Archive for April, 2012

Community Spotlight: Avram Lyon

His Zotero username “ajlyon” will sound familiar to anyone who has visited our support forums seeking assistance. Zotero interviews Avram Lyon and learns what’s in store for the creator of Zandy, the first Android app for Zotero.

Name and OccupationAvram Lyon

Avram Lyon, Ph.D. student in Slavic Languages and Literatures, UCLA.

How long have you been using Zotero?

I’ve been using Zotero since my first week of grad school, in the fall of 2008. I happened upon it myself when I was looking for something less ridiculous than formatting an annotated bibliography by hand for my graduate proseminar.

What got you interested in developing for Zotero?

I got into the habit of keeping an eye on the support forums, and one day I ran into some problems people were having with one of the site translators– I don’t remember which one it was. I had some idea that the translators were standalone pieces of JavaScript code– so I looked into it, and found out that the fix was just a little one-line change. That was in late 2009 or early 2010. I quickly realized that the vast majority of the translator issues were of that sort, and I started fixing them as they came up. Over time, I learned more about how the translation system works, and started writing new translators from scratch, and eventually contributing to other parts of the project.

What development activities have you done so far for Zotero?

My main work has always been with site translators— they’re really what makes Zotero so strikingly efficient a research environment, so I’ve done everything from troubleshooting to maintenance to authoring of new translators.

This has been a very interesting area in the last several months– Simon [Kornblith] has managed to make it possible for the existing 300-odd translators to run without Firefox or even Zotero standalone, by making them run inside the Chrome and Safari extensions and save to the Zotero server directly.

The other great improvement has been the introduction of a radically new and much simpler shorthand for writing translators, Erik Hetzner’s translator framework. This is now built in to the translator authoring tool Scaffold, and it makes it easy for casual coders to add support for their favorite sites. I’ve worked a lot on making the framework and Scaffold useful for the average power user– and we’re seeing a lot of new translator contributions these days.

I worked with Frank [Bennett] on testing out the multilingual version of Zotero, which was profiled on this blog several months ago, and I’m still using it for my everyday research. I’m trying hard to make sure that this branch doesn’t fall by the wayside, since I believe it’s an extremely promising development that is vital for the work of almost all humanities scholars, and almost the entire non-Anglophone world.

Anything cool planned for the future?

Since much of my work this year has been in archives and in libraries without electronic catalogs, I’m trying to find ways to make research more efficient and effective in such environments– so I’m actively looking for ways to integrate image capture and management with Zotero’s research organization. I still haven’t found a good workflow for archival and library photography, but the recent developments in libraries that provide access to local Zotero data (Gnotero’s pygnotero library) and the Zotero server API (pyzotero) make me hopeful that I’ll manage to stitch something together in the near future.

I’d like to end by saying that this has been an incredibly exciting time to work with the Zotero project. The work going on at Zotero central, spearheaded by Dan, Simon and Faolan, continues to churn out reliable and increasingly useful software, but more interesting is the growing network of people who are building on this reliable and time-tested core to build new tools. The potential of the server API is only beginning to be realized– and I look forward to working with new projects and new people.

Zotero Director Visits Coding Facilities in USA

Following a string of critical reports about its software development practices in the United States, Zotero Director Sean Takats recently visited the project’s North American facilities. He traveled to several key sites of Zotero production last week.

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, Senior Developer Simon Kornblith led Takats on a tour of his laboratory, home of Zotero’s standalone client development. “Although my scientific research dabbles in the creation of unspeakable monstrosities, my work on Zotero is purely humanitarian,” Kornblith asserted with a maniacal laugh. In Brooklyn, New York, Takats verified that Lead Developer Dan Stillman never labors for more than 168 hours per week. “I’m required to answer 3,000 forum posts per shift,” Stillman explained, admitting that the repetitive process can be physically and mentally draining. “Sometimes I think about resting.” The facilities tour concluded in Fairfax, Virginia, where Faolan Cheslack-Postava leads Zotero’s web application development. Referring to notes scribbled on the back of his hand, Cheslack-Postava stated, “It’s a common misconception that every formatted citation or API request involves thousands of tiny fingers operating behind the scenes.” After nervously glancing at Takats, he continued, “No one can substantiate beyond a reasonable doubt that Zotero has employed a single minor since 2006.” In promotional materials the Zotero project claims that citations are generated by gigantic but friendly Japanese robots.

At each site, Takats donned an adorable yellow plastic cap and raincoat to pose for photographers.

Last month Trevor Owens retracted “The Anguish and the Elation of Dan Cohen,” a soapbox rant about poor Zotero working conditions that he had periodically shouted at passersby in the bowels of Washington D.C.’s Union Station. It was nothing but a pack of damn lies, say sources. Former Zotero Director Cohen, who abandoned the project in 2010 vowing to “focus on the synergy between cash and fun,” had no comment.

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