Monday, December 22, 2008

Mapping the mind, and I'm lost...

For our final installment of Learning 2.1, your intrepid reporter has investigated online mindmapping and flowchart tools. And you know what? I need a map.
It turns out that I'm not much of a flowchart or mindmap kinda gal - even in longhand notes, I don't often spend much time "drawing" my ideas, so these particular tools were not my cup of tea. However, I did experiment with all four of the suggested tools, and here are my quick notes:
For folks that need to make flowcharts (and hey, I think they're fun and useful to look at, I just don't really want to have to make the darn things) we have Gliffy and I liked that has templates - this makes things much easier for folks like me, who would rather just edit and modify an existing document, rather than create something brand new. does offer a bit of a muddled initial page, though - Gliffy was a bit cleaner in layout, but I had some trouble managing my arrows with Gliffy - just couldn't make those connector lines do what I wanted them to!
When it comes to mindmaps - I guess I'm more of a brainstormer, and trying to map the storms just ended in chaos for me. But I tried out both and Mindmeister: and Mindmeister wins out - largely because it gives you a template to play with! Working with the template was easy - and while the layout is a little... cartoony, the ridiculously simple interface made me happy and I really appreciated the key shortcuts that were included in the demo map. isn't quite so goofy at the outset, but the sheer starkness of the empty screen was a bit intimidating, although I appreciated the free demo (which didn't require any registration).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

No really, it IS a Kafka reference!

Yesterday I experimented with Zamzar, a free, online file conversion service. I uploaded one Publisher document (twice) and had Zamzar convert it into both PDF (.pdf) and Word (.doc) formats and then I waited. And waited. And waited a little longer. After an hour, I got an email alert that the first document had been converted (into PDF format). I was hopeful that the Word version would arrive soon... but it took another hour!
While I am happy with the conversions (it is especially nice to have that Publisher document available in Word - since not all of the computer stations here at work have Publisher installed), and I can see the great utility of this service, I'm not sure that it will be the saving grace for our patrons that it COULD be. Let's face it, when (for whatever reason) our computers can't open the file that the patron wants to open, they're often already in "crisis mode" - they need the document and they want it NOW... the good news/bad news aspect of Zamzar might not go over so well -
"The Good News is that Zamzar will take your strange file format, and turn it into a nice Word document that our computers just LOVE!... The Bad News is that it might take a couple of hours..." Our patrons get a maximum of two hours of computer time per day - that math just doesn't work out too well for them.
Maybe my experience wasn't typical - maybe Zamzar was slow last night, or maybe Publisher documents are tougher for Zamzar to deal with. I'll definitely share this tool around with my co-workers, but I think I'll reserve final judgment for a little longer.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Video may have killed the radio star, but Pandora brought 'em back...

So, I already knew that my favorite local(ish) radio station (DC101, if you care) had a live stream - I've listened to it before. I tried to bring it up just for this Thing, but there's apparently some glitch in the stream - matter of fact, the morning show guy mentioned something about this morning, so there was no joy there.

After reading the descriptions, I decided to open up Pandora's box - and yowza, what a treasure I found inside! I immediately set up a channel called "Bowling for Soup Radio" (my favorite band) and while Pandora didn't come up with many bands I hadn't heard of before, it did let me listen to some music that I really enjoyed. I got a kick out of the thumbs up/thumbs down feature - (I love how basic that is!), and though it took me a little while to find, I made pretty good use of the skip forward button. Apparently, I made a little bit too much use of the skip forward and thumbs down features... Pandora issued a polite pop up that said that there is a limit to the number of songs you are allowed to skip per hour! My immediate response was frustration, but Pandora also lets you know that you can just create another station that will let you skip more songs. Whew! I was a little bit more careful about skipping after that, though.

