Life is a Mystery

15 April 2004 . Comments Off on Digital Video to Last

Digital Video to Last

Jerome McDonough, the Digital Library Development Team Leader at NYU gave a very informative presentation on video standards and preservation. The bottom line was that though 4:4:4 (truly uncompressed, an Apple codec and MJPEG2000 can provide this) video would be the right thing to capture and archive, unfortunately it is much too expensive to to store. At NYU they’ve stepped back to the compromise of capturing 4:2:2 video instead. He noted that anything other than 4:4:4 capture and storage was, in fact, allowing for lossy compression. This is fine until migration has to happen, at which point artifacts will creep in due to the recompression of images. Note that NYU uses TripWire to create and check up on MD5 checksums (can I use that on Thomas?) and UC Berkeley’s OceanStore project is taking a stab at very large, high performing distributed storage solutions.

15 April 2004 . Comments Off on Culture Clash

Culture Clash

Ed Ayers gave a wonderfully funny and somewhat touching plenary address about the tensions between “Academic Culture and Computer Culture”. His own work includes the well regarded Valley of the Shadow. He described the “communal autonomy” of the university as a defining characteristic. The heart of our institutions is the “mysterious exchange between student and teacher,” that “intimate bubble” in which learning happens. He described this activity as a flame, both intense and vulnerable, and our universities as “massive structures to protect those flames.” His suggestion was that we build lighter, smaller things that “simplify the vastness,” things like instant local class nets that don’t rely on the broader campus network. His mantra was “scale down.” As he spoke of the intimate bubble of interaction between student and teacher, I began to wonder whether technology is not beginning to pierce that bubble with tools that allow for action in the world from the classroom and feedback from the world into the classroom.

I was really struck by Ed’s flickering flame. I get awfully frustrated by the scale and scope of the University of Minnesota. I lament that its mission seems to be: “Everything to everyone!” The bureaucracy can seem endless, the commitment to excellence often lacking, the message muddled, on an on. But I stay here, and this flickering flame reminded me why. This academic enterprise is rather counter most of American culture, it is rather precious. In a culture where profit and individual heroism are prized, we operate an enterprise which spends every penny we are given in the name of creating moments of intimate, hidden victory. People discover who they are on our campus, they encounter mentors, they open their minds to one another. Sure, there is a lot of bureaucracy, not to mention a whole lot of drinking, backstabbing, and just getting by… but what if those things are the cover need to protect the flickering flame. If our culture actually realized how radical an enterprise this was, would we be allowed to get away with it? We all break the wind so that the flame of learning has a chance to move from one candle to another; maybe not every time we fire up the PowerPoint slides for another class, but maybe enough. Maybe this behemoth of an institution is what it takes to make this opportunity available to more of our neighbors.

Then again, that’s pretty dreamy stuff. Quite the rationalization. I still want to stir up our University enough that we don’t settle for less than excellence. The Libraries is where this starts for me. And more specifically our IT division and the work we do to put appropriate technology into the hands of our staff, students, and faculty.

Yikes! It’s a good thing I’m not doing this blogging stuff more often!

15 April 2004 . Comments Off on Identity, Portfolio, and Turning Data Models on their Heads

Identity, Portfolio, and Turning Data Models on their Heads

Steve Cawley and I attended a valuable “executive roundtable” bringing CIO’s and University Librarians together to discuss “identity.” As we discussed the challenges and successes of authentication and authorization in today’s academic environment, I began to wonder if we are not focussing a bit too close to home. I note that while libraries felt very secure in their database and searching expertise, tools like Google snuck up outside our borders and transformed user expectations of searching and research so that now we are strangers in our own territory. What will the identity landscape look like five and ten years from now. Will users have an expectation that they can carry an identity into our organization that was credentialed beyond our borders and control?

Some hint of that future may have appeared in the form of a discussion about e-portfolios and their impact on our data models. A move toward portfolios is a move toward users asserting control of their own data (a user as holding the copy of record of their transcript, for example). This turns on its head our current data model where institutions bear the responsibility for holding and managing the continuity of that sort of data. I wonder whether the solution to the buy-in problem for institutional repositories, for example, might be an individual repository model sewn together by metadata harvesting like OAI? Who will be the “portfolio banks” of the future who (for a small fee) manage the physical systems on which your e-portfolio resides and ensure that the policies and permissions you specify for your information are actually carried out when sharing your portfolio?

Some additional notes: Who assigns identities? Who decides their scope? Some discussion of OKI’s concept of “authN” (authentication) and “authZ” (authorization). The role of UIN (numbers) vs. NetID (typically names). Distinguishing between the deed of authentication and the trails and logs kept about that deed and subsequent actions (librarians are loath to keep any trail, but doing the deed might be fine). See SPEC Kits 277 and 278 from the ARL and “Mirage of Continuity” by Brian Hawkin. Credit Brad with the notion “sustainable economies in tension with the frontiers of innovation” (all you really have to do to make technology sustainable is stop changing) and Beth with “the economics of compromise” (the notion that organizations are much more willing to work with you after they have experienced a compromise and its costs than before). If setting up a portfolio banking business, what would be your “free as in beer” service lure and what would you charge for? Would password management be part of the package?

15 April 2004 . Comments Off on At CNI


Today and tomorrow I’m at the CNI Spring Task Force meeting in Alexandria, Virginia. The Coalition for Networked Information holds these meetings twice a year and I’ve been lucky enough to work at two institutions that value the CNI’s work and think this is a place worth being. I always find CNI meetings very meaty. Most of the sessions are in small breakout rooms, the best of these involving a brief presentation followed by vigorous discussion by a knowledgeable group. As an experiment, I’ve decided to try to capture my thoughts on the meeting as it proceeds via this blog, so the next few entries will be about my experience of CNI. I hope this helps me actually follow up on some of the ideas sparked here.

Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 /