Category Archives: Nebraska Learns 2.0

Zamzar — helpful file format translator but hangs up sometimes

I just tried out the free version of Zamzar.com’s file conversion service and found it worked quickly and converted more or less as promised. The files I uploaded and converted included:

  • 1 pdf file (1.3mb) — converted to *.doc in a little less than 1 minute. However, in spite of the *doc extension, the file format actually was rtf and the output file was 13.5mb.
  • 1 jpg file (831.9kb) — converted to a 1.3mb *.gif in a little under a minute. The quality of the photo seemed to remain consistent.
  • 1 mp3 (6mb) — converted to a 2.9mb mp4 file in 3.5 min. The smaller file seems better quality than the original, but that’s generally the case for mp4 files.

I spent a while trying to convert a web page, but the result was consistently either a message to use a file that has an extension, or that the translation format was not available. Unless one has selected a downloadable file from a website, a url doesn’t carry an extension. Most of Zamzar’s “translate to” formats are the same three letters as are their file extensions; the one choice Zamzar listed with a literal dot+3letter extension wouldn’t work.

Another glitch: I couldn’t get Zamzar to translate files one after another without closing my browser (Firefox), going back to the site, and making sure the login/password slots were empty. I had to do this several times in a row between the second and third file. After that, I also cleared my browser’s memory and history. Zamzar is probably downloading a cookie to make free translations harder, maybe to encourage us to sign up for the fee version, but I’m not likely to do that. Lots of free file converters are available for download, which is how I mostly want to handle my personal files. FreeFileConvert.com also does a pretty good job, if you’re looking for another online converter.

I’ll add the link to Zamzar.com and FreeFileConvert.com onto the browsers of librarian’s and patrons’ computers at the library and onto my own, but I won’t spend the library’s or my own money for Zamzar’s services.

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Exploring Crowdfunding

This month’s tech challenge from Nebraska Learns 2.0 is another winner, at least for me. (If you don’t know this site, check it out: http://nlcblogs.nebraska.gov/nelearns/ . You’ll also love Michael Sauer’s Travelin’ Librarian blog at http://travelinlibrarian.info/ .) I only knew about crowdfunding in a very general, abstract way until starting this exercise. Now I’m hooked – not so much on using it to raise money (though I do now have some ideas for our library!) but definitely on using it to help fund other people’s projects.

I spent a couple of afternoons exploring Continue reading

Becoming a Mozillarian – Popcorn and Thimbles and Goggles, oh my, with mashups long into the night

After spending most of this HOT Sunday, one way or another, with Mozilla’s Webmaker, I’m feeling a little (lot) loopy. Which is appropriate, since most of the time was with Popcorn, which loops and stretches and jiggles various media sources every which way you want, once you figure out how it works.

It’s fairly easy once you figure it out, but the first couple of hours (AFTER watching the how-to videos AND reading all the how-tos about it) were extremely frustrating. Nomatter what I did, I never could get Popcorn to import anything from Flickr. This was a bit disappointing since my first idea involved photos from our just-ended Summer Reading program. I kept getting the message “unacceptable media” and so assumed either Popcorn didn’t like jpgs or wants only very small files (it could be a size issue; jpgs did import later).

I also could not get Popcorn to import anything from Wikipedia – all the urls I copied into the search box produced an error message. (After I FINISHED my first mashup, I noticed the Wikipedia link on the EVENTS list.)

So, two hours into the project, it still had no contents. I took a break by watching a lot of the sample Popcorn mashups. My favorites were the one about the cat foster home (which did not seem to be made from web images but from specially made video) and the one about climate change.

I decided to start with music instead of a video, and quickly discovered that Popcorn does not allow (I think – maybe it does but I never did find a preview link or tool) any meaningful previewing before importing. So I went to the Soundcloud site and did some exploring till I found a cheerful instrumental (bluegrass); then I typed the name of that piece in the search box and imported it. Somehow an image associated with a different musician came in with the music as the first image of the mashup, and I can’t figure out how to replace it, as it doesn’t show up separate from the music.

I was delighted to discover that images do NOT have to be on the web in order to use them in a project. “Image” under “Events” lets you import them from your computer. I made sure the files were small enough and then dropped jpg files from my computer into the “drag and drop here” box so I could start with pictures of the library exterior and the bookshelves. I added the gifs of book covers in the same way. It took a little more time than it should have, because it’s easy to erase an image you want to keep unless you make sure you’re selecting space on the line ABOVE where you want the new image to go, which means you have to move the new image down to the correct spot after importing it.

Adding pop-ups and text was easy. So was finding and adding animated gifs – except I did have some trouble when placing them. The double click required placed two copies of the gif most of the time; the easiest fix was to delete the zero layer, then do any resizing needed. I could not figure out how to delete individual images or text boxes or pop-ups.

