Category "Links of the day"
Category "Stadiums 2006"
May 4, 2006
First of all, I must apologize for the problems I'm sure you've been having getting to this site. As you probably know, the site is hosted by the UThink blog server at the U of M. UThink as a whole has been seeing increased traffic in recent days on a number of blogs, so much traffic in fact that it is bringing the server to its knees. Usually, increased traffic on a site would be a good thing. However, it has caused me nothing but problems.
So, today we are working on upgrading the server. This hopefully will fix the problems for good. Thanks for your patience.
You know, yesterday I was joking around when I called T-Paw: Tim "Scooby Doo Where Are You" Pawlenty. But it is absolutely amazing how appropriate the Scooby Doo theme song is for our silent governor. Check this out:
T-Paw! Don't make Goldy cry!
|T-Paw Doo, Where Are You?|
T-Paw, T-Paw Doo, Where Are You?
We got some work to do now.
T-Paw T-Paw Doo, Where Are You?
We need some help from you now.
Come on T-Paw Doo, I see you... pretending you got a sliver
But you're not fooling me, cause I can see, the way you shake and shiver.
You know we got a mystery to solve,
So T-Paw Doo be ready for your act.
Don't hold back!
And T-Paw Doo if you come through
you're going to have yourself a T-Paw snack!
That's a fact!
T-Paw, T-Paw Doo, here Are You.
You're ready and you're willing.
If we can count on you T-Paw Doo,
I know you'll catch that villian.
Well, as you can see, the only place where this new theme song falls through is the ending line ... unless you consider Steve Kelley to be a villain. But you may not. Anyone got any suggestions for the last stanza?
Here are some links for you to enjoy.
- The "Star Wars Kid" sued his tormenters ... and won.
- Movie theater chains are planning some interesting changes to bring people back to the movies. Interesting.
- The 10 most fuel efficient cars for 2006. I wish I could afford one of these.
- TV ads are tanking and advertisers are considering placing ads on DVRs. Nooooooooo!!!!
- This guy thinks Google is going to buy Amazon. "Googlezon" here we come.
- Top 87 Bad Predictions about the Future. I think you can add, "Minnesota will build a Twins stadium" to this list.
- "U.S. Planning Base on Moon To Prepare for Trip to Mars." What about education? Oh the humanity!!!
- Two years of stock trades for Bill Gates. The guy regularly makes millions upon millions of dollars with just one trade. Amazing.
- Humongous graphic of where the Federal Government spends your tax dollars. Very educational.
- Don't click until you read! Sufjan Stevens is releasing a new album this summer of outtakes from the Illinois sessions. This is a song called "Avalanche." It is very good. (MP3 File!)
- An oldy but goody: Khaaan! Khaaan!
Because of the problems this site has been having, and to celebrate another end to the class I teach at St. Kate's, I went out for pie last night:
I love French Silk pie. Yummy! What is your favorite dessert and where do you get it?
Category "Stadiums 2006"
March 27, 2006
Not feeling it today
I'm not feeling it today. So, here are some quick thoughts before I move on:
I'm in the Star Tribune today in an article about the wonder that is UThink. They did a pretty nice job with it.
The Gopher's men's hockey team disappointed me. I know that is an understatement, but what a phenomenal collapse these last two weeks. Like the saying goes, "That is why they play the games."
Garnett's recent locker room chat sessions are scaring me a little bit. If he ever left ... wow. I'm not sure what the NBA would mean to me anymore. And SBG probably has more to say about this than me, but is it even possible to reuinte Steph with KG on either the Knicks or the T-Wolves? Doesn't the salary cap situation of both teams make it nearly impossible?
I watched Good Night and Good Luck last night and I thought it was pretty good. Not as exciting as I thought it would be, but a good treatment of what it means to dissent without being disloyal. It surely is no coincidence that Clooney would choose to make this movie now with talk concerning what it means to be "patriotic." However, it also got me thinking about the power of the media today vs. the 1950s. In the 50s there were three major networks, and then, of course, all the major newspapers. I would wager that back then the media was much more powerful in swaying public opinion than it is now because 1) there is less to choose from and 2) so much news happens live today that we can (we should) form our own opinions before we are swayed by editorializing journalists. Concerning point number 1, though, we have so much news coming at us today from 24 hour news channels (of varying political persuasions), internet sites (like blogs and the like), and the tried and true network news and newspapers, that news today is less about finding the truth, and more about finding the angle you want to see the "truth" through.
I guess what I'm saying is that Murrow would have less impact today because people have more choice concerning the news they want to hear, and they are more entrenched in their viewpoints because of it.
I saw a lacrosse game at the Xcel Energy Center this weekend. No one was protesting outside of the arena and people seemed pretty happy inside the arena too. I guess giving "free money" to millionaires is OK in this instance.
Finally, this weekend it was announced that our esteemed legislators have come up with a new plan to build a new Gophers stadium that will cost less in yearly student fees, but retain corporate naming rights for TCF.
I am so jaded at this point that I can only think of one thing to say: I'll believe it when I see it. We haven't seen the last of the problems for this bill.
Over and out.
June 6, 2005
Long time, no see
Hey everyone. Sorry for my extended absence. You know how it goes, though. Between travelling to Baltimore and the nice weather we've been having, it has been hard to sit in front of the computer for too long. Anywho ...
Nothing to report on the stadium front. There was the Krinkie/Marty attempt to grandstand a little by proposing that the majority of the profits from the new stadium go to the county, but other than that nothing is happening. I must admit I'm getting a little pessimistic. This is even with Shooter reporting yesterday that ,"[c]hances appear favorable for legislative approval of a new ballpark for the Twins before the end of the current special session." I wish he would give more details about why he thinks the chances are still favorable.
It seems that the state budget debate has taken a turn for the worse. The DFL Senate, the governor, and the Republican House appear to be unable to agree on anything. I am beginning to think that by the time they get a budget worked out they will be so sick of seeing each other that they may not want to even deal with the stadium issue. I suppose our best shot is by tagging along with the Gopher's stadium and hoping that after our legislators handle that piece of legislation they'll want to take care of the Twins.
Did you see the poem Dean Johnson's staff wrote after Pawlenty vetoed the state poet laureate bill? It went a little something like this:
"The governor, on promotional tour,
Education is sound-bite du jour.
To govern through press, that is his goal,
But fly-arounds will take their toll."
Why, Dean, oh why do you insist on making this debate even more acrimonious than it has to be? Sigh. If anyone has any news on the budget or the stadium please feel free to share.
As you probably know, I was in Baltimore this past Thursday and Friday to speak at Johns Hopkins University about UThink. First things first, as I said below, I promised to find out why there is an "S" at the end of "Johns" Hopkins. The trouble with blogs is that sometimes people read them. So, while I was being introduced for my presentation on Friday the gentleman introducing me told the audience that I had written about my desire to get to the bottom of this mystery. Ha! That was a little embarrassing. So, he explained (and as bjhess has already pointed out) that "Johns" is actually a family name that was given first to Johns Hopkins great-grandfather. "Johns" was the maiden name of the benefactor of Johns Hopkins University's great-grandmother. So, there you have it. Truth be told, I was just joking around about my desire to get to the bottom of this "mystery." As CC pointed out already, it is easy to find this out through their website.
Overall, my trip went very well. I got into Baltimore on Thursday afternoon and drove past both Camden Yards and the Raven's stadium on my way to the hotel. Camden Yards is just beautiful. Quite frankly, it is so beautiful I don't even want to talk about it. It made me upset just to look at it. Let's move on.
