Monthly Archives: July 2011

Too much time

There’s a story making news of late about a hacker that “broke into” the JSTOR database and “stole millions” of articles.   Apparently the guy is a Fellow at  (irony warning) Harvard’s Center for Ethics.  He is accused of sneaking into a closet at MIT and downloading a bunch.

There are so many issues with this, I’m not sure where to start.  First of all, why was he doing this at MIT when he presumably had access via Harvard? (And the fact that he’s in the Center for Ethics is just too delicious.)

Secondly,the numbers don’t jive:

The programmer reportedly broke into a computer-wiring closet at the campus to access the university network and downloaded thousands of files from JSTOR—an online database of scholarly articles and journals. The university pays a subscription fee for use of the database.

A  commenter pointed out that these files are in PDF format; if he “stole millions” of articles, there should have been millions of files downloaded, not thousands.

Thirdly – and this is what has serious implications for academia – he is seemingly being charged with downloading too many articles. Granted, the number (thousands? millions?) is high, but who gets to set the bar?

And finally, it’s not JSTOR that’s bringing the suit; it’s the Federal Government.  As a point of fact, JSTOR has asked the government not to prosecute.  It seems that the government has decided that,

downloading said articles is actually felony computer hacking and should be punished with time in prison.

Wait.  What?

I’m assuming that this was done rather deliberately, making a point about freedom of information and free access.  He did break into the computer closet at MIT.  And is accused of,

 various attempts by Mr. Swartz to mask his identity while downloading the information, including setting up fake university accounts and obtaining new IP addresses after JSTOR and the university blocked access to his laptop computer.

Those are both no-no’s.  But deciding that the downloads of articles is computer hacking????  Uhmmm, no.

It appears that our government has too much time on their hands. It’s not like they have anything better to do. </sarcasm>

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Shiny things

I am one of the librarians that enjoy techie stuff. There are those that are far techier than I, and are really on the cutting edge of various and sundry new technologies that do – or at least are capable of doing – new and swell things.  We also have the tendency to be easily distracted by these new shiny things.

One of the latest of the trendy technologies is the QR code.  For those of you that aren’t sure what that is, it’s the block of weird shapes that occasionally will be posted on a sign, or on a label, that you’re supposed to scan with your smart phone or something similar.  Once you’ve done that, it will take you to a site that tells you something else about the place or product.

It’s kind of cool, but I haven’t jumped on that wagon just yet. It seemed like a lot of work for not much benefit. I mean, I have to create the code thingy, create the backpage I want it to go to, and then I have to educate my entire patron population about what the thing is and how to use it.  And oh, by the way, help them download the app onto their smart phone, since most of them don’t already come equipped with an application that automatically reads these things.

As it turns out, it may have been just as well.  Dan Frommer has written a piece in the Business Insider calling for the Death to the QR Code.   He notes in his last line that, “it’s hard to see them really taking off. Their utility hasn’t yet made up for their awkwardness.”  He’s right. I think I’ll stay off this bandwagon for a while.

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Filed under Libraries and Librarianship, Techie stuff