Internet Librarian 2011

Understanding Users and Improving Your Website with Google Analytics

SuHui Ho and Jeff Wisniewski

SuHui Ho

Why use web metrics?  The basic hit count is extremely misleading (we’ve known this for a long time).  Looking deeper is essential.  Some of the reports Google Analytics offers that are useful for us are the Top Content Report and the Traffic Source Report.

Top Content Report: The content on your website is a living being.  So you have to keep it updated.  We always have more content we can update.  We have more rooms to clean on our websites than we have people to clean them.  If you know which content is used most, you can prioritize those.  Look at what the top tasks are too – what do people come to your website to do?  Which pages from the homepage are clicked on most often?

Traffic Source Report: How much of your homepage traffic comes from the homepage settings on your in-library computers?  SuHui says “don’t be so proud of your total hit count” because much of that direct traffic is from your own computers.  J  Referring sites are really useful to look at as well…  And look at search engine traffic too – how much of your traffic comes from a search engine query result?  Really pay attention to search engine optimization – make sure that your website appears on the top of the search results you want.  Reviewing the keyword referrals from search engines is useful – you might see a lot of mentions of the word “hours” with variations of different phrases.

Jeff Wisniewski

Jeff talked about the Goals and Funnels feature in Google Analytics.  A Goal is the page a visitor reaches once (s)he has completed a task or an action…an end point of sorts.  A Funnel is the optimized steps that the person should go through to get to that page.  Looking at both of these in conjunction you can see where people get tripped up.

An example: the goal to register for a class on RefWorks.  There may be several steps in your Funnel (e.g. look at calendar, click on class time you like, click on register, etc.).  Per profile, you get to have up to 20 goals.  Jeff says this is a reasonable limit.  Name your goal something intuitive, because this is what shows up in the analytics reports.  You can set the goal’s position, and pick a goal type (URL destination, time on site, pages/visit).  For us, the URL destination is the most relevant to our type of web business.  Be careful about leading or trailing slashes or spaces because Google Analytics will not match up the URL correctly.  Once you set a goal, you get asked to create a Funnel.  Then you set up the different steps—a Funnel can have an unlimited number of steps.

And then you wait to give Google Analytics time to collect data.  Now that they’ve rolled out real time analytics, that’s awesome.  You used to have to wait at least 24 hours, you can now see some data within minutes.  With Jeff’s example, we see that we started with 886 people.  43 people didn’t get past the first step of the process, and it tells you where they went instead.  The next step lost another 36 people, and then the 3rd step (checkout confirmation) resulted in a significant loss of 317 people.  Whoa.  That’s not good.  But it shows you where you need to make changes and improvements, and in that way it’s super awesome useful!  Whoopah!  Jeff recommends looking at trend data over time instead of hanging your hat on a particular number at one specific time.  Good advice!

Internet Librarian 2011:

Opening Keynote (John Seely Brown)

The entrepreneurial learner—people constantly wanting to learn new things in a world full of constant change.  How do we cultivate that kind of spirit in today’s kids and perhaps even ourselves.

Up until the last 5-15 years, the infrastructures we’ve experienced—steam, electrification, etc.—have all had an S curve of development.  Quick innovation and then long periods of stability, which is when we reinvent the new social practices of how to operate.  The digital universe, however, doesn’t follow the S curve pattern…It’s a continuously increasing upswing, with no time of stability to settle down.

We’re experiencing a very strange phenomenon—the half-life of a given skill has shrunk to about 5 years.  Most of us grew up in a time when our skills would be relevant for 20 or more years.  Going back to school is not the solution.  You have to find new ways of constantly picking up new skills.

We know how to deal with stocks (protecting and delivering authoritative knowledge assets).  But we’re moving into flows, from codified knowledge to tacit knowledge, where cultivation is more important than ever.  We have not had time to build institutional warrants.  A new kind of critical reason is important to thought.

And contrary to what people say, librarians are more important than ever.  Are we preparing our students for this new world?

This requires more than just the skill of learning how to learn.  It requires new dispositions.  And dispositions cannot be taught.  But they can be cultivated in the right settings…like libraries.

We have to be able to afford curiosity in a networked age.  Mobile devices are amplifiers – amplifying curiosity.

Dispositions of an Entrepreneurial Learner

  • Curiosity – pulling information on demand
  • Questing – seeking, uncovering, probing
  • Connecting – listening to others, engaging

Perhaps we need new approaches to learning, new practices, and new approaches to thinking and acting.  Maybe we need a new tool set.

Many of us grew up with a Cartesian view of learning – I think and therefore I am.  Pedagogy was viewed as knowledge transfer.  What worked well for the last century is not up to today’s challenges.  We need a social view of learning – we participate and therefore we are.  Understanding is socially constructed.  We see this in study groups.

What is the single best indicator of success at college today?  Is it SAT scores? No.  GPAs? No.  Wealth of your parents? No.  It is your ability to join or form your own study groups—pull people like you together, talk through material.  This idea works digitally too – it doesn’t have to be face to face.  A lot of students do joint problem solving through SMS, Facebook, chat, etc.  So they are building in the virtual world an amazing study room to help them through their learning processes.

Authority vs. timeliness in a rapidly evolving world – good example is Britannica vs. Wikipedia.  Wikipedia has given us the ability to see the back room – the arguments, the disagreements, the kind of knowledge and scholarship that is contested and argued.  For the first time students can see this and be participants and contributors to these discussions.  We as librarians know how to peel back and see what is still being contested – we can help our students cultivate this kind of inquisitiveness and help them make sense of the arguments.