So I set up a new station, this time based on The Dropkick Murphys song, "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" - Pandora wasn't too picky when I typed in "shipping" and suggested some titles and artists, which is nice - how often do you know part of a title? Happens to me pretty frequently, so I appreciate that function. After Pandora tried to get me hooked on Flogging Molly (bleh) twice, we hit the jackpot! Pandora queued up Korpiklaani - who knew I'd totally dig Scandinavian folk-metal? Awesome.

Well, personally, I'm VERY pleased with Pandora - easy to use, offers you a 'getaround' when it gives you a roadblock and I really like that it lets you click around and away from the site without losing the stream! From a work standpoint? It's a bit like Reader's Advisory for music, isn't it? Of course, I don't get an awful lot of folks asking me "what should I listen to next?" but hey, if they do, I'm ready for them!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

SlideShare and Go Seek

Just a quick example of some of what SlideShare can do:

(And of course, I know it's not library-related - but the marketing ideas are pretty interesting, as TB racing really does need a pretty major image adjustment... a little like libraries.)

What did I think about SlideShare? It's pretty cool, and could really be useful for folks who present "away from home" - It could save you from needing to keep track of your thumb drive or CD, and hoping that the laptop you've borrowed has PowerPoint already installed. Of course, you do need to be in a place that has internet access... but we won't go there. In touring SlideShare, I actually found quite a few Library related presentations - including an interesting one on libraries in Second Life (OK, so it's 2 years old, but still interesting, especially as it lists a number of caveats for those who are considering jumping into SL).
I also like the idea of using SlideShare as a way to connect people with a presentation - even if they couldn't be there physically. I've been to plenty of workshops and conferences where the presenters had some really good slides, but didn't provide printouts - with SlideShare, I can get right into that presentation from home, and find that one perfect slide, or just share the whole darn thing with my co-workers!
SlideShare is well organized (though I'd like it if they put a "Help" link somewhere near the top of the screen, rather than hiding it in the small print at the bottom) and the interface's extreme similarity to YouTube meant that I didn't have to spend much time learning how to navigate the site.

Short version - SlideShare gets a thumbs up from me, even though, as a general rule, I HATE PowerPoint presentations. I'm going to share it with co-workers who are currently taking part in LATI, so that they can use it (as a backup, maybe?) when they have to present their projects at the LATI Showcase.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I'm all aTwitter!

Check it out - I'm finally caught up on Learning 2.1, and we're already more than halfway through! Now that I'm keeping up a little better, I'm having more and more fun playing with the new "toys" - and Twitter is a perfect example.

I'd heard about Twitter quite a while ago on a blog that I follow -
Sorry - Since that was in my head, I had to run over to my Bloglines account so I could locate that particular Twitterer and follow them! (Leigh Anne Vrabel of Library Alchemy tweets as "libraryalchemy" from the reference desk at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh if you're interested.)
(back to our regularly scheduled blogging)
So, yes, I'd heard about Twitter on Library Alchemy, but hadn't really had time to follow through and investigate it on my own. Now that I've been able to play with it a little, I'm amused by it. Personally, I don't foresee that I'll be Tweeting away constantly, but I definitely agree with the "microblogging" label - it's a great way to update, without having to commit to a lengthy blog post. Of course, unless someone is following you, it feels a bit more like a diary than a blog, and hey, wouldn't that be a good way to keep track of things? Imagine, if you will, that you're keeping a food log - Twitter could be a great way to do that (assuming that you have internet access or are willing to text your Tweetings). What about at conferences? You could Tweet your gut reactions about sessions you'd just finished attending! Clearly, this isn't the place for detailed posting, but Twitter could be an ideal way to jog your memory! Kind of like Jott, actually, but with typing.
Leigh Anne at CPL is doing a neat thing at their reference desk - when she's on the desk, she tweets about what's happening there. Sometimes it's very mundane "lent the stapler, got it back" kind of stuff, but it really does capture what it can be like at the reference desk. Heck, we could use Twitter to capture reference stats!
Gotta go - going to Tweet about that.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Lit picking...

LitLovers is pretty interesting, and I'm sure that some of our patrons would find it useful, but my experience with it was a "lit"tle frustrating.

