Tag Archives: Internet Archive

On Research: Finding Sources on a Budget

ResearchOnTheCheap

A good portion of the research budget for the new book was selling my Inuyasha manga (which to be fair I hadn’t read in years). This is still better than my old budget for Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach, which consisted largely of buying fractal books I could get for $4 (1 penny cost plus $3.99 shipping). For both books I’ve made good use of the library, and the wonders of this thing called the internet, and I thought I’d share a little of what I’ve learned along the way.

Dover Pictorial Archive: A lot of what I’m looking for in this book are designs from different cultures and some background on drawing techniques, religious significance, history, etc. There are a number of great books on Amazon all pretty affordable from the Dover Pictorial Archive. But if you’re even more of a cheapskate, for a lot of these books you can look on the copyright page (using Amazon’s Look Inside feature) and find the original public domain book the new printing is based on. The Internet Archive will often have the original book for free. Now considering the fact that one of the books I did this for was originally in French (Les Elements de l’Art Arabe), there are some drawbacks to this approach. But then again, if your main interest is public domain designs, this isn’t a bad way to go.

Papers Submitted to Conferences: A number of the papers I’m working from are from various years of the Bridges conference. Most of this stuff is available for free online on the conference websites and includes some fascinating material, ranging from presentations of new techniques, to more general overviews.

Papers on Professor Websites: If you find a particular name coming up again and again, you might want to find their university page to get a complete list of their papers. Some will be available directly on their site. Just be sure to keep some idea of when you accessed them and their URL for your works cited.

Google Books: Let’s face it, you really might only need 5 pages of a 1000 page tome that costs over $100. Google books isn’t a bad way to find the little tidbits you need from books without forking over for the whole thing. It can be a little hit or miss as to whether you’ll be able to access the parts you need, but often you can get enough.

ILL (Inter-Library Loans): I haven’t done this a lot since I tend to get more done with digital sources, but ILL’s can be a good way to get that expensive book you really need (the one that every paper seems to cite). Just be sure to return the book on time or you’ll be slapped with pretty hefty fines.

Your own collection: I have a whole bookcase dedicated to fractals, some of which I’ve barely touched. Some material that didn’t really work for Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach might be just what I need for this one. Keep a running archive of the things you gather even if you never use them (I keep all my papers in Calibre). And you can always raise a little money by selling books you no longer need (though do this wisely because you’ll lose more if you end up buying the book again).

Google the Works Cited: Most papers and books will have a good bibliography. While not all of these resources will be accessible, some will be, and there’s a good chance they’ll fit in with your subject since the author based their work on them.

My last two tips don’t really have anything to do with money, but I think they’re valuable nonetheless:

Do the Works Cited as you go: I never do this, and I always realize later that I should have. If you’re pulling from a lot of diverse sources, you absolutely need to keep track of them, or you’ll have to do detective work to find them again.

Cite more than one author: Some of the areas I’m covering really haven’t been widely studied, but there are still ways to corroborate the research of one-off writers. Again the works cited is key, and some wider Googling. Just be careful if everyone else has based their work on your one original source without any new information. If they’ve been out there for a while, it’s probably fine, but it’s better to have multiple sources.

Friday’s post won’t be so work related. I’ll review something fun you’ll like.

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Biting into the GUI center

We’ve all had that annoying moment when the way we’ve always done things changes. If you’re a Facebook user this is pretty much a de riguer experience. Even something as simple as pasting a link from your blog can change on a day to day basis: what screenshot does it find, can you replace it with a file from your drive, does the URL show or not?

I’ve got a guy a work  (actually several) who apply skins and themes to make their Windows 7 machines look like gray box Windows 2000 machines. Not XP, 2000. Another likes to take his text editor and put it in VI style (green text on a black background). These anachronistic choices aside, at least they have the option of keeping the things the way they have always known. For many things online, it just is the way it is and there’s nothing we can do about it.

I’m a browser switcher and my current favorite is Opera. It’s fast, it’s simple, and it lets me make my own start-page. But because programmers always have to have something to do, it has become slower over time because of all the new features I’ll never use and don’t want, the location of bookmarks has changed several times in the last year, and the nice big start page boxes have been shrunk to mimic Chrome. The reason I switched to Opera is that Chrome had shrunk its link boxes to a tiny fraction of page real-estate in favor of a large search area, and now Opera has matched them. It’s gotten a little better since the initial release of version 29.0. Opera fixed a text overlay so it is under the box and not over it, making up for some of the clipping and size problems, but it’s still not what I was used to and had grown to like.

