Category Archives: tools

Open Library

A kind of ‘Open Sesame’ to the Aladdin’s Cave of published books. The way humans are going on we’re soon going to have to open another planet next door just to store the books. Open Library is an ideal option for the LibraryThing you have going on. Oh. You don’t have LibraryThing. You do have books? Oh, you don’t have books…

From the Open Library project:

One web page for every book ever published. It’s a lofty, but achievable, goal.

To build it, we need hundreds of millions of book records, a brand new database infrastructure for handling huge amounts of dynamic information, a wiki interface, multi-language support, and people who are willing to contribute their time, effort, and book data.

To date, we have gathered about 30 million records (13.4 million are available through the site now), and more are on the way. We have built the database infrastructure and the wiki interface, and you can search millions of book records, narrow results by facet, and search across the full text of 230,000 scanned books.

Open Library is a project of the non-profit Internet Archive, and is funded in part by a grant from the California State Library. We have a small team of fantastic programmers who have accomplished a lot, but we can’t do it alone! This is an Open project – the software is open, the data is open, the documentation is open, and the site is open.

They also have an ever expanding selection of scanned/full text books (free download or read online), so you can avoid those nasty overdue fines…

bombed back to the dark ages…

Driven by by the dual forces of my Dad being able to turn his hand to any sort of manual skill, and my paranoia about the world being thumped back to the dark ages, I’m very interested in how to survive in primitive contexts. Seems I’m not the only one to have wasted invested hours thinking about what would be the useful skills to have at your finger tips if you were time jumped back to 1,000AD. Jason Kottke, with Survival tips for the Middle Ages, picked up from Marginal Revolution’s Time travel back to 1000 A.D.: Survival tips.

First, a quick snapshot of 1000 AD. China and the Muslim worlds look like they’ve got it going on. England is waiting for William the Conquerer, the Pope is on the throne in Europe, and the rest of the place looks like the set of Jabberwocky. Actually, for the most part, commentary on the Kottke/Marginal Revolution sites bear startling resemblance to Jabberwocky, perhaps the film was a documentary.

I think survival skills are a topic worthy of consideration – I believe it is very possible we might well be headed there given our ongoing addiction to oil. The original question was – ‘How would you survive if suddenly transported back to 1000 AD? Leave your suggestions for survival in the comments.’ I intend to refine the question somewhat to include what skill sets would you be able to bring to today if you were suddenly transported to an economy that money was of extremely limited value?

I have lived in places where money was of very limited value. Most island communities are like this even today – money only has value if there is somewhere to spend it, borrow it, lend it. The old adage that it’s made round to go round is absolutely core to its value. In a barter based economy, skill sets and personal social contracts are the order of the day.

So, what would I bring to the table? Some of this stuff I did years ago, so my skills are a bit rusty, but I could pick them up again fairly quickly. If I could bring a few things with me, a good knife, a ball of nylon cord, and some vegetable and kefir seeds would be the items I’d start with. It’s a bit like building a CV for the dark ages.

  • Rotational cropping with nitrogen fixing plants (clover), coupled with composting and earthworm husbandry.
  • Plant propagation skills which include harvest, storage, preservation, and seed storage.
  • Bee-keeping, honey processing.
  • Hide preparation, preservation, and tanning for leather
  • Clay processing, building, wood firing, and salt glazing pottery
  • Brewing alcohol, including distilling spirits that can be safely consumed
  • Growing sour dough yeasts and making bread

And I’d probably be a dab hand at catching fish, and not too bad at aquaculture, given the right temperatures and species. I can read and write, albeit not in latin, and my maths is sort of ok-ish, so I think my best bet in Europe would be to head for a monastery if I wanted to preserve the ‘good life’. I can draw out labyrinths, so perhaps I’d find a gap somewhere in some monastic order. I think realistically, I’d do better heading towards the warmer climes, and finding a nice fishing village looking for someone who can take raw agricultural, horticultural, and aquacultural materials and create some added value. The trick in barter cultures is to be able to add value – everyone can catch a fish or raid a nest – the creator of a good gin is a valuable person to have around.

But Europe? Europe? Honestly, why would anyone want to go to such verminous and pestilential place, filled with oppressive regimes and bizarre religious activities? And it was no better in 1000 AD. My venue of choice for a flashback to 1000 AD would be the Cook Islands. Frankly, my dark ages CV would be of limited value – reading and writing and to an extent, maths – irrelevant; the plant propagation/fish farming would be of value; I don’t know that there’s viable clay for pottery – if so, great; tanning would be pretty much limited to dog or perhaps shark hide, bread depends on grain/flour, I’m unsure about the presence of honey bees (doubt it somehow); alcohol might be an option. What I could bring to bear is art and craft skills, and once I’d refined my limited Maori into Cook Island Maori language, story telling could be a good thing along with helping out with hunting and fishing. At least it would be clean, warm, healthy, and ok, so it wouldn’t have achieved the levels of ‘civilisation’ of Europe, but really, who cares? The end result is a planet that has a severely compromised immune system and a diminished resale value. I’ll take fresh fish and tropical fruit, washed down with clean water, on a tropical island surrounded by friendly, smiling people any day. That’s what I call civilisation. You can keep the horrors of the cathedral/plague ridden/crusade driven insanity.

