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January, 2010:

What the iPad is and isn’t

So, a lot of people seem to want an iPad including those who are fully aware of its shortcomings. The iPad doesn’t support Flash, isn’t equipped with a camera, and lacks the e-Ink display.  Do I think it will kill both netbooks and e-Readers currently available in the market? Probably not. (But some think it will. )  Do I think it would be a wise thing to buy an iPad as soon as it comes out to the market? Absolutely not.

But, do I want one? You bet. And hopefully I will hack it.

I missed the announcement of iPad Wednesday that so many people watched. Of course, as soon as I found time, I watched iPad video. While watching the video twice (thank you, Comcast, for turtle-speed internet), these are the thoughts that passed my mind.

  1. OMG, it is so sleek! I can’t wait to try reading something on it.
  2. No e-Ink?  So iPad’s just a touch-screen netbook without Flash/peripheral support?
  3. Stupid information appliance. Who needs that for $$$?
  4. But maybe my aunt who doesn’t do any internet would like this because using the iPad will be easy and intuitive.
  5. Still not fair that buyers can’t configure or control the iPad that is practically a computer!
  6. How would the iPad change what we think about computers and the web?

The video on the Apple website was more than impressive. It was made perfectly to open people’s wallet. However, the advertisement video was also clear in that the iPad was designed to be an appliance. Something that you turn on and use without thinking to surf the web and consume online media.  The iPad is more similar to Roku, a box that plays Netflix movies onto a TV than to a netbook and closer to a less portable iPhone that cannot make a call or take a photo than a MacBook. Unlike Annalee Newitz who thinks that Apple is marketing the iPad as a computer, I think Apple advertises iPad as a piece of electronics rather than as a computer.

However, I agree with her that iPad is a media consumption device more than anything. In “Why the iPad is Crap Futurism,” she says:

“One of the fundamental attributes of computers is that they are interactive and reconfigurable. You can change the way a computer behaves at a very deep level. Interactivity on the iPad consists of touching icons on the screen to change which application you’re using. Hardly more interactive than changing channels on a TV. Sure, you can compose a short email or text message; you can use the Brushes app to draw a sketch. But those activities are not the same thing as programming the device to do something new. Unlike a computer, the iPad is simply not reconfigurable. The iPad emulates television in another way, too: You can channel surf through the Apps Store, but you can’t change what’s playing. Every single app that’s available for the iPad has to be approved by Apple first, just like apps for iPhones. That means censorship of “offensive” apps, no apps that compete with Apple (i.e., no Google Voice), and no random app somebody wrote to do whatever obscure shit you want to do. So you’ve got thousands of channels and nothing on. You can only keep flipping through the channels, hoping in vain to see something other than reruns of Cheaters and Alf.”

Considering its computing power, the iPad is really a computer. With its large screen, the iPad has no excuse to be such a locked-down device that gives users no control over it. It seems that we are forced to take convenience over control, and this is worrisome.

Adam Pash of Lifehacker warns about the possible ramification of Apple’s attitude towards its products in “The Problem with the Apple iPad”:

“The iPad, much like the iPhone, is completely locked down. The user has no control over what she installs on the hardware, short of accepting exactly what Apple has approved for it. …… Apple requires you to hack the device if you actually want control over it yourself. Apple’s gotten into the habit of acting like you’re renting hardware. ”


As someone fascinated by apps, I believe iPhone/iTouch contributed to democratizing media on the web. More people now take photos, make drawings, and create videos using iPhone/iTouch because they made it so easy to do so.  And those are creative activities, not the mere consumption of any given media.  The iPad could have done more in this direction of promoting the read-write culture of the web. (See “Apple iPad – The content revolution that wasn’t” )

The very innovativeness of iPhone OS emphasizes the danger of it being a completely locked-down system.  Have you ever wondered exactly how iPhone’s user interface is so revolutionary? In “The Apple Tablet Interface Must Be Like This”, Jesus Diaz explains this by showing how iPhone materializes Jef Raskin’s idea of a morphing information appliance that could do every single task imaginable perfectly, changing its interface according to your objectives.

Because the iPhone OS works well and intuitively, there is an even stronger need for it to be configurable. Why can’t it be both ways, Adam Pash asks, just as MacBook comes with a terminal that most people rarely use but is still essential for some who like to see under the hood. Like he says,

To say that “either a device is user friendly or it’s open” is a false dichotomy.


