My new job: Horizon vs. Evergreen cage match


I’ve been hired as a consultant for the University of Utah for a one-year gig. (Actually, it’ll be a little less than a year, since the LSTA money has to be spent by September 1, 2008.)

They’ve been using SirsiDynix’s Horizon ILS for a while now, and they’ve asked me to conduct a feasibility study on using Evergreen. I’m going to be figuring out how well it works with their data, their workflows, and their business needs, and identifying any potential trouble spots.

I’m thrilled that Evergreen is being seriously considered by large university libraries. I’m not a zealot, though; for example, my preference for a desktop operating system is “whatever seems to work pretty well in the given situation”. I won’t hesitate to burninate Evergreen’s faults, whatever they may be. After all, my report is only valuable to the extent that it corresponds with reality.

In that spirit, I welcome propaganda from all sides. If you’re a SirsiDynix fan (or employee), and you want to point out Evergreen’s most serious flaws, please do. I’ll be glad to verify your comments in the course of forming a well-informed opinion. Similarly, if you’re an Evergreen fan and you want to point out its features or defend it against defamation, I’d love to hear tips about how to verify the truth.


It’s… ALIVE!


My email address, that is.

Color me sadder-but-wiser. For the first month or two of my job hunt in Atlanta, ben@benostrowsky.com was hosted on a site that was sending some very peculiar, non-SMTP messages to the MTAs that tried to contact me:

MAIL FROM: ostrowb@tblc.org
250 2.1.0 ostrowb@tblc.org... Sender ok
RCPT TO: ben@benostrowsky.com
alias([username redacted—Ben])
250 2.1.5 ben@benostrowsky.com... Recipient ok

Some MTAs had no problem with this. So when I tested the account, I was able to receive mail. Unfortunately, most people just got a cryptic bounce message.

I’m guessing that this has led to several potential employers deciding not to bother phoning me, especially since my cell phone still has a Tampa area code. (I’ve solved that problem by getting a local number from GrandCentral and having it ring on my cell phone—but all my circulating résumés have the Tampa number.)

Two nights ago I asked the readers of my personal blog to email me and post bounce messages as comments. Very few got through. Last night I repeated the experiment; lots of people got through and nobody has reported a bounce. So now I’m confident enough to email my potential-employers-thus-far and say “I’ve switched email hosts because of technical problems. Have I missed anything?”.

And this will be a good story for the interviews, when I’m asked to talk about lessons learned from mistakes.


Break my code—I’m going to Atlanta for a week


I’ll be in Atlanta for the next week, looking for a place to live while my wife goes to graduate school.

Meanwhile, my reworked HIP-based catalog, SunCat 2.0, is at a fairly good place for a first look.  Please check it out and tell me what you think; it’s an ambitious project and I know there’s still quite a lot to do.  The comments link at the bottom of each page will send me your browser/referer info, so please use it.

And if you’re in Atlanta and would like to meet while we’re in town, email me!


Improving DaveyP’s HIP link tracker


DaveyP came up with a nice way of logging outgoing links from 856 tags.

I’ve improved it, at least as far as our needs are concerned:

  • If the user is behind a proxy that sends the HTTP X-Forwarded-For header, we record the user’s real IP address.
  • Since we have more than one HIP server, we record the name of the HIP server.
  • Since our profiles represent individual autonomous libraries who are much more interested in their own users, we record the profile code.
  • Timestamps are now in ISO 8601 format.

You can get what I’m audaciously calling version 1.10 here: http://www.tblc.org/~ostrowb/hiplink-1.10.pl.txt

Creative Commons LicenseUnder the terms of DaveyP’s license, hiplink 1.10 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 License.


Who’s working on sharing also-liked data?


Code4lib folks: I’ve got some questions that I’d like us to discuss. Please read on.

It sounds like a few sites are starting to collect user ratings (or just bare, anonymized circulation records) for their items so that they can be used in a “People who liked this item also liked…” suggestion.

This is a very good step, but there are advantages to the ability to use equivalent data from other libraries.

Some libraries will have use patterns that would be unhelpful. For example, just because the technical college’s library has a small popular-fiction section doesn’t mean that most people who liked the latest bestseller will also be fascinated by Chilton auto-repair manuals.

Other libraries’ data might be very helpful. For example, a small public library might be unable to generate a useful amount of also-liked information on its own, but would benefit from using similar information from a larger public library nearby, or from small public libraries across the country.

If we, as a community, haven’t already come up with answers to these questions, we ought to begin:

  • What kinds of information do we want to share? Are there any kinds of information that we know we don’t want to share, regardless of whether a user might actually want us to do so?
    I, for one, would consider attaching my demographic profile and perhaps my identity to a list of books I’ve checked out or enjoyed. Let’s preserve my right to share information as well as my right to keep it private.
  • How can we represent that information in a standard way that allows for optional components (like Dublin Core)?
  • Where should this data live?
    I have a suggestion here: each library’s data should live on one of its servers, and there should be a more centralized repository of information about what these libraries are sharing. Updates pulled through RSS could keep my library’s server up-to-date on what your users think.
  • How can we find only the information we want? (For example, you might want to retrieve a full data set with demographic information for each user. Or maybe you just want to retrieve the average overall rating for each item.)

Any thoughts, folks?


Technical details on Rome


The following comes from Janet Felts <janet.felts@sirsidynix.com>:

SirsiDynix recommends Oracle for the Rome server. The platforms supported include Solaris, HP-UX, IBM AIX, Windows, and Intel or Opteron-based Red Hat or SuSE LINUX, and we support both 32 bit and 64 bit.

The specific client workstation recommendations are as follows:

  • Windows 2000, XP or Mac OS X (10.4 or higher on Intel or PowerPC)
  • CPU Speed: Minimum: 700 MHz, Suggested: 1 Ghz
  • Memory: Minimum: 512 MB, Suggested: 1 GB
  • Screen Resolution: 1024 x 768 or better

So it looks like the only thing our customers might have to upgrade is some monitors; there are certainly some employees and volunteers who would be more comfortable on a 19″ screen if they’re going to be running at 1024×768.

We’re using Sybase, so that would have to change, but it sounds like that’s the biggest change we’d need to make.  That’s a relief.


A pig in a toga


Pig in a togaI’ve been working on improving HIP 3.x for a while now.  Roy Tennant applied a folksy metaphor to this process: “After all, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still very much a pig.

Today, just as I’d managed to hold onto the pig and the lipstick at the same time, SirsiDynix announced that they’re replacing the pig.  Sure, we can stay on Horizon 7.x for a while, but we were figuring we’d migrate to Horizon 8.x eventually.

Horizon 8.0 now joins the vaporware list.  Back in April 2005, it was scheduled for release “later this year” (pdf).  Almost two years later, the company is admitting that Horizon 8.0 was a non-starter, except for the unfortunate early adopters who installed it before general release.

The new pig is called “Rome”, and apparently this switcheroo has been in the works for a while.  Australian users saw a prophecy PowerPoint presentation in 2005 that showed a product called Rome; it was supposed to use Horizon 8.0’s client and HIP (Horizon Information Portal), among other technologies.

Well, it won’t.  It’s going to be based on Unicorn.  And the technical details?  We just don’t know yet.  It’s pretty certain, though, that the work I’m doing to improve our HIP catalog is going to be left by the side of the road.  It probably won’t translate.  All roads may lead to Rome, but once you get there, you’d better be speaking Latin.

Illustration adapted from the Atinlay Igpay card in Unhinged.
“Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas”: Ecclesiastes (q.v. re: Horizon).