Paywall Is A Compelling Documentary, Advocates OA

Last Friday night, I watched the new documentary, Paywall: The Business of Scholarship. If you’re involved in research, scholarly communication, or even just concerned with the availability of knowledge (especially as it results from public funding), then I recommend watching this film. You can easily stream it and, in-line with its subject matter, it will not cost you anything.

Continue reading “Paywall Is A Compelling Documentary, Advocates OA”

Switch to a Mastodon Social Network

The Mastodon social network system is the most promising advance I’ve seen recently toward establishing a better, more compelling social networking system.

I’ll explain why I think it’s worth leaving closed networks like Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, etc. for Mastodon. I’d also like to say a little about how Mastodon works and mention something nice for the academic community. Perhaps you use something like Academia.edu? Perhaps you’ve heard of ScholarlyHub.org? Then perhaps you should know about Scholar.social. But first, Mastodon. Continue reading “Switch to a Mastodon Social Network”

Try the Engineering Academic Challenge (Concordia Student Event)

The Engineering Academic Challenge asks students to figure out answers to a variety of interesting engineering questions by using databases with Engineering Village and Knovel. There will be an event at Concordia for engineering students to try the challenge (it includes food). Competing against universities from all over the world, you can also win some nice prizes.

On Monday, 23 October 2017 go to the Hall building, 7th floor student lounge area, between 11 and 1. Bring your laptop, use one of the computers there, or borrow one from the library.

Participating in the EAC is a great way to improve your ability to get effective search results out of Engineering Village, while also learning about interesting engineering problems.

Software Tools that are Useful for Students & Free

Completing your university work on time, collaborating with many people, and dealing with cost and other requirements of various software systems is a hassle, which I hope that you can eliminate using some of these tools. I’ve used these and I’d like recommend that people try them out. Following is a brief description of some Office Productivity, Time and Project Management, Mindmapping, Reference Management, Note Taking, and Transcription applications. I’ve included a link to access or download them (all cost-free).  Continue reading “Software Tools that are Useful for Students & Free”

Applications for Reading Ebooks

Usually when I read electronic books, I use my phone. In those cases it’s often through an app like Aldiko or if I’m forced to, then a monstrosity like Bluefire or Overdrive. Sometimes it’s better at a computer screen though and possibly easier if you need to see something larger or are flipping back and forth between documents. This brief article reviews a few desktop ebook readers for Linux systems. I learned about some options that sound like they’re worth checking out, in addition to my regular choice, Calibre.

Canadian Government WCM Migration Project Failed—It’s for the Best

Our former federal government (under Harper’s Conservatives) decided to migrate some 1500 government Web sites to a single content management (WCM) system. They chose Adobe’s AEM product and it looks like the project collapsed in failure. As a Canadian citizen, I’m glad the project has not worked out. I can see how such a project could have merit but the software choice was a bad decision in principle and apparently the project planning and management were not undertaken properly. Too bad it didn’t fail sooner to prevent wasting so much money. CBC’s article about the project is here and I’ll point out a few thoughts about why I think the choice of WCM system was bad in principle and raise some questions on project management.

In 2015, I was in a discussion with a group that was bringing consultants on board to work on the migration. Having had previous experience in this domain and with a large AEM migration, the project interested me but I chose not to get involved and so I do not know any details of what happened other than what I’ve read in the CBC article. There are a few things about the project that I always thought were questionable: namely the choice of software and the management of the project. I felt there was an anything-goes sense of desperation in the recruiting, which didn’t make very feel confident about how the project would unfold.

When I read the CBC news article, the following quote raised a flag for me in terms of questioning such a large project’s management.

“A government source with first-hand knowledge of the Canada.ca project, speaking on condition of anonymity, said IT government workers have been told that none of the government’s arm’s-length agencies have been moving their material over to the new site for some time.”

If people haven’t been migrating material for some time, I would want to ask what happened to lose their participation and throw the project off track?

When you have that many sites, involving a large group of people, they’ve got to understand and feel that their concerns are heard, respected, and involved out the outset of the decision-making. There ought to be things motivating them to move toward the project’s goals. Did they participate in selecting the system? Did they receive training and have the necessary support to comprehend the vision of how the new system and associated processes would work? Did they understand and buy in to the goals? Was it going to improve their work experience and outcomes? Were reasonable deadlines established with communication to keep people aware of the project’s movement as they succeeded with their milestones? I’m sure that one could ask a lot more in a post-mortem of the project..

Of more concern to me though is the selection of the most expensive proprietary WCM platform on the market, Adobe AEM, and the choice of hosting Canadian government sites through an American service provider, Amazon. AEM has many good qualities (as well as bad) but the good do not merit its cost.

First, the platform.

Government software selections ought to, by default, consider free/libre and open source software products first and then develop or select proprietary solutions only if no sufficient F/LOSS choice exists.

Some F/OSS advantages include the following. By definition F/LOSS choices result in greater transparency (and potential security) since the code can be audited. F/LOSS can result in large cost-savings due to an absence of licensing fees (though support incurs costs just like it does with proprietary software). In the future, migrating the systems, code, and data for preservation, archival, or shifting formats can be accomplished with more flexibility if the code is open and accessible rather than closed and controlled by a foreign company (which may or may not continue to operate).

F/LOSS does not lock a government into the control of foreign entities and better, it has the potential to involve communities of domestic businesses in support or customization that might otherwise be prevented.

F/LOSS choices align well with government initiatives in that they enable us to also control our own systems, foster our own businesses and communities, and master our own security. In contrast, Adobe AEM is a proprietary product controlled by a foreign company, with no transparency, and no requirement to give back to communities involved with it. Canadians are paying for something that we cannot control and which doesn’t contribute to the Canadian digital ecosystem. It enriches a foreign company.

