April 30, 2009

Michigan in May

Are you looking for things to do in Michigan over the next couple weeks? Click here to view a May in Michigan calendar. It lists all types of events, such as the Annual Mackinaw Memorial Bridge Race and the city of Mesick's famous mushroom festival. There are two great events in Frankenmuth this month: the Dog Bowl 2009 and The World Expo of Beer. There's something for everyone.

Interested in Options to Internet Explorer? Here Is a Start

As Technology Librarian John Robertson and I were finishing up a Google Reader class for Library staff recently, we began to talk about different browsers. While we at The Tech Desk use mostly the open-source browser, Firefox, the majority of librarians at Troy use Internet Explorer. We taught the class using IE, but answered some questions about Firefox.

John mentioned that he uses Google Chrome as his browser. Many staff members were curious about it, never having heard of Chrome.

This made me wonder which browsers are being used by our readers. Since we use Google Analytics to track our readership, I was able to answer that question fairly easily.

First, let us look at the big picture. Worldwide, Internet Explorer’s share of the browser market is declining. Now, about 66% of surfers use IE. At the same time, Firefox has increased its market share to around 21%. Apple’s Safari browser makes up 8% of the market, and Google’s Chrome about 1%.

Our readers look a lot like those worldwide. About 57% use Internet Explorer, down about 5% since September 2008, when we started keeping statistics. Firefox use has remained fairly constant at 36%. Apple users are starting to find us in greater numbers, as Safari use is up almost 38%, to 3% of our users. Google’s Chrome, the newest entry in the field, is up 25% since September, to 2% of users.

However you look at these numbers, it is clear that a large percentage of Internet users – somewhere between 33% and 40% -- use a browser other than Internet Explorer.

If you are interested in looking at browser options for your surfing, compare Internet browsers of today and tomorrow.

And to learn more about Google Chrome, check out these short videos from the Official Google Blog. Some of them are pretty good.

Obama's 100 Days: High Marks for Science, Low for Privacy

An interesting article, from Wired, grading President Barack Obama's first 100 days in office, on science and technology related issues.

April 29, 2009

Population and Unemployment Data Charts Now Available through Google Searches

Google has announced the addition of public data comparison charts through Google searches. Currently, only data for unemployment rates and population is available, but Google does promise additional data in the future. Data is from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau's Population Division.

To use this feature, go to Google and type either "population" or "unemployment rate" (remove the quotes), followed by a state or county. Click on the first search result, and a graph will appear showing that data. You will also have the opportunity to add additional states and counties to the graph. For example, here is a graph showing the populations for Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties:

Online Shopping Rebates

Recession curbing your online buying habits? How would you like to get a rebate on all the products you buy online? Now you can by joining Ebates. Ebates is an online shopping center and they get a commission from online stores when you make a purchase through their site. But instead of keeping that money, Ebates shares the commission with you. For instance, send flowers to your mom from teleflora and get a 15% rebate. Mom is happy and you get 15% back in your wallet!

Joining Ebates is free and four times a year or more, they'll mail you a check, or transfer the money to your PayPal account. They can even send the money to your favorite charity. Check it out here.

Twitter Users Don't Last Long

This from Yahoo Tech!:

Today's Twitters are often tomorrow's quitters, according to data that questions the long-term success of the latest social networking sensation used by celebrities from Oprah Winfrey to Britney Spears.

Data from Nielsen Online, which measures Internet traffic, found that more than 60% of Twitter users stopped using the free social networking site a month after joining.

"Twitter's audience retention rate, or the percentage of a given month's users who come back the following month, is currently about 40%," David Martin, Nielsen Online's vice president of primary research, said in a statement.

"For most of the past 12 months, pre-Oprah, Twitter has languished below 30% retention."
San Francisco-based Twitter was created three years ago as an Internet-based service that could allow people to follow the 140-character messages or "tweets" of friends and celebrities which could be sent to computer screens or mobile devices.

Twitter, as a private company, does not disclose the number of its users but according to Nielsen Online, Twitter's website had more than 7 million unique visitors in February this year compared to 475,000 in February a year ago.

But Martin said a retention rate of 40% will limit a site's growth to a 10% reach figure over the longer term.

Martin said Facebook and MySpace, the more established social network sites, enjoyed retention rates that were twice as high and those rates only rose when they went through their explosive growth phases.

Both currently have retention rates of about 70% with Facebook having about 200 million users.

Google Book Search Settlement Under Fire

Late last year, Google announced that it had reached a settlement with major publishers that would end their copyright lawsuit against Google Books. The settlement would put in place an agreement between Google and existing copyright holders, and give the search giant rights to out-of-print and orphaned works — those for which the copyright holder cannot be identified. A final approval was scheduled for May.

Now, reports ars technica, a judge has it approved a four-month extension of the approval process, as opposition to the settlement is increasing among some publishers and academic institutions, and the Department of Justice is looking into the antitrust implications of the deal.

April 28, 2009

Microsoft Office 2007 Service Pack 2 Released

Users of Microsoft Office 2007 should check their Windows Update to receive the new Service Pack 2 that was released on April 28.

The new service pack has a long list of improvements to the Microsoft Office suite of products. For the complete list, check out this link (Excel file).

Some of the highlights of this release are as follows:
  • Speed improvements to Microsoft Outlook
  • The "Save as PDF" option has been implemented throughout the entire Office suite
  • Support has been added for the ODF format (Open Document Format)
  • Various bugs have been fixed
If you can't wait to grab Service Pack 2, go to this link to pick up the download.

Leaving Computers On = $2.8 Billion a Year

Do you leave your computer on all the time? According to the PC Energy Report US 2009, we waste an estimated $2.8 billion a year by leaving our computers idling overnight. Shutting down your computer at night will not only save you money, it will help save the environment. If all the world’s 1 billion PC’s were powered down for just one night, it would save enough energy to light up New York City’s Empire State Building – inside and out – for more than 30 years.

