Tuesday, 23 August 2011

¡Al final!

Perhaps my favourite novel of all time is the Savage Detectives by the Chilean author Roberto Bolaño. A beautiful book about two friends in Mexico City who get in to trouble and have to flee the country. The book covers their separate journeys through Europe, South America, and the Middle East, and is told - almost entirely - through vignettes from people whom they have known. Sometimes they are not named in person, sometimes their names are different but impression we form of them is through the impact they have made the lives of others. For me this is most apparent in an episode where the character Arturo Belano - based loosely on the life of the author - contrives a scene for a former lover who watches a sword fight with him and a critic from afar, barely able to make out who is who. I think it says a lot about literature and the role of the writer but also about the lives of many of us today as social media technologies allow us to shape our own narratives through a new medium.

The past 22 things have not always been new to me but they have introduced me to new ways of using the resource or they have told me how to get the best out of what I am using. A nice example is flickr, which I use a lot to view photos uploaded by friends but have never used as a photographic resource before.

They have also give me a renewed confidence to use social networks and to add people I know. As silly as it may sound, one of my greatest drawbacks on social networks was that I always hesitated to add/follow someone, even if I knew them well.

I know that sometimes I may come across as a cynic with these technologies so here are somethings that I now use that I did not before:
  • The blog: I enjoyed the blog a lot. Having to write something every week was good fun at at the start allowed me to be creative, before I went on holiday and had a mountain of adding/location changes to catch up on. I have also enjoyed reading the other participants blogs, when updated, which has allowed me to keep in touch from what sometimes feels like a bit of an outpost.
  • Creative Commons: I knew very little of the Creative Commons before I started. This thing was very useful.
  • Delicious: As I spend a lot of my time using a number of different computers I have now started using this a lot.
  • Twitter: I am not yet a full convert but I do use this at work to keep up to date with developments in the IS profession.
  • LinkedIn: I really did not like LinkedIn before I started but I now see it as an effective, if still problematic, tool for creating and maintaining a professional network.
  • HTML: I decided when I started that I would write every blog post entirely in html (yes, every link and every list) to give me better confidence. All my html is self-taught and adding link after link can be tedious but I find it a really empowering tool. My highlight of this blog was writing the html for a fully linked footnote.

As my final day as a trainee is looming, I hope that people maintain their blogs and various social media so that I can keep up while I am away. If you don't already have me, I also have another blog, where I post short stories in Spanish but hope to maintain after this 23things project, tumblr, and twitter. You can also find me on LinkedIn and google+ although I am still not really sure how I will use that. I hope you have had at least a fraction of the fun I have had writing this blog.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

cacharro22: Meta-Searching Meta-Hither and Meta-Tither

It's quite interesting that of the entire internet, the main search engines return near uniform results. The major differences in the results for my searches were that Bing gave me more foreign language pages and that Ask, and other search engines, promoted retail websites.

I know that google has a habit of tailoring search results to our history so I was wondering whether the meta-search engines take that into account, whether they use a generic google, or whether their google output is based on their own history.

I will still use google because I can play with the settings with more ease to fine tune my results.
Cool extra thing:
I now have a resource to answer this perennial question.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

cacharro 21: Searching hither and tither

We covered the internet in our IT lessons at school. It's reassuring to know that all three search engines recommended to us - askjeeves, dogpile, and google - are still alive after 10 years of google domination. So this was a bit like a trip down memory lane, except with flashy new designs.

