or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Archives for Technology:

February 11, 2014: Fight Mass Surveillance

   February 11th, 2014 Brian Herzog

Mass surveillance is clearly an attack on free speech and other freedoms we enjoy. We were able to defeat SOPA and PIPA by working together, but freedom needs constant vigilance and action.

From BoingBoing:

In America, we're demanding that Congress pass The USA Freedom Act, restoring the Fourth Amendment protection that Americans have enjoyed for hundreds of years. If you have a website (a Tumblr, a blog) then you -- like us -- can add the code to your template today, and on the 11th, it will go live.

fight mass surveillance

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DMCA Notice in Google Search Results

   January 23rd, 2014 Brian Herzog

rise of the sea dragon coverHere's something a coworker relayed to me that I thought was interesting. We just got a copy of Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon into the library - she thought the cover looked familiar, but couldn't place it, so she searched Google for "rise of the sea dragon cover looks like."

Her logic, quite sensibly, was that someone else might have noticed a resemblance to an existing cover, and commented on the two looking alike.

But here's the interesting part: when she scrolled to the bottom of the first page of results, she noticed this message:


Here are those two links:

It doesn't really surprise me that a search for DVD cover art would bridge the gap between the casually legal and copyright-infringement, but I had never seen this before. And clicking into the complaint itself is the first time I've actually seen what the complaints look like (and that they apparently allow made up words, like "commulative").

From my reading, it looks like Well Go USA Entertainment owns the copyright for this item, and Remove Your Media LLC is submitting takedown notices to Google, presumably on their behalf. Or rather, "remove from search results" notice - I didn't actually visit any of the 521 "Allegedly infringing URLs" to see if they were still live. And I have no idea which of those 521 was the one site removed from these search results.

I thought this nicely dovetailed with the EFF's Copyright Week last week. Copyright isn't just some esoteric notion, it's really happening every day.

And I know there's a lot to it, but here's what bothers me most about DMCA and takedown notices: it seems to be built on the idea of "guilty until proven innocent."* It's not unlike my neighbor going to the police and saying, "hey, that's my bike," and without question they take it away from me - and in order to get my bike back, I have to prove that I own it. I don't like that the burden of proof is on the accuser in our justice system, but is the complete opposite online.

After a quick skim of those "allegedly infringing URLs," it wouldn't surprise me that if there is lots of copyright infringing going on. However, I hate the idea that the solution to rampant piracy is the rampart revocation of freedoms.

And: I got so caught up with the novelty of this notice that I completely forgot to ask my coworker if she figured out which cover this one reminder her of.

Update: Maybe this one.


*And don't even get me started on the TSA.

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Reference Question of the Week – 1/12/14

   January 18th, 2014 Brian Herzog

Abuse of Power Michael SavageI don't like applying the label "victim mentality" to people, but sometimes, it really fits. In this case, it seemed like this patron delighted in being "subversive," and all the government-sponsored persecution it might entail.

Late one afternoon, a patron walked up and said something about big brother. I didn't catch it all, partly because some of it was nonsense. I asked if I could help, and she said she didn't think so, because the powers didn't like what she was doing on the internet.

Still a bit at sea, I asked if she was having trouble with one of our computers. She said she was having trouble with all of our computers, because They didn't want her hearing the message. Because the powers don't like it.

We had a little back-and-forth for a few minutes. Sometimes I wish my library had security cameras, just so I could replay for people conversations like this - because there is just no way an after-the-fact description can do them justice.

Eventually I figured out this patron was watching videos on the Michael Savage website. But when she did, our computers would shut down. According to the patron, she had tried multiple computers over the course of a week or so, and all of them did the same thing. The video would start, then the computer would shut down. I see this as a technical issue, but she was convinced the government didn't want her hearing Michael Savage's message, and so was turning off the computers deliberately.

Ironically, perhaps, I believe she was coming to me for help, despite me being a government worker and possibly part of the conspiracy to keep her down.

Anyway, I tried to approach this from a technical "videos sometimes crash browsers" aspect (like I do many times a week because that's just how the internet is), but she refused to hear any explanation that didn't involve black ops. I kept asking questions, trying to diagnose the problem - did it happen on other websites, were there popups, did it happen right away or after a bit of time, etc.

