December 30, 2010

OverDrive Shatters Records

If you have had problems accessing our OverDrive site since Christmas, you are not the only one. According to OverDrive's Digital Library blog, checkouts and new user registrations hit all time highs in the period leading up to and after the Christmas holiday. Additionally, for the first time ever for Overdrive, eBooks out-circulated eAudiobooks. 

Statistics for the Troy Public Library have also followed that trend. In December 2010 we have had our highest recorded monthly circulation of OverDrive titles. We have also seen our biggest increase in new patron registrations. In December 2010 we have seen a 75% increase in the amount of eBook checkouts compared to December 2009. Also, the Technology Center has been busy answering questions about a variety of eReading platforms, including the Nook Color, Kobo Reader, Pandigital Novel, Android smartphones, and more.

If you haven't tried OverDrive, now is a perfect time. You can find a list of eBook compatible devices here and eAudiobook compatible devices here. Like all eResources provided by the Troy Library, you will need a valid Troy Library card to be able to use OverDrive. To get started, go to, click on the "Download eBooks, Audiobooks" link, and select OverDrive.

December 23, 2010

Tech Help for the Holidays

The holidays have arrived, and with them comes family gatherings. With family gatherings comes the distinct possibility that you may be asked to help family members with their computer problems. Here are two sites to help prepare you for the role of being the family computer troubleshooter.

If your family has basic tech questions, Google's new Teach Parents Tech site is sure to help. Teach Parents Tech features a short videos about a variety of basic computing concepts, including how to send email attachments, how to crop photos,  how to find information in Google, and more. It also features a form that you can fill out so you can send links to specific videos.

If you need to help with more complicated issues, such as virus removal and computer slowness, has an article dedicated to PC troubleshooting tools that you should have on a USB drive. Some of these tools include antimalware software, a Linux distro, and alternate browsers.

Good luck answering your family's tech questions this holiday season!

December 16, 2010

Yahoo to Close

Amid news this week that Yahoo! is laying off 4% of its workforce, it appears that it is also  going to be ending some of its services. One of the services Yahoo is most likely closing is Delicious, a popular social bookmarking service.

Delicious was an early social site that used cloud computing to store user data. Instead of saving bookmarks and favorites locally within a specific web browser on a specific computer,  Delicious would allow you to save links to a Delicious account. These links were then always available on any computer that was able to access the web. Additionally, you could add tags to your links so that links about similar topics were easier to find. At the Troy Public Library, I used Delicious to track various sites regarding eBooks and eResources. I also tagged reference books that may be of interest.

While Delicious may be closing, there are some alternatives. Xmarks is a popular choice. If you have a Google account, Google offers a bookmarking service. Additionally, Google's web browser, Google Chrome, gives you the ability to sync bookmarks between computers that are running Chrome.

December 13, 2010

Good-bye, Chris

Today, The Tech Desk says good-bye to Chris Hunsanger. Chris has been a library aide in the Library's Technology Department for the past three years, and is moving on to pursue other opportunities to further his career.

Chris has been an asset to the the Technology Department. He has taught classes, helped design, and has been a tremendous help to not only patrons but also staff when it comes to fixing a variety of computer issues.

Chris has also been a contributor to The Tech Desk since its creation. Here are some examples of Chris' work:
We at The Tech Desk wish Chris the best of luck in his future endeavours. 

OverDrive App Updates to v2.0

OverDrive, the digital catalog provider of the Troy Public Library, has updated its Android and iPhone apps to v2.0. What does this mean to you?

Here is what you can expect in the latest release:
  • EPUB eBook support
  • Bug Fixes
  • An all new "Get Books" feature
The biggest feature is the new EPUB ebook support. Now, you can now read EPUB eBooks on your Android device (and tablets), as well as your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. This is in addition to the already available MP3 audiobook support that the app previously provided.

To initially download the books on to your device, you can take advantage of the new "Get Books" feature as well. After finding your library and adding to the app (done by searching), you will be able to quickly click on your library from within the app, and be taken to a mobile friendly version of the OverDrive catalog. From there, you can search, download, and view/listen to the books through the OverDrive application.

Finally, the OverDrive team has also noted the following: optimized version for iPad—with improved resolution and additional features—is coming soon, along with apps for BlackBerry and other mobile devices.
You can find the Android version of the app by searching for "Overdrive" in the Android Market or by scanning the QR code provided below. To download the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad version, search for "Overdrive" in the App Store or click on this link

December 3, 2010

Fun Friday: Google Translate Beatboxing

If you are a fan of 1980s hip-hop, you already know what "beatboxing" is. If you are unfamiliar, beatboxing someone produces drum beats and rhythms just by using their mouth. For an example, see this Wikipedia page.

Humans aren't the only one's with beatboxing skills. Earlier this week, TechCrunch had a story about how to turn Google Translate into a Google Beatbox. Here are some examples of Google Translate beats:

Example 1

Example 2

Inspired by the examples above? Post any great beats you have come up with using Google Translate in our comments section.