We used to focus on content, assuming context was relatively stable.  But in the world of social media and networked knowledge context is much more fluid.  Blogging and remixing mucks with the content and the context.  Blogging can be joint context creation.

“The blogger is—more than any writer of the past—a node among other nodes, connected but unfinished without the links and the comments and the track-backs that make the blogosphere , at its best, a conversation, rather than a production.” – Andrew Sullivan.  Sullivan compares blogging to jazz—improvisational, intimate, and individual, and collective – and the audience talks over both.

From David Weinberger’s Too Big to Know: “We used to know how to know.  We got our answers from books or experts.  We’d nail down the facts and move on.  We even had Canons. But in the Internet age, knowledge has moved into networks.  There’s more knowledge than ever, but it’s different.  Topics have no boundaries, and nobody agrees on anything.

Collectives—folks who share participation over belonging, they make no demands on users, yet learning happens all the time.  They have almost unlimited scale (unlike social networks) and at their core rest on peer and master mentoring.

How do we bring knowing and making together?  Content and context both.  Given that meaning emerges as much from context as content, new dimensions to the creation of meaning are opened.  This is the essence of remix.

In a world of constant change entrepreneurial learners must be willing to regrind the conceptual lenses with which they make sense of the world.  And for this an essential thing is PLAY.  Play is imagination, poetry.  Play is freedom to fail, and then get it right.  Play leads to epiphanies—everything suddenly falling in place.  Learning leads to a reframing or a re-registering of the world.

We are always faced with riddles that require us to create new lenses to reframe the challenges.  Keep in mind three epistemologies—knowing (homo sapiens), making (homo faber), and playing (homo ludens).  We need to tinker – to embrace change.    We focus too much on knowing in our schools right now – and not enough on playing and making.

We also need to acknowledge the shifts of:

  • Knowing what à Knowing what and where
  • Making things à Making things and context
  • Playing for sense-making à Playing for reframing

This notion of networks of imagination – that turns on emergent collective action.  People don’t just read Harry Potter or play World of Warcraft, then experience it and contribute to it.  Networks of practice and communities of interest come together to create this collective imagination.

#IL2011

I’m headed into Monterey this weekend to attend the Internet Librarian 2011 conference!  I’ll be there Sunday-Wednesday, and have five presentations scheduled (yes, five).

Monday: 20 Steps to Creating Web-Based Library Services

Tuesday: Ebooks: Putting the Issues on the Table (panel discussion with Dick Kaser, Bobbi Newman, Amy Affeft, and Faith Ward)

Wednesday: Talk About: Publishers, Distributors, and Terms of Use (panel discussion); Getting Things Done: Tips & Tricks (with Niccole Westbrook and Colleen Harris); and Digital Content Frustration: Copyright, Licensing, & DRM

I expect that the digital content frustration talk on Wednesday will be, err, let’s just say there will be some pretty radical ranting. *wink*  Come on…you know you want to stay for my talk.  Stick around!

If you are at the conference too, please stop by and say hello!  And pick up one of my new business cards (warning, may be NSFW).

Attendees and distant observers alike can follow the conference through the Twitter hashtag #il2011.  I will be live-blogging the whole conference (well, the sessions I’m not speaking at), so watch for a flurry of posts next week!

Reflections on ageism

September 27, 2011 | Comments (37)

I remember when I was in my early 20s how old, experienced, smart, and amazing I felt.  I could take on the world.  I knew my stuff and was going to show everybody.

Recently I had occasion to meet a 21 year old who seemed, to me, like he was still in grade school.  He’s a smart guy with a world of experiences I’ve never had, but oh…my…gosh.  He seemed so, so young to my mid-30s mind.  Just looking at him I felt like I was looking at a kid I would babysit, not hang with.  And when he said he was born in 1990 I just about spit out my drink.  Sweet baby Jesus, I was in high school in 1990.  And I’m sure many of you were already through grad school or working in 1990.  Scary stuff, the passage of time.

Here’s the good thing that came out of that experience.  I now kind of (just kind of though) understand why all of my colleagues treated me like a child when I got my first librarian job at 24.  I must have looked to them like this person looked to me–too young to work, too young to be good at what I did.  It doesn’t excuse the abhorrent behavior I was subjected to on many occasions (the whole “Why don’t you leave and let the grown-ups talk, Sarah” comment at my first librarian job comes to mind), but it does make a little bit more sense to me now.

Now…twenty-somethings are smart.  I would argue they might actually be smarter than we are, because they’re so much closer to all of that wonderful intensive intellectual exploration we call school.  Most of us have let the learning slip out of our heads and haven’t put a whole lot back in.  We’ve gotten lazy, and probably less smart in the traditional sense.  We have built-up knowledge and experience, which is also profoundly helpful, but I would give credit where credit is due to the super smarts of our young friends.  We need to look past the baby fat on their still smooth faces and actually listen to them.

But we still do look at our young counterparts differently…and for the first time I understand why that happened to me.  It’s a gut instinct, an unconscious reaction to another being so much younger than you that you feel protective instead of on equal footing.  I don’t accept it in myself, and I hereby pledge that I won’t do it ever again to anyone else.  But I understand it now.  And that’s the learning I take with me today in my old codgerly brain.

And I swear, if anyone leaves some “but you’re only 34, you’re still a baby yourself” comments I will throttle you.  Seriously…I’m a librarian.  I can find out where you live.