If I didn’t like the change my options were to go back to a previous version (not the easiest or most secure procedure), switch to another browser that had features I liked from Opera and nothing else, live with the problem, or write my own browser. I’m increasingly becoming convinced this last option is the best one. I can use Chrome’s rendering engine and just slap the simplest possible GUI on top. Ah, if only.

Other sites with unwelcome “better” changes:

  • The Internet Archive – Admittedly its old interface looked like something out of the 90’s, but the new look makes it harder to find what you need and takes up more space on screen. Not a good set of characteristics for the internet’s library. You can go back to the old interface, but only after sitting through the new one and who knows how long that’ll be an option.
  • Indie Royale – N0t every gaming site needs to have a black background. You were doing your own thing with tan and hand-drawn icons. The purchase bundles interface has never been right either.
  • Netflix – Took an easy to organize list and made it a jumble of icons. More visually appealing, but annoying for those of us OCD people. Why can’t we sort what we want to watch?

I’ll admit, I’m guilty of this as well, all of us programmer’s are. Sometimes we remove a feature to solve a problem with a new architecture. Sometimes we try to simplify to make it easier to find what we think you’ll need. Or we add something new because we think it is really cool. We talk to customers and we try to make the best engineering decisions. But the internet, and internet software is different. You expect changes with new OS’s or new versions of purchased software, but browser versions have largely shifted into the background, and websites are constantly changing. And it can be annoying to feel like you have no say when something you like doing one way, suddenly has to be done another.

What site or software change has annoyed you in the past?

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Why you should spend more time on the Internet’s library

Internet_Archive_logo_and_wordmarkI’ve used the Internet Archive for years. It’s where I discovered Over The Rhine, John Holowach and Tryad, Two Zombies Later and a ridiculous amount of concerts and community artists.

It’s a great resource for old books too, be it public domain works from Project Gutenberg or LibriVox recordings of The Lost World.

It’s also where I discovered a lot of great machinima including an old Star Wars classic “A Great and Majestic Empire”. Do yourself a favor and at least watch episodes 14 and 15 (though sadly this series doesn’t have much of a proper end, but it’s still amusing to have British, Irish and Scottish accents in storm troopers).

And if you’ve never played, or even seen, LucasArt’s classic Grim Fandango, there’s a full playthrough here.

The point is there’s a lot of cool stuff*, for geeks of all sorts.

And it just got even better.

If you’ve been a long time reader of the blog, you probably know one of my hobbies is getting old games to work on modern systems with the help of tools like DosBox and ScummVM. Till now if you heard about a cool old game you’d like to try you either had to download a copy of a game from an abandonware site, or buy a copy from GOG or a used store. But the Internet Archive has struck again, releasing several thousand old DOS games that you can play right in your browser. Remember Doom or Commander Keen? Well now you can indulge your nostalgia. For the moment you can’t save your game, but you can at least get a feel for how we gamed in the 80’s and 90’s (and how some of us still do). You can browse the whole library here, but here are a couple of titles you should check out now.

Note: What’s in the collection may fluctuate. I saw Sierra’s Quest games in the collection earlier this week, but they now appear to have been removed. Probably some of this is going to be subject to copyright.

Lost Interplay Titles, particularly Wasteland (the predecessor to Fallout) and Star Trek 25th Anniversary. Also a video game version of William Gibson’s Neuromancer.

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The aforementioned Commander Keen, particularly episode 5.

A whole treasure trove of Carmen Sandiego games (got you singing the theme right?). I played the deluxe Where in the World on my first computer.

Some old Lucasarts favorites Zac McKracken and Maniac Mansion.

And thousands more.

As it turns out the Internet Archive has been awesome in this department for a while. In my searching for games in the Archive I stumbled upon another collection of IBM PC CD-ROM’s from the 90’s. Not a particularly huge collection but it does include my favorite Star Trek Adventure Game, the third chapter of the Monkey Island series and something that may Shock you.

Note: All of these materials are provided for academic and scholarly purposes, so if you’re going to play System Shock, write a paper (or a book) about it 🙂 I don’t have to write one since I have an original sitting in my personal archive but I might for some of this other stuff 😉

Oh and there’s one other thing you can find on the Internet Archive, me. Turns out they’re a great place to host eBook content that I want to give away for free, but retain some Creative Commons licensing and have the site not cost me anything. Starting this time next week, new chapters of the serial novella will appear on the archive. In the meantime, I put up an old story from the first year of this blog in eBook formats for your enjoyment.

If you haven’t checked out the archive at all, just spend a half an hour browsing. I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll like and would never have heard of otherwise.

*Oooh ooh and I almost forgot to mention old Computer Chronicles videos. Want to know what the 80’s and 90’s thought the future of computing was going to be? Check it out here.

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