Latest Drupal project up and running

2010 September 16
by Karen

If you follow this blog you know that I’ve been working on a Drupal project most of the spring. The project was a redesign of the OCLC Developer Network site using Drupal. Like any redesign lots of people contributed to the project, so a big thanks to my colleagues at OCLC who participated in the redesign process, especially the design group who created the look and feel of the site.

I did the majority of the Drupal work. So, I wanted to share with some of the cool Drupal things I learned working on the project and what gooey Drupal goodness we’re taking advantage of.

First, the CCK and Views are at the heart of the site because without them we wouldn’t be able to create our structured content like the Application Gallery or list of code libraries. Two essential modules that extend Views which I’m using are Calendar and Views Custom Field. Calendar builds in nice calendar of Events that is part of the site. Via Views Custom Field I’m able to write custom PHP code to do conditional display of fields within my Views. Without it I’d have to theme my Views more. Something which I’ve done but I’m not as comfortable with as I’d like. This makes it a whole lot easier.

ImageField and ImageCache power our application screenshots and thumbnails. Making uploading and resizing easy. In order to pull in videos we’ve posted to YouTube and other sites we’re using Embeddable Media Field. Thanks to the Rules module we know when developers add new content to the site.

Some modules the site leverages that I’ve never implemented before?

  • Organic Groups
    I’ve heard a lot about Organic Groups before and seen it in action on ALA Connect and the Drupal Groups site, but I’ve never used it. We’re using it to provide sections of the site devoted to the discussion of particular tools and topics.
  • Biblio
    This modules let’s you keep a bibliography. We’re using it to have a list of publications related to OCLC web services that we can link to.
  • Context
    This was the best new module I found working on this project. I’ve always wondered how people handled different blocks appearing in different sections of their site. The Blocks management part of Drupal frankly is extremely weak for this. With Context you can define site sections and tell which blocks to appear where. You can also define what the active menu is and set theme variables.
  • Menu Breadcrumb
    This module lets you create the Breadcrumb trail from your menus. So you can have the breadcrumbs mirror a particular piece of site navigation.
  • FiveStar
    A rating module that lets you allow users to rate content. You can also use it to create a CCK field for ratings that only privileged users can add data to.
  • CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA
    We’re using these modules to prevent spam. The thing I like best about them is that I can turn off the CAPTCHA if a user is logged in.
  • Cache Actions
    This module adds the ability to refresh the cache or part of the cache as part of Rules. So I can cache the heck out of the site and only refresh it if content is added or updated.
  • Chat Room
    This module provides chat functionality within Drupal. I’ve implemented and were planning on using it at the Boston Mashathon next week to provide Chat Room functionality at the event.

Lessons in Creating open source software

2010 August 25
by Karen

Ed Corrado has a nice post entitled “Little Things Matter” on some key things that open source software creators should keep in mind. I agree with the spirit of what Ed says wholeheartedly.

I can’t tell you how many times when I was an open source noob, I’d wonder what the heck the installation instructions were talking about or was frustrated because no one answered questions posted to the listserv. I suppose that is one of the reasons I thought “when I write a book on open source web applications that it will contain specific installation instructions”. Having written that book now, its not as easy as it might seem. I mean do I give step by step instruction on MySQL using the command line or MyPHPAdmin? Instruction for what OS? It is daunting for both people writing documentation and those using it.

Which bring us to the point that Kathryn Greenhill makes in comment on a post by Roy Tennant which highlights the Ed’s commentary. Open source software means that users need to take an more active role than often people are used to taking. More than once at the end of a frustrating day working to get something installed properly, I’ve gone back in and edited software’s documentation wiki or sent an email with suggested changes. Better and more thorough documentation almost always comes from a community effort.

To do this though one has to learn how to participate in an open source community. Learning how to participate is a ongoing process though because one may participate in new ways or in different communities over time. The idea though is that community members are able to build confidence over time by acquiring new skills. Case in point, there is a patch for a Drupal module I’d like to test, try and report back on. But I’ve never done that before. So I don’t know how to apply the patch, which means I’m sort of stuck until I either:

  1. Go searching the internet for instructions
  2. Ask someone who I know might how to do it to help me

At the moment I’m not feeling brave enough to deal with the situation. I’m nervous about the possibility of seriously messing up my test server and having to rebuild it, but I’m also afraid of looking stupid because I have to admit that I’m outside my comfort zone.