November 10, 2010

35 Years Ago Today: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

On November 10, 1975, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, an American Great Lakes freighter, sank in Lake Superior, about 80 kilometers northwest of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

The freighter, the size of two and a half football fields, was on a run from Superior, Wisconsin, to Detroit, laden with 26,000 tons of iron ore. While traveling on a routine run, the Fitzgerald ran into a November gale. Th ship sank without sending any distress signals. All 29 crew members aboard died; no bodies were recovered. When the wreck was found, it was discovered that the Fitzgerald had broken in two.

The Edmund Fitzgerald is still one of the largest freighters ever to have sunk on the Great Lakes.

In November 1976, Canadian folk singer Gordon Lightfoot's The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald reached #2 on the Billboard Pop Chart.

In the Detroit area, there are several events which commemorate the Edmund Fitzgerald.

November 5, 2010

Mango Adds More Languages

Back in September, we told you that Mango Languages, on online language learning program available through the Library, was adding a new program called Mango Complete 2.0. When it was released, they mentioned that they were going to be adding new content to their Complete 2.0 offerings on a regular basis.

This week has seen the first of these new releases. Mango has added 8 new classes to Mango Complete 2.0, including:
  • Farsi Complete 2.0
  • Hebrew Complete 2.0
  • Korean Complete 2.0
  • ESL Korean Complete 2.0
  • ESL Italian Complete 2.0
  • ESL Greek Complete 2.0
  • ESL German Complete 2.0
  • ESL French Complete 2.0
Also, are you curious about how Mango Languages helps you learn a language? If so, check out this video:

Interested in trying out Mango? It's easy! To access Mango Languages, you will need a Troy Public Library card. Go to our website and click eResources on the left under Library Links. Click on Language Learning, then Mango Languages.Try it out and let us know what you think.

October 25, 2010

Last Call for GOOG-411

At The Tech Desk, we use lots of Google services. We teach classes in Gmail. Many of us keep track of RSS feeds using Google Reader. We often show people directions using Google Maps, try webpages in Chrome,  and even played around with Google Wave. Sadly though, one of my personal favorite Google services that I rely on constantly is ending next month.On November 12, 2010 Google will discontinue GOOG-411. 

Usable from any phone, GOOG-411 was an excellent alternative to other 411 services. GOOG-411 was completely free. Additionally, just like Google web search, it was incredibly easy to use. After dialing 1-800-GOOG-411,  you were asked to say the business you were looking for and the city and state. After that, GOOG-411 would state the top listing, and offer to directly connect you. There was no need to write the phone number of the business down: you were instantly connected. 

While a free 411 service was appreciated, Google was using voice data supplied to GOOG-411 to develop future products. Garett Rogers reported in 2007 on that GOOG-411 was designed to collect voice samples to help improve Google's speech-to-text software. These technologies have now been implemented in a variety of Google services, as this webpage from Google shows.

While I will miss GOOG-411, there are several great options to help you find information for free. Bing, a search engine by Microsoft, offers BING-411. You can send a text message about a business and location to 46643 ("GOOGLE") and get confirmation via text. Last, and certainly not least, is the Library! Please feel free to call us at 248.524.3538 and we can help you find the information you are looking for.

October 22, 2010

Fun Friday: Geek Jack-o'-Lanterns

Tired of tried and true jack-o'-lantern designs? This Halloween, try some of these technology-inspired jack-o'-lantern designs, courtesy of

[photo: Zeusandhera]

October 21, 2010

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month

This October marks the seventh annual National Cyber Security Awareness Month sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security. This month encourages people to be aware of computer security and to take steps to help keep their information secure. 

Here at The Tech Desk, we have posted articles about computer security, including news about new anti-virus software and tips for avoiding online scams. Here are several other excellent articles on how to stay safe online.
By using some of the simple tips in these articles, you will have a safer online experience. 

    October 15, 2010

    eBooks Account for 9% of 2010 Book Sales

    According to a recent press release from the Association of American Publishers, year to date eBook sales account for 9% of book sales in the U.S. for 2010. This is a dramatic increase over last year. In 2009, eBooks sales only accounted for 3.31% of total book sales.

    This is interesting news, and reflects what we have seen at the Library. Checkouts of our downloadable eBooks available from OverDrive have increased over 50% this year. With the continued launch of new eBook readers, price reductions on other popular eReaders, and the availability of eReaders at more retailers, eBook sales and downloads will undoubtedly continue to increase. 

    If you have yet to try eBooks, now is the perfect time. The Library offers two different eBook services, NetLibrary and OverDrive. With NetLibrary, eBooks are viewed on screen within your web browser. With OverDrive, eBooks are downloaded directly to your computer and can be transferred to a variety of devices. To access Troy Library's eBooks, click here.

    October 8, 2010

    Crack Excel Worksheet Password Protection

    Here at the Troy Library, we love to use Microsoft Excel to create forms: for our timesheets, to schedule volunteers' work, to track collection area budgets, and to create electronic materials use reports, to name a few. Often, in order to make sure that formulas and data are not accidentally deleted, we password protect our electronic workbooks.

