Friday, March 14, 2014

Speed-reading App is a Fraud?

Like so many things that go viral online, the truth is far more complex than the buzz itself. In the spotlight today is the Spritz speed reading app, which I recently came across in this post.

The story made sense: that eye motion was wasted effort, and we could consume more content if we maximized our intake efficiency. Stationary focus, plus some visual queues to improve word recognition.

But even while reading the article, it felt off. Many years ago (20 now, in fact) I did my undergrad in Psych & Linguistics. I couldn't recall anything specific as to why I was feeling skeptical about the upper limits of speed reading, but I figured it was somewhere in that past.

Thankfully, today I came across this piece by NBC news reporter Devin Coldewey. (And I now see there are other similar pieces being written.)  The truth, is that this method of reading isn't new; and historically, it doesn't have a great track record.

The method is called "rapid serial visual presentation," or RSVP, and has been around for more than 40 years. The problem is that with longer pieces of writing, this method of intake shows very poor comprehension by readers. Essentially, we can't jack up our rate of word identification, and still maintain the same level of understanding.

I have no doubt that reading efficiency can be improved. As an example, the article linked above also points to the power of skimming as a speed reading technique. But the idea of reading at 500 or 1000 words a minute? Consuming and understanding every single word over a sustained period, such as with reading a novel?

I'm not buying it. Neither, it seems, are the experts.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Now on Goodreads

Just a short note to say that I now have my author profile established on Jordan Furlong and I both had our accounts approved earlier this week.

We've also uploaded a profile for our book, "", published by The Ark Group last summer.

If you're already on Goodreads and happen to own a copy of our book, we would greatly appreciate your support via a positive rating or review. And if you don't own a copy, please consider adding us to your future reading list by clicking on the "want to read" button.


Monday, March 03, 2014

Quickscribe Manual Updates for February 2014

Five Quickscribe Manuals were updated in February 2014:

Don't forget to check out operated by Quickscribe, featuring free, daily updates to BC legislation!

Friday, February 21, 2014

New Service for Rural BC Lawyers

Courthouse Libraries BC has a new 'Book in a Box' service that will deliver print materials to CLBC members, regardless of whether their community has a branch location:
"We Come to You

Or at least, our books come to you.
Even if you don’t have a Courthouse Library in your community, you can still use our books. This new service is called Book in a Box. We send you books using Canada Post, and when they’re due, you mail them back to us—at no cost to you.  Just use the pre-paid postage slip included in the box. We’ve already tested it with real clients, and they found the process quick and easy."
It's hard to imagine a huge demand for this service, given that it targets lawyers in smaller communities. But there are also some related advantages:  1) smaller numbers keeps costs to a minimum, 2) access is enhanced for lawyers who might not engage the CLBC's services otherwise, and 3) boosting print circulation will help to maximize exposure of the collection.

Legal monographs may all eventually be digitized and distributed by easier means. That's a nice thought. As we all know, however, it's harder to make a business case for digitization when demand, and circulation on a per-item basis are limited.

So until that day comes, there's still an incentive for law libraries to optimize their print material circulation numbers. This kind of program is really no different than setting up satellite libraries within law firms in order to get books closer to their most frequent users.

It just makes sense.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Quickscribe Updates for November, 2013

Two Quickscribe Manuals were updated in November 2013. They are as follows:

Don't forget to check out (operated by Quickscribe Services Ltd.) which offers free, daily updates to BC legislation!

Friday, November 29, 2013

VALL Presentation Slides

Here are the slides from my VALL presentation yesterday. I spoke on the topic of law librarians, their acquisition of technology skills, and the impact on our professional image.

Many thanks to all my friends at VALL for the opportunity to speak. I was totally impressed by the responses to my many impromptu surveys during the session. I think maybe half the room knew what Github was, and was familiar with the forking of open source code.

That speaks volumes about the future of our profession!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Phil Bradley's New Book: Expert Internet Searching

The latest (4th) edition of Phil Bradley's book, Expert Internet Searching, as been released by facet publishing. (formerly titled The Advanced Internet Searcher’s Handbook

Most librarians will appreciate the subject line of the email I received: Is it all on Google? No! This is something many web users tend to forget. Drilling down into the right tools, what we used to call "the deep Web", can deliver far more quality materials than a cursory Google search.

