artists' work. But we need to let go of the idea that you can control every instance of your work. YouTube is just one symptom of this, but undoubtedly the best way to share video information currently available.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Apply Yourself


Yes, I need to apply myself. I've consistently been behind on my 23 Things, and now I have less than a week to complete them all! So I'm going to knock out Things 17, 18 and 19 all in one post.

Shocking, I know.

But there is a consistent theme here: Apps. Especially with the iPhone we've all been hearing a lot about Apps lately, but what's most interesting to me is how the concept of apps has completely taken over computing. When I first started using computers, it was all about just running individual software. You bought the program, stuck the disk in the computer, and ran whatever program you wanted to run. Windows began the change away from this restricted view of what the computer was capable of. Suddenly you could run more than one program at once! What's funny is how much this seemingly simple change began to change how we thought of the computer. Computers stopped being tools that could only do one thing. They started being nexuses where many things came together in one place.

I think that this greatly influenced how the Web developed. While initially the web was simply pages that displayed static information, people were trying to figure out how to get them to do more right from the beginning. Platforms like Java and Flash only helped develop this trend, and now it's to the point where you almost don't need to have anything actually installed on your computer other than an Internet browser.

I first found out about how far this had gone about 4 years ago. At that time the library only offered Microsoft Office products on a small handful of computers at each location, and managing time on those computers was an unbelievable pain. I actually was yelled at by a customer for asking someone to vacate one of those computers because she was "only" using it for Internet and another customer wanted to use the Office products. The reason for the restriction at the time was licensing, and fortunately we eventually saw the forest for the trees and ponied up to have it installed on every computer.

But I digress. Around that time someone pointed me to a beta site called Writely, which was an online word processor app. I played around with it and was floored. Why were we monkeying around with licensing and software costs when this was available for free on the web? Now Writely has become Google Docs, but we still have Microsoft Office hanging around.

But for how much longer? There is an app for just about everything you would want to do on the computer available online now, and many of them are completely free. From family trees to maps to games and even the Operating System and hard drive itself! I used to or currently have software for all of those apps, and now all I need is my browser. Even Google Docs can save your file in a variety of formats, so compatibility isn't an issue, and on top of that multiple users can edit the same document with an efficiency that MS Word can only dream of.

This really is the direction we're headed in. Everything comes through the browser, and the browser doesn't have to be limited to a desktop. It can be in a lap, in your hand, or even strapped to your head. So if we're going to be involved in this development, we need to be there too.

Fortunately, CML has begun to incorporate this sort of functionality by offering some tools for everyone who's constantly plugged into their browsers. Right now this is just a toolbar that allows you to access common features from our website through the tool bar and a search plugin for the ever-present corner search box. But I know more widgets will be coming! We are there now, and this will only help us connect to customers and show just how much we can do for them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Aπολογία του γάμου

I've recently had a number of conversations about homosexuality and Christianity, probably because of Prop 8 in California, and I thought I should put down my thoughts on the matter for everyone to see. Honestly, I've never had any problem reconciling my beliefs as a Christian with acceptance of homosexuality. Like most heterosexual men I went through a period of mild homophobia until I had been around gays long enough to realize that 1) they weren't interested in me and 2) they were a lot of fun to be around. But I never had any conflict between my religious beliefs and homosexuality.

The obvious question then is why do so many others have this problem? Ultimately it comes down to a few key passages in the Bible. I'm not even going to get into the fact that we are obsessing about three or four passages in a text that contains hundreds if not thousands about poverty, forgiveness, and peace. What follows is my reasoning about why these few passages do not constitute a condemnation of homosexuality for Christians.

As a caveat, I should mention that what follows will most likely not convince someone who believes that homosexuality is a sin that it is not. Any of these arguments can be written off by the other side as "rationalization," or ignoring the word of God.

So be it.

