Not All Bits is Moving!

I’m pickin’ up my Bits and taking them elsewhere!

Not that I have anything against WordPress.com, which should be evident when you visit the new site which is a self-hosted WordPress installation. See, recently, I’ve been working on a website for our Friends of the Library group. As we worked on updating their site from a static HTML set up to a dynamic website, we talked about actually taking all of the staff’s websites and housing them under one roof. So the couple of story time blogs that my co-workers have, a volunteer site hosted in another location, and Not All Bits are going to have happy new homes in a place of our own making!

I can’t turn that down, because that sounds awesome.

So, while I’m still doing some updating, re-themeing, and stuff — you can certainly dig on the new site and expect to see the same stuff there that you did here.

But wait, there’s more!

Since Not All Bits will be moving to a site with a more local focus around my town, my library, and our community, you’ll start seeing new articles geared toward those things! I’ll be posting some of the questions we get regarding downloads, books, and the like and answering them. (I’ll be anonymizing the original poster’s information, of course.) I’ll talk more about the things going on in my library and in my town. In other words, there’s just going to be more good stuff and, if you like it here, I really think you’ll like it there too.

Come see me!

 

Pictures from the Arizona Libraries Snapshot Day

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Yesterday, many libraries in Arizona took part in a Snapshot Day, capturing one day in the life of Arizona libraries. My library took part and we kept track of the kinds of things we did with and for our patrons, stuff like questions answered, items found, job assistance, computer help, and so on.

Needless to say, with a name like “Snapshot Day” we also took some pictures. So I snagged my camera and went around the library just shooting whatever caught my eye. When photographing people, I tried to remain a bit removed from them — not only to respect their privacy but also to get a candid shot of someone just using our library.

Anyway, I uploaded the images to my Flickr account into a set called Arizona Library Snapshot Day. Go check ‘em out if you have the interest!

PS: All the images in that set are copyright under a Creative Commons By-NC-SA License. See something you like? Feel free to use it.

Cyberpunk Librarian: Getting More at Work With Portable and Open Source Apps

I love my IT department.

Seriously, big shout outs to Gretchen, Johnny, Stephen, Greg, Nick, Tim, Terry, and the whole IT crew. They’re awesome geeks who walk that fine line between geekery and needing to explain how things work to totally non-techy librarians. Believe me, having to do that myself on occasion requires a good working knowledge of English and Nerd.

Thing is, IT can only do so much and they have a real job to do making sure things don’t go bazoo with our networks, computers, ILS, and all that happy stuff. Given that we are pretty much a Microsoft shop, we need to use things like Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player. I’m sure I could stick my head out there and see some of my Dear Readers nodding their heads in agreement. Internet Explorer has one big advantage over Firefox and Chrome in that it’s easy to maintain on an enterprise level. Why Mozilla and Google haven’t pulled their heads out of their dark places and released some kind of enterprise tool for their browsers is beyond me. Wanna overtake and/or kill IE? Make it easy for IT departments to update, maintain, and control your browser and you can watch IE burn.

But that’s not what this is about.

This is about how I, and probably you, need some real tools to do your job. At the very least, you need some better tools to make your job easier. Sure, you can use a brace and bit to drill a hole, but wouldn’t you rather use a cordless drill? Take the browser situation for example. I’m an information professional and IE just doesn’t cut it. I need a big boy browser that I can customize from hell to breakfast and make it easier to help my patrons with their informational needs. That’s why I use Chrome.

“But, Dan, you pink haired cyberbrarian — you just said you’re working in a Microsoft library. How did you get IT to install Chrome?” you might ask. (Let’s pretend you asked. Play along, it goes with the flow of this article.)

No librarian is complete without one.

Easy, I have a flash drive with Chrome on it, and a whole lot of other librarian goodness that makes my job easier, more fun, and keeps me working and entertained throughout the day. It amazes me how many librarian types don’t know about PortableApps, so that’s that I’m here to drop on you today.

PortableApps is a website that carries a bunch of different apps for a bunch of different tasks, but they all have one thing in common: You can install them all on a flash drive and take them with you. The upside of this is that you can get yourself some amazing, free and open source apps, install them on your flash drive, and then use those apps on any PC with a USB port. I keep a Sony flash drive around my neck most of the day and the only time it’s not around my neck is when it’s plugged in and getting used.

So here’s a set of apps that I recommend to help you get more done, enjoy your job, and generally make your life easier.

Browsers

As a librarian, I need a real browser. I prefer Chrome, others prefer Firefox, and no one wants Internet Explorer. Thankfully, PortableApps carries both Firefox and Chrome. Functionally, there is no difference between the app that you install on your flash drive and the browser you’ve installed on your computer at home. All the plugins, themes, and extensions work just fine. Recommending extensions for Chrome is a totally different article I’ll write later, but there are ways of using Chrome itself or extensions for Firefox to sync your bookmarks and settings from one computer to another. That way, wherever you go, that’s where your browser is and it looks the same everywhere.