    If you have ever password protected an Excel workbook, you recognize the caution warning: "
    If you lose or forget your password, it cannot be recovered. It is advisable to keep a list of passwords and their corresponding workbook and sheet names in a safe place."

    If you do forget or lose your Excel password, however, all is not lost.

    The staff at The Office Experts has created a macro that you can paste into the Excel workbook to help. The macro unprotects your workbook and assigns a new password. (It does not recover your original password.) You can find the macro here.

    We have used this macro several times to open worksheets where the password has been lost. It works really well.

    (Thanks to Technology Department staff member Jim Janas for this tip.)

    IRS to Stop Mailing Paper Tax Forms

    Last week, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service announced that it would no longer be mailing paper income tax packages to individual and business taxpayers. These packages contained the forms, schedules and instructions for filing a paper income tax return.

    The IRS is taking this step because of the continued growth in electronic filing and the availability of free options to taxpayers, and to help reduce costs. This year, more than 96 million individual tax returns were e-filed, out of the 131 million total returns that were filed. Only 8% of individuals who filed returns last year received tax packages in the mail.

    The Troy Public Library will still be carrying some of the most popular paper tax forms, though many fewer than in recent years. And, has been the trend the past few years, we will be encouraging our patrons who are looking for forms to print them off from, either in the Library’s Technology Center or from their home computers.

    And as a reminder, individuals making $49,000 or less can use the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program for free tax preparation and, in many cases, free electronic filing. And individuals aged 60 and older can take advantage of free tax counseling and basic income tax preparation through Tax Counseling for the Elderly.

    Quickly Extract Images from a PowerPoint Presentation

    Today at the Troy Public Library's Technology Desk, I had a patron ask me the following question:

    "Is there any quick way to extract images used in a PowerPoint presentation?"

    I knew that I could copy each image individually into a program like Paint or Paint.NET and then re-save each image, but that seemed very tedious and time consuming for the patron, so I searched for an alternative. I eventually came across this post from

    The advice is simple: save the PowerPoint presentation as a web page (.htm, .html file), and PowerPoint will extract the images for you. Not only does PowerPoint extract the images to gif, .jpg, or .png files, but it also creates some additional web page related files. You can safely delete these excess files by organizing the files by type in Windows Explorer.

    Do you have any other PowerPoint hints? Let us know by leaving a comment.

    September 30, 2010

    eResource Feature: What's Next

    Over the next several weeks, I am going to write about a different eResource that the Troy Public Library offers our patrons. Today, I will focus on What's Next, an excellent eResource.

    What's Next is an easy to use online resource, provided by the Kent District Library, that allows you to find out the next book in a particular fiction series based on any of the following criteria: Author Last Name, Author First Name, Series, Book Title, Category (Adult or Youth), and Genre.

    The screenshot below gives you an idea of what the results will look like after performing a search. In the shown example, I searched for Lee Child under the author fields and received a listing of the entire Jack Reacher series of novels.

    As you can see, the results are presented in a clean, chronological order that lists the title and the book number in the series. Being a fan of a tools that are great at one particular thing, I can see myself using What's Next more and more. I encourage everyone to check it out!

    You can find What's Next by going  to the Library's website. Click eResources on the left under Library Links, then click Literature and Reading, and finally click What's Next. Or, you can access it directly here

    Get Live Homework Help with Brainfuse

    With school back in session, many students may find themselves needing help with their homework. The Troy Public Library subscribes to an online resource, called Brainfuse, where students can connect with a live tutor to get academic assistance. Brainfuse has recently added some new features and has redesigned their site to make it more user friendly.

    On the site, students can select from a menu that enables them to connect with a tutor and ask specific homework questions, get core academic concepts clarified for better understanding, or prepare for standardized tests such as the ACT or SAT. Students can also get assistance with writing assignments, and even submit writing samples for feedback through the Writing Lab feature.

    Adults can also take advantage of Branfuse's services through the Adult Learning Center. This selection enables adults to get help writing a resume, prepare for a GED, or connect with a tutor experienced with working with adult learners.

    To access Brainfuse, you will need a Troy Public Library card. Go to our website and click eResources on the left under Library Links. Click on Online Tutoring, then Brainfuse.Try it out and let us know what you think.

    Two PDF Tools to Add to Your Arsenal

    When it comes to PDFs there are occasional times when the basic tools included with Adobe Reader do not do what you want. During these times I end up turning to one or both of the tools i have described below.

    PDF2Word Online:
    PDF2WordOnline allows you to quickly convert a  PDF file to a document that can be edited in Microsoft Word. Unlike the often sluggish and frequently down, this online application quickly converts your PDF without requiring an email address. Simply upload your PDF and wait for PDF2Word to convert your file. When it's finished, you will need to right click on the "download file" link and click on "Save Target As." The file will be downloaded as a .zip file. After extraction, you can open the converted file in Microsoft Word. The couple of conversions that I tried took a total of about three minutes and converted surprisingly well.

    You should note that PDF2WordOnline conversions are in the rich-text format (.rtf) as opposed to the typical .doc format. This can be quickly remedied by performing a "Save As" in Word and selecting the compatible .doc (Word 97-2003) format.

