Archive for the ‘books and reading’ Category

Genre defined, a quote from John Swales

October 21st, 2014

A genre comprises a class of communicative events, the members of which share some set of communicative purposes. These purposes are recognized by the expert members of the parent discourse community and thereby constitute the rationale for the genre. This rationale shapes the schematic structure of the discourse and influences and constrains choice of content and style. Communicative purpose is both a privileged criterion and one that operates to keep the scope of a genre as here conceived narrowly focused on comparable rhetorical action. In addition to purpose, exemplars of a genre exhibit various patterns of similarity in terms of structure, style, content and intended audience. If all high probability expectations are realized, the exemplar will be viewed as prototypical by the parent discourse community. The genre names inherited and produced by discourse communities and imported by others constitute valuable ethnographic communication, but typically need further validation.1

  1. Genre defined, from John M. Swales, page 58, Chapter 3 “The concept of genre” in Genre Analysis: English in academic and research settings. Cambridge University Press 1990. Reprinted with other selections in
    The Discourse Studies Reader: Main currents in theory and analysis (see pages 305-316). []

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Support EPUB!

November 7th, 2011

EPUB is just HTML + CSS in a tasty ZIP package. Let’s have more of it!

That’s the message of this 3 minute spiel I gave David Weinberger when he interviewed me at LOD-LAM back in June. Resulting video is on YouTube and below.

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Web of data for books?

November 5th, 2011

If you were building a user interface for the Web of data, for books, it just might look like Small Demons.

Unfortunately you can’t see much without logging in, so go get yourself a beta account. (I’ve already complained about asking for a birthday. My new one is 29 Feb 1904, you can help me celebrate in 2012!)

Their data on Ireland is pretty sketchy so far. They do offer to help you buy Guiness on Amazon though. :)

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Posted in books and reading, library and information science, semantic web, social semantic web | Comments (0)

The Legacy of Michael S. Hart

September 16th, 2011

ship sinking into a whirlpool near the Lone Tower

Sometimes people are important to you not for who they are, but for what they do. Michael S. Hart, the founder of Project Gutenberg, is one such person. While I never met him, Michael’s work has definitely impacted my life: The last book I finished1, like most of my fiction reading over the past 3 years, was a public domain ebook. I love the illustrations.

KENBAK-1 from 1971

The first personal computer: KENBAK-1 (1971)

In 1971, the idea of pleasure reading on screens must have been novel. The personal computer had just been invented; a KENBAK-1 would set you back $750 — equivalent to $4200 in 2011 dollars2.

Xerox Sigma V-SDS mainframe

Xerox Sigma V-SDS mainframe

Project Gutenberg’s first text — the U.S. Declaration of Independence — was keyed into a mainframe, about one month after Unix was first released34. That mainframe, a Xerox Sigma V, was one of the first 15 computers on the Internet (well, technically, ARPANET)5. Project Gutenberg is an echo of the generosity of some UIUC sysadmins: The first digital library began a gift back to the world in appreciation of access to that computer.

Thanks, Michael.

Originally via @muttinmall

  1. The Book of Dragons, by Edith Nesbit: highly recommended, especially if you like silly explanations or fairy tales with morals. []
  2. CPI Inflation Calculator []
  3. Computer history timeline 1960-1980 []
  4. Project Gutenberg Digital Library Seeks To Spur Literacy:
    Library hopes to offer 1 million electronic books in 100 languages
    , 2007-07-20, Jeffrey Thomas []
  5. Amazingly, this predated NCSA. You can see the building–Thomas Siebel–hosting the node thanks to a UIUC Communication Technology and Society class assignment []

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They really know how to throw a party in Chicago…

September 14th, 2011

This is my kind of performance art, from this year’s Printer’s Ball. Got pictures, anybody?

Busted Books: The Great Soaking. Performance by Davis Schneiderman. Attendees are invited to use a artisan-constructed dunk tank to soak either a book or a Kindle—depending upon the dunker’s feelings regarding the printed word and e-readers. With this simple choice, this physical act, readers can finally stop theorizing about the future of the book and do something about it.

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Understanding Wikipedia through the evolution of a single page

August 26th, 2011

“The only constant is change.” – Heraclitis

How well do you know Wikipedia? Get to know it a little better by looking at how your favorite article changes over time. To inspire you, here are two examples.

