June 30, 2006

Plan less and communicate more

Some vaguely related ideas:

  • "Plan less and communicate more." This is the main message of The Waning Importance of Categorization by Espen Andersen is Ubiquity v7i19. The better and more accurate searching is, they less we need to make sure things are properly categorized. As a result, those that spend their time making sure things and information is properly categorized will become less important than those that make sure search is fast and effective. Also if we communicate more and get better information faster, we have to spend less time making sure that we know in advance what we want -- we can get it exactly when we want it.
    I am impressed with the thickness and size of the industries' blinkers. Only in the last months, I have I have met young journalists who do not read blogs or even know what they are, music industry executives who think the "copying problem" may be solved (here in Europe) because now customers can pay with their cell phones, textbook publishers who insist that highschoolers prefer paper textbooks, and publishing executives who wonder what kind of cookbooks they will produce in the future. (Answer: Those that can compete with standing in front of your fridge, entering its contents into Google, and picking one of the recipes that pop up. Search for "scallops wild mushrooms pepper" in Google, and see what I mean...)


    When I was young and wanted to go to town with friends, we had to agree to a time and place to meet beforehand. Today's kids go to town without dates, either by themselves or in small groups, and figure out what to do by rapidly communicating through text messaging or chat groups. Incidentally, lest you think this change is confined to the teens, notice what people do the next time you host a dinner party: Rather than ask for detailed directions up front, they will drive as close to your house as they can and then call on their cell phones, requesting guidance in real time. In short, ubiquitous, inexpensive and simple mobile telephone leads us to communicate rather than plan.
    Now, Anderson has some things totally wrong here, perhaps because he sees the world a bit too much through the blinkers of a business man rather than a consumer of culture. For example, people want a lot more out of cookbooks than simple recipes. They want ideas, techniques, inspiration, a window into another culture. Cookbooks will change, they won't disappear, in the face of easier ways to get simple recipes. Similarly, his "how to get to my friends house" bit is a bit silly. It may work when you only invite one person to your house, but what it you've invited ten? It seems to me to be rather inefficient to have ten people constantly calling your house, interupting each other on your call waiting, as they circle your neighbourhood trying to find your house. It seems to me an old fashioned map (or new fashioned GPS system) is far better than the silly anecdote he mentions.

  • The ubiquitous Scott McLemee has an article in a recent InsideHigherEd about university presses. He's reporting from the annual meeting of the Association of American University Presses, gauging their reactions to the changing scholarly communications landscape. Blogs, wikis, open access, the list goes on. Those presses must be frantically trying to figure out what their best plans are going forward...right?
    Indeed, if you hang around younger scholars long enough, it is a matter of time before someone begins pointing out that the old model might be jettisoned entirely. Why spend two years waiting for your monograph to appear from Miskatonic University Press when it might be made available in a fraction of that time through some combination of new media, peer review, and print-on-demand? No one broached such utopian ideas at AAUP (where, of course, they would be viewed as dystopian). But they certainly do get mooted. Sometimes synergy is not your friend.


    For the longer term, the intent is clearly to shore up the role of the university press’s established standards in an environment that seems increasingly prone to blowing them away.

    “University presses,” the AAUP plan stresses, “are well positioned to be among the leaders in the academic community who help universities through a confusing and expensive new world. They can enhance the ability of scholars to research, add value to, and share their work with the broadest possible audiences, and they can help to develop intellectual property policies and behaviors sensible to all.”
    There's a distinct "deer in headlights" feel to the article.

  • In closing, a quote from Jacob Nielson, usability guru, on something we should remember as we hurtle into the reality 2.0. Neilson, talking about using blogs to create a conversation with users/customers/patrons:
    That will work only for the people who are most fanatic, who are engaged so much that they will go and check out these blogs all the time. There are definitely some people who do that -- they are a small fraction. A much larger part of the population is not into that so much. The Internet is not that important to them. It's a support tool for them. Bloggers tend to be all one extreme edge. It's really dangerous to design for a technical elite. We have to design for a broad majority of users.
    We have to build our systems, design our services, build our collections for all our users, no matter their level of technical knowledge or comfort level. That's the challenge, especially with limited resources, of stradling the edge, trying not to jump past your community and waste your time on things that won't be used, and also trying not to be left behind, in the dust, and losing a whole generation.

Update: Fixed a typo.

