digital knowledge. digital culture. digital memory.


Computer security in the South Pacific

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To do my bit to rectify the low level of computer security awareness in Fiji I made a presentation to the South Pacific Computer Society entitled "How Hackers Do It". It was a live demonstration of the life cycle of a computer break-in using freely available and well documented tools such as:

It was a fast paced presentation that was a lot of fun for the gathered audience - and the presenter as well! I will post the slides as soon as they are online.

Post script: whois a hacker tool? Ok, it isn't really, but a whois query is the best way to find out your target's DNS server address and the email addresses of two improtant users - the administrative and technical contacts.

Update: My slides are now available.


Techie digression: Amazon XML to MARC

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Here is a clever little tool that is marginally related to my earlier post about Amazon selling MARC records to libraries along with their book purchases. Charles Ledvina of the Outagamie Waupaca Library System in the US has put together a couple of tools that transform Amazon's XML bibliographic record into fairly decent MARC.

The first, is a web application that takes Amazon's unique identifier, the ASIN, and returns MARC. Here is a link to the MARC equivalent of Amazons record for the 2006 Lonely Planet Fiji.
This Wikipedia page explains how to grab a book's ASIN out of Amazon's URLs.

The second is only for true web geeks - a greasemonkey script that does the same.

Important note: Charles warns readers of the NGC4LIB mailing list, "beware of the subject headings".



Gaps in the collection of Pacific scholarship

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Institutional Repositories
The term institutional repository has been common in university circles for the past few years. I first heard the term at a conference in Canada in 2001 where Clifford Lynch, now the Executive Director of the Coalition for Networked Information, was the keynote speaker. Lynch later published a manifesto for institutional repositories in an ARL report where he defined the term,

A university-based institutional repository is a set of services that a university offers to the members of its community for the management and dissemination of digital materials created by the institution and its community members. It is most essentially an organizational commitment to the stewardship of these digital materials, including long-term preservation where appropriate, as well as organization and access or distribution.
[Clifford Lynch, Institutional repositories: essential infrastructure for scholarship in the digital age, ARL Bimonthly Report 226, February 2003]
Essentially, academic institutions that establish digital repositories have made an important realization; they recognize that while they may do an excellent job at collecting, preserving, and providing access to digital information that they produce through formal publication - normally the institution's library handles this - publication covers only a small fraction of the intellectual productivity of the institution. Who is collecting the countless unpublished conference papers, presentations, faculty created research and collaboration websites, banks of research data, blog postings, and other lost literature, both digital and analogue, that typically dwarf the volume of formal publications? The answer at many academic institutions is either no one, or even worse, an uncoordinated multitude.

Institutional repositories seek to address this problem by creating a managed repository for such lost literature. They typically offer some of the following services:
  • Automated harvesting of digital objects (where feasible)
  • Storage in preservable formats
  • Persistent identifiers
  • Search capabilities
  • Rights management
The commercial and open source software communities have responded to the institutional repository need with some very interesting products, including
Pacific Scholarship
Two of the go to universities when it comes to the broad area of Pacific scholarship are the University of Hawaii and the University of the South Pacific. While both of these institutions have mandates to collect Pacific scholarship, in the broadest sense, and both institutions are significant producers of Pacific scholarship, it is notable that neither have implemented an institutional repository programme.

It is true that both universities have fledgling digitization projects, and UH is even a participant in a regional initiative based on the DSpace software platform, but neither have embarked on an initiative to capture, preserve, and make accessible their lost literature. Institutional repository programmes would help both universities, and Pacific universities in general, to better meet their mandates regarding Pacific scholarship at the same time as preserving and providing access to a new wealth of thought and memory relevant to the Pacific region.


Government's role in copyright advocacy

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In many ways the South Pacific is virgin territory for the global copyright war - for that is how the active participants describe it. A war that has been raging in many countries around the world. A war that has seen the rights of large media companies winning out over those of users of culture with very few exceptions. In Fiji, to give an illustration, there is fairly current copyright legislation in place, the Copyright Act of 1999, but enforcement is currently spotty and public support for pirated culture is high. Some of the early shots have been fired as the few legitimate DVD vendors in Fiji have begun to complain openly about their numerous illegitimate and lower priced rivals [see "Increase in piracy worries operators" in the October 1, 2005 Fiji Times].

As in G8 countries, the battle to tip the balance of copyright in the South Pacific either towards the rights of users or the rights of copyright holders will be fought not only in the legislative arena, but also in terms of public opinion and funding for enforcement. Clearly, government has a crucial role to play in enforcement, but what should government's role be in swaying peoples' minds and hearts when it comes to copyright?

The Canadian Library Association recently passed a resolution decrying a public relations campaign put out by an industry group called Captain Copyright stating that,

[the Captain Copyright] website poses a threat to our shared information commons by providing biased copyright information to the Canadian public, particularly children and schoolteachers."
[quoted in CLA on Captain Copyright, Michael Geist]
It has now come to light that the ministry of Canadian Heritage has been approached to provide copyright education funding by the industry association running the Captain Copyright campaign. Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, reports that it is currently unknown as to whether the funding request was accepted or denied. In the end, I must agree with Geist's final analysis,
With hundreds of thousands of dollars provided to copyright lobby groups and tens of thousands of dollars spent on one-sided copyright awareness campaigns, it is becoming increasingly clear that Canadian Heritage copyright funding must be subject to greater transparency and oversight. Taxpayer dollars should not be used for lobbying or one-sided marketing campaigns with decisions made hidden behind closed doors. If the government wants to spend our money on public copyright initiatives, it must develop open, independent processes that are available to all stakeholders."
[Captain Copyright and the Search for Taxpayer Funding, Michael Geist]
Copyright and Intellectual Property law in general will become hot topics in the South Pacific in the years to come. Pacific governments need to be wary to put forward copyright legislation and policy that balances the needs of the creators of culture and the users of culture in order encourage and extend the cultural marketplace of the region. They must not be swayed by the property fundamentalism, to borrow a phrase from Lawrence Lessig, that is advocated by foreign Big Media and repeat the mistakes of the Canadian government.


Amazon to sell MARC records

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Amazon has announced that they are now selling MARC records and other services to their library customers. Andrew Pace has the following observation,

"As if things weren’t strange enough, Amazon has announced that it will make MARC records available to libraries that purchase through its site. In collaboration with TLC, Marcive, and OCLC, Amazon has introduced Library Processing for Corporate Account customers. The service includes more MARC records, Mylar covers, labels, and more."
[Hectic Pace, 7.8.06]

This is another example of Amazon courting the substantial library market by adding value to items purchased by libraries. It is also notable that Amazon has not become a new competitor in the library service marketplace. They have used their dominance as a vendor of information objects to form partnerships with multiple library service vendors in order to further entrench Amazon's dominant position. This is smart business.