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The readings by Miller this week were partly review for me of things I knew already, with some elaboration and detail, but some of the information was definitely new.

I’ve been reasonably familiar with the various mechanisms for accessing the internet since I’ve used many of them at one point or another – dialup modems, DSL, and cable modems at home, T1/T3 lines at work, and wireless at both places plus other areas. I hadn’t known all the history of them, though, for instance how early T1 lines were developed.

The discussion of packets in ch. 4 of Miller helped clarify my understanding of those, especially the explanation of the differences between TCP and UDP. Likewise the material on IP addresses and proxy servers was really useful; proxy servers are something that I sort of vaguely understood but this helped me grasp what they do better. Same with routers, which again, I had some vague notions and I think now I understand better. I remember WINSOCK and having to install several versions of that! It’s so much easier now that TCP/IP is built into Windows.

Domain names and lookups I did know something about already, since I’ve maintained a personal website for some years and have to pay an annual fee to my host for domain registration, and I recall from early web days occasionally using the numeric addresses instead of names to reach some sites. I also remember doing ping tests a few times.

The readings by Ojala and by Eliopoulos & Gotlieb were a little dated, since there have been some changes in search engines in the last 6-7 years, but still useful. The table in the Ojala article which summarized the differences and similarities between search engines was good (although sadly the scan made it hard to read which engine was being described in which column). It was also good to be reminded (in the Eliopoulos & Gotlieb article) that the 80 results after the first 20 often can also be highly relevant – so often we settle for what we first see because it seems acceptable and we don’t want to waste time.

The Burd chapter looked back to what we did in building hypothetical computer labs in the second week of class; good as a refresher.

References:

Burd, Stephen D. 2006. Systems architecture. 5th ed. Boston: Thomson.

Eliopoulos, Demetrios, and Calvin Gotlieb. 2003. Evaluating web search results rankings. Online 27 (March-April): 42-8.

Miller, Joseph B. 2009. Internet technologies and information services. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Ojala, Marydee. 2002. Web search engines: Search syntax and features. Online 26 (Sept.-Oct.): 28-31.

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[This was originally written for a course on Information and Communication Technology]

“Connected data” and “connectedness” don’t necessarily carry the same meaning for me. “Connectedness” implies something more human – a person-to-person link – whereas “connected data” might foster the former, but are reducible to pixels and bytes.

That suggests that “connected data” are invariably digital… which isn’t quite what I meant, because it’s easy to think of ways in which non-digital information or data may be connected in various ways (texts by the same author, or on the same subject, for example). I do, however, think that digital data are easier to connect together, and that it’s easier for users to connect with those data as well. The hope with changing technologies is that they will enable users to make those connections faster/better/easier, allowing users to choose between different possibilities to find the one(s) that work(s) best for them.

We’ve looked at, used, and developed a number of different tools in this class, most although not all of them being web-related in some way (and even the ones that are not inherently web-related, like databases, can be accessed or used online). Most of these tools promote connections between pieces of data – databases most obviously, but web pages, blogs, and wikis all bring together information, for example by including links to other sites. Many of them also promote connections between the data and users, as in the way that wikis typically allow any user to add or edit information on their pages. Some of them facilitate connectedness between users, as with blogs where a reader can respond directly to the blogger.

The key thing to remember, though, is that no tool is perfect for every purpose, and also that however cool something is, if it doesn’t produce the kind of results we’re hoping for (whatever those may be), it’s pretty much useless. A wiki is a pallid and lifeless thing if no one out there is interested enough to contribute to it. Podcasts that no one wants to hear sound their barbaric yawp over the rooftops and into silence. (Sorry, got a bit carried away there.)

So I can see potentially using many or all of these tools, as a librarian, but I don’t think any one of them is truly necessary to do the job and do it well. They’re tools. Means to an end, not the end itself. If using podcasts and RSS feeds helps my library reach out to undergraduates and tell them about the things the library can assist them with, then those are good tools to use. If Adobe Connect Pro lets me meet virtually with colleagues at other institutions, so that we can brainstorm and work together without having to spend scarce funds on airfare and hotels, then that’s a good tool. If my department can use a wiki internally to get all of our procedural documents online, rather than producing dozens of paper copies and having to redo them all the time as the procedures are updated, then that’s a good tool, too.

We need to be aware of what’s out there, technologically. It’s changing so fast that it’s hard to keep up, and invariably we’ll get into some ruts. One can imagine hearing in ten years, “We’ve always had a weekly podcast!” The point is to do our best to stay aware, to stay flexible, to use the tools that work and not be afraid to try new ones or discard old ones if they’re not doing the job any more.

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