Bradley has rewritten much of the book from scratch, and given that I've lost my copy of the previous edition, this might be the time to grab a new one. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Quickscribe Manual Updates for July 2013

In July, three Quickscribe Manuals were updated:

Just a quick reminder that Quickscribe operates the site, featuring free, daily updates to BC legislation!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Newly Minted Author

Are you really a writer if you haven't written a book? That, of course, was my little internal self-doubt question I would hit myself with late at night. Even after years of writing articles, papers and blog posts, you'd think I'd have that part of my self-identity nailed down. 

It's not a justifiable self-critique, of course. At least not in the daylight. But perhaps ticking that check-box off my life list will let me sleep a little easier now. It's a milestone, and one I am very proud of.

Oh yes, my reason for rambling... Last night I posted our Stem news item announcing the forthcoming book Jordan Furlong and I have been working on for the past year. As you can see from reading Jordan's post from earlier today, he's equally as thrilled as I am.

For the particulars, please check out the Ark Group's bookshop summary, the executive summary & TOC, or the sample chapter that are now available.

Writing with a co-author wasn't as bad an experience as one might expect. It helps when your co-author is Jordan Furlong; but it also helps when you have a personal history of critiquing each other's work. Jordan knew my Columbo routine of 'just one more idea' going in. (Even when it meant yet another twist to our narrative.) To say I'm appreciative would be an understatement.

I would also like to add a note of thanks to my colleague Emma Durand-Wood, who is a big part of the idea generation process at Stem. Her ability to flesh out the intended message, or identify an inconsistency that Jordan or I wouldn't see, was invaluable to the writing process. We mentioned Emma by name in the acknowledgements for good reason.

And finally, I'd like to thank Terry Edwards and Matthew Kraemer from Pushor Mitchell for stepping up to be one of our book's case studies. We're proud to be working with such a great firm.

Book cover:

Monday, June 24, 2013

Quickscribe Manual Updates for June 2013

This month three Quickscribe Manuals were updated:

Keep in mind that, operated by Quickscribe, features free, daily updates of BC legislation!

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Some of Our "Best" Work

As readers of this blog, you likely know that Stem's roots go back to legal librarianship. It's been a while since Emma or I have worked in that capacity, but we've never forgotten the resources that were essential to our former work. For us, one of those go-to resources was BC lawyer Catherine Best's indispensable website,

If you're not familiar with it, the "Best Guide to Canadian Legal Research" is an info-packed website beloved by Canadian law students, legal researchers, and law librarians alike. Folks from outside Canada also cite is as a valuable resource for researching our laws. Simply put, this is one of those "gems" that you find yourself going back to time and time again.

So, you can imagine how thrilled we were when Catherine asked us to help her update the site's look and organization. She'd done an impressive job at hand-coding the site's HTML with painstaking care and precision since its inception in 1998, but the time had come to migrate the site into a content management system that would be more stable and user-friendly.

We worked with Catherine for several months on this project, and are pretty happy with the finished product: a refreshed organization and great-looking WordPress-based website where Catherine can continue to share her expertise and wisdom on this essential topic. It's also now easier to view across different devices, and has social media sharing capabilities, making it generally more accessible.

Here's a screen capture of the new homepage:

Best Legal Researhc

Did I mention Catherine is blogging now too? As VLLB readers, legal research is likely part of your job. So be sure to subscribe to her new Canadian Legal Research Blog.

Congratulations, Catherine, on this exciting milestone for -- an important contribution to Canadian legal research and a boon to law students, librarians, and legal researchers everywhere!

Monday, June 03, 2013

Quickscribe Manual Updates for May 2013.

Six Quickscribe Manuals were updated in May.   The following manuals were updated:
Keep in mind that free, daily updates to B.C. statutes and regulations are available at

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Quick View and the Cached Internet

Google Quick View is intended to bring content to your smartphone in a fraction of the time.

It's unclear whether QV is delivering some kind of cached page copy, but that's the assumption I'm making. The project is also still in experimental stages and is only using Wikipedia pages at this time. This makes sense; at least from a 'copyright permission' point of view. It's one thing to keep copies of webpages in Google cache; but quite another to deliver those surrogates to users, rather than the original website's version. Publisher consent is required.