Thursday evening I went out to to dinner with some of the staff from the Johns Hopkins University libraries, as well as my co-presenter Brewster Kahle, co-founder of the Internet Archive. I guess I wouldn't be surprised if you've never heard of Brewster Kahle, but for a librarian and techy like me he is pretty famous. Kahle is an Internet pioneer and millionaire with offices at the Presidio (neighboring the new offices of George Lucas). The Internet Archive is a bi-monthly snapshot of the entirety of the WWW which allows the user to see what a specific website looked like two months ago, or five years ago. Check it out:
You get the picture. As you might imagine, the Internet Archive has a huge storage capacity and currently contains approximately 1 petabyte of data and grows at a rate of 20 terabytes per month. Yikes, that is huge.
Brewster Kahle came to speak about this project and also his new initiative to digitize the entirety of human recorded knowledge ala Google and make it all "universally accessible." His talk was awe-inspiring, important, timely, engaging, and entertaining. The scope that he is dealing with, the higher plane that his thinking currently resides in ... wow. It was awesome to meet him and talk with him. His presentation mainly dealt with different media types such as print, sound/music, video/movies, and graphics and his desire to digitize all of it. He also tried to convince everyone how relatively inexpensive it is to do so and how librairies especially are at a unique point in our history to make a huge impact in this realm. He said more than once something to the effect that right now the technology community is looking to libriaries for advice, help, and assistance in doing all of this. "We are cool to the techies right now" he kept on saying, and we need to do something before we aren't cool anymore. Of course, I'm not doing his talk justice, but needless to say it was very thought provoking and inspiring.
And then there was me. Ha! Actually, I was Brewster Kahle's warm-up band, so to speak. I presented first, and I am happy to report that my presentation on UThink went very well. I spoke about our efforts to record the cultural memory of the University of Minnesota through blogs, and our efforts to use blogs to create community on campus, give instructors another way to engage students in the classroom, and most importantly to promote intellectual freedom. Our efforts to create "communities of interest" and promote intellectual freedom seemed to resonate with the audience the most, as well as the fact that the UThink project was designed without a committee. UThink is basically just me (and the excellent work of a programmer). One audience member labled my efforts "gutsy" and extolled the virtues of taking a chance every once in a while. That was flattering.
So, I think I held my own with Brewster Kahle, and after our presentations were over we both agreed that they dovetailed nicely. Kahle is certainly working on a worldwide scale, but UThink is an example of a local based project with some of the same goals: capturing the cultural memory of a group of people and making it accessible to all. All in all, our two talks worked great together and it was a very enjoyable day.
Anyway, that is about it. If you got this far, thanks for reading. Back to our regularly scheduled programming...
February 23, 2005
Musing on the Freedom of Speech
My first job out of library school was at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. While there a co-worker of mine asked me a very thought provoking question, the answer of which has stayed with me quite a while. She asked me, of all the things I learned in library school what is the most important? To me, the answer was easy: how to diplomatically tell people to be quiet while in hallowed halls of a library. Just kidding! Actually, my answer had to do with technology. I learned a lot about technology (HTML, programming languages, etc.) in library school and I still use these skills in my job today. She told me that this was wrong. This took me aback a little, but her answer made complete sense.
The most important lessons from library school are the concepts of academic and intellectual freedom and the importance of the freedom of speech. Libraries, more than any other American institution, are the front line in protecting these freedoms and librarians should take this very seriously. Libraries and the free flow of information are essential for any democracy to function properly. As a result, libraries and librarians are vehemently against censorship in any form and literally fight for a person's right to express him or herself freely. This discussion with my co-worker was a powerful reminder and it has stuck with me throughout the years.
Last Friday this lesson was put to the test, in a way, and I was a little upset with the outcome. I was contacted by a reporter from the Minnesota Daily, the U of M student newspaper, who asked me some very difficult questions about my pet project of UThink. Specifically he asked me:
Are the blogs totally uncensored? Can students get in trouble for the speech they use on the blog? As you know speech on the internet such as hate speech, libel, slander, harassment and defamation are hot-button issues on the internet and I wonder if they are regulated on the Uís blogging system. What regulations do students need to remember when blogging? Are there any? Do a lot students come to the UThink program as somewhere to express themselves completely uncensored?
Some of these questions were easy to answer. Concerning blog censorship I wrote:
"The blogs are totally uncensored. The University Libraries is a traditional defender of intellectual and academic freedom on campus and we take this responsibility very seriously."
Easy. Nice and strong and unambiguous. However, the question "Can students get in trouble for the speech they use on the blog?" became somewhat problematic. It is difficult to convey to a student journalist the complexities of the freedom of speech while still making my answer as "library-strong" as I can make it. At first I wrote:
"Not from the University Libraries. The University Libraries believe passionately in the freedom of speech and we will fight for a student's right to exercise that freedom."
Not so fast, said my boss, who wanted to see my responses before they went out. My intent was to leave my answers both concise and strong. And by concise I mean that I wasn't saying too much so that the student could misconstrue my comments. However, my boss brought up some good points that I would have just preferred to leave to the student's imagination. For one, will the libraries really fight for a person's right to express him or herself freely? Neither my boss or I could make this promise as this is the call of the library director. Secondly, how much freedom of speech does a student really have, or for that matter, does anyone have? For example, would we allow a student to publish a list of credit card numbers on a blog? No, of course not. Given these realities my boss wanted me to rework my answer above to be a little more realistic. It became:
Not from the University Libraries. The Unversity Libraries believe passionately in the freedom of speech and we encourage students to exercise that freedom.
However, there must be a balance between freedom and personal responsibility as outlined in the U of M Student Code of Conduct:
*"Subd. 1. Policy Statement.* It is the policy of the University of Minnesota (University) that certain minimum standards of conduct are necessary to safeguard the rights, opportunities, and welfare of students, faculty, staff, and guests of the University community and to assure protection of the interests of the University as it seeks to carry out its mission.
The University requires a community free from violence, threats, and intimidation; protective of free inquiry; respectful of the rights of others; open to change; supportive of democratic and lawful procedures; and dedicated to a rational and orderly approach to the resolution of conflict."
The University Libraries must adhere to University policy when applicable.
This is the reality of free speech on campus: the wonderful freedom we have must be balanced by the nebulous concept of personal responsibilty. And on top of that, University policy further muddies the water of just what a student can and cannot say.
I cannot express to you enough how painful I found it to qualify my strong statements concerning library views on the freedom of speech with these new statements. It really, really irked me. Not because I didn't understand that this is just the reality of the freedom of speech, but because I was sure the student would glom onto these statements and paint a less-than-true picture of the library in terms of these freedoms. And I do feel that libraries should be prepared to have a stronger stance on issues of censorship and intellectual freedom than your average American citizen. Man I was on fire. I was pacing, I was hootin' and hollerin'. My boss and I found it ironic that my own freedom of speech was being censored during the course of this discussion.
Well, the article came out yesterday and it showed I really didn't have much to be worried about. However, it still upset me that the very section that my boss and I had such difficulty with was the section that the student author seemed to focus on. While the freedom of speech is definitely a difficult concept, I am of the opinion that as a library we need ... no we must be stronger in our stance and be much more proactive towards protecting this freedom. I am excited about the opportunities UThink may provide us as a library to define and strengthen this stance.