    PDF Split and Merge:
    If you have ever created a multi-page PDF document that you then wanted to split into individual PDF documents, PDF Split and Merge is the tool for you. This small, installable program has the ability to merge two or more separate PDF documents into one single PDF file. It is a great tool to have access to, and best of all is free!

    Let us know of any other PDF software tools by leaving us a comment.

    A Look at the Format Wars Throughout History

    Switched published an interesting article recently outlining some of the famous format wars throughout history. Some of the formats covered included HD DVDs vs. Blu-Ray (which the library carries!), CDs vs. mini-discs vs. mp3s, and FM vs. AM. 

    The whole article is very interesting and covers 10 separate format battles and how they have turned out. 

    The Dvorak vs. QWERTY keyboard layout format war is the most interesting one to me! 

    September 24, 2010

    Mango Languages Releases Mango Complete 2.0

    If you use Mango Languages, an online language learning program offered through the Troy Public Library, you will notice some changes have recently been made. In addition to Mango Complete and Mango Basic, Mango Languages now offers a new program called Mango Complete 2.0.

    Mango Complete 2.0 builds on the look and design of their popular Mango Basic series, but combines it with the more in-depth lessons offered in their Complete 1.0 series. Using Mango Complete 2.0, you will learn basic introductions, how to make purchases, how to ask for directions, and much more. Mango Complete 2.0 continues to use a flashcard system to introduce you to new words and phrases, and also features quizzes to help you test your learning. Additionally, Mango Complete 2.0 also features grammar and cultural notes to give you greater understanding about the language you are studying.

    With the launch of Mango Complete 2.0, the menus for Mango Languages have changed. After logging onto Mango, you will be presented with a screen showing various languages that you can learn. After clicking on a language, you will see what programs are available. At this time, not every language offers Mango Complete 2.0. Current languages that have Mango Complete 2.0 are Chinese (Mandarin), French, German, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Thai, and Turkish. It is also available for several ESL courses, including Chinese (Mandarin), Chinese (Cantonese), Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, and Vietnamese. Keep in mind, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Mango is currently working on developing Mango Complete 2.0 for many more languages.

    If you've never tried out Mango Languages, now is a great time to start. To access Mango Languages, you will need a Troy Public Library card. Go to our website and click eResources on the left under Library Links. Click on Language Learning, then Mango Languages.Try it out and let us know what you think.

    September 23, 2010

    Soluto: Anti-Frustration Software for the Average User

    A common question that we are asked at the Technology Center is "My computer is running slowly; how can I speed it up?" While this is an open-ended question that could be answered in a variety of ways, there are usually some common culprits that lead to a "slow" computer. 

    One of the biggest problems is the large numbers of startup programs that are set to run as soon as you log into Windows. Having multiple programs running after booting not only slows down the boot-up times of your computer, but also can affect the overall speed of your computer once it is up and running.

    This is where Soluto comes into play. Soluto claims to be "anti-frustration" software that will help speed up your boot times, and your computer overall, by eliminating or delaying programs from starting up immediately after you log into Windows. It sounds a little complicated, but honestly, this software is a joy to use. 

    After you download and install the software you will immediately notice that it has a clean and clear interface. It is easy for the average user to understand what is slowing down their computer and how to disable or delay start-up times for those programs. Soluto then references a database of users that have contributed feedback on the programs that you have running at start up, and whether or not they have disabled, delayed, or allowed the program to run at boot. You are then able to set your own preferences for each program to your liking. Soluto will also give you an estimated time of how long it should take your computer to fully log into Windows, and how much faster it will be after your changes are made. 

    If you still have questions, take a look at the video below from Soluto, explaining their product: 

    If you are interested in speeding up your PC, give Soluto a try today.

    September 17, 2010

    notes for later - The Note Taking Bookmarklet for the Email User

    I have a confession. I love bookmarklets. They are a handy, universal tool that allows you to perform an action simply by clicking on a bookmark in your browser. They also work with multiple browsers including IE, Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.

    I am constantly searching for bookmarklets that perform tasks on web pages that would otherwise be time consuming and tedious. That's when I came across this post at Downloadsquad, talking about's bookmarklet.

    Notesforlater will allow you to quickly send a link along with a short note to yourself about the page to your email. After you set up the bookmarklet, which is just a matter of clicking a verification link in your email and dragging the custom bookmarklet to your bookmarks bar, it will be ready to use.

    Being someone who constantly looks at my email and uses it for bookmarks and important links, this has already become a great tool in my bookmarklet arsenal.

    For other great bookmarklets take a look at Lee Mathews post on the "15+ handy bookmarklets to power up any browser." Lee provides a great list for starters looking to try out bookmarklets.

    Twitter Gets a Facelift

    Twitter, one of the fastest growing social networks around, is getting a full redesign of its website.

    The new changes make the site look and function very similar to the iPad version, which has received positive reviews. Admittedly, I have often used other third-party websites and applications such as Seesmic, Hootsuite, Brizzly, and Metrotwit for my Twitter needs, due to lack of features and functionality on the Twitter homepage. But, these recent changes have me interested in checking out the new interface as it appears to be very functional, attractive, and overall nicely laid out.

