Repo Knitters & Conference Crafting

Photo by Freddycat1 used, with thanks, under CC.

The Open Repositories conference is one of the main conferences of the year for me. It’s also very busy and very crowded. It can get a little stressful trying to cram in seeing everyone I want to see, checking out everything I want to hear about and telling anyone who shows the slightest interest about the  projects I have been working on.

Sarah knitting as I take a break between rounds to eat soup.

A couple of weeks before, I asked on Twitter if there were any knitters attending the conference. I got a great response, and we finally decided on a Wednesday lunchtime meetup at the Kilimanjaro Coffee Shop. In the end, four of us made it, with a couple of rows of knitting being done! We chatted, swapped tips, admired yarn and had a proper break – something that is rare at a full-on conference.(Thanks to Jane for permission oto use the photo.) As well as the people who actually came along, tweeting about knitting at the conference got me into a lot of interesting conversations.  Not just with knitters but with all kinds of crafters who have a day job in the repository world. I chatted in breaks about embroidery, spinning, dressmaking, plushies… it was fantastic  to see this other side of the people I work with 🙂

Which set me thinking…

I find that I tend to suffer a kind of mental shutdown at conferences. There’s too much to take in at once. Because of the get-it-before-it-goes nature of a conference, I stress that the people, the ideas, the buzz will all vanish if I don’t grab it all quickly, now,now, NOW! And then my brain overloads (and I might tweet too much) until even coffee doesn’t help anymore. An hour out for a  proper break on Wednesday lunchtime, knitting and chatting about other things, felt as good as a snooze! I was refreshed, inspired and ready to talk repos far into the night. (Yes, I was the person still enthusiastically talking about the DataFlow project at 10.45pm!)

So, would it help others? Could we have a crafting/making space set aside at conferences? A kind of chill-out zone where making stuff is allowed, where you could go to switch off your aching brain and engage your inner-crafter for half an hour or more? Would people use it? Could we encourage new crafters? Could we encourage creativity in one new area and have this inspire the whole conference? I’d like to try – wondering if anyone would join in? This kind of thing would find a natural home at an un-conference, and that would be cool. But I’d love to try it out at a big, more formal conference because I suspect that’s where we might need it most!

Thanks to the repo Twitter knitters at OR2012 –  Jane Smith Sarah Molloy & Helen Kenna for the knitting and the company 🙂 For anyone who is interested in what I knit, check out my Ravelry profile – or ask to see at the next conference we both attend 😉


I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings…

I had no idea you could tweet too much. I had no idea you could get banned from Twitter. Turns out you can. Who knew?

I found out the hard way, as I was busy tweeting a workshop during the OR2012 conference. It had been going so well. We had a few technical difficulties at the start of the session, meaning that the first speaker had to give his talk without slides. No problem – as the official tweeter, I tweeted the links he had planned on using, along with the workshop hashtag. Delegates followed the tag and opened the links on their laptops. The talk continued with everyone following via the links. I continued to tweet. We had around seven of eight speakers during the afternoon. The sessions were intense and interesting. I tweeted summaries, links to project sites, links to papers mentioned by speakers. I was in my stride, on fire, riding the wave of information like the ultimate workshop surfer!

Then, during the fifth talk,  disaster struck. I couldn’t tweet. I got an error message. I didn’t understand it. I tried to tweet again. And again. I tried tweeting in a different client. I tried tweeting via the native Twitter site. No success. I tried to breath deeply and finally read the message. It said…  “User is over daily status update limit.” I passed the tweeting over to a colleague and started trying to work out what had happened.

Apparently there is a daily limit not only for updates, but for direct messaging and following. For updates, the limit is a thousand tweets. Although I tweet a lot, and on that day I had tweeted more than usual, there was no WAY I had anything even close to a thousand. Not even including my knitting, cocktails, chocolate and shoe tweets as well as my workshop coverage. The devil, as ever, was in the detail.

According to Twitter guidelines, “The daily update limit is further broken down into smaller limits for semi-hourly intervals.” And,  “Retweets are counted as updates.”.  In short, I had tweeted and re-tweeted too much in a “semi-hourly interval”. The penalty was swift and severe. Banned. Thrown into outer darkness. There was no reprieve. I just had to do my time. Around 11.30pm that night, after being banned since about 4pm, I was able to tweet again. The world was no longer isolated! It was a long, lonely few hours.

On the upside, my sudden silence, followed by a brief explanation from a colleague on my ban,  hit the main conference Twitter stream.  I might’ve been unable to tweet, but I was famous! At the social event that evening, everyone was pointing out the woman who had been banned from Twitter. I enjoyed my brief notoriety but, having done my time, I learned my lesson. My tweets will be more moderate in volume if not in content from now on.

DataFlow Developers Success in the OR12 Developer Challenge

Left to right – Ben O’Steen, Mahendra Mahey of DevCSI, Richard Jones

The DataFlow project is very much about development, so it’s not surprising that two of the entries for the Developer Challenge at the OR12 conference where from members of the development team, Ben O’Steen and Richard Jones, both of Cottage Labs.

