Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Welcome to Wattle Day

Today, as all Australians know, is Wattle Day. Unfortunately my Facebook group, Wattle Day Should Be Australia's National Day, peaked at 16 members last year. Never mind: what better action on Wattle Day than to join.

Wattle Day is our ideal national day - its colours (green and gold) are our colours, and the flower is found in all parts of Australia. As a national day it unites us: OK with indigenous people, and with the non-military. Wattle is our national flower, and the day was proclaimed National Wattle Day in 1992. It falls close to the spring equinox: a natural day to celebrate as the days start to get longer and brighter.

There are also wonderful, colourful Wattle Day accessories of various kinds - or just use wattle itself to accessorise. It can be found all over Australia.

You can check it all out at the Wattle Day Association website, or on The Collectors, on Friday 27 August. You can visit an official Wattle Day site or or a site celebrating the horticultural aspects of the day (and its origins in 1838 in Tasmania), the ubiquitous Wikipedia, the role of wattle as a symbol in our national honours system, and the last word from the Australian National Botanic Gardens. Truly national. And don't forget to sign up for the Facebook group.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Word of the day

Today's word is mega-aggregate. As regular readers of this blog (not an oxymoron, I hope) know, I prefer runtogethers to hyphenated words, but in this case the conjunction of two as makes this confusing - megaaggregate.

My thanks to Ex Libris, our library systems vendor, for this term. In fact they may have invented it when they developed Primo Central, a search / discovery product. I came across the word in their press release announcing the inclusion of Thomson Reuters Web of Science in Primo Central. 

Primo Central aggregates "hundreds of millions of global and regional e-resources, such as journal articles and e-books obtained from primary and secondary publishers and aggregators, as well as items obtained from open-access repositories", the press release says. And so it does. 

According to the Urban Dictionary, mega-aggregate isn't defined yet, so there is an opportunity for Ex Libris to engage in further self-promotion. According to Wordnik, there is no definition available for mega-aggregate, but they do quote two examples, both ultimately from Ex Libris press releases.

Interestingly, and despite the absence of a definition at this stage, Wordnik provides a facility to translate the word into a wide range of languages. However, this consists of using the term mega, untranslated, together with aggregate in various words for aggregation - such as mega-aggregat (Catalan) or mega-pinagsamang (Filipino).

Friday, 13 August 2010

Word of the day

Today's word is lawyer up, a verb, and thank you to Professor Rob Moodie, a health educationalist and chairman of Melbourne Storm, for the term. Rob was speaking (as a Surrey Hills resident) at a breakfast in aid of Foundation Boroondara, a charitable organisation in this area.

The term lawyer up comes to us, like so many useful terms relating to the practice of law, from the United States. Lawyer up means to equip yourself extensively with legal assistance, and has been created by analogy with terms like gear up, or saddle up.

For example, this picture with the caption "Oksana looking to lawyer up against Mel" illustrates the concept pretty well. As does this one captioned "Sandra Bullock, Jesse James lawyer up." And here is positively the shortest example of lawyering up around.

The term has been around for a while, including in Australia, and it is not all about celebrities. This article in The Age (2008), headed "Do you need to lawyer up?" illustrates the concept pretty well. (It also references a great Tex Perkins song, "Better get a lawyer.")

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Word of the day

Today's word is cognitive surplus, and thank you to Nick Gruen for the word. Not totally new (from 2009?), but new to me. There's a great piece in Wired, for example, and a new book by Clay Shirky, Cognitive surplus: creativity and generository in a connected age, published in July and reviewed in many places, such as this one by Cory Doctorow in Boingboing.

The basic idea is that there is a huge amount of surplus time available for thinking and other activity, but which has mainly been soaked up by television - perhaps a trillion hours a year, Shirky says. It is available for productive enterprises or, for that matter, something like lolcats, he says ("an image combining a photograph of a cat with text intended to contribute humour", according to Wikipedia).

You can watch Clay Shirky talk about cognitive surplus, and the concept is taking off. Naturally it hasn't won over everyone - Nicholas Carr regards the web as hastening the domination of our lives by media we consume rather than create. He gives the example of a short video showing a boy sticking his fingers in his little brother's mouth, which has been viewed 211 million times. Not to mention lolcats. But I guess Carr is saying that the cognitive surplus is being wasted, not that this must always be the case.


Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Word of the day

Today's word is sandpit as a verb, as in the expression "We are sandpitting a Facebook site for the library." It means trying something out - having a go, in the Australian idiom. Oddly, this extremely useful neologism is less used than one might have thought. Most of the uses relate to small holes in glass or other surfaces, caused by sand, or to rectangular constructions filled with sand for children to play in.

Wikipedia uses the term sandbox, and refers to its use in relation to software development. It is possible that sandbox is a US usage, although I have found it in Australia as well - at the University of New England Library, for example. Uses of the term such as that at www.sandpit.edna.edu.au have been discontinued, sadly. The sound of happy technophiles playing in the edna sandpit is no longer heard.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Word of the day

Today's word is the German word Verschlimmbesserung, which means an improvement which makes things worse. Thank you to Gary, and to the New Scientist, for the word. It is hard to see how we got along for so long without out, especially those of us working in higher education. The word is a combination of Verbessern (make better/improve) and Verschlimmern (make/become worse), and there is a nice dialogue about it here.

It has obviously been a necessary word in Germany, because it is over two hundred years old, and was used by Schopenhauer, among others.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Google Book Settlement

I am speaking on the Google Book Settlement next Tuesday for ten minutes without hestitation, repetition or deviation, and without Powerpoint. I am there because I am a librarian. Now read on . . .

I am seeking your help, mainly because this once worked wonderfully well when I had a similar gig (but only 3 minutes) to speak, as the librarian, about the Wikipedia. Jimmy Wales was the featured speaker, and the panel were the support acts. Alas, Sergey Brin won't be with us next week.

I'm broadly in favour of Google Books and the book settlement  - more access, more information, more digital stuff for everyone. But what do you think?

Monday, 15 February 2010

Word of the day

Today's word is rissole, used as a verb. This wonderful Australian usage was unknown to me until I read it in Clive James's recent book, The Revolt of the Pendulum: essays 2005-2008. James describes (page 193) rissole as "the classic Australian term, drawn from the culinary arts, for something being reduced to a wreck. (Used as a noun, the word 'rissole' denotes a kind of proto-hamburger, but used as a verb - as in 'Strewth, we've rissoled the Holden' the same word means that the machinery has ceased to work.)" The use by James is deliberate; David Free, in his review of the James book in Quadrant, leads off with the above quote.

I spent some time just looking for examples of the verb, to rissole. Most of them come from sport. For example, here's the Guardian's Lawrence Booth in 2007, quoting Kate McDonald (the Fifth Test, day one) "... there are several meanings to rissoles, etymologically speaking, and you are right, some are very rude," says Kate McDonald. "What the ABC blokes mean by being rissoled could more easily be explained as being barbecued or roasted on a spit. Barbies always come into the conversation at this time of the year, you understand. How's your apple corer, by the way?"

Overwhelmingly, the word is used in a sporting context. "If you want to get absolutely rissoled", a contributor to a Manchester United fan forum said. A piece in the Brisbane Courier-Mail by David Cohen with the imaginative headline "Spice of truth in the mince" has another example of a cricketer being rissoled. Emma Tom, in the Australian, used the word in just the same sense - to mean wiped out.

Rugby, cricket, football, horse racing, whatever - there are lots of examples, and rissoled comes across with the clear meaning that someone has been completely defeated, stuffed, skewered. It is just one example of the rich linguistic inventiveness of the sporting world, enriching us all, and James has very deliberately taken a word from a demotic context to introduce it to another world.
The best-known use of the word is by a British band of the 70s, Gonzalez, who had a song, Rissoled - you can find about it here. And poets too. There is a poem by the New Zealand poet Peter Olds, Letter to Hone Tuwhare, whih describes the old man's "rissoled boiler-maker ears." Poets have the first and last words on rissoled, and rightly so.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Word of the day

Thank you to Kim Tairi for technology petting zoo. Kim, as well as being a staff member here in the Swinburne University Library, is the Vice President of VALA. Last week was the biennial VALA Conference, a particularly important time for VALA, and for technological terms.