Finally, she let slip some actual information that helped: the videos would play for about ten minutes, and then the computer would restart. She figured this was how long it took for the government censors to catch on, but I knew ten minutes is actually how long we have Deep Freeze's inactivity limit set for.

So now this should be an easy fix - and it's not actually uncommon. Since our computers are public and we want them to reboot automatically if someone walks away and forgets to end their session, we have Deep Freeze do this reboot after ten minutes of inactivity. If someone is watching a video, usually they're not typing or moving the mouse or anything. The computer interprets this as inactivity=patron walked away, so it reboots.

I tell the patron all she needs to do is move the mouse every so often when watching a long video, to let the computer know she's still there, and it won't reboot.

Simple! Problem solved? Nope!

See, this answer didn't involve President Obama, so I think it was difficult for her to accept. After a few more minutes of explaining though, I think I convinced her it was worth a try next time she came in.

She hasn't come back up to the desk since then though, so either it worked, or the government stopped its monitoring.

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Did You Know There Are Audiobooks On YouTube?

   January 9th, 2014 Brian Herzog

I saw this tweet yesterday from @librarythingtim:

Audiobook listeners: Do you find yourself listening to audiobooks on YouTube sometimes rather than buying them? http://twtpoll.com/huckvsm1sxqgz9j

I had no idea there are audiobooks on YouTube (and according to Tim's subsequent tweets, I wasn't the only one). Yet sure enough, a simple search for "audiobook" on YouTube is very promising:

YouTube audiobook search results

However, like many other nice internet resources, I suspect this might be less-than-legal - and disclaimers like this aren't kidding anyone:


Especially with the built-in spam link - that seems to indicate this may not be long for this world.

However, audiobooks on YouTube - who knew? Well, Tim did, and I bet a lot of other people too. And since it's likely these are very transient, I bet the people who know they are there benefit from websites to convert YouTube videos as mp3 files, and keep them forever.

The internet really is the wild west of intellectual property.

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End-Of-The-Year To-Blog-Folder Clean-Up

   December 18th, 2013 Brian Herzog

It's been a busy week so far, so just in the spirit of a year-end cleaning up of loose ends, here's a few random things I haven't gotten around to posting yet:

  1. From LifeHacker, an app called "The Walk" helps motivate people to exercise by telling them a story - the further you walk, the more the plot develops. Almost awesome enough for me to want a cell phone. And, it reminds me of the "choose your own adventure" sidewalk story
  2. Also from LifeHacker, some advice on whether or not it's important to log out of websites when you're finished using them. There's a difference between personal use and what the public does on library computers, but it's always good to remind patrons of when talking about privacy and security - even with Deep Freeze or Steady State
  3. And finally, the item I've sat on the longest is an infographic looking at the roles librarians have undertaken in the digital age. Everyone likes inforgraphics, so enjoy:
infographic digital librarians
Source: USC Online Library Science

If you've made it this far, all I have left to say is happy holidays!

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Reference Question of the Week – 12/1/13

   December 7th, 2013 Brian Herzog

headphones required signI've seen some weird things while helping with tech support, but this is really one of the weirdest damn things I've ever encountered.

For awhile now, we've been getting complaints about YouTube videos not working on some of our computers. The problem has been easy to reproduce, because, sure enough, the video will play for a second and then the viewer window goes black/staticy and displays a "video cannot play" error.

Usually the culprit is an out-of-date browser or plugin, but even with the latest versions the problem persisted. Searching online didn't really turn up anything useful. I got so frustrated that I had to go to my second-to-last-resort, YouTube's help suggestions - still nothing.

Finally, I went to my last resort, asking our IT person to take over the problem because I wasn't making any progress. It baffled her too for a little while, but after some more online searching, she came up with a fix: plug in the headphones.

I believe our computers automatically mute their speakers when headphones are unplugged (so as not to play sound otherwise, which may bother the patrons around them). YouTube must be looking at some sound setting in the computer and doesn't like not having available speakers, and so just doesn't play the video at all. But if you have headphones plugged in before the video starts, it works just like it should. I have no idea why YouTube videos would not play without this, but there you go.

I don't understand it, but it works, so maybe I don't need to. Just, thank goodness for smart coworkers.

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