Second, the hosting.

Government sites hosted by Amazon—a foreign (American) company? Even if the servers sit on Canadian soil, isn’t this a questionable decision? How does that intersect with American laws and American government agencies, which could demand information from Amazon? As I lack detail about this setup, I am certainly not well-informed and I would imagine that all sorts of precautions were taken in this arrangement. Nevertheless, why introduce this kind of a security and privacy risk? Shouldn’t we be critical about putting Canadian government information (not to mention potential personal information) on servers hosted by a company of foreign origin (using foreign proprietary software) when Canadian companies could have provided the same service (or the government could operate these itself)?

Regardless of how the remaining Canadian government sites manage their content, there can be an information architecture, design strategies, and style guidelines developed, which provide usable experiences and good aesthetics for people seeking information from these Web sites. The back-end system can certainly help improve the management, updating, and preservation of the content for the people developing or administering it but it does not necessarily dictate how the user interacts with the public web front. So even with today’s state of affairs on the WCM migration project, Canadian government Web sites can continue to serve their purposes and improve.

Books to Help Engineers Communicate in a Business Context

If you’re a student beginning work within a professional environment you’ll find that there are expectations people have around communications, which are particular to the workplace. A lot of books for engineers cover how to communicate professionally within a business context. These books tend to be oriented toward helping the reader learn skills for improving the way they communicate their own specialized knowledge not just to their peers but perhaps more importantly, to people that do not have the same level of specialized engineering knowledge.

Depending on the position you take, you may need to present to clients or fellow employees. Likewise, different forms of communication (e-mail, live presentation, etc.) have their own characteristics, which you should use as relevant to the content you need to communicate (not to mention the people you’re communicating with).

Here is a list of several books that address communications topics and were written for engineers. These are all available from the Concordia Library so if you’re a student at Concordia they’ll be easy to find. I’m also providing links to find the books on the Worldcat site in case you happen to be interested in any of them and are not a Concordia student.

Access this list from Zotero or RefWorks or read on.

Oral communication excellence for engineers and scientists: based on executive input

By Judith Shaul Norback
Electronic resource (read it online) or find it with WorldCat

Description quoted from the book

“Engineering students and practicing engineers generally cannot give stellar presentations or communicate flawlessly by phone, in meetings, and in teams. They have little notion about which medium (in-person, voicemail, E-mail, IM, texting) is most effective in particular situations. And students and professionals are not aware of how to use oral communication to network on the job” This book aims at helping people solve these problems though practical advice, examples, and exercises.

Engineering your writing success: how engineers can master effective on-the-job communication skills

By James E. Vincler & Nancy Horlick Vincler
Print resource (pick it up at the library) or find it with WorldCat

Description quoted from the publisher

“You’ll never dread a writing project again when you learn to use the step-by-step approach given in Engineering Your Writing Success. This book shows you the nuts and bolts of starting and finishing all your writing projects–reports, proposals, memos, letters, data sheets, and procedures. Learn to design your message to reach your reader, choosing the right words every time. Don’t let poor writing skills hold back your career–this book can help!”

How to Communicate in Business

By David Silk
Electronic resource (read it online) or find it with WorldCat

Description quoted from the book

“This book aims to help engineers to communicate effectively with non-engineers, in the business context. It will also be useful to people from other technical or numerate backgrounds. It will help you to consider the various methods of communication used in business, and consciously develop your own skills. The approach is practical, although built upon some simple ideas of what we mean by communication, and its role in the business enterprise. Major chapters deal with spoken communication, written communication, business presentations and business meetings. They cover the main communication skills that an engineer is likely to need, both in a professional capacity and in a management or administrative capacity. Cross-cultural and international aspects are considered.”

What every engineer should know about business communication

By John X. Wang
Print resource (pick it up at the library) or find it with WorldCat

Description

This is part of a collection of primers on topics that engineers should know for the practical workplace. This book addresses how to make presentations and reduce your fear of presenting. It also addresses how to improve writing skills, how to write for business impact, developing listening and interactive communication skills, preparing engineering reports, and more. Check out the other primers for related topics in this style.

Business communication essentials

By Courtland L. Bovée, John V. Thill, Jean A. Scribner
Print resource (pick it up at the library) or find it with WorldCat

Description

This book covers topics such as understanding business communication in today’s workplace, mastering team skills and interpersonal communication, job interviews, career development guidance, and developing reports.

Power Through Presentations: Tips and Tricks to Build a Better Slide Deck

By Andy Balser
Print resource (pick it up at the library) or find it with WorldCat

Description quoted from the publisher

“Tackling a challenge faced by millions of business professionals every day, this handy guide shows how to create effective, visually appealing PowerPoint slides… It addresses common user concerns, such as turning facts and data into compelling visual images, generating concise project updates, creating presentation decks to be emailed or reviewed over the phone, and finding useful PowerPoint examples with minimal research.”

 

Access this list from Zotero or RefWorks

Document Your Search Strategy with this Template

While assisting students with their research, I often use a template I made to keep track of key concepts, synonyms, and to organize search strategies. Since it’s a good practice to record search strategies, I thought I’d make it easy for other people to get the template. It includes space to document the databases, journals, or other resources that you use as well as queries, dates, etc.

Download the spreadsheet template from the following links. Copy, modify, and re-use it as you need.

Open document format (.ods)
Search strategy template & simplified version

Microsoft Excel format (.xlsx)
Search strategy templatesimplified version Continue reading “Document Your Search Strategy with this Template”