You can see my first mashup at https://mariacfromval.makes.org/popcorn/2588

Popcorn is fairly new, so I’m hoping Mozilla improves it. I’d like to see much more complete how-to and help info, written as well as in video: documentation of the meanings/causes of the error messages; clear statements about the format and sizes required for importable files; clear statements about how to make searches for Flickr photo tags work or if the Flickr import is only for video; and clear statements about the requirements for url imports. I suspect that the overall process works best if one first imports either an audio file or a video file and then adds layers of still photos or gifs or text or whatever. If so, that fact also should be in the documentation.

Popcorn mashups do provide libraries yet another way to handle publicity and/or education, and they do seem useful as a tool to educate young and old about the internet. I’d like to feel confident about hosting a Webmaker party for our teens and then for older adults, to provide general internet education, but I’m not there yet. I’d have to be a lot more proficient user of all the tools.

Also I’m not there yet because I can’t answer some basic questions about the Webmaker tools that I know our teens AND adults are going to ask:

So you use Goggles remix a web page to create a custom homepage or some humor, or you make a web page using Thimble. Does the page continue to exist in your Mozilla “Maker space” where you can find and use it? Can you use it someplace else, like on your own website? How? Why not use WordPress, instead?

I’m glad Mozilla has undertaken this project. I’m going to keep plugging away with the Webmaker tools and the entire “Explore” section and try to become far more internet literate than I now am.

Revolution 2.0: A Memoir by Wael Ghonim

Ghonim’s Revolution 2.0 tells the story of his reluctant, gradual,  but dedicated and often terrifying and painful involvement in the events that, through the medium of the internet, helped lead to the overthrow of Mubarak and the beginning of what was hopefully called “the Arab Spring.”

This was a difficult book for me to read, not because of the book itself but because of the current situation in Egypt. I knew that Ghonim would survive being interrogated and that his work via the internet to organize protests and push for the ouster of Mubarak would succeed. But I also knew they would not have the lasting effect he longed to see.

The book’s final pages, so full of hope and pride, are the most depressing. After all that effort, all the fear, all the suffering, the years of sacrifices, the deaths, the torture, after even the elation of success, Egypt is a dictatorship again. Ghonim, who is a target of the Egyptian establishment, is no longer there. The power of the people is not yet greater than the people in power, though for a brief time it seemed to be so.

Ghonim is working for Google again, with Google Ventures, and trying to make his NGO work to improve the lot of Egyptians through education. But Sisi rules Egypt and Egyptians are not free – and Ghonim still has hope.

Some days I do, too. I’m hoping Ghonim and other geeks can keep using their skills to mobilize enough people everywhere to finally make the power of the people permanently greater than the people in power.

 

NetGalley.com – Excellent Source for Librarians

NetGalley.com is now one of my favorite sites. I signed up on June 12 and spent several hours on June 13 to read through the FAQs, QAs, and other info; add my photo, contact information, links, interest categories (almost all of them), and a bio; update my version of Adobe Digital Editions and my Adobe PC registration (which needed doing anyway); set up my Kindle documents account (which also needed doing anyway); and select 5 books. Later, I set up Library Thing a bit more.

I spent so much time setting up because the site hooked me with all those yummy e-books. The process was straight-forward and the site is easy to use, with excellent help info (better about the Kindle documents than Amazon’s help). I really like the eclectic nature of the site – so many publishers, every sort of book that’s being published – which makes it a great time-saver for browsing and keeping up on what’s in the pipeline. I also really like the format choices for downloads because I read on both my Kindle and on my main computer.

On this first go-round, I picked two “immediate reads” and had them sent to my Kindle right away – (1) The Best Digital Marketing Campaigns in the World II, 3rd edition, by Dania Ryan; and (2) Crossing the Line, a Paris Homicide Mystery by Frederique Molay, so that I wouldn’t have deadline problems for the Nebraska Learns 2.0 assignment. I also picked three other books: (3) Race Unmasked, by Michael Luddell; (4) The Lazarus Curse, a Dr. Silkstone Mystery, by Tessa Harris; and (5) Creed, by Lindsay Cuneid (YA suspense). Approvals for the three arrive June 17. By the 18th, I also had sent these three and one more, (6) The Night Visitor by Dianne Emley (paranormal thriller), to my Kindle. I’ve been pre-approved by a publisher now, too.

I’ve read #1, 2, and 4, have started (and will finish) the other 3, and will review all 6 over the next couple of weeks. My review of #4, The Lazarus Curse, a Dr. Silkstone Mystery, by Tessa Harris, is available at these 4 locations:

I’ll post a review later on Amazon.com. It’s not allowing pre-publication reviews right now.