Many of the things that Ed suggest in his post help to build a larger comfortable starting point for users trying to implement open source software and participate in the community. Without that it sort of feels like you’re hanging on by your finger nails trying to do this stuff and it makes you not want to try. Everyone needs a starting point and if you’re creating open source software you have to think about starting point you are giving people to be part of your software’s community.

Ereaders changing library models

2010 August 18
tags: ,
by Karen

So I got in conversation on Twitter last with David Lee King and Jason Griffey about ereaders and libraries. My main point of interest today was ereaders and reserve materials and how we could make it easy for students to get reserve materials to their ereader. DLK chimed in and said ILL materials would be good to think about as well since they too are often scanned. Griffey point out that to get epub format which is the nicest thing to have for ereaders one needs to OCR what is scanned. This isn’t the current practice in libraries so scanned materials would be PDF which isn’t ideal because one can’t resize and reformat on ones reader as easily.

For my part, I’d like to see it dead easy for student to get their ILL and reserves. As easy as it is for me to get new books. Meaning if at all possible I don’t need to play games of hook my device up to my computer and load things. Cause maybe my ereader is the only thing I carry around with me.

Sitting Tweeting Griffey and DLK I remember seeing something about students and Nooks on the Barnes and Noble site. It took a minute to find NOOKStudy, which looks like a cross between an ereader application and course management software. There are some very interesting and appealing thing about it. Particularly in the vein of going where your users are. Digging through the website several possible opportunities for libraries jumped out at me. Particular the Research Online functionality which is highlight seems like an ideal opportunity for libraries to provide content to users. I could definitely seen how one could integrate the WorldCat Search API into this or even just WorldCat.org. Being able to integrate with library resources and add library material to this would be really cool.

Not long after my conversation the new issue of Library Journal came out with a series of articles on ebooks and libraries from Jason, Eric Hellman, Barbara Fister, and Char Booth. The articles are a precursor to Library Journal’s eBook Summit, which I’m keenly interested in. I hope the summit discussion raises a wide array of issues and that traditional models and workflows are questioned. Ebooks present an variety of challenges to libraries and I hope the Summit will get people to think outside the box.

Smart phone worth it

2010 August 14
by Karen

So in late July I ordered a HTC Droid Incredible to replace my old Motorola Krazr cell phone. I’ve wanted a smart phone for a while and while the idea of an iPhone is appealing the idea of AT&T as my cell carrier is not. I’d tested out the Motorola Droid and HTC Droid Eris back in January and liked HTC’s tech better. Since then I’ve been biding my time trying to decide if I was going to get a phone or not. After six months of waiting, I decided enough was enough and purchased the Incredible.

After three weeks, I’m very happy. The main things I wanted to use it for work fabulous. Email, address book and calendar are slick. Since I put all my contacts into Gmail before I got the phone, I literally signed the phone into my Google Account and presto all my contacts. My Google Calendar and Gmail were just as easy. Setting it up to talk to OCLC’s Exchange server just took a few minutes of the OCLC Help Desk’s time.

I easily plugged the phone into the rental car and played music off it on my trip to upstate NY. When I neglected to bring the hotel’s address for the IDS conference, Google Maps put me on the right road in less than 2 minutes. Notes were super easy to take with GoogleDocs and I was able Tweet the conference on Twitter. On that trip I honestly didn’t need my laptop.

I also like that I can check my bank account from the phone. Plus the application for Toodledo, which I use to manage my To dos is great. Getting voicemail from GoogleVoice is also WAY easier that before. I’ve also use the web browser to look at my LibraryThing account when I’m at the used bookstore or want to recommend a book to someone and can’t remember the title. Last.fm is pretty awesome too. When I get sick of the music on the phone, I can use Last.fm to stream other music.

A few things I haven’t gotten/found a app for in the Android market yet.

