Stuck in OverDrive

overdrive_logo

To be honest, I know way more than I want to about OverDrive.  As the point of contact for both patron and staff training on the e-books and audiobook download service, it’s my business to know how it works inside and out.

Thanks to the recent redesign of OverDrive’s website and checkout procedure, I just redid our websites help pages and all of the library’s brochures on the subject.  BrochureS, you may ask?  Yes.  Six of them (PDF):

Why?  Because the process of setting up the software and getting an item to your device varies widely depending on which device you are using.  Oh, and now you can read e-books in a browser, too – but only about 60% of the available titles.  If you want to use Internet Explorer to view them, you’ll need to install a plug-in.  And if you want to download to a black and white Kindle, you can use wi-fi.  Unless the title was published by Penguin, then you need to transfer it via USB.  Yes, and that audiobook you want will only work if you are using a PC to transfer to WMA compatible device and SURPRISE!! your phone can do almost anything but read a WMA file.  And yes, that mp3 will work on your iPod, but you need to change your iTunes settings first.  The exceptions to the rules are maddening!!  It makes it seem as if there are no rules and all of this is some cruel tech joke we’re playing to test the limits of our patrons’ patience.  If I’m this frustrated, I can’t imagine how non-techies must feel.  Actually, I can.  Because some have yelled at me as if it was my fault the process was this complicated.

</rant>

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.  I don’t blame OverDrive, necessarily.  It has to be hard to make a product compatible with every device there is.  Haggling with the publishers can’t be easy, either.  I could blame the publishers for not making their audiobooks available in mp3 format or imposing restrictions on Amazon users, but the rational side of me knows they are running scared that e-publishing will be the downfall of the their industry.  We saw what happened with the music industry, right?  Change is scary all around.

As a techie, you may assume I am a consumer of e-books, but I’m not.  Perhaps if I traveled more I would take advantage of an e-reader to lighten my packing load.  Or, if my car had an aux jack I might download audiobooks to my phone and plug in.  I have tried reading e-books on my phone, and I just don’t find it convenient.  It’s not the font size, because that can be changed.  Perhaps it is the time it takes to load each page.  Or maybe that’s just one trick too many for this old dog.  I’m not certain.  What I do know is given a choice, I would always choose the physical book.  One advantage of library e-books – no mysterious smears on the pages (is that a booger?!?) or funky smells emanating from the books.

Even though I am not an e-book consumer, I definitely have opinions about the different e-readers.  Among the black-and-white e-readers, the Sony Reader Wi-Fi is my favorite.  It is very intuitive, combining the ease of using an OverDrive app with the features of an e-ink reader (lower energy usage, readable in the sun, etc.).  It has a browser, but not one I’d want to use extensively.  Among color units/tablets, I am partial to Android devices.  iOS (iPhone/iPad) is a close second, but only because of the higher price point and the fact that I am more familiar with Android from my experience with my phone.  These are powerful tablets with apps that are designed to be intuitive.  While I like the Kindle Fire, the issue that takes it out of the running for me is the fact that you can download the app and use that to download ePub format to read withing the app or you can use the website and download Kindle format.  And if you download the Kindle format from within the app, you can’t read it in the app.  Patrons find this confusing, and I think that learning this process is already confusing enough!  That said, it looks like this is here to stay, unless publishers can successfully freeze libraries out of the market (like I’m sure they have wanted to do ever since the creation of the First Sale Doctrine).

********************

I just want to take a moment and thank everyone who has helped make Connect 2 U a success.  A big thank you goes out to Michael Stephens for offering our library the opportunity to participate in this program. His team of students from San Jose State University has done a fantastic job of creating modules and responding to participants!  Thanks also go to Evelyn, our fearless leader, for supporting the program and providing incentives to make it that much more rewarding to participate.  I am also proud of the staff at the East Greenbush Community Library for sticking with the program week after week, despite increasing demands on their time in the library.  It is my sincere hope that everyone walked away from this experience with something valuable, whether it was a tool or skill that will help library staff in their jobs or insight into how to train a group of people at varying levels of technological comfort.  This has been a wonderful experience – thank you!