CamStudio

Screen casting, the making of a video using your computer’s desktop as the “theatre,” is really catching on over the last couple of years. And why not? I can make a video showing patrons how to download stuff from the library’s digital collection. You could make a video showing staff how to create a tri-fold brochure in Publisher. It allows them to look over your shoulder without being in the same location, time, and vicinity as your shoulder.

Thing is, most screen casting programmes cost money, or have licensing fees, or at the very least require IT to install it on a given workstation.

Or you could just download CamStudio and take it with you wherever you go. Using CamStudio you can record a full screen or just part of a screen and snag a show of everything you do there. Then it saves it as an AVI file which you can share with others, send to YouTube, or whatever. While it’s not as full featured as some screen casting tools are, it works really well if you just want to show someone how to do something.

GIMP

Sooner or later, you need to edit a picture or graphic. If you’re stuck in standard installation hell, where the only image editor available to you is Paint, then you will dance and sing for a little programme called The GNU Image Manipulation Programme or The GIMP.

The GIMP is an open source photo and image editor much like Photoshop but without the hefty price tag. Personally, I’ve done everything from simple image creation of library ads for display on a big screen TV to outright artwork using nothing but The GIMP. It’s feature packed, does much of what Photoshop does, it’s free, and you can pop it on your flash drive.

Just as an example, here’s an ad for our library’s big screen TV display. 100% GIMP from start to finish and probably ten minutes of work. Try doing that in Paint.

Are you experienced?

XMPlay

I listen to music almost all day. The only time I don’t have tunes going is when I’m out on the front desk and even then, if it’s night, and it’s slow, and I can keep the volume down…. Well yeah there will be music.

Thing is, a lot of Internet radio stations use the PLS format to broadcast. PLS is short for PlayLiSt and it’s a way to point to a online server full of musical awesomeness by using a teeny-tiny file, maybe 350 bytes. It’s a very well known, widely accepted way to stream music over the Internet.

Naturally, Windows Media Player hasn’t the foggiest idea what to do with it unless you install an add-on which you probably can’t install since IT locked down the computers. (That is, after all, their job. So don’t blame them.)

Listening to Digitally Imported's Vocal Trance station.

No problem, get yourself a copy of XMPlay and let the music flow freely!

XMPlay is a very small, but well done, bit of software. It’ll play MP3 files and a whole lot more. Better yet, it handles streaming audio like a champ. What I usually do is use Chrome to download the PLS file and save that to a folder on the flash drive called Audio Streams. Then I pop a shortcut to XMPlay in that folder along with all the PLS files. Pick the station you want to listen to, drag and drop it on the shortcut icon, and you’re chair dancing!

In the dictionary under "recursive" it says "see recursive."

Zint

As any librarian can tell you, sometimes you just need a damn barcode. Zint can do that for you. Indeed it does barcodes in so many formats I think they made some of this stuff up.  (There’s really a barcode format called Aztec Runes? Who knew?)

You can use it to generate a lot of barcodes or just one. Then it’ll save them as PNG files for you to print or do whatever you need to do with them. While I don’t use Zint all the time for barcode creation, it really helps me out when I need it. Besides that, it makes QR codes too.

LightScreen

Just as you sometimes need a barcode, you need to do a quick screenshot. Maybe you’re sending a picture to IT so they can see that weird error you keep getting. Maybe you just need to send something to someone so they can see how you managed to find a buried file. Either way, we can all agree that the standard Windows Print Screen leaves a bit to be desired.

And that’s why you’ll love LightScreen. It’ll capture a full screen (nice), a given window (very nice) or an area that you draw around using your mouse (oh hell yes). See that picture of XMPlay above? LightScreen. Just moves the app to the middle of my screen to get a good iamge, set for an area capture, and that’s it. I quickly had a file called Screenshot01.jpg on my flash drive.

In Conclusion

There’s a whole lot more to be had as far as PortableApps go and the handful I suggested really doesn’t even scratch the surface. Hit up their list and see what appeals to you. I can honestly say that, as a librarian with a technical bent, these apps come in useful all the time. I may not use all of them every day (though I use XMPlay and Chrome every day), they’re incredible when I need them.

Give them a shot, all you need is a flash drive. Mine is a Sony 4GB jobbie and there’s plenty of room leftover after I get all this stuff installed!

The Digital Natives – One Generation Late

No wait. I mean a different Generation X.

