Thursday, 5 November 2009

Word of the day

Today's word is feedforward. I have always had mixed feelings about the word feedback, but it is too hard to dispense with it. I used the word feedforward yesterday, and had a strong feeling that I had invented it.

Unfortunately, not true. Google claims to have retrieved 938,000 instances. Feedforward, invented by Marshall Goldsmith in an article on management, already has the trappings of a used word - domain names, Wikipedia entries, and so on. Wikipedia describes the word as meaning "giving a pre-feedback to a person or an organization from which you are expecting a feedback. It usually involves giving a document for review and giving an ex post [after the event] information on that document which you have not already given." And feedback itself is defined as "information about actions returned to the source of the actions."

This is not one of Wikipedia's best definitions. It is curious that two spellings of the word are allowed - FeedForward and Feed-forrward - but not the much simpler runtogether, feedforward. And it is curious that both feedback and informaton are used in a singular form - a feedback, an information.

What does the term actually mean? This is what Goldsmith says: "Instead of rehashing a past that cannot be changed - feedback . . . [we] . . . coined "feedforward" to encourage spending time creating a future." You can watch Marshall explain it all on Youtube. Or you can follow up on the other meanings which have been attributed to feedforward through a Google search, or watch the Dutch progressive rock / melodic metal band, FeedForward.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Word of the day

Sometimes I think that rather than a word of the day (and its been a long time between days) I should have a metaphor of the day. I love metaphors, and yesterday The Australian provided several examples of a wonderful metaphor, "not out of the woods yet". The Cut and Paste column in the newspaper provided examples from Agence France Presse, the Wall Street Journal, Wayne Swan and the New Brunswick Times and Transcript. Needless to say, the out of the woods website tells us more about the wonderful industry which has arisen to monetise domain names than about the metaphor. To find out about that, you need to go to something like the Free Dictionary, and poke around amongst the advertising for a definition.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Economist

I have read The Economist pretty much every week for the last 25 years or so - ever since I thought I could afford it, rather than having to sneak a look at the State Library of Victoria copy. So I was engaged by the piece in The Australian today about the new movie Dead Man Running, where the main character (played by the rapper, former drug dealer and multi-millionaire 50 Cent) is seen reading The Economist. If you are a serious liberal, a radical liberal, with a real-world approach to economics, it is for you. If even 50 Cent reads it . . . what did The Economist pay for that brilliant piece of product placement, I wonder? Or was it done for love? I would have.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Word of the day

Today's word is an acronym, BOEH, from Dutch Baas Over Eigen Hoofd and in English Boss of My Own Head. According to the Economist this week, it is a Belgian feminist group with mixed Muslim and non-Muslim members. It supports the idea that women should be able to choose what they put on their own heads, or what they don't put on their heads. BOEH has demonstrated the principle in demonstrations, where they put "sieves and toys on their heads." Here's a nice group picture, and some more from Indymedia ("don't hate the media, be the media").

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Poems and Songs

Last week my colleague John Arfield, University Librarian at the University of Western Australia, sent us all a song written about the new UWA Science Library. "To my knowledge" he wrote, gloating, "it's the first song written about a new library building." And as the refrain goes "It sets your inner nerd free, Its the new science library."

On Sunday afternoon John Shipp, at the centenary celebration of the Fisher Library (the University of Sydney), produced not only a wonderful poem about the Fisher Library - Les Murray's Incunabular (1998) - but also the poet himself to read it. Surely the only poem about a university library written by Australia's greatest living poet? And with this memorable comment on the virtual library:
"Others may have my joys at home. Fine.
But I surfed the true paper."

My own library is certainly not jealous of these achievements. Youtube has everything one could wish for including, in the case of Swinburne, Library Pacman, possibly the only live Pacman re-enactment in a university library. It was put together by Swinburne games students. It only has these words: "They're more than games to us too."

The poem about the Fisher Library (an ode to Thomas Fisher) was complemented by the Vice-Chancellor, who described the pleasure of cutting the pages - and discovering the contents - of books which no-one had yet read. I wonder how many more thousands of volumes that no-one has ever read lie awaiting discovery in the University of Sydney library?

