Thursday 28 February 2008

Times Uk - Green Central

The Times Online has posted a really interesting set of blog links which they are calling their top 50 environmental blogs. Really interesting piece of work - thought it was worth sharing in detail - so herewith the list.
I don't useally quote in full like this - but thought this was worth it - however, for the record - The original is here. Attribution: the text below is from the Times.

begin quote
" 1. The must-reads

Grist Mill
The green blog from the other side of the pond. Grist Mill has dozens of posts a day, a veritable army of contributors and is as happy number crunching as it is doing the fun stuff. A must-RSS.

Bringing environmental issues to the mainstream, Treehugger has been described as a “green CNN”, and is determined to be one of the most professional and popular green blogs. Posts such as How to Green Your Sex Life ensure that no aspect of environmental living is left unexplored.

Another must-RSS, this news gathering blog brings you in the main environmental stories from the States. You can also see which posts were the most popular in the past day, week, month and year. Just in case you're wondering, a post on big holes was the third most popular.

The Sietch Blog
Proof that ‘eco warriors’ need not be humourless party poopers, the Sietch Blog is the voice of the Sietch Community ('A community of friends changing the world for the better'). It presents serious information and analysis, as well as light-hearted stories, such as the bicycle forklift.

This well designed blog is high on posts but low on opinionated comment, making it a great place to read about green issues and make up your own mind. Direct action is in the form of the odd 'open letter' such as this one to Hillary Clinton

2. The news blogs

Climate Debate Daily
From the makers of Arts & Letters Daily, Climate Debate Daily claims to offer a new way to understand disputes about global warming. It rounds up news and gives equal voice to the dissenters and the activists and as such is a great place to go for varying interpretations of the latest happenings.

Dot Earth
This New York Times blog has lots of news reports on the effects of rising population and limited resources. Posts such as Making Fuel From Air link to the latest scientific research.

Hugg 2.0
Hugg allows people to upload stories themselves; you ‘Hugg’ the stories you find useful, and browse the directory to find out what interests other green readers. You may need to do some sifting to find genuinely interesting posts, however.

Guardian Unlimited - Climate Change blog
Takes you behind the headlines with wide ranging posts: from 'Where's our renewables revolution?' which accuses the government of being all talk and no action, to 'Watching the offsetters' which asks whether a voluntary code of conduct make us any more confident when choosing a carbon offset scheme.

In Balance
A British blog which looks at current issues such as carbon tax, ethical funds and whether a Hummer uses less energy than a Prius.

3. Policy, economics and energy

Common Tragedies
An American perspective on the economic impact of climate change from research assistants at Resources for the Future.

Energy Outlook
A meaty blog written by energy consultant Geoffrey Styles. Interesting posts look at the effect of a US recession on gasoline demand and how measuring a car's fuel consumption per dollar, rather than per gallon, might make us think about our travelling habits more.

Transition Culture
This blog looks at reskilling as a way to survive past the end of the oil age. The writer has studied and taught permaculture (the practice of creating horticulture practices that are in tune with nature and hence permanent). And he's found a new, efficient way to peel an egg.

Off Grid
Partly activist and partly dedicated to saving the planet and money, Off Grid does what it says on the tin. Find out how to eco-pimp your home and drop off the grid.

Sister of gadget site EcoGeek, EnviroWonk takes a look at US politics and international environmental policy. A recent post of note is this one referring to that small matter of elections in America, asking 'how oily is your candidate?'

4. The scientists

Real Climate
Run by working climate scientists, the Real Climate blog offers a level of expertise that can make it a little daunting (see, for example, Tropical cyclone history - part II: Paleotempestology still in its infancy). However, the site benefits by having talented scientists write for those with little scientific knowledge, and the explanations have a level of credibility that many other blogs lack, so it's a great place to gen up.

Certainly a unique voice in environmental blogging, William M. Connolley manages to take a lighter approach to climate change science.

Logical Science
Lots of science-based innovations offering potential solutions to the eco problem.

5. The macro activists

It would be foolish not to mention one of the biggest names in environmental activism here. While the organisation has been criticised for various reasons with varying degrees of legitimacy, there is no denying it is hugely influential, and its weblog keeps one well aware of issues.

