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Open Journal Matcher gets further funding

I just found out that I was awarded a PSC-CUNY Research Grant to fund the Open Journal Matcher! The grant will pay the bills for the OJM for a while, and will also allow me to develop it further. Previously, the project had been funded by Google.

I have two specific goals for this grant. The first is improving the OJM code. My goal is to move most of the text processing out of Google Cloud Functions. Instead, my hope is that I can pre-process much of it, and do the remaining bits in my Flask application. If it works out, this will greatly reduce the computing power needed to run the project, and ultimately reduce the cost.

The second goal is to finish a paper I am writing about this project. Basically, I need to buckle down and write.

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More on the strangeness of JavaScript

I am amazed at how JavaScript can do really strange things, and JavaScript developers just seem to be totally fine with it. Maybe it’s my own misperceptions, coming from Python (with my Pythonic assumptions) that are causing my bafflement. Or maybe JavaScript developers put up with these things because, hey, it’s the language of the web, and you just have to deal with the guff if you want to play the game.

But slowly I’m beginning to appreciate its quirks. Not because it makes writing JavaScript easier for me (it doesn’t), but because I appreciate eccentricities; in people, and apparently in programming languages too.

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Vue

I was doing two things earlier this week: sitting in on a webinar about a neat library tool called Unsub; and thinking about digging further into Vue, the JavaScript framework.

Anyhow, I was so impressed with the UI of Unsub that I looked up what I could about their tech stack (it’s on GitHub), and of course it turns out that they use Vue.

This was all very fortuitous, and now I feel very motivated to try to learn Vue again. I have heard good things about VueSchool, so I will give it a go this weekend.

I hope to report back soon!

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Ubuntu

It’s now been a couple of years that I’ve been running Ubuntu as my daily driver. I had been on MacOS, but my MacBook was very old, and I was swayed by Dell’s XPS series laptops that came with Ubuntu preinstalled. As a newcomer to Linux, not having to install the OS myself was a major selling point.

I’ve now been through several reinstalls of Ubuntu (most recently 20.10), and have lost most of my fear of installing from scratch. In fact, it’s now one of the things I like most about Linux: if I’m unhappy with how things are going, I can always start again with a fresh install.

Moving from MacOS to Ubuntu was really a matter of trading one set of problems for a different set of problems. But I prefer the problems on Ubuntu. With a bit of work they are almost always resolvable to my satisfaction. It is very satisfying to be able to fix things yourself.

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Bootstrap and LibGuides

What is Bootstrap, and what can it do for my LibGuides?

Bootstrap is the framework that underpins LibGuides, and you’ll find it gives you much more control over how your LibGuides work. Bootstrap provides a collection of CSS and JavaScript components that will help you build responsive web pages. Gaining an understanding of how Bootstrap works will let you supercharge your guides.

With some understanding of the technical details, Bootstrap will open many possibilities for your guides. Knowledge of Bootstrap transforms LibGuides from a relatively restricted set of pre-built components into a much more flexible web framework. In short, Bootstrap makes it possible to do a lot more with LibGuides.

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LibGuides (part 2)

At the outset, it is possible to overlook features of LibGuides CMS such as groups and their accompanying permissions. But groups can be useful, since they can describe organizational realities, so you may find that they’re helpful to you at some point in your LibGuides journey.

For us, LibGuides was a powerful tool to organize web work within the library, after it had long been managed elsewhere on campus. Bringing workflows back into the library accentuated the need for more fine-grained permissioning in our tools.

Likewise, managing JavaScript and CSS in a more hierarchical, group-defined way with LibGuides allowed us to tackle technical debt.

Which is to say that it is worth thinking about groups and permissions in LibGuides, as they can be helpful in the long run.

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Sushi

A couple of years ago, I started building a Sushi client. Sushi is a protocol for accessing standardized usage reports from our vendors. These reports, called Counter reports, quantitatively describe the usage of our electronic collections. I needed a client because at the time we didn’t have any automated way to gather these reports.

It seemed like a good idea. But there have been problems. Specifically:

  • The transition from Counter 4 to Counter 5 has meant that I’ve had to maintain separate code for both versions.
  • Vendors don’t have much incentive to make their Sushi implementations usable, so the interfaces are often difficult to work with.
  • I usually only need Counter reports about twice a year, so that the unfamiliarity of this project annoyed me each time I came back to it. I was always having to relearn what I had figured out 6 months ago.

There have been some improvements, too. Counter 5 supports JSON, so there’s no need to work with XML, which is really nice. Plus, almost all vendors have Counter 5 service now, so I’m dropping support for Counter 4 from my client.

I’m not sure how long I’ll continue to maintain this project. Alma, our new LSP, has Sushi functionality built in. I haven’t tried Alma’s implementation, but it is quite likely better than my scripts. And I wouldn’t have to maintain it! Sounds pretty good…

Posted in counter, sushi | Comments closed

Reaching in

I am a fan of technologies that you can reach into. I mean this metaphorically, of course. I like computing tools that you can tinker with and make your own. Usually – although not always – these are openly licensed, and usually they deliberately have these affordances.

As an occasional teacher of technical workshops, I encourage learners to roll up their sleeves and reach into their technologies as much as they want. Ideally, we can do this insofar as our comfort level, interest level, and our available free time allow. There is a satisfaction to breaking and fixing things. Exploring our technologies as far as we see fit is a great way to learn, and our libraries benefit when we bring back knowledge to share.

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Costs of development

Developing a project, even a small one, can be expensive. From when I started working on the Open Journal Matcher in earnest (in January) to when it was more or less complete in its current form (in the beginning of October), I probably spent about $1000 of my grant money. To me, this is a lot of money. It is definitely more than I would have been willing to spend personally. Needless to say, I am grateful for the funding.

The OJM is never going to be self-sufficient. It exists to help others; but unfortunately keeping it online is not free. Ultimately, I think it can be very cheap over the long term, so as to be sustainable. But the upfront development costs were considerable, from the perspective of my limited pocketbook. I think it needs to be pointed out that this kind of monetary hurdle prevents many worthy and interesting projects from ever being realized.

Posted in funding, journal recommender | Comments closed

Into the strangeness

There’s a lot of strangeness writing JavaScript for the web. The edge cases are sometimes mind-bending. This is sometimes not the fault of JavaScript itself, but can be due to the other, non-JS things that the browser is doing.

I ran into such problems recently when modifying a widget that provides access to our library’s discovery service, OneSearch. I wanted the widget to open OneSearch in a new tab (shouldn’t be a big deal, right?), but oh boy did that open a can of worms.

The variety of behaviors that I got from different users of the widget was stunning. Sometimes it would open one tab, sometimes two, sometimes three tabs. Sometimes it would get caught by a pop-up blocker, sometimes not. I couldn’t pin the behavior down to any specific browser type, browser version, or OS. Some of my fixes worked for some users, but not for others.

I won’t go into the gory details, but I did solve the problem. Unfortunately, this was not by fully understanding what JavaScript and the browser were doing, but by walking back the changes I had made to my code until I located the problem, and then adjusting from there.

I remain in awe of the strangeness of JavaScript, and I walk carefully, fearfully, in its presence.

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