Cool Tools at IL2008

One of the talks I try never to miss at Information Today conferences is the Cool Tools for Webmasters talk by Frank Cervone and Darlene Fichter. This year I couldn’t attend due to other talks I had to give, but Darlene has posted her links online for us all to see!

Frank and I were back with more free or inexpensive tools for webmasters and everyone who uses the web. This time we emphasized backups (and more backup tools), security, some tools for usability and accessibility and design. We also included a list of some all time favourites at the end. The slides (from slideshare.net ( a cool tool) are included below along with the links to the sites. If you enjoy cool tools, check out our past presentations to find more.

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Humans v. Machines

Warning – this may turn into a rant – I haven’t decided yet :)

Last week I was in Texas to do some training for work. I rented a car at the Dallas airport and went on my way. It’s 11pm and I’ve been in airports and planes since 2pm, so I’m a bit tired. I come upon a toll and reach for my wallet. Less than 300 feet from the toll I see the sign saying that the toll is $1. I check my change pocket and find that I don’t have enough so I pull out a bill and get into the line that says ‘change made.’ I sit there for 5 minutes and the line never moves. I try to see around all of the cars in front of me to see what the problem is and I see cars getting out of line and moving to the ‘exact change’ lane. I reach into my wallet and carry on and scrounge up $1 in change (part of which was 5 pennies). I look around to see if there are any signs that tell me that pennies are not accepted – nothing. So I follow suit and get out of line. I got into the ‘exact change’ line and put my money in – then see the sign that says ‘no pennies.’ In the end (after 10 minutes of this nonsense) I run the toll.

Now, what does that have to do with machines and humans? Well, the next morning I figured out what the problem was at the toll booth that night. I’m heading to the library in the morning and I hit another toll. This one wants $.40, but I have no more change at all, so I give the ‘change made’ line a shot again. I pulled up to the toll and found that there was no one there to take my dollar bill. Instead here was a change machine that looked like it had seen better days. I put my bill in and it spits it back out. I try again and it spits it out – I reach into my wallet and pull out another bill and try again. I do this with 3 different bills and for at least 5 minutes, all the while a line of cars forms behind me. Eventually the machine takes my bill and I get change to pay the toll.

I have traveled through many states, but have never had such an experience – there is always a human at the toll that gives you change (and a receipt for that matter).

How does this relate to libraries? Simple – the common fear or misconception is that libraries will be replaced by the Internet and books replaced with ebooks – but the fact of the matter is that machines cannot replace humans. The Internet cannot replace a librarian and while ebooks are pretty darn awesome – they will never replace having a real book in your hand.

One last example. I’m in the process of editing my book and I find myself wanting to print everything out and spread it out on a desk to organize it (something I’m trying not to do so I can save paper and ink). The fact of the matter is that while computers are awesome and central to nearly every job out there (they’re even used at the toll booth by the human) – they will not (at least not in my world) replace humans.

Rant done :)

APIs all over

Every day I feel like I’m reading about a new API being released. The newest I’ve read about it Evernote:

Launching the Service API means that third party developers can now do all sorts of innovative things with Evernote. Want to create a new Evernote client? Go for it. Want to hook Evernote into your favorite calendaring or to-do app? Knock yourself out. Of course, trust and security are very important, that’s why you will always be asked to explicitly authorize any third-party access to your account. And once you’ve authorized them, then let the good times roll. Dozens of third-party developers are already busy working with our API, so expect to see some great, and unexpected, apps soon!

More information on the API: http://www.evernote.com/about/developer/

My message to these web service providers – keep it coming :) My message to libraries – let’s get cracking!!

[update] Wow – I just found the New York Times API too! [/update]

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Review: On the Move with the Mobile Web

I have to start this review with a disclaimer. I have a plain old cell phone with no data plan :) That said – I’m thinking of trying to pay off my debt faster so that I can upgrade my phone and get a data plan because of this technology report by Ellyssa Kroski.