Now, what if Google can deliver mobile content faster? Mobile is an easy target here. Who needs speed more? ... Perhaps website owners are prepared to trade 'speed' for their publishing control. I don't know, and would hope smaller publishers wouldn't buy into this model (or able to afford it?); but for the biggest of publishers, I suspect this kind of offering could be a big draw. Mobile growth being what it is, and the exposure opportunities that Google can deliver.

Can you imagine the New York Times or Wall Street Journal not jumping aboard?

The Internet has always had the ability to "level the playing field." Big or small, web publishing (mostly) allowed one to punch above their weight class. For really big publishers, however, QV could be their chance to rise above upstart competitors. To purchase certain factors differentiating their delivery. And really, who better to partner with?

As for Google, QV might be their chance to further embed their company as "the platform" built upon the Internet's infrastructure. (I obviously have similar thoughts re: Facebook and G+.)  Whenever big companies house and deliver the content of others to Internet users, a little publisher independence is lost.

If Publishers become reliant on Google, letting them deliver their pages faster and to more people, I can't see them being able to step off the platform -- even if they wanted to. Once your competition is using "the platform" too, right or wrong, the risks are too high to leave. Which is what many people are betting on by holding company stock in the 'GoogAppleFaceAzons' of the world. Platforms could be profitable.

A little tin foil hat going on here? Perhaps. But if the Internet becomes a question of speedy cached content vs. mom-and-pop self-hosted content; there will be another type of 'digital divide' going on.  And unfortunately, it won't be Publishers (big or small) who profit.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Google Reader Wasn't that Great Anyway

If you follow this blog, you likely already know two things before I write this post. First, my ongoing belief in the value of RSS technology for monitoring online publishing; and second, the coming demise of Google Reader.

None of us have had much time to consider things yet, and I'm sure we'll be doing more of that in the weeks to come. One early decision for me, however, is that I won't be signing any online petitions, or be begging Google to reconsider their decision. I'm in backlash mode already. :)

As much as Google did an admirable job bringing down feeds fast and reliably, I was never enamored with the reader product. I switched from Bloglines to Reader because Bloglines became slow and unreliable, not because Reader had superior features.

In fact, I became so frustrated with Reader's web interface that within six months I decided to put FeedDemon in front of it. Google Reader's killer feature was its speed, and never the UI; so using Feeddemon as my application software gave me a great UI while I was at home; but still allowed me to travel for business and sync my reading history.  It was the best of both worlds.

Things have changed since I setup that situation, though, and will now have to change again. But hopefully for the better!

I now have Flipboard in the mix, which is a big help for social media sharing; and pulling recommended reading out of my friends and colleagues. That's important, because these kinds of personal recommendations didn't exist five years ago. Or more accurately, took place blog-to-blog rather than the larger social networks that dominate today.

Social media is the elephant in the room, of course. Most savvy users filter topical discussions via "groups"; which is a fine method to pull your respected peers (and their reading recommendations) together. But social media isn't everything! Right?  There will always be:
  • those publications that are required reading, or that you respect; 
  • topics that interest few others, but are important to you; 
  • or niche topics that are rarely written about online. Within a blog post, for example. 

People are important recommendation agents, but relying on your network alone is a mistake. Having great filters up, that aggregate key materials, is an important part of using the Internet. The Internet may be a wonder of the modern world, but to be effective in its use, information discovery  must meet your personal needs and interests. And for that reason, I don't see the death of RSS-consumption coming anytime soon.

Yes, I'll admit it: RSS isn't for everyone. If you use an RSS reader today, consider yourself a power user. You are an "information junkie"; a journalist, a blogger... a librarian. Someone who relies on being in the know. 

The web is made up of much more than power users. We know this. We are the minority here, and not all that profitable to the corporate interests of Google. However, don't think for a minute that those needs that were being served via RSS are going away. Social media networks and serendipity aren't going to fill those needs.

Here's a better way to look at all this: Google is releasing its hold on RSS. The monopoly is done. (It's always a monopoly when Google is involved. Who wants to compete?)  Now, some of Google Reader's features may get wound into G+, but die-hard Google Reader fans? They aren't going to be happy. And that re-opens the market again. To innovation, and to competition.

Personally, I don't have to change my habits all that much. I could use a cloud provider to sync together all my RSS services, but weaving Google out of my routines? No worries there. I'll manage just fine.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Quickscribe Manual Updates for February 2013

Four Quickscribe Manuals were updated in February:
And don't forget: daily updates to BC stats and regs are available for free at 

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Phil Bradley Celebrates 10 years of blogging

Congrats to UK blogging librarian Phil Bradley, who is celebrating 10 years of blogging!

