My colleague Linda hit the nail on the head once more when, in her latest blog post, she wrote: "electronics vendors offer "must-have" apps and gadgets faster than we can learn or finance them." I am so taking it out of context but I read it as a break from shopping online for a new gadget of my own, namely an eReader or a tablet. This delightful coincidence got me thinking about eBooks and all the arguments for and against them. So please allow me to offer up some random thoughts and useful tips in this eBook Round Up.
Get Rich Slowly - a personal finance blog - recently posted a piece on the cost effectiveness of eBooks. The author of the piece, J.D. Roth, waffles a bit on the pros and cons but here are some of his highlights.
- eBooks are a great way to cut down on Stuff (which is especially useful for those who move frequently)
- eBook Readers often have apps that you can use on other devices such as your personal computer, tablets and smart phones.
- The best values on eBooks tend to be found with the newest and oldest books. The older books often being available for free because they live in the public domain. But whether or not the initial cost of a Reader makes up for that price difference depends on how frequently you use it.
Leatherbound: Perhaps you've decided to skip buying an actual eReader and simply use various apps for your eBooks. For instance, my phone allows me use of both the Nook and Kindle apps. Leatherbound allows users to search for eBooks across both of those platforms as well as the iBooks platform (designed for the iPad and other Apple devices). This allows users to find the cheapest version of the eBook they're looking for without visiting each virtual store.
Big News: Your very own Round Rock Public Library will soon be adding another wrinkle to your decision-making process! On December 17th we'll be launching use of OverDrive, a service that provides downloadable audiobooks, eBooks, music and video. In my opinion, it's a step up from our previous provider of eBooks which did not allow titles to be downloaded to personal devices.
Also Check Out:
"You'd be surprised who reads steamy novels"
"Google opens bookstore with 3 million titles, free android and iOS reader apps"
"iPad leading e-book reader demand despite Kindle price advantage"
This year I have made a pledge to myself to get a flu shot for the very first time in my life (at least as far as I can remember). I haven't avoided it because of a fear of needles or conspiracy theories about how the government uses it to track people. But for whatever reason, this is the first year that I've sought out the vaccine.
We're lucky that there seems to be more than enough of the flu vaccine to go around this year. But where's a girl to go for such a thing? I was ready for it to be a long, annoying process involving lots of phone calls and confusing instructions. Gosh, sometimes it's great to be wrong.
Launched last year, Flu.gov is meant to act as a centralized place to find information about influenza and the flu vaccine. It offers many helpful FAQs on various flu-related topics and, you know what? It also looks good and is easy to navigate. Weird! But the real boon here is that Health and Human Services partnered with Google.org to make it easy for people to find flu vaccines near them. By entering your location in the Flu Vaccine Finder, users are provided with a map of nearby locations, their hours of operation, the cost, and a link with more information. So now, I am left with just about zero excuses. Suddenly I think I might actually be afraid of needles.
Jumpstart, The Pearson Foundation, and We Give Books have teamed up this year for the annual Read for the Record campaign coming up on October 7th. The event encourages as many people as possible to come together on the same day to read a classic children's book. This year, the book is Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day. Not only does Read for the Record encourage reading, it's also a way to promote the fantastic literacy work Jumpstart does in preschool classes across the country.
This year, the campaign has added some new features. As of September 7th, readers can actually access on online, digital version of the book to read. But the cool thing is that by reading the online version, people are not just adding to the Read for the Record number, they are also donating a print version of the book to children in Jumpstart classrooms. I tried it out today and was pleased at how easy it is. After reading the book, you are asked to register with your name and email address which I don't always love to do but feel it's well worth it in this situation.
If you have a minute and you're interested, check out the We Give Books site and register for Read for the Record.
Health Care reform was the big news item for months before it actually came to fruition. But now what? After all the debates and the compromise, what changes can you look forward to? I'm so glad you asked! (okay, so I asked. But maybe you were at least curious?)