    Some of the highlights of the new interface have been highlighted in the fun, short video below, courtesy of Twitter:

    The new interface is rolling out over the next week, so check your Twitter account to see if you have access to the #newtwitter!

    IE9 Beta Released - "Beauty of the Web"

    On September 15, Microsoft officially unveiled the first beta release of IE9, the latest version of Internet Explorer, the world's most popular web browser. IE9 has been dramatically changed, and is ready to take on other browsers in the market like Chrome and Firefox.

    Here is a quick rundown of the biggest changes to IE9:
    • New user interface
    • Tabs are now located to the right of the address bar
    • Unified search and address bar (like Google Chrome)
    • Revamped download manager (similar to Firefox's implementation)
    • Only works with Windows Vista or Windows 7 machines
    • Jump list support
    • Pinned web application support
    • New speed dial interface for the new tab page
    [Image courtesy of Ed Bott at]

    There have also been many behind the scene changes to IE9 including HTML5 support and hardware acceleration, which is enabled by default. For additional information about hardware acceleration take a look at our previous post "The Future of Web Browsers: Why You Should Be Excited Pt. 2."

    If you are interested in downloading the newest beta release, I would encourage you to check out Microsoft's IE9 promotional website,

    Finally, if you are looking for a more in-depth review of IE9 including a full rundown of all of the major feature changes, check out Ed Bott's excellent blog post.

    September 10, 2010

    Troy Public Library Now Supports Google Buzz!

    As the title states the Troy Public Library is now on Google Buzz.

    With over 150 million users, Google Buzz is becoming more and more popular by the day, and offers another way for our patrons to collaborate and communicate with each other about the Library.

    To follow us on Google Buzz, you must have a Gmail account and have Google Buzz enabled.

    Then, just click on this link to access our Google Buzz page, and click on Follow Troy.

    Fun Friday: The Wilderness Downtown

    Interested in the next generation of music videos, not to mention web video? If so, take a look at The Wilderness Downtown, which utilizes the song We Used to Wait from the Arcade Fire's new The Suburbs album. Enter in an address such as your childhood home, and the address you enter will be incorporated into the video using images from Google Maps and Google Street View.

    "The Wilderness Downtown" is an amazing example of what web designers are going to be able to create with new technologies such as HTML 5. Please be aware that it is processor intensive, and needs to use a browser that is capable of rendering HTML 5, such as Google Chrome.

    Love Wikipedia and Have an eReader? Check This Out

    Over at the excellent blog "How-To Geek" they have outlined a way to turn any Wikipedia article into a PDF eBook. This eBook then can be stored on your computer or transferred to and eReader. The process is simple, and when you are finished you have an offline copy of any Wikipedia article available wherever you go.

    Check out the full step by step instructions here.

    August 19, 2010

    A Quick Look at Novelist: The "Pandora" of Reading

    Pandora is a service that many people use to listen to new music based on their tastes. You enter in a particular artist, and Pandora will play a constant stream of music based on the genre, sound, and user recommendations for the artist entered.

    This is almost exactly how Novelist works, except instead of music, it is geared toward books. A user enters in information about a genre, author, subject, or year into the Novelist search box, and it will find books that Novelist thinks are related to your description. In addition, you can find similar novels to popular titles, such as the Best-Sellers, listed directly beneath the titles when you first access the Novelist homepage.

    In its most basic form, Novelist is a book recommendation eResource. Let's say you have just finished the latest Lee Child novel and you wanted to find authors with a similar writing style. You could perform a search for "Lee Child" under the Author search, and you'll be taken to a page that not only lists every book he has written, but Novelist will also list similar genres that you can select to find additional titles and authors with a similar writing style. Novelist also features reviews, plot lines, and the option to create an account to keep track of books you are interested in, and have read.

    Novelist provides you with some extensive tutorials to get the most out of this excellent eResource. You can find these tools here. Finally, here is a quick PowerPoint, that I found helpful for discovering the great features of Novelist.

    The Troy Public Library currently subscribes to 3 different Novelist products. The main product, Novelist, features fiction titles. Novelist Plus features fiction titles and also readable non-fiction. Novelist K-8 Plus features fiction and nonfiction titles for younger readers.

    To access any Novelist product, you will need a Troy Public Library card. Go to our website and click eResources on the left under Library Links. Click on Literature and Reading, then Novelist, Novelist Plus, or Novelist K-8 Plus.Try it out and let us know what you think.

    Mobile Tagging

    You may have recently noticed colorful, two-dimensional boxes appearing on the pages of your favorite magazines like Entertainment Weekly and Woman's Day. These graphics are used for mobile tagging. Mobile tagging is the process of providing data on mobile devices, through the use of information encoded in a two-dimensional barcode, meant to be read and inputted using a camera phone.

