Experimental visualizations of availability status for Electronic Theses and Dissertations

When I visited Cape Town, South Africa this year for the exchange program between the libraries at Virginia Tech and Cape Peninsula University of Technology, I was inspired by three projects related to statistics and visualization:

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In Remembrance of Ebony Morgan

I met Ebony Morgan three weeks ago on June 11, 2017 – a Sunday. We were traveling on the Smart Way Connector bus from the Amtrak train station in Lynchburg, Virginia to the civic center in Roanoke. I remember Ebony in particular because, though there were many passengers on the bus that evening traveling to Roanoke and Blacksburg, we were the only passengers seated in the very back of the bus. We interacted.

Yesterday, I saw the tragic news that Ebony had been killed. I am saddened and compelled to remember her.

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Visit to Cape Peninsula University of Technology

I’ve arrived and settled in Cape Town for my visit with Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) as part of an international outreach initiative between the University Libraries at Virginia Tech and CPUT Libraries.

Cape Town has been a wonderful place to visit. Ocean, mountains, and dense city are all within walking distance of one another. The city is multicultural.

In some ways, this makes things too easy for the American traveler. The multicultural residents of the city tend to be multilingual; there are eleven official languages in South Africa. Most people here are bilingual, and it is common in this city to find people who speak three, seven, or nine languages. Everyone that I have interacted with speaks English, which makes it easy to get around, but also removes much of the motivation to learn new words. At the present time, schools deliver most instruction in English. Signs at the university often have text in three languages:  Afrikaans, English, and isiXhosa.

Biblioteekingang. Library Entrance. Isango leThala

Food and necessities tend to be affordable because of the exchange rate. I’ve tried some local cuisine that I wouldn’t have tried at home, but if I wasn’t inclined, I would never need to do so. Every variety of food is available here because of the many cultures and tourists.

There are many tourists here, but I suspect that at least some of the daredevils that paraglide from mountains over towers to the beach are locals. The people add vibrancy to the area, and are always doing something interesting, like dancing on the beach at sunset.

Daredevil

Sea cliffs

dance_still.JPG

Saturday Salsa at the pavilion

Artists live here, and have painted murals on some of the buildings. This art is a tribute to the missing Nigerian schoolgirls, and features Bat Mary, Super Mary, and Super Jesus.

Mural honoring missing nigerian schoolgirls. Depicts young females in black and white on a red brick wall, with decorated ceramic plates along the side.

Close up of plates, with Super Mary and Super Jesus hidden in the corner.

Bat Mary and Super Mary are barely visible in the top right corner.

It is approaching winter here and the daylight hours are short, but the weather has been exceptionally pleasant. Late fall in Cape Town has felt like late spring in Blacksburg, but with much less rain. Afternoon skies have been clear blue nearly every day. This is problematic. Winter is normally the rainy season, but Cape Town is experiencing a three year drought. Reservoir levels are critically low, and residents of the city have become good at conserving water. I’m trying to do my part, and am now comfortable with a procedure I’ve named the Cape Shower, which uses more water than an astronaut shower but less than a Navy shower. This is a habit that I need to take home with me.

I’ve had new experiences and seen many new things since I’ve been in South Africa. I’ve seen some wildlife that I never think about in Virginia. The flowers here are vygie – ice plant and sea fig – and native to South Africa.

FlowerwowFlowerneon

A bird that is duck-like, but doesn't have webbed feet, and has a longer, curved and sharp bill.

This odd bird is called “hadeda”.

The people of CPUT Libraries and the CPUT Centre for Technology Services have been very busy, both in showing me the area and teaching me about their projects.

Here are Lula, Herbert, our friend Veliswa (who visited Virginia Tech last year), and Vuyo enjoying lunch in the cafeteria.

Veli lunch

Lunch with Veli and friends. It’s ostrich stew.