Digital Natives were something I heard about a while ago at various library conferences and in various library publications. It was supposed to refer to all the kids growing up with technology that my generation (Generation X) found ourselves merely ushered into. Some of Gen X were “Digital Natives” while others weren’t. It all depended on your definition of the terms. Me, I certainly didn’t grow up with a computer in the house. I didn’t get my first computer until I was ten.

I still remember TV remotes that had five buttons: power, channel up, channel down, volume up, and volume down. The kids a few years behind me, those who are teenagers now, were to be the true digital natives as they grew up with a lot of the “new tech” in their very own households.

Thing is, they’re not. At least not around here and not around the areas of many of the other people I’ve discussed this with. I regularly help teens discern the difference between a browser’s URL bar and a search engine. I’ve helped them learn that typing someone’s email address into that URL bar doesn’t actually send them an email. Yes, to search Google, you kind of have to go to Google. No, Google doesn’t really search our library catalogue, you’ll have to go there. No, typing the name of our library into the URL bar won’t take you directly to our website.

For some, this is an apt description of a network administrator.

Many of them know what the Internet is, what it does, and what its for. The problem is that many don’t have any idea how to make it go, let alone what makes it go. I’m not saying they have to, either. I’m a very competent driver of automobiles and I only have the basest knowledge of how a car actually works. They don’t need to be geeks, sure, but there are so many that just don’t get it. The computer is a magic box full of YouTubes and Facebooks and the Net is a vast network managed by sorcery and fae creatures.

Then I look at the children of my generation. My own kids and the children of people roughly my age, let’s say 30 – 40 years old. They have a very different technology at their fingertips than today’s teens did and what makes that technology different is that it is literally at their fingertips. We, and by “we” I mean my generation and before, grew up with computers and tech where we are actually physically removed from the computer by at least one step.

Whatever do I mean?

I mean that I’m removed from the very computer on which I’m typing this post by a single physical thing, actually make that two physical things. I’m controlling, editing, and creating text on this computer via a keyboard, a physical object removed from the computer itself by a distance of, oh,  perhaps six feet of USB cable. If I want to manipulate other things on screen, like buttons or check boxes, I need to rely on yet another physical thing removed from the computer by at least six feet of USB cable – the mouse.

My kids, and perhaps your kids too, aren’t so removed from their tech. When I handed my (at the time) three year old daughter an iPad, she figured it out within half an hour. She knew what the NetFlix logo looked like and she knew how to find videos she wanted to watch by looking at the covers. She didn’t even need the ability to read to successfully navigate the device. Sure, she wasn’t firing off emails or hitting up Reddit. Still, she was delighted to discover Dora the Explorer videos and was equally happy when she discovered that there’s this book-like thing that involves Winnie the Pooh. She started turning pages on the Pooh eBook with absolutely no prompting at all.

My seven year old son is even more mind bending. He reads and he’s doing pretty well with the whole reading thing. Typing isn’t a strong suit but he knows what the letters are and how they form words. So he and I watch this awesome Minecraft series called Coe’s Quest. Now, Coe’s Quest is a series on YouTube and there’s a lovely YouTube app that comes stock with the iPad. Thing is, he’s not 100% sure how the app works. But he does know that if he goes to Safari, does a search for “Coe’s Quest 132″ (no quotes, and the 132 is the episode number) he’ll get a list of results and the first result is usually what he wants. He’ll tap that, the iPad launches the YouTube app, and brings up the video.

I’ve never taught him how to do any of that stuff.

I’m certain my children aren’t wunderkinder so I asked others and, sure enough, their kids totally “get” their iPhones, iPads, Android phones and tablets, and things like that. And, it just so happens, I have a theory as to why.

And while fourth quarter earnings leveled, we expect growth in Q1 2012...

You touch them.

They aren’t removed at all from their tech like we normally are. They’re not even used to being removed from their tech. My son can use a mouse and keyboard, and you can tell that he finds it to be a clumsy experience. He wants to touch the screen on my laptop and have something happen. That makes sense to him.

Picture this – you have have a counter top and there’s a empty cup and a full pot of coffee on the counter top. You want to move the cup to the coffee pot, take the coffee pot off the heater, pour yourself a given amount of coffee, replace the pot, and then pick up the cup and drink it. Got that in your mind? Good. Now, you have two choices to make this fairly simple series of events come to fruition you can:

A) Have someone do it for you, all the while you’re giving them directions about the cup, its placement, how much coffee to pour, and all that. Or you could-

B) Do it yourself.

The way I see it, my generation and before have gotten used to, and very good at, option A. The mouse and keyboard are our ways of directing someone else to pour our coffee and how much. Yet we’re still removed from that tech just as much as we are from our (hypothetical) coffee. Our kids, they’re used to option B. They are, in a very real way, touching their data. You want to make a video full screen on the iPad.  Do you click the maximize button? No, you simply take two fingers, place them close together on the video, and then move them apart like you’re expanding something tangible in the real world. Do you want to type something on the iPad or Android tablet? Fine, you physically type on the tablet.

