Thursday, August 30, 2007
After much perusal here I found something nice and simple that I could make use of: Google Hot Keys.
Download it to your computer. Call up Google in Firefox and do a search. A little box appears around the first record (up and down arrows move the box). Now a few cool things can happen:
* The extension automatically checks the document and lets you know if it is no longer available on the web. If one of the words you searched for is no longer on the page, the program shows the word in red with a strikethrough.
* Hit the letter P and the screen splits, showing you a preview of the webpage you are currently considering.
* All the words you searched for are highlighted in yellow on the page. My one suggested improvement would be making that optional on any given page, because some become mostly yellow.
Pretty slick and easy. Here is an illustrated explanation.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Whoa... bad moment here. I just went into this posting to correct a typo and the whole thing vanished. So, I'm restoring the whole thing from memory. Wish me luck...
I just heard an interview with Eric Larson, the author of Thunderstruck, which is in part about Dr. Crippen, the Edwardian murderer. He thought he was making his escape across the Atlantic via steamship but the entire world was following his weeklong flight through that new invention, "wireless," aka radio. Larson said someone described the escapade as "the first reality TV show, without the TV."
Which got me thinking: can you have Learning 2.0 without computers?
Today I received an announcement of an Unconference on the subject of greening your library. At first I thought an Unconference was a web-based event but this page enlightened me. If I understand it correctly -- if someone knows more than me, jump in -- at an Unconference people with one interest in common get together at a given place and time and confer.
That's it. No themes, no agenda, no appointed speakers and leaders. People write down on big pages the meetings they would like to lead or attend -- and everyone is encouraged to present something, or help present -- and a schedule is shaped up. One participant called it "a live action Wikipedia."
Dave Winer, who popularized it, said his enlightenment began with what he called the Fundamental Law of Conventional Conferences: "The sum of the expertise of the people in the audience is greater than the sum of expertise of the people on stage." That reminded me of the best conference experience I ever had, when the highly-motivated audience politely took over from the panelists, who were starting at way too elementary a level. By the end of the hour we had all learned something about the subject that no one in the room had known when we started. Think about that. A hundred strangers actually made knowledge together.
Back to the Unconference. It apparently started in the computer world (surprise!). This is a video from a Barcamp of software designers in San Francisco. (For some reason Blogger won't let me embed it... I could yesterday!) If you aren't interested in watching the whole thing at least jump to 2:50 and listen to a participant read what appears to be a manifesto created by the attendees (uh, bad language warning). Listen to the passion in the words and in his voice. Somebody was moved by this event. ("If you bring people together for any purpose you are in politics." - Pete Seeger)
Also, here is a video about an Unconference held by librarians in Australia.
The downside? I'm trying to imagine asking the university for funding to attend an Unconference in Virginia. What subjects will be covered? Beats me. Will you be presenting? If the other attendees feel like hearing me. And uh, how much state money do you want for this?
For once the weather gods of Bellingham decided to play nice. The sky was clear and the weather was cool but dry.
Watching through binoculars I couldn't help but wonder: when did someone first see an event like this and, instead of thinking some cosmic catastrophe was taking place, think: huh! That looks like a round shadow on the moon. And the sun is behind us, so maybe it's the earth's shadow?
I know the classical Greeks had it figured out, but I doubt that they were the first. How many centuries ago did somebody first solve the puzzle?
And on that profound note I attempted to rediscover my bed.
Monday, August 27, 2007
Well, of course, I was writing about something else when I wrote that. I have tried LibX and Zotero and my socks remain firmly in place. To be fair, I won't know whether Zotero is useful to me until I have a bibliography or similar project to do. And I suppose to make it really helpful I should have it on all my computers, which means loading Firefox on two machines. I dunno whether I want to do that.
Friday, August 24, 2007
But yesterday I was talking to a friend who is part of an organization which brings people from all over the county to Bellingham for meetings on a regular basis. A number of the travelers are interested in carpooling but the logistics haven't been solved.
"If only there was an easy way to put all the member's addresses on a map," said my friend.
"Hold it," I said. "You need a mashup."
"It's when you combine data from two different computer applications. Pulling addresses from, say, an Excel database and slapping them into a Google map has to be one of the classics. I don't know how to do it, but somebody does."
I admit I felt a bit like the Pointy-Haired Boss in Dilbert who once said, approximately "I begin by assuming that anything I don't know understand is easy to do."
But this morning I did a little digging on the web and promptly came up with Batchgeocode which holds your hand right through the process. You can create a map as quickly as you can type in the addresses or paste them from Excel. I'm sure there are other services that can do it as well, but I'm happy with one.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
One blog I check regularly is Millard Fillmore's bathtub, which is mainly concerned with teaching American history. However, today I found a link to this wonderful animation of Tom Lehrer's song setting the Periodic Table to Gilbert and Sullivan. Amazing.
Monday, August 20, 2007
There's an interesting report at InsidePolitics.org on the status of E-Gov at the federal and state levels. Here are some highlights.
* Eighty-six percent of state and federal sites have services that are fully executable online, compared to 77 percent last year.
* One percent of government sites are accessible through personal digital assistants, pagers, or mobile phones, the same as last year.
* Twenty-two percent of sites offered some type of foreign language translation, down from 30 percent last year.
* Fifty-six percent of government websites are written at the 12th grade reading level, which is much higher than that of the average American.
* Seventeen percent of sites have user fees, up from 12 percent the past year.