Apps on the Go

portable

Before this module, I had heard about PortableApps, and was intrigued.  It seemed like a perfect solution to a perennial patron issue – we don’t have their preferred software installed on our public computers.  Because of the security risks involved, we don’t allow programs to be installed by patrons.  To add a new program not only requires an administrator account, it has to be done after hours because the entire public profile needs an update.  That requires no patrons be logged on, which translates into Karrie in the library after hours.  It seemed to me that this platform would allow patrons to bring all of their preferred software with them, which would alleviate security concerns and annoyance from all angles.

Installing the platform on the flash drive was easy.  I used a blank flash drive, so I’m not sure if it would go as smoothly on a flash drive that already has files loaded.  I was a bit disappointed in the app selection.  Though the list was long, I didn’t really imagine patrons using many of the available apps.  But who am I to say?  The selection of techie utilities was really fantastic, though!  I felt like a kid in a candy store as I scooped up apps for image editing, website development, antivirus detection and warfare, and computer process examination.

At first, I was unsure how to install the apps.  I downloaded them to the flash drive directly from the Sourceforge website, rather than using the app installation tool included in the PortableApps platform.  Once I figured out what I was doing, the rest of the download and installation process went smoothly.  I used the eject button found on the PortableApps start screen, and had some trouble.  It kept giving me an error message that some program on it was still in use.  Even after closing all of the open windows on my machine, I still got this message.  I had to logout of my computer in order to pull the flash drive safely.

The next step was for me to try my newly loaded flash drive on one of our public computers.  While the drive didn’t open right up (we have disabled autorun), it loaded the platform quickly as soon as I opened the drive in My Computer. (Yes, our public computer still run Windows XP – but only for another month or so.)  The browser apps seemed to run more slowly, but that makes sense since the processing power of a flash drive is not nearly as powerful as a desktop.  I didn’t find the lag to be too obnoxious, though.  If it was the only way to bring my bookmarks and preferred browser with me, it would be a small tradeoff.  I tested several of the programs, and they worked as expected.  To my surprise and delight, the admin tools I downloaded, which ask for access to parts of the computer we restrict, were thwarted.  This goes a long way to alleviate my fear that giving patrons the power of PortableApps would put our computers at risk.  I had been worried that a portable task manager may be able to kill the PC Reservation program that puts time limits on patron computer usage.  Perhaps it’s still a risk, but I would think anyone who knows how to break into public computers for nefarious purposes could do so with or without portable apps.

Because I do so much tech support for friends and family in addition to my work, I think I will be using these apps often.  I would definitely recommend this to patrons who want to run their own programs on our public computers.  If they are savvy enough to prefer certain programs, perhaps they are savvy enough to work with PortableApps.

Evernote and Delicious

evernote

Last year I migrated to Evernote from a Microsoft Office product called OneNote, initially because of the browser/app based nature of the tool.  I wanted to be able to use it from anywhere, including my phone, and OneNote couldn’t offer that at the time.  Ever since the migration, I have been using Evernote much more frequently than I previously used OneNote.

I have personal notebooks and work notebooks.  In the personal notebooks I keep track of things like gift ideas, shopping lists and genealogy info.  My work notebooks are where I gather ideas and information from websites (and other sources) covering many subjects, including topics for my Tech Tips blog posts, library policies, lending devices, future agenda items for meetings, computer troubleshooting, and much more! In addition to the notebooks, I find the tags very helpful in organizing and accessing the information.  In fact, there are so many ways to manipulate the information, I’d swear it was created by a librarian!