How would you survive if suddenly transported back to 1000 AD? Leave your suggestions for survival in the comments.

size matters

HD - the snapshotEver had that bloated feeling? Bloat – it even sounds unpleasant. As a farm kid I remember Spring and the start of the bloat season and my parents would talk about how the herd would be managed to avoid our cows falling with the condition. Essentially what happens is the cows, tired of eating hay through the winter, gorge on the lank, wet, Spring growth. Too much liquid, not enough fibre. The results are unpleasant at best, fatal at the (likely) worst. And you thought YOU had problems with gas.

Late last week I was speaking to learning of educators (what is the collective noun for educators?) and I mentioned the joys of PortableApps – portable applications. I cruised off to check out what new applications were available, or, more to the point, how my life has changed that ‘new’ applications are suddenly useful and/or interesting. I found WinDirStat – the disk usage analyser/cleanup tool. Available. For free. Liking that a lot.

Generally I’m not all that crash hot on a list of files and stats, but I can read pictures very well. Above is a ‘before’ snapshot of my hard drive, even as I write this. It won’t be like that for much longer, as the big red, blue, and green squares will be backed-up and removed shortly. They’re video files. Stuff I’d been working on, and simply forgot to remove. Gigabytes of space tied up. And here was I thinking it was the photos that were the space hogs on my laptop. The photos do take up space – they’re the turquoise mosaics half way down on the left hand side. The great thing about the software is I would’ve spent a lot of time sorting the photos, whereas the real issues – the videos – I’d forgotten about and simple would’ve ignored.

Right. Off to do some spring cleaning, hopefully the results will smell rather less than a cow with bloat…
HD-L8R…later that same day, the ‘after’ snapshot. I’ve dealt to the larger video files (I had no idea there were so many), and generally done a major tidy up, but no defrag as yet. The two turquoise rectangles (bottom left) are the pagefile.sys files – the swap space/virtual memory – in the above (the before) picture the same files show in the bottom right hand corner in, er, buttock pink. The peas and carrots in the top left are the Adobe Premier files – video samples, working files etc. The gold zone on the right hand side are the photos and video files of the family. My hard drive has gone from 6gb free space to 40gb free space. Hmmm, about enough space to edit video…

further tiddlywiki applications

Writing on from the use of a memory stick for a mobile research centre, there’s a little extra to add. It’s probably worth having a 1gb stick rather than a 2gb, because with a little care and attention you can can keep the volume of the contents down to the level whereby you can back up to cd effortlessly. Memory sticks can die without warning and so a backup plan is useful. Portableapps supports a backup as well – of course, if it’s valuable, you’ve backed it up; if it’s not, it doesn’t matter. Right?

I tried setting up my iPod with the same kind of set up (as mentioned above), it works, but my iPod (the 30gb model) was so sluggish it’s not something I’d actually use except for backup. The solid state nanotypes might be better, but given the price of memory sticks now crowbarring software on to an iPod is hardly worth the effort.

With regard to references, Cynthia Russell has created a tiddlywiki dedicated to APA referencing, and another on qualitative research.

planning for success

A few years back I used to use one of those industrial strength planners. You know, with the clippy-in pages, and black leather binding. When I arrived it looked like I was about to convert you…’Have you accepted planners into your heart?’

One of the weak links in the chain was finding a steady supply of the page$ – and then there was the whole drama ‘I need a day plan but not a week plan’ and then and then… they were supposed to increase my productivity but instead I went nuts. Perhaps that was more productive. And then PDA’s came out and it all went digital – ie productivity became a matter of on and off. Mostly off from my perspective. My PDA is gathering dust somewhere.

I’ve come to think that my life would be better planned if there was less in my life – after all, as my old boss used to say, ‘there isn’t a roof rack on the hearse, you know.’

Then, the other day, I found someone (Douglas Johnston, to be precise) had finally broken through, and produced D*I*Y planner kits. The concept is blindly simple – design up pages suitable for running through a printer. Export a pdf of the aforementioned pages. Print out the ones you want. On the colour and quality of paper you want. Cut up the sheets to suit. Clip them together with a bulldog clip (or hole punch them and accept them into one of those ‘are you saved?’ leather binders). Blammo, productivity soars. Loving it. Didn’t find the template of your dreams? There’s a number of user submitted templates. Even instructions on how to design your own. Yay! Creative Commons makes it social but sensible.