Category Archives: Blog

using IFTTT to help find awesome rental housing

Finding good rental housing in Vancouver is hard. A recent study showed that Vancouver is the second most expensive housing market  in the world. Rent is quite expensive and decent apartments or rental houses get snapped up pretty quickly. A dear friend is looking for a new place to move as their landlord has sold the house they’ve been living in. It’s a stressful situation.

Elaine Miller had a bright idea on using IFTTT to keep tabs on a specific search on Craigslist’s Apartments/Housing for Rent boards and drop the results into a Google Drive spreadsheet.

Here’s how you would do this.

  1. Create an account on
  2. Figure out your Craigslist search. This example is for a 2 bedroom that is less than $1600/month.
  3. Use this IFTTT recipe: searching for what? a Craigslist spreadsheet. A recipe is a simple program that says if a certain condition is met, then do something.
  4. You will be prompted to activate the Craigslist and Google Drive channels. A channel is IFTTT speak for an input or output.Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 8.31.04 PM
  5. Copy/Paste the URL from your Craigslist search. For this example it is
  6. Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 8.31.43 PMGive your spreadsheet a useful name. For this example I’m calling it “2 bedroom $1600″.  Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 8.32.15 PM
  7. Click on the big blue “Use Recipe” button at the bottom of the page.
  8. In Google Drive you’ll see a folder for IFTTT. The spreadsheet 2 bedroom $1600 will be in this folder. New results for your search will show up as a row in the spreadsheet. You can share this spreadsheet with other people, thereby saving your housemate’s time. You also save time (and perhaps the added anxiety) repeating the same search.

if this, then that

While sitting around with a few friends I was joking I’d like a way to automate writing Facebook birthday messages on my friend’s walls. (Yes, I realize this completely misses the point of a thoughtful or witty comment to mark one’s passage around the sun.) As a joke I periodically wrote “happy birthday xo” on one friend’s wall. I got a bit of a chuckle as other people followed suit on her un-birthday.

I heard about IFTTT (IF This Then That), a web app to automate various things, about 6 months ago. Most of the existing recipes didn’t seem that useful to me. The idea interested me, but I didn’t know how to make it useful for my life.

Tivoli radio

I’ve wanted a Tivoli radio for awhile, but wasn’t willing to pay $250 for one. Periodically I’ve looked on Craigslist, but they aren’t many postings. I used IFTTT I setup a recipe to text me if one was posted on Craigslist Vancouver. Within a week I found one for $70. It has a small scratch, but I’m okay with that. I’ve also setup recipes to email me when other things I’m looking for are posted on Craigslist.

My first Sugru project

I’ve wanted to get some Sugru since I first heard about it, but didn’t really have a use for it. Sugru is a self setting rubber that comes in different colours and is still flexible after it cures.

I moved in January into a smaller apartment. The first thing you saw when you came in the front door was the water heater that is hidden behind some painted wood slats. I decided to put my cleaning and laundry supplies here but didn’t want to see them. I got a fabric shower curtain from a discount linens shop in Vancouver, cut and sewed it into a long panel. I used Sugru to attach magnets to the curtain and the wall so that it would click closed and always hang nicely.

I’m pretty happy with this, though if I were to do it again I would be more careful about applying the Sugru to the fabric, perhaps even taping the area off so the circle was cleaner and less lumpy. I would have also used soapy water to make the finished surface smooth.

I’ve also used Sugru to fix the handle on my crock pot and to fix a few fraying phone cords.

vegetarian restaurants in Vancouver (compiled for an American I met in New Zealand who now lives in Australia)

delicious deep fried cauliflower from Nuba

Someone I worked with briefly is visiting Vancouver. She asked for vegetarian restaurant  recommendations. I asked my friends on Facebook, then checked their suggestions on Urban Spoon. Finally I filtered out some places I don’t like. Lots of people seemed to find the list useful, so I’m posting it here too.

I would recommend The Acorn, or Grub if you want to go out for a really nice meal with friends who are not veg.

  • The Acorn (3995 Main Street) , gets really good reviews from friends, Urbanspoon 82%
  • Heirloom Vegetarian (1509 West 12th) , also gets great reviews from friends, Urbanspoon 70%
  • Grub (4328 Main Street) not strictly vegetarian, but they always have a vegetarian/vegan options that are lovely. There’s also a sweet patio in the back, and they make boozy punch, which is nice. Urbanspoon 91%

Moderately priced
Nuba is super delicious and there’s a few of them””fresh and tasty Lebanese food.

