what they’re reading…

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Extracted the titles from readings our faculty have placed in our e-reserves system this semester, removed terms like “Chapter” and “Ch.”, normalized case and fed the result into Wordle.

Just curious, I performed the same operations on readings from Fall 2005:

I’m beginning to suspect it’s our social scientists who make greatest use of our e-reserves service.


      Comments Off on Backups

It was once common for newspapers to reprint an important article from time to time.

Of course, this was before Google and in those days it wasn’t all that easy to lay your hands on an article that you just remembered seeing somewhere. Heck, it wasn’t easy if you remembered exactly where you saw it.

Reference librarians were gods then.

In that spirit, I’d like to “reprint” this article from Jamie Zawinski. It has one of my favorite quotes in it (“the universe tends toward maximum irony”), offers great advice, and does it in a way that’s easily absorbed and implemented. I’ve tweaked it just enough to skirt the explicit tag:

Hello, this is a public service announcement. I am here to tell you about backups. It’s very simple.

Option 1: Learn not to care about your data. Don’t save any old email, use a film camera, and only listen to physical CDs and not MP3s. If you have no posessions, you have nothing to lose.

Option 2 goes like this:

You have a computer. It came with a hard drive in it. Go buy two more drives of the same size or larger. If the drive in your computer is SATA2, get SATA2. If it’s a 2.5″ laptop drive, get two of those. Brand doesn’t matter, but physical measurements and connectors should match.

Get external enclosures for both of them. The enclosures are under $30.
Put one of these drives in its enclosure on your desk. Name it something clever like “Backup”. If you are using a Mac, the command you use to back up is this:

sudo rsync -vaxE –delete –ignore-errors / /Volumes/Backup/

If you’re using Linux, it’s something a lot like that. If you’re using Windows, go f*ck yourself.

If you have a desktop computer, have this happen every morning at 5AM by creating a temporary text file containing this line:

0 5 * * * rsync -vaxE –delete –ignore-errors / /Volumes/Backup/

and then doing sudo crontab -u root that-file

If you have a laptop, do that before you go to bed. Really. Every night when you plug your laptop in to charge.

If you’re on a Mac, that backup drive will be bootable. That means that when (WHEN) your internal drive scorches itself, you can just take your backup drive and put it in your computer and go. This is nice.

When (WHEN) your backup drive goes bad, which you will notice because your last backup failed, replace it immediately. This is your number one priority. Don’t wait until the weekend when you have time, do it now, before you so much as touch your computer again. Do it before goddamned breakfast. The universe tends toward maximum irony. Don’t push it.

That third drive? Do a backup onto it the same way, then take that to your office and lock it in a desk. Every few months, bring it home, do a backup, and immediately take it away again. This is your “my house burned down” backup.

“OMG, three drives is so expensive! That sounds like a hassle!” Shut up. I know things. You will listen to me. Do it anyway.

Addendum A:

Mac users: for the backup drive to be bootable, you need to do two things:
When you first format the drive, set the partition type to “GUID”, not “Apple Partition Map”;
Before doing your first backup, Get Info on the drive and un-check “Ignore ownership on this drive” under “Ownership and permissions.”

You can test whether it’s bootable by holding down Option while booting and selecting the external drive.

Addendum B:

RAID is a waste of your goddamned time and money. Is your personal computer a high-availability server with hot-swappable drives? No? Then you don’t need RAID, you just need backups.

I follow this procedure for the most part, but I use a newer version of rsync (installed 3.0.7 via macports) than the one that ships with Snow Leopard (2.6.9) and launch the nightly backups by placing a script in the /etc/periodic/daily directory. With this somewhat newer version of rsync, I use this set of switches:

/opt/local/bin/rsync -vaxAX –delete –ignore-errors / /volumes/backup

Anthologize it

      Comments Off on Anthologize it

Preview001.jpgMy pragmatic friends over at the Center for History and New Media are at it again. This time, with support from National Endowment for the Humanities, they’ve come up with an interesting (and I hope trendmaking) take on a sponsored project.   Let’s use the funding to support the actual creation of something useful…


Here’s the result of their ‘One Week | One Tool‘ project: a WordPress plugin that converts a series of blog posts (and optionally, feeds from other RSS sources as well) into an e-book.

I know, on one level this seems a bit retro (did Henry Ford spend time trying to figure out  a way to turn an auto back into horse-drawn buggy?) but on another level it’s quite brilliant.  For example, I can see a great future for this tool as a way to archive a blog.

Congratulations to CHNM and the “One Week | One Tool” participants.

A few year-end statistics

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The fiscal year ended July 1 so it seems a good time to report some of the numbers we saw over the past year (July 1, 2009 – June 30, 2010). In no particular order:

  • 1,604,862 – number of times the library’s home page was loaded.
  • 29,914,095 – items served from main library website (pages, images, etc.)
  • 2,855,193 – number of searches run against our OPAC via the web interface
  • 13,665,355 – number of ‘pages’ served by our catalog during the year
  • 93,013,174 – number of ‘hits’ on our off-campus authentication (proxy) server.
  • 818,878 – number of items “viewed” in our MARS system.
  • 90,401 – number of pdf files retrieved from our e-reserves system.

There are a few other stats I haven’t listed but if I were to add them to these numbers we’d end up with just over 142 million ‘hits’ on library servers during the past year.  An average of  4.5 hits per second.

Actually, that’s low-balling the number to some degree.