January 5, 2005
Netflix RSS feeds on my blog
Hello again everyone. If you scroll down and look to the right, you'll notice that I have successfully integrated my personal RSS feeds from Netflix into my blog. The section "Netflix Stuff" shows what is currently in my Netflix Queue, what they have recently shipped to me, and what they have recently received back from me. So, if you are ever wondering what movies I'm watching, now you'll know. And as always, I will apologize for nothing! I am a big fan of stupid movies and there is nothing you (or I) can do about it. In fact, I'm thinking about devoting a category of this blog to my reviews of stupid movies. Some are done very well (Happy Gilmore, Tommy Boy) while some are done very poorly (Dodgeball, A Night at the Roxbury).
If you are a fellow UThinker and would like to know how I got this to work, stay tuned to the UThink home page. I hope to have a little tutorial about it in the next few days.
November 1, 2004
Interview questions and answersHey everyone. I'm going to have to "phone it in today," as the TwinsGeek says, since I will be in training all day for a new product we recently purchased for the libraries. I could have written something last night, but I spent my blog writing time last night working on an email based interview regarding UThink for a student newspaper on campus called The Wake. So, if you are interested in the UThink project then read on.
- What made you want to create the Uthink site?
The short answer is I wanted to give undergraduates a way to express an opinion about the U of M and the world around them for that matter. About a year ago the University Libraries conducted a series of focus groups with undergraduates in an effort to find out how the Libraries could serve them better. We were struck with how thankful the students who participated were; they literally thanked us for giving them an opportunity to tell us what they thought. We quickly realized that it was important to find a way where students could easily share their opinions on a regular basis. Blogs seemed like a perfect fit. However, that was just the beginning of the goals we have for blogs and UThink at the U of M.
The University Libraries are using blogs to promote intellectual freedom and to help build community on campus. We also hope to encourage classes and professors on campus to consider using blogs to enhance the learning experience, and a lot of classes are already using UThink in this way. We also hope blogs will help the libraries retain the history and cultural memory of the institution. We hope that students, faculty, and staff will leave their blogs up even after they have left as a record of their time at the university. It should be noted, however, that anyone who starts a blog has complete control over it. You can even totally delete it if you so desire.
Blogs are a great and easy way to express an opinion or share an idea. As the traditional defenders of intellectual and academic freedom, the libraries are excited to offer this opportunity to all the students, faculty and staff of the U of M.
- Are there any others like it? How did you begin?
UThink is the largest academic blogging site in North America. We have more blogs and users than anyone. Harvard also has a blog site (http://blogs.law.harvard.edu), but other than that there is nothing quite like UThink in the United States. Other universities have blogging sites, but none of them have connected blogs to the main authentication system (in our case our x.500 based Central Authentication Hub) like we have. There is not a week that goes by where I don't talk with another university or college that wants to do what we have done.
We started by researching the different types of blog software out there. We knew that whatever software we picked had to be configurable and we also had to be able to connect it to the Central Authentication Hub (CAH -- your email Internet ID and password). The software also had to be able to handle a potentially large number of users on a single installation. Movable Type fit the bill.
- What was the U's initial response? Did they see a need for it?
Yes and no. Everyone at the U that we talked to were excited and actually amazed with the system that we came up with. However, blogs were, and still are, kind of unknown. Most of the people we talk to about UThink are still kind of clueless about what a blog actually is, or what blogs are capable of doing. So, we had to educate a lot of people about what blogs are, their potential, and the goals of the UThink project. Most people at the Universtity were very excited about the possibilities.
- How is it funded? is it costly to run or create?
The University Libraries fund and support UThink. There is a cost to run the project, but in the grand scheme of things it doesn't cost a lot at all. For example, the version of Movable Type that we are running was free (2.661). We will be purchasing a campus-wide site license for Movable Type 3.1 in the near future, though. What this means is students, faculty, and staff will be able to either use UThink as they do now, or they will be able to download the software from the Libraries for their own personal use.
- Do you keep a blog? if so, why do you do it? What's the real draw?
Yes, of course I have my own blog on UThink. I blog to keep my friends and family up to date on whatever is rattling around in my brain. I also blog a lot about the Twins and the Vikings (and the Gophers), and especially about stadiums in Minnesota. It is an important topic to me and I use my blog to share my opinion about that. I actually focus on that quite a bit. But my blog is really an online diary of my life. I blog about my kids and family. I have a photo blog where I share pictures. It is fun to look back and see what I was thinking about on a particular day, or what I was doing.
What is the real draw? I'm not sure what you mean. I guess I would say that I blog for myself, but I love it when what I write makes a connection with another person. I have met so many people through my blog; people at the university and around the world. It has really been a blast sharing my opinion and building a group of regular readers. I am quite amazed that anyone would value my opinion enough to read my blog on a daily basis, but people do. That has been extremely gratifying.
However, that is also one of the main misconceptions about blogs. Just because you write something does not mean someone will read it. It has taken me a good year to build my readership. When I started, my neighbor, my best friend, and my mom read my blog. That was it. If you start blogging only because you want to receive a whole bunch of comments and reader feedback, unless you have a big group of friends who promise to read your musings everyday, you may be a little disappointed. Blogging takes dilligence. Don't expect hundreds of visitors and comments just because you started a blog. It takes time to build an audience. Start a blog for yourself, to practice writing or to track an important topic you are interested in. Eventually, if you want them to, people will start coming to your blog.
- Why do you think blogs are so popular? both for the readers and the writers?
I kind of answered that above, but I think blogs are so popular because first of all, they are a very easy way to create a web page. You don't need to know a programming language, HTML, or CSS. With UThink, you can be up and running in less that 30 seconds! Log in, write your opinion, share a story, post a picture, click "Save," and the software takes care of the rest.
For readers, blogs are totally biased, sometimes offensive, and usually highly opinionated. In other words, they are a lot of fun. If you have an interest there is usually a blog out there that covers that interest in a totally biased and unique way. Blogs are a way to connect people with these similar interests.
Everyone has an opinion about something. Some people more than others. If you are one of these types of people blogging can be a whole lot of fun, and maybe even a little therapeutic.
- How do the Uthink blogs work? Is there any privacy? Can the bloggers or the readers be anonymous? Can anyone read any of the blogs?
UThink blogs can be read by anyone. There currently is no capability within UThink wo make a blog, or a blog posting, private. Readers also may not be anonymous. The initial directory after the UThink domain (http://blog.lib.umn..edu/) is always the user's U of M Internet ID. Essentially, the University Libraries will fight for your right to say anything you want, but you are going to have to stand by what you said.
- Are there any rules or regulations in Uthink? Are there any restrictions on content?
UThink is governed by the same rules that govern the free web space provided to every student, faculty, and staff member by OIT (http://www.tc.umn.edu/~internetid). The University Libraries will defend the intellectual and academic freedom of the user as defined by the Regents of the University of Minnesota (http://www1.umn.edu/regents/policies/academic/Academic_Freedom.pdf) when appropriate.
- Have there been any problems so far (technical or dealing with the users)? Do conflicting viewpoints and controversial topics ever get out of hand? Does anyone moniter the content?
As of today there are 8,195 individual posts or entries on UThink. And while there have been controversial topics posted on various blogs on UThink, and a lot of discussion (and maybe anger) based on those posts, so far there have been no official complaints or any content-based problems on the system. And no, no one "monitors the content." There is simply too much to monitor. And I am very happy to report that there also haven't really been any technical problems either. The system has really hummed since we unveiled it last April.
- How sophisticated is the system in relation to other types of blogs?
The system, Movable Type, can be as simple or as sophisticated as you want. Movable Type is quite possibly the most popular blogging software in the world. It is extremely configurable. If you know what you are doing you can make your blog look like whatever you want, and do some pretty amazing things. Movable Type also has a huge body of users that develop "plug-ins" that extend the functionality of the software. If you would like a plug-in installed just let me know and I'll see if it is compatible with UThink. If so, we will install it.