Selfish Weekend Redux

September 14, 2011 | Comments (7)

If you follow me on the social networks, you might have seen that I decided to dub this past weekend “Crazy, Selfish, Indulgent Weekend.”  I chronicled my activities this weekend on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.  I got a lot of questions in all these media about the origin of the weekend, why I was choosing to be public about what I was doing, etc.  I even got an email from a journalist asking me if I was trying to start a meme.

I wasn’t, but that being said, I think everyone needs a “Crazy, Selfish, Indulgent Weekend” every now and again.  So here’s the skinny: I was feeling spent.  I have been giving a lot of myself to others lately, sacrificing a great deal to make others happy, putting myself in a position where I know I’m going to not be happy.  And one can only do that for so long…  I think many of us in public service tend to be like this — give, give, give…until it damages us.

To rectify that, on Friday night I spontaneously planned my weekend to include as many of my favorite things as possible.  There were 13 parts to my two days of awesomeness (and no, I didn’t plan for 13 to be all goth-y and stuff; it just happened).  I decided to be public about it for a number of reasons, chief of which was to encourage others to be selfish too…even if only for a little while.

Here is a chronicle of my self-indulgence, copied from my Google+ posts. Judge me if you will, but you know what?  It was probably the best weekend I’ve ever had in my life.  Feel free to copy and remix! :)

#SelfishWeekend Part 1: This is what a blissed out post-massage-with-hot-guy Sarah looks like. That’s right…I picked the hot guy on purpose. It is #SelfishWeekend, after all.

#SelfishWeekend Part 2: Walking straight past a library branch & not going in to look around.

#SelfishWeekend Part 3: Favorite meal #1 (@ Cha-Ya) – fresh handmade udon noodles w/ vegetable tempura & genmai cha tea.

#SelfishWeekend Part 4: Walking thru the Castro looking at all the beautiful gay boys.

#SelfishWeekend Part 5: Favorite meal #2 (Lilah Belle’s) – organic roasted veggies & hummus (best I’ve ever had).

#SelfishWeekend Part 6: Favorite meal #3 (Herbivore) – soy chicken shawarma.

#SelfishWeekend Part 7: kitten loooooooove

#SelfishWeekend Part 8: Dancing at the Cat Club in SF. Getting my 80s groove on.

 

#SelfishWeekend Part 9: Snuggling in a warm blanket w/ my kitties, eating a vegan hot fudge brownie sundae for brunch, & watching Mad Men.

#SelfishWeekend Part 10: Driving Highway 1 along the West Marin coast, listening to Bon Iver.

#SelfishWeekend Part 11: Hiking in the redwoods of Mt. Tamalpais.

#SelfishWeekend Part 12: Wading in the icy tidepools of Muir Beach.

#SelfishWeekend Part 13: Attending the Marin Shakespeare Company’s steampunk production of The Tempest.

So yes…that’s what I did.  And I’d do it again.  I might, perhaps, do all the hiking and other physical activity first, before staying out until 3am dancing ;)  I think the decadent food day would have made more sense post-drinking-dancing night.  Seriously, though…I think we could all use some more self-love and inward focus.  Nurture yourself so you can nurture others.  Take some time for yourself.  You’ve earned it.

This is the third post in my new Sarah’s Gadget Showcase series. #1 (Audio Gadgets) and #2 (Cooking & Food Gadgets) are also available.

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I started reading at the age of three and haven’t stopped since.  I find power in words, solace in them, pain, despair, joy, inspiration, but most importantly, I find life in words.

I am, believe it or not, traditionally a bookish sort.  I started library school wanting to be a rare books librarian, actually, which is kind of funny when you think about what I do now (high tech and futurist trends are pretty much the polar opposite of old, decaying, dusty books).  Of course, my focus in rare books librarianship was on digitization of the materials for open and free dissemination on this relatively new thing they had back then called “the internet.”  So I guess even then the techie bug had bitten me.  But it was, and is, all about the information not the technology that carries it.

There is a weight to a physical book, and I don’t mean a physical heft.  Books have a meaning, a significance in our culture.  They hold untold promises and infinite possibilities. Books are objects of art.  Carrying or owning books implies that you’re intelligent.  Books = good things.

And for all of the years that I’ve been talking about digital libraries, using technology to improve yourself and your community, and even about eBooks specifically…I privately hated eBooks.  I hated the technology that locked them down, I hated how they worked (or rather didn’t), I hated the thought of reading on a screen, just…hated…them.  I clung to my printed books.  I did not advertise this little love-hate relationship with the eBook; only a few people close to me ever knew.

And then (as is wont to happen) the technology got better and I had to eat my own words.  The consumer-level experience of finding and obtaining an eBook got better (sadly, the library eBook experience is still pretty crap).  E Ink was invented and revolutionized the eReading experience entirely. E Ink is the screen technology that makes the Kindle and other devices work–ultra low power consumption, high resolution, and not back-lit. I don’t know about you, but after reading a lit computer screen all day, I honestly do not think my eyes can stand staring at another one for pleasure.

There is a lot that is still jacked up about the digital reading experience. Don’t get me started on digital rights management or we’ll be here all day and you’ll leave with bleeding ears.  But there are some things that work just fine, at least for me.  Most of these aren’t hardware gadgets per se, but apps/software/services.  So how do I read digitally? Let me count the ways…

The Kindle (& its bouquet of assorted hacks)

Yes, I own a Kindle. And I love it. Hate me later library purists; listen to me now.  The E Ink display is fabulous. The reading interface is good, annotating works, sharing passages is nice, battery life is remarkable…it’s all good.  And you can hack it.  Read on.

