Posts in brave new media frontier

eBook Purchasing and Personal Values

An App to Proritize eBook Purchases by User-Set Priorities

I’m excited to read a new book, Sophia Samatar’s A Stranger in OlondriaI came across Ms. Samatar’s name and her work on the site Islam and Science Fiction and I was so excited about the perspective and literary references in A Stranger in Olondria that I immediately pre-ordered it from Amazon’s Kindle store. Then, after I’ve already bought the book, I noticed that it is also available from Weightless books, a niche retailer of ebooks that is small press and author friendly and sells books without DRM. I immediately regretted my Amazon purchase and wished I had sent my money to a vendor whose values are more in line with my own. The values I’m concerned about deal with DRM-free purchase options and the amount of my purchase dollars that go into the authors’ pockets.

I have a rough mental sketch of the ebook vendors I would prefer to use and in an ideal world, there are some resources available as well to help us choose. (If any readers cough librarians cough can help fill out this list, I’d appreciate it.)

My preferred ebook shopping list looks something like this:

  • Shop Smashwords first. In a conversation with Lindsay Buroker (the author of the fun steampunk series Emporer’s Edge) on Twitter, I learned that authors get a bigger cut of the purchase price on Smashwords then they get from Amazon, Kobo, or Barnes & Noble.
  • Shop Weightless Books second. Weightless books have no DRM, and they work with small presses to develop new authors.
  • Shop direct from the publisher third. There are several publishers such as O’Reilly, No Starch, or BAEN who offer better service and DRM-free purchase options.
  • Shop Kobo next. Kobo sometimes has DRM-free options when the next item on the list does not. I buy John Scalzi’s work from Kobo for this reason.
  • Shop Amazon if all other options fail. I like the convenience of Amazon. I don’t necessarily care for their privacy policies, their clout in the industry, or their DRM policies. (Their MP3 store has no DRM, but Kindle and Audible books are locked down.) I don’t mind shopping there and I maintain a Prime subscription, but I prefer to use them as a vendor of last resort, not my first stop. Shopping at Bezos’ store first means that vendors with values that reflect my own are less likely to thrive or exist at all.

The App:

This  experience has me thinking: there should be an app that can do this for us. If such an app exists, please let me know about it in the comments. If not, it sounds like a good summer code project. Here’s a back-of-the-napkin sketch of how I want this thing to work:

Step One:

  • The first step is for the user to enter an ISBN, title, title keyword for the book they are looking for. This is a tool for known-item-searching so it doesn’t need to be able to browse.
  • The user input will return a list of possible titles and the users can confirm that this is the precise item they are looking for.

Step Two:

  • Once the exact title has been identified, a unique identifier such as an ISBN, DOI, or ASN will be used to search a set of vendors.

Step Three:

  • If multiple vendors stock the book, the user will be directed to the first vendor on a list of priorities. These priorities can be set by the user.

Step Four:

  • If the vendor selected has an affiliate program, purchase the book using the affiliate code. Otherwise, just send the user to the vendor’s storefront. It is important *not* to privilege affilate programs, otherwise we could just use Amazon all the time, but if such options exist, no reason the designer can’t get a small slice of each transaction enabled with the app.

I’ll throw something together when I get some project time and put it up on Github. Unless, of course, it already exists or one of you smarty-pants beats me to it.

Wrapping Up:

That’s it. It seems simple enough, but I’ve bought enough ebooks from the Kindle store, only to regret not shopping with my values that I think I’d benefit from having a tool like this. What do you all think? It should be noted that using a queue system like this assumes the user has the ability to strip the DRM from the books they buy. I use Apprentice Alf’s plugins for Calibre to do this myself. If there is interest, I’ll do a technical walkthrough for novices on how to own your ebooks using this method. Please let me know in the comments.