    Microsoft Tags are an example of mobile tagging. Microsoft Tags are a machine readable web link. Users can download the free Microsoft Tag reader application to their Internet-capable mobile device with camera, launch the reader and read a tag using their phone's camera. The Tag reader then directs the user's mobile browser to the appropriate website. The Tags included in the issues of Woman's Day allow readers to gain instant access to sweepstakes, recipes, and coupons. The Tags in Entertainment Weekly allow readers to view movie trailers and music videos on their mobile devices.

    qrcodeAnother mobile tagging option are QR codes. QR codes are two-dimensional codes also readable by mobile phones with cameras. The QR code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. QR codes were initially used for tracking parts in vehicle manufacturing, but are now used for mobile tagging. Try scanning the QR at the left to see where it takes you.

    There are currently about a dozen different types of two-dimensional barcodes worldwide. It is necessary to install the specific software for the reader on the mobile device.

    For more on Microsoft Tags, visit their website here. For more about QR codes, go here.

    August 16, 2010

    Top 100 Web Sites of 2010 has published its list of the Top 100 Web Sites of 2010. The list is comprised of 50 classic sites and 50 undiscovered sites.

    Classic sites listed include Microsoft's Bing search engine,
    freeware and shareware hosting site, and the Troy Public Library's instant messaging client of choice, Meebo.

    New, undiscovered sites include CeeVee
    , an online resume creator; Clicker, a guide to streaming TV and movies on the Internet; and Critical Past, which houses a collection of over 7 million historic photographs and 57,000 historic videos.

    Have you tried any of these out? What are some sites that you think should have been included? Let us know by leaving a comment.

    August 13, 2010

    Fun Friday: Galactic Inbox

    Gmail is at it again. In the past, you could get stickers from them or have them send someone a holiday postcard. Now, they have a game based on Gmail. Galactic Inbox is an HTML5 game designed by Google Creative Technologist Paul Truong which allows you to control a Gmail envelope which shoots such hazards as trash, spam, and old email systems which only limited you to a 2 MB inbox. Galactic Inbox is perfect for a very brief afternoon diversion and also as an exploration of HTML5. To play the game, you will need to be using a browser that supports HTML5, such as Google Chrome.

    August 4, 2010

    RIP Google Wave: 2009-2010

    When it was announced last year, all of us at The Tech Desk were pretty excited about the launch of Google Wave. Google Wave endeavoured to combine instant messaging, email, and sharing into a new real time collaboration tool.  However, Google Wave never achieved the audience that it hoped for. With this blog post on the Official Google Blog, Google is officially phasing out Wave at the end of the year.

    Did you use Wave? What did you like or not like about it? Do you think it could have survived if it was not an invite only release for so long? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment.

    July 28, 2010

    Over 1,000 People Subscribe to Our Booklists, Do You?

    As our number of BookLetters subscriptions continues to climb (currently 1,176) it is clear that this is a service our library patrons appreciate. Who wouldn't enjoy a monthly email from the local library with lists of great new books, audiobooks, and movies in your favorite genres? Now you can place books on hold right through your email with one click. BookLetters is even adding great new features like the ability to browse by series to find other titles in a series you enjoy.

    Ready to sign up? Click here for our subscription page, listing our 35 unique book lists created by Library staff. Select the lists that interest you and sign up with your email address at the bottom of the page. Lists update monthly unless otherwise noted (a few lists update biweekly such as our Staff Reads) - that means you can expect one monthly email per list. You can control which lists you will receive and remove yourself from the mailing if you are not satisfied.

    July 19, 2010

    The Future of Web Browsers: Why You Should Be Excited Pt. 3

    The future of web browsers is a great one, due to the introduction of HTML 5, hardware acceleration, and quickly changing user interfaces in the browser market.

    If you do not know what a user interface is, Wikipedia provides a great description:
    The user interface is (a place) where interaction between humans and machines occurs. The goal of interaction between a human and a machine at the user interface is effective operation and control of the machine, and feedback from the machine which aids the operator in making operational decisions.
    In short, the user interface (also referred to as UI) is what you see when you are using a program. More and more web browsers are improving their UI's to make browsing the web easier on users. They are doing this by cleaning up the UI and making it easier to use and to look at.

    Let's take a look at some examples to see the the common UI direction that web-browers are going. First, here are examples of Internet Explorer's UI.

    Now, here is a look at the UI's of several recently updated alternative browsers:

    The key thing to notice is that browsers are continuing to get more and more minimal. The different design teams have clearly worked hard to make some necessary changes to the browser landscape including:

    - Eliminating or hiding unnecessary UI elements to make the browser easier to use.
    - Pare down the number of drop-down menus
    - Increase focus on the Address bar, back button, and search

    Firefox's development team went so far as to create a heat map of the most frequently accessed tools in their browser. I found it to be incredibly interesting to see what tools people used the most. As you can see, this heat map shows where most of the focus in the new UI's of the browsers are coming from. These types of studies influence changes made to the browsers UI, which will benefit the average user.

    The future continues to rely more and more on the web, and knowing that designer and developers are making it easier to use is a comforting thought.

    Be sure to check out my post next week in this four part series on "The Future of Web Browsers: Why You Should be Excited." Next week I will talk about the interesting push toward web applications.