Word of the day

One of my favourite expressions is win-win, and the expression was recently used by Bryan Frith in The Australian to describe the Commonwealth Government's recent announcement relating to Telstra. The piece was headed "Reform package a win-win for all but Telstra." But given that Telstra is the major party in the reform package, surely this is a win-lose situation? How can youo have win-win when the major party loses?

The term applies in both game theory and conflict resolution, according to the Wikipedia, and according to the Wictionary, win-win is an adjective. And according to the Wikipedia article, non-zero-sum is a synonym. Brad Spangler, on the Beyond Intractability website, points out that a win-win situation doesn't necessarily involve everyone winning - but everyone believes he has won.

Nevertheless, I think that Telstra lost, making it a win-lose, or possibly a win-loss, to turn the expression into a noun.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Word of the day

Today's word is shovel-ready. During a recent visit to Canberra, I encountered the word several times, used in a normal everyday context. The main reason for this is that because of our infrastructure-driven economic recovery, which has been so effective, it became increasingly important for government to locate projects which are shovel-ready.

The meaning is fairly clear - a project for which early stages are completed (rationale development, planning, and so on) so that we can start spending money now. The importance of the concept, and hence the ubiquity of the term in these difficult times, are also clear. The term is also used extensively in the US, where similar strategies are being used to pull that nation out of recession. The concept of shovel-ready infrastructure projects was referred to in Word-Spy at the end of 2008 but there is a use cited from as early as 1995. The concept is not new.

Some people may have assumed, as I did initially, that shovel-ready refers to shovelling money out of the money wheelbarrow. Not true. The term is a metaphor taken from the building industry.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Government Discovers Web 2.0

As I started writing this post, I listened to a short video featuring Lindsay Tanner and Nicholas Gruen. Mr Tanner is the Commonwealth Minister for Finance and Deregulation, but also has a strong government role in information management and IT. Dr Gruen is the head of the recently announced Government 2.0 Taskforce.

One might be cynical and say that just when a term starts to lose what little meaning it had through over-use, government discovers it. But in fact the new initiative is impressive and worthwhile - a second life for government blogging, too. The taskforce is interesting, and not just as an example of a runtogether. It has a large and diverse membership - 15 of them. They include strong advocates of open public sector information and open licensing too - Brian Fitzgerald, for example. The taskforce has one of the rare domain names outside the circle of wagons. There is a blog, on the front page, and the members of the taskforce have been taking it in turns to blog. Well worth a look, and more - there are good opportunities to participate.

In fact, the Taskforce has just published Towards Government 2.0: an Issues Paper and invites comments before 24 August. You can comment in many ways, and the process is pretty open - worth following. Government 2.0 sits in AGIMO (the Australian Government Information Management Office), which sits under the Minister for Finance and Deregulation.

Meanwhile, over in the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, the consultation on the future of Australia's digital economy has led to a final report on the process, Australia's Digital Economy: Final Report, published online on 14 July.

And finally, a very interesting report from the Victorian Parliament. This is the Final Report of the Inquiry into Improving Access to Victorian Public Sector Information and Data, issued by the Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee on 24 June. It is issued as a Victorian parliamentary paper, and is a remarkably comprehensive summary of where we are with public sector information. Its recommendations are far-reaching and if implemented, would set an admirable benchmark for openness of government information.

Encouraging developments, each of them in its own way. I'll read them and get back to you.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Print is the new online

From Bernie Sloan, a regular poster to the Liblicense-L list. "Who says print is dead? One company is repackaging e-content as printed word... "

He quotes Chris Snyder "As old media races to catch up with the Web and figure out how to successfully monetize print content online, one publication is taking a drastically different approach: web to print. The Printed launching a twice-daily free print newspaper in cities across the country aggregating localized blog posts." Of course, The Printed Blog has a website.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

IATUL Conferece 2009

One of the major themes of the 2009 IATUL Conference (International Association of Technological University Libraries) this week has been quality. Always a dry topic, but the combination of different perspectives - IATUL's collaborative programs, plus examples from Germany, Belgium, Poland and New Zealand - made for an interesting session on Tuesday

It was particularly engaging to hear Martha Kyrillidou, of the (US) Association of Research Libraries. Martha is Director of ARL Statistics and Service Quality Programs, and is responsible for the LibQUAL library customer survey instrument. In Australia, this is a rival to the Insync survey, used by most university libraries. At Swinburne, we use both, and we will be running a LibQUAL survey in September.