- How easy is it to use?
Well, I would say it is very easy to use, but I am a little biased. However, like I said above, with UThink you can have your own blog in less than 30 seconds. You could probably have your first post up in less than a minute. We have also developed a tool called the "Template Changer" through which you can select from over 20 different designs and change the look or your blog with a click of a button. We hope to add a lot more templates or themes in the months ahead, and we encourage anybody skilled in HTML and graphic design to submit possible designs for inclusion in the system.
- Why do you think people want to let total strangers read personal things about them? On ther other hand why do people like to read others' journals?
I don't know. Maybe there is a touch of exhibitionism or voyerism in all of us. Blogs are raw, unfettered, and written by people like you and me. The only requirement to write a blog is that you have something to say. That usually isn't a problem for any of us. Sometimes, what you write or read is total crap, but sometimes it is well written and maybe even inspired. I suppose that is what makes it fun. You never know what you will get.
- Do you read any blogs on a regular basis? What are your favorites and why?
I like the TwinsGeek (http://www.twinsgeek.com). I also like Aaron's Baseball Blog (http://aarongleeman.com). Aaron is also a student at the U of M and every once in a while he will write about his experiences at the U. Usually they are hilarious. I also like James Lileks's Bleats (http://www.lileks.com/bleats/index.html), not because I agree with his politics (or disagree) but because he is such a good writer. I am stunned by the quality of his musings, especially considering he usually writes them "off the cuff" and usually late at night. There are more, but these are pretty much the ones I check every day.
- What makes a good blog? If someone wants to start a blog, what are some
things they should keep in mind? How do you create a good blog that people
will like to read?
A good blog is usually well written and has some sort of focus. One of the problems with my blog, as I see it, is that I write about so many different topics that I'm sure I alienate a lot of people. Most well known blogs, or blogs with a lot of readers, usually focus on a particular topic, like politics or the Twins. A good blog is also usually updated regularly, preferably daily, but it doesn't have to be. However, if you are trying to build an audience, don't expect people to come back if you only write once every two weeks. And like I said above, don't expect tons of readers right away just because you started a blog. And don't get frustrated either. Again, blogging takes dilligence.
Start a blog because you have an opinion to share. Use your blog to hone that opinion and your own skills as a writer. Don't shy away from controversy, but stand up for what you believe in. Just start writing and sooner or later you will begin to trust your own opinion more and your ability to coherently express it. Blogging can be very liberating and a lot of fun.
Also, you don't have to start a blog just to get a whole bunch of readers. You could also start a blog to manage a group project, or keep track of what your friends are up to. With UThink you can also start a blog to keep track of citations from library databases, or as a record of the process you used to write a research paper, thesis, or dissertation. There are many different ways to use blogs. The UThink software is very flexible and will allow for a lot of what some people would consider atypical blogging.
- Thanks Again!
Sure thing. Let me know if you have any other questions or if you need me to elaborate or explain further any of my answers above. One extra thing I'd like to add is that for some reason Google ranks UThink blogs very highly. For example, do a Google search for "minnesota wisconsin axe." My site is the 7th on the first page and even comes before the official UW athletics web site. Google seems to rank UThink blogs much higher than other blogging sites, like LiveJournal or Diaryland. I believe this is because the UThink domain (http://blog.lib.umn.edu) denotes that the content comes from both an educational institution and a library. Anyway, I think that is pretty interesting.
September 23, 2004
For those of you that don't know, or think I think about stadiums all day long, in "real life" I am the Web Services Coordinator at the University of Minnesota Libraries. I manage the site in the previous link, and I also manage the UThink project through which the libraries supplies blogs to the U of M community. Anyone with an active U of M Internet ID and password can create a blog (or blogs) through the system and begin sharing his or her thoughts with the world. UThink is without a doubt my baby. If I'm not thinking about stadiums, I am probably thinking about how I can expand the functionality of the UThink system. More on that later.
Today was a special day in the history of UThink. We've been running UThink since April 12, and since that time 581 blogs have been created with over 1,000 users. The inspiration for UThink was undoubtedly Blogs at Harvard Law, a system created by blogging guru Dave Winer that has been running for about two years. Blogs at Harvard Law also has 581 blogs. That means the next blog created will make us the largest academic blogging site in America, if not the world. I've thought about cheating and just creating another one myself, but that wouldn't be right. When I was selling this idea to my superiors I made the bold claim that one day we would host over 500 blogs and probably be the largest academic blogging site in America. This really wasn't that bold of a claim given that the U of M has about 65,000 potential bloggers. However, I had no idea that it would happen so fast.
So, some words of thanks are in order. Obviously there have been a lot of blogs created, but I have some special thanks for the early adopters, those people who created blogs without really knowing what UThink was all about. Without these people UThink wouldn't have taken off like it did:
- Philosophy by Peter Shea. Peter's writing is chock full of little nuggets of wisdom. I enjoy reading it everyday.
- Selling Sno-Cones on the Beach. One of the first blogs on the system and still going strong. We worried about the infamous B and his surgery and we laughed when the crackheads stole your car. Keep it up!
- A Heart with a Twist of Lemon. David, your quirky sense of humor is infectious. And I, too, loved it when you took on the bees.
- Deception of the Thrush. Still my favorite post of all time on UThink: Nibbled to Death by Small Geese. If you haven't read it, you are missing out.
- The Daily Spirit Human. Another one of the early adopters and also one of the few people that can say he posts every single day. Absolutely amazing and always something to ponder.
- Random Thoughts - By Joe. Joe has given us a unique look into the life of a student and now a CA. Keep on fighting the good fight Joe!
- Coffee Grounds. One of the best political commentary blogs in America (IMHO) and written by someone from New Zealand. Yes, a very unique perspective.
- Broken Wing. Absolutely impossible to categorize and usually offensive to someone. In other words, the perfect blog! Also, an odd hatred of birds permeates the site.
- Bio-Med Library - Public Health. The king blog with over 400 posts full of juicy medical goodness. Will anyone ever catch up?
- Rhetoric 3562W. Although the blog looks a little plain now (look at the archives) it has the distinction of being the first class based blog on the system. I think it is safe to say it started a trend given how class blogs now dominate UThink. Thanks for everything Clancy!
- Ramona Ramona's Blog. I'll admit Ramona scared me half to death with one of her posts (I won't link to it, it is too frightening). However, it is really nice to have another Twins fan on the system!
- QWERTY. Another true early adopter and one of the first group blogs. It is a shame they don't have time to post more as usually the posts are thoughtful and well written. The best post on QWERTY? The Best of UThink of course!
- Steve Mueske. Last but not least, what blog site would be complete without its own poetry blog?
There are so many more, and if I've forgotten anyone I apologize. I truly could go on and on. When they look at the history of UThink, though, scholars of the future will look at these blogs. Again, they have made UThink what it is today.
What about the future then? What do we have in store for users of UThink? First of all we are right now in the midst of planning for an upgrade to Movable Type 3.1. MT 3 has more blogging features, a better comment management feature, a better, faster interface, and a ton of other goodies. We are hoping to have this completed by March if not sooner. We are also going to look into how UThink can better help build community on campus. Tying the system to x.500 was a good start, but hopefully we can take community building to another level. If anyone has any ideas regarding this I am all ears. And given the dominance of class blogs we also hope to make it easier to create blogs specifically for classes. This includes easier ways to tie students to a single blog, as well as templates that make better sense in a classroom setting. And yes, this will probably include a way to make password protected posts. We also hope to make better use of all the MT Plugins available to users of Movable Type. MT is extremely powerful and you would be surprised at what it allows authors to do, especially through all the plugins developed by the MT community. For example, the plug-in MultiBlog "provides the user with the ability to include templated content from other blogs in their MovableType installation." In other words, an author could include blog content from all sorts of blogs in his or her own site. Obviously, this could be very handy for classes that want to use blogging as an assignment alternative.