Jon Udell’s screencast about ‘Heavy Metal Umlaut’ is a classic, looking back (in 2005) at the first two years of that article. It points out the accumulation of information, vandalism (and its swift reversion), formatting changes, and issues around the verifiability of facts.

In a recent article for the Awl1, Emily Morris sifts through 2,303 edits of ‘Lolita’ to pull out nitpicking revision comments, interesting diffs, and statistics.

  1. The Awl is *woefully* distracting. I urge you not to follow any links. (Thanks a lot Louis!) []

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Annotation summaries: standardization needed

August 4th, 2011

I’m finding an iPad amazing for reading PDFs — it’s like instant printing, with no weight to carry around (heavy, and they get wet). And with software like iAnnotatePDF and GoodReader, I can annotate with just a bit more effort than while using pen and paper.

iAnnotate (video review) is the killer app that convinced me to buy an iPad. But it has a killer flaw: I couldn’t keep my reading organized with it.

Hence I started looking into reference managers that would work well on the iPad–allowing annotation, making it easy to keep PDF’s organized, and ensuring that annotations were kept in a sensible place.

Sente fulfills many of my requirements. Sync seems to work effortlessly — well exceeding my experience with other products. The annotation process is reasonably smooth but so far I haven’t found a way to export annotations directly.

This is a bit problematic because PDF editors don’t seem to play nice with each others’ annotations. For instance, iAnnotate and GoodReader both export annotations for their own software. You get something very useful and readable like this:

Page 1, Highlight (Yellow):
Content: “The scientific use of Twitter has received some attention in previous work: [4] and [5] have performed several automatic analyses of tweets collected for different conference hashtags, including for example time series and lists of most active twitterers. [3] and [9] have furthermore carried out manual analyses of tweet contents for conference tweet datasets to determine, what conference participants are tweeting about. [10] are develop ing automatic methods for extracting semantic information from conference tweets. [6] have focused on tweets published by a set of manually identified scientists and have investigated their citation behavior.”

Page 1, Highlight (Yellow):
Content: “citations and references are two sides of the same coin.”

But when you annotate in one program and get notes from another program, things get messier.

For PDFs annotated externally, iAnnotate lists highlights without only grabs text from the notes, like this:

Page 1, Highlight (Custom Color: #fdf7bc):

Page 2, Highlight (Custom Color: #fdf7bc):

Page 2, Note (Custom Color: #fdffaa):
Not sure why this stands out from other lists by individuals.

GoodReader plays a bit nicer with annotations from other programs: it breaks annotations made by other programs at line boundaries. This makes summaries a little difficult to read, but at least there’s some content:

Highlight (color #FDF7BC):
first of all it will have to start with the general problem in

Highlight (color #FDF7BC):
analyzing scientific impact of Twitter:

Highlight (color #FDF7BC):
[6] define

Highlight (color #FDF7BC):
tweet to a peer-U

I’m currently checking into the standardization around annotations summaries.

I’d be very interested to hear about how you detect metadata and annotation differences in PDFs. As examples, I’ve marked up a recent WebSci poster, with some annotations from GoodReader, from iAnnotatePDF, and from Sente.

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Citation management means different things to different people

August 3rd, 2011

I got to talking with a mathematician friend about citation management. We came to the conclusion that “manage PDFs” is my primary goal while “get out good citations” is his primary goal. I thought it would interesting to look at his requirements.

His ideal program would

  1. Organize the PDFs (Papers does this, when it doesn’t botch the author names and the title) preferably in the file system, so I can use Dropbox
  2. Get BibTeX entires from MathSciNet, ACM, etc. EXACTLY AS THEY ARE
  3. Have some decent way to organize notes by “project” or something

He doesn’t care about:

  1. Typing \cite
  2. A “unified” bibliographic database
  3. Social bibliographies (though I am not against them; it is just not a burning issue)

He says:

I guess the point is that, if I am writing something and I know I want to cite it, and I know there is a “official” BibTeX for it, I just need a way to get that more quickly than:

  1. Type the URL
  2. Click on “Proxy this” in my bookmarks bar
  3. Search for the paper
  4. Copy/paste the BibTeX
  5. Edit the cite key to something mnemonic

He followed up with an example of the “awful” awful, lossy markup Papers produces which loses information including the ISSN and DOI; he prefers the minimalist BibTeX. (oops!; he adds “I understated how bad papers is. The real papers entry (top) not only has screwy names, but junk instead of the full journal name. The papers cite key is meaningless noise too (but mathscinet is meaningful noise).”) To get around this, he does the same search/download “a million times”.