To find the answers to these and other questions, head to HealthCare.gov. The site provides a brief overview of the policy, a timeline of when each part will take effect, overall goals of the re-haul, and a place to shop for insurance plans. At this point the strongest piece of the site is the actually summary of the legislation which contains an overwhelming number of parts. Changes in Medicare, an emphasis on prevention, technological improvements to record-keeping, changes to how individuals interact with insurance companies, etc. It's a dizzyingly long list of things for the average person to keep track of but is broken down nicely on the government site. I'm impressed, which is a rare thing from a government web site.
Where the site falls short currently is the tool to help users find Insurance Options. Although, users can pull up a list of potential insurance plans that suit their needs, the site doesn't provide price estimates in one convenient place yet. These price estimates are slated to become available in October of this year which will be a valuable addition to the site.
Check it out and share your thoughts in the comments section below!
You may also be interested in checking out this New York Times calculator to see how the policy will affect you!
I was beginning to think my summer was cursed. First my car was totaled, and then my laptop became completely overwhelmed by my music and photo files that it barely turns on. It seemed only right that a third item would suddenly and strangely meet its end.
As I was settling in the other night to read DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little (which is great and must be the only Man Booker Prize winner set in Central Texas) I noticed a cup of water I'd left on the nearby table. "Well," I thought, "I'd better put that on the floor so I don't knock it over and spill it everywhere." The best intentions . . .
I turn my clock to check the time and as I do my cute little HTC MyTouch slips off the table and does a beautiful, vertical dive directly into my water glass. I cannot even tell you how impossible it seemed. It just so happens a similar event caused the death of my Blackberry Pearl last year. But this time I was equipped with the knowledge I needed to take action.
Step 1) Get it out of the water as fast as you can! I immediately swooped down and rescued my sweet, sweet phone from the water (probably while muttering to myself). Step 2) Cut off the power supply. This is perhaps the critical step. The combination of water and electrical circuits is a bad one. If your phone stays connected to a power source there will be trouble and destruction (of those circuits). While you're at it, go ahead and slide out your SIM card if you have one. Even if you phone is fried, your SIM card carries loads of valuable information that would be a shame to lose. After a bit of fumbling I managed to take off the back of the phone and remove the batter. Step 3) Gently dry off all the parts of the phone as well as you can. Out of desperation I just used the UT t-shirt I was wearing. Step 4) Dry it out. I scurried into the next room where I dumped a bag of dry white rice into an empty shoe box. The fact that I even had rice on hand is also rather extraordinary as I was in the middle of packing up my apartment and the only food items left included two bags of cornmeal (why? I have no idea) and this one, magical bag of rice. Step 5) Wait. I waited about 24 hours because I'm impatient. Luckily, that was enough time for my phone to have dried out and it turned right back on . . . omg! It actually worked. You can tell I was thrilled because OMG is not something I utter often.
The dry rice trick is gaining popularity but I have to admit that I had my doubts until I tried it myself. It works because dry rice is a desiccant just like silica gel, calcium chloride and calcium sulfate. The difference is that dry rice is something you're likely to actually have on hand. It may ruin your evening stir fry plans but I'd certainly rather spend $0.89 to replace rice than however much it would cost to replace your phone.
- Don't try to turn on your phone before it's had time to really dry out
- Don't try to dry it using something warm like a hair dryer. The heat may get the water dried up but it causes damage of its own.
- Don't try to turn on your phone before it's dry (I know this is a repeat. But I had to learn the hard way last time).
Photo from Flickr User benmarvin
Although I am a lover of food and cooking, I have found that, much to my chagrin, I am terribly unimaginative in the kitchen. I need direction. I need a list of ingredients and clear instructions on how to put them all together. In other words, I rely on recipes. Luckily we have access to all kinds of great recipes. For starters (no pun intended) the library has a great collection of cookbooks (Nonfiction 641). I’m always impressed by the variety and breadth available there.
Sadly, in addition to not being a very creative cook, I’m also not a champion of planning ahead (terrible combination). So I sometimes find myself at home with the urge to cook but in need of some guidance. This is when I turn to sites like allrecipes.com, The Food Network online, or Epicurious. These are tried and true favorites which let you search through recipes, view comments and reviews, and sometimes even view nutrition information. Luckily sites like these continue to add features which make them even more valuable. In addition to these favorites I have recently discovered the sharp-looking, featured-filled site Yummly.