Green Girls Global
When the lauded and much missed eco blog City Hippy ended in 2006, former editor Vicky decided to form a new blog to discuss ethical and environmental issues. That her fellow founding editors were female lead to the blog name, but male readers should not worry too much, a Green Guys Global launched last year for male guest writers and editors.

De Smog Blog
Set up by Jim Hoggan, the president of a leading Canadian PR firm, De Smog Blog’s aim is to "clear the PR pollution that is clouding the science on climate change". Updated regularly throughout the day.

The Unsuitablog
Seeks to name and shame companies engaging in environmental hypocrisy. Check out the ‘subvertising’ gallery for advertising campaigns altered to expose environmental hypocrites.

6. The micro activists

Green Jelly Bean
A site dedicated to rounding up green events, eco campaigns and the practicalities of an individual trying to live a greener existence. Rather focused on Norfolk.

The Hedge Wizards Diary
The entertaining story of a family's move to the country and their attempt to move into the 'post Peak Oil era'. How to fetch poo, anyone?

Alice in Blogland
A personal, quirky site that focuses on a variety of issues, touching frequently upon green issues in a readable, and often humorous way. As she says herself, her blog is a collection of 'ramblings on allotments, trying to be green, goldfish, direct action and her neighbour's recalcitrant cat'.

7. Ways to live greener

Hippy Shopper
Billed as a 'guide to ethical consumerism', this blog aims to promote sustainable consumption with sections on fashion, food and drink, green gadgets and health and beauty. As it’s unlikely any of us are really going to start consuming less in today’s purchase-driven culture, this site could prove useful. See posts such as 'Sainsbury's makes clothes from own waste' and 'Apple introduces recycling scheme'

How can I recycle this?
The clue is in the title – tips for recycling a massive variety of wasted items, such as train tickets, styrofoam containers, or floppy disk boxes. Send in your own requests or ideas too.

The Green Thing Blog
Encourages members to do a different “green thing” every month, and tells the community about the results. Here's a very convincing argument for walking.

Eco Street
A blog offering inventive yet practical ways for people to reduce their carbon footprint, as well as interesting news on the subject. Find out how to recycle a washing machine drum into a cool Ottoman and find out why women are greener drivers than men

The City Fix
Exploring the future of urban growth and planning with an emphasis on sustainable outcomes such as Ikea cars and why bus passengers in Kilmarnock will be able to pay their fare with used cooking oil.

Plane Stupid
A blog (and also, amazingly, a group in real life) dedicated to exposing the ecological shortcomings of the airline industry. That shouldn't be too difficult.

Eco Worrier
OK, so it's a spot of shameless promotion for another Times Online blog, but Eco Worrier is a great place to find greener ways to consume. Check out posts such as 'Ten Fairtrade products you didn't know existed' and 'what to do with unwanted shoes'

8. The sceptics

World Climate Report
Billing itself as the “Web’s Longest Running Climate Change Blog”, World Climate Report takes the position that global warming is occurring, but its results will be far, far less dramatic then has been supposed.

Climate Resistance
A site actively involved in standing up for climate change sceptics, Climate Resistance puts its points across eloquently and is not afraid to stand up to the Grists of this world. As they put it themselves, 'Neither the science nor the politics of climate change should be exempt from scrutiny'.

Climate Audit
A site taking an in-depth look at climate change data, this sceptical site (which holds issue with some of the data from climate change, but does not make the argument that climate change is a myth) is a heavy read for those without scientific knowledge, but a great way to see the details of the debate. Think graphs, maps and snapshots from space.

William M. Briggs
The site of US-based statistician Briggs, who seeks to question and evaluate the data involved in climate change theories, ultimately coming to quite different conclusions. Don't approach unless you're very comfortable with numbers. Check out statistics' dirtiest secret

Václav Klaus
From the president of the Czech Republic who says that 'environmentalism is a religion'. He collects together writings and speeches of famous and influential sceptics. Not the most updated of blogs, but Klaus has a country to run, so we'll let him off.