I searched for three things:
  1. My partner's name
    As the joint author of a number of academic papers, as well as having a photography blog, and the usual social network things, I thought this would be a better choice than my name. Bing and Yahoo turned up the same results with her blog first, followed by a scientific commons entry, members of her lab, and a list of papers. I was impressed that the blog came out first. Ask1 seemed to favour social media first followed by individual blog posts and was a little disappointing.
  2. Enrique Vila Matas - a reasonably well known Spanish writer in Spain but with only two books published in English.
    Again, Yahoo and Bing were similar: first a wikipedia page, followed by his English website, a facebook entry, his Spanish website, and some interviews. Whereas Ask promoted ebay, amazon along with an irrelevant website on fashion.
  3. The Aleph - in particular the short story by Jorge Luis Borges although it could also be a number of other things.
    All search engines turned up the same results, exclusively referring to the short story or to an writing about the story.
I love Wolfram|Alpha. I have even recommended it to students at the desk as it can be used for getting nice summaries on stocks and indices with much more clarity and information than many other free resources.
I also love Oaister and used it all the time when working in ILLs when looking for PhD theses. I recommended it for use at the desk as well for searching for theses as it can often save the student time and an ILL fee.
Scirus and TechXtra were new to me and I like them but I need more playing to know their strengths and weaknesses.


1 because it's not love but the bomb that will bring us together... sorry for the Smiths joke.

Monday, 15 August 2011

The twentieth thing

When I try and think of things that I can not remember, I think of familiar sounds until eventually the word/name/concept materialises out of the ether. I don't watch TV but listen to the radio instead, not while I am doing other things but as a past-time in itself. Radio4 is a lifeline; it provides news, comedy, drama, and lovely documentaries. My mind contains a myriad of facts harvested from weird documentaries on radio4 and I make liberal use of them so that other people think I am well read, when in fact most of it is transmitted straight into my brain. Unlike Twinset and Purls, I am very audio centric.

You would have thought that podcasts are perfect for me then, and you would be right. Recently, they have proved very important in learning Spanish. I have podcasts ranging from beginner lessons through to intermediate and advanced lessons, which demand listening with a pen and paper. I also have great podcasts on conversational Spanish as well as some excellent podcasts from the Spanish equivalent of radio4. My current favourite being El Ojo Critico (the critical eye) basically a Spanish Front Row with a Spanish Mark Lawson.

While there is a lot of scope for podcasts within university education - lectures being the obvious step - and libraries should provide resources for learners with disabilities or just an audio bent, I don't think that they can be used as part of an effective information literacy programme in isolation. Information literacy largely uses visual interfaces, which makes wholly audio resources difficult to conceive. Also, the information behaviour of students that I have seen as a trainee suggests that what they are often after is a quick solution to a problem they didn't envisage.

The ultimate problem for information literacy programmes is to provide a service that people don't think they need. Podcasts in isolation won't be effective as their serial nature requires users to be interested from the start. Were I in charge of an information literacy programme, I would try and get information literacy - if not librarians - into lectures as well as departments. Perhaps even there could be an information literacy certificate for students to append to their CVs, which could give them an edge in the market. I understand this sounds like the naivety of someone entering LIS school and is wildly unrealistic. Does it make me want to become a subject librarian? Well, it sounds like a big task. We'll see.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

A boring post about youtube.

Thing 19: Youtube.

I often wonder whether it's just me that gets put off by fun earnest types. Perhaps it's a worry that such eagerness to seem interesting or fun belies a sense of desperation. Perhaps it's a worry that at heart I'll never be that fun. Nevertheless it has haunted me for as long as I remember; I never could get into wacky children's TV. I didn't even like Fun House.

Looking at the videos has brought back some of those memories. I'll be honest: I cringed. I personally would not use youtube as part of an information literacy programme other than as a hosting site. I would prefer that the video content be part of the library's web services, embedded into the content there.

I also wonder how much such videos engage students. I would be surprised if many students would hang around for 5-10 minutes to watch a video on youtube. I don't think they see it as much of a priority. Students seem pretty arrogant when it comes to assessing their information literacy.

I would prefer a series of video presentations - using camtasia for example - with audio and video illustrating how to use the library service, closely linked to the web content of the library, and no more than a few minutes long. Students seem to worry about information literacy when they need it.

I know this makes me a boring killjoy but don't worry, I've known this for a long time.

Coming up: Podcasts and some musings on an information literacy "strategy".

Monday, 1 August 2011

The autodidatic quests of this ingenious hidalgo: A Quixotic tale.

