Monday, July 21, 2008

Large, Super-high Resolution Display

From NASA Ames Research Center:

The power to visualize highly complex information in a way that’s easier for the human mind to grasp is taking a giant leap forward with the advent of NASA’s new hyperwall-2 system unveiled today at Ames Research Center.

Developed by scientists and engineers in the NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) Division at Ames, the 128-screen hyperwall-2, capable of rendering one quarter billion pixel graphics, is the world’s highest resolution scientific visualization and data exploration environment. The new tool enables scientists to quickly explore datasets that otherwise would take many years to analyze.

For more pictures, see

For more information, follow the link to the related news release.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Libraries Build Communities

This was my second year volunteering with LBC. This time I tried an elementary school. After failing to find the group for Lampson, I got added to the Woodsboro Elementary School’s group. Six of us rode out to the school in a large taxi, and found a school roped off as a hardhat zone and all the classrooms, offices, and library in portables. One portable had running water, but no electricity anywhere else. We mostly did shelfreading by light from windows and doors, some repair and weeding. I got to do animals and vehicles, aviation, and space, so I was quite happy. Finished up in fiction, nice to switch to thicker books. Our school librarian was a gracious and appreciative hostess, even went out to the store for supplies and more cold water when Domino’s gave us pizza and bottles of soda, but no plates, napkins, or cups. Sorry that names have faded from too much input the rest of the conference, but I spent the day with a great group of people and rode in with a caring taxi driver who didn’t leave until we found the library within what looked like abandoned construction. Even with some confusion on how to get the return taxi, the SUV taxis were much better than having small groups of us in buses like last time.

Next time, I’ll be louder about finding my group, and print out directions. Taxis don’t usually go to schools and not all drivers have or use GPS. Our packet had directions from the school to Domino’s, but we got them to (mostly) deliver. This is the third year of LBC and it seems like the logistics keep improving, so thanks to the volunteers that set all this up and got the other volunteers like me on track!

Predictably Irrational - Daniel Ariely

Rather than rehashing, I'll refer the reader to Jami L. Haskell's post in her blog, Librarian Like Me.

The things that really stood out for me were people's reluctance to choose carefully among many choices - they choose the default. How the looks of the scale can influence how people answer questions - visually they interpret the middle of the scale as "normal" even if it isn't (how many times per day do you floss your teeth? 1-10). How we accept physical limitations but expect people to have mental superpowers. To encourage database use, let students know the real cost and that they need to use it or lose it (when the semester or college is over).

Sally Ride and Tam O’Shaughnessy

Talked about keeping kids interested in science and engineering in junior high and beyond. In their talk and in this post, it gets shortened to “science” instead of “science, technology, engineering, and math” every time. It turns out that young kids love science, but the interest wanes or goes underground in 5th through 8th grade, especially for girls. Reasons include the wild-haired loner scientist stereotype, kids not seeing the relevance of science to daily life, and subtle messages from parents, teachers, peers and the media about what’s cool or appropriate or normal. The point is that kids already have the interest – adults don’t need to “convert” them, just encourage the interest that’s already there.

It means letting kids see that science is really creative, collaborative, and fun. Sally and Tam wrote books showing a diverse group of real scientists (diverse fields, diverse people) that told about their childhoods or outside interests along with how they do their scientific work. Another point is that junior high girls have a strong interest in having a positive impact on the world, and boys this age respond to this as well.

Their latest book is coming out in the fall, Mission Planet Earth. It draws on research on climate change and Sally’s experience in space and presents the evidence in scientifically accurate and age-appropriate language. To introduce this, they showed images from space, many from Sally’s missions. These included a dramatic view down the eye of a hurricane and a smoke overcast from burning of large sections of Amazon rain forest.