  • Nuba (4 locations) , I love Nuba! They make fresh, delicious and reasonably priced Lebanese food. My ex-gf (who is Australian) still complains that you can’t get Lebanese Pizza in Canada. You can’t. But you can get a really kickass felafal or fatoush. Urbanspoon 90%
  • The Naam (2724 West 4th Ave) Some people recommended this. I say ‘meh’, though sometimes you are craving some potato wedges with miso gravy and a salad with grated beets in it. I wouldn’t go out of your way to go here. Though it’s open 24 hours, so it’s got that going for it. Urbanspoon 75%
  • Po Kong (1334 Kingsway) fake meat! Gluten! Vegetarian Chinese food. Urbanspoon 85%
  • The Parker (237 Union Street) haven’t been here but some folks recommended it. It’s in Chinatown and has “vegan friendly, romantic, late night, outdoor dining and farm-to-table” tags on UrbanSpoon (77%). I’m not sure about you, but for me these tags conjure up an experience I might enjoy (or absolutely loathe) depending on my mood/budget/company.
  • Chau Veggie Express (5052 Victoria Drive between 34th and 35th) , vegetarian and vegan Vietnamese food. I haven’t been here before but I will go. Urbanspoon 96% (!!!)
  • Planet Veg (1941 Cornwall Ave) tasty wraps and stuff, apparently. If you go to Kits beach or the Museum of Vancouver or Planatarium (or the Archive, though I don’t know why you would do that) it’s nearby. Urbanspoon 83%
  • Gorilla Food (436 Richards) Downtown! Raw food! Urbanspoon 86%
  • Bandidas Taqueria (2781 Commercial Drive) , tasty! Cute staff! Lots of bikes! Though if you are from Texas (you probably have pretty picky tastes in tacos and might want to skip Mexican food in Canada) Urbanspoon 83%
  • Perch (337 East Hastings) I think they also make good gluten free pizza. Urbanspoon 86%
  • 3G Vegetarian Restaurant (3424 Cambie Street) lots of tasty fake meat, including “chicken wings”. Nom. Urbanspoon 86%
  • Fassil Ethopian (Fraser and Broadway) – has a great veggie combo. Friend’s favourite Ethopian restaurant. Urbanspoon 91%
  • Axum Ethopian (1279 East Hastings) Urbanspoon 89%
  • East is East (a couple of locations) tasty food but kinda pricey. It always seems to be full of white hippies. I think people who are not white hippies (or don’t live in the neighbourhood) go elsewhere for Indian food. Urbanspoon 88%

Don’t bother going to

  • Foundation , bad service from cranky hipsters, expensive for what it is
  • Wallflower , meh. Consensus that the both food and service have gone downhill.

BCLA Conference – Content Licensing: Negotiating the Shadows

I was asked to be the librarian on this panel at the BCLA conference that was moderated by Ken Roberts. The other  panellists  were Roland Lorimer (Director of the Publishing programs and the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing at SFU), Michael Vonn (lawyer and has been the Policy Director of the  BC Civil Liberties Association) and Kevin Williams (President, Publisher and majority partner of Talonbooks).

For the most part we were in agreement, which  surprised  me. Towards the end I realized that I was sitting between a former Access Copyright board member (Roland) and a current Access Copyright board member (Kevin). Things got a little livelier then with some librarians from the audience challenging Roland and Kevin’s ideas on what fair and  reasonable  copyright fees look like.

Here’s my opening statement.

The current business model for ebooks sucks for libraries and library users. Libraries need to work with authors, and perhaps publishers to make a new model. Playing by the current rules does not serve our users and it doesn’t serve libraries.

Electronic content in libraries is such a broad issue. Fiction ebooks in public libraries is a completely different world from open textbooks in post secondary institutions. I’m much more familiar with the post secondary context.

So, I haven’t tried to access an ebook or audiobook through the public library for a couple of years. I was wondering if the experience was still as bad as that cartoon “Why DRM doesn’t work, or how to download an audiobook from the Cleveland Public Library“.

22 frustrating steps for downloading an ebook through the Cleveland Public Library using Overdrive: find book you're looking for, add book to cart, login and check out your book, get a download link, boot up Windows, download proprietary software, install software, get cryptic error, Google your problem, learn you need an updated security certificate, open Windows Media Player, download new security certificate, learn that you need to update Windows Media Player, install update, reboot Windows, start up Overdrive Media Player, get another cryptic error message, insert profanity, give up on stupid library, open bittorrent site, click download, enjoy audiobook

As a librarian the “give up on stupid library” concerns and worries me the most.

