Archive for December, 2006

We interrupt this blog …

… for a short holiday. Regular posting will resume in early January.

I’d like to thank everyone who’s participated in my research project so far for making such thoughtful comments and giving me such a lot to consider. I hope you all have an enjoyable holiday season, and a happy and prosperous New Year.

We’ll be enjoying home-made English muffins for breakfast on Christmas morning. I’m including the recipe here if anyone else is interested in trying them. It assumes you have some experience making bread or other yeast-leavened baking. You can leave out the dried fruit if you prefer them plain.


1/2 cup warm water
1/4 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
2–2 1/2 cups flour (the quantity you need will vary depending on the humidity and other conditions)
1/3 cup dried fruit (cranberries for a seasonal flavour, but raisins are also nice)
rice flour or fine cornmeal


Place 1/4 cup warm water in medium size glass mixing bowl, and dissolve the sugar. Sprinkle the yeast on top and leave for 10–15 minutes.

Soften the cranberries by covering them with boiling water in a measuring cup or small bowl.

Heat the milk and remaining water to body temperature, and add to the yeast mixture.

Add 2 cups of flour and knead with your hands until all ingredients are mixed well together. Add more flour if necessary, but keep the dough sticky, not smooth. Drain the cranberries and mix in.

Roll the dough into a ball and place in a bowl covered with a damp, clean tea towel until doubled (1–1 1/2 hours, depending on the temperature). This is a good time to open presents.

When the dough has risen, deflate it by gently pulling it away from the sides of the bowl. Divide into 4 equal-sized pieces, and roll each piece in fine cornmeal or rice flour. Let them rise slightly on a flat tray for 10-15 minutes, while heating a frying pan to a medium-hot temperature.

When the frying pan is heated, cook each side for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let rest for a few minutes before serving with butter and jam or honey. Fresh fruit is also nice. Makes 4 muffins. Enough for two hungry people who don’t plan on having much lunch.

Christmas dinner will be goat cheese profiteroles, salad, and methode champenoise, plus fresh berries for dessert. The profiterole recipe may follow later.

December 22nd, 2006

Keeping on keeping on

Even though I said I’d aim for weekly updates, there’s not much to say about my research at the moment.

I’m still scheduling synchronous interviews, and waiting for a few email interviewees to get back to me. I don’t want to say too much about what I’m learning in case I affect the interviews to come. So what I thought I’d do now is interview myself. It seems only fair that I let participants find out more about me, since I’m asking them about their background and skills.

Could you tell me a bit about yourself and your background? For example, what are your educational qualifications? What is your current position, and what types of positions have you held in the past? How would you describe your technical skills? Other skills?

I have a B.Sc. in chemistry and mathematics, and an M.L.S., both from the University of Alberta. I got interested in library work in the mid-1970s when I saw Dialog for the first time, and thought how exciting it was to be able to search multiple years of Chemical Abstracts in a single step. One of my early summer jobs involved going through every volume of Chem Abs looking for everything that had been written about methylmercury. It seemed to take months, and was very slow — so the idea that you could use a terminal connected to a remote computer to speed this up was something I appreciated. I applied to library school and was accepted. I felt very out of place at first, because I was the only one in the class without actual library experience, but I survived.

I’ve already written about my first library job (see: Choosing a research topic for more about it). Learning to be a SPIRES programmer for the library led me to my next job, working as a Programmer/Analyst III in the SPIRES group. I did that for a couple of years, and then moved on to become a project analyst with UTLAS in Toronto. I remember writing a specification for an online catalogue that people thought was very exciting. By today’s standards it was boring and unimaginative.

In 1986 I moved to New Zealand to work as a systems analyst at the National Library, and moved through the ranks to become the Applications Manager. Access to source code was important there, too, because the NZBN bibliographic utility and union catalogue was based on a modified version of the WLN software. In 1990 I started teaching part-time in the New Zealand Library Studies Certificate programme, and I took up my present position of Senior Lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington at the beginning of 1997. In addition to teaching in the MLIS programme, I’m a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Information Management.

The best word to describe my technical skills is ‘rusty’. I tend to be a power user of whatever software I use regularly (although WordPress is currently an exception). I’m still able to troubleshoot and can generally find solutions or workarounds. I know basic HTML and CSS, and can understand simple PHP scripts. I try to keep up with new developments such as Ajax, OpenURL, etc., but am generally more of an observer than a developer.