To me, the Kindle is like a seductive box of dark chocolates: a tasty, wonderful, yet guilty pleasure that I know I shouldn’t indulge in but want so badly.  I am confident there is something amazing in there to be had; I just have to find a gentle and creative way around existing obstacles (in the case of chocolates, my guilt at eating an entire box in one sitting).  And just as with those very few guilty pleasures that I have desired and couldn’t have right away, I’ve been pretty persistent in trying to get what I want with the Kindle.  I am patient and I try to figure out a way to make things work for me even if at first blush it doesn’t look promising.  My instincts are generally good and I usually end up being right and getting what I want.  Just ask my Kindle.

As you may know, the Kindle is a closed ecosystem and you only “license” books from Amazon–you don’t own them as you would with a printed book (same w/ other eBook vendors too).  Rejecting these principles as complete and utter bullshit, I hacked my Kindle.  I absolutely hate that the Kindle is a locked down system, a completely isolated bubble of content and delivery mechanism (just like the iPad and iPhone ecosystems, which I shun on principle b/c I can’t hack them…yet).  Locking down information goes against everything I stand for as a librarian.  Let me be clear: I do not do anything illegal on my Kindle, other than the hacking itself (which is a grey area, imho, even if you adhere to the DMCA to the letter).  I’m not stealing books or giving away books.  I hacked my Kindle so I could do with my device what I want with the books I paid to “license,” when I want, and in what format I want.  And that is the right of every reader, dammit.

“Hack the Kindle?” you ask.  “Do tell!”  All righty then.  Without getting myself into any more legal difficulties, here are some fabulous resources to get you started on hacking your Kindle into the dirt.  Share these with your co-workers, family members, and (if you’re braver than I am) with your library users.

And for the nerds, a detailed series of posts from an anonymous hacker on the ins and outs of some of the hacks.

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Kindle app on Android
The Kindle app for Android is great.  As long as you have wi-fi enabled on your actual Kindle device, your bookmarked spot is synced up automatically.  I prefer not to read on the small, back-lit screen of my phone (an HTC Thunderbolt), but there are cases when it comes in handy.  Case in point #1: Standing in line at the grocery store.  Instead of being angry and wanting to stab the person in front of me, I whip out my phone and start reading my book.  Case in point #2: In a darkened airplane cabin where turning on the light above you to read might result in you getting stabbed by your seat mate.  You get the idea.  Small screen reading prevents homicides.

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Google Reader
I do a lot of my reading online still–usually on my laptop at home, or my desktop at work.  I’m generally reading blogs, newspapers, magazines, etc. that I find through Google Reader, an RSS aggregator that has stood the test of time and continues to work.  I love the folder system, the interface, the speed, and the app for Android is great.

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Book Sharing
I use both LibraryThing and GoodReads.  I am a member of a science fiction book club on GoodReads, which has me going back there more than to LibraryThing.  I wish I actually remembered to update one or both sites with all the books I’ve been reading.  Anyone have a good trick for that?  Or is it just sheer willpower that I lack?

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Book Discovery

Scout’s honor, I actually do use NoveList to find new books if I’m looking for something in a particular genre.  NoveList is an online resource that many public libraries subscribe to, and I’m glad mine does.  It is a-w-e-s-o-m-e.  From the first time I tried NoveList years ago, it has always made me happy and gives me good recommendations.  Tell it what authors you like, or a book you like, or just keywords you want to read about.  Boom!  Book recommendations.  And I love using it with family members, non-library-world friends, or library users and showing them how to browse around.   You can get lost in there for hours following thread after thread and finding more and more books to put on your “to read” list.  The K-8 version is great for kids too.  I actually found a long-lost-childhood-favorite-book using NoveList after every other method had failed–describing the book to long-time children’s librarians, searching by keywords on search engines and other book sites, no dice.  Love it.
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What do you use?

What do you use to read, to share, to transport, to revel in your bookish nerdiness?  Share with us!

This is the second post in my new Sarah’s Gadget Showcase series. Post 1 (Audio Gadgets) is also available.

Disclaimer: The following has nothing to do with libraries, unless you’re holding cooking programs :)

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Like many people, I love to cook.  I tend to stick to the basics.  I am definitely not a kitchen appliance purchaser.  I do not own a bread machine–if I make bread, I’m going to knead it by hand like nature intended.  I’m old-fashioned that way.  That being said, I do have nifty tools that I love.

Sarah’s Love of Foooooooood

Let me start by explaining why I love to cook.  Cooking is love.  There is nothing in the world like creating a wonderful dish and seeing someone you care about enjoy it.  Seeing the person smile and make that scrunched-forehead-while-chewing “OMG this is amazing” face…  Seeing a hand reach for more…  Sharing your techniques…  Beautiful.  You’ve created something that not only pleases the palate, but sustains the body. Magic.

I was taught as a child by a cast of amazing women in my family.  I learned to make cookies and a killer pie crust from my great-grandmother when I was so small I still needed a step stool to reach the counter.  My dad’s mother taught me how to make salad that didn’t include iceberg lettuce and how to cook vegetables properly (read: not over-cooked, gray, mushy Midwestern vegetables like I was served growing up).  My mom’s mother taught me how to make fudge, chocolate sauce, apple butter, and to can peaches and tomatoes.  And my own dear mother taught me everything else I learned as a kid–lasagna, casseroles, cakes and frosting, cacciatore, potatoes a thousand different ways, on and on.