Martha's slogan "only customers [can] judge quality; all other judgements are essentially irrelevant" was interesting. I think I agree with it, but it conjured up one of my favourite quality questions "If the customer was delighted with the reference service, does it matter that the answer was wrong?"

For some reason, librarians love use and user data, the more the better. Perhaps it is because they find people more problematical in their immediate forms. Whatever, we use many methods of listening to users, and watching them too. Total market surveys like LibQUAL and Insync are one method, but we also use include quick surveys, traffic and other counts, use statistics (loans and online resources), interviews, and more. The association of Australian university librarians, CAUL, has adopted the slogan "Cheap, useful, fairly valid" to describe its official approach to statistics. This is a means of setting some boundaries around the whole user data enterprise, which sometimes threatens to get out of control.

ARL recommends two LibQUAL surveys each year. They would say that, of course, just as a butcher recommends meat twice a day. We find that a bit less than annual is OK. Most survey data is not particularly volatile - the changes are small - and the cycle of physical and financial improvement is a couple of years. There is a new LibQUAL Lite version coming out shortly, which may make it simpler to run a survey.

At Swinburne, we have added another dimension to the task of understanding the user, and have recently appointed a User Experience Architect, Dana McKay; Dana has described her role recently. Judging from the often confused way in which libraries approach technology (sorry IATUL presenters), taking a more systematic approach to the way users interact with the ever-changing technological environment of libraries has to be something we all need.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Word of the Day

Today's word is life science identifier, and thank you to Andrew Treloar for the term.

It is always a pleasure to hear Andrew Treloar speak, and particularly so since he was speaking a few weeks ago to research students in the Faculty of ICT at Swinburne, about ANDS. And particularly nice (parenthetically) that he was able to refer yet again to photographs of his chooks, which have been considerably upgraded since I last looked at them (the photographs, not necessarily the chooks),

The concept of a life science identifier (LSID) was new to me, and I like it. It is described in the Wikipedia article as a uniform resource name. I like to think that although the LSID is much wider in scope than schemes for identifying personal entities, we are also moving to a scheme for providing all people with identifiers according to a universal scheme.

Even now, everyone has some kind of ID, even dugongs, according to Andrew. As someone who is discriminated against because I lack the most common form of photo ID (a drivers' licence) I strongly in favour of standardising a national ID system on something that everyone is required to do - the tax file number system would be ideal. Pretty much all countries levies taxes, so universality could readily be achieved.

We were all also engaged by the progress of ANDS, the Australian National Data Service - "more Australian researchers reusing research data more often", a slogan which Andrew says is taken from Bicycle Victoria with the references to cycling removed. Like so many other enterprises in the modern world, ANDS will require some method of identifying researchers as well as their data, and we are right in the middle of that now.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Word of the Day

Today's word is in silico. According to the Wikipedia, this term means performed on a computer or via a computer simulation. It is coined by analogy with the Latin in vivo and in vitro, meaning experiments done inside or outside of living organisms. And possibly in pano, a sandwich, unless I am wrong about the Latin.

I am not sure why Tom Cochrane used this term in his presentation at the current IATUL Conference, on the subject of technological literacy (the ability to understand and evaluate technology). But it was an enlightening presentation, exploring not only the vocabulary of escience or eresearch, but also some thoughts about where libraries might go in their relationship with "new science", or science involving a massive advance in the use of data and computation. Not only is there a new vocabulary to be learned - we are doing that - but choices for libraries about where we want to position ourselves. Tom suggested that rather than increment forwards, we would be better embracing an aggressive transformation in role. The library without walls now the library in silico?

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Word of the day

Today's word is negativish, which I believed that I had coined myself. Thank you to Katy for encouraging me to promote it. In fact, like many words which obviously need to exist, there are almost a thousand uses of this word - admittedly half of them Albanian - thrown up in a Google search already. Negativish means somewhat, rather, fairly, more or less, negative. It can be applied to an attitude or comment or action or work of art.

