May 31, 2009

Don't Just Recycle -- Freecycle!

The problem: Junk everywhere. And nowhere to put it but the landfill.

The solution: A communal approach that shows that one household's junk is another's salvation.

The "How-to" from Annabelle Gurwitch, from Planet Green’s Wasted television show and
"The concept of 'freecycling' has exploded in recent years, especially with the website You go there and type in where you live and what you need to get rid of -- it could be a baby crib you no longer need or a set of old golf clubs.

Once you've posted the availability of items, you could get dozens of responses from people near you who need them. Then, you put it on your curb and it's gone!

I worked with one woman who had a ceiling fan and aquarium to get rid of. She was ready to pay for a salvage company to pick them up. I steered her toward freecycling instead, and she got 20 responses in one day. And she was able to get baby clothes that she needed from a mom whose child had outgrown them.

I have gotten rid of our child's crayons and magic markers doing this -- someone had a day-care business and needed them."

[via USA Weekend]

Don't Toss Those Leftovers -- Use Them

What’s in your refrigerator right now? Leftovers from dinner at a Chinese restaurant? Yesterday’s pasta? A few stalks of broccoli?

Before you throw out all this, thing about combining these "orphans" into another tasty while they are still good. After all, a smart way to save on groceries is to efficiently use what you buy.

Get creative. Have a bit of coleslaw? Use it to top a turkey sandwich. Extra cooked or raw vegetables? Tuck them into salads, omelets, casseroles. One broccoli stalk won't feed two people, but you can add other veggies and a protein (beef, chicken, tofu) for a tasty stir-fry.

Surf for more ideas. Two sites in particular -- and -- offer lots of food for thought.

[via USA Weekend]

New Site Helps with Elder Care

The “Sandwich Generation” describes those who are sandwiched between the dual responsibilities of caring for their own children and for aging parents or relatives.

Former AOL Digital Chief and founder of Launchbox Digital, John McKinley found a distressing lack of resources that helped adults find the right care providers for elderly parents. McKinley vowed to create a portal aimed towards the consumer and this month he launched
OurParents, a free elder care matching service, focused on assisting adult children with aging parents find the right care solution that meets the parents’ health care needs.

OurParents offers descriptions, services, quality ratings, and price info for care providers and allows consumers to filter search results by location, cost, quality, distance and special requirements. Free detailed reports about each facility, which includes access to the Medicare ratings, detailed audit findings, community data, and information about nearby hospitals and clinics are available once the user creates an account.

May 28, 2009

More Titles from OverDrive to be iPod Compatible

In mid-June, OverDrive, one of Troy Public Library's suppliers of downloadable eAudiobooks, is releasing a new version of its Media Console software. What makes this update newsworthy is that the majority of all downloadable OverDrive audiobook titles will become iPod compatible.

The issue of iPod compatibility with OverDrive eAudiobooks has been a concern for sometime. iPod users were told that downloaded materials couldn't be transferred, or would have to come up with various workarounds for the problem. Last year, to help solve the problem, OverDrive started releasing titles in the OverDrive MP3 format, that can be transferred to an iPod. The problem is the many bestsellers, such as Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, The 8th Confession by James Patterson, and Resilience by Elizabeth Edwards, are not available in the MP3 format. They can be downloaded and played on a computer, but are not iPod transferable.

OverDrive Media Console 3.2 should change that. According to the OverDrive press release, "once OverDrive Media Console version 3.2 is installed, most titles in a library's OverDrive WMA Audiobook collection will instantly become iPod-compatible for users with Windows PCs." It appears that the only drawback is that Mac users will not be able to take advantage of this update.

This news comes at an excellent time for the Troy Library. We have been seeing record numbers of checkouts this year of our OverDrive material. If you haven't used OverDrive because popular titles were not available to be transferred to your iPod, keep following The Tech Desk. We will let you know when OverDrive Media Console 3.2 is available.

In the meantime, if you still would like to check out OverDrive, go to the library homepage and click "Downloadable eBooks, Audiobooks, and Videos" in the left side menu.

For the complete text of the OverDrive press release, click here. Simple, Straight-Forward Package Tracking

A while back I discovered a wonderful web-based tracking tool on TrackThePack. The website provides a very simple yet elegant design. Below is a screen shot of the site to give you an idea.

The site is very simple to use. Simply enter your tracking number provided by your package carrier, and click on the "TrackThePack" button. The site supports most carriers including: UPS, FedEx, DHL, and USPS. The site is able to automatically recognize the proper carrier, and give you detailed results as to the current location, and timing of your package's arrival. The site even provides a helpful Google Map, detailing the path your package has taken (see screenshot).

So next time you need to track a package, go ahead and track your pack with TrackThePack!

MDOT Provides Real-Time Traffic Camera Feeds

While robins may be the traditional sign of the arrival of spring, here in Metro-Detroit we know the true sign: the return of the orange barrels on the highways. With these construction zones come the inevitable traffic jams.

Traditionally, radio or TV station reports were the best place to get traffic information. While this information is generally good, many times stations will report an incident that has already cleared or may not report one that has just happened. If you want to actually see the traffic conditions before you head out, you can click here to view live feeds from Detroit-area freeway traffic cameras.

Think it is bad here? Check out traffic cameras from across the U.S. and several other countries at

May 27, 2009

Looking for An Alternative Browser? Try Google Chrome 2.0

Google Chrome is a relatively new browser that has quickly gained popularity in the Internet community. Since its initial release, Chrome has seen many fixes and improvements to improve its speed and stability. These updates were so significant that Google quickly removed the "beta" tag off of its new browser in an effort to promote its stability and everyday usability.

I do a majority of my Internet browsing on Google Chrome due to its speed and other features. Here are some of my favorite ones.

Speed, Speed, and More Speed
One of the most noticeable features of Google Chrome is its speed. It is fast to boot up, and fast to load pages. It feels faster then Firefox, and most definitely Internet Explorer in my everyday use.