I became vegetarian in my teens and vegan a few years ago. With those changes, I learned to cook differently.  I learned to cook dishes I had never heard of growing up, much less eaten — quick pickled cucumbers, pesto, scones, risotto, beer-battered mushrooms, potato tempeh sausages, congee, baby bok choy in garlic sauce, haupia pie, tempura, curries, even (*gasp*) how to properly cook white rice that did not come out of an Uncle Ben’s box.

I love my diverse diet, and I love cooking for myself.  Last night? Pesto and gnocchi, both made from scratch.  A few nights before that? Black bean and pumpkin tamales made from scratch with homemade salsa and guacamole. Oh yeah.

And with all this cooking, I need tools that make the job easier or better.  Here are my favorites.

The Gadgets

American Innovative quad timer ($29.95): You can set four separate concurrent timers that can all be adjusted, paused, or reset independently.  The large LCD display shows up to two of the timers at once.  Easy to control click wheel and buttons makes the timer priceless when your hands are covered in flour or oven mitts. Because I cook multiple things at once quite frequently, this is a lifesaver.  I used to time one thing on the microwave, one thing on my phone, one thing on the oven, etc.  Ridiculous. This is perfect.  Just imagine how much easier Thanksgiving will be!  Well, the dinner cooking part. I can’t help with the family drama.  That’s all part of the traditional celebration, no?

OCD Chef Cutting Board ($24.99): Speaking of family drama, yes–there is an OCD Chef Cutting Board. I mean no disrespect to people with OCD (trust me) but it is what the device is called.  A 9″ by 12″ beechwood board with measurements down to the millimeter, including various angles of cuts as well. Super, super precise and it makes me feel like an engineer while I’m chopping veggies.

 

 

Pixel oven mitts ($16.99): *tee hee*  Fairly good oven mitts, and they make you look nerdy. With that extra boost they become really good oven mitts.

 

 

 

 

Oster automatic wine opener ($19.99): One-push of a button and your bottle of wine is opened up, cork drawn up into the opener. Push another button and it ejects the cork. Rechargable, works every single time, and is easy on the hands and wrists (which is why I bought it).

 

 

 

JA Henckels International knives ($varies): They start sharp and they stay sharp. They don’t rust, bend, or loosen from the handle.  They have a lovely weight, a perfect balance.  I love how these knives feel in my hand.

 

 

Kapoosh knife block ($39.99): And to put my lovely blades in, Kapoosh! I’d seen these on gadget blogs and blown them off, but then I tried one in a store and literally said “Ooooooh!” aloud to no one in particular.  It’s a whole bunch of little teeny tiny rods (think very small dowels). Slide the knife in wherever you want in the block, and poof! It sticks. Better for the blades too — less wear and tear than in a traditional knife block.

 

 

Air Bake cookie sheets ($15-$20): Best cookie sheet on the planet. End of story.  Stuff cooks evenly and doesn’t burn on the bottom. I will never go back to a normal cookie sheet again. Ever! You can pry this one from my cold, dead hands.  Then I’ll probably reach up at least once, B-horror-movie style, and grab it back.

 

 

Circulon cookware ($varies): Circulon evenly heats things and doesn’t burn them. Simple as that.  I notice this particularly with the larger pans and pots, cooking chili or sauces.  Evenly distributed heat is key when you’re someone who may from time to time forget to “continuously stir.”

 

 

 

Wonder Plunger measuring cup ($5.99): Suction-based, plunge the cup down to the exact measurement you need, pour liquid in, plunge the liquid out.  Nothing wasted, no need to scrape the sides of a measuring cup with a finger (ahem, spatula, of course).  This is a huge effort saver when it comes to viscous liquids like molasses, brown rice syrup, oils, etc.  Best $6 I’ve spent of late.

 

 

 

 

Zojirushi Mr. Bento Stainless Steel Lunch Jar ($42.88): Bento! In a canister! In a little shoulder bag with cutlery! Cute, dishwasher safe, and perfectly sized.  Downside?  I wish I remembered to use it more.  Laziness rules sometimes, and I just grab something portable and throw it into a container. This requires a modicum of forethought. It does make you look cool though.

 

 

 

 

 

Butter Boy butter (or vegan margarine) holder ($9.05): I <3 corn on the cob. I do not <3 putting margarine/butter on the aforementioned corn.  Except when I use Butter Boy. Jam some margarine down into his neck, then push the plunger underneath him to push out exactly what you need.  Curved perfectly for corn, no need to have messy hands ever again. Thank you Butter Boy!

 

 

 

 

 

Grandma Witmer’s Old Fashioned Peanut Buter Mixer ($9.95): Yes, I eat natural peanut butter. Go ahead and crack the left-coast-vegan-Californian stuff now.  It is yummier and better for you. So there. But it’s a bitch to mix up the first time. This mixer screws on top of the jar in place of the lid, and then you just turn the handle. I’m excited now to crack open a new jar of peanut butter whereas before it induced cold night sweats hallucinating about spilling oil all over the floor and being too weak to stir a fork in the hard-as-rock peanut part. When I bought mine, there was just the one model. Now they have tons of choices with better ergonomics and for various jar sizes. Nice!

 

What do I still want to buy?

Breville Juice Extractor  ($200-$500) - I like juicing. Veg, fruit, all mushed up…all good.  But I hate pulp like the plague and the nasty airy chalky frothy junk you get on top of a lot of fresh juices makes me kinda nauseous. Voila! The Breville Juice Extractor even has a “foam separator attachment.” Nice! At the cost though, this one’s going to have to wait a while.