I wondered if things have improved. Last week I tried to download an ebook version of John Grisham’s The Rackateers through my library.

These were the steps:

  • go to library website
  • figure out which ebook link to click on
  • search for Rackateers, my search turns up nothing. realize i’ve spelled it incorrectly, though the interface doesn’t give me any suggestions on how to correctly spell it.
  • see that there are 0 copies available, and that there are 6 patron holds, Initially I made a mistake and went through the wrong version of Overdrive and saw that there were 500 people waiting in the province.
  • decide to queue up to wait and click the “place a hold” button
  • hit the authenticatication screen, go looking for my library card because there’s no way i remember the 13 digit library barcode number
  • place a hold
  • open bittorrent site
  • click download
  • enjoy audiobook

I had the .mobi and .epub formats in less than a minute. In 3 years the number have steps has decreased a bunch, but ultimately the outcome has not changed. I wasn’t able to get what I wanted from my library but I was able to bittorrent it quickly and easily.

The theme for this year’s conference is “Are we there yet?” The answer is “no, no we are not.”

I don’t think any of this is new information for people in this room. We all know that the Overdrive experience is sub-optimal and yet most of us feel stuck in the middle. Friends who work in public libraries have said it’s awkward to try and explain that it’s not the library that sucks, but it’s a combination of the vendor and the publishers that are making this hard. (This excuse doesn’t matter to most of our patrons.) Playing by the existing rules is an  endorsement.

Let me make one thing clear: the solutions we come up with need to compensate content creators. When I go to work I expect to get paid, and I expect the same for my friends who are authors. I know that John Grisham will not get paid for the ebooks I downloaded. This is what we are losing out on by not being more proactive and creative in helping shape the business models around ebooks.

When he was on sabbatical the awesome Gordon Coleman from BC ELN was curious about the availability of best sellers on download sites. He put his expert “search and find” skills in his back pocket and Googled using a naive search persona. Gordon was able to quickly find 49/50 of Amazon’s best sellers.

He observed that much of unauthorized copying of ebooks seemed to be driven by love of books and desire to communicate, share and recommend. For example, the book review blogs which link to unauthorized copies, and also anonymous people who select  favourite  titles to build themed collections which are then available as single downloads: “The best 50 business books of 2010″ or “The complete works of Terry Pratchett”.

Gordon wrote in an email to me:

I thought about the root of what drove it”¦a love of books, a desire to share that love, a desire to pick and choose and recommend”¦and I thought: who else possesses these traits? Oh yes, LIBRARIANS. In fact file sharing is motivated by many of the same things that motivate us; in other words, the pirates ARE librarians without the MLIS. In a way they’re continuing the true spirit of what we do, but outside the walls of the library and not encumbered by any of the institutional crap and licence agreements we’ve agreed to.

I think my intro time is up, but as this conversation continues I’d like to share some ideas on other business models for ebooks that don’t suck.


I think the Humble Bundle model could be viable for queer/LGBT authors publishing with  independent  publishers. I hope to write a post soon outlining some initial thoughts about what I think this could look like.

egcon2013: open library ecosystem

egcon2013 website header image by Jon Whipple
egcon2013 design work by Jon Whipple

I just finished chairing the organizing committee for the International Evergreen conference in Vancouver. It’s been more than a year of planning and a labour of love. From our own evaluation and from participant feedback we put on a really excellent conference. Now that I’m caught up on sleep here’s some of my thoughts.

Why this was an awesome  organizing  experience  for me

  • great community – the Evergreen community is awesome. People are kind, hardworking and have a DIY get ‘er done kinda attitude. I don’t write code, so can’t make that kind of contribution to the project, but I am good at event planning. While I’m sure I could organize an event for a group of people I didn’t know, it’s easier and more fulfilling to do this for a community of people I care deeply about.  One of my first jobs out of library school was doing training and support for the Sitka Evergreen installation in BC. I learned a lot and this experience helped me get interesting library technology jobs. I feel grateful for the skills I built and to the people who mentored me. On a personal level it feels good to be able to contribute something back to the Evergreen community.
  • great  organizing  team – This was the second conference that we’ve organized together. I have a lot of respect and admiration for these folks: Anita Cocchia (BCELN),  Caroline Daniels (KPU),  Mark Ellis (RPL),  Mark Jordan (SFU),  Paul Joseph (UBC)  and Shirley Lew (VCC). While Ben Hyman (BC Libraries Coop) wasn’t on the organizing committee he did a stellar job of communicating with and buffering us from the Evergreen Oversight Board and the Software Freedom Conservancy. We all work hard and trust each other. I’ve learned a bunch of soft and hard skills from this group. I enjoyed our group dynamic and loved working together. We were comfortable asking questions and challenging each other. There were a bunch of times i felt like, as a group, we came up with a way better decision than any one of us as individuals would have.