Each Tab Has Its Own Process
Each tab has its own individual process; if one tab crashes, you do not lose the rest of your opened tabs. This is extremely helpful when you are doing research and each tab is important to keep open.

The Download Manager
Downloads are handled differently in Google Chrome then they are in IE and Firefox. In both IE and Firefox, the downloads are opened in a new window to be monitored. In Chrome, downloads are started immediately and can be monitored in the task bar, as shown in the picture above.

Simple Design
One of the subtle, yet, impressive features of Chrome is the simple design layout of the tabs, address bar and navigational icons. This browser is designed for maximum screen real-estate for viewing web pages. I find the tab layout to be quite helpful.

The New Tab Page
While this feature may not seem like a big help initially, it most certainly is a welcome addition. The new tab page shows a lot of information such as your top nine most visited sites, previous searches, recent bookmarks, and recently closed tabs.

Searching From the Address Bar
By default, Google allows you to type a search into the address bar. Then, by simply hitting the ENTER key, you are taken to Google search results. If you go to another site and perform a search, you will then be able to simply hit the tab key when typing in the site name to perform a search on that site (see the screenshot above for an example).

This past week, Google officially released its first major milestone update to Chrome. This update packed tons of added enhancements, bug fixes, and stability improvements. Here is a quick rundown of some of the enhancements specific to the 2.0 update courtesy of Google.

Where Can I Get Google Chrome?

Plan Your Yard Sale Visits with Yard Sale Treasure Map

Like to spend your summer weekends looking at yard sales?

Yard Sale Treasure Map can make your search more productive. This site mashes classified ads from Craigslist with Google Maps to create maps of yard sales in your area during the upcoming weekend.

Just enter your start address, how far you want to travel, and the day of the weekend, from Thursday through Saturday. Treasure Map will plot the sales on a map. You can read descriptions of the sales, delete ones you don't want, add other stops, and plan a route, all before you print your custom map.

A great time and gas saver.

May 26, 2009

Check Out These Summer Reading Lists

It is time for summer – which means that it is time for summer reading!

Here, to help you plan, are summer reading lists from USA Today, Amazon, New York magazine and The Daily Beast.

[via EarlyWord]

eBook Readers Buying Guide

We have written a lot about the Kindle -- Amazon's ebook reader which is transforming the way people read novels and newspapers.

Kindle is not the only game in town, however. Sony, Plastic Logic and other companies have developed their own ebook readers, which they hope will compete with the Kindle.

If you are shopping around for an ebook reader, you might want to check out this buying guide on how to choose an ebook reader, from Wired.

May 25, 2009

Did Twitter Save A Life -- Again?

While driving home recently, Atlanta Councilmember Kwanza Hall came upon an unconscious woman who needed medical attention. He asked those around the woman if they had called 911 – the emergency number. They had, but were unable to get through.

So Counselor Hall turned to Twitter to help summon aide. Here’s the story, as reported by Wired:

Did Twitter help save a life? In this instance – as in the instance when actress Demi Moore’s tweeted a fan’s suicide message – it is impossible to tell for certain. But it is clear that Twitter has not only leapt past email but is challenging the phone as a real time communication tool.

May 24, 2009

Using the Virtual World to Improve Our World

Virtual environments and social networking websites have become valuable tools for elearning and distance collaboration, often being used as a means for urging social change.

On June 3, the University of Michigan-Dearborn will host a free conference to discuss new and innovative approaches for using these applications to address societal issues. The conference, Using the Virtual World to Improve Our World, will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the UM-Dearborn campus and simultaneously in the online virtual world of Second Life. The event is sponsored by Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services.

Conference attendees will hear from guest speakers working in industry, non-profits, government and universities who are using various forms of technology to change society.

“This forum and discussion will provide for the exchange of best practices and innovative ideas that can accelerate the pace of change,” according to Bruce Maxim, associate professor of computer and information science at UM-Dearborn, who is coordinating the conference.

Those interested in attending the conference should register with Deborah Stark-Knight at 313.593.3403 or by May 28.

May 22, 2009

Plan Your Bike Rides With

It was a long time coming, but finally spring has sprung here in Troy. Leaves are on the trees, baseball is being played in local parks, and people are back outside riding their bikes.

If you are interested in planning new bike rides this year, you may want to check out By plotting points on a Google Map, this site will calculate the mileage of your bike ride. You can save routes, and search for rides other users have created. For example, here is the route with round-trip mileage from Metro Beach in Harrison Township to the Grosse Pointe War Memorial in Grosse Pointe Farms:

The site also has many other features. A training log keeps statistics of your rides, including time, distance, speed, and calories burned. Discussion forums allow you to connect with other cyclists. It also integrates with popular social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, and features apps for the iPhone.

If you are a cyclist, it is definitely worth a look. If you don't ride, you still may want to check out these sites that are built on the same website platform for walking, running, or hiking.

May 20, 2009

Celebrate Small Business Week with Electronic Resources from TPL

May 18 marked the beginning of National Small Business Week. If you currently have a small business, or are considering starting one, here are several electronic resources available from the Troy Public Library that may be of use to you.
  • Small Business Resource Center
    Easily searchable by business topic or type of business, this database from Gale provides a wealth of information to entrepreneurs. It includes several how-to articles that describe how to buy, sell, and finance your business. You can find articles from a large selection of business journals. It also includes many examples of sample business plans.

  • Gale Virtual Reference Library
    Through Gale's Virtual Reference Library, TPL has access to all 14 volumes of Business Plans Handbook. Each volume in this series features actual business plans from small businesses throughout North America.

  • Legal Forms
    This database compiles legal forms for a variety of topics, including many for operating a small business. It also includes an attorney directory and a dictionary of legal definitions.
All of these resources are available to patrons in the Library. The can also be accessed at home if you have a valid Troy Library card by going to our website and clicking on the "Information On-demand" icon.