    July 14, 2010

    Find Out What's in Your Computer with Speccy

    Many people do not know what components are inside their computer. They can tell you the operating system is Windows 7 and the that the CPU is from Intel, but that is the extent of their knowledge. If they wanted to upgrade their PC and needed to find this information, they would not know where to go.

    A great way to discover the hardware specifications of your computer is to use Speccy. Speccy is a program that will quickly analyze your computer and return incredibly detailed results about your computer's hardware, including information about the hard drive, CPU, memory, motherboard, video card, and more. Is you processor dual or quad core? What type of RAM are you using? Who manufactured your hard drive? What is your hard drive's temperature? All of these questions can be answered quickly by using Speccy.

    To download Speccy, go here. If you try it let us know what you think by leaving a comment.

    Download Free eAudiobooks with SYNC

    Are you interested in downloading some free eAudiobooks this summer? Now you can, thanks to Audiobook Community's SYNC campaign.

    The SYNC campaign is designed to get more young adults listening to audiobooks. From July 1 through September 1, two audiobooks will be available each week for download. One will be a best seller and the other is generally a classic. Each week both books will share a common theme. All audiobooks used in the SYNC campaign are in the MP3 format and will work with both PCs and Macs. They can be transferred to a wide array of mobile devices.

    Additionally, OverDrive is distributing all of the SYNC titles. To download titles, you will need to install the OverDrive Media Console. After you have downloaded your free titles from SYNC, be sure to check out other OverDrive downloadable eBooks and eAudiobooks that are available from the Troy Public Library here.

    For more on SYNC, including the release schedule for free eAudiobooks, go here.

    July 13, 2010

    Be Informed for August 3 State Primary Elections

    Voter Guides for the August 3, 2010 Primary Election are available on the League of Women Voters of Michigan web site at The guides on this site cover the races for Governor, US Representative, State Senator and State Representative.

    The Guides provide non-partisan information about candidates who are running. Each candidate is given an opportunity to provide biographical information and to answer a number of questions on issues important to the office being sought. Responses are included as submitted and have not been edited, except for space.

    For voters in Oakland County, the LWV Oakland Area has Voter Guides for races happening in Oakland County. There are also several candidate forums scheduled for July.

    Local voters can use Publius to get a sample ballot with integrated candidate information. Voters can also use the Secretary of State's Voter Information Center to get a sample ballot.

    July 6, 2010

    The Future of Web Browsers: Why You Should Be Excited Pt. 2

    One of the most exciting new features of upcoming web browsers is the ability to utilize your computer's hardware for viewing the web. This promising new technology is called hardware acceleration and it is part of the revolution slowly taking place in web browsers.

    Hardware acceleration allows your browser to take advantage of your computer's graphics processing unit (GPU), also known as your video card. By making use of the video card while web browsing, your browser will be capable of handling otherwise sluggish graphics with ease. For example, let's say you are watching a 1080p video in your browser on your computer. As opposed to slowing the browser down to a crawl and leaving you with a choppy video, the hardware acceleration will kick in and use your video card to help out. Ultimately, this will leave you with a much smoother browsing experience and will help with video and graphical issues that would otherwise be problematic.

    In addition to the benefits gained from watching videos, web-based applications will also have improvements in overall usability. For example, there is increasing potential for web based video and photo editing applications such as Aviary's suite of products (which are all web-based).

    If you are interested in trying out hardware acceleration I would recommend checking out Internet Explorer's recently released Platform Preview of IE9. The IE9 browser has hardware acceleration turned on by default and it is certainly noticeable. If you want to compare IE9 to your current web browser, here is the IE9 testing page, which is set to the default homepage in the IE9 Preview, that you can try to run on whatever browser you choose.

    Here is a video comparing IE9 (with hardware acceleration) vs. other browsers, courtesy of Downloadsquad:

    Finally, I would like to mention that because of the way hardware acceleration works, you will need to have a decent video card to fully take advantage of these benefits. While you will see improvements with regards to smoothness and choppiness no matter what GPU you have, owning a nicer GPUwill give you greater performance gains.

    Faster, cleaner, improved graphics. The future of the web browser is looking brighter everyday in part due to the potential of hardware acceleration.

    Be sure to check out the next part of my the "The Future of Web Browsers: Why You Should Be Excited" blog series throughout the upcoming weeks. Part three will discuss the changing user interfaces of future web browsers.

    June 30, 2010

    Electronic Entertainment Expo 2010

    This year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (or E3 for short) was held in Los Angeles, June 15 -17. PC magazine reported on all the breaking news from the event.

    Microsoft unveiled a slimmed-down version of the Xbox 360. The also unveiled the commercial release of Project Natal, which is now called Kinect. Kinect eliminates the standard Xbox controller. Instead,  the player becomes the controller through advanced motion-capture technology.

    Sony also introduced a motion controller called the PlayStation Move. The Move, has the sense of fun that made the Nintendo Wii such a massive hit, while possessing the precision required to play more serious titles. The Move is due out in September.