Things that didn’t cost anything and added value

  • We had an amazing team of volunteers who did live note taking as well as helping out stream the technical track. These folks were super enthusiastic and committed. The live notes are written documentation of the conference that makes it easier for everyone to write reports afterwards. One of the participants said “The team of note-takers was awesome.  It let me focus on how any given session could affect my work, without worrying that I’d miss something important as I chased down random thoughts.”  For me they function as a quick summary of a video, and I’ll likely scan the notes of the sessions that I missed to figure out which videos I want to watch. Many thanks to  Kimberly Garmoe,  Eka Grguric,  Mary Jinglewski,  Jonathan Kift,  Jonathan Schatz, and  David Waddell.
  • No-host lunches were a great way to get people outside the building to see a  little  bit of Vancouver. They also were a way to create a structured  opportunity  to socialise in small groups. From an organizing perspective it wasn’t a lot of work. We created a map of places that are nearby the venue with tasty food  that can  accommodate  8 people, found locals who were willing to lead the groups, and put out signup sheets (7 people plus a leader). We made sure we identified places for vegetarians and gluten free folks. According to participant feedback the no-host lunches were a big hit. Also, we had a really tight budget, so this allowed us to provide something for lunch without actually having to pay for it. We did this for the Access conference, but didn’t organize it enough and it was a bit chaotic. With a bit more forethought this time things went much more smoothly.

Live note taking and no-host lunches are ideas that can be adapted to any kind of conference or event, not just an open source library software event.

This was the first time that the conference proceedings were streamed. It was expensive to pay for AV for the main track, but I think is important and should be a requirement of future conferences. There were a total of 183 people watching the live stream from the United States, Canada, Czech Republic, Japan, Mexico, Finland and the UK. As Mark, Shirley and Ben from the BC Library Coop were willing to figure out a DIY streaming solution for the tech track, we were able to also do this for next to no money. It was awesome to hear from someone watching in Mexico (a CS Masters student who is implementing Evergreen for two university libraries) via Twitter. Thank you to Sam Mills  for volunteering to edit the video from the main track and to Mark Jordan for getting it up on the Internet Archive.

this is a love letter

Photo credit: Danita Thewalkingcrime

I’m sad I wasn’t able to make it to code4lib this year in Chicago. Instead I tuned in via the Livestream and have rewatched a couple of talks several times. The presentations that have been had the biggest impact on me at code4lib and other conferences are the ones where I feel an emotional connection with the speaker or when I know the presenter is stretching out of their comfort zone to push against the edges of what’s possible. The speakers who resonate most deeply for me are ones who take an emotional risk and name their personal stake in their work or give me a glimpse of the complexity of who they are.

Bess Sadler’s talk titled Creating a Commons  moved me to tears at my desk. I love her values, intelligence and bravery. Her comments about community are spot on:

Hydra, in additional to being a digital  repository  solution, is a  community. In fact, increasinly this seems like our primary identity. What we are finding is the ability to collaborate on common solutions is more important than any single project. This gives us  resiliency  and room to experiment. I think having a community makes us feel safe enough to take risks. And sharing work frees up our time to innovate. By trusting in each other and cultivating in each other willingness to experiment. We get to try cool experiments like Fedora4lib.

Bess talked about how she ways that she has hacked code4lib. I love how she modeled behaviour for “receiving a bug report” from a colleague about the original title of her talk. I hope she posts the text of her talk soon, because she there were some excellent soundbites about libraries, software, our values, “hacker  epistemology” and concrete ideas on how to grow the code4lib community in a more inclusive way for the benefit of all. (Edit: Bess has posted the text of her talk.)

I’ve watched Mark Matienzo’s lightning talk a few times and it still gives me goosebumps. I thought I understood what he was saying, but now I’m not sure. Currently I’m lost down the rabbit hole of some awesome links (1, 2) that he shared about Tim Sherratt’s work, especially the real face of white Australians  project.