May 19, 2009

Troy Library Now on Facebook

Thanks to Technology Librarian Lauren Henderson, the Library now has a Facebook page. Drop by for a visit and become a fan. Since we are just starting, there is not much there, yet, so let us know what you would like to see. Write it on our wall.

Here at The Tech Desk, we have been working hard beefing up the Library's Internet presence. As I mentioned in a post about a technology unconference I attended, you can now follow us on Twitter (@tpltechnology). Soon you'll be able to find us on Flickr, too.

And we are getting ready to roll out our brand new website -- complete with gadgets and gizmos and all other cool stuff. Stay tuned.

Great Michigan Read 2009-2010 Announced

Stealing Buddha’s Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen was selected for the second Great Michigan Read. The announcement was made by Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm who proclaimed May 19 as “The Great Michigan Read Day.” The announcement was made at the Cascade Meijer store and broadcast over the Internet. Meijer and the National Endowment for the Humanities are leading sponsors of the The Great Michigan Read.

With a statewide focus on a single book, the Michigan Humanities Council’s Great Michigan Read encourages Michiganians to learn more about their state, their history, and their society. The Council’s free supporting programming will focus on three themes: immigration stories, cultural understanding, and contemporary history.

Stealing Buddha’s Dinner is a memoir chronicling author Bich Minh Nguyen’s migration from Vietnam in 1975 and her coming of age in Grand Rapids in the 1980s. Along the way, she struggles to construct her own cultural identity from a menagerie of uniquely American influences.

The book was selected by a group of nearly 50 librarians, teachers, students, professors, authors and others from all over the state. More than 75 Michigan-related titles were considered for the program. Representatives from communities across the state were invited to participate in the selection process.

[via Grand Rapids Public Library blog]

May 18, 2009

Internet Explore 8 : Features and Review

Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) was released on March 19 to little fanfare, but the update to the most popular browser in the world has a lot of great new features that markedly improve its speed and functionality.

Here are some of my favorite new features in IE8.

Colorful Tabs

This great new feature gives the typically boring and static tabs found in Internet Explorer 7 new life. The tab colors represent linked websites that are opened within each other. For example, if you were to visit our homepage and right click on one of the links and open it in a new tab, the tabs would be the same color. You can see examples of the colorful tabs in the above screenshot (click on the picture for a larger view).

Improved "New Tab" Page:

IE8 has tried to improve its new tab page to provide users with a more intuitive and usable interface. Some of the features included on the "New Tab" page are:

- The ability to reopen closed tabs
- The option to open an "InPrivate" mode window (discussed later in the post)
- The option to use an accelerator (discussed later in the post)

Check out a screenshot of the improved "New Tab" below:

InPrivate Mode:

Microsoft has gone a long ways to try and improve IE8's privacy options and InPrivate mode is one of its biggest improvements. By clicking on Tools, then InPrivate Browsing (or hitting Ctrl+Shift+P) you will be entered into the private browsing mode. While InPrivate, you can go to any website without it being saved in your history or in any way on your computer. This is great for logging into bank accounts and doing other online transactions.


Adding accelerators to IE8 is a mixed bag of annoyance and functionality. Basically, accelerators try to speed up your Internet surfing by providing you with tools to blog, look up maps, and search Wikipedia among other things. The annoyance factor comes into play when you are highlighting text, and the user is presented with a big blue arrow to give them quick access to the accelerators. This arrow may not bug some, but I found that it covered up a lot of text that I was often reading or deciding whether or not to copy. It quickly reminded me of the quick access toolbar in Office 2007. But if you use the accelerators, this tool could prove useful.

General Feel and Speed:

This is the best improvement to IE8, in that the browser feels snappier, and generally much quicker. While I still don't think that its up to par with Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, or even Opera; the speeds and feel are drastically better then the sluggish IE7.

Final Conclusion:

IE8 is a great upgrade if you're still using IE7 or the especially terrible IE6. While I still prefer Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome for my browsing, IE8 has certainly raised my eyebrows and surprised me a bit. Maybe with IE9, Microsoft will take over as the king in speed and functionality in the browser wars.

Where Can I Get It?

Visit this page, click on the orange "Download Now" button, and follow the instructions.

Google Calendar Gets "Tasks" Integration

One of the most used tools in Google is the Tasks feature that was previously only enabled in Gmail and iGoogle. (See this post which talked about some of the great features of this service.)

Good news: Google has just begun branching out its Tasks feature to some of its other services, beginning with Google Calendar.
The integration between Tasks and Google Calendar is simple and straight-forward. If you add a task in Gmail, it goes over to Google Calendar. And if you associate a due date with the task, then the task will not only show up in your Tasks list, but also in your Google Calendar!

To see a screenshot of how this integration works, look below.

As you can see, the tasks are now shown in the calendar as well as the list. As the tasks are completed, check marks and strike-throughs are used.

This clean integration among Google products shows the potential that Google Tasks has in the future and why it continues to be my to-do manager of choice.

If you would like to use Google Tasks, follow the instructions outlined here. If you're interested in the mobile version of Google Tasks check out this post.

May 17, 2009

Browse Magazines With Google Book Search

Curious about what Popular Science was covering in the 1940s? Are you doing popular music research and are having trouble tracking down issues of Billboard from the 1960s? A great place to look for this information is Google Book Search.

In December 2008, Google Book Search started to include full-scans of magazines. You can search for stories across all magazines, or can browse through selected issues. Some magazines include nearly the entire print run. For example, Billboard has issues from 1942-2008. Some like Men's Health, only include several years worth of issues.

You can access magazines in Google Book Search by going here and clicking on an issue listed under the magazine heading. To search within magazines, click Advanced Book Search, and change the content option to Magazines.

For magazines available in Google Book Search, check out this list from the blog Seeing the Picture.