The Mobile App Design Process: A Tube Map Infographic

**This post was originally published in ACRL TechConnect on March 4, 2013***

The Mobile App Design Process Tube Map:

Last June I had a great experience team-teaching a week-long seminar on designing mobile apps at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI). Along with my colleagues from WSU Vancouver’s Creative Media and Digital Culture (CMDC) program, I’ll be returning this June to the beautiful University of Victoria in British Columbia to teach the course again [1. http://dhsi.org/]. As part of the course, I created a visual overview of the process we use for app making. I hope you’ll find it a useful perspective on the work involved in crafting mobile apps and an aid to the process of creating your own.

topological map of the mobile app design process
A visual guide to the process of designing and building mobile apps. Start with Requirements Analysis in the upper-left and follow the tracks to Public Release. (Click for full-sized image.)
Creating the Tube Map:

I’m fond of the tube-map infographic style, also know as the topological map[2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topological_map], because of its ability to highlight relationships between systems and especially because of how it distinguishes between linear (do once) and recursive (do over and over) processes. The linear nature of text in a book or images in slide-deck presentations can artificially impose a linearity that does not mirror the creative process we want to impart. In this example, the design and prototyping loops on the tube-map help communicate that a prototype model is an aid to modeling the design process and not a separate step completed only when the design has been finalized.

These maps are also fun and help spur the creative process. There are other tools for process mapping such as using flowcharts or mind-maps, but in this case I found the topological map has a couple of advantages. First and foremost, I associate the other two with our strategic planning process, so the tube map immediately seems more open, fun, and creative. This is, of course, rooted in my own experience and your experiences will vary but if you are looking for a new perspective on process mapping or a new way to display interconnected systems that is vibrant, fun, and shakes things up a bit the tube map may be just the thing.

I created the map using the open source vector-graphics program Inkscape[3. http://inkscape.org/] which can be compared to Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw. Inkscape is free (both gratis and libre) and is powerful, but there is a bit of a learning curve. Being unfamiliar with vector graphics or the software tools to create them, I worked with an excellent tutorial provided by Wikipedia on creating vector graphic topological maps[4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Graphic_Lab/Resources/Draw_topological_maps]. It took me a few days of struggling and slowly becoming familiar with the toolset before I felt comfortable creating with Inkscape. I count this as time well spent, as many graphics used in mobile app and icon sets required by app stores can be made with vector graphic editors. The Inkscape skills I picked up while making the map have come in very handy on multiple occasions since then.

Reading the Mobile App Map:

Our process through the map begins with a requirements analysis or needs assessment. We ask: what does the client want the app to do? What do we know about our end users? How do the affordances of the device affect this? Performing case studies helps us learn about our users before we start designing to meet their needs. In the design stage we want people to make intentional choices about the conceptual and aesthetic aspects of  their app design. Prototype models like wireframe mock-ups, storyboards, or Keynotopia[3. http://keynotopia.com/] prototypes help us visualize these choices, eventually resulting in a working prototype of our app. Stakeholders can test and request modifications to the prototype, avoiding potentially expensive and labor intensive code revisions later in the process.

Once both the designers and clients are satisfied with the prototype and we’ve seen how potential users interact with it, we’re ready to commit our vision to code. Our favored code platform uses HTML 5, CSS 3, jQuery Mobile[4. http://jquerymobile.com/], and PhoneGap[5. http://phonegap.com/] to make hybrid web apps. Hybrid apps are written as web apps–HTML/JavaScript web sites that look and performlike apps–then use a tool like PhoneGap to translate this code into the native format for a device. PhoneGap translates a web app into a format that works with the device’s native programming environment. This provides more direct and thus faster access to device hardware and also enables us to place our app in official app stores. Hybrid apps are not the only available choice and aren’t perfect for every use case. They can be slower than native apps and may have some issues accessing device hardware, but the familiar coding language, multi-device compatibility, and ease of making updates across multiple platforms make them an ideal first step for mobile app design. LITA has an upcoming webinar on creating web apps that employs this system[6. http://www.ala.org/lita/learning/online/HTML5].

Once the prototype has been coded into a hybrid app, we have another opportunity for evaluation and usability testing. We teach a pervasive approach that includes evaluation and testing all throughout the process, but this stage is very important as it is a last chance to make changes before sending the code to an app marketplace. After the app has been submitted, opportunities to make updates, fix bugs, and add features can be limited, sometimes significantly, by the app store’s administrative processes.

After you have spent some time following the lines of the tube map and reading this very brief description, I hope you can see this infographic as an aid to designing mobile web apps. I find it particularly helpful for identifying the source of a particular problem I’m having and also suggesting tools and techniques that can help resolve it. As a personal example, I am often tempted to start writing code before I’ve completely made up my mind what I want the code to do, which leads to frustration. I use the map to remind me to look at my wireframe and use that to guide the structure of my code. I hope you all find it useful as well.