Keep in mind that regular restarts will keep your computer running optimally.

April 27, 2009

Learn More About Swine Flu -- and Watch Its Movement

If you are looking for information on Swine Flu, you might want to check out this podcast from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is available to view online, or you can download it to view later, on your portable music/video player.

While you are visiting the CDC, you might look at the Centers’ other podcasts. And, if you are interested in public health issues, subscribe to the Centers’ RSS feed.

Do you want to monitor Swine Flu across the country? Gizmodo will tell you how you can view the location of reports of the disease in real time, in a Google map.

[Thanks to Adult Services librarian Constance Doherty for the CDC site.]

IBM Computer to Play Humans on Jeopardy!

IBM has announced that it is in the final stages of completing a computer program to compete against humans on the television quiz show Jeopardy!, according to The New York Times.

While IBM had previously created a computer -- Deep Blue – which beat then world chess champion Garry Kasparov in a 1997 match, creating an artificial intelligence program to take on humans in the quiz show is much more difficult.

Chess is a game of limits, with pieces that have clearly defined powers. Jeopardy!, however, requires a program which can weigh an almost infinite range of relationships and to make subtle comparisons and interpretations. The software must interact with humans on their own terms. It must be able to deal with analogies, puns, double entendres and relationships like size and location, all at lightning speed.

The creators of the system — which the company refers to as Watson, after the IBM founder, Thomas J. Watson Sr. — said they were not yet confident their system would be able to compete successfully on the show, on which human champions typically provide correct responses 85% of the time.

Despite more than four decades of experimentation in artificial intelligence, scientists have made only modest progress until now toward building machines that can understand language and interact with humans. The development of Watson, capable to compete with humans, could be a step forward for artificial intelligence.

Learn more from this video:

Why Your Next Computer Should Be a Mac... Or a PC

Thinking about buying a new computer?

Here are eight reasons why your next computer should be a Mac.

And, eight reasons why your next computer should be a PC.

[via Yahoo Tech]

April 25, 2009

Good-bye, Barry

The Tech Desk says good-bye to one of our aides, Barry Hyland. Barry is leaving the Library’s Technology Department to move on up in the Troy Library world.

Beginning May 2, Barry will be the Library’s Systems Administrator, coordinating our move from one automated library software system to another. With 50,000 members and 350,000 items, this is a huge task. We are sure Barry is up for the challenge.

Barry joined the staff of the Library at a young age (see photo) and has been a fixture at the Technology desk ever since. He has helped hundreds of library users – and staff – master Excel. He has saved countless, crucial documents for our patrons – always with an eye toward teaching them proper skills. And he has answered questions about email, databases, scanning, and media files, that are too numerous to count.

In addition, Barry has used this blog to caution against technology run rampant, the decline of reading and communication, and the social costs of social networking.

While we will miss his expertise, it is good to know that an important project is in such capable hands. Barry has said he will keep you posted about the progress of his new assignments on The Tech Desk.

Best of luck, Barry.

Judging a Person By Her Kindle?

Another view on what the Kindle 2 will do to the practice reading, this one – interestingly enough – from the Fashion & Style section of The New York Times: With Kindle, Can You Tell It’s Proust? The author wonders:
The practice of judging people by the covers of their books is old and time-honored. And the Kindle, which looks kind of like a giant white calculator, is the technology equivalent of a plain brown wrapper. If people jettison their book collections or stop buying new volumes, it will grow increasingly hard to form snap opinions about them by wandering casually into their living rooms.”

Windows 7 Release Candidate Available May 5

Microsoft has announced that the “release candidate” version of its long awaited Windows 7 operating system will be available for download by program developers and IT professionals on April 30 and more broadly on May 5.

Making the release candidate available means that the company is in the final stages of completing the operating system, the successor to the unpopular Windows Vista.

Vista, launched to the public in 2007, was incompatible with some low-power machines and perceived by many to be too complicated. Windows 7 has been getting good reviews in limited public tests over the last few months.

Microsoft has still not said when the finished version of Windows 7 would begin to be installed on personal computers or available to buy in shops, but the company's chief financial officer said recently it could be as early as July.

[via Yahoo News]

14 Universities Receive Grants to Study Cloud Computing

The National Science Foundation announced that it will grant $5 million to 14 universities to work on developing new ways to share and organize data in the clouds.

The grants focus on leveraging the opportunities presented by “cloud computing” — using Web-based services to execute computationally strenuous tasks more easily and cheaply. Experts have been abuzz for some time about how the development of cloud computing stands to benefit higher education, particularly with regard to research and analysis.

Among the schools receiving grants are: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Yale University, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and the University of Maryland at College Park.

[via The Chronicle of Higher Education]

UM Online Evaluation System Crashes

Sometimes technology doesn’t work as well as expected.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, U. of Michigan's Online Teaching-Evaluation System Fails, the University of Michigan’s highly-touted online course-evaluation system, crashed on April 20, at the end of the school's winter term, and has been down since.

Last year, the new system was promoted as a major advance. It would save paper, allow for more customized surveys, and speed up results.

After four days, a University e-mail message apologized for the “immense disappointment” to the community. Just under 40% of possible responses had been received by the time the system failed, the message said, and further collection for this term was impossible.

April 24, 2009

Daniel Schorr Announces Birth of His Granddaughter on Twitter

Last month, I wrote about National Public Radio's 92-year-old veteran political analyst Daniel Schorr joining Twitter. Though not as big as Oprah's first tweet, Schorr's entry into the Internet-darling micro-blogging site, and his accompanying view of the changes in journalism over 70 years, are noteworthy.

I was pleased to receive this tweet on April 23 from @danielschorr:
At 92, I have become a grandfather for the first time. My daughter in Boston has given birth to most beautiful girl in the world.

