Monthly Archives: May 2011

The week in Tweets

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Servers go boom

I’ve been dealing with servers – web servers, file servers, rented servers and servers I’ve had ultimate control (and responsibility) over for more years than I really care to admit (15? *sigh*). One thing I’ve learned in those years is that servers can and do go boom. Either they get hacked or a hard drive fails or a lightening strike hits a bit too close – whatever happens, the fact is that servers will fail – spectacularly – if you use them long enough.
Here at the library, we’ve been hacked, we’ve been hit by lightening and we’ve had hard drive failures. All have required a great deal of scrambling to recover from and all have taught me something about the management of servers.
Of course, the most important bit of server management is your backup strategy – but the part of *that* that is most important is the testing strategy. Do you regularly go into your server’s backup software and try to recover individual files from past backups? If not, all the careful configuration of your backups won’t save you if something goes wrong and you don’t notice it. I try to do testing of a single file on a single server monthly – I go in, recover a file, confirm that the file is usable and uncorrupted and then delete it from the server. That server gets marked off the list and the next month I do it again to the next server in line. I only have a few servers, so this means that every one gets tested about quarterly. If you have more servers, you may want to double up your testing. It rarely takes long – 15 minutes, usually – but it can save hours of work.
The next important bit of server management is security. There are whole areas of the IT landscape that are dedicated to security professionals. I’m not one of them. I can, however, do some basic stuff to try to keep my servers secure and then outsource the rest to the real professionals. What I do is a compulsive checking of the logs each morning as I come in (I’m hoping to consolidate that into a checking of the combined log when I come in – but there are more things to do than time in which to do it…), setting reasonable policies that allow for security considerations while giving librarians a chance to actually do their work without tripping a bunch of security wires and training the staff on security issues.
No, my library’s staff never touches the servers – directly. Except for the file server, when they store documents that might or might not be riddled with viruses. Or the web server, where they do their content creation and maintenance, or the active directory server when they set their (hopefully) strong enough to be secure, easy enough to be remembered passwords. Ok – they do touch the servers in ways that aren’t immediately obvious at first glance, so the training issue is mega-important. If your staff can sniff out a phishing email a mile away, you have one less vector through which viruses can come.

Finally, patching for updates, learning about how your servers and the network on which they live works and keeping up with the hardware status of your machines will help alleviate a lot of problems as well. Nothing is going to prevent a direct strike from a lightening bolt from doing some damage to your infrastructure – even the most robust power surge equipment can fail or be overwhelmed in a huge strike – but keeping backups that work, security policies that are effective and an attitude of lifelong learning about all the new things that can go wrong on your network is a big step toward making servers that go boom a small inconvenience as opposed to a big problem.

The week in Tweets

  • Piracy sends "Go the Fuck to Sleep" to #1 on Amazon – Boing Boing http://t.co/QsM8EWx #
  • At Binder, getting ready to watch the boy play softball. Get ready for some pics… #
  • @davidleeking I'm 30 miles south of you! I'm waving in your general direction… #
  • @dullroar Print is still our major draw – but we need to be prepared for the future; we need to have systems in place for community content! #
  • @msauers Nope – I'm in and everything seems to be working… #

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Women in Tech – a contrarian perspective?

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve faced the “can I talk to the IT guy” questions when I *am* the IT guy (Hey look, there’s a shirt for that) – but I tend to think more like Lisa Barone in her article for Outspoken Media called “A Letter To Women In Tech: I Let You Down“. It’s not that I’m particularly young (I’m not yet 40, but I’m well over 30) or particularly aggressive in my style, but I’ve been spared a lot of the getting patted on the head and told not to “worry my pretty little head” about it crap that a lot of women who write about their experiences in tech get. I’m not discounting the experiences of other women, either – I’m sure some do get patronized and marginalized – it’s something that happens to women everywhere, so I’m sure it happens in tech jobs – it’s just never happened to me. It may be that I’m just oblivious – I’m fat, but have never dealt with the kind of teasing and mean comments that women smaller than me seem to deal with on a regular basis. Being spared those kinds of comments could be a result of my attitude. I’m confident that I know what I’m talking about and I don’t put up with being talked down to. I’m also 100% sure that there is nothing technical that I am incapable of doing – I may not know how to do it now, but I could learn – quickly, even. Maybe that attitude helps to head off the patronizing attitudes, maybe it just makes me not see them or notice when it happens.