Finding a Mentor

“Mentor/Mentee 101:  Developing a Career Essential Relationship” is this month’s topic for ALA/NMRT (New Members Round Table) listserv. One of the contributors to the discussion mentioned the experience of unclear expectations on both a mentor’s and a mentee’s side. I was sending a reply to this discussion Friday, but the listserv didn’t let my email through. So I failed in posting my reply. But it got me thinking a bit about mentoring in librarianship.

I think having a mentor can be of great help for new librarians.  But not all librarians necessarily need official mentors. Often new librarians can rely on their supervisors or other colleagues as their unofficial mentors.  This approach works best at a large organization where a new librarian can find experienced colleagues with similar interests to hers/his. But I also heard about situations where colleagues tend to hoard knowledge rather than sharing. Also for a new librarian who works as a solo-librarian or at a small library where each librarian specializes in a different field, participating in a mentoring program can be quite valuable.

I suspect that a mentoring relationship through emails between two librarians who do not know each other and work at different organizations would be inevitably less strong than between those who know each other well and work at the same place. On the other hand, via email, mentors and mentees can discuss any questions and issues without worrying about the local context and/or, sometimes, politics.

Everywehre Questions

(Image from Flickr: http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1098/1404539812_16fdf956d0.jpg)

I count myself lucky having found a great mentor through the first mentoring program I participated in.  I was paired with a mentor whose work is very similar in nature to mine. Common interests make it easy to start a conversation. One thing I excel at is asking questions. I may not necessarily understand answers, but I ask a lot of questions. Often I got illuminating answers, which come from my mentor’s experience. And those answers helped me understand certain things that at first glance looked strange or downright irrational to me. So if I have one recommendation for new librarians in mentoring relationship, that would be to ask lots of questions without worrying about whether they are  stupid or inappropriate. At what other times would one be free to ask such questions if not when a new librarian?

My expectation for the mentoring program was relatively simple — to find someone experienced who can give me advice about things I have difficulty in understanding, not so much about career development or skill sharing.  So I am not sure how mentoring would workfor more experienced librarians with different kinds of expectations. But one thing I try to remember as a mentee is that mentoring is a big time investment for mentors. So I try to be specific, honest, and clear as much as possible when I ask questions via e-mail.

I wonder when one graduates being a mentee and can begin to help others as a mentor. Maybe when there are less questions that strike one’s mind everyday?

ALA before and after – My 2010 MidWinter

What happens when you join ALA? I am not sure about other professional organizations. But at least in ALA, nothing happens unless you are awarded with some scholarships, fellowships, internships, etc. I called up and paid my membership fee. A few weeks later, I got the card with my ALA member number printed in the mail. That was it. I could have researched about ALA and gone through documents in the ALA website. But I didn’t. I thought that maybe I would get some kind of quick guidebook. But nope. Somehow I thought something would happen since I joined. But nope. I didn’t just join ALA. I joined LITA. I joined ACRL. I joined NMRT. That’s a lot of groups, that’s quite a bit of investment. Again, nothing happened. (Yes, later on I signed up for a mentoring program at NMRT and met a wonderful mentor. But it took a while for me to figure that out.)

The organizational structure of ALA seems to be quite complicated. During the 2010 midwinter I went to the NMRT membership meeting. NMRT is a Round Table for new members. A place for me to go and learn about ALA, I thought. But it turned out that I wasn’t even aware of the complexity of NMRT’s organizational structure itself. I forgot the exact details, but there were at least 3-4 levels of ranks/tiers. I was also told that ALA has a even more complicated structure. (I still don’t get what ALA council does, for example. Should I?)  It bothers my mind that an organization has to have that many levels to function, to the degree that new members have to attend a membership meeting to just get an idea of how the organization is structured and operates. (Since I didn’t attend, I have no idea. Am I a bad member?)

Anyhow, I took the risk of heading out to my very first ALA conference in Chicago last summer without knowing so much about ALA nor any people in particular. Well, the experience was, shall I say…, mixed. I loved the chance to meet one of my ex-bosses. I hung out with one of my colleagues briefly a couple of times outside the conference. It was nice. But overall it was overwhelming, and there wasn’t as much fun as I would have liked. (Granted I didn’t go to any orientation and membership meetings simply because I didn’t know that they would be helpful. Are they?) I went to a lot of programs and meetings (including many interest groups and discussion groups) that seemed relevant to my work. The experience was informative. I got new ideas and learned quite a bit. But when the conference ended, I sorely realized that I didn’t meet that many people, and I didn’t feel any closer to ALA. I still felt like an outsider. (And this was after I was an ALA member for two years – one year as a student – and I attended an annual.)

