Saturday, June 20, 2009

Thing #47 -- Evaluation

I've been working on More Things on a Stick for over 5 months. With such a long time frame, some Things I learned about in the beginning have become second nature by now--part of my regular life, not something special. Unlike the first 23 Things, these seem to have had a greater impact in my personal life rather than my life as a librarian. But there have been several instances where something I learned had a direct impact on my professional life, or gave me inspiration for future projects.

Now that it's over, what next? I guess to get going on those future projects.

Thing #46 -- WebJunction Minnesota

Every once in a while I go to WebJunction Minnesota and poke around. I usually find something useful that I thing I should explore more in depth, but don't have the time right at the moment. Then it falls off my radar... This time it might stick because I found courses for which I have an immediate need.

While I have been involved in web design and development for more than a decade now, I've realized that I need a stronger grounding in using XML. In fact, several of the things I would like to accomplish over the coming 6 months to a year require knowing how to use style sheets to output XML files in various formats. I've looked at some books and searched around on the web, but was very pleased to see a course on WJMN covering XML style sheets. I will definitely take this course sometime this summer. And perhaps, after taking one, I will be more likely to keep WJMN on my radar.

Thing #45 -- Cloud Computing

I commented on the rise in web applications in Thing #2. It's an update of early days of computing. Back then, everything was kept on a large mainframe computer, and so-called dumb terminals (basically monitors and keyboards) were hooked up to it. Then desktop computers became more and more powerful, and everything was done locally, using the workstation's own processor and memory. Now we've arrived at cloud computing, which is just the modern day equivalent of the mainframe and not-so-dumb-anymore terminal--applications, documents, all kinds of data, really, are stored on a server somewhere and accessed anywhere via an Internet connection and a web browser.

My primary experience with cloud computing is using Apple's MobileMe service, and account that gives me space on the cloud to store files, and access to my email, calendar, contacts, and photos. My husband and I are able to synchronize between what is on the cloud and all our computers, whether at home, at work, or on our iPods. Eventually we would like to purchase a new router for our home network that would allow us to use the Back to My Mac feature. Then we would be able to access files between computers directly, without needing to upload them to the cloud for sharing first.

For work, I've used both Google Docs and Zoho, and written about them in previous posts. I haven't used Zoho beyond the one, rather unsuccessful, experience. Google Docs, on the other hand, continues to be an important tool as I collaborate on projects with librarians from other instutions.

There's always a tradeoff between access and security, and cloud computing is no different. It's nice to have access to files from anywhere, but that also leaves open the risk of others getting unauthorized access to those same files. Our campus, like most others, has a firewall in place to prevent many kinds of access to campus networks from off-campus. However, as more and more tools I use are web based, I have discovered that I can do increasing amounts of work from home without running into firewall problems. This can be important as the college makes contingency plans for how to continue operations in the event of a swine flu pandemic, or other severe outbreak.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Thing #44 -- The Economy

My father was in the military and as a result I use a bank serving military members and their families exclusively. Because it's account holders are all over the globe, and often changing locations, the bank has been on the cutting edge of providing service online, and I have increased my online banking and money management accordingly. I use it to view my accounts, transfer money and pay my bills. I prefer this to using the individual online bill paying services provided by the utility and credit card companies for a couple reasons. First, it's convenient having all my bills in one place. Second, while I'm normally cautious regarding online security, I trust the mechanisms my bank has in place. I feel it's less risky for them to have my utility account information than for each utility company to have access to my checking account number.

One particularly innovative service they added last year was the ability to deposit checks electronically. My paychecks use direct deposit, but for other checks I received I previously needed to mail them to the bank (in postage paid envelopes). Now I just scan the front and back of the check, upload the files, enter the check amount, and it's deposited, credited to my account that day.

At my library we create resource guides based on current events or issues of interest. Last year when the Fed began cutting interest rates and the first signs were arriving that the economy was headed down we created a couple about the Federal Reserve, monetary policy, and the economy. These guides are still available on our website. Both and the Help for Consumers part of the National Endowment for Financial Education make me think we should add a financial literacy section to one of the guides and include these resources.