 

(This was originally published on the ACRL TechConnect site. If you care to comment, please join the conversation there.)

My Year of Reading Diversely

We’ve Been Talking About Gender:

In the circle of librarian blogs that I sometimes inhabit we are currently talking about gender. More specifically, people have been writing about bad behavior, institutionalized biases, and the caustic results of these things. I’m also working (struggling) to write a post for the ACRL Tech Connect blog about diversity in the technology community. More specifically,I’m trying to acknowledge that the smooth path I followed into tech fields may present barriers to others that I never experienced. How we can open new doors, widen existing ones, or do something that makes more people experience the empowering joy of technology in place of walls, barriers, and exclusion? I’d love to be an unreserved and enthusiastic proponent of self-empowerment through learning technology, but my enthusiasm is tempered by reservations stemming from disempowering experiences with technology reported by others.

So I’ve been reading a little about the experiences and perspectives of a broader range of people in technological fields. I’ve been focusing on blogs and personal accounts in library, technology, and video game circles. These are the circles I inhabit. I’ve been looking at things like Joseph Reagle’s Free as in Sexist: Free Culture and the Gender Gap, at groups like The Ada Initiative, and at Gabriella Coleman’s anthropology of hacker communities. In the midst of this, I stumbled across a Post titled Dear Male Allies: Your sexism looks like my racism at The Geek Feminism Blog, that seemed perfectly framed for my purposes. Yatima, the author of the piece, writes this gem:

It’s relatively easy for me to advocate for feminist change because I can – in Ursula Le Guin’s words – offer up my experience as my wisdom. My testimony is relevant, because I am a woman. It turns out to be much harder for me to advocate for race or ability or class issues, because oftentimes I just don’t know what these issues are. My racism, and my other *isms, are a function of (among other things) my ignorance. Privilege conceals from me the experiences of not-having-privilege.

This perfectly outlines the problem for someone struggling to be a clued-in, white, hetero, educated, middle-class, cisgendered dude. I want to live in a world where we can all experience the unfamiliar without feeling at-risk or threatened by the other. I want to work in places where “fit” is never considered as something to look for in a new hire. I want to hire new colleagues who don’t fit the status quo and can fill in our gaps and weaknesses with previously unconsidered perspectives. But I am unable to “offer up my experiences as wisdom” because I don’t have direct experience of most of these issues. At best I can say that working in organizations with gender balance and working for women running IT departments has been a wonderful experience. Gender diversity in the workplace has made my life better than it otherwise would have been. This is a perhaps a better way of phrasing my previous post. I’d like to make this about something more important than making my already privileged life better, but I can’t find a way to make a grand claim that doesn’t falsely assert control over a situation that is not mine to control. A central problem is people like me trying to control too many things and I don’t want to perpetuate that chain of stupid. There are few things less worthy of respect than a white dude mansplaining to others what it is like to experience oppression. I’m not going to do that, but I do want to do my part to improve things.

The Problems are Acknowledged, What do I do About Them?

So now what? Now that I’ve recognized that there are issues that I’d like to see solved. I’ve acknowledged that I lack perspective and experience to be a leader. There are better equipped, more highly skilled people for the task, so I should listen to them and follow their vision. Does this mean my response to diversity issues should be passive? I don’t think it has to be. I think I can find a middle ground between taking control (the stereotypical role for white, straight, cisgendered males) and passively accepting injustice. It is especially important to find this balance when the entrenched system of  injustice works to my advantage.

For now, I think this middle ground is learning. I want to fill in the gaps I have and gain more understanding. So I’m going to follow Yatima’s advice and read fifty works by people from backgrounds different from my experience. Yatima suggested the 50 works by people of color livejournal group, but I think I need to include gender, ability, and sexual diversity as well as ethnic diversity in my reading project. So, I’m going to tag books with #diversity-50 in my LibraryThing and Goodreads streams and set a goal to read or listen to fifty works by people with perspectives significantly different from my own. I’m a fan of new media, so this isn’t a book-exclusive project. Games, comics, video, and other creative media are all fair game. Recently my pleasure reading has been mostly speculative fiction, but I’m open to other genres.

