Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Thing 11

Thing 11 - Reflection week

I'm on holiday this week. Sorry not to meet everyone yesterday, but we have plenty of time.

But wait! Surely my commitment to Cam23 is not so great that I am sacrificing valuable time exploring the fascinating byways of German Gothic architecture to write this drivel? Well, no. I've written this in anticipation of reflection week, and am taking this opportunity to try out Blogger's 'scheduled post' option. If I come back next week to discover it's not worked, like those desperate occasions in my youth when I would return home to find the video timer had gone wrong, I will be royally miffed.

K├Âlner Dom at night. Image from Wikimedia Commons

I presume this is the occasion to think about what we have liked and not liked about the course so far, whether there are things (or Things) we have particularly responded to, and how we want to progress.

By and large, this has been a very enjoyable month. The thing I have liked most of all has been the chance it has provided for me to get in touch with other librarians in Cambridge. That isn't something that I've been in the habit of doing since I started working here five years ago. Of course, I see my colleagues, and very charming people they are too, but apart from occasional meetings with staff from other colleges, and the libraries@cambridge conference each year, that's about all the socialising I do.

I think it's important to keep up with people's blogs and post comments as often as possible, just to maintain momentum. I have been trying to be proactive about this. It's very encouraging to receive comments and tweets from other people doing the programme, especially if you don't know them personally. I'm fairly good at keeping track of what other people are posting, but the problem of starting to follow lots of blogs all at once is that it takes a while before you start to remember who's who. If I haven't commented on your blog yet, it is not (necessarily) a personal affront. I may easily get around to it in the coming weeks.

As for the things themselves, they've been a mixed bag but mainly good. You don't get much time to try them out before reporting back, but Cam23 has to move at this kind of pace. iGoogle has not become a regular haunt of mine, and I suspect Google Calendar and Pushnote won't either, but I really like blogging, screenshots and RSS (as I already did), and can see that screencasts, Doodle and Google Docs are likely to be the perfect tools to use when the necessity presents itself.

I'm not quite into the swing of Twitter. I do get it, having used it for a couple of years already in a non-professional (I may say very non-professional) capacity, but I'm not sure exactly what kind of tone I want to pitch. Part of me would like to be posting very worthy stuff about new technologies and projects all the time, but I don't think I could realistically maintain the pretence. My mind is simply too trivial to be continually occupied with thoughts of professional development, and so what I have tweeted so far has been essentially light-hearted, if by and large library-related. I sort of hope that taking part in Cam23 will somehow mould me into a more professional (or at least more professionally aware) person. I know, not desperately likely, but perhaps it will have at least some effect on how I approach my work.

I am now compelled to go and shove some things in a suitcase, but I shall see you anon. Have a lovely week.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Thing 10

Thing 10 - Pushnote and Evernote

I conform to Ned Potter's ingenious library stereotypometer infographic in only a small number of ways. I don't listen to Adam and Joe, I don't drink gin, I don't knit and I don't wear a cardigan, but at least I can say I'm a leftie (in handedness and politicalness).

There are a few things, though, that bring out my generally dormant illiberal side, and the culture of commenting is one of them. In the old days, we the public kept quiet. The BBC told us what was going on and we accepted it. We were happy then. The rise of the internet has seen the media become democratised. Presenters of current affairs programmes ask us for our opinions, the more banal the better, and all online news websites offer a comments facility.

There must be something in the comments section of news websites and blogs that appeals to the meanest of human instincts. I have trained myself not to scroll down too far when reading any article for fear of happening on something that will cause me to abandon all faith in humanity. The anonymity that the internet provides means that people can be freer with their opinions than they would be in person, safe in the knowledge that they will not be held to account for whatever poisonous trash they write. (You may be familiar with Godwin's Law.) Just last month, Shaun Usher, who runs the superb and popular Letters of Note blog, disabled its comments facility because he was having to spend so much time removing insults posted by trolls. His feelings on the matter are entirely comprehensible.

I love the internet as a place for discussion. Discussion is good. I use Twitter and message boards and blogs to exchange ideas and opinions. Nevertheless, I can't escape the perhaps reprehensible feeling that the democratisation of media has meant the enfranchisement of idiots. They were always among us, but we were able to avoid them. Now they infest the places we thought were safest. The words of Kent Brockman come back to haunt us: 'I've said it before and I'll say it again: democracy simply doesn't work.'

A man ahead of his time

All of this is a prelude to my saying that the central idea of Pushnote, that one can comment on any webpage without having to register to use the website, is ever so slightly repulsive to me, and I confess that my first explorations of Pushnote have not even suggested to me, let alone convinced me, that it is something I might want to use in the future.

Creating an account was simple enough; finding friends was next to impossible. It told me to follow Stephen Fry, which I did more through force of habit than anything else. How to find other people I knew? (The short answer is that probably nobody I know is even on Pushnote, it's such a minority interest.) I had hoped to be able to find people who are Facebook or Twitter friends, but how to do that was a mystery. It doesn't help that the Pushnote FAQ are out of date. They instruct you to click 'Add Friends' from the homepage, when there is no such button. There is a 'Find people' button, which lets you search Gmail contacts (of which I have none) or look for people by name. I searched for a few names in case I recognised anybody, but in vain. So far, so frustrating.