    Nintendo had the biggest hardware hit of E3. The 3DS, the successor to the company's popular Nintendo DS, delivers on Nintendo's promise of 3D graphics without glasses. That device, which doesn't have a ship date yet, also includes a 3D digital camera, a motion sensor, and a gyroscope.
    You can read all about E3 here, including awards presented. Plenty of games that utilize the new technologies will be available soon. What do you think of the new gaming interfaces? Will you rush out to purchase them or will it depend on the games offered?

    June 29, 2010

    The Future of Web Browsers: Why You Should Be Excited Pt. 1

    Believe it or not, web browsers have really not come all that far.

    Yes, Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome have upped the ante when it comes to speed, usability, and safety, but the basics behind how a web page is rendered is still the same as it was in 1997, when HTML 4.0 was introduced.

    The good news is that, beginning with the introduction of HTML 5, web browsers are beginning to make some serious changes that will benefit all users in the future. Many browsers have added HTML 5 support already including Firefox, Opera, Safari, and Chrome. Microsoft is planning HTML 5 support for Internet Explorer 9.

    Let us look at why HTML 5 is going to help you:
    • Better looking webpages, that are faster and leaner
    • Advanced browser functionality such as "Drag and Drop" and embedded video that doesn't require a plugin, such as Flash.
    • Offline storage
    You can see that some of these features are already in use on sites such as Gmail, which allows you to "drag and drop" images into your email. Youtube is also adopting HTML 5 and allows some videos to be viewed without the required Adobe Flash plugin. Instead, you are able to watch the video using the HTML 5 player.

    If you are running an HTML 5 compatible browser, you can join the beta testing group here for the HTML 5 Youtube video viewer. You can then check out this video of the world celebrating Landon Donovan's game-winning goal.

    HTML 5 is just the beginning of why you should be excited about the future of web browsers. Be sure to check out Part 2 next week when I talk about my favorite upcoming feature: Hardware Acceleration.

    Amazon's Kindle App is Now Available for Android

    Android and ebook fans can rejoice! Amazon has just released their Kindle app for Android devices.

    Here's a list of the major features from the Kindle for Android website:
    • Get the best reading experience available on your Android phone. No Kindle required
    • Access your Kindle books even if you don't have your Kindle with you
    • Automatically synchronize your last page read and annotations between devices with Whispersync
    • Adjust the text size, add bookmarks, and view the annotations you created on your Kindle, computer, or other Kindle-compatible device
    • Read in portrait or landscape mode
    • Tap on either side of the screen or flick to turn pages
    The Whispersync technology seems to be one of the most unique features of the Kindle app. It will synchronize where you last read on multiple kindle devices (iPhone, Android, Kindle, iPad). This a cool feature, that might help transition regular book readers into ebook readers.

    You can find the Kindle application on the Android Market and the App Store for Apple Devices.

    June 24, 2010

    Library of Congress Preserves Recordings

    The Library of Congress announced its selections for the 2009 National Recording Registry. Selections must be at least 10 years old and be culturally, historically or aesthetically significant. The Library of Congress will ensure that these recordings are always available to the American public. The selections for the 2009 registry bring the total number of recordings to 300.

    Among the selections are Tupac Shakur's "Dear Mama;" Loretta Lynn’s "Coal Miner’s Daughter;" Bill Cosby’s album, "I Started Out As a Child;" Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti;" R.E.M.'s "Radio Free Europe;" and the Marine Corps Combat Field Recording Collection of the second battle of Guam, which documents rare battle sounds and personal accounts by troops before, during and after the battle.

    What do you think of the selections? Are you surprised by any of the inclusions? Share your comments with us.

    June 23, 2010

    eReaders Become More Affordable

    If you are interested in buying an eBook reader, now is the time. Several new models of readers are coming out soon. Also, several popular eReaders have recently dropped in price.

    As we have mentioned previously, Borders is getting into the eBook game. The company is launching its own eBook store, and will soon be selling two new eReaders. In addition to the Sony eReaders it currently sells, Borders is adding the Kobo eReader and also the Libre Pro from Aluratek to the lineup. The biggest thing about these new eReaders is their price. The Kobo eReader costs $149.99, while the Libre Pro is only $119.99. Each of these new eReaders, if purchased through Borders, will also come preloaded with 100 free classic books.

    Barnes and Noble is also releasing a new version of its popular Nook eReader. The new Nook Wi-Fi costs $149, and has almost all of the same features as the Nook that was released last year. The only difference is that the Nook Wi-Fi does not have built-in 3G connectivity, so you can only directly donwload books to your Nook if you have a Wi-Fi connection. Barnes and Noble has also dropped the price on the older version of the Nook, now called the Nook 3G, to $199.

    Not to be outdone, Amazon has dramatically cut the price of its Kindle 2 eReader, to $189. Just recently, it was selling for $259. The Kindle is now also available for purchase in Target stores.

    Meanwhile, sales of the the Apple iPad show no signs of slowing down. Apple announced that, in only 80 days, it has sold over 3 million iPads. Compare this to estimated sales on the Kindle, which in approximately 2 years has sold 3 million units.

    With the many different eReaders now available at a wide range of price points, now is an excellent time to try one out.