  • Grocery list application
  • A better way/application to load and read PDF files
  • ereader application to read non-B&N ebooks, particularly ones without DRM but also I’m curious if I can read Overdrive book on the Android phone. Unless someone knows how to load and read these with the Nook app

Things I know that don’t exist

  • HuluPlus app or even Hulu app. The website sort of works but you can’t watch videos.
  • Netflix app like the one for the iPad
  • Box.net app – I use Box for storing my files. I have a Dropbox account but have been using Box for a while and like it. The fact they don’t have an app is annoying and combined with a couple other things may cause me to switch permanently to Dropbox.

Also I’m very interested in QR codes. I saw one on a restaurant door yesterday and was curious where it led to but didn’t know how to read it with the phone. Do I need a particular app or what? I’m also disappointed with the crippled version of Skype that I can use to call people but it uses my cell minutes and I can’t use it via wi-fi. That’s just plain stupid.

I’m sure I’ll find more uses down the road but now I’m still a novice user trying to figure out the basics.

Using Soundflower to play a video in a webinar

2010 July 15
by Karen

So I gave a webinar on OCLC Web Services today. One thing I wanted to do was play a video which was made by Demian Katz that demonstrated how VuFind using WorldCat Identities and Terminology Services. The problem was how to get the audio to the participant.

Option 1 – Play it through my speakers had hope my USB headset picked it up
Option 2 – Find a program that let me send the audio from Quicktime to WebEx and/or Skype and also allowed me to pipe my voice through as well.

While Option 1 would work, it is klunky and yucky. So I decided for option 2. I knew that I’ve read about people recording Skype calls so that they had both their voice and the voice of the person they were talking to. Lots of people doing this used Soundflower or Audio Hijack Pro. So I assumed something like this might work for my purposes. Audio Hijack Pro cost money (there is a trial version) and it also provides recording capabilities, which I didn’t need. Soundflower on the other hand is open source and does exactly what I hoped. It allows you to take the audio output from one program, send it to Soundflower, then use Soundflower as the audio input for another program. Simply put, awesome.

The only downside is that I could make Soundflower the input for Skype, which would get the video is sound or I could make my headset the input. An annoyance but not a deal breaker. What I did was set Skype’s input to my headset while I was talking, then to Soundflower when I was playing the video, then back to the headset when the video was done. I don’t think that was noticeable to the participants. It was an inconvenience that required more work on my part but it was workable. Maybe if I had more time I would have found a way to avoid this but all in all this solution worked.

Anyone out there know how to overlay my headset input and Quicktime audio and push them back to Skype?

More ereader adventures

2010 July 10
by Karen

I’m sort of an omnivore in terms of where I buy books from. At least I was when I purchasing physical books. When I purchases a Nook, I sort of got myself in a situation where I was more limited in terms of what I could buy from where. But this week, I got an advertisement from Borders saying their were selling ebooks in cooperation with Kobo. This peaked my interest because I always like to have choices. So I went the Borders site and the the Kobo site and did some reading.

It seems that Kobo books are EPUBs that use Adobe Digital Editions DRM. The same DRM that the Overdrive public library books use. I reasoned that if I could read the Overdrive books on the Nook that I SHOULD be able to read the Kobo and Borders books. All I had to was try it out. Luckily I was able to find a free ebook on the Kobo site, which I was able to successful download and use on the Nook. Bolstered by this success I purchased an ebook and was able to successfully load it on the Nook with Adobe Digital Editions. Yippee! The big downside with these is that they live in the My Documents section of the Nook, separate from all the Barnes and Noble ebooks. Also you can’t make the purchase from the Nook itself. Neither of these are deal breakers for me and since Kobo sometimes has good deals, I’m now subscribed to their RSS feed to see what new stuff might come up. I’ve already gotten two books for free that I’d like to have so I’m pretty psyched.