The web clipper add-on is extremely useful for quickly grabbing a webpage and adding it to a notebook.  I wish it was available for my mobile browser!  As an additional bonus over OneNote, Evernote preserves links embedded in the pages. OneNote simply takes a picture of the site, rendering all links on the page useless.  The Skitch add-on looks cool, but I honestly haven’t used it in the several months I’ve had it installed.

delicious
I had actually heard a lot of negative comments about Delicious in opinion posts.  Apparently, they had alienated users with a series of website design changes which resulted in a loss of features.  They also shut down the support forums, which is never cool. (source)  I don’t care for the site’s aesthetics, but it’s a simple tool for gathering and sharing bookmarks.  Am going to be giving some professional presentations this year, and I used the site to create a bibliography of links.  That way, I can give my audience a single link for all of the resources from my presentations.  This activity has also inspired me to check into Google Bookmarks (since I already have an account) and Pinboard (because library tech rock star Jason Griffey uses it).  Pinboard seems to have a cost to set up, but others can access your links for free.  And there are no ads!  If I end up liking Google Bookmarks better, I found this tool for exporting from Delicious to Google.  When I settle on a favorite, I may consider updating our Web Link Library using one of these tools.

Dropbox Delight

dropbox

I have been using Dropbox for years.  It’s one of my favorite web services.  In my personal life, I use it to back up important documents and share pictures and videos with family.  I even used IFTTT to create a “recipe” that automatically backs up any pictures I take with my phone to a special folder.  I find I don’t really use the mobile app on my Android phone, but I might if I had a tablet.

At work, my uses for Dropbox are similar.  I created an IFTTT recipe that backs up every picture we upload to our Facebook page.  In the past, I have used Dropbox to pass along credentials to our new web designer securely – email wasn’t secure enough for sending passwords.  At circulation, we have a document that has been shared by the Friends of the Library.  That way, we always have the most recent list of members of the Friends.

Sharing folders and pages was very easy.  I can’t tell though – can you set specific permissions on a document like you can in Google Drive?  For example, can I decide whether someone can just view or fully edit a document?  Or, whether they need to be logged into Dropbox to see a document?

Another question – does anyone know – can you create and use a Dropbox account without ever downloading the software to a computer or other device?  I’m wondering if we can recommend this to patrons as an alternative to flash drives, but many don’t own their own devices.  That’s why they use ours.  I was already thinking Skydrive and Google Drive may be useful for those with Microsoft and Google accounts.  Does anyone know if Yahoo has an online storage counterpart?

It seems this module raised more questions for me – and here I thought I had all of the answers!  😉

Down the YouTube

youtube

This week’s Connect 2 U assignment was to explore YouTube.  I have often used this site for personal use.  Videos from TED talks and Mike Halsey (Microsoft Trainer) have been very useful in my professional life.  If I’m honest, though, most of the things I view on YouTube probably shouldn’t be there for copyright reasons.  We are not able to view one of my favorite shows, QI, in the US.  Fortunately, there are several episodes on YouTube.  Along the same lines, I was able rediscover a song I never thought I would hear again.  If you were a fan of Rockapella or the TV show Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, the embedded video below should give you a smile.

I had a video I wanted to upload of my poor kitty, Dewey, trying to walk in his cast.  Unfortunately, it was less than 2 minutes long, so it didn’t qualify for this assignment.  Then I thought, aw heck!  I’ll upload it anyway.  I tried to email the HD video (at less than 30 seconds and 18.81MB) from my phone, but it took forever to send from Gmail.  If you are sending a video from your phone, I’d recommend connecting your phone to your computer via USB to copy the video over.  So here’s my kitty video:

When I was in YouTube, I created a custom size for embedding the videos (using iFrame), but that got ignored by WordPress and it was published to the full width of the page.  If anyone has any idea how to embed a smaller video box, please let me know.

Finally, what you have all been waiting for – a slideshow of my cats!  The black and white longhair is Rosebud, and she just turned 16 this month!  The gray and white longhair is Dewey, and he will be 7 in a couple of months.  Enjoy!

I Have a Prezi for You!

prezi

This week’s module regarding Prezi was an interesting exploration.  I found some tasks that should be intuitive (how to name your Prezi, finding other Prezis) to be a pain, but overall it was easy to use.  I joined the group Prezi as well as creating my own.  While I do appreciate the novelty and improved visual layout over PowerPoint, I must admit I got a little dizzy trying to follow the Prezi from one corner of the layout to another.  Moving the two items closer together solved the issue.  It was a great lesson in trying out what you’ve created before making it public!