Either way, I thought the article was a thought-provoking read and wanted to share it, along with my thoughts on the subject. What do you think?

The Yarn Harlot and Juggling (with wise words from commenters)

Last week, Stephanie McPhee – aka The Yarn Harlot – provided the world with what is, in my opinion, quite possibly the best blog post ever written. The post is titled Juggling and in it she discusses her priorities and the fact that she never feels like she is able to do it all – so many things fall to the wayside while she focuses on what she does want to do. She also introduced me to the phrase “dust buffaloes” (the larger and more aggressive cousin to the familiar dust bunny) – a concept I was familiar with (especially with 2 dogs in the house), but I had not seen it named so perfectly before… While the post is wonderful – the comments make it even better.
There are a whole lot of women out there who have set their priorities and are not so worried about the rest. Like many of the commenters, I have farmed out some of the work of maintaining a home so that I can focus on doing the stuff that I enjoy doing (and that pays me to do it).  For me, it’s an economic decision – if I closet myself in my office for the amount of time it takes for the maid(s) to do their thing, I can make more money from writing, web development or presentation creation than I pay them. Even if it was a closer thing, though, it would still be worth it because I really hate doing the big stuff – mopping the floor, vaccuming and sweeping and that sort of thing. I don’t really like picking up and doing the dishes, either, but I’ve yet to figure out how to get someone else to do that part for me…

That little digression aside – I’m all for anything that makes my life easier and lets me spend more time doing what I love with the people I love. Stephanie said it well, the folks who commented on that post said it emphatically and I feel the need to say it again – nobody can do it all, we all have to decide what is important and focus on that. If the rest gets left behind and you don’t have a perfect house, or a garden that wins awards or the baking skills of Betty Crocker – it’s ok. Do what you love and hire out what you can!

 

North Kansas City – a new Drupal-based library site

I’ve been spending some of my free time lately working on another library’s Drupal-based website (don’t tell my library’s site that I’m cheating on it!!). The North Kansas City Public Library just went live with their new website last week. As with all websites, the site isn’t *done*, but it is ready for the public, so I thought I’d point to it and discuss, briefly, what I did to help get the site ready for prime time.

When I started work on the site, they had the Drupal backend installed and a theme chosen, but they wanted a couple of things tweaked. The first thing they asked for was the slideshow that you see on the home page. I did that with Views Slideshow and a wee bit of CSS trickery to get it to sit so tightly against the sides. Now all the staff has to do is create a slideshow content node and it automatically shows up in the slideshow! One of the other things that they wanted was some modification of the Sky theme that they are using.  I took out most of the thin grey lines that border the content and a lot of the extra space between blocks and various bits of content. Let’s just say that I got to know Sky’s CSS files very well…

Another thing that they asked me to set up for them was the News and Updates blocks below the slideshow on the home page. That was done by creating a News View, getting it set up to grab all News content types (a new content type created through CCK – the Content Creation Kit) and publishing it. When I had it the way I wanted it, I cloned the View and created the Updates block very easily!

The only big challenge that I faced with this site had to do with the Event calendar. On the big calendar of events (they use the Event module to make that happen), repeating events were being displayed once in a particular month, but none of the repeats were shown later in the month. This seems to be a weakness of the Event module and I couldn’t find a good solution for it, so they enter each event as a separate event – no repeating… If you have come across this issue and figured out a better solution, please let me know!!

I also set up event sign-up capabilities for them through the sign-up module that works with the Event module. That was a little less straightforward – the sign-up module requires that you actually edit the PHP array that produces the form if you want more information than it gives you. I did so, but for people who are using Drupal because they aren’t comfortable with editing code, this could be a deal-breaker. Other than that, though, the sign-up and Event modules work nicely together!

While I did much of the backend development, the content and graphics were provided by the North Kansas City Public Library. They have a very talented graphic designer on staff (Nicole Parigo) who made all of the gorgeous icons, slideshow images and other graphical bits on the site. It’s easy to make a site pretty when the images are so very well done! Steven Campbell worked on the content and had installed and put into place many of the modules needed for the site to function before I started work on it, which meant I didn’t have to start from scratch!

The three of us working together put a, if I may say so myself, very nice site together for the North Kansas City Library – one that will be easy to update and maintain for the staff and useful for the library’s patrons.