I’d love it if Amazon would let me buy ebooks that would work on the Nook. I have an Amazon credit card and get reward gift certificates from that. Because I can’t use this for ebooks I’ve been using a different card that I can get Barnes and Noble gift certificates as rewards instead. It seems that Amazon might be shooting itself in the foot with me since there ereader didn’t impress me. Yet another reason by content and container need to be decoupled. Which is why the Kobo approach seems to make sense. Only time will tell if they are successful. Maybe Barnes and Noble should follow suit too. After all their reader appears to work with EPUBs already and people could then use their content on any of the Kobo devices.

Why I’ll continue to buy Macs

2010 July 9
by Karen

I’ve been a Mac user for the last 5+ years. I bought a Powerbook in order to able to learn how to work more effectively in a Unix/Linux environment. Since that time I’ve had four Macs, three iPods, a some Mac networking equipment. I almost have never had a problem. Unfortunately, while at ALA I had my first really unfortunate hardware issue. I was kicked back working on my presentation in the hotel room. I went to close to the Mac Air to go to dinner and heard this horrific cracking noise. When I examined the Air I discovered that the hinge was completely cracked. My Air is a little over a year old and I only use it when I’m on the road. So I was stunned and freaked. I wondered how I was going to get through ALA. Luckily, I transferred all my stuff to a USB drive and used my iPod to check email for the remaining ALA.

When I got home I took the Air to the local Apple Store to have them fix it. Since it was out of warranty, I figured I’d be paying the piper and having to cough up for it myself. I literally was home for less than 24 hours between ALA and my vacation. So I needed to drop it off quickly and come and get it after my vacation. When I got the Apple Store it was of course incredibly busy. Fortunately an associate came up quickly and asked me what I needed. I explained the situation and was able to “Quick Drop” my Air in under 10 mins. Less than 24 hours later the store called to break the bad news – that because of the way the hinge is designed it wasn’t a simple easy repair. Ack. The good news was that they would perform the repair for free. AWESOME. Within 72 hours of dropping the Air it was fixed and ready for me to pick up.

This isn’t the first time Apple has given me free service. When my Airport Express went on the fritz, they replaced that for free as well. Both of these experiences leave me with warm and happy feelings towards the Apple Store. This is the kind of experience that will assure that I continue to buy something new from Apple on nearly an annual basis.

On ebooks and libraries

2010 June 28
by Karen

I’ve been following Sarah Houghton-Jan’s post and the related comments to ebooks and libraries. As well as David Lee King’s follow-up post. As someone who just bought and ereader this spring I can sympathize but I also want to point out why ebooks can be a GOOD happy experience for users.

I’ve posted about the fact I bought a Nook back in May and one reason for buying the Nook was that it DID work with Overdrive ebooks. My experience with it and Overdrive ebooks has been pretty darn good. Since May I’ve read dozen ebooks via Harris County Public Library’s Overdrive subscription. That’s at least $80 worth of reading if all those books are paperbacks. Its also a dozen books I don’t have to resell or find a home for if I’d purchased them. Once I figured out how to get the books on Nook it was really simple and I could place holds and load books from pretty much anywhere on either my desktop or laptop. My process is pretty simple. Find what I want (little clunky), either check it out or place a hold. Download to computer, put on Nook. When I’m done “return it” and check out the next thing. Its pretty easy. There are a couple places for improvement in the process.

  1. I want to be able to perform the find and check out process natively from the Nook. No computer necessary. Mostly because I don’t want to have to have my computer with me to get new books. This is particularly important to me when I’m traveling for pleasure and don’t want to be tempted to do any work.
  2. Better searching would be a an improvement. Sometimes the Overdrive searching is just dumb. It is not fault tolerant when it comes to how you put in author names. While the catalog has better searching, the limiting and browsing isn’t what I’d like it to be to find what I want. So I use the Overdrive site and deal with its searching quirks. As a result, I do lots of browsing for new stuff and I keep track of what the library has as an ebook that I want using the Overdrive wishlist and LibraryThing. (Side note an RSS feed of new ebooks in a particular genre would be awesome).

Even without these changes, I feel quite good about my ebook experience with Overdrive and the Nook as a device. Ebook experiences can be good ones. However, whether or not users have a good experience is often directly tied to the relationship between the content provide and the devices provider.