June 29, 2006

Wired (or not)

Back in the day, I used to read Wired quite a lot, but ultimately I got a bit tired of their rampant, uncritical technophilia. It's probably better now, but I've sorta lost interest and haven't read much in the mag in quite a while. I do pay some attention to the Wired Technology News feed, which I do like.

Which brings me to noted Science Fiction writer Paul Di Filipo's very enlightening essay about writing a feature for Wired in the late 1990s. His frustration at their style of editorial meddling boils down to these points:

  • All references to "the little people" were eliminated
  • Ambiguity was minimized
  • Facts were cloaked in "hipness"
  • The past was dismissed as unimportant
  • Quotidian matters were de-emphasized
  • Drama was injected into basically undramatic situations

Libraries are often on the border between hip and unhip, moving forward and looking back and some of the frustrations that Di Filippo faced with the resolutely forward-looking Wired reflect some of the philosophical and practical challenges we have serving a diverse patron base in a dynamically changing technological environment.via BoingBoing.

June 28, 2006

Here & There

Not sure how many more substantial posts I have left in me before the summer blogging break & the sabbatical kick in:

  • Via BoingBoing, a set of pictures giving the relative scale of various astronomical bodies, from the Earth compared to other planets to the Sun compared to other stars.

    Update: From Living the Scientific Life, a link to a page that gives an idea of relative size and distances.
    More impressive are the distances between the bodies. The distance from the Sun to Pluto averages 5,906,376,200 kilometers. To maintain the proportions of the diameters means that the actual distance between the images of the sun and that of Pluto is 5,095,364 pixels. Assuming a screen resolution of 72 dots-per-inch, Pluto lies nearly 1.8 kilometers off-screen to the right! Try scrolling to the right, now--if you use the arrow-button, you would have to scroll for hours, just to get to Mercury! Even scrolling screen-for-screen requires a few minutes to get to Pluto.

  • Via Make, an interactive periodic table. This one's a lot of fun and educational too.
  • An Introduction to Information Theory, it's always nice to see a detailed yet very comprehensible explanation of important mathematical concepts, something that Good Math, Bad Math is very good at providing.
  • Computer Science and Creativity from Jane is a very good explanation of what CS is really all about -- using all your intelligence and creativity to solve problems. Programming can be fun and creative, and if more students understood that, then perhaps CS enrollments wouldn't be quite in the dolldrums they are today. Jane always hits the nail right on the head with posts like this.
  • And speaking of CS, the CRA's Snowbird "Chair's" Conference just took place:
    The biennial CRA Conference at Snowbird brings together the chairs of Ph.D.-granting departments of computer science and computer engineering, as well as leaders from U.S. industrial and government computing research laboratories. A number of other senior people from research groups, government, academia, and professional societies also attend. It is a relatively small (250 people) but very influential group. The goal of the conference is to provide a context in which attendees can discuss practical and strategic issues facing their organizations. This opportunity to network with peers is one of the most valuable aspects of the conference.
    Lots of good conference coverage, both on the CRA's blog and in the ACM's USACM Tech Policy Weblog. The ACM post in particular concentrates on the image of computing and is very interesting and relevant. This post plus Jane's pack a heady one-two punch.

June 27, 2006

Google Book Search @ Your Reference Desk

Walt Crawford has a very sensible article on Google Book Search in the latest Google Librarian Newsletter. I won't recap the article here, but I would like to share an anecdote from a reference transaction I had today.

A young women came into my office with a question (We don't actually staff the desk in the summer, we just make sure someone is always available in their office). She's taking a Natural Science course in Life Beyond Earth, and I went to her class for an IL session a couple of weeks ago. And could I help her, because while she's found a couple of articles on her topic of space elevators, she still needs to find a book reference for her paper. And we don't seem to have any books on space elevators. What to do. Well, I immediately went into Google Book Search and searched on "space elevator." Lo and behold, we immediately found a few books which seemed to have significant sections on space elevators. Checking our catalogue, we figured out which ones are in our collection. The student went away very happy.

And, not only is Google Book Search good for reference, I also immediately ordered a bunch of the books that we discovered that aren't in our collection. So, reference and collections. Thank god that it can't do instruction (or serve on committees) yet.

June 23, 2006

Friday Fun

As usual, lots of fun and interesting stuff out there:

June 22, 2006

The (Library Shelf) Domino Effect

Check out this Flicker photostream of a bunch of library shelves that have tumbled down, domino style. Scary stuff -- we have about 100k books in our library on many rows of shelves. (Update: via BoingBoing.)