You can probably tell where this is going, but let's plod on. I installed Pushnote for Firefox and hied my way to the BBC website, which is one of the ones I visit most regularly. What might I find there when I clicked the little star in the corner? Well, the most recent comments included:

  • always my first site of the day
  • Possibly the best site for any information on the web. . .almost!
  • One of the best websites for news, sport, entertainment
  • Best news site on the web
  • great for everything so useful
  • Best website ever.

It's not the commenters' fault that what they write is so tedious. It's just that Pushnote has the same handicap as Twitter (love Twitter though I do) - there's only so much you can say of interest in 140 characters. Plus I know all this already. Might a visit to a site I never use be more enlightening? I visited Bing.com, where I discovered the following:

  • Bing is kack!
  • I saw the movie Unknown yesterday and when running a search they used bing. I understand they probably got payed to use it but I was like "who the hell uses bing".
  • Not a bing fan. And sick of the constant advertising of it on Gossip Girl.

I hear you, brother. But there are only six comments on Bing in total, and this is one of the 25 most visited websites worldwide. At the moment, I can't see Pushnote having any great application simply because its reach is so pitiful. If it takes off, like Twitter has, perhaps its value will become apparent. As it is, even Pushnote's chief proponent, Stephen Fry, has only ranked five sites in the last six months. I really don't think it's got legs.

After this dispiriting experience, I wasn't really inclined to try Evernote. My first action on loading the website was to check to see what Pushnote users thought about it, but of course nobody has either posted a comment or rated it. But I am turning into a loyal and conscientious Cam23er, so plunged in.

The auspices were good. Any site that uses the following image in its 'Getting Started' section is OK by me.

"I understand more than you'll ... never know."

The real task was working out just what Evernote is. My assessment is that it's a sort of online clipboard for you to gather together things that you're working on or that interest you, and it might be especially useful if you want to access things from multiple computers. An advantage is that you don't need to download the desktop client to access your files (which might be a problem at work), you can do it all online.

I experimented with making notes, copying images into notes (I found a nice sketch online purporting to be of the young Franz Schubert, though if it is, which I doubt, then he's doing a very passable impression of Ronan Keating), and saving text as a note using the Firefox web clipper add-on. Evernote also has a cute elephant as its logo.

Picture of Schu / A Different Bert (delete as appropriate)

Perhaps it's just a reaction against Pushnote, but on first impression I really rather like Evernote, at least as a toy. Whether I will end up favouring it over other ways of doing the same thing, I can't tell. But unlike Pushnote, I will at least be exploring it further. No matter what.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Thing 9

Thing 9 - Google Docs

Every so often it is necessary to put together a presentation or a proposal in conjunction with other people, and files get shared by email and multiplied so that it can be difficult to keep track. This is where Google Docs comes in handy, as the video LK posted on the Cam23 website demonstrates.

I've used Google Docs once before, when I was one of three students assembling a presentation on children's libraries for our Masters course at UCL. I say 'used', but in fact only one of us really did any editing online. It was still useful as a way of sharing files, though, and perfect for our situation, as part-time students who weren't able to meet up during the week to discuss our project in person.

Carousel in the children's section of Frome Library

I decided to practise on a programme I assembled for the concert I sang in a couple of weekends ago. If I'd had space I would have put a picture on the cover, so that was what I thought I'd try. I uploaded the file using my Cam23 Gmail account.

I then chose to 'share' the file with myself on one of my other email addresses. (I really have too many now. I make it six at the last count, though there may easily be a few I've forgotten.) The notification came through and I (Gareth 1.0) set about editing.

How convenient that you can insert pictures direct from a Google Image Search, and that the search filters out images likely to have copyright issues. I happened upon a beautiful picture of a stained glass window that fitted very nicely.

Logging back in as Gareth 2.0, I found everything as it should be. So, my first tentative experiments have been gratifyingly successful, and I can quite envisage using Google Docs again every so often, particularly if there is a necessity to put a document together with several other people not located on site, as preparation for the summer school King's runs annually with Pembroke, for instance.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Thing 8

Thing 8 - Google Calendar

As an undergraduate I kept with great meticulousness a diary of what I was meant to be doing. Since starting work I have fallen into the habit of using my Outlook calendar for work and my mobile for personal use. It's a habit I'm comfortable with, and I didn't expect Google Calendar to provide much that would persuade me to abandon current procedures.

That said, the interface is attractive and it was quite easy to set up, though there doesn't appear to be an option to set the clock to adjust for daylight saving time. It is British Summer Time at the moment - you just have to look at the rain through your window to know that - but Google makes no acknowledgement of the fact. In the end I had to pretend I was in Algeria to get it to tell the right time.

Google Calendar works quite like Outlook's calendar facility - setting start and end times, optional reminders and so on. I started to encounter problems when it came to reminders. Reminders can be displayed in two ways - as a pop-up window, or as an email. I tried both, neither with unmitigated success. In order to benefit from pop-up reminders you have to have Google constantly open in your browser. This seems more hassle than my current system, which works because I have Outlook open all the time anyway.