I don't currently have a cell phone, but now that Apple is offering their iPhone 3G and Palm has released their Pre I've been wondering about getting one. So I tried out and BillShrink to compare plans. offers a lot of options, but the screens are very cluttered and a bit overwhelming. BillShrink seemed easier to use, but the site kept freezing on me--I never did see which plan was best for me. BillShrink also requires creating an account to receive any recommendations, but it uses your email address to update you if plans meeting your criteria change.

As an avid gardener (see Thing #37 and Thing #39) I'm familiar with both the U of M Extension Service's Gardening Information and GardenWeb, including their Minnesota Gardening forum. I've used both when searching for information on new plants or researching problems.

Thing #43 -- Online TV and Video

For me, this Thing pointed out the dangers of getting involved with something new too early. I found out about Joost when it first came out, about 2 1/2 years ago, and thought it was a great idea. I eagerly went to the web site, only to discover that there really were very few shows available, and not any that interested me. I left the site disillusioned and promptly forgot about Joost until this Thing. Now, of course, there's lots of content available. As someone who doesn't have cable I like being able to watch The Colbert Report online. And as someone without a Tivo or other recording device, it's nice to be able to see shows I miss or can't stay up for (like Letterman).

Another site I've used is, which doesn't have many full episodes compared to Joost, but does have behind the scenes interviews and features. I've also used iTunes to get TV show podcasts.

My favorite on-demand viewing experience has to be Netflix. Ever since they added Mac support for their watch instantly videos I've been using it a lot. I only have the one at a time plan, so it's great if I want to watch a movie in between DVDs. For TV shows, it's nice being able to watch one episode at a time without tying up my queue. I haven't had any problems with streaming quality or buffering, and by hooking my laptop up to the TV I can watch on a large screen.

Thing #42 -- Music 2.0

I've been a heavy iTunes user for years. When our home DVD/CD player started having trouble reading CDs we imported all our music into iTunes and loaded it onto an iPod which is hooked up to our home audio system. This lets us combine our CDs and purchased downloads in one place. We never listen to actual CDs anymore.

I also began listening to internet radio at least 5 years ago (probably longer). I've used Live365, iTunes radio, and other services that no longer exist. When I got my iPod the MPR Radio app (which streams their 3 stations plus Radio Heartland) was one of the first I put on it. My husband introduced me to a few months ago, when he sent me a link to a station he made. I like the way it lets you follow chains of connections between artists to discover some you might like but didn't know about. Also the ability to create a station based on a particular artist or genre/tag.

I big problem with listening to internet radio for me, especially at work, is buffering. It's hard to enjoy music when you only hear it a few seconds at a time! I think the campus network gives lower priority to streaming radio than other applications.

One type of music I like is what I call "contemporary classical"--not the big orchestral symphony stuff, but things composed during the second half of the 20th century or later. Here is a station built with the 'minimalism' tag.

Even with all these options, I don't know if broadcast radio will go away. I still listen to it, especially when I'm driving. Even so, the internet has had a positive impact on my broadcast listening. I love online playlists! If I'm driving and hear a song I like but don't know, I make a note of the time it played. Later, I'll look it up on the radio's web site. And now that I am familiar with sites like, I can use them to find more of that artist's music to decide if I really like them or it was just that one song.

Thing #41 -- Mashup your Life

I joined FriendFeed (as DeborahWK--same as Twitter) several Things ago, and subscribed to the feeds of several people I know. I mostly monitor it the same way I monitor my other web 2.0 sites, by a gadget on my iGoogle home page. Which makes me wondor sometimes if FriendFeed isn't therefore rather redundant--what's the point of having a feed to update me with information I can see in my other gadgets on the same page? One major drawback, as far as I'm concerned, is the fact that FriendFeed can't pull in my status updates from Facebook. Therefore, people who follow me (admittedly not very many at this point) are missing a large part of my online life. After searching through several online forums I discovered this is a common problem for Facebook/FriendFeed users. Even so, I'll continue to use it for the time being, primarily for professional networking/development. Most of my personal online interaction still happens through Facebook.

My library began using Digsby for our IM reference service in the middle of the past semester. We have a Facebook account and one of the librarians received a chat reference query while she was logged in. It made us realize that since Trillian (our IM software at the time) couldn't monitor our Facebook account, we were potentially missing out on assisting users. Digsby solved that problem for us, aggregating all the chat services we use in one place. Another advantage to Digsby is it allows us to create chat widgets to place on pages of our web site where students might be looking for help.