* Seven states have a "Meth" watch.
* Five states offer live chat/help with a professional.
* Two states let you receive AMBER alerts to a wireless device.
* Georgia tells you where the lowest gas prices are in the state.
It seems to me that there are a lot of hidden assumptions in the report; not every government agency's subjects might be appropriate for podcasts, or whatever. But some interesting trends...
Friday, August 17, 2007
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
One of the first posts I made on this blog was about seeing the Carolina Chocolate Drops in Port Townsend at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes. Turns out someone was there with a camera. This is "Viper Mad," one of three videos from their performance that day. When the camera pans to the right it stops about a foot short of showing me in the audience; lucky for you, I guess.
Rhiannon Giddens (the female Drop) said their lawyer hates these amateur recordings showing up on the Web, but the band loves it. I'm sure it brings in a ton of new fans. If this performance doesn't knock your socks off your socks are made of stronger stuff than mine. Which may not make much sense but, as John Diamond said, "Desperate times call for desperate analogies."
Monday, August 13, 2007
I went back to the Web 2.0 Awards and this time I noticed an old friend: Pandora. Pandora.com is a free website that has already cost me money.
When you go to Pandora it asks you to name a musician or two. Then, based on your choices, it starts playing songs that it thinks you might like. For each song you can say you don't like it (the song is instantly replaced and never comes back) or that you do like it. So you "teach" the program what to play. And you can have up to 99 different stations, for all your different moods and whims.
The goal is to introduce you to music you don't know, and that's when the service becomes expensive. As soon as I heard one song from Micah Blue Smaldone, for example, I went looking for his albums, and got out the old credit card. If you like acoustic blues, Some Sweet Day may make you very happy.
Friday, August 10, 2007
It turns out to be a place to create social networks. Some of them are fascinating simply because I don't know what they are about, and want it to stay that way. A Chewit page. A page for Penturners. Even a page for Library 2.0. (The snake bites down on its tail...)
There was even a page I had heard of but never looked at: Crimespace. This is supposed to be the busiest mystery fiction zone on the web and it certainly seems to be. My favorite part was a thread in which an author, struggling with the best expletive to use in a scene, was polling the readers as to what they would say if a severed head rolled to their feet.
The best answer was "Not again!"
You can all be grateful now that I didn't illustrate this blog entry.
Both talked about what you need to consider when thinking about offering a new service. What sticks in my head is Crawford's comment that a lot of virtual programs are "light-weight," by which he didn't mean shallow, but that they were not burdensome. If it's cheap and not labor-intensive, don't debate it, try it. If it doesn't work, toss it out and try something else.
I was reminded of this by an article in the August issue of Editor and Publisher. Joe Strupp, the author, asked newspapers the biggest mistakes they had made in creating web features. There were some doozies.
The problem librarians are most likely to sympathize with is creating an elaborate site that nobody wants to visit. Even the New York Times had that problem with a real estate blog.
The San Francisco Chronicle probably wished for a lack of visitors after fans of two rival football teams used the newspaper's comment space to plan a street fight.
But my favorite was The Denver Post's decision to automatically refresh their webpage every ten minutes, because people want the newest news, right? Wrong, if you happen to do the crossword puzzle on the web and find your work erased every ten minutes.
One reason libraries hesitate to try jumping into the new media is the fear of making mistakes. Hell, if the New York Times screws up, you know that we will too. Deciding that that is okay is the first step forward.
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
As part of our library-wide summer web luau I was told to try Google Documents. So last night I uploaded a story to Google Documents.
Today I downloaded it onto my laptop. It lost some formatting, but nothing I can't easily put back. And having an extra copy of my files somewhere is always a good idea. I'll use it more.
More than 40 states are already listed. Pretty neat.
Saturday, August 4, 2007
I recently wrote down all the computer passwords I have to keep track of. (Note to any systems people who are about to blow a gasket... I didn't LITERALLY write them down. Just mnemonic devices. For example, for my Yahoo account I wrote FI C. Knock yourselves out, hackers.)
But the point is I have passwords for at least 18 different accounts, including newspapers, databases, and various services I have signed up for because of the library's summer project (Delicious, Flickr, Myspace, etc.) This doesn't include university accounts that I still have but no longer need because of a recent change in my job.
Not all of these systems want an account name in the same form, so even if I were to use the same password for many, I have to keep track of different combinations. I count 12 different sets of account/passwords.
I'm going to try to simplify this next week and I'll report back as to whether i have any luck. Don't hold your breath.
This is of special interest to me because I have been a government information librarian for 30 years. Since my university is a federal depository we receive government publications "for free." (The quotation marks are intended to indicate that Uncle Sam is not paying my salary, the cost of the indexes, the price of shelves, etc.)
Because we are not paying directly for federal documents it is always tempting to select series "just in case," as opposed to because of clear need. This is exacerbated by the fact that the government sends us less material every year (mostly because they are putting stuff on the web, which is a great thing...as long they keep it up there. Librarians get VERY NERVOUS when the only copy of something is on the web. And we have our reasons).
I am out in the stacks weeding every day, torn between the desire to trim the fat and the urge to keep anything not obviously useless (and even then you know darned well that someone is bound to ask for that EPA coloring book the day after you throw it out).
I think Anderson is right, though. We have to get away from thinking like an archive unless we really are a collection-of-last-resort. But I hope those archives that do exist, paper or electronic, are more reliable than some other parts of our national infrastructure.