Congratulations, Daniel!

Find The Cost of A Car Repair with RepairPal

As drivers in Michigan know, due to sudden freezes and thaws, winter this year created a bumper crop of potholes with which to contend. Now, unfortunately, many of our cars may have alignment problems, suspension issues, and more.

Before taking your car to a mechanic or the dealership, take a look at RepairPal. Just enter you car's make, model, year, and type of service you need done and RepairPal will provide you with a price range the repair should cost, and also a Google Map showing various repair shops based on your zip code. Additionally, RepairPal provides information about why it is a good idea to get the repair done and what may happen if you wait. The site also offers a helpful auto repair encyclopedia with articles such as Do I Really Need New Shock Absorbers? and Car Fluid Leaks: What to Do.

New Role for Librarian in Today's Schools

In this age of information, the role of the school librarian is very different from what it used to be. Although they still hope to encourage a love of reading in their students, they are now also responsible for introducing them to new technologies and teaching them information literacy skills necessary for today's workplace.

An article in The New York Times, titled
"In Web Age, Library Job Gets Update," demonstrates how one school librarian prepares her students for the 21st century.

April 23, 2009

Traffic to Newspaper Websites Up 10.5%

While more and more print editions of newspapers fold, newspaper websites attracted an average of 73.3 million unique visitors per month in the first three months of 2009, a 10.5% jump from the same period last year, according to Nielsen Online.

The average number of pages views climbed nearly 13 percent to 3.5 billion. Both figures were the highest since 2004, according to the Newspaper Association of America, which commissioned the analysis.

The Nielsen figures are the latest to show a growing audience for newspapers on the web, even as publishers continue to struggle in their search for a viable online business model to replace falling print revenue.

[via Yahoo Tech]

One Reason Why Newspapers Are Declining?

This from the Christian Science Monitor:

According to the Gannett Blog, an editor at the Gannett newspaper company recently told his underlings to avoid social network sites. Here’s a bit of the alleged newsroom memo:
It has come to my attention that some staff members are spending a lot of time on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites during work hours. Also, some staff members apparently are spending work time on Fantasy baseball research and other personal recreation activities. This is not appropriate. It is not part of the job."

Wrong, wrong, wrong. While it’s true that fantasy baseball leagues aren’t exactly work-appropriate, Twitter certainly is. How many stories have been broken over the last few months through Twitter alone? We’ll give you a hint: you’ll need more than ten fingers.

Couric Uses Facebook to Evaluate New Administration

CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric is asking viewers to evaluate the first 100 days of President Barack Obama’s government, reports Jennifer Van Grove, writing on Mashable. And she is using Facebook – the hugely popular website poised to become the number 1 social network in the world – to do it.

In a 48 second video clip posted to her page, Couric issues a video challenge to viewers: create a 20 second video on what Obama’s done wrong or right while in office, and post it to Couric’s Facebook page. The best videos will be included in a live broadcast from CBSNews.com on April 29 at 7 pm.

Courac is a big user of Web 2.0, active on YouTube, Digg, and Twitter (@katiecouric).

According to Van Grove, Couric is
doing a fantastic job combining her star power with social media savvy to raise her profile on Facebook and grow the CBS audience through potentially viral channels. The power of massive comments, likes, and user-created Facebook videos, is that the CBS message gets dispersed to new audiences (friends of friends) with every act of sharing.”

Only those of you who have a Facebook page can post videos. If you are interested, you can watch the video and participate here.

April 22, 2009

Top 50 Librarian Blogs

Here, according to getdegrees.com, are the Top 50 Librarian Blogs.

I regularly read many of these, but there are several new ones I will be looking at for the first time.

Let us know if you see any of interest.

[via Stephen's Lighthouse]

United Nations Opens World Digital Library

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization and several national libraries have launched the World Digital Library, a website that allows visitors to browse through some of humanity’s earliest written works online.

The site, four years in the making and in seven languages (English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian), provides page-by-page viewing of the original works, scanned in by the national libraries that took part in the project, often with multilingual narration by curators.

Included is a manuscript from ancient Japan that is believed to be the first novel ever; a 1562 map of the New World; the only known copy of the first book published in the Philippines, in Spanish and Tagalog; an 11th-century Serbian manuscript; and the oracle bones — pieces of bone or tortoise shell heated and cracked and inscribed that are among the earliest known signs of Chinese writings.

James H. Billington, the U.S. Librarian of Congress, who heads the project, says the project is ready to expand as other national libraries join in with the 32 libraries and research institutions already involved.

[via Yahoo Tech]

Talketh Like Shakespeare on April 23

The Chicago Shakespeare Theater is asking everyone to talk like William Shakespeare on April 23, in honor of the Bard’s 445th birthday. Shakespeare coined more than 1,700 words still in use in modern English and his plays influence the way we think about the world in which we live.

Not sure how to talk like Shakespeare? Here are some tips, courtesy of the Theater group:
  1. Instead of you, say thou. Instead of y’all, say thee.
  2. Rhymed couplets are all the rage.
  3. Men are Sirrah, ladies are Mistress, and your friends are all called Cousin.
  4. Instead of cursing, try calling your tormentors jackanapes or canker-blossoms or poisonous bunch-back’d toads.
  5. Don’t waste time saying "it," just use the letter "t" (’tis, t’will, I’ll do’t).
  6. Verse for lovers, prose for ruffians, songs for clowns.
  7. When in doubt, add the letters "eth" to the end of verbs (he runneth, he trippeth, he falleth).
  8. To add weight to your opinions, try starting them with methinks, mayhaps, in sooth or wherefore.
  9. When wooing ladies: try comparing her to a summer’s day. If that fails, say "Get thee to a nunnery!"
  10. When wooing lads: try dressing up like a man. If that fails, throw him in the Tower, banish his friends and claim the throne.
The Theater group wants you to send in your favorite Shakespearience – your first memory of Shakespeare, your favorite quote, a photo, or birthday message – to post on the website.