June 21, 2006

In the literature

June 16, 2006

Computer Chess in Core

The latest issue of Core, the occasional magazine of the Computer History Museum, just came out and it has a link to a long and fascinating online exhibit on the history of computer chess. There's also a nice intro The quest to build a thinking machine: A History of Computer Chess By Dag Spicer and Kirsten Tashev.

The Core site also links to lots of other interesting content on the history of computing and a back issue archive.

Service learning for engineers

The latest issue of Prism, ASEE's magazine, has a couple of interesting articles:

  • May I Help You by Jeff Selingo is about how some engineering schools are using service learning projects as capstone projects. Teams of engineering students define, design, build and test projects for nonprofit community organizations or government agencies. The idea is that these students will combine good engineering experience, a chance to build "soft" skills and get exposure to giving back to the community all at once. It also gives the students a real chance to see what engineering is all about: building things to make people's lives better. The experience at Perdue is that emphasizing this service learning program really help with recruiting women and minority students to engineering, since it brings out the human side of the profession. Great article, highly recommended.

    Also check out Engineers without Borders (Canada, York U, donate Aeroplan Miles to EWB).

  • Fertile New Ground by Thomas K. Grose is about the emerging field of engineering education research.
    Purdue University’s Kamyar Haghighi is good at asking questions that, so far, have no answers. “Problem solving and design are the heart and core of engineering, but how do we learn those skills?” he asks. Moreover, do engineers learn their skill sets differently than other professionals learn theirs? “And what is critical thinking? What is innovation? How do you learn them?” There’s a note of slight exasperation in Haghighi’s voice when he adds, “We don’t even know the fundamental skills required to be an engineer.” The need to answer these and other basic questions, he says, is why there’s also a need for a community of scholars that can take a systematic, research-based approach to engineering education in order to more effectively teach America’s future engineers.


    “In this environment, lifelong learning skills will not simply be desirable attributes of engineers but will be necessary for their professional survival,” the professors wrote. That’s a big reason why research that uncovers how we learn can help tomorrow’s engineers keep pace with fast-changing demands.

June 15, 2006


A couple of very sensible views on Wikipedia:

From Scott McLemee:

Nor is use of Wikipedia limited to people who lack other information resources. My own experience is probably more common than anyone would care to admit. I have a personal library of several thousand volumes (including a range of both generalist and specialist reference books) and live in a city that is home to at least to three universities with open-stack collections. And that’s not counting access to the Library of Congress.

The expression “data out the wazoo” may apply. Still, rare is the week when I don’t glance over at least half a dozen articles from Wikipedia.


Sure, we want our students, readers, and fellow citizens to become more astute in their use of the available tools for learning about the world. (Hope springs eternal!) But what is to be done in the meantime?

Given the situation at hand, what is the responsibility of people who do have some level of competence? Is there some obligation to prepare adequate Wikipedia entries?


The advantage of Wikipedia’s extreme openness is that people are able to produce fantastically thorough entries on topics far off the beaten path. The wiki format creates the necessary conditions for nerd utopia. As a fan of the new “reimagined” “Battlestar Galactica,” I cannot overstate my awe at the fan-generated Web site devoted to the show. Participants have created a sort of mini-encyclopedia covering all aspects of the program, with a degree of thoroughness and attention to accuracy matched by few entries at Wikipedia proper.

And via LISNews, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales:
Speaking at a conference at the University of Pennsylvania on Friday called “The Hyperlinked Society,” Mr. Wales said that he gets about 10 e-mail messages a week from students who complain that Wikipedia has gotten them into academic hot water. “They say, ‘Please help me. I got an F on my paper because I cited Wikipedia’” and the information turned out to be wrong, he says. But he said he has no sympathy for their plight, noting that he thinks to himself: “For God sake, you’re in college; don’t cite the encyclopedia.”


“It’s good enough knowledge, depending on what your purpose is.”

In an interview, Mr. Wales said that Wikipedia is ideal for many uses. If you are reading a novel that mentions the Battle of the Bulge, for instance, you could use Wikipedia to get a quick basic overview of the historical event to understand the context. But students writing a paper about the battle should hit the history books.

This is exactly the kind of advice I give all the time at the reference desk or in IL classes. Wikipedia is a good place to get started, get some basic information and a few good links, but you really can't use it as the last word in a university level paper. However, I often suggest Wikipedia to my sons (grades 5 & 7) as a source of really good information for their work. Often for them, the info in Wikipedia and some of the external links is more than good enough.