Skeptical Science
A website dedicated to looking at the arguments of sceptics, this site is great for refuting typical arguments, such as 'It’s the sun', 'Global warming is good', and 'It’s freaking cold!'. We particularly love the skeptic-ometer.

9. Eco inventions

Eco Geek
A look at innovations in green technology. Even those that don't work, such as this exploding wind turbine.

Eco Friend
Eco Friend largely looks at environmentally-aware inventions, such as the solar powered lighter, or the water powered calculator. How much use some of them are is another matter. We love this handy incredible solar powered digital survivor kit

10. Celebrity-earth love-ins

Taking the spirit of celeb rag Heat to eco-issues, this site looks at celeb gossip from the perspective of the green community. Think 'Prince Charles officially bans foie gras', plus what Heather Mills and George Clooney have to do with the green debate.

DH love life
One shouldn’t be put off by the celebrity (DH stands for Daryl Hannah in case you didn’t realise) - this site is well designed and well-informed: there's a news section and videos on a range of subjects from bio diesel to vegan junk food. Oh, and Hannah has fairly good eco credentials herself, having built her own house out of sustainable materials. She was also arrested in 2006 for protesting the demolition of an urban farm in LA.

11. The politicos

Al Gore
He needs no introduction, but his blog could do with a few more posts. Still, Al Gore's blog is a great way to keep up with the world's Green Superhero.

Jonathon Porritt
Writer, campaigner and environmentalist Porritt is getting in there with the online debate. (Not too sure about the picture at the top of his blog though - you don't see Daryl Hannah doing that, do you?)

Sian Berry
The Green Party’s candidate for London Mayor has a blog over at the New Statesman, which is a must-read for envionmentally-conscious Londoners.

12. The environment in art, pictures and essays

Nasa's earth observatory
OK, so not strictly speaking a blog (and unfortunately out of action at the time of publishing this post) this is THE place to go for your fix of satellite pictures of the weird planet we call home.

Nexus 6
Most notable for its cartoons, this blog takes a frequently absurd look at climate change, government refusal, and sceptics. No postings since February 13th though - where are you Nexus 6?

Horatio Algeranon’s Anonymusing Tales
One of the more bizarre entries on this list – this blog mixes science and poetry (To emit, or not to emit?) the subject of global warming.

Planet Ark
More rolling news in pictures than blog, Planet Ark takes a feed of Reuters' environmental pictures. The images are a graphic reminder of the changes taking place.

The Earth Blog
Errs on the side of tree-hugging environmental extremism, but has 'essays helping people to make a better future', and lots of useful links to other sites.

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Tuesday 26 February 2008

Interesting Mice and Men

Good to see the inimitable Russell Brown having a bit a look over the online library fence the other day. He was mostly in praise of the NZ National Library, including LibraryTechNZ , Create Readers , and NZ Poet Laureate .

I thought it might help to offer him a bit more so I wrote off with a bit of a catch up. He picked up the ball with style and posted this - nice one Mr Russell sir:

"Meanwhile, Paul Reynolds got in touch with a few more library links. He reminded me about Papers Past, a (mostly) searchable archive of vintage New Zealand newspapers and periodicals, complete up to the early 20th century. It's really fun.
There's also the Christchurch City Libraries blog (and the library's website).
Paul's comments:

The Library TechNZ guys are indeed interesting.I was talking to a couple of them last week in the National Library. They have a bit of in house sandpit running which is trialling a whole bunch of ways to open up the National Library Image databases, as well as some of the new digitisation projects , including the Maori Affairs/land agent Donald McLean.
They have been playing with PicLens, the Firefox plugin. The current results are just brilliant, especially as they put on screen some of the energy that is bubbling away in there around open access APIs etc"
'Indeed. PicLens is very cool. Looking forward to those APIs too …"

Actually, I also mentioned the new National Library of Australia site. It has a new look and feel. They are also continuing to build their relationship with Picture Australia and Flickr. So if you do go and get the PicLens plugin [which also works with Safari for Mac] - then using the keyword 'Picture Australia" will give you a really great example of what it PicLens can do.