In addition, message any modern phrase to "ShakespeareSays" on Twitter, and it will be posted on the site what it would have sounded like four hundred years ago.

Read Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s proclamation naming April 23 Talk Like Shakespeare Day in Chicago.

Apply for Retirement Online at SSA Website

Thinking of retiring soon? The U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) encourages you to apply for retirement online.

Go to www.socialsecurity.gov and click on “Applying Online for Retirement Benefits.” You’ll go through a series of screens that will ask you questions about yourself, your family and your work. Once you’ve answered all of the questions, you can submit your application electronically to the SSA. Once the SSA receives your application, it will review it and notify you of your status via mail.

There are several benefits to applying online. The application has a “retirement estimator” that gives you a personal estimate of how much your benefit will be at different ages and different “stop work” dates. It also has “More Info” links, if you need more information at any time to answer a question.

When you finish your application, you‘ll receive a receipt for your records, and a number that you can use to check your status online after you’ve applied.

The online retirement application can be completed in as little as 15 minutes. However, if you don’t complete the application in one sitting, you can stop the process and restart it again without losing any of the information you entered.

April 21, 2009

CQ Researcher Discusses the Future of Journalism

Another day, another small newspaper ends its print run. This time, the Hamtramck Citizen has stopped publishing as of April 20. This joins a growing list of papers such as The Troy Eccentric, Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, and Ann Arbor News, which have all cut back on print publication or are ceasing to publish altogether.

The newspaper industry is rapidly changing. With these changes, how is this going to affect the future of journalism? CQ Researcher, a database that the Troy Public Library offers, has recently issued a report regarding this topic. It outlines the history of newspapers, where the industry stands today, and also offers pro and con opinions regarding the future of print newspapers.

To access CQ Researcher and read this report, you must have a valid Troy Library card. Click the "Information On Demand" link on our homepage, click Social Sciences from the subject listings, and then click CQ Researcher. The Future of Journalism report can be accessed along the right-hand side under the "Recent Reports" heading. Additional reports discuss wrongful convictions, business bankruptcy, extreme sports, and the future of the GOP.

Be sure to also check out CQ Researcher's Twitter feed to see when new reports are available.

New Features and Format Added To OverDrive

OverDrive, one of the suppliers of downloadable ebooks and audiobooks to the Troy Public Library, has now started offering star ratings, patron defined lending times, and ebooks available in the EPUB format.

Star ratings are similar to the rating system used at Amazon. OverDrive users are now able to rate books on a scale from 1 to 5 stars, and also see what the average user rating is for an item.

Another new feature is patron defined lending times. Previously, all items (except for videos) were checked out for a total of 14 days, and could not be returned early. Now, if you don't need at item for a full checkout period, you can choose to have a checkout length of 7 days.

The biggest news from OverDrive is that ebooks are now available in the EPUB format, a format increasing in popularity. One of the main advantages of the this format is that the text is reflowable. Unlike a document in a pdf format, text in the EPUB format will rewrap itself to fit the size of the viewing area. This eliminates the need to scroll to see the rest of the page.

Another advantage is that items in the EPUB format can be downloaded to Sony Readers (but not to the Amazon Kindle). Additionally, if you have checked out ebooks before from OverDrive, you do not need to install new software. EPUB format items work with the Adobe Digital Editions software.

If you haven't used OverDrive, I encourage you to try it out. To access OverDrive, go to the Library's homepage and click "Downloadable eBooks, Audiobooks, and Videos" in the left side menu. From there, select "OverDrive". To use OverDrive you must have a valid Troy Library card.

April 20, 2009

Ebooks and the Future of Reading and Writing

Two interesting reads about the fledgling ebook revolution, and how it may change the way we read, think, and act.

In the first, How the E-Book Will Change the Way We Read and Write, Steven Johnson, writing for the Wall Street Journal online, tells about the “aha” moment he experienced one of the first times he used Amazon’s Kindle ebook reader:
I knew then that the book's migration to the digital realm would not be a simple matter of trading ink for pixels, but would likely change the way we read, write and sell books in profound ways. It will make it easier for us to buy books, but at the same time make it easier to stop reading them. It will expand the universe of books at our fingertips, and transform the solitary act of reading into something far more social. It will give writers and publishers the chance to sell more obscure books, but it may well end up undermining some of the core attributes that we have associated with book reading for more than 500 years.

There is great promise and opportunity in the digital-books revolution. The question is: Will we recognize the book itself when that revolution has run its course?"

In the second, Curling Up With A Good Screen, Jacob Weisberg, writing for Newsweek, asks: “Why should a civilization that reads electronically be any less literate than one that harvests trees to do so?”

He answers himself that it shouldn’t:
When it comes to literature, I'm optimistic that electronic reading will bring more good than harm. New modes of communication will spur new forms while breathing life into old ones. Reading without paper might make literature more urgent and accessible than it was before the technological revolution, just as Gutenberg did.”

[Thanks to Troy Librarian Constance Doherty for passing on the WSJ article.]

April 18, 2009

Gmail Suggests To Whom You Should Send Emails

Google keeps trying to help you send better emails with Gmail.

First, there was Mail Goggles, a feature to help you stop sending obnoxious, angry or flaming emails. Goggles, when enabled, will ask you a series of math questions before sending your email. The idea is that if you take a few minutes to cool down -- or sober up -- before hitting send, you might save yourself great embarrassment.

Then, came Undo Send, which puts a five to 10-second hold on all outgoing messages. So if you send an email with a typo, or to the wrong person, or one which might land you in hot water, you can undo it.

Now, Gmail Labs has created a “suggest more recipients” feature that suggests contacts that you might want to include in a group email based on the people you’ve grouped together as email recipients in the past. No more accidentally leaving out that important person who needs to know.