On the Move with the Mobile Web: Libraries and Mobile Technologies by Ellyssa Kroski is a quick guide to what mobile technologies are out there, how they can be used, how they are being used and what it means to libraries. Ellyssa introduced me to some amazing things I didn’t know about like 2D barcode scanners on our mobile devices.

What does this mean to libraries? As more and more people switch to web-enabled mobile devices, libraries are going to have update their websites and provide more mobile services. Some examples? Self checkout using your phone, notices sent via SMS and mobile ready websites and OPACs.

This technology report is a quick read and will surely make you wish you had a fun gadget to try out the tools that Ellyssa mentions. It was well worth the read.

I’ll keep you all posted as I make my way toward upgrading to a fancy multi-function phone.

Students aren’t so web-savvy

This is an interesting interview:

Eszter Hargittai, an assistant professor in Northwestern University’s sociology department, has discovered that students aren’t nearly as Web-savvy as they, or their elders, assume.

Ms. Hargittai studies the technological fluency of college freshmen. She found that they lack a basic understanding of such terms as BCC (blind copy on e-mail), podcasting, and phishing. This spring she will start a national poster-and-video contest to promote Web-related skills.

Eszter goes on to explain her study and its results. I found the comments as interesting as the interview itself. One comment in particular made me laugh:

Finally someone says it. We listen ad nauseam to administrators and journalists blather about tech in the classroom and this generation’s web-and-computer savvy. Bollocks. My students (at an R-1) have had enormous difficulty posting documents to Blackboard and WebCT; don’t know how to use a program’s tutorial; don’t know how to save documents in different file formats than the default; don’t realize they can discover basic information about our university (e.g. a phone directory, a registration calendar) through our webpage. They are as tech savvy as they are anything-else savvy: not so much, unfortunately.

Here’s my question – the first time you tried to use Blackboard or WebCT were you able to post info to it? As a very web-savvy person I have to say that Blackboard at least (since I never had to use WebCT) is one of the most user-unfriendly tools I’ve ever had to use. Do not use Blackboard as a measure of your students web savviness. Also – I’m really glad I didn’t have this person as one of my professors. How can any instructor be so negative about their students? If you think they know nothing then how can you teach them effectively?

All that said – I agree with the studies results. I found it interesting that my sister who recently finished college didn’t know about things that are part of my everyday web life – RSS, Blogs, etc. We should never make assumptions about our students/audience. We should always start at the beginning – as educators it’s our jobs to teach students about these tools and how they can be used in the professional world.

Keep Lib-web-cats up-to-date

A request for help posted to the Web4Lib List that I think might be of interest to you:

This is an appeal to the readers of Web4Lib to help me collect information regarding automation products used in libraries. I maintain the lib-web-cats database and use it as a tool for analysis of what automation products that libraries choose to purchase or implement. Lib-web-cats currently includes over 32,000 libraries worldwide. I believe that it’s important for libraries to have data regarding the adoption and migration patterns of these software products as they make decisions regarding their automation strategies. You can help in this effort by reviewing and updating the entry for your library in lib-web-cats, or submitting your library if it’s not already included.

While I try to carefully track ILS deployments, in this round of updates I’m especially interested in gathering data about the other genres of products such as link resolvers, federated search, electronic resource management, digital library tools, and next-gen interfaces. I’m interested in open source as well as traditionally licensed products. Current data regarding the population served by the library, number of items in the collection, and annual circulation helps in the analysis.

Please go to:
http://www.librarytechnology.org/libwebcats

lib-web-cats is a component of Library Technology Guides:
http://www.librarytechnology.org

I would also like to mention that the annual “Automation System Marketplace” article published by Library Journal is now available in the April 1, 2008 issue and online, this year subtitled “Opportunity out of Turmoil.” The data that I have in lib-web-cats is indispensable in writing this article to corroborate and expand upon what the vendors provide.

http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6542440.html

I appreciate the assistance of Web4Lib.