Some may object. But I suspect that my experience may pretty much sum up what new ALA members feel, may complain about, and possibly make them leave . There is no welcoming gesture. There is no personal contact. ALA is aloof. It won’t say hi just because you are nearby. It expects you to make a move. ALA is no treasure chest that you get to open when you join. It is more like a playground where you get to go in when you become a member. But you still have to find people to play with and participate in some games to have fun.

Playground
(Image from Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/10707024@N04/3040961248/)


For some other interesting observations about ALA, see Agnostic, Maybe (1), Agnostic, Maybe (2), and Opinions of a Wolf.

I think I am near the entrance of this playground peeking in curiously. But ALA feels slightly closer to me now that I have some faces that I can associate ALA with. At the Midwinter, I actually met people I didn’t know because I marked social events in my schedule. NMRT social was fun. The tweet-up I organized was great because I met lots of librarians with whom I had a chat on Twitter. (Thank you everyone who came!!!)  After Hours social was awesome because we were all sort of drunk, and it was quite late. On the other hand, LITA happy hour was kind of awkward. (Networking dinner was nice though.) The reception for young librarians was interesting, but I wasn’t sure about who was invited on what basis. (Was it for all new members or for all new and young members…?)

I discovered that small groups such as interest groups and discussion groups at ALA are great for new members because they are small in size. There are also so many of these that there is a good chance there is something you may find interesting. If you show enough interests, it may not be terribly difficult to get involved in these groups. I was – to my surprise – drawn into organizing a program for 2010 D.C. annual, which came out of the discussion that took place at the LITA Emerging Technologies Interest Group meeting I attended at the 2009 annual. I am a new member and organizing a program (hard to believe in my mind). Well, this is definitely something exciting. But then,  I may not get a chance to work on a committee I volunteered for in the next 10 years (I actually saw someone tweeted about this) and/or I may not succeed in getting involved at the level of divisions and sections.  (Well, that would be kind of disappointing. Or not, I am not sure…)

For new members’ information, I was also given a great advice at the midwinter that it is a good idea to be active in listservs and online because it gives one something to talk about and connect with others when you actually attend a conference. (But of course, one needs to find out what listservs would be a good fit and how to get on to them first.)

I am not yet sure if I will continue to play in this playground. But I think I will give it a shot. I had more fun in Boston than in Chicago.

Thoughts on To-Do Lists & Personal Information Management (PIM)

Have you ever had an A-HA moment for something that only makes sense in a smart phone?

I had one of those with a to-do list. To-do list apps are essentially personal information management (PIM) systems. Because you carry your smart phone all the time and it is always on, a smart phone is an idea platform for a personal information management system such as a to-do list app. You may not be at your office or in front of your personal computer all the time. But a smart phone? That is always with you permanently powered on.

In addition, the push notification capability of a smart phone allows a to-do list app to remind you of your tasks without your making the effort of actually looking them up. This way, your tasks are guaranteed to appear on your peripheral vision whether you are remembering or not.

(Image from Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/koalazymonkey/3596829214/)

You would think that there would be many easy-to-use to-do list apps in the market. I also expected to find a reasonably good free app in this category because it is something that can be so useful for so many people. Nope. This wasn’t the case unless I give up the feature of a to-do app that initially made me realize how useful it could bee on my smart phone, i.e., push notification. Also, many To-do list apps had a user-interface that is truly far away from user-friendly.

If a to-do list app requires a user to select priority, folder, due date, reminder setting, due time, repeat setting in six different screens after entering the task name, certainly the user will abandon the system. Similarly, if entered tasks don’t send out a push notification, those tasks may never become visible in users’ peripheral vision. So, the value of the PIM system significantly decreases. Also, even a smart phone is not always looked at. Users may have a stretch of time during which they are paying more attention to their emails, Twitter, or calendar on their computers. So the integration with these channels in data-input and reminder-push would significant increase the worth of a PIM system. In addition, nobody wants to work in a hideous-looking interface. So the user interface should be not only functional and efficient but also aesthetically satisfying.

Many information systems can benefit from considering these factors to increase their chances of being adopted and continuously used by users. In today’s environment of constant information overload, attention is a scarce commodity and information organization is a critical activity. Many information systems will need to cater to information consumers’ needs of efficiently organizing their information. How many information management system do we see that succeeds in meeting all these requirements?

P.S.   A good article to read :
Jones, E., H. Bruce, et al. (2008) – I Give Up! Five Factors that Contribute to the Abandonment of Information Management Strategies. It lists visibility, integration, co-adoption, scalability, and return on investment as five factors that contribute to the abandonment of information system by users.

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