September 30, 2008

Web 2.0 and the Change in Our Work Lives

Cole Camplese, the director of Education Technology Services at Penn State University, writing in The Christian Science Monitor, has given the best definition of Web 2.0 I have read: What YouTube's 'Charlie bit my finger' tells us about Web 2.0.

In part, Camplese writes:

It's easy to criticize the rise of participatory social media as a giant waste of time. And it's true that a fair amount of what's being created is adolescent. But that criticism misses the point: This trend is setting the stage for greater long-term engagement. It's an indicator that people are working to find new ways to collaborate and to be part of something larger than they are individually. The sheer immensity of the participation is the story.

Think about where the Internet was just a decade ago. Getting online was a chore. News sites were updated just once or twice a day. That was the static world of Web 1.0. Ironically, that platform emerged from the government's desire to promote collaboration among researchers and scientists, yet at the outset, it seemed best suited for e-commerce.

Today the Web landscape is dominated by blogs, wikis, and social networks. It is finally fulfilling its original promise of interaction, engagement, collaboration, and conversation. We are living through a media revolution that is set to explode this political season.

And who is driving this revolution? Teens. For them, this isn't "technology," it's just the way things are.

Web 2.0 has changed the way we all work, especially those of us in the information field. We have adapted our public libraries to a new environment -- one of interaction, engagement and collaboration. From being collectors of data, we are now packagers and distributors: Our job is to anticipate your need, and push information out to you, when and how you want it.

If you are interested in Web 2.0, check out the classes we offer on the subject on our Schedule of Events.

Mouse-less Navigation in Office 2007

Keyboard shortcuts are one of my favorite things about Microsoft Office. I've always preferred using the keyboard shortcuts over the mouse; I don't have to take my hands off the keyboard that way, and my speed increases.

So, I was thrilled when I saw the great new keyboard shortcut layout in Office 2007. This feature overlays the keyboard shortcuts on top of your Office 2007 ribbon.

To activate the layout, hit the Alt key. The shortcut labels will be overlayed on the ribbon. Then, you can navigate simply by hitting the appropriate label on the keyboard. Navigation between the various tabs and functions becomes as easy as pressing the letters assigned!

click for a larger view
To de-activate the shorcut overlay, just hit the Alt key a second time.

This overlay will show up in all Microsoft 2007 Office products that have the ribbon interface.

September 28, 2008

Text Messaging Outpaces Cell Phone Calls

According to Alex Mindlin, in the September 28 New York Times:

In the fourth quarter of 2007, American cellphone subscribers for the first time sent text messages more than they phoned, according to Nielsen Mobile. Since then, the average subscriber’s volume of text messages has shot upward by 64 percent, while the average number of calls has dropped slightly.

Nicholas Covey, director of insights for Nielsen Mobile, attributed the spike in messaging to the spread of QWERTY-style keypads, whose users send 54 percent more text messages than those with ordinary keypads. He also said that phone companies had encouraged users to text by offering large or unlimited text-messaging bundles.

Teenagers ages 13 to 17 are by far the most prolific texters, sending or receiving 1,742 messages a month, according to Nielsen Mobile. By contrast, 18-to-24-year-olds average 790 messages. A separate study of teenagers with cellphones by Harris Interactive found that 42 percent of them claim that they can write text messages while blindfolded.

Not only has text messaging replaced email, apparently it is replacing cell phone use.

September 27, 2008

Change the Color Scheme in Microsoft Office 2007

Feeling blue? How about silver?

Well, now you can change your color scheme in any Microsoft Office 2007 software to blue, silver, or black, using the Options command. (For this post, I will demonstrate in Word.)

First, click on the Office button in the top left corner, and then click on Word Options at the bottom of the pop-up menu.

Make sure you are under the Popular heading (on the left). Then look for Color Scheme. Click on the drop-down arrow next to the choices and select the color you want (blue, silver, and black).

Click on OK at the bottom of the menu. Your new color scheme will appear immediately.

(For more tips on Microsoft Word and other Office products, enter the program name into the dialog box at the top left of this blog page, and click on Search Blog. You'll see what other tips the Tech Desk has to offer.)