May 16, 2009

Kindle 2: To Buy or Not to Buy -- That Is The Question.

Earlier this year, Amazon released the Kindle 2 and according to the website TechCrunch, 300,000 have already been sold. If you are thinking about purchasing a Kindle 2 but haven't quite made up your mind, you may want to read the article, 10 Reasons to Buy a Kindle 2 ... and 10 Reasons Not To. This article contains some useful and practical information that may help you decide.

For additional information about the Kindle 2, check out Honeymoon Over for Kindle 2? , EBook Readers Compared; Selection Grows , Kindle 2 Reviewed , and More Kindle 2 Reviews

Tweeting the Tech UnConference at MSU

Along with some of my coworkers, I attended a Technology UnConference at Michigan State University Main Library on May 15.

What is an unconference?

You know how people say that the best part of going to a conference is the networking? Not that prepared workshops aren’t informative, but it is always valuable to make contact with a colleague from a different workplace who is dealing with a similar situation as you are.

Well, imagine an entire conference of networking. No prepared presentations. No main sessions with limited discussion. Just 50 or so librarians coming together and sharing ideas, in greater or lesser detail, depending on each one’s particular interest.

That was the Technology UnConference. And it worked surprisingly well.

At the UnConference, as is said, "there is no agenda, until we make one up." We spent a few minutes brainstorming technology topics of interest. Nine ideas were put forward, including using content management software for websites, teaching technology to the public, and integrating social network sites into our work. Then, for the rest of the day, we divided and redivided into different small groups at different times, to discuss these ideas. The main sessions – save one – consisted not of a panel of experts, but report backs from the groups and further discussion.

This structure – or unstructure? – allowed for a maximum number of voices, experiences, and lessons to be heard.

One of the most interesting things to me was that several of us posted our thoughts about the UnConference on Twitter, the microblog site, tagging our tweets with #techuncamp.

For me, this meant two things. First, by reading other attendees’ tweets in real time, I felt like I was in several side conversations. This meant that I didn’t have only my own reaction to what I was hearing, but I could read others’ reactions. Oftentimes, these were insightful, informative, or just plain funny. This enhanced my experience as I felt like I was constantly engaged at different levels of discussion.

Second, by using the tag #techuncamp – which is searchable in Twitter – we made sure that our tweets were kept together. I can now search #techuncamp and find a record of all the side discussions, packed with tips, websites, and good people to follow. Or you can search #techuncamp and do the same, almost as if you were there.

The Technology UnConference was time well spent.

If you use Twitter, follow The Tech Desk @tpltechnology or me @pjkwik.

100 Inspiring and Innovative Blogs for Teachers

Here is a list of the 100 Most Inspiring and Innovative Blogs for Educators by L. Fabry. This list attempts to cover those blogs where teachers share innovations, strategies, trends, insights and emerging technologies. It is organized into four parts:
  • General Teaching Blogs
  • Specialty Subject Blogs
  • Best Podcasts for Teachers
  • Best Video Blogs for Teachers
[via Stephen’s Lighthouse]

May 15, 2009

Awful Library Books

Awful Library Books is a collection of the worst of public library collections. The items featured are real items in real libraries today. As the site's creators write: “The items featured here are so old, obsolete, awful or just plain stupid that we are horrified that people might be actually checking these items out and depending on the information.”

Fun Friday (Bonus!): Tweeting Houseplants

Last week, the tweeting coffee pot was all the rage.

This week, Mashable reports on how to outfit your houseplants to tweet you when they need water:
Our plants are animate objects, and whether we’re paying attention or not, they’re always subtly communicating their need for water and sustenance. But realistically, we humans need a nudge to remember to give them their required daily attention.

That’s where the Botanicalls (bontani+calls) Kit can save the day, and our plants. Masterminded by former graduate students — Rebecca Bray, Rob Faludi, Kate Hartman, and Kati London — in NYU’s Telecommunications Program, the kit of parts uses your Ethernet connection to tap into the health of your plant. With a little tech savvy and electrical know-how, you can assemble the kit of soil-moisture censors to make your plant Twitter you when moisture levels drop too low. Your plant will also tweet back a thanks of gratitude for keeping it alive.

The Twittering kit is a successor to the original Botanicalls system that enabled plants to call their caregivers when in need of sustenance. You can follow Kate Hartman’s plant, @Pothos, to see a Twittering plant in action.

Fun Friday: Mother of All Funk Chords

What happens when you take videos from YouTube, sample the sounds and images from them, and combine them to create an entirely new song? You get this amazing mashup video:

May 14, 2009

Search Options Makes Google Search More Useful

The Google Blog has announced a new set of tools, called Search Options, which allow you to slice and dice your search results to find what you need faster and easier.

Once you have searched Google and have a list of results, click on Show Options, under the search box. This will open Search Options, where you can limit your results by videos, forums, or review; or limit by date, so that you can see results from the past day, week or year. You can change your view, too, so that so that you can see more or less text or more or fewer images in your results. Search Options also includes Wonder Wheel, which gives you related terms for your search topics.

Watch this video from Google to learn more:

Twitter User in Guatemala Arrested for 'Inciting Panic"

Major political unrest in Guatemala has led to an unprecedented event: a Twitter user has been arrested for one of his tweets and had his computer confiscated. The arrest comes amid allegations that the Guatemalan president, Álvaro Colom, ordered an assassination.

The Twitterer Jean Anleu Fernández (@jeanfer) tweeted that people should remove their funds from the Banrural bank, leading to his arrest for “inciting financial panic.” The events transpired in Guatemala’s capital, Guatemala City.

Read more from mashable at Guatemalan Twitter User Arrested Amid Assassination Controversy.

For background on how social network sites are creating and reporting on the political crises in Guatemala, see Guatemalan Protests Organized and Covered on Social Sites.