Let me give you one more example you can see between the two generations. If I’m listening to something on my phone, or on the iPad, or whatever; I want to change the volume, what do I do? Without fail, I almost always reach over to the side of the device and fiddle with the physical up and down volume buttons to adjust the sound.

My kids, and I bet yours too, will tap the screen and use the on screen volume adjustment to fix things they way they like. And you know what? They’re actually more correct in doing so because, at least on an iPad and my Droid X, you can make very minute adjustments using the on-screen sliders. If you use the physical buttons, they adjust things by percentages or by a standard amount. There’s no precise adjustment like you get with an on-screen slider.

Like the other digital natives, today’s children don’t really understand what’s going on behind the scenes. My kids, and yours, haven’t the foggiest idea what a DNS is. They have no idea the difference between a static and dynamic IP. HTML 5? CSS 3? What?

But just like I have barely any idea how my car can turn my pushing down on a pedal into forward momentum, they too don’t need to know how everything works to use it well. And that’s the point, they’re using it far better and far more intuitively than the previous natives have been.

Cyberpunk Librarian: Defeating Paywalls @ Your Library

You know what’s kind of weird?

At least once a week, on various sites, I see links to articles that are behind some kind of paywall. Sooner or later the comments light up with how they can’t read the article without paying for it or subscribing to a service they really don’t want.

But let me back up for a second. There may be those out there reading my drivel that haven’t a clue what a paywall is. So let me catch them up really quick. A paywall is the “wall” you hit when you’re trying to access something online and you find that you can’t view it, or view all of it, unless you cough up some money. You’ll see this a lot with newspaper websites, magazine sites, and the like. Most of them will give you a couple paragraphs of the article and then a “click here to buy the rest” button. Needless to say, in your quest for information and knowledge, paywalls throw a roadblock in your way.

That’s not the weird thing I was talking about. Paywalls are very much a “business as usual” kind of thing and just another part of the Internet. What’s weird is all the little hints and tips and tricks that I see for getting around them. Apparently on some sites you can hit the stop button really quick and it’ll load the full article. Other sites you can feed the link to Twitter, then access the link through a Twitter account and that works okay because the paywall allows through traffic from Twitter. I’ve heard of a couple of apps and add-ons for browsers that will redirect you around these paywalls and so on and so on.

But you know what’s really weird? Not a single one of those tips, tricks, hints, or workarounds ever seem to involve “Hey, did you check the magazine and newspaper database available via your local library?”

So dig this.

Two days ago I came across an article that sounded really interesting. It’s called The Unleashed Mind and was on the Scientific American website. Well, as things go, I fell over the link to the article but didn’t actually have time to read the article right then. Now, I know there are things like Evernote, Instapaper, and stuff, and believe me, I use them. (Though I prefer OneNote over Evernote.) But nine times out of ten, if I see something that I’m interested in and want to check out later, I send it to my email. Just pop the link in the body and hit send. I check my email a lot, but my Evernote and Instapaper? Not so much.

So I sent myself the link, completely unread, until this morning. This morning I had a spare bit of time and wanted to read the article. There was much brow furrowing when I opened up the link and found two paragraphs and a paywall. Turns out the article wasn’t just a Sci-Am website thing, but it was published in Scientific American Mind, one of their print magazines.

Now I suppose I could’ve Googled about, maybe found a backdoor. Maybe I could’ve fiddled with the site and found a way around their paywall, but I didn’t. My first instinct wasn’t to launch Google but to head over to my library’s website so I could check the magazine databases. Sure enough, our EbscoHost MasterFile Premiere subscription carries Scientific American Mind and in a couple of minutes, I’d sent the article, in full, to the printer. It’s sitting next to me as I write this.

There are a couple of magazines I read on a regular basis just by looking them up in the database. Like most people, I don’t read a magazine cover to cover, I just want to see which articles look interesting and read those. Most librarians know that you can email these articles to yourself, or export them to read later (perhaps on your eReader of choice), tag them, export them, and more.

As librarians we use these kinds of databases on a regular basis, if not everyday. Yet how many of our patrons know about them? I’ve had more than a few patrons go wide eyed and googly when I showed them that, even though we don’t have that issue of Consumer Reports, I can still get that article rating the washing machines. It might be worth mentioning to our users that, yes, we can help you blow right by paywalls and it’s perfectly 100% legal. Sure, we won’t be able to access absolutely everything for you, but when it works, it’s awesome.

Just another one of those underutilized resources you could plug in a novel, and useful way!

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