Geek librarians converge on Windsor

I spent the day travelling across the country from Charlottetown to Windsor, Ontario. Windsor isn’t “across the country” of course, but with the towering buildings of Detroit looming across the river, it’s certainly at one of the edges.

I am here for Access 2002 a conference that one of the organizers characterized as a gathering of “geek librarians” when I pressed him this evening. Access is, in short, a gathering of those secret librarians that the public nevers sees. These aren’t your regular everyday “let me explain the Dewey Decimal System to you” librarians, but rather the ones who work out of sight in the basements, stoking the giant technological coal furnaces that make libraries work.

I have some familiarity with this class of librarian, having been raised by one (and a wicked smart and creative one at that). And so while I have never been formally tutored in the ways of MARC records and the Bath Profile and Z39.50, I can fake my way through enough of it all to not look like a total fool.

Which raises the question: if I am not myself a geek librarian, why am I spending three days in Windsor, Ontario in the midst of one of their big idea orgies?

And that is, indeed, a good question.

I have mostly my friend Barbara Jean to blame. And also a man named Art.

Barbara Jean and I passed like ships in the night in the late 1980s. She left Peterborough as I was arriving. She knew a lot of the same people I eventually came to know and, in fact, we even lived in the same house, a mere two roommate generations apart. Barbara Jean eventually ended up in Newfoundland and, through a complex series of events, we became friends, and remain so to this day.

Back in 1994, Barbara Jean was working at Memorial University in St. John’s, and somehow finagled me an invitation to speak at Access 1994. One of the people in the audience was a man named Art Rhyno. Four years later, Art invited me to speak at Access 1998 in Guelph. And he asked me back this year for Access 2002.

Which doesn’t really answer the question, but at least explains the circumstances that led to the situation where the question could be asked.

If I have a role to play at Access, I think it is akin to the role that I play everyday in my career, and that is to be a mildly informed outsider. With some broad knowledge about systems and people and the Internet, and lots of experience mushing those altogether in my work, I can offer comment on where my world bumps up against the worlds of the systems librarian. And precisely because I’m an outsider — albeit one who can engage in cocktail conversation about Control Field 007 — perhaps I shed a light on things that can’t be seen from the deep recesses of the basement beside the data furnaces.

The real reason I’m here — the reason I accepted their invitation to speak — is that the my fundamental human value of choice is curiousity (this is where the intellectual lives of my parents join as well, no coincidence), and if you’re in the curiousity business, there’s no more interesting place to be than at a conference of people who design the systems that support curiousity satisfaction.

More notes from the conference as things develop. Up at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow morning to install wireless connectivity for the conference, which may, in fact, kill me.

Flying to Timmins

According to this news release, the new JetsGo discount airline will soon starting offering service to both Charlottetown and Timmins. Given that my family roots, on both sides, are in Northern Ontario, this means, at least in theory, that I should now cheaply be able to go and visit the old home places if I should ever be moved.

Congratulations to the people in government and at the Charlottetown Airport Authority on this development: it’s great news.

More praise for Trinic

I’ve written here before about a company called Trinic. Indeed I was turned on to the company thanks to a note from a helpful reader. Based in Edmonton, Trinic is a company that, among other things, handles the registration of Internet domain names. So when you start a band called WeirdoBlech, and you want to register, you can pay Trinic $19.49 and they’ll handle the rest.

If you have registered a domain name before, especially if you did it in the 1990s, you probably used a company called Network Solutions to do it, for they had a monopoly on the service for many years. Now a part of the Borg that is Verisign, Network Solutions has never been particularly good at doing what they do, and they have a website that just gets more and more complicated every time I look at it.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve switched all of the domains that I’ve registered, and a good number of those of my clients, to use Trinic’s services. And you know why? Well, they have a simple website and it works. Their prices are good too. But the real reason I’ve stuck with them as a customer is because they tell the truth.

Several times over the past week — a particularly busy week in our relationship with Trinic, as we’ve migrated all of the Yankee domains to use their system — I’ve had a technical question relating to their services. Sometimes it’s been about things they control, other times about things they have no control over. In all cases, they’ve responded to me within a day, and their responses have always been honest and straighforward.