While I am at it I might as well mention some of the fun and games I have been having with an iTouch. I have had one for review for about four weeks and will struggle to give it back - but that's the breaks.

Basically this is the iPhone without the phone - it has some brilliant features - including the touch screen - a lovely photo album viewer and of course a wifi connection. The Safari browser is also a really great precursor of things to come - you can expand and pinch a story on the screen - as well as read email with ease.

On board video
The big personal kick for me was using iTunes to download a bunch of video lectures for playing on a couple of flights to Australia. Three in particular are worth sharing.

Tom Steinberg.
The MySociety Guy talking about his latest mapping project - using London transport and mapping data to create a new mash-up.

The video is of him speaking at an Oxford Internet Institute seminar. Great stuff - especially his call to big government IT project managers. "Stop it - stop building big projects - stop it now - built small loosely coupled web based pieces and make them talk to each other. Brilliant messages - and delivered on a small screen in my hand on a plane - felt like a joined up life.

And for the record, the Oxford Internet Institute has a great back catalogue of their seminars, here.

TED - ideas worth spreading
I have also rediscovered TED video podcasts. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader. The annual conference now brings together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).

And it is all online - herewith two examples that came with me on the iTouch to Australia last week.

Sir Ken Robinson
This is a lecture from the UK educationalist Sir Ken Robinson, who believes schools
kills the innate creativity of our children. This video is just great - it also includes him telling one of his favourite stories.

A wee girl is busy at the back of the classroom drawing a picture.
The teacher asks - 'what are you drawing '
The child replies, 'a picture of God' .
'Don't be silly, no one knows what God looks like', says the
Briefly looking up from her work, the child replies,
'They will in a minute'

Charles Leadbeater
This is the UK academic who is a big part of Demos, the think tank for everyday democracy. In this talk he outlines one if his key messages, that innovation should take place everywhere - not in a special place for special people. This is the same guy who spoke at the Library of the 21st Century Symposium and did a brilliant presentation on why libraries need to reinvent themselves as horizontal organisation which leverage place with new expertise and new attitudes.

He is also working on the Atlas of Ideas, mapping changes in the global geography of science and innovation - pinpointing where innovation is coming from and where it is heading.

MacBook Air
Last word on the toy front. I also managed to have a play with a MacBook Air for all of 5 hours - I was supposed to be reviewing it on TVNZ Breakfast TV - but as you can see the presenter Paul Henry had his own ideas - here

Sunday 10 February 2008


It's Sunday night here in Auckland. I am back from the VALA trip. Some nice gentle music on the library speakers - cat snoring on the cushion at my feet, and a lovely Sunday night calm throughout the apartment - so perhaps a good time reflect on the VALA conference.

Firstly, an apology for not doing more at the time. I had big plans - however, I've discovered I need time to process and reflect on conference sessions. Otherwise they are just episodic blips without any internalised learning.

Curiously, I discovered I was in good company. Two other groups, including one of the Australian State libraries had also planned conference diaries, but, like me, couldn't quite match the need for reflection with the need to just keep turning up to sessions.

Looking back the two days were pretty mixed. Some of the web 2.0 sessions were, on reflection, a little light. However, I did especially enjoy the key notes from both of Peter Lor of IFLA , and Schubert Foo of the Singapore National Library, which in turn had me reflecting on WSIS and the ongoing need for libraries as key insitutions of civil society.

Peter Lor, IFLA
Peter Lor of IFLA is one of the great senatorial characters of the international library circuit. Currently at the University of South Africa in Pretoria, when the National Library of South Africa was created in 1999 he became South Africa's first National Librarian.

Since February 2005 he has been Secretary General of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). His recent research focuses on library and information policy issues, international librarianship and international information flow

As could have been expected the thrust of his presentation picked up on the key issues of democratic access to knowledge and information, within a human rights framework of freedom of expression.

He reminded us that these "fundamental human rights" were at the core of the discussions in WSIS in both Geneva and Tunis, and for many people, far from being some kind of fusty nod to liberalism, they were at the heart of their political and cultural and economic struggle.