May 13, 2009

Google Street View Not Welcomed in Greece -- Yet

Google Street View – the Internet application that allows you to virtually walk down many streets in the United States by viewing millions of photographs of buildings, people and cars, taken by Google vehicles mounted with cameras – has moved to Europe, amid much protests.

In April, hundreds of people in England raised privacy concerns when Google's camera-equipped cars began rolling down British streets. However, the government information commissioner ruled that the service is not a threat to personal privacy.

Now, a privacy watchdog has banned Google from gathering street-level images in Greece for a planned expansion into that country. In rejecting Google's bid to roam Greek streets with cameras, Greece's Data Protection Authority said it wanted clarification from the company on how it will store and process the original images and safeguard them from privacy abuses.

[via The New York Times]

OpenCourseWare Lets You Access University Courses for Free

Spurred by advances in technology and people’s hunger to get an extra edge in a down economy, universities and colleges are posting course materials – including syllabi, class notes, and lectures – online for anyone to access. This movement, known as OpenCourseWare, allows self learners to save money on tuition, gives alumni a link to their alma mater, and enables prospective students to peek into university classrooms.

Already more than 200 colleges and universities offer courses ranging from art history to economics for free on demand. The classes can be watched on YouTube or downloaded to iPods. And the consortium continues to grow…

The OpenCourseWare concept began in 2003. That year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology decided it couldn’t turn a profit from putting online its hands-on curriculum with an emphasis on laboratory work online. Instead, MIT began providing its syllabi, course notes, and eventually, video and audio lectures online for free. MIT’s OpenCourseWare initiative started by listing 500 courses in 2003. Even that first year the program attracted more than 4 million visits to its web pages.

But today, in less than a decade, the institution has archived 1,897 courses – and in April 2009 alone attracted more than 1 million visits.

[read more at OpenCourseWare: College education, without the student loans, from the Christian Science Monitor]

Guatemalan Protests Organized and Covered on Social Sites

Social network sites – blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube – are again being used both to report and to create breaking news, this time in Guatemala.

On May 10, attorney Rodrigo Rosenberg was assassinated in Guatemala City. After he was killed, a video was released on YouTube in which Rosenberg said he feared he would be assassinated, and that if he were, those responsible would be operating at the orders of Guatemalan president Álvaro Colom.

Now, social network sites across the Central American country are calling for Colom's impeachment and trial. Anti-Colom protesters are using the sites to livestream demonstrations and other actions against the government.

As in Mumbai last November, and in Moldova in April, social network sites are central to how fast-breaking, current news is created and delivered.

[via BoingBoing]

Tweeting Moby Dick

@publicdomain has tweeted Moby Dick on Twitter, in 140-or-fewer-character updates. It took 9½ months and 12,849 updates – around 45 a day. And yes, a robot was doing the tweeting.

This project is a brainchild of Dan Coulter (@danco). Coulter has set up a poll to see which public domain book will be tweeted next. I voted for one of my favorites, Alice in Wonderland. I am glad to see it leading in the early results.

[via BoingBoing]

eBay Cuts Listing Fees To Encourage Sellers

Great news for casual eBay sellers:
The online marketplace eBay is eliminating some upfront fees to attract more sellers who occasionally auction off items. San Jose, Calif-based eBay said Tuesday that users will soon be able to offer up to five items for auction every 30 days without paying the fees that eBay usually charges to list goods. Those listing fees usually run 10 cents to $4, depending on the item.

The Library offers two eBay classes:
Buying and Selling on eBay for learning the eBay basics, and eBay Selling Workshop for those with items ready to list and sell. Each class runs about two hours. Check out our program calendar to view our class schedule and register online.

Our next scheduled eBay classes are:

Buying and Selling on eBay
Monday, June 1 & 8, 6:30 pm - FULL
Wednesday, July 1 & 8, 6:30 pm - Registration begins on June 11, 10 am
Wednesday, August 5 & 12, 1:30 pm - Registration begins on July 11, 10 am

eBay Selling Workshop
Monday, May 18, 6:30 pm - Register Now!
Monday, June 29, 6:30 pm - Registration begins on June 8, 8 pm

Wednesday, July 29, 6:30 - Registration begins July 8, 8 pm
Wednesday, August 19, 6:30 - Registration begins August 12, 3:30 pm

[via USA Today]

Using Twitter Search as a Library Reference Tool

I have just answered my first reference question using Twitter Search here at the Library. And it is a perfect example of the real-time nature of of the microblog site, and its advantage over even search-powerhouse Google.

I was working at the Technology desk and a patron using one of our public computers asked me if we are now blocking Craigslist. I didn't think we were, but when I tested it, it was not connecting. I could have contacted our IT department to see if they did something that might restrict sites, or I could have tried to Google search the Internet for some notice of Craigslist going down, but both of those options seemed too slow to me.

Instead, I Twitter searched "craigslist down." In a moment, the results verified that it was down everywhere:

I informed our computer user that it was a site issue. I continued to monitor Twitter Search and Craigslist, and was able to tell him when it was back up.

Our patron needed an immediate answer. Twitter Search game me a way to give him one.

May 12, 2009

Student Uses Wikipedia to Test Media

When Dublin university student Shane Fitzgerald posted a poetic but phony quote on Wikipedia, he said he was testing how our globalized, increasingly Internet-dependent media was upholding accuracy and accountability in an age of instant news.

His report card: Wikipedia passed. Journalism flunked.

[Read more from, Student hoaxes world's media on Wikipedia]

Find a Quote at Famous Quotes and Authors

Need a quick quote by a famous author? You might try Famous Quotes and Authors.

This website was created by a non-profit organization, whose mission is to introduce people to quotations and sayings from famous authors, poets, artists, politicians and others. Nice looking and easy to navigate, the site currently has 25,000 quotes online from over 6,700 authors, searchable by keyword, or browseable by author or topic.