Anyway, I've rambled on enough. Onward and upward with UThink.
September 2, 2004
What a day
Sorry for the lack of posts this morning. Tim and I ran into a little unexpected traffic this morning in the HOV lane. In fact the traffic in that lane was at an absolute stand-still. This, of course, is very odd. Usually we are flying down 394 waving to all the saps in the regular lanes as we zoom by, but today it was the exact opposite. It was like I was trapped in Bizarro world! It seems the police set up the mother of all HOV single driver traps and it brought all the traffic in that lane to a screecing halt. I say "it seems" because I never actually saw the police pulling single drivers over. We heard about it on the radio. When we got to the end of the lane the police were gone and traffic started to move at a normal pace. Tim and I were kind of upset since we wanted to see some police brutality inflicted on those lawless single drivers.
When I got to work I got a call from a librarian in another library on campus who told me the dean of a certain school was deeply troubled by UThink. Apparently he is upset that students could use UThink to negatively comment on classes or professors at the U, particularly in his school. I love this kind of stuff, especially considering where the complaint is coming from. I'm sorry I can't be more specific. Free speech! You gotta love it. What I'm most excited about is that the University Libraries can use this opportunity to invoke our campus role as defenders of intellectual freedom and free speech. I don't think the complaint will really go anywhere, but if it does I think the Libraries are well positioned to defend our stance.
I would be remiss if I didn't write about stadiums every chance I got so I offer this little tidbit today. According to a Pioneer Press article yesterday, the upcoming hockey strike or lockout could have a dramatic effect on business in downtown St. Paul. That is really obvious. However, what I found interesting in the article was this little factoid about the Xcel Energy Center:
" Last year alone, hockey and other events at the arena added $104 million to St. Paul's economy, according to a study by St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce."
Again, is anyone upset they built the Xcel Energy Center? The same naysayers that we have now fighting against a new Twins stadium also fought against the construction of the X. The X has done wonders for the economy of St. Paul, not to mention the intangibles of civic pride and the new and improved impression most Minnesotans have concerning the capitol city. Goodness, let's not make that mistake again and actually give people a reason to come to St. Paul all year round.
Could Denny Hecker and Glen Taylor be working on a partnership to buy the Vikings? According to Sid Hartman, Denny and Glen were seen talking with each other on a boat cruise last week. And Charley Walters is reporting that:
"When all the talk of selling and buying the Vikings is complete, people in the know expect that Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor also will own the Vikings. That could be sooner rather than later."
It should be an interesting next couple of weeks. I expect if something doesn't happen by the end of next week, nothing will happen until the end of the season. We'll see, though, we shall see.
That's all I got today. See you tomorrow.
August 13, 2004
UThink is 4 months old!
Tomorrow will be the 4 month anniversary for UThink, the University Libraries blogging system. With very little advertising and a lot of word of mouth, the system has generated these kinds of statistics:
Total number of blogs: 464
Blog authors: 544
Blog entries: 3804
Comments to all blogs: 1476
I've run some other queries against these numbers and I've found that of the 464 blogs, 72% are "active." This means that 72% of them have had at least one post since June 14. Why did I base this statistic on a two month range? One of the most famous surveys on blogging in general, the Perseus Blog Survey, used that criteria to find that 66% of blogs in general are abandoned. So, right now, UThink has a 28% abandonment rate.
That isn't too bad, but I also ran some queries to deduce how many blogs only have one post to try to figure out how many people are even remotely "consistent" users. According to my query 31% of UThink blogs only have one post. Ha! That is very interesting.
So, where are all the posts coming from? According to some other computations I've made, the top 50 bloggers, the 50 blogs with the most posts, account for 85% of the posts on UThink (3,262 out of 3,804). So in other words, some people really get into it, and other people ... not so much. Actually, that isn't fair. If a person only blogged once a month on UThink they would only have four posts, but maybe that is how they want to blog. Who knows?
Some other interesting stats: about 4 blogs get created everyday on the system and every day there are about 31 posts or entries put on the system. And of the users, the breakdown is thus:
Faculty and P/A: 88
This is a little surprising to me considering how many more undergraduates there are at the U as opposed to graduate students. However, I unveiled UThink at the end of Spring semester four months ago right around finals time. You could argue that grad students are the biggest users because there are more grad students on campus than undergrads during the summer months (?). I'm just speculating.
I also took a hard look at about half of the blogs to get a sense of who these people are and what they are using UThink for. As you might imagine, this took me quite a long time. 55% are male and 45% female so that breaks down as you might expect. Of the blogs I looked at I also found that 28% are personal in nature, 9% are research related (citations, thesis/dissertation discussion), 5% are for a class or class project, 11% are work related, and 47% are just testing or kicking the tires a little bit. It will be very interesting to see how these statistics change as we get into a "real" semester, but I'm going to have to figure out a better and more accurate way of doing random sampling.
Anyway, that is about it. Let me know if I should run some other type of statistic.
July 19, 2004
As many of you know, the blog system the Greet Machine sits on is called UThink: Blogs at the University Libraries. This is a little (getting bigger everyday!) pet project of mine that I must say I'm kind of proud of. UThink uses Movable Type as its blogging software of choice, and this software was chosen mainly because 1) it is probably the most popular blogging software after Blogger, 2) we could easily modify the Perl code to hook it to our campus authentication system, and 3) it was free for educational institutions. Really, how could we lose?
Well, in May Six Apart, the makers of Movable Type (MT), decided to completely change their licensing with their new MT 3.0 and it really ticked me off. I felt like they used the old "bait and switch" tactic to get a huge user base and then begin charging for it. And their licensing fees were a little outrageous if truth be told. If I had known Six Apart was going in this direction it would have probably changed the direction of UThink. I say "probably" because I just don't know. Movable Type is by far the best blogging software out there that can do what we want it to do, namely connect to our University authentication system, and offer people unlimited blogs and blog authors. So, essentially I've been in a waiting game since May, wondering if we would be able to continue using MT for UThink or if we would have to start looking into something different.
Well, I am relieved to say that it looks like we will be able to stick with Movable Type. Just this morning I had a conference call with Judy Gordon and Anil Dash of Six Apart (yes, that Anil Dash) who made it clear to me that they are willing to do whatever it takes to retain our business. It seems that universities and colleges all over the country are using UThink as a reference and they are telling Six Apart they would like to do what we have already done. This includes the mighty UC-Berkeley ... at least that's what Anil and Judy told me. So, Anil said they would like to use UThink as their "flagship" university installation and they would like us to agree to share our code modifications with other institutions. He also said that UThink is probably the most advanced blogging system for a university our size, and that we are the first university that has "done it right" as far as he could see. As my surfer friends used to say back in high school: killer! I'm thrilled other institutions think so highly of what we have done and I'm thrilled we will be able to work something out to stay with Movable Type.
So, to make a long story short, sometime this summer UThink will be moving to MT 3.01. Of course, all the paperwork will have to be signed and licensing issues solved, but I am pretty confident this will be no problem and happen relatively quickly. I can't express enough how happy I am about this. It is such a monkey off my back and it looks like the beginning of what I hope will be a fruitful relationship with Six Apart. So, if Anil or Judy ever read this, thanks for everything, and you'll be hearing from us soon!
