Category Archives: Arts & Culture

The Mechanical Turkish Librarian?

There’s a bitter-sweet sensation that I’ve encountered periodically throughout my life when I discover that an idea I’ve had in the past for a product or service has become reality — but that someone else has made it a reality. I’m sure many other people have experienced this same feeling.

It happened again this week when I discovered the existence of a New York-based start-up called

These folks have created a service that leverages Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service (a “micro outsourcing” service which matches businesses that need “Human Intelligence Tasks” completed with a network of digital “piece workers”) to address a challenge that I’ve been involved with for many years — adding metadata to digital images to make them more discoverable.

It will be interesting to see what the quality of the tagging is like, since Tagasauris is using non-professional cataloguers, whereas I’ve always worked with qualified librarians that have a deep understanding of cataloguing rules, classification schemes and controlled vocabularies. Tagasauris claims to have a sophisticated quality assurance engine to maintain a high quality of tagging.

It will also be interesting to see if they can make the service financially sustainable once the start-up funding runs out, of course!

I will be keeping an eye on them to see if “my” idea turns out to be a good one.

R.I.P. Gore Vidal

I was saddened to hear that Gore Vidal passed away earlier this week at the age of 86. There’s a nice obituary by Hillel Italie over at HuffPo.

I spent a pleasant afternoon drinking vodka with Gore Vidal and friends (both his and mine) at a restaurant in Ravello high above Italy’s Amalfi Cost back in 1993.

I was doing a placement at the nearby University of Salerno as part of my Master’s degree in Communication in Computing, and was staying in Vietri sur Mare a little further down the Amalfi Coast with Katie, my girlfriend of the time.

My friend and fellow MA CiC classmate George Woodcock — a big fan of Vidal’s — was visiting with his two young sons for a few days, and, after recognizing Vidal, introduced himself to pay his compliments. Vidal and his party were most hospitable, and invited us all to join them for some postprandial refreshments.

I wasn’t at all familiar with Vidal’s literary work at that point (and in fact had always struggled not to confuse him with Vidal Sassoon, the British hair stylist who coincidentally also died recently in Los Angeles), but he was most charming and entertaining despite my ignorance, and showed a warm and seemingly genuine interest in our academic pursuits.

I have since read and enjoyed a number of his books, both fiction and non-fiction. His “Narratives of Empire” series of historical novels are an excellent way for an immigrant such as myself to become more familiar with American history, while his essays on American imperialism are damning indictments that are still highly pertinent today.

Here’s a selection of links to some of my favourite Gore Vidal works:

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Last weekend I saw a band that I’ve been listening to in one form or another for almost 25 years — Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds — at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Gardens.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the 51-year old Cave, although unlike many of the bands from my teenage years, he’s put out a steady stream of quality work in multiple media for the best part of three decades (I also saw Echo & the Bunnymen earlier in the same week, and they only had a couple of songs more recent than the eighties).

I needn’t have worried — the band’s performance in the full-to-capacity venue was electric, and Cave ran around the stage with a manic yet darkly comedic energy.

My only complaint about the gig was that the sound was so loud when it peaked that it hurt and sometimes sounded distorted to my middle aged ears!

I’ve also been listening to Grinderman a lot recently, another Nick Cave project which Paul Facer tipped me off too. I highly recommend it.

Introduction to Metadata, 3rd edition

Introduction to Metadata, Online Edition, version 3 is finally available on the Getty’s website.

It contains essays by Tony Gill, Anne J. Gilliland, Maureen Whalen, and Mary S. Woodley, and was expertly edited by Murtha Baca.

I’m glad this has finally come out, because I completely rewrote my essay, Metadata and the Web, back in 2006, with another update in 2007 — but this field moves so fast, I was worried that the whole essay would become out of date before it was even published!

The paperback version (somewhat confusingly referred to as the Second Edition, as there was an online-only update in between print updates) has been available for a few months now, and can be ordered from the Getty’s website for $30.

Introduction to Metadata - Cover

Introduction to Metadata: Pathways to Digital Information, Cover illustration from 2nd print edition.

An Evening with Gore Vidal

I just came back from listening to Gore Vidal, at an event organised by The Nation Institute at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. It was a large auditorium, and it was sold out. Unfortunately either the acoustics or the public address system were lousy, so I could only make out about half of what he said, but that half was very good; sage & witty, without trivialising just how dire the present state of the union is. I won’t try to summarise his thesis, as it’s pretty much encapsulated in his two most recent books, both of which I highly recommend:

(For those seeking more instant gratification, check out this short op-ed piece, Blood for Oil, available online).

I also spoke briefly with the editor of The Nation, Katrina Vanden Heuvel; perhaps impolitely in retrospect, I failed to commend her on her opening remarks and merely asked her to give Gore Vidal a copy of a photograph I took when some friends & I met him briefly in Ravello, Italy in 1993.

The Intolerableness of All Earthly Effort

Here is my quote for the day, which I came across while reading Moby Dick on the subway on my way to work this morning:

“that one most perilous and long voyage ended, only begins a second; and a second ended, only begins a third, and so on, for ever and for aye. Such is the endlessness, yea, the intolerableness of all earthly effort.”


Here is my joke of the week, courtesy of Ms. Claire Sussums (thanks Claire!):

Three Texas surgeons were arguing as to which had the greatest skill.

The first began: “Three years ago, I re-attached seven fingers on a pianist. He went on to give a recital for the Queen of England.”.

The second replied: “That’s nothing. I attended to a man in a car accident. All his arms and legs were severed from his body. Two years after I reattached them, he won three gold medals for field events in the Olympics.”.

The third said: “A few years back, I attended to a cowboy. He was high on cocaine and alcohol when he rode his horse head-on into a Santa Fe freight train traveling at 100 miles per hour. All I had to work with was the horse’s ass and a ten gallon hat. A couple of years ago, he became President of the United States.”

For an entirely more serious (and MUCH less amusing) analysis of the current global crisis, read the excellent article by Nation contributor Jonathan Schell, The Case Against War.