Google Chrome Ads Come to Television

Google has launched its first television advertising campaign for Google Chrome, the company’s nine-month-old web browser.

I find it a little odd to advertise web browsers on television. Late at night, watching reruns of The Simpsons, I usually don’t think to myself, “I wonder if I could be more productive with a better web browser?”

Nevertheless, the marketing people at Google know better than I do, I suppose. Clearly, the company is making a push to cash in on an increasingly large percentage of Internet users – estimated as high as 30-40% – who are looking for alternatives to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

Let us know what you think:

May 11, 2009

Windows 7 Available "In Time for the Holidays"

Microsoft has announced that its new Windows 7 operating system will be ready “in time for the holiday season,” reports Gismodo. The release date of the successor to Microsoft’s much-criticized Vista operating system has been the subject of rumor for months. It makes sense that the company would release its new product in time for a busy shopping season.

If you are interested in downloading a copy of Windows 7 Release Candidate, click here.

For a review of Windows 7, click here.

Online Jazz Festival, May 12- 14

Have you enjoyed the jazz posts here at The Tech Desk? Well, there is more music coming your way. As part of the launch of its new database, Jazz Music Library, database publisher Alexander Street Press is hosting an Online Jazz Festival from May 12 to May 14. Not only will the Jazz Music Library be free for this time, but there will also be contests, free music downloads, and drawings for free CDs.

Jazz Music Library features over 18,000 audio tracks from over 3,800 different artists. Labels that comprise the database include Verve, GRP, Fantasy, Concord Jazz, Original Jazz Classics, and many more. Be sure to go here starting Tuesday, May 12 to participate in the Alexander Street's First Annual Online Jazz Music Festival. For more information about the festival, click here.

May 10, 2009

Change Firefox's Look with Personas

Are you tired of looking at the default Firebox menu and address bar? You could always change the theme, but that would also change the look of the navigation buttons and menus. If you want to change the way Firefox looks, but keep the same navigation layout, consider adding a persona to Firefox.

Personas are graphical "skins" that are applied to the menu and status bars of Firefox. Instead of the default grey background color, you can customize the background to feature various designs. For example, here is Firefox using the Golden Gate Bridge persona:

Personas are easy to use and just require a simple software installation. To get personas for Firefox, go to

Astronauts to Tweet from Space

NASA astronaut Mark Polansky, who will be commanding the next mission to the International Space Station, has just posted a video to NASA’s official YouTube channel inviting YouTubers and Twitter fans to take part in his next mission, submitting video questions via YouTube and following mission updates over Twitter.

To ask a question, Polansky says to create a video of around thirty seconds and post it to YouTube, then send it to his Twitter account using an @reply. He’ll respond to the questions on NASA TV, which is broadcast nation-wide.

Polansky won’t actually be the first person to Tweet from space -- that title will likely belong to Mike Massimino, who plans to Tweet from Space Shuttle Atlantis, which embarks on mission STS-125 [on May 11].

[via TechChrunch]

May 9, 2009

Twitter Comes to TPL

On May 11, we are going to have our first staff Twitter class at the Troy Library. Lauren Henderson, one of our Technology librarians and Twitter advocate, will be leading the training.

Why teach about the microblog site Twitter? Two reasons.

First, as a library staff, we need to know the tools our patrons are using. Ten years ago, I would not have expected staff to refer a print reference without having first looked at it. Likewise, today, staff should be comfortable with the sites about which our users ask.

In addition to Twitter, we are having staff classes in the photosharing site Flickr, the chat site Meebo, and the feeder Google Reader.

Second, Twitter is a powerful news site. I was convinced of this when I followed last year’s tragedy in Mumbai via Twitter in real time. As the news information industry recreates itself, the real-time reporting of Twitter should be a major component.

There are many who disagree, however, and dispute Twitter’s influence.

I believe Twitter is real. Here is an interesting article from TechCrunch on why Twitter is important.

Zapatag Lets You Passively Express Your Road Rage

Ever have one of those days when your driving to work and get cut off by an inconsiderate driver? Ever then get the urge to tell the world about how bad of a driver he or she is?

Well now you can, with a new website Zapatag. At Zapatag, type in the driver's car license number and a brief description of what happened. The number and description are then added to a growing database of license plates that is searchable by the public.

It is important to note that the site does not attach any personal information to you or the other driver, it simply records the drivers license number.

The site does not simply give you an outlet to shout at another driver, but to compliment her or him as well. Some of the messages to the site include "Cool bumper sticker" and various other compliments.

The site is still pretty new, so not many Michigan license numbers have been added, but I'm sure this will grow with time.

In addition, you have the ability to send a tweet via your phone or other twitter client that will instantly upload the license number and the description. To read more about Zapatag's twitter integration check this site.

May 8, 2009

Google Continues to Be the Most Popular Search Engine and Video Site in U.S.

comScore, a marketing company that surveys the behavior of digital consumers for businesses looking to expand electronically, has just released the results of several surveys. Two show the dominance of Google on the Internet:

In January 2009, Americans conducted 13.5 billion core searches, a 7% increase over December 2008. Google Sites handled 8.5 billion searches, followed by Yahoo! Sites with 2.8 billion and Microsoft Sites with 1.1 billion. For Google, that amounted to 63% of the market, down slightly from 63.5% in December. The other search engines market shares were equally flat.

December 2008 saw U.S. online video viewing surge 13% in a record-setting month, as Americans viewed 14.3 billion videos as the year closed. Google Sites again ranked as the top U.S. video property with 5.9 billion videos viewed (41% online video market share), with accounting for more than 99% of all videos viewed at the property. Fox Interactive Media ranked second with 445 million videos (3.1%), followed by Yahoo! Sites with 330 million (2.3%) Viacom Digital with 291 million (2%), and Hulu with to 241 million (1.5%).

How Much Are People Spending on eBooks?