September 26, 2008

Computer Basics: Saving Passwords and Usernames in a Web Browser

At the Troy Public Library's Technology Center, we teach several classes that cover basic computer skills. However, in these classes we can't cover everything. Using our blog, I hope to cover some of those topics about which we receive many questions, but can't always address in classes.

One common question that we are asked is: How can my web browser remember my password information so that I don't have to type it in all the time? Follow the steps below to have Firefox 3 or Internet Explorer 7 remember this data to make life a little easier!

For Firefox 3:
1. Click on Tools, then click Options.

2. Click on the Privacy tab.

3. Make sure that there is a check next to "Remember what I enter in forms and the search bar." Also make sure there is no check next to "Always clear my private data." If this is checked, all saved data (information in forms, passwords) will be erased every time you close Firefox!

For Internet Explorer 7:

1. Click on Tools, then click Internet Options.

2. Click on the Content tab, then click on the Settings box under AutoComplete.

3. Make sure "Forms" and "User names and passwords on forms" is checked.

September 25, 2008

The Good and the Bad of New Technologies in the Work Place

According to the latest study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 62% of us who work full- or part-time use the internet or email at our work place.

Such "networked workers," as the study calls us, are not only connected while at work, but are also more likely than average Americans to have access to a wide variety of technological gadgets outside of the work place. We are more likely to own cell phones, desktop and laptop computers, and personal digital assistants (PDAs).

Is being networked all day a plus or a minus?

According to Pew, a large majority of wired workers note big improvements in our work lives as the result of technologies such as the internet, email, cell phones and instant messaging:
• 80% say these technologies have improved our ability to do the job.
• 73% say these technologies have improved our ability to share ideas with co-workers.
• 58% say these tools have allowed us more flexibility in the hours we work.

At the same time, half of us note various negative impacts of
communications technologies:
• 46% say these technologies increase demands that we work more hours.
• 49% say these technologies increase the level of stress in our job.
• 49% say such technologies make it harder for us to disconnect from work when we are at home and on the weekends.

So what do you think: Does technology improve your job performance or hurt your time off the job? Take our poll (to the right) and let us know.

To read the entire Pew report, go to Networked Workers.

September 24, 2008

Use Split to Speed Up Your Navigation in Microsoft Word

Looking for ways to speed up navigation in Microsoft Word? Use the Split function to split your screen in two!

It's easy to use Split. Hit Ctrl+Alt+S to activate the function. (In Office 2007, you can also click on the View tab and then Split in the Windows group.) Once the feature is active, it will split your screen in half, allowing two separate independent navigation windows for the same document. This can be extremely helpful if you want to look at two different parts of a large document without having to leave either section.

Hitting Ctrl+Alt+S a second time (or clicking on the View tab then Remove Split in the Windows group) will turn off the split screen.

This function is also possibl
e in older versions of Microsoft Word, but you will have to use the keyboard shortcut.

Check below for a screen shot of this feature in action.

September 21, 2008

Determine Political Fact from Fiction with

With the presidential election only six weeks away and the debates still to come, both major parties will be propping up their candidate and disparaging the other side. Both will be offering statistics about their plans, and why their opponent's plan is not good for the country.

While much of what is said during political campaigns makes for good sound bites, how much of it is based in fact?, from the Annenburg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, helps separate political fact from fiction. is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that checks the accuracy of politicians statements.

The next time you hear something that sounds too good to be true from the campaign trail, go to to see what the truth is.

September 19, 2008

Millions of Titles from U-M Library Now Available On Demand

Here’s a way cool example of how libraries have used technology to bring information to readers where and when they need it.

The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (my alma mater) has become the first university in the country to install The Espresso Book Machine. The machine – located in the Shapiro Undergraduate Library – allows a user to print one of the University’s over 2 million digitized books, as well as thousands of books from the Open Content Alliance, on demand. Many of these titles are rare or out-of-print.

Since 1996, the University has been digitizing books printed prior to the early 1920s, most recently as part of the Google Book Search program. Most books printed before 1923 are in the public domain. That is, they can be reprinted without seeking permission from the copyright holder.

Here’s how it works. The user selects a digitized book from U-M's collection or from another online source. The file is then downloaded to the machine, where it is formatted, printed and perfect bound with a four-color cover.

A finished printed book takes 5-7 minutes, depending on the number of pages, and costs about $10. The service is available to researchers, students, and the public.