June 8, 2004
MT Educational License
Six Apart, the makers of Movable Type, have finally come out with at least an introduction to their new license for educational institutions. Before I get into my meager analysis of the email I received from them, I'll cut to the chase first and say their initial introduction is somewhat of a relief. It actually looks like this will be something we can work with here at UThink, but obviously some questions remain. Now for my longer reaction.
I'm sure this was a form email, and many of you reading this will have probably already received it, but I will print it here just for reference:
"Regarding educational licenses, we are very interested and excited to work with universities and want to encourage campus-wide installations. To that end, we have created a licensing structure specifically targeted to educational organizations that offers unlimited weblogs and unlimited authors. The pricing is based on the number of student of the department, college, or campus that will be using MT.
The prices we have for perpetual licenses for a size of up to 300 students is $299, for up to 1000 students would be $699, and up to 2000 students would be $999. For anything larger, we would be happy to put together a custom license if you could let us know the size of the department/school this would be for."
First of all, they say the "have created a licensing structure specifically targeted to educational organizations that offers unlimited weblogs and unlimited authors." This is interesting since in the next paragraph they base their pricing on the number of students that we expect to use the service. However, I can live with that since my initial estimations for users of the UThink system were between 500-1000 users. So, the fact that they have stretched their licensing to 2000 users so far gives us a little wiggle room. Good deal. Tougher questions remain, though.
Note that they are basing their prices on number of students only. Obviously there are a lot of people using UThink that aren't students. Does this mean we have to pay extra for facutly and staff use? I hope not. I hope that the 2000 users can be any affiliated user on campus, or that the 2000 "students" referred to in their email actually refers to "account holders". But we'll see. They also refer to a "perpetual license." Does this mean that we only have to pay for the license once? I read it that we won't have to pay a yearly fee or something like that.
Finally, and this is the most troubling unknown for me, are they basing their pricing per student on the number of actual students using the system, or the potential number? If it is based on potential number then we are in trouble. That would be a whopping 50,000 student potential. I'm hoping that we can purchase a license for 2000 students and then work our way up to that. If we cross the 2000 student threshold after a couple of years maybe we could then pay another $1000 for 2000 students more (?). That seems reasonable to me. I'm also wondering if their definitions of "author counts" and "weblog accounts" (right hand side of MT download page) also apply in an educational setting. Obviously we also get a lot of people that start a weblog and then abandon it. I would hate for those authors and weblogs to be used against our counts.
So, there you have it. I look forward to more clarification of this license, and hopefully there will be an actual document to refer to on the MT website in the near future. Like I said above, though, this is a good start.
May 16, 2004
Over the weekend Six Apart sent out a form letter email and further modified their new licensing structure for Movable Type 3.0. Their new explanation does answer a lot of questions, but it also demonstrates that at least for the purposes of UThink both the personal and commercial licenses are still unacceptable. That, of course, leaves the mythical "educational license." I don't quite know why, but I am still feeling a little pessimistic about it. Why would they allow us to create unlimited blogs and authors when their most expensive commercial license (regularly $700!) only allows for 15 blogs and 20 authors? Of course, we will do everything we can to negotiate a fair price for our needs, but at least from my point of view I can't get it out of my head that they will see UThink as a threat to Typepad. We'll see.
Jason Kottke has a good post on what he thinks is a fair solution to this license mess, but it focuses on personal users. Allow me to chime in concerning what I think would be fair for non-profit and educational use. Since MT is now a commercial product, let's look at two of MT's competitors, PMachine and Manila, to see how much they charge. PMachine's Expression Engine has a non-profit license for $149 which will allow you unlimited blogs and authors and it appears you only have to pay for it once. Manilia offers an academic discount and charges only $299, but you have to renew it every year. However, Manila also allows for the creation of unlimited blogs and authors. In fact, I can't find any commercial product that limits blogs and authors like Movable Type does.
So, what would be fair for a non-profit or educational license? I think I've made it clear that we need unlimited blogs and authors, and I am more than willing to pay for it. And that is what I see as the biggest problem with MT's license structure. There isn't any option to get the limits taken off. So what I'm saying is if Six Apart wants to tier their licenses so people that want to create more blogs have to pay more, fine, that is great. But give us an option for unlimited blogs and I will be a happy camper. What would be fair? $149? $299? Movable Type is a great product and I would be willing to pay significantly more than what pMachine or Manila charges, at least above $500. I think Movable Type is that good. I don't want to give an exact figure since Six Apart may stumble across this entry:) but like I said, we'd be willing to pay.
I hope they realize that UThink has the potential to create a whole bunch of Movable Type users that will graduate and look to keep on using Movable Type whether it be Typepad or a personal MT license. I will certainly keep you posted as we find out more.
May 14, 2004
A possible bright spot
The blogging world is literally freaking out over Movable Type and it's new licensing structure. What is really coming out though in all the posts I've read about this is confusion. Pure confusion. No one really knows what is going on. What does it mean that Six Apart has released a "developers" edition of MT 3.0? Does this mean that there will be another version coming out for all the "regular joes" that aren't developers? And my big question is still are we going to be able to continue to offer unlimited blogs and authors through the UThink system? The main programmer of UThink, Bill T., says he would be shocked if Six Apart didn't allow us to function as normal with MT 3.0. That's good! I need to hear more comments like that. Then I found this blog post that does a pretty good job of explaining just what Six Apart is trying to do with this developers release. It doesn't assuage my fears completely, but it is a start.
The question you may be asking is will UThink continue to offer free weblogs to the U of M community? Oh yes, there is little doubt of that. We would like to offer our users the latest and greatest, though, so we'll have to see what our options are after Six Apart publishes some more details about this developers release. Stay tuned.
Trouble in UThink LandUPDATE: Six Apart has unveiled an introduction to its educational licensing for MT.
The makers of the software that runs UThink, Six Apart, yesterday came out with the much anticipated version 3.0 of Movable Type. Usually this would be a good thing as this would mean an upgrade for everyone using the UThink system. However, for some strange reason they have also attached to this release some very, very restrictive use licenses that may prohibit UThink from ever being able to upgrade. It looks like MT now comes with at least 4 different licenses to choose from. The first is the personal license where for $70 you can get the software with the options of creating up to 5 blogs and 3 authors. Next is the commercial license through which you can spend upwards of $700 to get a maximum of 20 authors and 15 weblogs. Yikes! There is still a free version, the version that runs UThink, but that is limited to 1 author and 3 blogs. Obviously, that is not going to work. UThink already has more than 230 blogs and 250 authors. So, what to do? Six Apart hints at an educational license:
"Accredited educational institutions that make use of Movable Type are eligible for our educational licensing program."
If it is anything like their commercial license, I don't know how we are going to make it work. This is very upsetting to me. I don't begrudge Six Apart's need to make money, but there was absolutely no hint of this kind of pricing structure coming out of the company in the 9 months I've been working on UThink. Not a hint! Essentially they've offered a free, unhindered piece of software for years and now after they get a huge user base they pull the rug out and start charging for it. The old bait and switch if you ask me. It reminds me a little of Netscape in the late 90s. For years they gave their browsers away for free, and then when 4.0 came out they created a commercial license and started charging for the browser. I think we all know what happened next. I have little doubt that MSIE still would have dominated the market had Netscape kept to their free license model, but their 4.0 commercial license didn't help at all.