One of my most strongly held beliefs is that we have been given reason in order to apply it, even to our religious texts. To not do so is to deny one of God's greatest gifts. The Bible is a guide that should be carefully thought about, not a dictum that must be blindly followed according to whatever interpretation is fed to us. But for those of you who are not religious or who are open to these considerations, here is my understanding of this issue.

Sodom and Gomorrah
The first passage that is typically held up as a condemnation of homosexuality is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. The key passage is:

"But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.’" (Genesis 19:4-5).

Sounds pretty mild, eh? Of course this is "know" in the Biblical sense, literally. Consider what Lot's response was:

"‘I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.'" (Genesis 19:7-8).

Nice father, right? But in this passage is the key to understanding what the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah actually was. It was not homosexual sex. The sin was violation of the stranger. Most early cultures, especially in the Mediterranean, held the tradition of the "guest-friend." That is, if a stranger comes to your house and seeks shelter, you are obligated to offer them protection and treat them as an honored guest. This is the only way humanity could survive in a world where spaces between people were distant and travel was dangerous. The people of Sodom violated this by threatening to gang rape the strangers in order to exert power over them. And Lot was so dedicated to the protection of the guest that he offered his daughters in exchange.

This interpretation of this passage is further supported by Jesus himself in Matthew 10. When giving instructions to the disciples about how to conduct themselves in spreading the good news, he says:

"If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town" (Matthew 10:14-15).

By drawing the connection to Sodom and Gomorrah, Jesus is confirming that the sin for which they were punished was rejection of the stranger.

Leviticus
Ah, Leviticus. If you ever want to feel like a sinner, read this book. This is one of several books that lay down the law for the people of Israel. We all know about the Ten Commandments, but Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy elaborate on those 10 simple rules and turn them into a full-fledged legal system. In all honesty, there are many fascinating laws in Leviticus, many of which underpin laws that we still have today (modern property rights, for example). But let's get to the meat of it (no pun intended!):

"You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" (Leviticus 18:22).
"If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them" (Leviticus 20:13).

Whoo boy, that's pretty black an white. But as always, we really need to look at the passage in context. Consider some other passages:

"you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a labourer until morning" (Leviticus 19:13).

So apparently getting paid weekly is a sin.

"You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your animals breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials" (Leviticus 19:19)

There goes mules, mixed crop farming, and poly-cotton blends...

"You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you" (Leviticus 19:27-28)

No tattoos, and apparently no haircuts or beard-trimming.

We could go on, but the point is you can't highlight one passage and hold people to it while ignoring other passages. Now, there are plenty of religious groups that try to hold to every law in Leviticus-- Hasidic Jews for example-- but what about Christians? Jesus actually had a quite a bit to say about the Jewish law, but two passages stand out. First, when confronted by the Pharisees for the fact that his disciples did not keep strictly to the Kosher laws, Jesus said:

"Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile’" (Matthew 15:17-20).

Here as he does elsewhere, Jesus's point is that by following the letter of the law they are ignoring the heart of the law. This culminates in the only "law" Jesus gives to his followers:

"‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets’"(Matthew 22:36-40).

In other words, if you do these two things you will be following the law. The question we must then ask is, is it loving your neighbors as yourselves to condemn homosexuals?

Paul
The final passage that is used to condemn homosexuality comes from Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth.

"Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

In accepting this passage as identifying homosexuality as a sin you first must accept that everything Paul wrote was the divinely inspired word of God. Paul himself actually makes distinctions in the same letter between that which he receives from the Lord and that which is his own opinion, but in this particular passage he doesn't specify. So it is left to our interpretations.

But even if we accept that this is the divinely inspired word of God, what is the point Paul is making here?

"The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body" (1 Corinthians 6:13).

In other words, obsession with physical things distracts us from spiritual things. I think we can all get behind that sentiment. But also note that Paul is condemning fornication. That is, unrestrained, unthoughtful, unloving fucking. He later says:

"To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion" (1 Corinthians 7:8-9).

In fact, all of chapter 7 gives very detailed thoughts on how to conduct oneself in a relationship.