It's nicely organized and has an easy to navigate site, but... for 5 of the 6 titles that I checked, they didn't actually have discussion guides. Just an "I'm sorry, the publisher didn't create any discussion questions for this book" note. Sure, the site is free, but (for our patrons, at least) so is Novelist, and when they say they have a book discussion guide for a title, they actually do have questions for that title. Access to reviews, summaries and author bios is nice, but (once again) Novelist does it just as well, and has more titles (and ways to search for those titles). OK, so Novelist doesn't have non-fiction (yet), but LitLovers doesn't actually let you search specifically for those non-fiction titles - you've got title and author and that's that.
Some of the "bonus" features are nice - the LitFoods and Icebreaker games sound like great ways to liven up a book group, and the LitCourses could be a good way to make sure that everyone in your group knows what you mean when you talk about irony. In fact, the short readings might even make for good impromptu discussions - what if you used one of those every once in a while (say around the holidays) to take the pressure off your book club members - "Hey guys, don't worry about reading the book ahead of time, we're going to read it that night!"
Oh, and what about the section on Adaptations - LitLovers lists Fight Club as one of their top ones, but they don't have a listing for the book in their discussion guides! Seriously, is that helpful?
OK, and here's the kicker - I found the site a little strange - especially the bits about the publisher not providing discussion guides, and the "buy the book" links with every title... So I looked around a little and found the "Site Authentication" page, which includes this statement: "The information for the Guides comes primarily through Barnes and Noble. LitLovers is a B&N affiliate, which gives me the rights to use information from their site about books and authors, as well as critical reviews." At this point, I'm a little irritated - because, as a librarian, I want people to know that I don't advocate that they use any particular website when they want to buy something. This site just conveniently tucks their relationship with B&N way deep into the site. If the site is a commercial site, then, please just put it out there, so I know that. The burying of that information makes it feel, well, deceptive.
I'm just not down with that.

That's what I want...

The best things in life are free
But you can keep them for the birds and bees
Give me money
That's what I want, that's what I waaaaaaaaant,
That's what I want...

So I decided to check out some of the online money management tools this week (in addition to playing around with Jott).
My usual disclaimer: I don't like the idea of putting my financials out on the web - I don't do online billpay, and I have one low-limit credit card that I'm willing to use to buy anything online. If presented with the opportunity to "buy it now" online using that credit card, or wait till the people are available to take my call at the brick-and-mortar site on Monday morning... I'm waiting till the weekend is over, thanks.

That said, I checked out a few of the sites listed on WallStreetFighter's list (awesome site name, that). Some of them are pretty obviously things that I'm not interested in - foonance and wasabe. I liked the idea of DimeTracker - but it requires that you use text messaging. (I think we've covered my feelings about cell phone usage in an earlier post - compound that with the fact that texts cost EXTRA money, and you know I'm just not going there, right?) Bummer.

Most of the money management and investing tools just aren't my speed right now. But then I came across Xpen$er - nice. They have a good basic site that actually lets you check out their FAQs, you can call in expenses over the phone (yay!) and it even has a mileage converter - even better. I may even sign up with Xpenser.

The concept of shared bills/IOU tracking sites is a little alien to me, but I could see the utility of a site like Billshare for roommates or housemates. Unfortunately, you can't "tour" the Billshare site without signing up, so I didn't get past the "that's a pretty good idea" phase. This is one feature that all of these sites should be aware of - If I can't check it out anonymously (without logging in) first, I'm sure as heck not going to give you any of my personal information (not even a junk email address).

I can't even get around the concept of Ripple - but then again, I'm not a big fan of borrowing or lending money to friends - I certainly don't want to be part of a network of people that I don't know that revolves around money!

Finally I visted RentOMeter - nice idea, but it doesn't seem to have much coverage here on the Shore. This is probably much more useful in more urban areas.

Enough about money - I'm off to visit LitLovers!