In many ways I’m either an early adopter, or have been lucky enough to have been exposed to technologies before they are in general use. I used the device-independent TEXTFORM software to produce my M.L.S. thesis in 1978. TEXTFORM used document markup in combination with layouts to format text for different devices. This gave me an early introduction to the power of markup languages. In many ways I still prefer markup over WYSIWYG for word processing.

Coming next: Projects I’m involved with (at least in a peripheral way)

December 18th, 2006

Research design

My research project uses a sequential mixed-methods design. This is research jargon meaning that the project has two stages that collect different types of data: the first involves gathering qualitative data using audio or email interviews, and the second will involve a web-based questionnaire to collect quantitative data that will let me test (and revise) a model of factors that affect people’s satisfaction. This is a standard approach to conducting research, and the only part that’s slightly unusual is the use of email interviews, and even that is becoming more common.

I’m currently in the middle of the first stage. I’m using a purposive sample, which means that I’ve approached a small number of people involved in a range of activities from different projects. The idea is that I’ll get different perspectives and will be able to identify significant similarities and/or differences in the responses, and start thinking about the reasons for these. I’ll then use the results to fine-tune my draft questionnaire.

In the last few weeks, I’ve done a couple of interviews in person, and have sent out a number of invitations to be involved in the email interviews. So far my response rate is slightly over 50%, which is similar to my previous experience of inviting ‘virtual strangers’ to collaborate on a paper about wikis in 2003. Interestingly, it’s almost exactly the same for both types of interview. I’m using my iPod with a microphone to record the in person interviews. The sound quality is clear, and the device itself is relatively unobtrusive. I’m transcribing the audio interviews myself, and am gradually learning a few tricks to make the transcription go more smoothly. I assume this is something I’ll get better at over time; at the moment it’s taking me around 3 times as long to do the transcription as it did to do the interview.

I hope to complete a few more interviews before the Christmas break, and will begin the formal analysis in the New Year.

December 12th, 2006

DVD of the week

The weekend’s DVD was Walk the Line. Even though I’m not a Johnny Cash fan, I did want to see it after being in Nashville at the end of October, and spending an afternoon at the Country Music Hall of Fame. It was very well done, and both Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon were excellent. There was an interesting sub-text about his family (in particular his father) and how it affected him, but the core of the story was Cash’s evolving relationship with June Carter, while at the same time his popularity as a singer grew. Knowing a bit about Nashville meant that I had a bit more context for some of it, particulary the references to the Ryman.

My only grumble is with our DVD player. The remote stopped working, and we learned that we can only access DVD menus remotely. This meant that we couldn’t take advantage of the special features on the second CD, since we couldn’t navigate the menus. The purpose of the many buttons on the front of the player remains a mystery, since the only ones that had any effect were the standard ‘Play’, ‘Pause’, ‘Eject’, etc.

December 11th, 2006

Choosing a research topic

I’ve been working in the area of libraries and technology for a while—since the late 1970s, in fact . When I was choosing a topic for my PhD, I knew I wanted to do ’something about open source software and libraries’, but turning that vague idea into a researchable topic was a challenge.

I read everything I could find about open source software and projects, and kept an eye on the fledgling research that was being done in the area, but very little of it captured my imagination. I knew that I needed to find a topic that was more than just a description of projects and how they worked. The trick that worked for me was asking myself ‘what is the most compelling aspect of open source software to me?’, while at the same time my husband (who is a contributor to one of the more active wiki projects) said to me ‘come and see what I’ve just done!’. Two things clicked then: people’s abilitity to contribute to projects in whatever way suits them, and the satisfaction they feel when using the software.

My formal research question is ‘what factors influence participant satisfaction with open source application software?’, with two sub-questions:

  • what types of contributions do people make to open source application software projects? and
  • Do the factors that influence satisfaction with an open source application software project differ for different roles? If they do, in what ways?

I’ve also realised that access to source code has been important in several of my previous jobs. In my first professional position after library school, I worked with a mainframe database management system called SPIRES (Stanford Public Information REtrieval System). Bo Parker’s “An Overview of SPIRES and the SPIRES Consortium.” The Public-Access Computer Systems Review 1, No. 3 (1990) has a good overview of SPIRES and its key features.