In Yummly, users can set up a profile which helps narrow down searches. You can add diet and allergy information; favorite and least favorite foods; information about where you like to shop; how much you can spend on your at-home meals; and how much time food takes to prepare. This feature is nice because it still allows you to search for specific meals or foods but it also provides the FoodFinder which lists recipes that meet your specific tastes and needs. Yummly also has a social feature which allows you to share recipes with your “friends” on the site. It will be interesting to see what other recipe sites emerge over the next year or so.
Have a favorite recipe book or cooking site? Feel free to add it to the comments section!
Other cooking tools:
Convert Center (change units to suit your cooking needs).
Bing Recipes (recipe searching provided by the search engine Bing).
I own a laptop that runs Windows Vista. When I made the switch at the beginning of grad school I was so so pleased. There are photographs of me actually hugging the thing after taking it out of the box. However, as with all laptops certain problems began to appear over time. For instance, turning my laptop on became a precarious business. Sometimes it boot up immediately and other time s I would sit and stare at the welcome screen for long periods of time (once I waited twenty minutes) before getting tired of it and forcing it to turn off. So I finally took some action. For starters, I removed a few things from my hard drive because I had less than 10% free which puts it in what I like to call "the danger zone."
But the booting issue went beyond hard drive space. In my case - and I'm confident I'm not alone in this - my computer simply had too many things all trying to start at once. Windows makes it fairly easy to find the list of processes and applications starting while your computer is booting up but it's easy to feel like you're in over your head with that approach. It takes time to figure out what each item is and whether or not you need it. In comes Soluto. Soluto gives you the information you need to make informed decisions about what can stay and what should go, ranking items in three categories: No-brainer (remove from boot), Potentially removable, and Required (cannot be removed). Additionally, Soluto gives users a description of what the item does (for almost all items) and allows you to pause it, delay it or take no action. This takes away some of the guesswork. If after reading the description you're still not sure what to do you can rely on the wisdom of the masses and see what other users have chosen to do. Another nice tool but also an indication that Soluto is collecting information on users. From what I've seen and read however, Soluto has indicated that the information is strictly about your machine and not personal data. The information they gather adds to their "PC Genome" which is how they are able to make recommendations to users.
I used Soluto this morning and, despite the fact that I removed some items manually about a month ago, I was still able to shave about 25 seconds off of my start time. Not too shabby.
Last week Stephen Colbert interviewed Nicholas Carr – author of the newly-released book . Three days ago I came across a blog post titled “Do You Purposely, Regulary Go Offline?” Today, to top things off, I read a brief synopsis of a study which shows more than two hours per day of screen time (particularly watching TV or playing video games) can have negative impacts on one’s attention span. It’s worth mentioning that all three of these were online interactions. This got me thinking about how we use technology and the negative and positive effect it can have on us.
In this blog I make it a goal to provide some tips on tools created to make our lives easier and more productive. What Nicholar Carr and the others show is that sometimes maximizing productivity requires disconnecting from the Internet. In Nicholas Carr’s 2008 essay “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Carr writes “In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas.” With this in mind, I present this week’s technology tip for increasing productivity and quality of life: take some time to unplug and focus on one task for an extended period of time. Maybe start by reading Carr’s new book (located in our New Non-fiction section), or by perusing some of the excellent book recommendations in Linda’s blog Reader’s Exchange.
Perhaps this is a bad message for the technology blog writer but I think it’s a great thing to be aware of. Plus, you could use those long periods of reading or contemplation to win great prizes through our Adult Summer Reading Program!
Two things are going on. My multi-tasking is spiraling out of control (which is why I have 13 tabs open in my browser) and I've become very interested in maps and map applications lately. So, I am going to act like a serious blogger and do my own Friday Roundup all on maps. Here are some cool and useful things to be aware of.
Google Maps Labs is "a testing ground for experimental features that aren't quite ready for primetime." Currently Lab items include "What's Around Here?" which places a pinpoint on all the nearby business. It can be a little overwhelming but serves as a nice overview of an area. The Lab also includes, just to name a few, a service which can tell you the latitude and longitude of a location, a way to measure the straight-line distance between two locations, and a geography game called "Where in the World." [note to self: work on my geography].