It is quite curious, however, that some users of the word insert a hyphen. Others put inverted commas around it. Or use italics. Why? I guess because they are uncertain that the word is right.

Use of the word can be illustrated -

"there's one negativish review (3 stars)"

"So why should a right to negative liberty be a negative right, i.e. a right that itself has something 'negativish' about it?"

"I have NOT got NO money" is about as "double negativish" as it gets."

And an Albanian example, where negativish has the same sense as negatively in English.
"Sidomos ka ndikuar negativish interview i Tom Cruise me Oprah Whinfrey ku Cruise eshte sjellur shume quditshem dhe si shkak tash perqeshet ..."

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Word of the Day

Today's word is guestblog, a verb and a runtogether. Actually, this post is only a peg on which to hang a reference to my latest guestblogging experience at the new Ex Libris Commentary blog, courtesy of Carl Grant.

In reality, although there are over a million guestblogger experiences recorded on the Web, hardly any of them use the word in its runtogether form. An occasional exception is Boing Boing, which actually has an archive of guestblogging.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Metaphor of the month

Everyone's favourite metaphor this week has been Senator Nick Xenophon's comment on the Government's new policy on carbon emissions. "If you give a lame duck a haircut, its still a lame duck", Senator Xenophon said in announcing that he would be opposing the Government's plans.

The Economist used a curious metaphor to describe Canberra, in a piece on Australia and China described Canberra as "a capital whose eerily empty streets and subterranean parliament suggests a Pyongyang without the dystopia."

And a third, from this morning's (Thursday) copy of The Australian. The front page headline is "PM's Robin Hood smokescreen." I guess that's two metaphors in a single headline - well done to the Australian. Commonwealth budgets and other hackneyed political routines are always rich mines of metaphors.

According to the Wikipedia, "Metaphor (from the Greek: μεταφορά - metaphora, meaning "transfer") is language that directly compares seemingly unrelated subjects. In the simplest case, this takes the form: "The [first subject] is a [second subject]. ..." Interestingly, having looked that up via Google and then checked it on the Wikipedia site, I see that the current Wikipedia has moved on a little from that definition.

Readers of this blog may well wish to argue that one or more of the above metaphors are in fact some other form of speech. I welcome your comments.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009


No, this is not a blog post about an ancient popular music TV show. It is a revisit of the establishment of this blog on March 4 in 2007, when it became part of my campaign to be elected to the ALIA Board. We will come full circle at the ALIA Annual General Meeting on 19 May, when my term is completed, and Jan Richards becomes President of ALIA, with Graham Black the new Vice President.

This blog may look as if it has become neglected and fallen on hard times. However, inspired by an invitation to contribute to Carl Grant's new Commentary blog for Ex Libris, I have decided to put some of the time saved by not being President of ALIA into this blog. Naturally, I have decided to draw on this time in advance.

In fact, the absence of this blog for the past two months was not caused by onerous ALIA duties, but by having taken on the task of giving three presentations and visiting two partner institutions in Hong Kong over Easter (8-18 April). This ended up taking a great deal of time.

But being in Hong Kong was great. Of course I met with the Hong Kong Library Association, the event wonderfully organised by Venia Mak and Jim Chang; nice too that ALIA has quite a few members in Hong Kong. It was good to visit the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, my host, a visit kindly organised by Steve O'Connor and Winifred Ho. It was also a great pleasure to catch up with Mike Robinson, formerly of RMIT and now of Hong Kong Institute of Education, and Anne Douglas, Hong Kong's Diane Costello. I also got to meet Swinburne's partners at the City University of Hong Kong in Kowloon, and at the Institute of Vocational Education's campus at Tsing Yi.

Next, the IFLA 2010 National Committee meeting on 11 May in Brisbane, and my last ALIA Board meeting, on 19 May in Canberra.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Word of the day

Today's word is twitterati, thank you Chris Rusbridge. The word appears in a post on 11 March by Chris to the JISC repositories list. He is the Director, Digital Curation Centre, at the University of Edinburgh.