 

Seth Godin on the future of Libraries

The next library is a place, still. A place where people come together to do co-working and coordinate and invent projects worth working on together. Aided by a librarian who understands the Mesh, a librarian who can bring domain knowledge and people knowledge and access to information to bear.

This! What Seth Godin sees as the future of libraries is very similar to what I see. It’s not the container of information we should be worried about – it’s the information itself. If it comes in e-book format or through an online database or via a very old, very delicate manuscript, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that people (our patrons) can access that information and the knowledge and skills to wrangle it (in the form of a librarian, of course). I’ve written before about making the library co-working friendly and have long advocated for more and better technology to be put in place for our patrons so that they can “coordinate and invent projects woth working on together”. I’ve been pushing collaboration between librarians, patrons and the library and between patrons themselves for years! I can’t say that I agree with everything that Seth said in his post – it seems like his reference to a librarian helping someone use a soldering iron is a nod toward the recent article in Make about libraries being tool shops. I’m not so sure about that one… The idea that libraries should provide a community space that is full of information – in whatever form it takes – is one I’ve been advocating for a while and I’m very glad to see others thinking the same way.

The week in Tweets

  • Playing with Scrible (www.scrible.com). Would be perfect if integrated with @evernote#
  • RT @lifehacker: Netflix instant streaming is finally available on Android, will be rolling out gradually: http://lifehac.kr/im4L8D /Woot!!!! #

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Technology and the value of libraries

Yesterday, I read an article in Salon about the value of libraries in today’s Internet world. The article says that libraries collect more than digitizable books and magazine articles and goes on to show the treasures of the NYPL (including a lock of hair from Mary Shelley). The part of the article I wanted to point out, though was this:

Today, those oak tables have power outlets and more than half the patrons are tapping on laptops. Yes, they have laptops and yet they’ve come to the library. Librarians (who are of course the most invaluable feature of any library) tend to bristle at the stereotype of their profession as a glorified shush patrol, and typically respond by pointing out the many, many community services libraries provide, from storytelling for children to multimedia resource centers for job seekers to gathering places for seniors. But let’s not totally discount the shushing, because a good library can also give its patrons something that’s getting harder and harder to find: quiet.

The fact that people with technology and with the money to purchase and use that technology still choose to come to the library. At my library, we don’t have a grand main reading room with oak tables and brass lamps, but we do have a wonderfully comfortable periodicals room that combines tables and comfy chairs for just about any work style. It’s a room in which we do use the librarian’s shush (most of the library is not shushable – it’s alive and people are talking and doing activities that don’t lend themselves to keeping quiet) and so it is perfect for people to settle down and work. At any given time in this room, there are people using their laptops in the individual laptop tables (conveniently located near power outlets) as well as people browsing the magazines that the library offers.
We have laptop space on the main floor too – also near power outlets – but that room is louder and more active – people are getting help from our Reference librarians and checking out books and running into friends in the middle of the room – it’s just a louder environment. For people who can work with distraction and activity, it’s fine – for the rest, our quiet reading room is ideal.
The Salon article points out a number of reasons why keeping the library as an actual physical place is advised – even for those who can afford the technology, finding a quiet place to work can be priceless.

Mixing and Mashing Productivity Systems

The Simple Way To Get Work Done – a 3 part system; make a weekly goal list – everything you want to do for the whole week gets listed into this “master” list, then each night make a daily goal list – everything that must get done that day goes into that list, during the day, work on the daily goal list until you are done. That’s pretty much it.

This system wouldn’t work for me, since part of my love for the GTD system is that I write everything down – if I have to try to remember that I want to do something between weekly goal list writing, I’d be a basket case! I do see the value in using the concept as a part of your GTD system, though. The weekly goal list can be done as part of the weekly review and can be just another list that you use in your list-management system in GTD. Same with the daily goal list – which I actually implement now as my “next actions” that are due on a particular day, really. This would give some structure and prioritization to the GTD system that David Allen didn’t put in there and would be a nice way to manage very important tasks. Put them on the list, work until they are done, continue on with the “extra” stuff that always comes up in the course of a work day (or, if you are lucky enough to be evaluated by work done rather than hours spent, go home!).

I’m not sure I’m going to start right up with adding a weekly goal list to my weekly reviews, but it will probably be in the back of my mind as I’m performing that review and may well influence how I decide to “get things done” in the coming weeks! That’s one of the reasons I am so enamored of the GTD system – it’s so easy to mash it up with another system and make them both work for you!