When I'm not blogging I someimes (read: rarely) spend time jogging. I have found however that I am terrible at going out the door and setting off without having a plan in mind. I like to know the distance and route I'm going to take before I even put on my sneakers. And guess what. There's an app for that (sorry). Gmaps Pedometer, created by Open Street Map Project, uses Google Maps and the OSM data to help you create walking/running routes for yourself. Of course, if you're more adventurous than I am - and you probably are - you can use the service to calculate mileage after the walk.
Find nearby garage sales without skimming the paper with Garage Sales Tracker. The service provides a list of nearby sales with time, location, general information and a handy map (provided by, of course, Google Maps). Also a good tool for finding flea markets and consignment shops.
Interested in looking at some cool, historical maps? Check out our Historic Map Works database or the Texas Digital Sanborn Maps database both available on the Round Rock Public Library databases and websites page!
Enjoy the holiday weekend!
Although this is not hot-off-the-presses news, I've been wanting to mention some developments in Google Maps.
I love that Google is constantly trying to think outside the box and develop new tools for users. It's true that sometimes they execute a plan without seriously thinking it through. You may recall the controversy brought about by Google's Street View for instance. Or they're more recent mistake of information sharing via Google Buzz. Despite some of these errors in judgment, Google also just makes cool stuff sometimes.
In the Maps department they have, of course, the driving directions which I generally find accurate and easy to use. In addition, they have added walking, biking and public transportation directions. Google is still working the kinks out of the biking portion and tell users clearly that the directions are in beta. As more people use the service and comment on the effectiveness (and safety) of directions these are likely to improve significantly. What's interesting is the difference between their walking directions and biking directions. The service takes things like traffic and one-way streets into account when giving bikers directions, helping two-wheeled pedestrians avoid heavy traffic and hostile automobiles.
Google also gives directions based on local public transportation. This reminds me of the old Google. The one whose mantra was "don't be evil." Not only does the service provide accurate information about local buses and light rail schedules, it also calculates the dollar amount you're saving by taking public transportation rather than driving. Sometimes the cost of driving is less but often you'll find that taking the bus can save you a bit of cash (in addition to providing a bit of time for quality reading!). Google also offers a brief explanation of how they calculate the driving cost which is nice to know.
I always appreciate a company or business that makes a quality product and then stops to consider how it could be made even more effective for their users. By taking into account the various ways people move from place to place, Google is able to create a great tool and, in a small way, encourage users to rely on multiple forms of transportation.
As I write this blog entry I have the following open: our checkout software, an Excel spreadsheet, a browser with 5 tabs open, and two Word documents. This is far more than the human brain can deal with at a time (at least this human brain) but we often overload ourselves in the name of multi-tasking. Luckily, there are oodles of tools you can add to your browser to help up your productivity. Today I will feature two such tools.
Limit the number of tabs open at once
Both Firefox and Chrome allow you to download tools that will keep you from going “tab wild.” No More Tabs (for Chrome) and Window and Tab Limiter (for Firefox) allow you to set your tab limit and keep you to that limit. Both tools do what they’re meant to do and are easy to download and edit. My only complaint is that rather than just letting you know you’re about to go over your limit, the add-on automatically closes a tab without giving you a warning. I can see the logic in that (since I was probably ignoring that first tab anyway) but I would prefer getting a chance to choose what to close. Still a pretty useful tool if you find your web-surfing has taken you far afield.
Let your browser restrict your surfing time
Leechblock (for Firefox) and StayFocusd (for Chrome) keep you on task by keeping you away from time-wasting sites during designated productive times of the day. Have a problem checking the Library’s Facebook page constantly? Love the adorableness of Cute Boys with Cats? Can’t stop searching for yourself on Google? Let your browser play time police! The onus will still be on users to define their forbidden sites and decide when those sites are off limits but after that initial setup you can kiss your (predetermined) distractions goodbye! Pretty neat, huh?
What other tools do you find useful for eliminating distractions and staying focused? Share them in the comments section!