-marshall

Evernote for Mac

Yippeee!! When I first got my Mac I asked you all to point me to a tool that would work like Evernote for my Mac – well, TechCrunch reports that Evernote for Mac is finally here!!

Downloaded!

[update]Oh no! It’s a private beta! Fingers crossed for an invite![/update]

[update2]Yippee – got me an invite – will update you all on the status soon.[/update2]

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Launchy for Windows – Like Finder for Mac

As you know, I’ve recently gotten my first Mac. I’m still learning. One of the features I like the most is Finder. Last night my husband installed an awesome Windows app that gives Finder functionality to his PC – Launchy.

Launchy is a free windows utility designed to help you forget about your start menu, the icons on your desktop, and even your file manager.

Launchy indexes the programs in your start menu and can launch your documents, project files, folders, and bookmarks with just a few keystrokes!

Using this open source application, Windows users can easily mimic the functionality of Finder without switching to a Mac.

I should mention that my husband is using Windows XP. He says that Vista has a function something like this but for some reason it doesn’t work for games – so if you’re a gamer, like him, then you probably want to give Launchy a go.

[update] Derik pointed me to an awesome app that is actually closer to Launchy – but for Mac. Called Quicksilver. [/update]

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I was right – Comcast is evil could be better

When we moved to our new house in August we decided that we didn’t want a land line and so we had to (well not really – but financially it made more sense) give up our Verizon DSL and switch to Comcast cable Internet. Since day one I’ve been complainng to my husband that Comcast is not as fast as DSL and their commercials are full of crap (sorry but they are). Today I read that Comcast has been intentially slowing down Internet traffic!!!

More Comcast fallout for your Wednesday afternoon. The ISP told the FCC yesterday that, yes, it does slow down Internet traffic for the greater good. The corp recently updated its TOS to reflect the fact that it shapes traffic. So that, in and of itself, isn’t new or exciting. The blowback that’s developing is, however.

A bill will be introduced to the House today that would disallow Comcast and other network providers from interfering with your Net connection. The idea here is that it’s in the public’s interest to allow unfettered access to the Internet in order to foster the next round of Googles and Yahoos. If your bandwidth is constantly futzed around with, how can you reliably use services like VoIP?

Why doesn’t Comcast just offer a legitimate unlimited service? Charge the power users (people like us, I assume) a little more but give them all the bandwidth they can handle.

Comcast Defends Role As Internet Traffic Cop [Washington Post via Slashdot]

Via CrunchGear.

[update] I have edited my title because I have just received an email from a friendly man at Comcast. It was not a canned email as you’d expect, yet it explained this situation a bit further and I want to be fair. From the email:

I would like to apologize for the speeds you are experiencing and I would like to work with you to correct it. The articles you reference are specific to Bit Torrent, and the traffic management is regarding these downloads only. If you are experiencing slowness while downloading Bit Torrents, this could be the issue. If you are experiencing slowness during other activities it could be a problem that we can correct. When you are experiencing slowness, run a speetest at a site closest to your home. I usually use speedtest.net. If the results are less than you should be receiving, then we should have a technician review your modem and the lines into your home.

I have kindly replied to this gentleman and have ensured him that I would make this information known to the public. I also took time to explain that I have had several customer service issues with the company over the years and that has probably prompted my harsh title:

I will take your suggestions to heart and do not plan on changing services anytime soon, but I do think that you should have fewer staff hours spent monitoring the Internet for posts regarding your service and more hours spent on actually providing services to prevent complaints in the first place.

So, there you have it – I have been maybe a bit too harsh – but after years of holding in my anger, I’m happy to finally have gotten a professional response from the company and will stick with them while we see if we can resolve these issues. [/update]

Public Google Calendars

Did you know that Google had public calendars that you could add to your personal calendar? I didn’t – not until someone in one of the classes I was teaching pointed it out. This is why I love teaching small, hands-on type classes, I always walk away learning something from the students. Anyway, if you search for holidays for example you can get the holidays for several countries and add them right to your calendar with one click. It’s very handy!

Public Google Calendars

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