For example, if you often send family emails to your mother, father, spouse, sister and brother, when you start composing an email to your mother and father, Gmail will suggest adding your sister, spouse, and brother. The feature is triggered only after you’ve added at least two recipients to the email.

To enable the feature, go to Gmail Labs and turn it on as a setting.

[via TechCrunch]

First Ever Federal Chief Technology Officer Named

President Barack Obama has named Aneesh Paul Chopra as his choice for Chief Technology Officer. Chopra currently serves as Virginia’s Secretary of Technology, and has previous acted as the Managing Director for the Advisory Board Company, where he advised executives on health care operations.

The CTO will be an assistant to the President, and the Associate Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He will work to develop and implement the President’s technology agenda.

During his time as Virginia’s Secretary of Technology, Chopra championed several technology initiatives, including partnering with Cox and Comcast to broadcast free GED classes to Virginian residents; integrating iTunes U with Virginia's state education assessment framework; and creating a Ning-based social network to connect clinicians working in small health care offices in remote locations.

Chopra was recently recognized by Government Technology Magazine for excellent use of technology to improve government, and he was awarded Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society’s 2007 State Leadership Advocacy Award.

For more information on Chopra, see Tim O’Reilly’s post Why Aneesh Chopra is a Great Choice for Federal CTO.

[via TechCruch]

April 17, 2009

Write Better Emails

Here is some excellent advice on how to write better emails, from David Silverman of Harvard Business.

Though some of his advice might seem a little obsessive – revise 30 to 50 times on an organization-wide email – practicing his 10 steps will make you write more clearly and more efficiently.

Also, check out our previous post Write Better with Microsoft Word Readability Statistics.

[via Lifehacker]

Honeymoon Over for Kindle 2?

When it was first released, Amazon’s new Kindle 2 ebook reader received many positive reviews (and here).

However, more recently, the honeymoon seems to be over as users have begun to complain about the readers' screen resolution, and the terms of Amazon accounts.

[via Wired, ars technica]

Email Spam Damages the Environment

McAfee – the maker of personal computer security software – has reported that spam is not only a nuisance that hinders productivity, it also damages the environment and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

The company has released the Carbon Footprint of Spam, which says that the annual energy used to transmit, process and filter spam totals 33 billion kilowatt-hours. That's equivalent to the electricity used in 2.4 million homes, with the same greenhouse gas emissions as 3.1 million passenger cars using two billion gallons of gasoline.

The study looked at global energy expended to create, store, view and filter spam in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, India, Mexico, Spain, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

McAfee points to late 2008 as an example of the potential energy savings of stopping spam. When McColo, a major source of online spam, was taken offline, global spam volume dropped 70%. According to McAfee, the energy saved during the time it took spammers to rebuild their sending capacity was equal to taking 2.2 million cars off the road that day, proving the impact of the 62 trillion spam e-mails that are sent each year.

Read more, including critics of the report.

[via Yahoo Tech]

Fun Friday: Where Were You in 1988?

I was playing Super Mario Bros. But not with Bill O'Reilly.

[via mental_floss]

April 16, 2009

Gale Sponsors "Power to the User" Ad Madness Contest

Are you interested in not only winning some money for yourself, but also for your favorite school or local library? Database publisher Gale is sponsoring a contest from now until June 1, where you can win $2,500 for yourself and $2,500 for your favorite library.

To enter the contest, you need to create a one-minute video that promotes your favorite library and how it brings "power to the user." Then post the video to Gale's Libraero Group on YouTube. For official rules, entry requirements, and sample videos, visit the official contest site here.

Good luck!

Google Announces Scholarship for Students with Disabilities

The Google Blog has announced the Google Lime Scholarship for Students with Disabilities. The company is partnering with Lime to offer scholarships to students with disabilities who are pursuing university degrees in the field of computer science in Canada or the U.S. Lime is a not-for-profit organization that brings together global corporations and people with disabilities, bringing to light an untapped source of talent.

Scholarships will be granted for the 2009–2010 academic year, and recipients will be invited to attend an all-expenses-paid retreat at the Googleplex in Mountain View in 2010.
The deadline to apply is June 1.

For details.

April 15, 2009

Men and Women Use the Internet Differently

Men make up a minority of the overall Internet population – those who access the Internet at least once a month from any location. There are 95.9 million men online (48.2%) and 103.2 million women online (51.8%).

However, according to eMarketer, men go online more often; are more active on social networking sites; read and write more blogs; listen to more podcasts; stay on for longer; and are not as bothered by "websites cluttered with ads" as women are.

The U.S. male Internet population is evenly split between those under and over the age of 35, with the largest group falling between 35 and 44. "Marketers may be overlooking a valuable demographic if they target only 18-to-34-year-old males. Advertising messages steeped in college humor and sex do not resonate with the millions of male Internet users who are researching products and services — and jobs — while shopping and connecting with friends and family," writes eMarketer.

This report confirms earlier reports on how men and women use the Internet differently. In 2008, four reports compared the behaviors of men and women online:
[via ars technica]

55% of U.S. Adults Used the Internet to Participate in the 2008 Presidential Election

More than half of U.S. adults used the Internet to participate in the 2008 election – the first time that threshold has been crossed – according to a new study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Some 55% searched for political news online, researched candidate positions, debated issues or otherwise participated in the election over the Internet. Among the findings:
  • 45% of Internet users watched online videos related to politics or the election;
  • 33% of Internet users shared political content with others;
  • 52% of those on a social network used it for political purposes.
The Internet has grown steadily as a source of political news since 2000, when 11% of voters went online to keep up with political developments. That figure now stands at 26%. Among young voters and those with broadband connections the Internet has eclipsed traditional media like television, radio and newspapers, the survey found.

Read the full report.