We did run into a bit of an issue with making Prezis appear on some of our computers.  After some investigation, we learned that we needed the latest version of Flash Player to make it work.  If you can’t make Prezis appear, you may want to try that first.  When I tried to install Jing, I was prompted to install Windows .NET Framework 4.0 before starting.  I know this will be a problem for other machines, because we avoid installing .NET Framework on the library’s computers.  The short reason for that is that Windows Update messes up the updates all the time, and it can be a pain to fix.

Actually using Jing was very easy.  The tutorial video explained the features and how to access them, and the rest was up to me.  I opened the Prezi I just made and then started Jing.  I selected the crop tool to select the area I wanted to record, and then started recording as I flipped through the Prezi.  When I selected “Share”, I was given the option to share via Screencast.com or download.  I thought you couldn’t download when using the free version, so I’m not entirely sure if that’s changed, or if I have a free trial of the pro version.  I chose the Screencast.com version since this isn’t a polished product for the YouTube page.  Here is where my Jing lives:  http://screencast.com/t/st3V98A87lG

I didn’t care for the fact that Jing’s default was to start when my computer starts.  That’s a pet peeve of mine for all programs that set that default.  If I want a program to start when Windows starts, I will set it myself!  I certainly don’t need a pile of programs I rarely use to be slowing my computer start time.

</rant>

I look forward to exploring these tools more in-depth.  Both tools (especially Jing) will be great for making patron and staff tutorials both “on the fly” and for publication on our website and YouTube channel.

 

Reader Fever

rss

When I heard Google Reader was shutting down, I was crushed.  I depend on Google Reader to keep me up to date on all of my favorite web news.  I follow my friends on their personal blogs, as well as following the blogs of professional librarians to keep up with emerging tech trends in libraries.  This is the second time in a year Google has broken my heart.  They also announced that they will be discontinuing iGoogle.  For those who don’t know, iGoogle was a page you could customize with “gadgets” including RSS feeds, search widgets, Gmail, Google calendar, and more.  This is my customized page for library searches at the reference desk:

igoogle

But I digress.

Because I was looking for a replacement for both iGoogle and Google Reader, I tried NetVibes.  They offer two different views: a gadget view that looks like iGoogle, and a reader view that looks like Google Reader.  There were some annoying setup issues that I thought I could overlook, like the fact that creating a category (under which to add feeds) automatically subscribed me to feeds (that I didn’t want) based on the keyword of the category.  However, there were two stumbling blocks that kept me from loving this service.

  1. In order for the Google Calendar widget to display your calendar in the gadget, you either have to make your calendar public (no thanks!!) or be logged into Google in the background (then why not just login to Google Calendar itself?).  This isn’t a dealbreaker, though.
  2. The ability to search feeds is only available in the paid version of NetVibes.  I often half-remember a post I want to get back to.  Without search, this could be tough.

So, I went to try The Old Reader, and it seems that they have been overloaded.  I was met with a “Happy New Year” page that didn’t allow me to do anything.  My guess is they are swamped beyond capacity.

I tried to view NewsBlur and kept getting error messages instead of posts.  When I checked later, I got a message that NewsBlur was down.

Feedly wanted me to download an add-on to view in Mozilla Firefox, and that was a turn-off.  I don’t want to have to install something on every computer that I want to view feeds on.  Besides, some public computers don’t have Firefox or the ability to install add-ons.

I used to use Bloglines before Google Reader, so I looked into going back to them.  Imagine my surprise to find out it was powered by NetVibes, but with even fewer features.  So, no search capability.  Back to the drawing board.

The RSSMiner demo looked promising, but when I tried to create an account, I could only login with my Google account, which made me uncomfortable.  The second red flag, and the one that made me run away screaming was this dialog box:

haspassword

I’m a stickler for grammar, so I was outta there.

I guess I’ll be sticking with NetVibes until The Old Reader becomes available to play around with.  Thanks, Google, for making me spend way too much time on something that already worked perfectly.  Soon, I will have no reason to let you spy on me and collect information about my choices to sell to advertisers.