In some cases the problems have been caused by problems that Trinic caused — small glitches in their system, for example. They’ve always been honest about these, and moved to fix them immediately.

That is the kind of customer service I try to offer myself: I can’t promise that things will work all the time — the world’s just too complicated for that now — but I can promise to keep people informed when things do go wrong, and do my best to fix problems as quickly as possible.

So if you’re looking to register a domain name, you can’t go wrong by going with Trinic.

Yann Martel and the Three Bears

It appears as though Yann Martel will be awarded the Booker Prize for his book Life of Pi.

Back in the late 1980s, I lived in a rollicking house of misfits at 640 Reid Street in Peterborough, Ontario. I’d just finished a year in residence at Trent University, and my friend John, who I knew through Trent Radio invited me to let a room in his house.

It was a heady time.

John ran an interesting house: each of we renters were assigned an evening of the week, and on that evening we were responsible for cooking the evening meal. My first attempt at this — reflecting both my lack of culinary imagination, and a strong gulp of newfound freedom — consisted of hamburgers, potato chips, and ice cream with M&M’s on top. I took me a long time to live that down, as the usual fare was more of the “cashew graced rice noodles with asparagus” kind.

In one of the rooms next door, on the second floor of 640 Reid Street, lived a man named Mark. A Trent graduate, Mark was working as a surveyor (I think — it was something outdoors and involved measurement). Of all of us in the house, Mark was the only one with a real job, the only one with cable television, and the only one with a beard. Mark was very affable, but he liked his space, and mostly kept to himself outside of our communal dining.

On the other side was the room of Simon Shields. Simon’s project at the time was a storefront legal clinic called the Community Information Agency, a place where he offered free or low-cost paralegal advice to all takers. We became good friends, and were roommates several other times over the ensuing years.

One weekend Simon had a visit from his friend Yann. Simon and Yann had met at Trent, I think, and Yann was in Peterborough for a brief sojourn amidst an exciting life as an intellectual traveler. As Mark was away for the weekend, Yann stayed in Mark’s room.

Now, as I said, Mark liked his space, but was also affable, and the combination of the two was an invitation for guests to stay in Mark’s room during his absences as long as there was no evidence of the fact when he returned.

Alas at the end of the weekend there was some evidence of Yann’s residence — the specifics escape me — and this caused a minor brouhaha in the house. As anyone who’s lived in a house of unrelated malcontents knows, such episodes can easily fracture the gentle balances needed for happy cohabitation. If I recall correctly, this episode had echos into the following several weeks, but generally blew over quite quickly.

I recollected Yann this morning, in an email to John, as a “mildly interesting, but also somewhat pompous man with his head in the clouds.” His official biography says that he now “divides his time between yoga, writing and volunteering in a palliative care unit.” I conclude that these are all probably qualities that are good to have if you want to write Booker Prize-winning novels.

Those were the days.

Hat’s off to Yann on the Booker.

Sort of instant sort of messaging

Here’s a warning to anyone who’s considering using Island Tel Mobility’s text messaging service as a server monitor alert system (i.e. server goes down, you get a message): it doesn’t work.

Or rather, it does work, but not in any way that will be of help to you. We had a series of server challenges with a Boston-based server today — a combination of power outages and server load problems. I set up the server to send a message to my cell phone if the server load hit a certain threshold.

And it did. Several times.

From about 12:20 to 1:30 this afternoon, the server sent out 20 text messages. When did they arrive? Some arrived instantly. Others arrived 6 hours later. The last one — sent 10 hours ago — arrived just now.

Island Tel Mobility is honest about the shortcomings of their system — if you press them, they will tell you the service is not guaranteed to send messages.

Which has got to make you wonder: what good — for anything — is a text messaging service that may, or may not, send messages now, or at some point in the future. If this vague “maybe messaging” service makes server monitoring difficult, imagine what it would do if you’re trying to flirt with someone, or break up with them, or arrange to meet them on the corner, or ask them to bring home a package of diapers.

I imagine that some of this is related to Island Tel Mobility outsourcing the text messaging service to a Stamford, CT-based company called i3mobile. Maybe if they took the service in-house and got some solid Island techs working on it, they could make it work like it should?