The meaning of the word is very clear - twitterati are people who know about and presumably use the Twitter software and the term is pretty well established and widely used. In fact there is a whole world of language which derives from the twittering habits and preferences of many people - Twitter, says Twitter, is "a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?"

In the course of checking out twitterati, I also came across TweetMinster, "a place where real life and politics tweet." It seems to foster twittering amongst the parliamentary twitterati at Westminster. Do we want our Australian members of Parliament doing this kind of thing?

Twitter is not a term confined to people with curious tastes in communication. Go to twitternet or for that matter email the and you will encounter something completely different.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

ALIA Elections - two years ago and now

Two years ago I established this blog as part of my campaign to be elected vice president of ALIA. Now, looking through the ALIA election material for the Board elections this year, and thinking back, I was struck by two things.

First, it was so much easier to vote this time, with the introduction of online voting. I don't know why we didn't do it before, and I certainly don't understand why anyone would ever not vote again. Everyone - please vote, it is so easy.

Second, the candidates, with one exception, don't really seem to have Web 2.0ed much at all. I have found three blogs for the five candidates. Richard Siegersma's engaging blog has a number of posts on a variety of issues, and even a few comments. Kate Sinclair has advoKate - great name, but it needs more than one post. And Lothar von Retzlaff has a blog entitled Lothervonretzlaff, but alas, also a single post. Neither Gill Hallam nor Stuart Ferguson has a blog that I can find, but I am happy to be corrected.

The ALIA Board has taken our elections into the Web 2.0 zone - what about the candidates?

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Word of the day

Today's word is dogfooding, and thank you to Gary for the suggestion. This is a genuine word, in dictionaries and everything, believe me. It derives from the expression "to eat ones own dogfood", and is a shorthand verb deriving from that expression and meaning the same. The Urban Dictionary defines the term concisely as "using your own product."

According to Microsoft and the Wikipedia, the term was used at Microsoft twenty years ago. Microsoft suggests that dogfooding the product is integral to the Microsoft culture. In a university, I guess a dogfooder (if that is the noun) would study at the institution which employed him.

The definitions and usage of dogfooding produce one puzzle. One would think that the appropriate use of one's own dogfood would be to feed it to a dog, not eat it. But the metaphor (for such it is) in use at Microsoft these past twenty years implies that the product is not fed to an appropriate consumer (a dog) but eaten by a person. Curious.

Word of the day

Thank you for the ALIA new graduates list for audience development officer, which was discussed in January as a new synonym for the word "librarian". It came from a posting by Stacey Bale aboutan article in the Daily Telegraph (UK) on 12 January. The rebranding attempt by the city of Edinburgh provoked a threat of industrial action from librarians, although they seemed to be more worried about an attempt to introduce self checkout machines.

The term got picked up by the Wordie site, which is an interesting and curious place ("like Flickr, but without the photos"). As well as listing half a million words, it provides links to many online dictionary, and its own image search. Do an image search on audience development officer, for example, and you will find a selection of pictures of audience development officers - none of them, alas, in libraries, which should set the minds of the librarians of Edinburgh at rest.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Internet Censorship

There have been many recent contributions to the discussion on internet censorship. Radio National's Life Matters on 29 January included a segment on the topic, featuring Mark Newton, a network engineer, and Jim Wallace, Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby. Both have written on the subject, and their thoughts are linked from the Life Matters site.

There is an annotated and visual version of the broadcast here, on Somebody Think of the Children, together with a summary of recent coverage here. And by far the most extensive coverage of the whole issue is provided by Irene Graham on the Libertus site here.

Senator Stephen Conroy opened the Information Online conference on 20 January, and his presentation is available on YouTube. Senator Conroy devoted a significant part of his opening to the issue of internet censorship, presenting the Government's point of view on the matter. We are grateful to Senator Conroy for taking time from his busy schedule to open the conference, and to express his appreciation for the work of ALIA.

In closing the conference on 22 january, I said this "ALIA, like other library associations, has clear and strong policies which support the right of access to the world’s information, the free flow of information, freedom to read, and so on. We are opposed to censorship and we are very skeptical about proposals for new and innovative censorship, such as filtering the internet. [applause] Filtering is not just a technical issue, and not just about political content.