For me, Phil Bradley is the original "Librarian 2.0". He writes on search engines, web usability, and librarianship; all important topics for me.  In fact, I've probably read far more of those 10 years worth of posts than I care to admit. 

So, "cheers" to you, Phil! Your writing and rants traveled some 7500 kilometers over here to the west coast of Canada. I hope your online voice will carry forward for a long time.

[RSS Subscription here]

Friday, February 01, 2013

Map of Global Underwater Telecom Routes

Put this one in the category of digital vs the real world. TeleGeography, a global telecom market research and consulting firm, has released their latest interactive map of data lines running under the world's oceans. (No picture could do this map justice. Click over and zoom in for closer look.)

The map shows 232 routes currently in operation, with 12 more planned in the coming year.  As ExtremeTech points out, submarine data routes like these have been around for some time. The first ones dating back to the 1860s for transatlantic cable runs.

If there's a common theme here, it might be that no technology is immune to the physical realities of mother nature. Regardless of whether you're tugging lines across the ocean for early telegraphs in the 1800's, or prepping for terabytes of data in the 21st century.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Georgetown Law Library Blog Aggregator -- More Proof RSS Isn't Dead

A cool project from Georgetown Law Library: a blog aggregator that mixes the latest posts from their faculty blogs.

If you follow some of the work we do at Stem, or some of my RSS feed mix tinkering from years' past, the concept will sound familiar. Sites like or the homepage of use RSS feed mixing to roundup content sources into a single visible location.

More recently, we've used the same technology to display current blog content on firm websites; or to mix multiple publishing sources such as Waterstone's aggregation of firm news and blog posts.

It pains me to admit it, but RSS never became the household technology that I hoped -- at least not for reading and consuming content. I still think those of us who use feed readers are better for the practice; and it certainly beats trying to manage one's current awareness via social media. But the concept of 'building your own news' based on personalized interests never became simple enough for the average user. It might some day. But it hasn't.

What's been missed, however, is the fact that RSS has become 'the plumbing' for inter-website publishing. You don't see these underground pipes running between websites, but they're there. Make no mistake. And that alone makes RSS critically important; and a success in my view. 

Will RSS have a resurgence? Probably. We're in a down cycle with web technology these days; being pushed towards social media and publishing under the rules of large corporate entities. I have a tough time believing that we'll still be using Facebook the way we do in 10 years time. Some of the old tools of web publishing may again rise up, and hopefully the web is ready to rediscover the concept of unfiltered personal publishing.

Any kind of backlash (remember: even AOL had its days of dominance) is likely to involve tools like RSS as the basis for new kinds of distributed connectivity.

One way or another, I wouldn't bet against the web staying static very long. Or personal publishing making another stand.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Quickscribe Manual Updates for December 2012

Two Quickscribe Manuals were updated in December: the BC Forest Legislation Manual and the BC Local Government Legislation Manual.

As always, daily updates to BC statutes and regulations can be found at 

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Youtube Remote Gives Reason to Buy a Smart TV?

Interesting. Google is making your smartphone or tablet into a remote control for YouTube videos, which can then be pushed onto your smart TV. This works right now if you have a Google TV, but will available for many of the 'smart TV' manufacturers after the CES conference later this month.

You can even create a queue of videos, or line up your subscriptions; delivering full control over your evening entertainment. See it in action:

A lot of people will gloss over this; seeing as playing YouTube videos on your TV has been possible for quite some time. For me, I see this as an interesting connector between how TV is evolving, and how mobile tech will interface with it. The word seemless comes to mind -- It's a very 'Apple' announcement for Google.

Similar to how web-technology lowered the personal publishing threshold, home-created or quasi-professional online video will be pushed further into mainstream consumption. Watching niche online video channels will be even easier. And it wasn't that hard before.

Let's also remember how much entertainment has changed in recent years. Individuals have generated huge viewership numbers based on recording themselves playing a video game. And little more. Pop on a head-set, mix the video and commentary, and a star is born. Really? Yes. That's entertainment for many under-30.
And what of syndicated cable programming? Seems to be still going strong with big audiences for now; but as the population ages, there's going to be more variety and competition than ever before.

The YouTube remote is a solid stepping stone in that direction.