So in contrast, I found the Overdrive App for iPod and iPhone a complete waste of time. Mostly because it is ugly and I can’t figure out how to make it work. But even more so because I can’t get all the content available on the iPod. So while I can get some audio things, I can’t get books, or videos. Just didn’t really feel like it was worth my time. It isn’t Overdrive’s fault solely nor Apple’s. Instead its like oil and water, they don’t mix because IMHO, the parties are looking out for their own interests more than that of their consumers. The Overdrive Apple thing isn’t unique, Overdrive doesn’t work on Kindle and Kindle content doesn’t work on Nook.

Ultimately, in my mind this almost always comes down to DRM; and content providers and devices providers supporting different kinds of DRM and formats. People are either held hostage by the device they have to particular content suppliers or held hostage by the content provider they want to do business with to have a particular device. Libraries need electronic media formats that are device and content provider independent. Otherwise we, like users, will be forced to make imperfect choices.

And as Sarah points out, the situation doesn’t stop people from hacking content anyway. Just Google a little and you’ll find ways to strip the DRM from various things. I’m quite happy to pay but I want it to work right on the device of my choice. After all, we have three Macs, two PCs, 3 iPods, a iPod Touch, iPad, Nook and soon an Android phone at our house. So we definitely need device and platform independence.

The sad thing is that the user experience, could and should be a good one. It doesn’t need to be this hard or frustrating. To me that is the most frustrating thing.

WordPress 3.0 Upgrade done

2010 June 21
by Karen

So I spent a 1/2 hour this afternoon and did the upgrade to WordPress 3.0. It went relatively smoothly except for having some plugins that caused problems and needed some TLC. My big issue now that I’m done is “how to move my WordPress install to the root of my domain”.

On the surface this doesn’t seem like it should be that big of a deal. Just pick it up and move it. The problem is that all my urls point to addresses which sit in /wordpress, which is where my blog has always been located. What does that mean? Well to fix it I’m going to have to spend some time playing with rewrite rules and regular expressions to remedy the situation. Big sigh.

My other option is to install WordPress in the site root and have that site be sort of empty and install this blog back into the wordpress directory like it was a sub-blog. While it is simpler, it isn’t an elegant solution in my opinion. Rewrite rules IMHO are a better choice, even if they take longer to make sure they are working right.

Luckily, I don’t have a super burning need to move my blog to the domain root. I mostly would like to do it so I can have more than one blog on the domain, without having multiple WordPress installs. Right now I have multiple installs for some test sites of mine. Getting rid of that would be a good idea, but its going to take some work that I’m not particularly motivated to do right now. Plus, I don’t really need my test sites anymore so I could just as easily pitch them as incorporate them into an single install. So we’ll see what happens based on my available cycles and my motivation level.

In the meantime, the new WordPress is snazzy looking and I’m eager to see what new features I can find besides the multi-blog capabilities.

E-reader Almost 1 Month in

2010 June 7
by Karen

I posted about a month ago about the fact that I’d purchased a Nook to read ebooks on. I felt pretty good about my decision at the time but had bits of doubts because my spouse though I should get an iPad instead.

Nearly one month later I’m very happy with my decision. Much of my satisfaction comes from the fact that I can use my libraries ebooks on the Nook. I’ve borrowed and read nearly a dozen ebooks. Its so easy and the collection that the library has is quite good.

For me this is a huge bonus. I like to read a lot and don’t want to spend my entire disposal income on books. I’ve always borrowed from the library and having the Nook continues to let me do that. It is beyond unfortunate that other ereaders (in particular the iPad) don’t work with library ebook technologies. Considering the Apple Adobe relationship and the fact that most ebooks are DRM’d via Adobe’s software, I’m not optimistic that this will change.

My love for borrowing ebooks doesn’t mean I don’t purchase books though. I have a very small but growing collection. I’m using Calibre to load non-DRM’d content including a bunch of short stories that I got from some of my favorite authors’ websites and content from Project Gutenburg.

All and all I’m feeling good about the decision. It certainly is easier than trying to jam 3 books in my carry on and 4-6 more in my suitcase. Also no late fees, borrowed ebooks just stop working when their check out period is up.