I suspect that for some on the west, the notion of the public library being at the front line of political and cultural transformation is a little hard to take.

Lor's quiet and compelling truths were great messages - for globalisation to work it needed to break out of the straight jacket of economic imperialism by embracing the opportunities of political and cultural interchanges with the South trading back to the North in equal measure.

Moreover, it was equally impoortant that we all keep in mind that this work - enabling freedom of thought and expression with freedom of access to knowledge and its associated toolkits are at the core of the library profession.

The current work IFLA is engaged in around the ongoing WSIS agenda is here

Schubert Foo
Schubert Foo is Professor and Associate Chair of the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication & Information at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Strathclyde, UK.

He is a Board Member of the National Archives of Singapore and the National Library Board.

He was also one of the quiet stars at VALA. His presentation took us through the new National Library of Singapore - some Flicker photos are here.

The building in turn is the base for a set of unique collections as well as being a wifi zone to local students and customers.

So much for content and connection. Turning to the tool sets for co-learning , he went on to give an account of the virtual reference tools they have developed using a customised faceted wiki to respond to the reference queries of their customers.

With over 100% mobile penetration, it's hardly surprising the librarian's response  to a query starts with a  txt message  which in turn takes the customer to a web page full of potential sources around their query. These include books, articles and web sources.

Also of huge interest was his quiet and compelling account of the life and times of the ordinary reference librarian in Singapore. It is known to be one of the most stressful jobs around, with every complaint from a customer having to be balanced by 20 compliments before the performance score card was re calibrated.

I'm not making this up: moreover this is not a metaphor - to wipe out one complaint - you need 20 compliments. Strewth! Could you manage that? I'm not sure I could - especially on a Captain Grumpy day.

In Singapore, it would appear most of the complaints are coming from equally stressed out parents, on the look out for reference material to get their children through their annual school assessment. Singapore children have a big exam every year, including small five and six year olds.

And it doesn't stop until they come out the other end almost in their twenties. So librarians and librarian reference services are a really big deal.

So two different perspectives - both offering compelling evidence of  the relevance and importance of the library as a social, and cultural change agent.

Wednesday 6 February 2008

VALA - Day One - strike one.

I have just been asked by Walter McGinnis of Katipo, makers of the ruby based community repository software, Kete, where the cafe in Centre Place is with the free wifi? So I guess this means that this blog has at least one reader. So I better keep with the programme and start blogging VALA.

VALA Day One
Today, Wednesday, [super Tuesday in the USA] is the second day. Day One was brilliant - very full on - meeting new people - re-meeting colleagues and peers, including people from Puke Ariki, Hutt City, Christchurch City. There are also some welcome faces from Queensland Victoria , South Australia, and the National Libraries of Australia and New Zealand.

But there are also heaps of people from the University library space her . This was a bit of surprise, but it definitly adds to the mix. These places have huge challenges - not least being what Janet Copsey head of Auckland University Library , and colleaque on LIAC, calls the scaling issue i.e. ".. it's okay to have bright ideas, Paul, but will they scale to 30,000 logins - because that's my user base".

It's a sobering thought, and I guess a welcome one as a baseline to the different sessions and vendor presentations here at VALA.

Andy Powell
The opening keynote was from Andy Powell of the Eduserv Foundation in the UK. He is a very impressive guy, with an equally impressive set of credential especially around metadata, dublin core and the big issues in academic research, discovery and access. He was billed to talk about repositories.

He was in quite a sober mood - or as he put it, "I'm becoming a little cynical about repositories".

This, gentle reader is a bit like the Archbishop of Canterbury saying he is getting tired of pilgrims.

After all, in recent times, repositories, whether academic, or community lead, have been the big poster children of conferences like VALA .

In the academic sphere they are the places where researchers have been encouraged to deposit their papers under open access rules, thereby ensuring that the research ouput of our major research and teaching insitutions don't disappear behind the closed walls of the commercial online publishers, to reappear inside expensive subscription based aggregation stores [e.g. Jstor]

Community Repositories
A similar energy is currently in vogue around community repositories. The aforementioned Kete should be acknowledged, but perhaps a more widely known example of both kinds of energy can be found in the Dspace community?