In the next several years, On Demand Books – the maker of the Espresso Book Machine – plans to install machines in libraries and bookshops around the world. All the machines will be connected by a network, allowing users fast, cheap access to tens of millions of titles on demand.

For more information, and to see a video on the project, click here.

Go Blue!

Teens, Video Games, Civics, and the Library

For many adults, video games conjure up images of blurry-eyed, caffeine-addicted, young people in dark, damp basements, squandering their precious youth.

However, a recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project – which surveyed 1,102 12- to 17-year-olds – suggests that teens who play video games may be more likely to be engaged in positive civic activities, such as following politics and current events, persuading others how to vote, contributing to charities, volunteering, or attending protests.

This is especially true of teens who play games with others in-person, and those who are actively engaged in the game, through such things as commenting on game websites or discussion boards.

Most interesting, teens in this sample were equally likely to report having civic experiences regardless of race, age, or income. This is in contrast to findings about teens’ civic experiences in high schools, which tend to be unequally distributed, with higher-income, higher-achieving, and white students experiencing more civic opportunities than their counterparts.

To view the entire Pew report, go to Teens, Video Games, and Civics.

Speaking of video games, the Troy Library will launch our own video game collection in October. Games across different platforms will be available for two weeks. For more information about this collection, contact Judy Franklin, the Library’s Teen Librarian, at

The Library also sponsors free, monthly video game days for youth and teens. To register, go to our schedule of events.

September 18, 2008

Visit the Michigan eLibrary for One-Stop Information on the 2008 Election

Unless you have been asleep for the past 18 months – or have not turned on a radio or television, or surfed the internet or read a newspaper – you probably know that those of us in the United States are in the middle of a presidential election year.

To help get ready for Election Day – this year Tuesday, November 4 – the Michigan eLibrary (MeL) web site is featuring all the links you need to prepare yourself for casting an informed vote. MeL has links to an explanation of the voting process; information on where to vote and how to apply for an absentee ballot; how to find campaign finance statements; and resources on all the ballot issues and all the parties fielding candidates this year, complete with candidates’ biographical data, speeches, and positions on major issues. MeL also lists sites from non-partisan organizations providing election information.

For this one-stop election resource, go to the MeL website, and scroll down to the bottom of the page to the MeL News section.

And while you are there, check out the other free resources offered by MeL -- a service of the Library of Michigan.

September 16, 2008

The Power of the Microsoft Office 2007 Clipboard

The clipboard in Microsoft Office 2007 is one of the most under-utilized functions in the entire suite of Office programs. Many of us use the basic copy and paste, but we neglect the other power features of this tool. Today I will cover some of these power features and their uses.

Copy Multiple Items Into Your Clipboard

Much to nearly everyone's surprise, the clipboard can hold more then one clip at a time! To see for yourself, open up your favorite Office 2007 program (Word and Excel work best) and click on the Show Office Clipboard Pane button in the Clipboard grouping. Now, begin copying text from anything you like. I copied some things from Firefox, a favorite browser among the Technology staff here at the Library. You'll notice a small pop-up in the bottom right corner of your screen:

You'll notice that the clipboard says "3 of 24:" I've copied information into 3 of my 24 clipboard available slots. Go back into the Office program you have open, and you'll be able to see the items in your clipboard (right).

You'll notice that each piece of information includes either a mini-thumbnail, for images, or the first few words, for text, in the clipboard. Now, click on an item in the clipboard and it will instantly be pasted into your file.

The Paste Special Command

The paste special command is one of my favorites in MS Office. Frequently when searching the internet I come across text that I want to copy that has multiple types of formatting. When I paste the text into a Word Document I get a jumble of various word formatting that looks terrible.

Here is where the paste special command can help. Click on the drop down arrow under Paste and choose Paste Special. Now choose your selection. In this this example, I would choose unformatted text. Voila! You have clean, unformatted text added to your document.

These are just a few of the main features of this helpful clipboard tool.

September 12, 2008

The Rise of Cloud Computing: The Majority of Computer Users Now Store Data On-line

According to a recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 69% of Americans who are on-line use “cloud computing,” even though most of them don’t know what the term means.