There were a few novelties on the list of things last week with things that I had mainly come into contact tangentally but that never really explored. Recently I have been ploughing through Don Quixote (in English as the Spanish would be impossible), which has made me wonder about my various attempts at teaching myself things. Here is a quick run through of my adventures:

Slideshare #16
in which our hero encounters a collection of presentations and ultimately relflects upon the couragous deeds of chivalry

In the past I have stumbled accross slideshare from links from presentations. This was the first time that I have used it as a resource. Being an avid autodidact, I am always looking for new resources for my next project. So I selected three topics to evaluate this collection.
  1. Computer things - I am on a mission to make myself more computer aware, recently this has covered markup languages, mainly XML. I found lots of presentations from beginner to advanced by searching XML and other related key words.
  2. Maths things - Another project is learning about the branch of mathematics called set theory, which was loosely covered in my maths lectures as an economics student. The resources I found here were very basic and only seemed to cover notation, perhaps this flaw is the nature of slides being summaries.
  3. Literature things - I found the resources even more sparse as I continued into the more abstract realms of literature. Although a search for the great Don Quixote de la Mancha did throw up this great presentation, which puts real life landscapes to the quintessentially Spanish novel.

Above all I am impressed by the international nature of slideshare; my searches returned presentations in English, French, Italian, and Spanish. For a moment I felt part of an international community, which was nice.

Wikis #17
in which our knight errant faces his most stressful demons to date

Wikis are scary. It's fun playing with content but it's scary when it is something that everyone has contributed to and there is the possibility of deleting things forever. I added my blog to the 23things section of the UK library blogs. I write and edit my blog posts in html because I like the control that it gives me but editing the "source" was too scary. So I tried entering html with the <a href="..."> bit but it left a box with JavaScript, which was also scary. In the end I just left the http://... address in the fear that doing otherwise would break it!

Delicious #18
in which the fraught dealings with Wikis are put to rest as our hero emerges triumphant

I've had a Delicious account for a while now but never used it. After I got rid of the handful of ancient links and got started afresh I realised that I had found something very handy indeed. Working on a handful of computers scattered hither and tither throughout the land means that I make frequent use of email drafts to save nuggets of interest and while I have tried things such as evernote and delicious before I have never really been able to keep up.

This time I put the effort into organising and maintaining my delicious account for a week and I am impressed by the results. I like the search facility a lot. A lot. Sad I know but I like the ability to filter by tags as well as by tag exclusion as well as the graph for tags added by time. I will definitely be using this in the future.

Thanks to Delicious leading me to yet another apt comic from xkcd.

an addendum quest which acts as a clever little moment for reflection on the week

Evernote is a lovely little tool that I have been using for a while but as with some of the things from this programme it is probably most effective for people who are very organised. I am not. I pick things up and put them down without finishing them. I am not synced. I don't have all of my applications up to date and nor do I want to. My concentration is fickle and I like it that way. I carry hundreds of notes and lists written down on scraps of paper and while Evernote is probably the perfect tool for organising everything I find it requires a patience that I don't really have. I suppose it's a matter of habit, like writing a diary, which is something else I've never been able to maintain.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Doodle and Google

Doodle was new to me and using it was straightforward. I liked the features and it was really easy to use. Crucially though, I think would imagine it works best with a large group of people or for when the meeting and a time frame is already agreed. When I tried it, the lack of an option for "not" this time and an undefined time span essentially meant we had to confirm by email in the end anyway, thereby doubling the things we had to do. A good example in how not to use technology purely for the sake of it. I think that it would be a useful thing to use when n>2 because the number of emails required to get all to confirm rises exponentially.

I love google docs. I have been using them for years. Recently I have used it to help my brother apply for university by being allowed to view and edit his applications and I am maintaining a spreadsheet with my sister as we plan our next adventure - a hike in Finland during the midnight sun next year. I didn't know that you could embed google docs. That's something I want to try in the future.

Next week: sharing.