Clearly, Paul had issues with any sort of sexual relations, but he acknowledged that some concessions had to be made in light of human nature. I don't think there's any question that he found homosexual relations repugnant, but it is possible that the repugnance was more due to the unrestrained giving-in to the flesh than the particular act. Keep in mind that Paul was writing at the same time the Epicureans were promoting a philosophy that the pursuit of pleasure was the highest we could achieve in life, and he needed to explain to the new churches
(especially Greek colonies like Corinth) why that philosophy was wrong.

All of this brings us to the final point. The ancients simply had no conception of a homosexual relationship such as exists in our society today. Any homosexual relationship back then had to happen outside of marriage because if you were an adult you were most likely married. In other words, any homosexual relationship was necessarily adultery, and therefore disruptive to society. But today we do not have to get married to survive. Thus a relationship between two people of the same sex is not disruptive in the way it was 2000 years ago. And furthermore, just as a man and woman can join together in a holy union that helps each one understand the love of God, so too can two men or two women. The larger point was and remains:

"Love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12).

Friday, November 7, 2008

Smash

Yeah, so I was hit by a car Tuesday night.

I was going through the intersection at Broad on Grant when I suddenly see a car turning left right into me. I had no time to react. All that stuff you hear about time slowing down is absolutely true, and the further away from the event you get the more you can parse out what happened. I remember seeing the hood of the car just about to hit me and thinking "You stupid..." I remember rolling onto the hood of the car and then somersaulting over the top of the car. I later found out that in doing so I caved in her windshield. As it happened I didn't notice the pain of hitting it though, just rolling up and over. I remember feeling my arms tossed around like rubber as my backpack came off. Then I remember landing on all fours in the intersection and collapsing.

My first thought was "is anything broken?" I sort of did a system check and gingerly pushed up off the ground and thought "holy crap, nothing's broken!" I saw the front wheel of my bike in the middle of Broad and the rest of it further along. As I stood up people stopped at the red light on Broad were getting out of the car and asking if I was okay. Several of them were calling 911. The light changed and as cars started to go through the light several people were yelling at them to stop. I saw one car drive right over the bike wheel.

Someone asked me if I needed anything, and I asked to get out of the street. I was able to walk to the sidewalk when I started to feel light-headed and sat down. At least since I had been through a major wreck before 14 years ago I knew this time that I was going into shock and needed to just sit down and shut up. The cops pulled up and the squad wasn't far behind. I was able to give a description of the collision to the officer, all the time thinking "wow, that sure was a coherent description, all things considered." I told him where to find my ID and gave him my phone numbers. He said he'd call my wife and take what was left of my bike to the house.

One of the paramedics asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital. I said "I'm feeling okay but I know I'm going into shock, so you tell me." They put a neck brace on me and strapped me down. Fortunately we were only a block away. This was my first ride in an ambulance as a patient, and all I could think was that it looked just like in the movies when they shoot the picture looking up at the ceiling.

The doctor came in and checked me out. They took X-rays of my knees and chest and an ultrasound to make sure nothing had been damaged internally. One of the fun moments of this was seeing a little kid in the hall while they wheeled me to X-ray who couldn't stop looking at me. I gave her a smile and a little wave and she waved back. By this time shock was thoroughly set in and I was freezing. They had to pile a couple blankets on me.

Jessica got to the hospital a while after I was back from X-ray and we watched the election returns in the hospital room while waiting for me to get stitched up. Unfortunately, since I had come through it all okay I wasn't a high priority. After the doc stitched me up and a paramedic training to be a nurse (who was a mountain cyclist, so lots to talk about) had wrapped me up, I gingerly made my way out to the car and home. One of the funniest moments of the night was that I had to keep telling Jessica to slow down since I couldn't move that fast. Normally it's totally the other way around.

