Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I've been running Ubuntu linux on an extra machine for a while now, although not using it for day-to-day work. I spend most of my time trying to download and install various free software that eats up many hours of my precious time. If I could bill for those hours, I could practically give up all of my consulting clients.

In a few weeks, however, I'll be taking off on a 6-week trip with an Ubuntu laptop as my only computing device, and admittedly this worries me a bit. Basically, most everything that I need to do can be done nicely in Ubuntu -- I have my office suite, my browser, Skype. I'm all set... as long as I don't need to install any new programs.

The nerd world touts linux as far superior to Windows, but I think it's only fair to recognize that there is one huge barrier to having linux take over the desktop, and that is: dependencies. Many linux programs do not come as stand-alone code, but depend on your system to have certain other bits of code installed. In essence, to install these programs you need to re-create the computing environment used by the developer. Sometimes that's not a problem because the developer used only modules that come with the operating system's normal install. But I've found that I'm often required to chase around the Net looking for less common bits and pieces, some of which may require me to compile them myself. And where on Windows and the Mac the installation instructions are simply "double-click on the downloaded file," instructions for the installation of linux programs can go on for pages (and invariably leave out at least one essential step).

Ironically, what this means is that linux is a powerful tool for developers, but simple "users" of the operating system have less available to them than they do on Windows or a Mac because it's just too hard to participate in the "Open Source revolution." I really want to try out OS software that's coming out of the library community, but I have yet to get any of it to run. I don't think I'm stupid -- I've solved some problems on my own, but never all of them.

I suppose I shouldn't worry too much about this. Both of the computers I have running Ubuntu at the moment are unable to process any updates due to mysterious problems caused by running the normal update procedure. I've posted to the Ubuntu forums and my message seems to be the only one that keeps getting zero answers. My rule now is to store nothing of importance on either machine and to keep a boot CD with me. The main thing is that I'm not giving up yet.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Lolita again

LibraryThing also ran into the"Lolita problem." From the blog:

Today I got a form letter from Google, alerting me that Google had detected "adult or mature content" on LibraryThing. They gave one example, the LibraryThing.fr page for the Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH) "Erotic stories." No doubt some algorithm caught a few keywords, like "sex" or the common porn-word "Lolita" (it's a book, guys).

Also, I got the first real "spam" on this blog with some energetic "anonymous" poster who kept sending me the message "Lolitas are hot!" I would recommend that he (and I assume it is a he) read "Reading Lolita in Tehran", but I doubt he'd get it.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Millennium and Patron Privacy

Some local users of III's Millennium library system inform me that Millennium now keeps a record of the last user to return a book (or other item), and that record is kept until someone else checks out and returns the same book. The story that I have heard is that libraries wanted to keep the record in case they later discover some problem, such as damage to the item or a missing disk.

My understanding is that in the past the connection between the patron and the book was removed when the patron returned the book. I have seen various privacy policies that touted this as an important protection for patrons.

The librarians I talked to said that Millennium had the option to increase the number of past patrons from one to four, but that there was not a way to prevent this data from being kept.

Can anyone confirm this change to the Millennium software? And if you know of a way to turn off this "feature" could you let me know? It seems that a change of this nature, if it indeed has taken place, is significant and should be widely known.