Cloud computing is an emerging technology in which data – documents, email messages, photographs, etc. – and applications – word processing and spreadsheets, for instance – are stored in cyberspace and not on an individual’s computer.

So if you use a web-based email, like Yahoo, Gmail, or Hotmail, or an on-line photo service like Flickr, or a video-posting site like Youtube, you are using cloud computing.

Web-based email is the most common form of cloud computing. Fifty-six percent of computer users access such services. Nearly 40% of computer users store personal photos or videos on-line. And nearly 30% use on-line application software, like Google Documents.

Why is cloud computing so popular? According to Pew: “Convenience and flexibility.”

Cloud computing allows you to access your data from any on-line computer, not just your own. You don’t need to have a lot of storage space for all of your large files. It is easier to share and collaborate on projects when the data is on-line. And you don’t have to carry around floppy disks, CDs, or USB flash drives, when moving between computers.

The downside is, as the Pew study points out, computer users are concerned that their data might be accessed by the companies that store the information, for marketing or other purposes.

Nevertheless, that concern has not stopped more and more Americans from enjoying the ease and mobility of cloud computing. And as information becomes even more on-demand and mobile, cloud computing is likely to grow.

To view the entire Pew report, go to Use of Cloud Computing Applications and Services.

September 9, 2008

Get Back Your Classic Microsoft Office Dropdown Menus with the Toolbar Add-In

Do you miss the classic Office 97-2003 toolbar in Office 2007? Do you want the familiar dropdown menus back?

Well, you just might be in luck. Computer geek Shah Shailesh has released the classic Office toolbar as an add-in for Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Access. The installation is simple: download the add-in, extract the file and run it. You'll instantly see a new add-in tab added to the top of the Office 2007 ribbon. Click the add-in tab and you'll be presented with the classic Office 97-2003 dropdown menus.

While you are there, check out the other cool add-ins Shah Shailesh has available.

September 8, 2008

Read a Banned Book Online

This September 27 through October 4, observe Banned Books Week – the national celebration of the freedom to read. First launched in 1982 by the American Library Association and others, Banned Books Week responded to a surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries.

Though many of us think of book banning and burning as from another time, sadly, attacks against freedom of expression continue today. According to the American Library Association, there were more than 400 books challenged in 2007.

During the last week of September every year, hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country draw attention to the issue of censorship by hosting a variety of events.

This year, why not celebrate Banned Books Week by reading a banned book? Check out DegreeDirectory, which summarizes 25 of the most controversial banned books and tells you where you can read them -- for free online.

(Thanks to iLibrarian for this tip.)

September 3, 2008

Learn How to Buy and Sell on eBay

You can buy just about anything online ... don't believe me? Check out eBay. You'd be amazed at what people are selling. For example: Scientist Purchases New Species on eBay.

According to eBay's website:
"With a presence in 39 markets, including the U.S., and approximately 84 million active users worldwide, eBay has changed the face of Internet commerce. In 2007, the total value of sold items on eBay's trading platforms was nearly $60 billion. This means that eBay users worldwide trade more than $1,900 worth of goods on the site every second."

If you haven't joined the 84 million eBay users yet, consider signing up for the Library's two-part
Buying and Selling on eBay class. Due to popular demand we've added a second class on Wednesdays, October 22 and 29 from 6:30-8 pm in the Library Training Room. (The first class, on October 8 and 15, filled up in a few hours!)

I'll be instructing new users in creating an account and becoming comfortable with eBay's site. You'll learn the most effective ways to search for items as well as how to safely make online purchases with your eBay account. We'll also cover the basics of selling on eBay and how to set up a free PayPal account.

Register here for our eBay class or the Library's other programs.

I hope to see you there!

New Resources for Small Business Owners and Self-Employed

If you are a small business owner or self-employed, you probably have trouble finding accurate and timely information on a wide variety of government rules and regulations that affect how you run your business.

Our friends at the IRS have a new web site just for you. Billed as a "Small Business and Self-Employed One-Stop Resource," this site has information on, among other topics: starting a small business, applying for employer ID numbers, hiring employees, setting up trusts, and preparing for and paying taxes. There is industry specific information and links to small business resources by state.

If you have never visited an IRS site before, be prepared for a lot of text. But the internal search box and the links make it fairly easy to navigate. Plus, all the information is free and accurate.

Go to