EarlyWord blog reports that Amazon founder Jeff Bezo says the company’s Kindle ebooks now represent 35% of the total print sales of those same titles at the web retail site. That’s an increase from 13% just a few months ago. Amazon currently carries 275,000 titles for the Kindle.

How much are ebook sales contributing to publishers’ bottom lines? The ebook news Web site, Teleread, analyzed stats from Association of American Publishers, showing ebook sales accelerating rapidly in 2008, but estimates they “ will still only represent 1/2 of 1 percent of book industry sales,” for the year, growing to 6% over the next five years.

[via EarlyWord]

Registration Opens May 11 for Library's June Computer Classes

Registration for the Troy Library’s June computer classes opens at 10 a.m., on May 11.

Each month, we offer 14 classes, taught by the Technology Department staff:
  • Computer Basics 1
  • Computer Basics 2*
  • Navigating the Internet
  • Email for Beginners
  • Library Resources on the Internet*
  • What is Web 2.0*
  • Blogging for Beginners*
  • Buying and Selling on eBay
  • Selling on eBay Workshop*
  • Beginning Word 2007
  • Intermediate Word 2007
  • Beginning Excel 2007
  • Intermediate Excel 2007
  • Beginning PowerPoint 2007
All classes are free. Most are two sessions (the ones marked with an asterisk * above are only one session), and each session last about two hours. Each class has plenty of handouts, and plenty of time for hands-on experience.

To register, go to our website at and click on Sign Up for Exciting Classes and Programs at TPL at the bottom of the page. You will be directed to our calendar. From there you can register for any of the above classes, or any of our other great programs.

If you have a question about an individual class, call the Technology Department at 248.524.3542, or email us at

Fun Friday: Tweeting Coffee Machine

Here is a perfect marriage of technology, coffee, and social network sites:

A 16-year-old intern at the German media agency, Blanko, has created a coffee machine that tweets, on the micro-blogging site

The intern mounted a web camera on the coffee machine, focused on the machine’s digital display. When the display changes, the image is photographed, and compared to a database of phrases. The matching phrase is then entered into a Twitter account and posted under #blankomat, in German, of course.

Recent tweets have included: 1 KAFFEE (1 coffee), SCHALE LEEREN (flat emptying), SCHALE FEHLT(flat one is missing), and WASSERTANK FÜLLEN (water tank filling).

[via TechCrunch]

May 7, 2009

Flash Drive Bargains

Here at The Tech Desk, we highly recommend the use of USB flash drives to store data. They are extremely portable, offer large amounts of data storage, easy to use, and are relatively inexpensive.

If you are in the market for a big, new flash drive, lists some current bargains available, including the SanDisk Cruzer Contour, a favorite of The Tech Desk staffer Chris Hunsanger.

May 6, 2009

Cell Phone Only Homes Surpass Landline Only Phones for the First Time

Remember not too long ago, when “cordless” phones were big, ugly, and good for a sight-gag on a television comedy show? Well, those phones have gotten their revenge:

The number of U.S. households opting for only cell phones has for the first time surpassed those that just have traditional landlines. Twenty percent of households had only cells during the last half of 2008, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey recently released. This compares with 17% of homes with landlines but no cells.

That ratio has changed starkly in recent years: In the first six months of 2003, just 3% of households were wireless only, while 43% stuck with only landlines.

Six in 10 households have both landlines and cell phones. Even so, industry analysts emphasized the public's growing love affair with the versatility of cell phones, which can perform functions like receiving text messages and are also mobile.

"The end game is consumers are paying two bills for the same service," said John Fletcher, an analyst for the market research firm SNL Kagan, referring to cell and landline phones. "Which are they going to choose? They'll choose the one they can take with them in their car."

About a third of people age 18 to 24 live in households with only cell phones, the federal figures showed, making them far likelier than older people to rely exclusively on cells. The same is true of four in 10 people age 25 to 29.

The data was compiled by the National Health Interview Survey, conducted by the CDC. The latest survey involved in-person interviews with members of 12,597 households conducted from July through December 2008.

[via Yahoo News]

Amazon's Kindle DX Debuts as Newspaper, Textbook Reader

As widely rumored, Amazon has announced a new, larger version of the Kindle, the “Kindle DX.”

Amazon is promoting the new Kindle as a textbook reader and has deals with publishers Cengage, Pearson, and Wiley. Amazon is also working with several universities to make the device available to their students in the fall. However, the $489 price tag may limit student usage, unless the cost is subsidized.

The device is also aimed at newspaper readers and will allow people to share personal documents. As the Wall Street Journal puts it, this “underscores Amazon’s ambition to turn the device from a niche gadget to a more mass-market electronic reader.”

The Kindle DX is currently available for pre-order. Amazon is not giving an exact delivery date, saying it will be “this summer.”

First impressions of the new device all popping up all over the Web:
[via EarlyWord]

How Do You Use Computers in Libraries?

The Troy Library is participating in a nationwide Internet survey to find out how people use the computers and Internet connections in public libraries. The U.S. IMPACT web survey is being conducted by the University of Washington Information School with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Until now, there has been no nationwide research about how library computing services fit into peoples’ lives. How many use computers for entertainment? How many to find jobs? Stay connected with family and friends? Find health information? In addition, how many people have taken computer classes offered by a public library? Have they been valuable?

The goal of the study is to collect data about the ways computers in public libraries help people across the United States. This information will be used to improve these services and to inform policy makers about how best to fund and support them. In these hard economic times, this information will be invaluable.

You can access the survey by going to our website and clicking on the purple and white “Take Our Survey” icon in the middle of the page. The survey is completely anonymous and takes 10 to 15 minutes to fill out. It closes May 18.

For more information, visit the IMPACT website.

May 5, 2009

Webby Awards for Online Excellence

The New York Times, the endangered Boston Globe, Britain's Guardian and the BBC scooped up Webby Awards for online excellence on May 5.

