s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: August 2008

Thursday, August 28, 2008

M is for Motto

One day, when my brother was about 5 years old, he randomly started saying “As I always say, ‘Do the hard part first!’” (To be clear, he didn't actually go around saying ‘Do the hard part first!’ in preparation, he just started out by insisting that he habitually said it.)

The saying applied in a number of situations: eating your vegetables before dessert, cleaning your room before you watch TV, etc., so he got a lot of chances to use the phrase (again, always preceded by “As I always say . . .”).

We never understood where this sudden propensity to quote himself had come from, until one day, many years later, when we reminded him of the behavior.

He remembered doing it, so he explained that it was because he used to watch The Magic School Bus on PBS and Ms. Frizzle was always quoting obscure relatives of hers. (E.g., “As my Aunt Minerva used to say, ‘there's nothing more marvelous than mud.’”) So he decided that he wanted to have his own motto, too.

It’s a pretty good one.

Friday, August 22, 2008

And his hair shall be . . . of what color it please God

(A potentially ongoing series in which Katya assigns further requirements to the already-elusive future Mr. Katya in an apparent attempt to render his very existence entirely impossible)

My roommate's dad surprised her this week by making her two gorgeous wooden deck chairs for her new house. (Her mom's out of town, so I guess he had some free time.)

I've long thought that carpentry and woodworking skills are pretty cool, so I'm officially adding that to the list.

So let it be written; so let it be done.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Cat. & Reference: Leveraging Wikipedia

The librarians at the University of Washington Center Digital Initiatives unit had a problem. They had a bunch of really cool digital collections available online, but no good way of getting the word out to the general public. It can be hard enough for a university library to keep their faculty and students informed of the resources available, but John Q. Public simply doesn't sit down to his computer one day and think "I say, old chap, why not go to University of Washington library website and see if they've got any resources on the history of vaudeville!"

The UW librarians were aware of a study that said most internet users looked for information online using a site like Google or Wikipedia. (For very general queries, Wikipedia sites are often one of the top Google hits, anyway.) Internet users liked Wikipedia because it was well-organized and easy to navigate (something that is generally not true about library websites).

However, instead of fruitlessly railing against the evils of Wikipedia (as is often the habit of librarians), the UW librarians decided to see if they could use Wikipedia to make users aware of their own collections. They realized that, although many users start their research with a Wikipedia article, many of them end up following links in that article to other Wikipedia pages or to pages on other sites. If the UW librarians could add relevant links to the "External Links" section of an article, they might be able to introduce their rich collections to a segment of the population who would never otherwise have found them.

The librarians set out to identify digital collections which could potentially be added as links to Wikipedia articles. Then they created a user account specifically for this purpose, and started making edits and adding links.

There are two problems with this approach. One, a relatively minor quibble, is that all Wikipedia editor accounts are technically supposed to belong to individual people, not to corporations or institutions.

The second, larger problem is that Wikipedia editors are supposed to avoid biased edits, especially ones which promote outside websites or services with which they're affiliated. Most such edits are treated as vandalism and reverted within minutes and sometimes the offending editor is banned as a result. So, basically the entire premise of the UW project violated the spirit of the Wikipedia code of conduct.

Interestingly, there hasn't been much of a backlash. Or reaction, even. They got a couple of warnings on their user discussion page, but no one seems to have taken any action. And of the over 200+ edits they made, most have been left on the article. The implication would seem to be that if you're adding really high quality external links to relevant articles, the powers that be don't care if you're technically biased.

Even more interesting, their plan worked! They set up software to track the incoming hits from to their digital collections, and found that referrals from Wikipedia increased from 1% to over 40% of total referrals. Also, the total number of hits didn't decrease in the summer months, as had been the case in the past, but climbed steadily as the Wikipedia articles were mirrored on other sites around the internet.

You can read the original report on the project here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Actual text messages from my brother

What's average resting heartrate?
How do you say skunk in French?
Do they have good NPR in Philadelphia?
How old do you have to be to be called to jury duty?
Did you know that there's actually an online 3d world like in Snow Crash?
Who came first Taylor or Fillmore?
You know how there are two Wikipedia philosophies? Which one are you?
What is passive tense?
Is argot pronounced are-go?
Does the vice president have to be 35+ as well as the president?
What does rapsody mean?
Does a diamond in the rough mean that the diamond is uncut or that it is surrounded by rough?
What's the difference between Katya and Katyana?
How does a book get an isbn?
What are some books I should read?
Where are you right now?
How do you spell Phadion?

What does he think I am, a librarian or something?

Monday, August 11, 2008

WorldCat search: Theses and dissertations about Batman

Theses and dissertations about Batman

Friday, August 08, 2008

An Abecedarium of Websites I Frequent

Library of Congress Authorities
The Cataloging Calculator
Library of Congress Catalog
Wikipedia (English language)
Feminist Mormon Housewives
OCLC FirstSearch
Yahoo! Groups
Google News
OCLC Bibliographic Formats and Standards
Oxford English Dictionary Online
Strange Maps
The 100 Hour Board
(Open) WorldCat
The Yarn Harlot