A petting zoo, as most of us know, is a usually mobile collection of animals suitable for interaction with young children. Hotfrog has a nice catalogue of petting zoos accessible to Victorians, and I am sure that readers in other states, New Zealand and overseas will find local suppliers as well. The Western Australian Government even has guidelines for petting zoos; there is good coverage of issues such as don'ts (kissing animals or eating their food for example, or including bats in the zoo).

Technological petting zoos receive a good deal less coverage online, unfortunately. Leafing through the WA guidelines, it is clear that a more or less completely unrelated set of guidelines would need to be created for technological petting zoos (less emphasis on handwashing, for example, and more on power outlets).

The concept of a technology petting zoo has been around for quite some time. Stephen Abrams mentioned it in a February 2008 posting. There is heaps of stuff online - 119,000 results from a simple Google search. As Beth Galloway of the Massachusetts Library Association says "Nothing bites or induces allergies - we promise." The potential content of a technological petting zoo is vast - its not just limited to pigs, chickens, goats, lambs, guinea pigs and ducks. You could start with ebook readers, but the concept extends to software as well. Here's Jeffrey Cufaude with a host of ideas. 

Something for VALA next time, or Information Online perhaps, although there were plenty of cute things to pet if you wandered around the VALA exhibition hall last week.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Civil liberties issue?

There has been a great amount of discussion lately on the new MySchool website, and an interesting piece on it in The Australian of 30 January by Justine Ferrari. It is interesting that people have not often portrayed the issue as a civil liberties issue. On one hand, recent reports such as the excellent Gov 2.0 final report have recommended that government information should be made widely available, free of charge, for anyone to use. One the other hand, for information about schools the opposite has been argued, sometimes by the same people. But surely, the issue is the very issue that we in libraries have always argued for - the free flow of information. As Ferrari points out, the information is actually available, and the MySchool website just makes it possible to compare. 

For government information, the default must be that we can have it, unless a case can be made out that this is undesirable for some good reason. The argument that we might misunderstand, misuse or or use the information for purposes that it was not intended for is NOT a good reason, in this case or any other case. It is bizarre in a free society to argue otherwise, as the Australian Education Union (AEU) appears to do in a recent press release - action taken to "ban league tables" sounds like pretty straightforward censorship to me.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Induction Processes

From a recent conference - the Golden Key Asia-Pacific Conference - one of the panel members, Anders Sorman-Nilsson, pointed out that induction processes may provide new members of staff with their first significant introduction to the corporate culture – one from which they may never recover. 

It is certainly worth thinking about induction in this light, and the relevant question is not "Did we leave anything out?" but "What impression did we leave of the kind of organisation we are?" Answers to the two kinds of questions may lead in opposite directions; an induction compliance checklist like this one, for example, may provide an impression of the organisation which, on reflection, you may not wish to be the first impression. 

Anders is at Thinque.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Word of the day

Today's word is il ponte, bridge in Italian. As I said to staff in a newsletter recently, for those of you interested in not being here sometimes, there is a treat coming up.In Victoria, we normally have one public holiday on a Tuesday - Cup Day - which creates the possibility of a four-day long weekend. The Italians have a word for a public holiday which falls on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday - a bridge, il ponte, and you can read all about them in this blog. Australia Day, on Tuesday 26 January, is a bridge. I'll be taking the Monday off, too.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Word of the day

I came across the expression knitted science in a friend’s Facebook status report recently. Needless to say it’s a whole world that has hitherto eluded me - a world set out in a recent issue of Discover magazine. From a crochet coral reef to a knitted frog spleen, it is all there. Needless to say, latter day anti-vivisectionists have seized on knitted and crocheted substitutions for animal dissections (such as that frog). Amazing.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Word of the day

Today's word is batpack. This is of course a near-homonym, and in normal Australian speech we often pronounce consonants indistinctly, so that many words sound the same. The next time you refer to a backpack in normal speech, say batpack. See if anyone notices.

Of course, in this world of rapidly-growing vocabulary choice, batpack is a word in its own right, too. BATPACK Pty Ltd recharges battery packs, of course. "Rip Curl's Bat Pack Pants are warm, snugly, and super comfy." And in baseball, the bat pack is, naturally, a pack for holding baseball bats.

Next word: digitalise.