AMS Papers2 BibTeX:
author = {L Asimow and B Roth},
journal = {Trans. Amer. Math. Soc.},
title = {The rigidity of graphs},
pages = {279--289},
volume = {245},
year = {1978},

Papers' The AMS version of the same BibTeX:
@article {AR78,
    AUTHOR = {Asimow, L. and Roth, B.},
     TITLE = {The rigidity of graphs},
   JOURNAL = {Trans. Amer. Math. Soc.},
  FJOURNAL = {Transactions of the American Mathematical Society},
    VOLUME = {245},
      YEAR = {1978},
     PAGES = {279--289},
      ISSN = {0002-9947},
     CODEN = {TAMTAM},
   MRCLASS = {57M15 (05C10 52A40 53B50 73K05)},
  MRNUMBER = {511410 (80i:57004a)},
MRREVIEWER = {G. Laman},
       DOI = {10.2307/1998867},
       URL = {},

I’ve just discovered that BibDesk‘s1 ‘minimize’ does what he wants: its has output is quite close to the AMS Papers2 version:

	Author = {Asimow, L. and Roth, B.},
	Journal = {Trans. Amer. Math. Soc.},
	Pages = {279--289},
	Title = {The rigidity of graphs},
	Volume = {245},
	Year = {1978}}

I’d still like to understand the impact the non-minimal BibTeX is having; could be bad citation styles are causing part of the problem.

While we have different needs for citation management, we’re both annoyed by the default filenames many publishers use – like fulltext.pdf and sdarticle.pdf. But I’ll tolerate these, as long as I can get to it from a database index with a nice frontend.

We of course moved on to discussing how research needs an iTunes or, as Geoff Bilder has called it, an iPapers.

This blog post brought to you by Google chat and the number 3.

  1. See also A short review of BibDesk from MacResearch []

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Sente, a first look

August 1st, 2011

Today I’ve been testing out Sente, on the theory that it might help me organize the PDFs I’m annotating on my iPad.

The desktop application is geared to Mac users who really care about bibliographies, with several fantastic features, including

I like Sente’s statuses; read/unread and Recently Modified and Recently Added are automatically tracked, and you can rate items. I especially like the workflow statuses, which match some of my common tasks:

  • Get Full Text
  • Discuss Further
  • Cite
  • Do Not Cite

“Sort by citation” is surprisingly illuminating: I didn’t realize how many papers from “Discourse Studies” I’d been looking at recently.

Another great feature that could be easily and fruitfully added to most other bibliographic managers: title case and exact case lists (I am *so* sick of seeing lowercased ‘wikipedia’ in bibliographies!), which you can very easily customize.
Sente also has a journal dictionary: You can assign the abbreviations and ISSNs (authority control, yippee!)!

Their visual display could use an update (thankfully it’s on the way) and I find their icons confusing (maybe ‘pencil’ for ‘note’ is sensible, but what in the world about ‘four dots in a diamond shape’ says ‘abstract’ to you?)

I tested the Zotero import. As I wrote Sente’s developers, there are some issues:

In testing it out on my large (5000+ item) Zotero library I see that:

  1. HTML attachments are not copied into the Sente library
  2. Image attachments are not copied into the Sente library
  3. Text note attachments are not copied into the Sente library
  4. Subcollections are not preserved

Since then, I’ve noticed that the keywords don’t get imported. Further, the date added and “date modified” fields are not preserved, but instead now reflect the import date and time (as I noted on twitter). But I do like their duplicate detection. Along with promising to consolidate matched items, they provide a report about the discarded matches. For instance:

Rule “DOI rule” flagged these two references as possible duplicates:
Vilar, P., & Žumer, M. (2008). Perceptions and importance of user friendliness of IR systems according to users’ individual characteristics and academic discipline. Journal of the American Society for Information Science & Technology, 59(12), 1995-2007. doi:Article
Quick-Response Barcodes. (2008). Library Technology Reports, 44(5), 46-47. doi:Article
However, the match was rejected because the references differ in: Article Title, pages, Publication Title, URL, Volume, Issue.