Outlook - my faithful servant

As far as email reminders are concerned, I have been using for things related to this blog a Gmail account I created specially for Cam23. I have set this account to forward all emails to my work address, which I check using Outlook. But the email filter at work is mean. It lets emails about new blog comments through, but not emails from Twitter or, it turns out, Google Calendar. So I end up unreminded.

I can see Google Calendar has its advantages - the ability to share your calendar with others is handy (though do I want other people to know what I'm doing all the time? and anyway I've got Twitter for that...) - but by and large I share the reservations expressed here by my colleague Anna. Like her, I'll give this a fair chance, but I don't really expect it to become a fixture.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Thing 7

Thing 7 - Doodle

I set up a purely theoretical trip to the cinema to see the final Harry Potter film during the first week of its general release (I confess that I will be going to see it in actuality as well as in theory), and invited a few friends to join me. The creation of the poll was simplicity itself, and the responses it received provided a useful demonstration of the strengths and weaknesses of Doodle.

"It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." ~ Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Doodle handily collates results on your behalf, so I could instantly tell which was the best time for us to go simply by looking at the bottom row - the only time when all five of us were available.

On the other hand, Doodle seems to be easily corruptible. Perhaps you can alter this if you create an account and change your poll's settings, but the default setting lets anyone reply to the poll and post comments, without using e.g. e-mail authorisation. This means that any person can enter someone else's name and reply on their behalf, or leave a scurrilous or abusive comment.

The times I entered as choices effectively selected themselves - they are the times of all 13 screenings of the film in 2D at the Arts Picturehouse from this coming Friday. 13 may seem a small number, but even so when I loaded the page after creating the poll it displayed the message 'This poll is bigger than usual' and hid some of the options. If one wanted to offer 20 or 30 or 40 options, for instance, to schedule a single meeting at some point in the next few weeks, it might become an unwieldy poll to navigate, and e-mail might turn out to be a preferable medium.

Still, quibbles aside, Doodle seems very user-friendly, and I can envisage it being the ideal tool to use in certain situations.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Things 5 and 6

You will have to excuse me if things seem a little rushed in this post. I haven't had much time to play around with the things we're exploring this week, but I wanted to write this before I go away for the weekend tomorrow evening. I am going to be singing in this concert - and incidentally, if you fancy an impromptu excursion to Somerset, which I admit is unlikely, there can be no better way of spending your Saturday lunchtime. Plug over.

Thing 5 - screenshots

Although I can't claim to be a master of the art, making screenshots was at least already within my capabilities. I haven't used screenshots in my previous posts in any demonstrative capacity, merely to provide a minimal amount of visual appeal. My attitude is that one picture is better than none (depending on the picture, I suppose). But I had just used the old and cumbersome way of Shift + Print Screen, then pasting into Paint and cropping as necessary, and saving as a PNG to minimize image loss and graininess.

A very brief acquaintance of LightShot is enough to convince me of its value in saving time and effort. After installing the Firefox add-on, it can't have taken me more than 30 seconds to create this screenshot from the BBC homepage with my first attempt:

I haven't tried downloading the LightShot application, but if I find myself using the add-on a lot then I'll explore further.

Thing 6 - screencasts

Now we're starting to get outside my comfort zone. I've never done anything like this before. But when it comes to demonstrating a procedure, a video will suit some people better than a series of stills, so I decided to try and make a screencast showing how to place a hold using the King's College webcat. We have an in-house catalogue which operates independently from Newton and LibrarySearch, and it might be useful to be able to direct confused freshers to a demonstrative video.

Unless I have misread the small print, Screencast-o-matic offers only limited functionality free of charge, so it is not possible to do any retrospective editing of picture or sound. Everything has to be executed in a single take, and you cannot add any commentary afterwards, so making a screencast is effectively a performance in real time. No pressure then.

After some tentative experiments, I decided that my video could do with title cards at the beginning and end to brighten it up, which I designed using Paint (very retro of me), and also some background music. I'd have preferred to use a relevant song like this, but thought I'd better choose something which wouldn't present any rights issues. Searching my computer I found a little MIDI arrangement of this song that I'd made at school. I wonder now if it's a bit intrusive, but if it bothers you then you can always turn the sound off. Anyway, without further ado:

I like that Screencast-o-matic shows the movement of the cursor and of each click with little animations to aid the viewer's focus, though I had to be careful to click on each button when I would normally simply press return to save time, remembering that such a demonstration has to spell everything out. I also paced myself quite slowly. Having a piece of music with a set length (about 40 seconds) helped me in this respect - my first attempts would have been too fast for most newbies to follow.

I uploaded my screencast to YouTube and called it 'How to place a hold', but didn't give it any tags. Perhaps if I had, there might be a more germane selection of videos in the right-hand column instead of i.e. 'How to pick a lock'.

It's been really fun exploring these things, especially screencasts, and if I get a bit more fluent I can see them both being useful tools in the library.