Will you join me? Will you help me?

A Year of Reading Diversely: #diversity-50

Disclaimer: this is not my idea, it is not a new idea. I take no credit for this idea, but I think it is a good one and I’d like to invite others to join me. In 2013 I’m setting myself the goal of reading 50 works by writers of color and other creators who have a cultural perspective different than my own. I think I have a lot to learn and this is a great way to start to fill in some gaps. I’d love it if other librarians and friends joined in. If you don’t share my need for an influx of new perspectives, will you share reading suggestions from your experience on great work that has been overlooked? Will you share this project with your followers on Twitter, Facebook LibraryThing, or Goodreads? Collective readers’ advisory is a great thing and I’m eager to discover new things to read. I read a lot of fiction, but as a librarian it has never been something I’ve worked with directly. So I’m hoping to get suggestions and opinions from the experts. There is a wealth and a huge body of great material out there already, gathered and curated by librarians who are much better at this sort of thing than I am. As you will note, my pleasure reading is mostly fantasy and science fiction. I’m open to other things, after all that’s one of the points of the whole exercise.

Sacrifice

Since I have limited reading time, this means some things I’ve been looking forward to reading are going to have to wait a bit. So, Douglas Coupland’s J-Pod, Robert Harris’ Conspirata (I’m sad to delay reading his 2nd novel of Cicero and Roman politics), The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi, and Ian MacDonald’s The Dervish House are going to gather a bit of dust before I can get to them. I’m sure the authors will understand. I’m also not going to include my professional and technical reading in the program. I’m still going to read, of course, but I’m not going to count professional reading toward my #diversity-50 list. While I have a lot to learn from women in my field, I would be reading them anyway and it seems a dodge to include them in the project. So while I’ll still be reading Kathleen FitzpatrickSherry TurkleCathy Davidson, and Jane McGonigal, I think I share a disciplinary and academic framework with these thinkers that my #diversity-50 project is attempting to pierce.

Starting Out

The first of my fifty books is going to be The Summer Prince, a new release YA novel by Alaya Dawn Johnson that sounds perfect. It comes recommend by two authors I adore, Ellen Kushner and John Scalzi. After that, I may try to revisit Cities of Salt by Abelrahman Mufif. I started reading this years ago in the middle of  a Paul Bowles phase, but I put it down halfway through. I’m going to read Alice Walker, because she’s amazing and I won’t be ALA to see her in person. I’m going to FINALLY read Octavia Butler I’m ashamed of this gap in my education. Which of her books should I start with? Colson Whitehead’s Zone One is definitely on the list.  If any of my readers are looking for suggestions, ask your public librarian. Really, they will be more widely read than I. My suggestions include two of the absolute best things I read last year: Dr. Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death and Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon. Also, Naghib Mahfouz’ Children of the Alley is the only Arab novel to win a Nobel Prize for literature. It’s worth all the acclaim and more.

I’m not going to include books by white dudes writing about issues of diversity, but I’m open to having my mind changed by compelling arguments. I’ve had a copy of Craig Thompson’s Habibi on my to read pile for a year. It may be an excellent comic, but I’m looking for new perspectives, not familiar perspectives on diverse subject matter. I’m on the fence as to whether Brian Selznik’s Wonderstruck should count. I’m voting no, but I’m open to having my mind changed. My goal here is to open myself to perspectives that are foreign to me, and so worthy books written by people like me don’t seem to count.

If you can think of great material for my #diversity-50, please let me know in the comments. You can connect with me at Librarything and Goodreads.