Ben worked on an idea that originated with Cameron Neylon of the Science & Technology Facilities Council and developed Is This Research Readable?. The idea was to develop a service that checks whether published articles are actually able to be read. Based on DOIs, the service will check a DOI to see whether the article is available and readable or is, in fact, hidden behind a paywall.  The full pitch and proof of concept are now available. Contact Ben and Cameron via Twitter.

Richard worked with Mark MacGillivray (also of Cottage Labs) on SWORD IT! a javascript widget that a researcher could easily embedded in their own web pages. Once in place, the widget would automatically track the repository deposits of the researcher, providing useful statistics and other information. Their demo showed the basics and described how they would develop it further. You can watch Mark describe the idea in more detail, and check out their work so far. Contact Richard and Mark on Twitter.

Photo by zaleary, via Flickr.

DataFlow at Open Repositories 2012

The DataFlow project presented two posters at the Open Repositories Conference 2012, in Edinburgh this week. The posters covered DataBankDataStage and an overall view of DataFlow. The project was represented at the conference by Anusha Ranganathan, Ben O’Steen and Steph Taylor. Sander van der Waal of OSSWatch, partners in the project, and Richard Jones who developed the SWORD2 integration for DataFlow were also on hand to talk to delegates about the project.

There was a Minute Madness session for all posters during Tuesday, with one minute only to explain your poster and interest people in coming to see the posters in more detail at the poster drinks reception that evening. Anusha pitched for the DataBank poster and Step pitched for the DataStage poster. The session was strictly controlled, with presenters being stopped by a strictly enforced whistle after 60 seconds. Anusha pitched perfectly within a minute, but Steph was stopped by the whistle.

Anusha presenting her Minute Madness for DataBank

This didn’t affect interest in the project at the drinks reception, though, with the team answering questions and chatting with lots of delegates about the project.

And later, a calmer chat, with the poster, at the drinks reception.

The Minute Madness sessions were all filmed by the conference and will be available shortly. A link will be posted here once they are online.

Photos by eurovision_nicola, used, with thanks,  under CC license

Book Sniffing at #MashCat

MashCat is the latest in the Mashed Libraries un-conferences. Held at the Clinical School in Cambridge, this event focussed on cataloguing. The event was  informal and friendly, with much chatting over coffe, good food and a FABULOUS cake!  Thanks to the organisers (who usually work in their own time to make these kind of events happen) and to the DevSCI project for supporting the day.

Rather than list all the sessions, I thought I’d highlight one that I attended and give my personal response to it. Others will be blogging the entire day, so I’ll link to their posts as they appear.

For me, the most interesting session was something totally different to anything I was expecting to happen at an event focussed on technologies. Run by Helen Harrop (@iamcreative on Twitter) and called ‘Come & Sniff My Old Books’, the session was a chance to look at old catalogues produced when private libraries where put up for sale in the late 19th/early 20th century. They are part of the Library of Lost Books , a kind of book hostel for the elderly, the broken-spined, the torn-paged, the scribbled in – the injured books that libraries discard. Here, they are given a home, safe from ‘death by pulping. In time,  the orphaned works are sent out to artists to be remade as works of art. Helen is working with old catalogues to produce a piece of art, and wanted to share the volumes with us.

After a morning of interesting and fast-paced presentations on various technical innovations, we sat quietly in a corner of the room. Helen produced the books and we looked, talked, rustled pages, pointed out interesting things to each other and calmed down. Yes, we sniffed them! They smelled old in a nice way, like happy, forgotten secrets. There was so much to think about, so many stories crammed in there. The catalogues detailed the sales of private libraries, and the thought of a personal collection of what must have been much-loved books being split up was a little depressing at first. We could see from the notes in the catalogue margins that the libraries had been divided among many buyers. Then it hit me that although the library was taken apart, the books themselves remained. Maybe they went out to be the seed of another collection?  What if another library grew around each one? I was reminded of a Twitter conversation about the drawbacks of us only renting, not owning,  e-books and e-journals. These catalogues were solid in my hand, representing real books that were probably still out in the world.

We chatted about trying to trace the books today. This would be possible, at least in theory, as the seller was Southeby’s and each entry in the catalogue had a carefully written note of the buyer’s name. Had they been bought and then passed on as a legacy to friends and families? Bequeathed to other libraries? Forgotten in an attic? For the most part they were valuable books, so unless they had been accidentally destroyed, there is a very good chance that they are still in the world somewhere. Which was a sobering thought. My kindle suddenly seemed very flimsy by comparison.

Helen talked about the idea of a secret library – hidden niches or even whole rooms where private books were kept. I thought of my time working in an academic library. In the Summer vacation, when we checked through the whole library, we would find, in the oldest rooms where the deepest shelves lurked, little stashes of books. Students (and maybe staff) hid away the books they collected for their work at the back, safe behind the screen of shelved books. A secret, private library within a library. Every Summer the cached books were set free for others to use, the small collections broken up and added back into the main flow of the ‘real’ library. Only to be started again, no doubt, in Autumn.

Helen has some really cool ideas for her work with the catalogues. I am looking forward to seeing what she ends up with. If you get the chance,  I urge you to look at the books, feel them, think about then and yes, definitely sniff them. In fact, I left the session thinking every library event could do with a box of lost books, put in a quiet corner, for people to go and take a grounding and restorative sniff.