P.S. You may have noticed that I didn’t provide any tools for Internet Explorer. That is partly because of a personal bias against it but we’ll have to save that discussion for another day.
I'm afraid I won't have time to post another blog entry before I leave
for New York City tomorrow morning. Instead, I'll leave you with this
neat little video I saw posted on kottke.org. Neither kottke nor I
really know how to explain it. The video is some sort of stop-motion,
time lapse video of NYC. If nothing else, it's nice to look at.
The image below is a link to the video page.
I often pride myself on my “tallish” stature and ridiculously long arms. I can reach things in high places and barely have to lean over to tie my shoes. The downside is a tendency towards the klutzy side. Combine that with my bad habit of eating while driving and there’s no surprise that spilling is a common part of my life. Until recently, I treated all stains the same with pretty limited success. But the times are changing and I have found the ultimate web resource on stain removal. And yes, I’m excited about a website on stain removal. There’s nothing special about the technology of the website itself but it’s still a handy resource worth sharing.
Researchers at the University of Illinois put together a comprehensive guide to removing over 200 different kinds of stains. The list is quite specific too, including 11 different types of oil and even makes a distinction between coffee with cream and coffee without. After selecting the stain culprit users are shown how to remove the stain from washable fabrics, carpet, or upholstery. I think this is a great example of a simple site, cleanly designed and chock full of great information.
As many of you know by now, the library is in the process of
switching our circulation to an RFID system. I realized the other day that,
when telling patrons about the switch, I often used the phrase “like magic” to
explain the new system. As a provider of information I’m starting to feel like
I could be a bit more clear.
So here it is. The library is happily moving away from the
old school barcodes which must be scanned one by one with a barcode reader.
With the new system we’ll use an antenna to detect RFID (Radio Frequency
Identification) tags within books; no scanning necessary. The most noticeable
change for patrons will be the new, improved self-check machines. At the new
machines users will simply place all their items on the antenna (which is
really just a flat surface) which will then read the tags placed in each
book/item. See? Like magic! The new machines will also allow users to pay their
fines then and there without going to a service desk. The new system also makes
it easier for our staff to find misplaced books within the library. We’ve been
equipped with an RFID “wand” (see how the magic keeps coming?) which we can
wave over the shelves in order to find specific books. We believe this switch
will help us better serve your needs.
Interested in other uses of RFID tags? Check out this article
from CNET on RFID in passports and this short list by Wired Magazine of
creative uses of the system.
Grab a partner and do the RFID do-si-do. This is what has been going on here behind our closed doors, a whole lot of dancing. Except this kind of dancing is long and tedious work. Here we see one staff member "tagging". This is the process of placing an RFID tag somewhere in the book. The other staff member turns the RFID tag on by scanning the item's barcode. This matches the barcode number to the RFID tag placed inside the book. It might sound like a simple two step, but it must be repeated nearly 180,000 times as that is the number of items in the Round Rock Public Libraries collection. This is no small task.
With almost every aisle resembling the ones you see above and below, there is simply no way that we could have done this without closing. We do appreciate the patience and understanding of our wonderful community.
What this RFID upgrade means for you, the reader and patron, is easier check-out and a more accurate check-in process.
During check-out, the first step will still be to scan your library card. The second step is what is exciting. The RFID technology will allow you to place several items at a time on a large black plate. The plate is actually an antenna that can scan for the radio frequencies being transmitted via the RFID tags. This enables several items to be checked out at once and without even having to scan a barcode! Gone are the days of those awkward-to-use self check machines!
The check-in process will be much more efficient as well. You'll still return the books in the same book drop locations you're used to, but the books will be checked in much faster as the same simple process will work for us checking in the books.
Closing this week has also given us the opportunity to run new cable throughout the entire library (another job that is no small task). David Wongwai of the City of Round Rock's IT department said, "What we're doing here is upgrading all the networking to the latest standard which requires replacing all the networking cables, switches and routers. This will put us in a position to be sufficiently equipped when the time comes for further technological advancements."
All in a week's work. We're nearly halfway there. We'll see you soon!
Peace and Such,
The Round Rock Public Library
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