I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can, and to give occasional help when something is already within my experience. I’ll write more about some of these later, but for now I can give a summary:

  • Discussion with Debbie and Lovemore about two software platforms for collecting and presenting library statistics, including an operational, custom developed stats database, and a partially developed solution utilizing Splunk
  •  Discussions with the disability units on two campuses
  • Exploring techniques with Hillary for adding closed captions and subtitles for the deaf to videos
  • Lessons from Lovemore about the architecture of an award winning PhoneGap (now Apache Cordova) CPUT app for Android, Blackberry, and iOS
  • Working with Lulamile and Herbert on DSpace repositories, including brainstorming about ORCID, researcher profiles, and the REST API, and assistance resolving issues with PDF thumbnail generation and OAI-PMH harvesting.
  • Observing the pre-show setup for a video streaming event
  • Demonstration from Janine of an online information literacy course, and initial discussion about an information literacy app

I’ve visited the Bellville and Cape Town campuses; next week I’ll visit the Wellington campus to learn even more, and the Mobray campus to talk about some of the strengths of Virginia Tech.

One month after release, our app has six users

On September 12, 2016, Virginia Tech Library Labs released ReResolver to the App Store for iPhones.

ReResolver is a digital preservation project for the library – an attempt to revive software that has been lost by the advance of technology. We revived Resolver, an app by the now defunct Fancy Pants Limited,  which helps indecisive people make choices. Our method of bringing the software back to life was by rewriting it from scratch. I described the effort in a blog post, and also wrote in another post about adding accessibility features to the app. The code is open source and available on GitHub.

Thus far, according to iTunes Connect, the app appears to have 6 users.

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Movie Theater Closed Caption Equipment 2: The CCR-100 from USL, Inc.

Last week I went to a movie theater to test another type of closed captioning equipment. Previously, I had tested the Sony Entertainment Access Glasses available at Regal Cinemas. You place the glasses on your head (of course) and captions appear in the lenses. The captions move as your head moves.

This system was different. The CCR-100 from USL, Inc. looks somewhat like a ViewMaster on a stick. It’s designed to fit inside the cup holders in movie theater seats. A long stem leads up to a viewing box where the subtitles appear. The stem is sturdy but flexible, so that the viewer box can be adjusted to the proper angle, location, and height in front of the viewer.

Uslinc seat

CCR-100 in cup holder

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Software Preservation Dilemma: Accessibility versus Authenticity

In a previous blog post, I introduced Re-Resolver, our experimental software preservation project in which we attempt to recreate the classic, but no longer functional iOS app Resolver by analyzing its features and rewriting the app from scratch. Re-Resolver is open source and available on GitHub, and will be made available on the app store later this summer.

With the project, we are exploring this method of software preservation to find questions. Is this really preservation, or is it something else? Is this method worth the effort?

In this blog entry I’ll focus specifically on one unexpected dilemma that came up while trying to duplicate the original app: the conflict between accessibility and authenticity.

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Recreating an abandoned iOS app: Digital Preservation or Theft?

We’ve been working on an experimental digital preservation project.

Sometimes, digital preservation means something besides preserving an exact bit-by-bit copy of an item. Computer hardware and software required to support digital documents becomes obsolete and falls away from common existence, or else evolves so significantly that documents created with original versions of the hardware and software can no longer be used.

As an example, let’s imagine that we’ve collected a set of video journals of undergraduate students that were kept as part of an introductory but innovative telecommunications course in 1997. These hypothetical video journals were given to us on 100 MB Zip disks, and were created with RealVideo. In order to preserve these videos, one of the first things we’d want to do is copy them to another location besides the Zip disks, because we don’t want to depend on the storage lifespan of a single Zip disk. This move would not only support preservation, but also access. In 2016, it’s unlikely that any person – whether a casual user or a professional – would have a Zip drive available to access these files. It’s better to place them online somewhere, so that they can be accessed worldwide. Additionally, the RealVideo format is no longer practical – few people have players capable of playing RealVideo installed in their web browsers. So we’d want to transcode these videos into other formats, for example mp4/H.264 for access, and Matroksa/FFV1 for preservation. Zip drives are obsolete for our purposes, and RealVideo is obsolete for our purposes, but the content of the video journals may yet be interesting to someone, so we preserve the content in a way that is usable.

Sometimes the digital artifact that we are most interested in preserving is not a digital document created by a piece of software, but rather the software itself.

Resolver

There’s an iPhone app that was released several years ago, in April 2010, by an Icelandic company called Fancy Pants Global. Fancy Pants Global described the software as “a handy little app that will help its users make those tough everyday decisions.” This decision making app is very basic, but highly rated by users because of its simple and attractive interface.

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