Discussion after the talk included a request for them to write Danny Dunn style books with a female main character (they do nonfiction, but think it’s an excellent idea that should extend to TV, the internet and other media), whether to separate boys and girls in class and lab (good idea for a few years – boys tend to exude confidence and do all the hands-on, while girls tend to hold back and watch. Once the habit’s broken and the kids are in upper grades of high school, don’t need to continue the separation), how they got into science (both had parents who were encouraging. Tam’s were teachers, I think, and Sally’s’ were a political science professor and homemaker who both valued education and encouraged her interests). Their advice to parents was to help kids understand what they’re passionate about and let them explore a variety of books and ideas.

Ergonomics in Libraries

Judy Village, a certified ergonomist discussed designing library spaces and work processes to minimize musculoskeletal injuries. After explaining that an ergonomist is a certified profession in both Canada and the US who studies user needs, “translates” them into language and specifications that architects and building project planners can work with. She presented a lot of examples from circulation – reaching, bending, holding a book between the knees while making room on the shelf for it, etc., and some solutions and redesigns of both work and physical workstations and equipment. She talked about “fit” – making sure things fit people on the ends of the spectrum of reach, height, etc, not the average. One of her slides demonstrated how average-sized people are rare – of all men, about 25 % would be of average height (the middlemost chunk of bell curve), of those a percentage would have average arm length, of the ones with average height and arm length, only a subset would also have average leg length and so on. Another good point was to analyze the task/workstation/equipment for the parts that are essential to fit. She also talked briefly about wayfinding for patrons, observing what people do when confused (try airports and the like), and using standardized terms and color coding, with signs as a last resort.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Virtual Communities and Libraries

Thousands of virtual worlds out there (Association of Virtual Worlds Blue Book lists them), mostly oriented to children and teens. The majority of users are children and teens. One challenge to libraries is that there is a global audience in the virtual world, requiring a different model than our usual orientation to a particular community or institution.

Reference service is popular in Second Life. For assessment, can set up proximity sensors that tell how many avatars come within a defined distance of the sensor.

The virtual world is 3D for people and things, someday have 3D for data. Some beginnings – can fly your avatar through molecules to see their structure. Also fly-thru sculptures where avatars’ motion creates tones and music. I need to find both of these!

ALA Island has events for National Library Week and Banned Books Week. ALA wants to get a regular calendar of events going there. ACRL has a parcel of land, and holds monthly meet and greets. RUSA has programs and discussions on notable books.

Joe Sanchez is a doctoral student working on virtual worlds. He presented the metaverse, consisting of augmented reality (cyborgs – Bluetooth in ear, etc), life logging (Flickr, blogs, twitter, YouTube), Virtual worlds, Mirror worlds (Google Earth, Street view, maps).

Then John Walber’s ”virtual reality check” – asking when is 3D better or necessary when there are good 2D tools for collaboration like Elluminate. Qwaq has Lego-people style avatars, except that if you use a webcam, video of your face shows up, so you don’t have to keystroke your expressions. You can drag and drop any application into Qwaq. Google Sketchup is useful for creating an environment. New Yourk children used Google Sketchup to come up with accessible subway designs and then use avatars to walk through and try them out.

Top Tech Trends

Did an unscientific “poll” from my notes.

Five mentions: Collaboration using Web 2.0 tools, content creation at the library, including rich media production, social software, user to user interactions

Four mentions: Open source software, especially library systems, may have had 4. A couple of panelists said they’d wanted to mention it, but their comments were already said.

Three mentions: The need for bandwidth

Two mentions: Open data – opening the data in the library system to migrate and analyze and providing access to the experimental data upon which scholarly research is based. Sarah’s post on free open content of good quality relates to this as well. Mobile devices, ubiquity, and telepresence

That leaves a bunch of singles: Small publishers driven online by postage increases, Net neutrality, Cloud storage (data storage distributed over many smaller computers), Experimentation, Taking responsibility for your own learning, Archiving of blogs as a future historical source, Sustainability of Web 2.0 (and 1.0) tools – not only archiving, but staff time to develop and maintain, Greening of equipment for web use, Semantic web, Library structure not being innovation-friendly

See also

Sarah's Top Technology Trends - virtual presentation for ALA 2008

LITA Blog's Top Technology Trends category with more presenters' entries and a sound recording of the session.