Not included are visits to e-journals and databases when the query is launched from a machine on the campus network (e.g., in the library or a faculty desktop or in a dorm room).   Those requests don’t go through our proxy server and are thus much more difficult to quantify.   We’re also skipping our InfoGuides service (hosted elseweb) and  not counting our various research portals in this set of numbers.  Finally,  we’re also neglecting to count the non-stop traffic that goes in and out of the university’s PeopleFinder every day (it may surprise some to learn that we’ve run that service on a library server since roughly 1994–when we first launched a website that eventually became the university’s official web presence (http://www.gmu.edu)).

Comicbook Fonts

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Without renumeration or discounts of any kind, I still feel a duty to do what I can to improve the look of  the web…and that means I should point out that for the next 10 days or so (through July 31) all fonts over at Comicbookfonts.com are half-priced.  Not as attractive as their New Year’s promotion (any font for the price of the year, e.g., $20.11 next January if they run it again), but still a pretty sweet deal.


New Chrome beta for Mac

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The latest Google chrome browser beta is making me rethink my ‘default browser’ choice.  Two reasons:

1) The new V8 javascript engine is very quick.  In fact, it wins this race on the SunSpider JavaScript Benchmarks easily (smaller number is better):

Testbed: Mac Pro, 2 x 2.26 GHz, OS X 10.6.3

Firefox 3.6.3 861.0ms

Safari 4.0.5 432.0ms

Chrome 5.0.375.29 beta  320.4ms

2) 1Password has a plugin extension that now puts your passwords a click away.   It’s not full-featured (you still have to hit return after selecting the appropriate set of credentials) but it works.


Update (6/7/2010)

Safari 5.0 322.6 ms

Google Chrome (5.0.375.55)  324.6 ms

So, for the moment, Safari’s faster…wonder what Google did in the move from 5.0.375.29 to 5.0.375.55 to slow the javascript down a couple of milliseconds?

MarsEdit 3.0

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This is just a short post…really nothing more than an excuse to try out the latest version of my blog editor of preference: MarsEdit 3.0.

Released today, MarsEdit 3 adds several important features (e.g., a rich text editor and integration with Aperture and iPhoto) and for me, a “stop the presses” addition: support for WordPress pages.

We’re using WordPress to power our research portal project and make heavy use of the static pages feature baked into WordPress.   With release 3.0, we can begin using MarsEdit as the complete management solution for those portal curators working on a Mac.

As nice as the new release might prove to be, I think I’ll miss the old icon.



      1 Comment on Summon™

Spent some time with Dartmouth University’s Summon™ installation the other day. Thanks to Dartmouth for making it available on the open web. And while I’m at it, I should also thank George Mason (seems we overlap on subscriptions so I was able to access the content that the Summon™ service uncovered).


What is the Summon™ service?

Before tackling that, it’s worth spending a minute or two thinking about how one goes about searching content that’s distributed across the web.

If you’ve ever looked into digital storage solutions, you’ve probably heard that you can achieve any two of these three attributes: speed, reliability or economy. Build a system that’s fast and reliable and it won’t be inexpensive. Develop a reliable but inexpensive solution and you’ll sacrifice performance. A RAID 0 stripe is fast and cheap but if one drive dies, you lose everything (ixnay reliablilty). You get the general idea.

Web-based searching’s not all that different, you have to balance a set of sometimes conflicting attributes.

Continue reading

VuFind redux

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Grabbed a copy of VuFind Release Candidate 2 the other day and after a bit of work updating our original VuFind platform, we now have a shiny new installation (searching 1.6 million records):


Very, very few tweaks to this software so it’s pretty much a reference installation for RC2.


Cabin Fever Raises IQs?

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During the recent snowstorms (aka Snowpocalypse), our libraries closed to the public from 3:30pm on a Friday afternoon until 8:00am the next Friday. Almost 7 full days.

Fifteen years ago, that would have meant that very little library research until we reopened. Today it’s bad when you lose a nice place to study but the real show stopper is losing the network. Not only because we deliver a lot of content electronically but because we also use most of that technology to find the paper stuff so carefully arranged within the library’s walls.

Thinking about this, I realized that the unexpected and unannounced closing of our physical libraries for seven days in the midst of a term gave me a nice opportunity to assess digital library usage without the burden of trying to separate out what usage we were seeing from in-library users. Here was an opportunity to see what sort of progress we’re making toward what I assume will be our future–a library where the physical presence of a “place” is far less important.

For a quick apples to apples comparison, I drew together our proxy server statistics for this same period last year and those generated during this year’s snow closing. Since our proxy server handles only off-campus traffic, I could exclude in-library use in both sets of numbers and get a fair comparison with the snowpocalypse stats.

February 5, 2009 – February 12, 2009: 2,692,908 items served (lines in the log)
February 5, 2010 – February 12, 2010: 3,908,821 items served (lines in the log)

Wow. Off-campus use of library e-resources increased 45.15% with the library closed.

It would be easy to read too much into those numbers and there are probably a number of explanations for this surge in pursuit of the intellectual (as an aside, I know at one point I got so bored that I sat through an entire episode of Miss Austen Regrets). Perhaps people just decided to do this term’s reading since they could do little else.

But let’s not lose sight of the fact that thanks to e-content, they could do just that. And who knows, if there hadn’t been so many power failures in the region, I’ll bet this “cabin fever effect” could have been even larger.