I have played briefly with the Sente’s free iPad viewer, but not yet with their paid ($19.99) app which allows annotation. Based on reviews (why no permalinks, Apple?), “Export seems to be an option but crucially, import is not.” However, if Sente’s annotation is enough, there’s hope, since documentation of the Sync functionality already in the current (6.2) version the description of Sync for the planned 6.5 release (via this) is *very* promising: “As you read a PDF on your iPad on the bus ride home, highlighting passages and taking notes, the highlighting and notes appear in all copies by the time you arrive home.”

By Sente user standards, I am far from a power user: the biggest databases seem to be about 10 times mine. This could be an improvement from Zotero, where my library speed can’t quite keep up some days. I’d be *very* interested to hear from enthusiastic Sente users. Switching seems quite feasible, and probably worth checking out their iPad app.

The main obvious concerns I have are about notetaking and portability. Notetaking of offline/non-fulltext items is important but doesn’t seem to have been a particular focus of development. Portability is incredibly important: I need to ensure that export (and ideally import) brings along files and notes as well as PDFs.

I’ve been thinking of direct, in-file PDF annotation as the best possible way to ensure that my annotations outlive my reference manager. Should I rethink that? So far (according to their draft manual as above): “Highlighting created in Sente 6.2 is not stored in the PDF itself — it is stored in the library database. This change has several very positive effects, notably on syncing.” Let me know what you think in the comments!

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Annotating PDFs on an iPad: GoodReader and iAnnotatePDF

July 31st, 2011

Colleagues were interested in my recommendations for iPad annotation: GoodReader and iAnnotatePDF. Here’s a brief comparison.

Both save Acrobat-compatible annotations, which can be exported out as text (for instance to see everything you’ve highlighted yellow), offer synching, and multiple styles of annotation. The exact annotation workflow and navigation differ somewhat.

GoodReader’s main strength is the ability to easily pinpoint the exact boundaries of an annotation: a circular magnifying ‘loope’ window automatically pops up. GoodReader also warns you when scanned images don’t have text behind them (offering to OCR them would be a welcome, though challenging enhancement: it would be enough to put them into an OCR-queue you could have Acrobat Pro watch and act on). One weakness (for me at least) is that to get the toolmenu, you must tap in the middle of the screen. My fingers seem expect it to pop up when you tap on the right-hand side of the screen: sometimes that advances the page, but sometimes that just changes the view on the current page. Further, I find its small black-and-white icons somewhat confusing.

I prefer iAnnotatePDF, especially because it saves annotations by default, has customizable navigation, and clearer icons. Its key strength is that annotations are auto-saved, with ‘undo’, ‘delete’, and ‘edit’ functions. Further, the annotation type is maintained between annotations, until you (say) put down the highlighter by clicking an x. This is a small weakness since I find that to switch pages I have to close the annotation tool I’m currently using. Another weakness is that there’s a limited time window for editing existing annotations: just after they are created, annotations can be adjusted, for instance to move the boundaries of text highlights and underlines. Yet after this period has expired, annotations can be deleted, but locations cannot be adjusted (as far as I can tell). Another weakness is that interacting with image-only PDFs can be confusing; without any text, some functions (text highlight, text underline, …) just don’t work, without any warning or notice.

I would be interested in hearing comparisons of the syncing functionality, as well as comparisons to PDFExpert.

Criterion  GoodReader  iAnnotatePDF 
Pageview  default is snap to page (double-spreads show left-to-right)  flow (can see parts of 2 pages at once, top-to-bottom) 
Saving annotations  Must save each annotation  Annotations automatically save 
Navigation  tap left/right to navigate forward/back; scroll only shows the same page  tap, slide, or swipe to navigate (customizable)  
Toolbar  tap in the middle  tap on the right 
Icons  black & white, some are obscure   medium-sized color, some are clearly understandable  

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