From WHAT'S NEW @ IEEE FOR STUDENTS, June 2006, v8i6:

IEEE and IBM have collaborated to launch a new website that combines interactive activities with information on careers in engineering. Tryengineering.org is designed to educate a variety of audiences about the different engineering disciplines and the impact engineers have on society. Targeted toward teachers, school counselors, parents and students, site visitors can explore how to prepare for an engineering career, ask experts engineer-related questions and play interactive games. Tools for teachers include lesson plans and engineering projects as well as a list of student
competitions and science and engineering-oriented summer camps. The site launched on 5 June with a searchable list of accredited engineering programs in the U.S. and Canada, and will be expanded to include programs in other English-speaking countries as well as Germany and France. Visit:

This is a fabulous site, with lots of great information and encouragement. I particularly like the Find A University feature which lets you find programs in the US and Canada. There are also Lesson Plans for teachers in primary and high school classes to introduce engineering concepts to their students and a very good Life of an Engineer section with profiles of engineers in different fields, including three women engineers. Great stuff -- bravo to the IEEE and IBM.

June 13, 2006

Two new collections added to the TechXtra database cross-search service

From Roddy MacLeod, the following press release:

Two new collections added to the TechXtra database cross-search service


Two new collections have been added to TechXtra's database cross-search:

  • Caltech Earthquake Engineering Research Laboratory Technical Reports (Approximately 1180 earthquake engineering technical reports).
  • DSpace at MIT (Research from MIT in digital form, including preprints, technical reports, working papers, theses, conference papers, images, etc. - approximately 15,500 records)

Techxtra's database cross-search now searches over 4 million items from 31 different sources. Use it to find articles, key websites, theses and dissertations, books, industry news, new job announcements, technical reports, eprints, learning & teaching resources and the latest research in engineering, mathematics and computing.

TechXtra is a suite of ten freely available services which simplify access to a multitude of different types of technology information from a host of different sources.

TechXtra facilitates immediate access to the freely available full-text content of hundreds of thousands of eprints, technical reports, theses, articles, conference papers, news items, job announcements and more. In cases where the full-text is not freely available, TechXtra provides links to vendors for pay-per-view options. TechXtra searches a combination of digital repositories, journal databases, technical reports servers, web information, news sources and more, all with a focus on technology information.

Finding technology information just became easier!

TechXtra is an initiative of the ICBL and the Library, at Heriot-Watt University.

For more information about TechXtra, contact:
Roddy MacLeod
Senior Subject Librarian
Heriot-Watt University Library
0131 451 3576

June 12, 2006

June 9, 2006


I won't be attending SLA this year. I hope that all of you out who are attending have an enjoyable and productive conference. With my sabbatical coming up, I've decided to take advantage of one or two conferences that I normally couldn't attend because they're during the school year. Both Frontiers in Education and Computers in Libraries are on my wish list.

I'll definately be following the conference on the Official blog, the SLA-IT Blogging Section blog and the DPAM blog and a few others I'm sure.

Friday Fun

A lot of fun stuff out there:

IET Engineering Management Journal

From v16i2:

June 8, 2006

Your ignorance will not protect you.

K.G. Schneider at Free Range Librarian has this manifesto. Although I generally agree with the sentiments, that libraries and librarians must transform into something that may be unrecognizable, I do have some quibbles with individual ideas and with the overall tone. To paraphrase Walt, a bit too much “or” and not a lot of “and”:

All technologies evolve and die. Every technology you learned about in library school will be dead someday.

Well, I can go on the internet right now and buy a horse-drawn buggy if I want. Cars mostly replaced them, but not entirely. We have both cars and horses, cars and trains, cars and subways. Computers play chess better than humans do, but humans seem to refuse to just give up on chess. Technologies may have a much longer lifespan than we think they do. We have to move forward, yes, and embrace the new. But it’s also a mistake to assume a technology is dead just because it isn’t cool anymore. My mom has a vcr but no dvd player. If I assume that vcr’s are dead, it seems I might be failing in my mission to serve a diverse user group.

You fear loss of control, but that has already happened. Ride the wave.
Good point. Change happens whether we want it to or not.