Mark’s post about his lightning talk is intellectually rich and has given me some big ideas to chew on. However, this is the most powerful part for me, where he makes the personal political:

Through depression and loss I have learned that keeping my emotions  private  was deleterous to my well-being. Making them public was a necessity, even to just a selected public. It also dawned on me that acknowledging emotion publicly could be a political act or bound with political expression, which I surprisingly discovered as also being present in some of Ann Cvetkovich’s more recent work. Expressing emotion itself could also, in some cases, become an expression or assertion of power. The hardest part of this, at least, was finding my voice.

Thank you Bess and Mark for talking about emotion at the most technical library conference out there. It was a brave, inspring and radical thing to do. The work that folks in the code4lib community is so awesome, but how we choose to do it is also awesome. Some days at work I lose hope that we will be able to accomplish our lofty goals. The work that people in the code4lib community do, the ways that we’re working to be more inclusive community, and the things that we accomplish when we work together give me hope.

Thank you code4lib. I love you folks so much.


Big ideas for libraries in communities

I was super excited and completely terrified to be shortlisted to pitch my idea for what digitization in public libraries could look like. Public speaking is scary for me, and getting up in front of a room of people to present one of my ideas is even more scary. I haven’t really worked with digital collections, so it feels quite  presumptuous  to pitch my ideas about how I think this could be done to people who actually work in digital collections.

It was also  exhilarating. Thanks Baharak Yousefi, SFU Surrey Library, for doing a great job organizing this event. I’ve been  chatting  with colleagues about how to get beyond the operational business of work and make time to think about why libraries matter and think about the kinds of collections and services libraries need to develop to be useful and relevant.

The audience was invited to leave comments, offer critiques, or suggestions on slips of paper for the presenters. Two of the comments that I delighted me were “libraries are memory institutions” and “love the idea of preserving collective memories”.

I’m so thrilled to have the chance to turn my pitch into a funding proposal for the Vancouver Foundation who announced that they will be funding two of the projects up to $10,000. Yahoo!

lesbrarian buttons

lesbrarian flag

Several years ago I decided I wanted to get a group of lesbrarians together for the Dyke March. The night before the Dyke March I used some paint from the dollar store on a sheet to make a Venn diagram illustrating the overlap between lesbian and librarian. That photo has gone around the internet a few times now, been included as an entry in Urban Dictionary, shown up in Questionable Content, an awesome webcomic. This year I wanted something different and Kathleen Jacques agreed to design something new.

I picked up the buttons for this year’s Vancouver Dyke March the other night and I love them. Designers like her are amazing–the final design was better than anything I could’ve articulated.

Here’s some of her explanation about the design choices she made:

What do you think of this Lesbrarians family? It struck me that, if there are going to be multiples for buttons (and potential other uses), it’d be cool to have versions with splashes of solid color so that they kind of do a rainbow as a set. I ended up with five: three shushers and two book-lurkers. My general idea is that it’s a family with a unified visual identity, but with flexibility within it. I think I like the black lineart/color background better than the solid colored ones…what do you think?

My rationale for the font goes like so:

  1. the condensed narrowness lets the word be a little bigger in small spaces, yet it’s still easy to read
  2. the ALLCAPS makes a punchy rectangular form that’s easy to fit and stack and curve in various ways
  3. the slab serif is kind of reminiscent of old typewriter or book text, but the font itself is a contemporary design (and an independent one that’s available for free, which is cool)
butchy book peeper

curly haired profile shusher with book

green two-tone hair profile shusher

blue shushy McBunheadhalf shaved baby dyke book peeper

lesbrarian text button

I was super happy with Chris Bentzen‘s button making. He was fast, inexpensive and they look great. Also, he lives in my neighbourhood so it was really convenient for me.

I’ll be selling buttons for $1 each to recouperate  the money in paying for the design and the cost of getting the buttons made. At some point I’ll make an online store and also have tshirts and bookbags, but if you want some now  get in touch.

Happy Pride!

lesbrarians vol. 3

lesbrarian, complete with bun, winking over an open book

I’m super excited about the new lesbrarian logo that Kathleen Jacques has been working on. This isn’t the final one, but it’ll be close. I hope to have buttons made in time for the Vancouver Dyke March.

If you’re a queer lady working in libraries, archives or just a fangirl, please consider this your invitation to join us. Feel free to dress up as the stereotype or not. I’ll be there at 11am, though the march doesn’t leave McSpadden Park until noon. We’ll have lesbrarian approved booklists to give out to people. If you have other ideas, please let me know. (I’ve had fantasies about a book cart drill team, but the logistics of acquiring the book trucks and returning them seem like too much of a pain during the busy Pride weekend.)

RSVP on Facebook, or just show up. Questions? Comments? Concerns? Get in touch.