The library had commissioned a SPIRES-based application to print catalogue cards—even though this now seems an outdated concept, it eliminated a significant amount of time I spent proofreading typed cards. I only needed to proofread the electronic catalogue entries once, rather than checking every tracing on every added entry card. One of my tasks was to liaise with the developer, identifying bugs and enhancements. I don’t remember why he gave me access to the source code, but I can still remember the feeling of empowerment I got the day I phoned him and said “I think you need to change xxx to fix the problem I told you about yesterday”. He said “why don’t you change it yourself?” and I haven’t looked back since. Thanks, Ron.

That’s one of the things that led me to this topic. I’ll say more about some of the others in a future entry.

1 comment December 6th, 2006

National Digital Forum (Day 2)

I spent the day down at Te Papa, attending the second day of the 2006 National Digital Forum. This was the only day I was able to attend, because I was teaching yesterday.

My original plan to do some live blogging from the sessions was thwarted by the apparent lack of wireless access inside Soundings (the Te Papa theatre), so this will be a short report, with a few comments.

The day started off with a bang, as Toby Travis, a web developer at the V & A Museum in London, talked about using Web 2.0 and interactive technologies to engage visitors. The Museum clearly has enthusiastic web developers who aren’t afraid to try new things. Their initiatives include podcasting, blogs (the Artist in Residence one was the most successful), several projects to encourage user-generated content, and RSS. My favourite user-generated project was the ‘create your own arts and crafts tile’ project, but naturally I have a soft spot for their knitting-related one as well. Toby had some good tips for people wanting to move into this area, including the suggestion that they try to engage existing online communities. That approach certainly worked for the knitting project. They are now apparently moving on to having people share their stories about how they learned to knit. If I could remember mine, I might contribute it — I vaguely think my mother taught me when I was about 7, and I remember some bright red plastic knitting needles.

The next session involved 4 speakers:

  • David Smith talked about a project involving mobile phones preloaded with audio files, using QR codes at specific places (like 2-dimensional bar codes) to trigger the correct one (I assume the phone’s camera was used to capture these), as part of the interpretive programme at Pukaka Mount Bruce.
  • Richard Hulse from Radio New Zealand, discussed their relatively recent implementation of streaming and downloadable content. As one might expect, the biggest issue is to to with rights, which limits what they are able to offer. I liked his final comment, that a major challenge of the future will be liberating content legally as well as physically.
  • Hiroyuki Arita-Kikutani, from the National Science Museum in Tokyo, talked about an experiment using Sony PSPs to provide a mobile guide system. These were relatively successful, but the content definitely needs to be optimised for the device being used.
  • Kiyoka Fushimi, from Hiroshima Kokusai Gakuin University, described about a project that used mobile phones to provide users with information and interaction with art collections. One of her findings was that older users tended to have problems when the phones used in the trial were different to their own, while younger ones were more flexible.

I was interested to see that both of the Japanese speakers were Macintosh users.

In the afternoon sessions, we had two groups of three speakers, followed by a final summary session.

The first group was:

  • Seb Chan (another Mac user!), from the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. They are doing very interesting things with user-generated tags (in conjunction with more traditional controlled vocabularies and taxonomies), and have also implemented enhanced search tracking and a recommendation facility. One of their developments is a synonymiser, which is available for other sites to use.
  • Susan Chun, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York talked about the project. This is an open source project, hosted on SourceForge (, intended to provide a ‘cataloguing by crowd’ facility. The project has received IMLS funding for 4 phases of research into tagging, and is definitely one to be following.
  • Joann Ransom, from the Horowhenua Library Trust, Levin, gave us a Kiwi perspective. The Kete Horowhenua project is currently in development. It is based on the Trade Me model, with distributed content creation. The idea is that volunteers will be able to create and upload content about the local history of Horowhenua from their homes, in their own time. Initial testing showed that users will need training — many did not recognise the ‘2.0′ features being incorporated into the software. It is due to be launched in early March 2007, and has been funded by the Community Partnership Fund of the New Zealand government’s National Digital Strategy.

The final speakers were: Tony Boston, from the National Library of Australia, discussing PictureAustralia’s Flickr pilot project; Bruce Ralston, from the Auckland War Museum, who talked about the development of a database of New Zealand’s war dead; and Tom Norcliffe, from Archives New Zealand, covering a project to produce digital resources to support school students studying history.

December 1st, 2006


December 2006
« Nov   Jan »

Posts by Month

Posts by Category