What I'm trying to say is that had a I known that this was coming down the pike I probably would have gone with another software package. I realize that Six Apart has never claimed that MT is true "open source," but it was free and they encouraged developers to modify the code. Now that they have hooked me, so to speak, I am a little miffed and confused at what happens next. I'm really looking forward to hearing from them what kind of "significant" discount is offered in their educational license but again, if it is anything like their commercial license I'm in trouble. Big trouble. I am more than willing to pay for Movable Type, but it has to be priced right and it has to have the features and functionality we need. Namely it can't have any "number of blogs" or "number of users" type restrictions.
To top it off, there are two versions of their FAQ available:
FAQ 1 states:
Q: What is your policy on use by schools, colleges and universities?
A: Educational pricing for accredited institutions is available at a significant discount from the prices listed for commercial use. Contact us to find out about a license thatís approrpriate for use by your institution.
FAQ 2 states:
Accredited K-12 schools, colleges and universities can offer Movable Type to currently-enrolled students or staff as part of school-provided web hosting as long as there is no charge to students or staff for use of the service. Educational institutions are not required to pay for Movable Type but are asked to donate what they feel the software is worth and to maintain the "Powered by Movable Type" link on the site.
Confusing. Very confusing. I'll keep you posted.
May 6, 2004
A quick note of profound joy: I'm finally done grading. For the past 5 days straight I have been either grading final exams or final projects and I am finally done. It is like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Of course, you might think that I can more regularly update this here blog, but you'd be wrong. In the middle of all this grading I've also had to plan for a Cub Scout camping trip that my oldest son, Alex, and I are going on this weekend. Tomorrow, I will have to take a day off of work to buy the rest of what we need and to pack everything up. You might also think that I am not looking forward to this weekend, but again you'd be wrong! What are you? Some kind of idiot? Anyway, I think it will be a lot of fun. Alex is bouncing off the walls he is so excited. I mean, it might even rain, he tells me. Oh goody! Actually it will be neat to spend a night in a tent with someone so excited. I hope some of that rubs off on me! Then on Saturday we'll probably do some hiking, and archery, and who knows what else. We'll eat disgusting food, and sleep on the hard ground, and, most importantly, we'll be men. I'll be taking pictures, so expect a little slide show of all our fun!
April 27, 2004
Reflections on UThink
Why the library? Why should the library host blogs on campus? I've heard this often enough where I feel it is an important question to answer. The easiest answer to this is, why not? But that probably won't satisfy the masses. I think most people are hung up by their own perceptions of what both libraries are and what blogs are. To many in a university environment, the library is a stuffy building with old books and even older librarians whispering "shhhh!" all the time. There is also a (better) perception of the library as a temple to knowledge, the epitome of academia and the holder of the record of the breadth of human history and discovery. The library provides resources people can trust, hand selected by subject specialists, meticulosly cataloged, and ready for use in scholarly discourse. The keyword there is "scholarly." Why in the world would the library be interested in blogs?
This brings up people's perception of blogs. To many, blogs are little more than electronic gossip devices, or personal diaries filled with drivel of little or no academic value. This is what I call the "blueberry muffin" effect. Why in the world should I care that you had a blueberry muffin for breakfast? And possibly more importantly, why in the world did you feel the need to write about it for the world to read? Are all blogs filled with this personal drivel? Can we stereotype them all and box them all into this corner of having very little scholarly value?
Obviously I would say no. I personally feel that blogs and libraries can help break these stereotypes that both must overcome. The University of Minnesota and the University Libraries are not unique in offering blogs to the campus community. Many other univeristies are taking this leap, and it probably all started with Blogs at Harvard Law. There is also a lot of research and thought going into blogs on college campuses which you can find here, and here, and here, and here, etc. Blogs are approaching the tipping point on many campuses around the world as a tool that can enhance the traditional academic enterprise. How do libraries fit into the picture?
Libraries can certainly offer blogs an air of legitimacy given people's already stuffy impression of the role of the academic library on campus. However, when you think about it, blogs are just another example of the breadth of human knowledge and thought in electronic form. There are blogs for every topic under the sun and more are being created every day. Why isn't it the job of the libraries to also collect this material? We already collect material in all subjects and all formats; blogs are merely an extension of a responsibility. Right now there are hundreds of faculty, staff, and students on the U of M campus that maintain blogs, blogs that discuss their lives, research interests, classes, political persuasions, work life, and more. Why wouldn't the libraries want to archive this (sometimes) very important content? In addition, this content is quite literally a gold mine of unfettered and unedited essays that represents a snap shot in time of the history of the institution. Regardless of whether a person feels these posts and entries are "scholarly" or not, they reflect what people are thinking about at the U of M right now. Libraries already collect material like this through the University Archives. Blogs, however, will offer a much richer picture for researchers of the future interested in the cultural memory of the institution.
Let's talk a little more about the whole "scholarly" thing. While I would agree that most of the libraries' tradtional holdings (books, microfilm, databases) contain materials that could be considered "scholarly" I can also promise you that right now the library's collections also contain literally thousands of books that you would consider to be absolute crap. If you don't believe me you haven't looked hard enough. That is why this perception of blogs as frivolous irks me so much. It is so subjective. This idea that blogs must be "scholarly" (as the reader defines it) to be worthy of being published is academic elitism and censorship at its finest. That is why it is so important for blogs to be housed in the libraries. As guardians of intellectual freedom libraries can encourage people to write what they want, when they want, without fear of institutional restraint. Blogs give people on campus the freedom to express their opinion in any way they see fit, and libraries can ensure that their first amendment rights aren't tampered with.
I fully believe in the process of writing. I think of blogs as a public practice arena for putting your thoughts on paper (or screen as the case may be). Sometimes your thoughts will be complete schlock, but as you practice more you are bound to get better at expressing yourself. Sooner or later you will become more adept at expressing an opinion, making an argument, debating what you feel is an important issue, etc. More importantly you will learn to trust your own opinion more, and you will find that you actually have opinions on a lot of topics. I guess what I am trying to say is that through all the crap people write on blogs there is usually the germ of an idea trying to get out. The University Libraries don't want to squelch that idea, we want to give you the chance to express it.
April 23, 2004
UThink in the news
Well, we're into week three of the UThink project and things are going pretty smoothly. Again, thanks to the quiet release of the project, we were able to learn about a bug with the Trackback feature of our installation of Movable Type and fix it before things get too crazy. The quiet nature of our release hasn't stopped some news being generated about UThink, though. I've already told you about the broadcast journalism student that interviewed me, and I'm expecting an article in the Minnesota Daily any day now. Also, University Relations contacted me a couple of days ago and said they would be featuring UThink on the U of M home page next week in a "spotlight." That's pretty cool. And now today, the Library Journal Academic Wire published a little piece about the project. I realize that Library Journal may not be exciting to most of you, but for me, a librarian, it is very flattering. Anyway, here is the piece:
AS PART OF ITS MISSION, U. OF MINNESOTA LIBRARY OFFERS FREE BLOGS
When University of Minnesota (UM) librarian Shane Nackenrud first showed the libraries' new blog system to a faculty member in the philosophy department, he got his first indication that the program might be popular. "He was so impressed," Nackenrud recalled. "He said, 'You're going to have 100,000 users!'" With the April launch of UThink, a program under the library's auspices to offer free blogs to the university community, UM has made the library the center for blogging. Blogging on campuses is not unusual. At Harvard, for example, blogs are sponsored by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, part of the law school. UM, however, is among the first to assert that blogging is key to the library's mission, from collecting "campus history" to facilitating academic discourse. "We are not unique in using blogs in an academic environment but we are unique in that we saw that the university libraries could lead the effort," said Nackenrud.