And…a good espresso machine – I was also recently exposed to a most excellent low-profile table-top espresso machine that I now want. Must…get…make…and…model.  The problem is–home or office?  Or both?  Decisions, decisions.

Update: The espresso machine is an illy Francis Francis Y1 iperEspresso Machine.  $295. Definitely want. Low profile, pretty, and *gasp* it comes in black!

Time to talk back! What are your favorite kitchen gadgets?  What do you recommend to friends and family?  What would you never give up?  Pray tell.  I have about negative $1,000 budgeted for kitchen gadgets for the rest of the year, and that debt ain’t gonna spend itself. So bring it!

I get asked a lot what technology I actually use, as opposed to all the cool stuff I show people or talk about.  So I started looking around and thinking about it.  What do I use? What do I have? Do I like it or love it?  And I decided to start posting about it by subject area of gadget (insert nerdy librarian joke here).  I thought we could start with audio–how I create and consume audio (music, podcasts, webinars, etc.).  Other areas I’ve thought about are video, cooking/food, reading, internet/data, and the ever popular “random miscellany.”  If there are other categories you’re curious about, let me know and I’ll see what I have lying around.

So we begin with audio!

–First off: What do I consume?–

I listen to music a lot.  At home, in the car, at work, on the go.  I also listen to a lot of podcasts.  No audiobooks (I think the reader’s voice changes my interpretation of the words, and puts a spin on images or characters in my head).  I also create audio content for live webinars and I’m just starting to create a podcast series which may or may not have video.

Second: How do I consume it?

At home

Sonos system: I have a two-room Sonos system set up in my apartment.  It’s a wireless music system that feeds in whatever collection you have on your local computer as well as multiple streaming services (Spotify, Rdio, Pandora, etc.), plus radio stations.  It’s pretty cool. You can also control it w/ your smartphone so I turn the music on from outside the house so that something nice is playing when I walk in the door. It’s expensive, but totally worth it for music-heads like me.

Android HTC Thunderbolt smartphone: As stated, I control my Sonos subscription with my amazing Android HTC Thunderbolt phone.  I <3 this phone.  I use my phone for audio in other places too, in other ways, which I’ll prattle on about later.

Audio Receiver: I have my entire sound system in my house running through a pretty upscale Samsung audio receiver. I don’t know WTF I’m doing with it, to be honest, but I at least figured out how to get the speakers and various components hooked up. That does mean I need to keep it on at all times if I want to do the “turn on the Sonos from outside” trick.  I’m okay with that. And yes, I cabled everything up myself in my apartment from raw speaker cable. I am proud of that (w00t!), as evidenced by my ‘home audio porn’ shot on Flickr.

The speakers: I have four Bowers and Wilkins bookshelf speakers hooked up–two in the living room, two in the bedroom. These little tiny guys pack a heck of a punch. Awesome sound, great bass, probably enough that my neighbors want to throttle me. The sound in the bedroom is particularly good–probably because it is a somewhat smaller space, less echo-y.

Music collections and services: I use the iTunes library on my MacBook (which I have to have on for the Sonos system to be able to access it, logically), and I also subscribe to Spotify (all streaming music anytime) and Pandora (how to describe Pandora…customized streaming internet radio?), and also use the free Google Music service (which lets you upload your downloaded songs into the cloud and then access them from anywhere).

Podcast service: And I use Google Listen to subscribe to podcasts.  Love it.  Shows up in my Google Reader as a feed, and as an app on my phone.

At work

Heartbeats earbuds (Beats by Dr. Dre): I work in a large room with 4-6 other people, depending on the time of day.  So usually I use these lovely Lady Gaga Heartbeats earbuds to listen to music through Spotify or Google Music or my podcasts through Google Listen.  I like the Beats headphones for the bass, as I am an electronica fan and bass is a must.  I don’t give a crap about who made them, or that Lady Gaga put her personal brand stamp of approval on them.  I really thought they sounded the best out of all the earbuds I tried. I detest over-ear headphones as they end up hurting my head after a while. I don’t know why. I’m weird.

X-Mini Capsule Speaker: OK, this is one of those gadgets that I use in a crowd and people get all excited and go out and buy the next day.  This little X-mini external speaker (a mere $29.99  @ ThinkGeek) has the best sound of any small speaker I’ve ever encountered.  I use it to play music before classes, to play off my phone or laptop when I’m traveling, etc. It’s seriously that good.  You can also buy sets of more than one, and daisy chain them up for stereo or surround sound.  But just one will do you.  I bought a couple for my dad, a true audio nut, and he is in love with them too. That’s all the stamp of approval I need.

 

In the car

Android HTC Thunderbolt smartphone: I just hook up my phone through my nice little audio cable which goes into my MP3-in port on the car, turn on Spotify, Google Music, or Google Listen, and go. Easy peasy.

On the go

Android HTC Thunderbolt smartphone: I do not own an MP3 player. My phone is my music player. I have multiple audio apps on the phone (Pandora, Spotify, Google Music, Google Listen, Soundcloud, Slacker Radio, Sonos, and until recently Rdio too [before I decided to choose Spotify for sound quality]).  So I can get pretty much any song, podcast, or other audio entertainment when I want it.  The phone is small and lightweight enough for taking it on hikes, for workouts, etc.  Plus, it’s my phone so I already have it with me.