[via Yahoo!Tech]

Google Leads U.S. Search Engines with 9.1 Billion Searches

comScore, Inc., a leader in measuring the digital world, has released its latest analysis of the U.S. Internet search marketplace.

In March 2009, Americans conducted 14.3 billion searches, 9% more than in February. Over 9.1 billion searches were conducted on Google, increasing the site's share of U.S. search market from 63.3% in February to 63.7% in March. Google was followed by Yahoo! (20.5%), Microsoft (8.3%), Ask Network (3.8%) and AOL (3.7%).

Detroit Public Library Amnesty Program

The Detroit Public Library has offered an amnesty program from now until May 9. Anyone who has a Detroit Public Library book, DVD, CD, or other material at home, at school, or in their office, past the date on the item's “Date Due” sticker is eligible for this program regardless of how far past due. It is an opportunity to return any overdue Detroit Public Library items without paying fines. There is no limit on the number of items you can return.

Click here to read more.

What's NEW at TPL?

Curious about the NEW titles we have in at Troy Public Library?

We’ve added two new book list to BookLetters: they’re called New Nonfiction and Escape into Fiction (New Fiction Titles). Check them out by going to the library homepage (www.troylibrary.info) and click on “Find Books and Reviews.” Scroll down the page until you find New Non-Fiction and Escape into Fiction. Both are fantastic new lists, to be updated monthly, of TPL’s latest and greatest adult non-fiction and fiction offerings. You can subscribe by email or RSS feed by following the directions on the site. For more information on BookLetters check out these posts on the The Tech Desk:

Find Your Next Book with BookLetters

BookLetters: Over 400 Patrons Served

April 14, 2009

New York Times and Barron's Availalble Digitally at TPL

Recently, both The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press have started marketing digital image editions of their papers. These digital editions differ from a newspaper's website in that they maintain the layout and feel of the print edition.

While we don't have institutional access to digital editions of the Detroit papers, we do have access to digital image editions of the New York Times. These image editions are full scans of the actual paper, and include all material that was published, including articles, graphics, pictures, and advertisements. Having all of the content is great for actually reading the paper, but also being able to see advertisements can be useful to someone planning a trip to New York.

We have access to not only the daily editions of the New York Times, but also the New York Times Book Review, New York Times Magazine, and also the advanced Sunday edition of the New York Times. Back issues are maintained for 1 year.

For people interested in business and investing news, we also have Barron's magazine in an digital image edition format.

To access digital editions of these publications from our website, you must have a Troy Public Library card. Click the "Information On Demand" link on our homepage, click Magazines, Journals, and Newspapers, from the subject listings, and then click which publication you wish to view. Be sure to select one of the "Image Edition" options to see the entire paper as published.

The other New York Times link provides access to a database where you can search for articles from 1985 to the present

New Social Networking Site for Unemployed

The University of Michigan’s School of Information and the United Way for Southeastern Michigan have teamed up to create Neighbors4Neighbors, an interactive website that uses social networking technology to connect unemployed workers with each other.

Visitors to the site can get and give advice on the things that matter when someone loses a job. The site has two components, an online discussion forum that lets people share advice with each other, and a “widget,” or online program that can be put on partnering websites that have information for the unemployed. Questions and comments that are created via the widgets on partnering sites will be mirrored on the Neighbors4Neighbors discussion forums.

“This site demonstrates an efficient, low-cost application of social computing,” Professor Paul Resnick, the primary architect of the site, explains. “Many sites already aim to help unemployed workers find information or job leads, but they don’t have a way to connect everyone who is visiting the page. Neighbors4Neighbors pulls people and information together to create a community.”

Neighbors4Neighbors is a project of Michigan Governor Jennifer M. Granholm’s Keep Michigan Working Task Force.

Detroit Papers to Test New eBook Reader

Plastic Logic announced that it is partnering with the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News to test a thin, lightweight ebook reader to deliver the papers’ electronic content to users. The reader is about the size of an 8.5" x 11" pad of paper and weighs less than a print magazine.

The companies plan to test 100 readers this summer. If the test is successful, the reader should be in the market in early 2010. At that time, subscribers of the Detroit papers can purchase or lease a reader as an alternative to paper delivery. "You could see 20- to 30,000 of these devices in a short period of time," said David Hunke, Free Press publisher and chief executive of the partnership. There was no word on how much the reader would cost to buy or lease.

New MLA Handbook Recognizes the Ascent of Electronic Information

The Modern Language Association has just released the 7th edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. This style manual – now over 50 years old – gives step-by-step advice on writing research papers to millions of college and university students across the United States. A large part of the Handbook focuses on correctly citing your references, so that anyone can find the information that you use in your writing.

This edition of the Handbook has finally been adapted to the electronic age. (The 6th edition was released in 2003.) As such, it is an attempt to really make sense of how we find information on the Internet.

For instance, the MLA no longer recognizes print as the default medium of information, and suggests that the medium of publication should be included in each citation.

In addition, the Association has stopped recommending that URLs be included in citations, saying that URLs have:
“limited value… for they often change, can be specific to a subscriber or a session of use, and can be so long and complex that typing them into a browser is cumbersome and prone to transcription errors. Readers are now more likely to find resources on the Web by searching for titles and authors' names than by typing URLs.

The MLA has published an online complement to the paper Handbook. Oddly, you cannot purchase access to the web version without first buying a paper copy. “We still think instructors will want their students to have a physical book,” said Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the MLA.

I guess some old habits die hard.

The MLA Handbook, 7th edition, is available here.

[via Inside Higher Ed]

April 13, 2009

Troy Eccentric Set to Shut Down May 31

The crumbling of the newspaper industry continues. Five Southeast Michigan Observer & Eccentric Newspapers, including the Troy Eccentric, will cease both print and web publications on May 31, according to an article published today on the Detroit Free Press website.

For more information, check out the original article here.