Andy Powell didnt go through these examples: in contrast he took us on discursive loop through some exemplar meta data issues and debates that underpin respository frameworks, including a startling deep dive into the conceptual basement of the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, the JISC Information Environment, REST, FRBR, et al.

I suspect some found the descent, and the lack of oxygen, a little challenging so early in the day, Nevertheless, despite the shock of the dive, it was a brilliantly assured journey which helped me at least start to understand how these frameworks, and the concepts they contain, frame and support the next generation challenge of the semantic web. - i.e. the tools and pathways which will build new and enduring associations between digital objects/works, their makers, and the context in which they could be used.

It was a great effort, and brought into sharp focus the tensions around how to engage people with the tools and potential of the semantic web, with the people pushing for the culturally more democratic layers currently being exposed in the web 2.0 ecology of user generated content.

And so to the keynote - and the explanation of his frustration with the repository word - that the current standards were both too complicated [for web 2.0 ] and too simple [for the semantic world of contextual engagement] . In short we need to think harder to ensure these two worlds engage and grow the future together.

However, as a precondition to this engagement, though standards and frameworks will continue to define and shape the next phase of the digital journey, especailly if we have any hope in succeeding in building, what you might call the deep ecology of discovery and contextual finding tools - none of it - and that means zilch - matters an iota - unless all of it is visible and discoverable on the web, and so available for other people to use and engage with.

I'm totally with him - repositories, like so much of the best of the knowledge based web, will not survive if their primary goal is to become rich wharehouses which will order, protect and preserve knowledge: rather, to remain relevant, and indeed compelling pieces of the layer of the sematic or contextual web, they need to open themsleves to the random possibility of user focused web based life.

It's going to interesting to see how much of this message comes through in the sessions to come.

Monday 4 February 2008

Melbourne - Day One - pre VALA

My ongoing love affair with Melbourne continues unabated. I arrived here last night from Auckland. I'm here with John Truesdale the Director of the New Zealand National Library Digital Library.

Adjunct Director
If you recall last year I was offered a more formal relationship with the NZ National Library, and am now an Adjunct Director to the newly formed Digital Library , with the brief to work with John and his team pushing forward the new directions of the next generation library strategy for the New Zealand National Library.

I'm there a set number of days a year. Last week I spent the morning in a session with the digital services team. There were some really impressive people in the room: better still, there was a palpable energy which quickly surfaced and engaged with the critical issues of all collection based institutions - how to safegaurd the treasures, maintain the contract of responsibility with the doner, and engage with the new world of digital co-creation. In short, it's a brilliant space to be in, especially right now.

I have never been to VALA. I've also never done the blogging thing from a conference, so I'm hoping to change that this week. The programme is here.

The sessions I am interested in are - who would have thought - re-imagining the library space to encompass 21st century digital literacies, and that naturally includes how user generated content frameworks and web 2.0 methodologies can be taken forward from their current doldrums.

Web 2.0 doldrums
By that I mean I'm more and more conscious that some organisations are a bit stuck in phase I of the web 2.0 space - i.e. putting up organisational blogs - planning some collection tagging possibilities, and maybe, for the brave, commissioning big federated search stategies and/or personalized pages for their customers.

There is nothing wrong with all this. Far from it. All of it is to be encouraged. However, like others, I think more bravery is required. We need to think harder about the issues and opportunities and for sure the problems] involved in building compelling digital places to match the benchmark physical places [qv last post on Queensland State Library] that are emerging inside our big state, national, and local libraries.

There is plenty on offer in the VALA programme that fits this agenda. So it should be fun.

Meanwhile Melbourne calls - I have a day to play truant - and a whole bunch of some of the best institutions in Australasia to go playing truant in - so here we go!

Barbican Cafe - Centre Place - Off Flinders Lane
I am currently blogging this in the Barbican, one of the lovely cafes in Center Place, off Flinders Lane - the breakfast is due any minute, the coffee is just fab, and the wifi connection seems to be free? What more could a Scotsman want.

More later.