Heartbeats earbuds (Beats by Dr. Dre): Again, love these. Highly recommend.

 

And third, how do I create audio content?

Yeti microphone: I love this microphone.  It’s big.  It’s heavy.  It’s powerful.  It has easy-to-learn controls. And the sound quality is astonishing. You can hear each and every breath in, whisper, and tonal change.  It also folds down for storage and then pivots up for use (more than slightly phallic).  I love this microphone…after having unsuccessfully tried several others.  I got it a while back during some crazy one-day Amazon sale (for $90 instead of $199 if I recall).  So glad I bought it.

Audacity: Record into Audacity. Edit and mix in Audacity.  And you’re all done.  Whenever I show people how to record and edit audio for the first time, they’re super scared and don’t believe they’ll be able to learn how to do it.  But once you see that it’s really just highlighting, copying, pasting, dragging, deleting, and adding effects (just like in a Word document) all of a sudden they’re audio ninjas!  Ninjas, I say!  If you’re scared of audio or video editing have somebody show you the basics and I promise you that fear will go away.  I was scared.  But I learned, and so can you :)  I promise!  Sarah’s personal guarantee, good for your money back (oh wait, all this was free…umm, good for a cup of coffee?).

So what did I forget?  What devices do you use for audio consumption and creation?  What do you love?  What did you buy and later learn to dislike?  Bring it on!  Bring on the gadget wars!

I’ve been an Rdio user and fan for a year now.  For those of you who don’t know Rdio, it’s a streaming music service available on computers and mobile devices.  There is a monthly fee (two tiers) but you can listen to just about any music anywhere you want, when you want, from any artist — no owning the MP3s necessary.  I wrote a review last September and although I was quite the cheerleader then, I’ve become much more of an Rdio devotee as time has passed.

And then Spotify launched in the U.S. about a week ago.  I’ve used the free and paid versions of Spotify for the last week, both the desktop & mobile apps, and I now have a pretty good idea of the pros and cons of each service.  I compared the premium Rdio subscription ($9.99 a month) to the premium Spotify subscription (also $9.99 a month).

The overall verdict?  I don’t know!  I’m still thinking about which key features are more important to me–since neither service has everything I want.

I’m plotting ways to bring one or more of these services into the library, and have some ideas which may or may not be legal.  We shall see exactly what the Terms of Service say.  But for my own personal listening pleasure, here’s what I think.

Spotify


  • Music selection (overall size) – Spotify offers 15 million songs while Rdio has 9 million songs.  Objectively speaking, Spotify has more music.  Although, see the first bullet point in Rdio’s section for more on how that actually works for my tastes.
  • Sound quality - The big plus for Spotify is the quality of the streaming audio.  Spotify’s sound quality is noticeably better than Rdio’s.  What I hear most is the difference in the bass.  If I play Spotify loudly, the bass is there and sounds great.  If I play Rdio loudly, the lower register of notes is muffled or even missing.  As I listen to a lot of electronica, bass is rather key to my music enjoyment.  Various songs by Crystal Castles has that nifty audio trick where the sound “whoomp whoomps” from the right to the left.  I played Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” on both, and could hear a definite difference in the lower register of her voice.
  • Free version – Spotify has a free ad-supported version that you can use, along the lines of what you’d see with free Pandora or Last.fm accounts.  You get ads between songs, some of which are annoying.  But hey, at least there’s a free version.  For the first six months of free service there is also a 20 hour per month listening limit, which decreases to 10 hours per month after six months.  Rdio has a 7-day free trial, but after that you have to pay.
  • Integration with iTunes - I like that Spotify harvests you iTunes catalog and lets you play your locally-stored iTunes music from the Spotify interface.  Rdio will crawl your iTunes catalog and “add to your collection” all the songs you have that they also have.  But when listening to them, they come through streaming even if you have a higher quality copy stored locally.
  • Discographies - I like that Spotify delinates between full albums, singles, and albums the artist “appears on.”
  • Social – Spotify’s auto-connecting you with people you know through Facebook was easy (though I’d like integration with other services too…like my Google Contacts or Twitter).  Plus on Spotify you get the ability to browse their public playlists, top artists, and top tracks.  I like it, even though I learned that some of my friends really have awful taste.  Sharing of tracks on social sites (like Tweeting out what you’re listening to) is equitable between the two services.
  • Immediate play - Spotify songs always play within a couple of seconds of you clicking or tapping on the song, on both the desktop and mobile apps.  Rdio generally takes 2-5 seconds, sometimes as much as 10 on the mobile interface.  I’m not that impatient so it’s not that big a deal, but it is a noticeable difference.