Twelve months ago we issued a statement, Ten Questions about Internet Censorship. None of our questions have been answered. We will ask them again – watch the ALIA blog."

Friday, 16 January 2009

Censorship: new blogs, more action, new websites

I posted a little while ago on the lively online scene which has been generated by the Government's plans to implement filtering of the Internet. It has been a recurring theme of this blog.

The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has established a new blog, and one of its early postings, a very reasonable and encouraging welcome by Lindsay Tanner, has attracted 787 comments so far - overwhelmingly condemning the Government's plans for ISP-level filtering. The comments are particularly interesting, as you would expect. If you have the weekend free . . .

Further organisations have been established since the last blogpost. In addition to the organisations I mentioned in a previous post, the Digital Liberty Coalition has been established to organise protest, and another website,, has also been set up.

Big Issues for Libraries

In the recent ALIA survey of members, lobbying and advocacy were given as an extremely high priority. This was unexpected (for me, anyway) but it did prompt me to urge you all (Rebecca has proven that a plural audience might be assumed) to do some reading.

Here are three big issues.

Copyright, and the debate is hotting up about the settlement in the US between Google and the publisher and author organisations. Bernie Sloan, posting to the liblicense list, refers us to a
resource compiled by Timothy Vollmer, an IT policy analyst in DC. You can find it here. Many of the items listed relate to libraries, and the example of a report by OCLC Research on the impact on libraries is given.

Online content regulation (censorship) is interesting too, and there has been a recent article by Derek E Bambauer of the Brooklyn Law School which summarises, in a brief 30 pages, the development of the Australian Government's filtering plans. If development is the right word.

Finally, all of you interested in broadband and things related will want to read the consultation paper issues by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, just out. There is a link from here, and comments are due by 11 February.

There's a lot going on which might concern us, and one element in successful lobbying and advocacy is being informed. In the meantime, if you are interested in these kinds of issues, or just in helping to put together a library viewpoint, let me know.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Word of the Day

Thanks to the Dallas Morning News for today's word, which is back-burnered. This is clearly shorthand for placing something on the back burner of the stove, and turning the noun into a verb. It means to shelve something, put it on hold, or bump it down in priority, to cite three metaphors. The reference in the Dallas Morning News, which I don't normally read, is to incoming President Obama's failure to announce his "tech czar" although many other appointments have been announced. The writer draws several cynical conclusions.

Back-burnered has been used before - by the invaluable The Register, for example, referring to a non-decision of the UK Government. It seems to be used most often as a runtogether, rather in hyphenated form, as in this example of backburnering by, as you guessed, a government - "Social security reform backburnered."

Word of the Day

Today's word is de-catastrophise, and our thanks to Swinburne's own Dr Karen Hansen for the word. When we set out to plan our annual staff review day, the Big Day In, it was a natural step for the event to be kicked off by an expert in emotional intelligence, and Karen heads Swinburne's EI and Education Research Unit. It is from that environment that the word of the day comes.

The term is defined on ReachOut, a site for young people with problems: "When you catastrophise, you exaggerate the consequences when things go wrong, and you imagine that things are or will be disastrous. The challenge: de-catastrophise."

Or to quote the Hitchhjkers' Guide to the Galaxy, Don't panic.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Word of the day

Those of my readers (thank you, Rebecca) who have read A Snowball in hell (2008), Christopher Brookmyre's most recent novel, will know that The Sacred art of stealing is a funnier and perhaps better novel, although the two novels do share several major characters. What did puzzle me was the expression (and today's word) "Alakazamy, stairheid rammy", a favourite incantation of the lead character. According to Sharon White, in her article "The usage of too many metaphors and metonymy can make your paper less effective" published in Easyarticles, stairheid is a metaphor for face to face, and rammy is a violent disturbance or free for all. Or you can go to the source, and look it up the Dictionary of the Scots Language.

Easyarticles is worth looking at too. And yes CW, you definitely do pronounce it with a Scottish accent - a Glasgow accent.