You are not a format. You are a service.
Actually, I'm a 43-year-old man who also happens to be a librarian. Libraries provide collections and services, and collections are usually in some sort of format. If I intend to continue to provide collections, I have to be conscious of what formats are available, how demand of different formats are shifting and to make sure I allocate the limited resources I have to the appropriate collections. If I don't intend to continue to provide collections along with my services, I'm not sure if I still work at a library. I am not just eBay pr amazon for students, I am part of an educational mission which I take seriously. Are wikis & blogs services or collections? Maybe they're collections that have formats. Hmmm.

The OPAC is not the sun. The OPAC is at best a distant planet, every year moving farther from the orbit of its solar system.

The user is the sun.
These two are a little weird. I thought Google was the sun. Or was that Facebook. Or YouTube or MySpace. Back when I was a software developer, we used to joke ironically that our systems would work just fine if it weren't for those darn users messing things up with their inconvenient demands. Libraries are the same way. OPACs are discovery tools, the ones we're mostly stuck with are a far cry from what Amazon or eBay have to offer their users, but on the other hand they have slightly bigger development budgets than most libraries do. Since one of the things we provide is collections, the collections discovery tool is going to tend to be important to us. Even if it sucks, we have to figure out how to make the best of it.

The user is the magic element that transforms librarianship from a gatekeeping trade to a services profession.
Haven't libraries always had users? Oh yeah, we used to call them patrons.

The user is not broken.
Amen. Meet them where they are, not where you want them to be. On the other hand, using a word like "broken" implies something a little unhealthy. Users aren't broken, but they also don't have complete knowledge of the information universe. Neither do we, but part of our mission to make their knowledge of the information universe a little more complete. I think it's called information literacy.

Your system is broken until proven otherwise.
I prefer to think of it as a work in progress. Calling it broken seems a little harsh to me. Libraries and librarians work very hard to make their systems better and more accessible, working with extremely limited resources (we have basically one web programmer for the library for a school with 40K students) and with severe restrictions (millions of MARC records, a system we're stuck with that is too expensive to replace).

That vendor who just sold you the million-dollar system because "librarians need to help people" doesn't have a clue what he's talking about, and his system is broken, too.
Amen. Blame the vendors, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Most of your most passionate users will never meet you face to face.

Most of your most alienated users will never meet you face to face.
Amen. I agree completely and have written about how important this challenge is before.

The most significant help you can provide your users is to add value and meaning to the information experience, wherever it happens; defend their right to read; and then get out of the way.
But I thought the users were unbroken sunshine, but here it seems that I can actually try to have an influence on them, as long as I'm not in their way. Believe it or not, I actually helped someone F2F yesterday and may actually do so again today.

Your website is your ambassador to tomorrow's taxpayers. They will meet the website long before they see your building, your physical resources, or your people.
Yep. But I think we should also pay some attention to our building, physical resources and people.

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to find a library website that is usable and friendly and provides services rather than talking about them in weird library jargon.
A bit harsh, I think. I don't hate myself enough to believe that we as a profession aren't at least trying to make our systems better. Oh yeah, I blame the vendors.

Information flows down the path of least resistance. If you block a tool the users want, users will go elsewhere to find it.
One word. Google Scholar. That's two words.

You cannot change the user, but you can transform the user experience to meet the user.
This gets back to IL. I really do think that my users can learn something from me. I'm doing an IL session later today, and if I truly believed this item, I wouldn't bother trying to help students to understand the scholarly communications processes in their disciplines. Making our systems better so they can navigate those scholarly communications processes better, sure. Helping them to understand how to use Google in conjunction with, say, INSPEC or that they might also want to take a look at some journals? That's part of my role too.

Meet people where they are--not where you want them to be.
This one keeps coming up with different wording. Enough. We get it.

The user is not "remote." You, the librarian, are remote, and it is your job to close that gap.
What does remore mean. I think this is essentially the same as "Meet people where they are--not where you want them to be."

The average library decision about implementing new technologies takes longer than the average life cycle for new technologies.

If you are reading about it in Time and Newsweek and your library isn't adapted for it or offering it, you're behind.

Stop moaning about the good old days. The card catalog sucked, and you thought so at the time, too.
Just wait until you're a little older. Kids today. But seriously, doesn't this overstate the case a bit? I'm not sure I've ever met any librarian who prefered the card catalogue to the online.

If we continue fetishizing the format and ignoring the user, we will be tomorrow's cobblers.
Actually, there's shoe repair place right across the street from my house and he seems to be doing just fine. Things that aren't "new new new" don't conveniently just disappear just because we don't think they're cool anymore. What is really being fetishized here.