There's absolutely no question that I was extremely lucky. There's also no question that there was nothing more I could have done to prevent the collision. I was traveling with traffic at a reasonable speed, I had the right-of-way, I had a 5 ultra-bright LED headlight on flash as well as two hanging flashers on my backpack that could have been visible from the side. I do think that several things contributed to my being able to come through it okay. I'm in good shape, so my muscles and joints were able to deal with the stresses the collision put them through. I'm an experienced cyclist, so my body instinctively knew how to take a fall. But if the hit had been a few inches further back my leg could have been broken. And if I had landed on my back instead of all fours the damage could have been much worse.

So for now, I'm simply thankful that someone was watching out for me that night.




Tuesday, November 4, 2008

An Offering

Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;
Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might, led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee.
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.

-- James W. John­son, 1899

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Wikid

Things 15 and 16 bring us to "wikis." Once again, we have a term that's probably become so over-used that it will eventually be meaningless. But the concept behind it is brilliant.

Everyone knows about the biggest wiki out there, Wikipedia. Wikipedia has generated plenty of controversy on its own, but one thing that seems to be constantly overlooked in the criticism is the fact that it's actually pretty effective.

So why is Wikipedia effective? Surely if we turn the entire world loose to edit an encyclopedia however they see fit we'll have information anarchy! But as with all things Internet, the answer lies in the scale. For every vandal, there are hundreds of people who care enough about the entry to fix it. Basically, why would a vandal want to waste their time messing with an entry that will be reverted to its original form seconds after it was altered?

In this large example there are several clues as to why wikis are a good idea generally. First, anyone can contribute. This makes them an effective way of sharing the work around. One of my favorite wikis that I just stumbled across was the Lolcat Bible. Someone gets the bright idea to translate the Bible in lolcat-speak, puts it on a wiki, and in about a year the project is almost done. Not because a few people wasted a lot of time, but because lots of people wasted a little time. So if you put the same concept to good use, you can get a comprehensive site about just about anything, not because some expert put lots of time into the project, but because a lot of experts put a little time into it.

Second, wikis track changes. This is important for a few reasons. It allows for accountability-- that is, anything you change will be visible for anyone to check on. If you're messing around with the content, someone will call you on it. It also lets you see how an idea has progressed. How many times have you been working on a project and forgotten how you got to this point? Or come to a dead end and have to reconstruct your work to figure out where you went wrong? With a wiki, it's all there. Finally, if you try something and it doesn't work, a few clicks and you can get it back to where you had it originally.

Ultimately, wikis are another sign of how cheap and plentiful data storage has become. To quote Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia, "There's plenty of disk space, and as long as there are people out there who are able to write a decent article about a subject, why not let them?" We can keep all these changes and maintain all these authors because it doesn't cost anything more to do so. Wikis create a framework to be able to do this.

The most obvious application for my job is to create a wiki for circulation practices. Our library has almost always had a compilation of best practices for circulation service. The problem is that almost as soon as we have them written up, something has changed. Also, right now the only way to create them is for someone to bring the idea to me, find people to write a draft, and then go through an editing process. But if we put these on a wiki, anyone with an idea can create a stub, any of the circulation experts in our system can contribute to the practice, and it can be updated as things change with little difficulty. In other words, it would take something that's currently incomplete and would be a big drain on my time to complete, and turns it into a self-completing project!

To wrap up, for Thing 16 I've added to the favorite sport page of our wiki sandbox. I'll let you guess which entry is mine.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Welcome to NaBloPoMo!

It's that time of year, folks! Time to make the Internet explode! That's right, it's time for NaBloPoMo!

Okay, I admit it, I just like saying that.

National Blog Posting Month is another one of those Internet oddities that grew up seemingly out of nowhere, sort of like International Talk Like a Pirate day. A couple people get a crazy idea, a few more people like it, and next thing you know it's everywhere.

I do remember, however, that's it's awfully hard to post something every single day. Fortunately, this year I have my 23 things to spur me along (since I have to finish by December 2nd). Flash drive here I come!

In the meantime, I challenge all you Learners and Players itching for an even bigger challenge to join up with NaBloPoMo. C'mon, everyone else is doing it!