Rdio


  • Music selection for my tastes -  Rdio has almost everything I’ve ever looked for.  It has enough that I don’t feel deprived.  On the other hand, Spotify had music that I hadn’t seen in Rdio (e.g. Cold Blood’s discography).  Spotify also had many remix albums, live albums, and compilations that weren’t in Rdio.  But for certain artists Rdio was oddly and inexplicably lacking in completion of their catalog.  For example, Rdio has Ladytron’s complete catalog.  But Spotify only has a few albums, big gaping holes in Ladytron’s discography.  Weird.  For me, I’d still lean toward Rdio for music selection for the stuff I tend to listen to.
  • Mobile app interface - Rdio’s mobile app is just so much better interface-wise in every respect.  I have an HTC Thunderbolt in case anyone cares.  Spotify’s app has some really unintuitive and unnecessarily redundant navigation (“Menu” takes you to options to repeat, shuffle, your play queue, and track options…but if you click on the “Info” icon you get to a screen with options to repeat, shuffle, or add to playlist).The Rdio’s “playing now” bar is always at the bottom, which I prefer to the Spotify pop-up drawer (which confuses me sometimes…especially after running a search and being returned to the drawer, which you have to minimize to actually see your search results).  Rdio’s app is clean, straightforward, and just works for me.
  • Desktop interface – Rdio’s interface on the desktop (or laptop) just works better for me.  First off, you don’t have to install anything – it’s all browser-based.  Spotify requires a download and installation, making it not work for many people at work who can’t install programs.  Rdio has a downloadable mini-program, but it’s not necessary and I prefer the browser interface anyway.  Simple things like the ability to tap/click on an album title to play the whole album (Spotify doesn’t do this).
  • Music discovery – Rdio’s music discovery is far superior to Spotify’s.  On Rdio you can see what’s in heavy rotation among your friends or all Rdio users, browse new releases or top charts, review recommendations (based on what you listen to and what’s in your collection), and browse through artists similar to those you like.  I’ve found dozens of new bands this way.  Spotify offers some browsing and recommendations, but it’s harder to find, harder to use, and not as accurate.
  • Reliability - Rdio rarely flakes out.  On rare occasion the network seems overloaded and a song will stutter a few seconds or stop.  Spotify seems to stop randomly every few songs — and stop for up to a minute, then just start again.  That’s getting really annoying and since I’m supposedly on Verizon’s “4G network” (which isn’t really 4G, but that’s another post) there’s no reason I shouldn’t get good streaming.  Logically, the higher sound quality and resulting larger file size is probably the reason.
  • Sound integration with mobile device - If I have an audible notification (e.g. a beep to tell me I have a new text message), Rdio will pause momentarily, the notification beeps, and then I’m back to the song immediately.   Any time I get a notification Spotify stops completely and doesn’t start again until I manually re-start the play.  That’s super uncool.

Google+ LogoTwo days ago I taught the first of two public classes about Google+ at my library.  Three days after the private beta opened on June 28th, I scheduled the classes…figuring that by the time the class dates rolled around, I’d have something to say.  They became part of our library’s summer Tech Boot Camp class series–20 tech classes from July to September.

I didn’t realize that I was the first librarian teaching a Google+ class until people started pointing it out to me and asking for my class outline,  learning plan, slides, etc.  Good news: I’ll share what I have.  Bad news: I have only an informal outline, and no learning plan or slides.  I’m a public librarian, dude.  I fly by the seat of my pants with this stuff.

The class was a one-hour true introduction to the social network, giving people a tour of the profile set-up, privacy options, and many features.  We had 6 people show up for the first class, and I’ve had a dozen others contact me to tell me they’re coming to the repeat session on Monday.  For our small town library, that’s pretty good.

So here’s how I did the class.  It really wasn’t too difficult.

I distributed two printed handouts to the class:

I first explained what Google+ is, how it was a private beta (& offered invites to all attendees), and I also explained how I saw Google+ fitting into the social media universe, that it wasn’t a replacement for any other site but rather a “next step” or evolution, and for now at least it’s one more place to be.  The single sentence summary was this: “Google+ is what would happen if Facebook and Twitter had a baby and all the negative traits of both parents were removed…at least for now.”

I pulled up my own profile (with a caveat that I didn’t know in advance what my contacts had posted).  I walked through how you set up you profile, and what shows up where (including how you can choose not to fill out certain fields).  I talked quite a bit about privacy settings located in both the Google+ Settings and the Edit Profile page.

The whole class talked a lot about Circles — a big issue was understanding that you choose who you put in your circles, but that others choose if they add you.  Google+ is more like Twitter in that regard–that the decision of “following” doesn’t have to be mutual.

We looked at the Stream, Photos, Huddles, and Hangouts…though not in great detail due to time constraints.

We looked at how to post to Google+ (including adding links, photos, or video) and how to decide who you’re sharing each post with.  People really liked the granular idea of sharing posts with specific people or Circles.  I posted to “Public” at the start of the class, and by the end showed everyone how we had 15 +1s and 12 comments.

We talked about Notifications, about which there were a number of questions–generally things like “Why on earth would you want a text message when someone adds you to their Circle?”  My response was “I wouldn’t.  Sounds like you wouldn’t either.  The nice thing is Google lets you choose.”

And we talked about how to use Google+ mobile and some of the more useful Google+ Chrome Plug-Ins (Facebook & Twitter stream add-ons, etc.)

The last 10 minutes of the class was questions and discussions.  I was interested to hear one class member say “After seeing all of these features I can totally see why it’s 100 times better than Facebook.”  Another was super excited because she’s only starting to learn about social media so she can participate in the spaces her teenagers are participating, and she’s on Google+ before they are…hitting that bleeding edge first.

We concluded with the idea that Google+ is changing every day and will likely continue to change, but that it’s worth being there to be on top of what’s going on.

What would I do differently?  I’d probably spend more time on Hangouts and Huddles and actually try them out live.  I would talk about how you mention people in posts with the little + symbol before their names (I just totally forgot to say that).  If I had time I’d build a resource list for people with more tips and tricks, but since these are so easily found with a Google search I just left the students with that tip for the time being.

The second session of the class is Monday afternoon.  I hope to learn more during that class too.

If you’ve taught a class on Google+, or given thought about how to teach it, share your tips in the comments below.  Let’s crowdsource an actual learning plan *wink*