#DigiWriMo #acwrimo 2012 What I’m doing

Ok, so the title of this post may be misleading. I’m not certain I know what I’m doing, other than I’m doing #digiwrimo and #acwrimo this year. This means I’m going to focus on getting a metric shitte-tonne of writing done in the month of November. Follow the links above for the official rules, but I’ll be breaking those. These are my rules:

  • I’m going to write for at least two pomodoro units each work day. This isn’t very much.
  • I’m going to make progress on at least my accepted Online Northwest presentation and an article I should have written 18 months ago.
  • I’m going to include non-text-entry parts of writing such as editing my own writing and others’ work and also my own project management as “writing” tasks
  • Twitter and other social networking doesn’t count. (They don’t move me toward my productivity goals.) Neither do things like writing Goodreads book reviews. (These are things I do instead of writing.)
  • I’m going to pursue a thought I’ve been chewing on until I either have a draft or I’ve decided it is stupid. The thought is that library public services can be split into two approaches: UX design and the hacker ethic. One has few barriers to access but incentivizes  a passive approach to receiving pre-digested information. The other is more difficult and has technology and skill barriers but incentivizes an active approach to creating and integrating new knowledge. For now I’m calling the two approaches “Jobs” and “Woz.”
The Main Project

The main project I want to progress on is a paper on the effects teaching search engine architecture and SEO have on students information literacy. I’ve presented a few times on this subject but need to write an actual paper. It’s based on my classroom experiences, but I’ve also started a review of textbooks used to teach search in Information Science / Information Management graduate programs to track how much information architecture librarians are provided with in their graduate education. My hypothesis is that searchers who understand how both keyword-relevance algorithm search tools and traditional databases, indexes, and well-ordered sets of metadata are structured are able to make better practical decisions in their search processes.

What I need to do is to gather and collate a couple years of divergent projects and false-starts and squish them together into a cogent outline.

Side Project One:

I have promised to build some training materials for the ACRL LITA Code Year Interest Group on working w/ APIs. I’ve decided to work w/ OCLC’s Worldcat Local API to solve an annoying problem with our catalog. (OK, the problem is in the DATA, not in the tool that searches the data.) Currently, government documents in electronic form are cataloged as books. So, when students search our catalog looking for locally held books they can check out, they have to wade through pages of electronic government reports, white papers, and hearings. Weeding out these items that are not physical books on our local shelves takes an insanely complex series of Boolean operations that I once discovered by failed to write down.

My project will be to write a simple search web-app that can be used either as a search box on a web page or as a mobile app that automates this complex search as a simple “find books I can find on the shelf” search box. As I build this, I’ll record the steps and publish a training guide to simple deployment of OCLC’s Worldcat search API.

Side Project Two:

I mentioned I’m looking into the hacker ethos and UX design as competing priorities in public services librarianship. Perhaps they are in a dynamic balance instead of directly competing, but this is something worth thinking/reading/writing/mulling over.

Side Project Three:

Library Boxen. I’ve orderd a couple of the routers used in the Library Box project and I have an implementation plan for one of them. I’ve just hacked a spare home wifi router w/ DD-WRT, so I think I”m ready to install Open-WRT on the hardware, then the Pirate Box software, and then Jason Griffey’s Library Box code on top of that.

I’m hoping to deploy my first Pirate Box at the Fort Vancouver Historical Site in support of the CMDC’s mobile project there. My CMDC faculty colleagues Brett Oppegaard and Dene Grigar have been developing mobile apps to help present rich historical content available to visitors at the site. The historic fort is remote and out of range of wifi and most cellular broadband signals. The Library Box would be a solution to offer visitors the chance to download the app itself or rich media content to help make their visit to the site more informative.

This is primarily a making/hacking project, but I’m betting I’ll find some way to write (yack) about the project before I’m done.

Side Project Four:

I’m currently a blogger for ACRL’s TechConnect blog. I’m struggling to get my work in on time. (Translate: missing deadlines pretty badly) If I sit down to write every day, there is no reason I can’t hammer out a couple of posts to keep on hand, giving me a buffer. This week, in fact, I’d like to finish my piece on the Hacker Ethos and Librarians. This will detail both mindsets and tools librarians can use to empower us to remake our online and physical environment to meet our needs. No longer will we have reason to complain about our tools. If they don’t meet our needs: remake them until they do! I recently gave a talk to a class of undergrads new to digital media on the ethics of hacking and I’d like to modify that content for my library colleagues.

Yack Yack

If I get half way through half of these things, it will be a highly productive month. I’m not interested in 50k words in 30 days. I’m interested in building new workflows that get some work done. I’ve got plenty of interesting things to think about, #digiwrimo and #acwrimo are, for me, a chance to DO THINGS instead of just keep lists of interesting possibilities.

 

As the (tenth) Doctor says: “Allons-y!”