April 12, 2009

Despite Concerns, Google Street View Expands to England

Google Street View -- the application that allows you to virtually walk down many streets in the United States by viewing millions of photographs of homes, people and cars -- has moved to England. Although hundreds of people have already raised privacy concerns, the British government information commissioner has ruled that the service is not a threat to personal privacy.

All of these concerns have been raised over the past few years in the United States. Several sites have popped up on the Internet, advising on how you can remove your personal information -- photos of your car, house, etc. -- from Street View.

Despite the concerns and challenges, Google has by-and-large prevailed. Street View continues to grow.

The Internet has given us unprecedented access to information in moments. The trade-off is that we live in an increasingly public world, with our privacy diminished.

April 11, 2009

Cowabunga! The Simpsons to Be Featured on Postage Stamps

The United States Postal Service has just announced that it is releasing a set of first-class postage stamps featuring Bart, Homer, Marge, Lisa and Maggie Simpson on May 7.

That's right: The stars of he longest-running comedy in television history will soon adorn the corner of your snail mail in a spot once reserved for the likenesses of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.

The Simpsons are one of the 20 subjects featured on stamps this year. They were chosen from 50,000 suggestions that the USPS received. The television show, now in its 20th season, is the only show to be featured as the sole subject of a stamp set while still in primetime production.

“We are excited to celebrate The Simpsons on postage stamps,” said USPS Executive Director of Stamp Services David Failor. “[T]his witty, well-written pop icon continues to irreverently satire its parody of a middle-class family as it lampoons American culture. The Simpsons stamps… will serve as a great opportunity to interest youngsters into stamp collecting.”

“This is the biggest and most adhesive honor The Simpsons has ever received,” said Matt Groening, creator and executive producer of The Simpsons.

“We are emotionally moved by the Postal Service selecting us rather than making the lazy choice of someone who has benefited society,” said James L. Brooks, executive producer of The Simpsons.

For some reason, as part of the stamp release, the USPS is encouraging you to vote for your favorite Simpson.

No Federal Chief Technology Officer, Yet

During his election campaign, President Barack Obama used technology in unprecedented ways. In addition, he promised that, as president, he would name a Chief Technology Officer, to move the federal government into 21st century.

However today, nearly 100 days into his term, the President has yet to name a such an Officer, reports TechCrunch:
[I]t’s confusing as to why the President is taking his sweet time to appoint a CTO, when there are clear issues that a CTO could be working on. For starters, there are tech-centric issues like the FCC’s National Broadband Plan to give all American’s high speed Internet access, and the DTV Delay Act, which was signed into law in early February. There’s the Open Government initiative, through Change.gov, which seems to be in a stalemate. And certainly a CTO could lend his or her expertise and leadership in incorporating technology into the President’s health-care, education and energy initiatives. Take a look at the technology issues page of the White House’s website for a more extensive to-do list awaiting our future CTO.

As the FCC has just called for a discussion on a national broadband plan. It would have been good to have a CTO on board to guide this discussion. I hope the Administration fills this position in a timely manner.

April 10, 2009

A Twitter Revolution?

For three days last week, students in the Eastern European country of Moldova protested against alleged voting irregularities by the country’s Communist party. The protests ranged from massive demonstrations to violent takeovers of federal buildings and battles with police.

According to several online news sources, the protests were organized through social networking sites, especially Twitter. From TechCrunch:
"In the last 48 hours, students from Moldova have been tweeting, trying to rally others into demonstrating against the communists… you can see the tweets about the demonstration coming in a rapid pace. There are also videos on YouTube of the protest...

Twitter has long-been been a popular platform for breaking news, but this adds a new twist to the powerful capabilities of the micro-blogging service. The protests no doubt would have happened anyway and it is not clear how may of the actual protesters in Moldova are on Twitter. But it seems to be helping both as a coordinating tool and as a way to disseminate information about the events that are unfolding to the rest of the world.

An article on Wired, on the other hand, is more skeptical about the impact of social sites in this event:

"Daniel Bennett, a researcher on new media and conflict, offers a contrarian view on the influence of Twitter. After studying the evidence, he concludes that Moldova's Twitter community is quite minuscule, and its role in organizing the protests has been overstated. "As it stands," he argues, "the Twitter revolution is a myth."

The Moldovan government, however, was worried enough about the impact of Twitter that it charged activist Natalia Morar, one of the Twitter organizers of some of the activities, with “calls for organizing and staging mass disturbances.”

Microsoft to End Suport for XP

PCAuthority is reporting that Microsoft will end support for the Windows XP operating system on April 14.

The company said it will continue to provide free security fixes for XP until 2014. But any future bugs will not be fixed unless customers pay for additional support.

Microsoft is scheduled to release its latest operating system – Windows 7 – later this year.

Microsoft is now no longer offering mainstream support for its most widely used product. Windows XP accounts for 63% of all Internet connected computers, while Microsoft Vista – XP’s unpopular successor – makes up 24%.

[via Slashdot]

Comment on a National Broadband Plan

As I wrote a few days ago, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission is seeking public input on how to make broadband accessible and affordable across the United States. The plan will be delivered to Congress next February. The recently-passed Reinvestment Act stimulus contains $7.2 billion for broadband projects.

In you would like to express your ideas on a nationwide broadband plan, go to page 41 of this FCC Notice of Inquiry (.pdf). The deadline for comments is June 8.

Mr. Rogers Swings During Jazz Month

One more for Jazz Appreciation Month:

Holly Yarbrough's Mister Rogers Swings! is a fine collection of swinging, jazzy, uptempo covers of songs from classic episodes of the old children's television show, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. Imagine grooving to the cool sounds of "Won't You Be My Neighbor," with a big, brassy band backing sweet, passionate vocals.