The Economist, National Public Radio (NPR) and The Huffington Post were also among the media outlets whose online efforts were rewarded by the 600-member International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. picked up Webbys for best writing and best practices but gave up the title it won last year as best newspaper website to the Guardian, which won for the fourth time in five years.

NPR earned Webbys for best radio site and for music.

The Onion won in the humor category and ESPN for sports.

The New York Times, Guardian, BBC and NPR also won People's Voice awards in several categories. The People's Voice awards are decided through an online vote by the public.

Comedian Jimmy Fallon was named "Webby Person of the Year" "in recognition of his enthusiastic embrace of the Internet to connect with his fans."

Hot micro-blogging service Twitter was named "Breakout of the Year" while comedian Sarah Silverman was named "Best Actress" for her YouTube hits.

The 13th annual Webby Awards are to be handed out at a gala in New York on June 8.

There is some great stuff here. Take a look at a complete list of Webby winners, and their links.

[via Yahoo Tech]

Windows 7 Release Candidate Available to the Public

Microsoft has released the Windows 7 Release Candidate to the public for testing. This is the final stage of the Windows 7 development process. Windows 7 is the successor to the Windows Vista operating system.

The steps to download Windows 7 are as follows:

1. Sign in with your Windows Live ID (or a general hotmail email account), or create a free account here.

2. Go to this page and click on the download link for the version of Windows 7 you would like to download (32-bit or 64-bit, and the appropriate language).

3. You will then be taken to the download page where you can download the .iso file used for the install.

4. After the download completes, burn the .iso file to a DVD (requiring a DVD burner), using a program such as Imgburn (free).

5. Upon completion of the burning process, leave the disc in the drive, and reboot the computer from the CD/DVD drive. Follow the instructions.

After you are all done installing, enjoy Windows 7!

Here is a review we did of the new operating system.

New Website for Michigan Seniors

Michigan seniors citizens can visit a new website to find information ranging from a guide to nursing homes to how to avoid scams. The new site,, was announced on May 4 by State Attorney General Mike Cox.

Cox said the goal is to give seniors one place where they can learn more about health care, financial issues, consumer protection, veterans affairs and local events.

"There are 100 different websites that have information that helps seniors. But there's no one place where seniors can go for specifically consumer protection," said Mary Ablan, director of the Area Agencies on Aging Association of Michigan.

The site's home page features a video message from Cox, a Republican who is planning to run for Michigan governor in 2010. People who use the site can increase the font size if they have trouble reading the text. Cox said Michigan's population of seniors is expected to double by 2030.

[via Yahoo Tech]

Visit Michigan's Iron Industry Museum This Summer

School will be out soon. Why not take the kids to the Michigan Iron Industry Museum?

Located in forested ravines eight miles west of Marquette, the Michigan Iron Industry Museum tells the story of Michigan's three iron ranges and the hard-working who helped build modern America.It is not only fun for the whole family, but you and the kids might just learn something about Michigan history. Click
here for the summer schedule of events.

10 Most Anticipated Ultraportables and Netbooks of 2009

Thinking of buying an ultraportable laptop or a netbook soon? Check out this Top 10 list of upcoming portables from Ian Paul of PC World before you open your wallet.

[via MSN techs & gadgets]

May 3, 2009

Job Resources Online from the Michigan eLibrary

In these times of economic hardship, people are losing jobs and spending countless amounts of time looking for new ones. There are many online resources available to help in finding a job in a fast and efficient manner. The Michigan eLibrary Business and Jobs Gateway -- a project of the Library of Michigan -- is especially helpful in guiding job seekers. It covers a variety of different fields, and helps in preparation for a job with sample resumes, cover pages, etc.

May 2, 2009

Twitter Users Don't Last Long: Revisited

Recently, I wrote about a Nielsen Online study which reported that 60% of Twitter users stop using the social network, micro-blog site within a month of joining. That study received a fair amount of criticism from the Twitter community. Tweeters believed that the study underestimated the size of their community because it failed to measure applications and other websites that feed into Twitter.

In response, Nielsen redid the numbers, taking into account more than 30 websites and applications that feed into Twitter including: TweetDeck, TwitPic, Twitstat, Hootsuite, EasyTweets, Tumblr, and many others.

The results, according to Nielsen's Vice President of Primary Research David Martin, "verified our initial findings: about 60% of people on Twitter end up abandoning the service after a month. The year-long retention curve looks very much the same as the one for just"

May 1, 2009

Amazon Offers Grants for Cloud Computing

Amazon, the online retailing website, is offering educators, researchers, and students the chance to apply for free access to its hosted cloud computing services. Cloud computing stores data away from your computer. This allows you to work with massive amounts of data that would jam a regular desktop computer.

Grant applications are available through Amazon’s Web site. Amazon says its cloud services are already being used at Harvard University and the University of Oxford. For example, Oxford scientists at the Malaria Atlas Project — an effort to map the geography of the disease in order to drive prevention strategies — use Amazon’s services to store, share, and analyze data.

[via The Chronicle of Higher Education]

More Trouble in the Newspaper Industry

More newspaper giants are struggling.

The Washington Post Co. reported a quarterly net loss, as print advertising revenue plunged more than 30% at its flagship newspaper. The Post posted a net loss of $19.5 million in the first quarter of 2009, compared with a net profit of $39.3 million in the same quarter last year. It was the second time in less than a year that the Post fell into the red. It recorded its first ever net loss in the second quarter of 2008.

Meanwhile, right next door, the Baltimore Sun slashed its newsroom by nearly a third in the latest cuts at the ailing newspaper owned by the bankrupt Tribune Co. Sixty-one staffers in the newspaper's 205-person newsroom were laid off at the end of April. The move came one week after another Tribune paper, the Chicago Tribune, eliminated 53 jobs in its newsroom.