By the way, I appreciate being able to leave feedback for the publisher as well as answers to their questions and the review and rating. It’s a chance to be a bit critical without having a negative public effect, especially with things like strange formatting problems or typos or other errors.

NetGalley is VERY helpful to me as a librarian. I read constantly, but I do not have a large personal book-buying budget, and our library materials budget is small, so it’s really helpful to be able to read free advance copies and choose carefully. Because the site is so eclectic, it’s an efficient source for keeping track of and budgeting for books by our patrons’ favorite authors and for discovering authors whose work they probably will like. I’ve already ordered the books in the Paris Homicide and Dr. Silkstone series and probably will order Race Unmasked; and I’m on the lookout via NetGalley for good YA books, especially series.

Writing more reviews is good for me personally and as a librarian, too. Usually I don’t review books I don’t like – why attract attention to a book you don’t think is worth reading? – but I’ll figure out how to handle that dilemma. Thinking about a book more and longer after reading it increases my memory of it and prepares me to talk about it more clearly with patrons, too. So I’m sure to keep using NetGalley for a very long time.

Recommended: The Lazarus Curse, a Dr. Silkstone Mystery, by Tessa Harris

Harris’ 4th book in her Dr. Silkstone series is another winner, this time taking on the horrors faced by slaves and former slaves in England in the 1700s. If you like historical fiction, mysteries, forensics, and a touch of romance, this series is definitely a must. I gave the novel only 4 stars because I reserve 5 stars for only the best of the best.

As has been the case with Harris’ previous novels, The Lazarus Curse is well researched (and includes a glossary and references) and well written. Harris knows how to build and sustain suspense and makes us care about her subject and her characters – even the minor characters feel multi-dimensional and real. She also portrays the period and setting extremely well, without any heavy handed descriptions.

The previous novel left Silkstone and his intended, Lady Lydia, forcibly separated from each other by a legal ruling. Silkstone is asked to catalog samples brought back from Jamaica by a New World expedition, but the expedition’s missing artist and a headless corpse tied to the pier where the expedition ship docked draw him into another murder investigation, with plots involving corpse trafficking, slavery, Jamaican potions, political ambitions, and infidelity.

This time Silkstone must do his work without Lydia’s support, while Lydia must deal alone with the problems of finding a new estate manager and raising her son. Most of the novel centers on Silkstone and his quest for the truth (which I must admit I enjoyed; Lydia never seems quite right to me). This was not a mystery I could solve before Silkstone did; but the farther I got into the book, the more I did not want to put it down. Harris ties up all the loose ends at the end, but Lydia does not know that efforts to deprive her of her son and her estate are still underway until it is too late, and we are left with another cliffhanger, wanting to read the series’ book #5.

Mapping and Geolocation Tools

I spent WAY too much time exploring Google Earth’s new functions this Thursday. They’re interesting and can keep you looking and searching for hours (unfortunately). I wasn’t entirely thrilled by the new tours, but it’s going to take thousands (millions, more likely) more photos for them to do what I suspect lots of us are hoping for, which is something much more like real video.

In my book, the best views are still the flyovers, with the U.S. city street views as a close second. (I can see how folks who have smartphones that can go online like the maps aps. In cities I probably would, too. But I’ve always enjoyed the exploring that happens when I get lost – which I often do.) Street views outside of major cities and especially outside the U.S. don’t work as well or at all and aren’t likely to because the necessary photos aren’t online. I wanted to check out some areas in Costa Rica, as my son is considering retiring there, but there just aren’t enough photos posted to make it happen

Tours of the landmarks I explored are a disappointment if you want anything more than a street view. There are lots of photos of the Sistine Chapel, for example, but nothing that I could find worked like an inside tour, which is what I was hoping for.

I spent some time on HistoryPin, WhatWasThere, and Sepiatown, looking for photos of Chicago’s East Side neighborhood (where the infamous anti-union street massacre occurred) from earliest date possible through about 1970. I found some I can use (they are for a poetry ms by a friend of mine, recently deceased, whose memorial website I manage – if you’re interested, go to LinneaJohnsonAuthor.com) but am still looking for photos of the Cal Park Beaches and the Calumet Forest Preserve, and also am looking for artists’ drawings of the Calumet River and swamp area pre-settlement. I had hope for LOTS more old photos – again, the problem is the photo supply, not the technology.

I looked at the tools for teachers – lots of possibilities here for classrooms and programs and book clubs and so on. I can see using our laptop and projector to give a tour along with some recommended books at one of our programs at the Senior Center this summer, too.

I signed the library up for LibraryThing and am posting events there, starting with Teen Volunteer Training. Still trying to figure out how to automatically link each post to Facebook and Twitter.