[via boingboing]

Fun Friday: Jazz Appreciation Month Edition

April is Jazz Appreciation Month. To celebrate, enjoy this excellent YouTube video of John Coltrane's Giant Steps.

More Computer Videos in Plain English

Here are three more Common Craft In Plain English videos. They are short and funny and a great way to introduce people to current computer topics.

The World Wide Web in Plain English

Computer Hardware in Plain English

And Twitter in Plain English below.

[See Computer Videos in Plain English]

Win a Kindle 2

Would you like to own a Kindle 2, Amazon’s latest generation ebook reader? Publisher Harper Collins, blog CrunchGear, and thriller author Andrew Gross are giving one away.

The Kindle 2, which retails at $359, holds 1,500 ebooks. It is lightweight, ultra-thin, and completely wireless. You can now download books from your Kindle2 anytime, anywhere.

Five second place winners in the contest will receive an autographed paper copy of Gross’ latest novel, Don’t Look Twice. You can read the first few chapters here.

Then go to the contest page to enter. The contest ends on April 20.

If you win, bring it by the the Technology desk at the Library. I would like to see it at work.

April 9, 2009

Federation for the Blind Criticizes Decision to End "Text-to-Speech" Feature of Kindle 2

When Amazon released its Kindle 2 ebook reader earlier this year, it was immediately criticized by the Authors’ Guild and publishers who claimed that they reader's "text-to-speech" function violated their “performance” rights under copyright law. The authors and publishers claimed the Kindle cut into their markets for professional read audiobooks.

Amazon quickly buckled in the face of pressure and withdrew the feature, allowing publishers to decide on which books the feature in enabled.

Now, according to boingboing.net, the Reading Rights Coalition and the National Federation for the Blind are protesting at the offices of the Authors Guild, to let the Guild know that its successful campaign to remove the text-to-speech feature from the Kindle has hurt blind people and undermined their ability to access a wide variety of works in a more-accessible form.

April 8, 2009

Now Easier to Filter Google Image Search Results by Color

A few weeks ago, I wrote how you could filter your Google Image search results by color. All you had to do was add a small string of code (&imgcolor=colorname) to the end of the results' URL and redo the search.

Now Google has made it even easier to filter images by color. After you search for your image, a drop down box will appear below your search term, next to the All Content drop down box. Click on a color, and your results will automatically be filtered by that color.

[via Mashable]

FCC Begins Development of National Broadband Plan

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has begun developing a national broadband plan, with the goal of improving access to high-speed Internet in the United States. The plan, required under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, will be delivered to Congress by February 17, 2010. The Reinvestment Act contains $7.2 billion for broadband projects.

Part of this plan will include a public comment process, which will request input on how to ensure all Americans have access to affordable broadband, and suggestions for broadband applications for health care, public safety, energy independence, and other areas. The public comment process is scheduled to begin shortly.

[via MuniWireless]

More Peeps News

Some people seem to spend a lot of time creating historical scenes with Peeps -- those brightly colored, marshmallow chicks and rabbits that appear on store shelves about this time every year.

Here are a few more from mental_floss.

Library of Congress Shares More Videos Online

One of my favorite things about the Internet is the wealth of cultural information online, to which I would never have access. The website of the Museum of Modern Art, for instance. Or the archives of the National Film Board of Canada.

More good news. The Library of Congress will begin sharing content from its video and audio collections on YouTube and Apple’s iTunes as part of a continuing effort to make its collection available to broad segments of the population.

Among the content expected to be shared include 100-year-old films from the Thomas Edison studio, book talks with contemporary authors, early industrial films from Westinghouse factories, first-person audio accounts of life in slavery, and inside looks into the Library's holdings, including the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence and the contents of Lincoln's pockets on the night of his assassination.

The new channels will launch within the next few weeks.

[via iLibrarian]

April 7, 2009

More Courses and Tests Available from Learning Express

LearningExpress Library, a test preparation database to which the Troy Public Library subscribes, has recently added several new practice tests and course offerings.

Practice exams are now available for various healthcare related exams, including radiography, certified surgical technologist, and certified medical assistant. Practice is also available for Commercial Driver's License topics, including basic CDL knowledge, air brakes, passenger transport, and more. GED practice exams are now available in Spanish as well as English.

Several previous course offerings have been updated. This includes many practices exams for Advanced Placement subjects such as biology, chemistry, and calculus. Practice tests for the GMAT and GRE have also been updated.

To access LearningExpress Library from our homepage, you must have a Troy Public Library card. Click the "Information On Demand" link on our homepage, click Education from the subject listings, and then click LearningExpress Library. If you have never used LearningExpress, you will need to register for an account after arriving at the LearningExpress Library homepage.

Additionally, if you are reading this and do not have a Troy Library card, but are a resident of Michigan, LearningExpress is available to all Michigan residents through the Michigan eLibrary. Go to mel.org and click on the MeL Databases link.

April 6, 2009

Old Habits are Hard to Break

Courtesy of Dana Summers from the Orlando Sentinel, a lighthearted look at the struggles people are encountering now that many newspapers have ceased daily home delivery.

Name the Library's New Cafe Contest

From April 6, through April 22, the Troy Public Library is sponsoring a Name the Café contest. Library users are invited to submit a name for the Library’s new vending café, which is scheduled to be open in May.

There is no official entry form. You can submit your suggestion via email to Library Director Cathy Russ at c.russ@troymi.gov. Please include the proposed name, and your name and contact information in the email.

On or around April 24, a panel of judges – including the Library Director, the City’s Assistant City Manager, the Friends of the Library President, and a member of the Library Advisory Board – will choose the winning name. A sign with the name and an acknowledgement to the winner will be displayed in the café.

Earlier this year, the Library sponsored a contest among staff to pick a quote to display in the new café. The winner was Technical Services aide Anna Brodak. Her winning submission was “Libraries have become my candy store,” from Julie Kimball, literacy advocate.