We have wonderful third spaces that offer our users a place where they can think and dream and experience information. Is your library a place where people can dream?
A good chunk the students in the library at any given time are sleeping in the soft chairs.

Your ignorance will not protect you.
Neither will my blind adherence to some technofetishistic orthodoxy. Like many of these points, I think this is a bit harsh, implying that librarians don't care about their users, are afraid of their shadows, are not trying to do their best given limited resources.

June 7, 2006

I certainly hope that doorbell isn’t keeping private records of who enters and exits the store

I love BoingBoing, I think Cory Doctorow is a great writer with a lot of passion for important causes, but I also think this is incredibly funny. via SF Signal.

June 6, 2006

If you could shake the public and make them understand one scientific idea, what would it be?

Over at ScienceBlogs they pose a new, science-related question to their roster of bloggers every week, hoping to elicit some thought-provoking responses. A few weeks ago (I know, I'm slow sometimes) the question was, "If you could shake the public and make them understand one scientific idea, what would it be?" They've collected the responses, carnival style, here.

Obviously, a few of the responses revolved around evolution, but quite a few other things were mentioned as well, such as the centrality of math to the scientific enterprise. Me, I would add that I would like people to really understand how computers and computer networks operate. How they just do what their programmers tell them, that they are just as perfect and falliable (and with as much potential) as the humans who created them. Related to that, I think it would be nice if there was a greater recognition of how much the enterprise of science has become influenced (dominated) by computation methods. Also, that computer science is more than programming, that programming is more than just typing.

As for a corollary of the ScienceBlogs question, "If you could shake the public and make them understand one thing about being a librarian, what would it be?" That one's easy too. I don't sit around reading books all day. Any other things we would all want the public to know about librarianship?

Update: changed date of post to today, not when I created the post.

Also, please check out the latest Carnival of the Infosciences at Christina's.

June 2, 2006

Stupid engineering mistakes

From The Worst: Stupid Engineering Mistakes:

1. St. Francis Dam, 1928
Self-taught engineer William Mulholland built this LA dam on a defective foundation and ignored the geology of the surrounding canyon. He also dismissed cracks that formed as soon as the reservoir behind it was filled. Five days later, it ruptured, killing 450 people and destroying entire towns (along with Mulholland’s career).

The other nine mistakes that are mentioned are also pretty horrific. Interesting that the guy was self-taught. These days an engineer that made that kind of mistake would likely be someone that plagiarized all his/her assignments and cheated on their exams. via Slash Dot, where a lot of other engineering disasters are mentioned in the comments.

June 1, 2006

O'Reilly PDFs

As usual, O'Reilly has a good idea that other scitech publishers should take note of. This is actually somewhat similar in conception to what Morgan & Claypool's Synthesis offers.

I'm on a lot of the O'Reilly email lists; this is the announcement I got yesterday:

I want to tell you about a new line of documents we just launched: O'Reilly PDF guides. Our PDF guides are in-depth and timely treatments of cutting-edge topics that just can't wait for a book. While developing them over the past months, we kept using the term "lightweight" as a guiding principle. Lightweight meant that everything about the guides had to be fast and easy, and every feature had to be absolutely necessary, or we dropped it.

Each PDF guide is created using a stripped-down book template that has a minimum number of design and layout elements, making it easy for the author and editor to handle them. To save time and expense, a generic cover is generated from the template itself. And throughout the process, we cut by more than half the number of people who normally had a hand in creating something like this. We did all this with the goal of getting great documentation to you as quickly as possible. How good are they? Well, you'll be the judge of that, but I'd like to think that an early reviewer's comments may be prophetic:

"Can it be I'm the only one who sees this as a breakthrough publishing concept? An opportunity to see truly immediate published release of professional material, without waiting to be placed in a journal or book, tightens up the relationship between conception and application. I thought you would want to know. I am intrigued." --Howard Goldstein, Howard Goldstein Design

The list of PDF's currently available is here. They're all short (30-50 pages mostly), on hot topics (What Are Syndication Feeds or
Java vs. .NET Security for example), digital and inexpensive (us$8-$10 mostly). This ties in with the post on textbooks from yesterday. There's a lot of interesting stuff happening with publishers these days; the good ones are experimenting with new models. Some will succeed and some won't, but that's evolution for ya. Along with O'Reilly's PDFs, their Safari University product is very interesting, allowing profs to assemble a print or online text from bits and pieces of other books. I mentioned Morgan & Claypool before, but their model is also a very interesting experiment, producing substantial medium length review articles in ebook format.