Already, Nackenrud said, professors have said they'll use the blogs for specific classes to encourage discussion and debate. "We also are excited about the potential blogs hold to create communities of interest on campus," he added. "We can tie blogs together based on department, college, major, research interest, or specific classes and bring people together that maybe would have never met if not for the system." For users, copyright and all other related rights to blog content will be owned by the author. Blog authors can even license their content through a Creative Commons license. Other details are still developing, such as how much library support the program will require. Currently, the system is supported by Nackenrud and a programmer, but others might help if demand increases. As for free speech issues, Nackenrud said the library was careful not to create any new policies, even for those blogs with views that may offend. "There is no policy on campus that trumps the First Amendment as far as I know," he said. For Nackenrud and UM officials, the blogs are a vibrant new commons emerging within the UM academic community. "The beauty of all of this," he observed, "is that the library will be the center for all of this activity."
First of all, it is nice to know that variations on the spelling of my last name have not been exhausted yet. This is the first time I have ever been called "Nackenrud." Not the worst butchering of my last name I've ever seen, that is for sure. That honor still goes to "MacFrud." But it is still perplexing to me that he would misspell my last name since I answered this reporter's questions in an email message. Secondly, and more importantly, the author of this piece really nailed the essence of the project. I'm excited for the opportunities this will bring to the U of M to create new types of user communities on campus, and I am really excited about the whole "freedom of expression" aspect of it. So often academic libraries back away from this issue and rely on public libraries and the ALA to bear the torch of intellectual freedom. I'm also excited that the libraries are at the center of this initiative. I feel strongly that in this age of the Internet libraries in general need to reinvent themselves and strive to remain relevant to our users. This is especially true in an academic setting where undergrads prefer the ease of Google and Amazon to the complexity of our catalogs and databases. How do we remain relevant? Certainly not by abandoning what makes us libraries in the first place, but by recognizing when our mission can be supported by new ideas and technology. Blogs are my idea to accomplish this. I can't guarantee the project will be successful, but it has certainly created a buzz about the libraries and that has been gratifying.
April 12, 2004
I'm on TV! Well, sort of...
For those of you that are interested, as promised here is the link to the video piece done by the broadcast journalism student last week featuring yours truly:
I have judged this piece on how accurate it is, and how goofy I look in it, and as far as accuracy goes, it is pretty good. In fact, in my initial viewings (I will be looking at it much closer later) I didn't catch any errors at all. That is a relief. Now for the goofiness factor: yep, I think I'm goofy. I need to brighten myself up or something! I talk like I'm at a funeral or my cat has died. Sheesh! Or maybe that is how I talk all the time. How depressing.
I also didn't like how she focused on the privacy or anonymity of the system, but truthfully people will be interested in that. Quite frankly I'm surprised that people would be so concerned with privacy since blogs are very public by nature. In essense, if you don't want people to know your opinion on something, don't blog about it. I think it is a cop out to hide behind an alias just because some people might not like what you have to say. Take a stand! I do it almost everyday writing about stadiums. Debate and difference of opinion makes the world go around.
April 10, 2004
Who is linking to UThink
UThink: Blogs at the University Libraries is making a subtle splash on the blogging world. Just so I can keep track, here are some of the sites that are linking to and commenting on the service:
- Carving Code
- Blog Driver's Waltz
- Looking into Practical and Productive blogging
- Weblogg-Ed (scroll down).
- Educational Bloggers Network
- Many 2 Many
- Me, my life + infrastructure
- Ohio State Lima Firefly
There are more, but most of them just link to the service without really saying anything. It's fun to watch the news spread.
April 9, 2004
It's been a week now, and more and more people are finding out about UThink, the blog system I'm running here at the U. It has been very interesting watching how word of mouth spreads a message, but now things are about to get a little more interesting. For example, just yesterday a student in broadcast journalism interviewed me, on camera, for a class she is taking. She said only her class would see it, but if it is good enough the piece may be picked up by "university report." I'm still a little confused as to what that means. But really, how could it not be good enough? It is about me and blogs! A powerful combination, to be sure. Actually, I'm a little concerned that I come off looking like a big dufus. Looking back at the interview all I can remember is me saying stuff like "You can, umm.... write blog entries with blogs and ummm... do stuff ... you know?" I knew this would happen, but all night long I was thinking about what I should have said. You are always more articulate after the fact. Fortunately for all of you, she will be posting the finished product on her website by Monday. I, of course, will link to the piece on this fine blog when it is available.
That brings me to today. A freelancer for the Minnesota Daily, the student newspaper at the U, will be interviewing me at 10:00 about the project. It seems the Daily is excited about UThink. That is great. The Daily is also read by way more than 20 people, so I am a little nervous about what the impact will be. I think the system is ready to go, though. We've had almost 50 testers, I've gotten some good feedback, and we haven't had any outrageous bugs crop up. Things are about to get a little bit more interesting for me, to say the least, so stay tuned!
April 1, 2004
Got an interesting email message
Someone just wrote me, and based on his message I will keep him anonymous, but he had an interesting comment about how UThink is set up:
"Part of the pleasure and excitement of personal publishing is that you have some control over revealing your identity to your readers. The way Uthink is set up, it seems impossible to change the name of the directory from my university internet id."
He's right. Much like OIT's Web Hotel space, your initial directory in UThink is always your Internet ID. What do people think about that? Is the lack of privacy troublesome? If you look at some of the most famous bloggers out there -- Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit), Jason Kottke (kottke.org), Mark Pilgrim (Dive into Mark), James Lileks (The Bleat) -- we always know who they are. Anyway, I was just wondering if anyone had an opinion. Personally, I don't mind people knowing who is doing the writing on the Greet Machine, but could it possibly stop me from sharing my true opinion about some issues? Possibly.
Overall, a good first day
Overall, it was a pretty good first day for the libraries blog server. We had some people give it a try, give me some feedback, and I'm impressed with the variety of blog styles that are appearing. Take Typically Late for example. That is a unique way to post blog entries. I will definitely have to check it out in the days ahead. Hangin' in There also has an interesting first post, and I couldn't agree more. Blogs are changing the way we communicate and they are creating a new kind of online persona. Exciting stuff if you ask me, but I'm a little biased I suppose.
Bugs found on the first day... let's see. The biggest is I found out that the blog home page does not look quite right in IE on an 800x600 monitor. I know, I know, I should have learned that in webmastering 101. Believe me it really ticks me off to have missed that. I checked everything in Mozilla (Firefox, Netscape 7, etc.), IE (higher screen resolution obviously), Safari, IE for Mac, Mozilla for Mac, and more. I thought I had it all. Do'h! So, I'll be fixing that this morning. The design is totally CSS based (no tables!) so I guess I should have expected some bugs of that sort from browser to browser. Let me say though that Mozilla is much easier to design for with CSS than IE.
I only alerted about 30 people that the blog system was ready to go so that is why there are only 20 blogs so far. That didn't stop other blogs from picking up on the story though. Rawbrick.net had a nice entry about the system and also a link to a great article about library groupware. It suggests a tool that combines blogging, citation management, and link resolving all at once. I dare say we are well on our way. Also, PZ Myers at the U of M Morris wrote about the service and was a little ticked off that we seemed to be blocking his access. Enter bug number 2: he still was able to get in. But you know what? I'm kind of rethinking my strategy here. Maybe we should let the coordinate campuses in. We will be mulling that over in the days to come.
On with day number two!
UPDATE: IE on an 800x600 monitor has been fixed. I am a CSS god! (Hey, if you can't get excited about the little stuff, life just isn't as fun.)