Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Now we're getting into something I'm unfamiliar with. O.k., I'll admit I'm deliberately unfamiliar with it.

I forsee the possibility of being overwhelmed. For years I've have a couple of discussion groups piped into my e-mail. Some days I only get a managable handful of posts, but some days I get fifty or more.

This kind of thing gives a false sense of urgency. And as soon as enough people are choosing to do it, it artificially creates a cultural imperative of urgency. For example, in the days when letters arrived once a day by mail, it was permissible to answer a letter a couple of days after it arrived, and not too bad to answer a casual one after a week or so. With e-mail, that kind of delay is largely considered rude. Indeed, some people expect you to check your e-mail several times a day and answer within hours, if not minutes. At what point is "check your blog feeds" going to become mandatory?

(Yes, I'm guilty of bringing this upon myself, to some extent. In addition to the aforementioned discussion group e-mail feeds, I have e-mail feeds from one blog site and from MySpace and Facebook, and even get notified on my phone when I get a Facebook message.)

There is a simpler, saner way.

I keep a list of blogs I follow linked to my browser home page. (My home page is an HTML page of links to files and websites that resides on my hard drive.) It's a text file, so it's easy to update (this means copying and pasting into the address bar instead of clicking, but this is only milliseconds less efficient). The important thing is that I'm in control, rather than the machine. I go to my list when I want to read something, rather than it nagging me that "Hey, there's something new here. Better look at it. Now." And I don't have to sign in to it.

Yeah, I can see how RSS might be useful to someone in some fast-tracked type of job who needs to keep up with a certain type of news or other information and can keep Bloglines constantly open in a small window. For that matter, a feed to the local news and weather might be useful on the reference desk.

To be truly useful (and truly annoying), it needs to beep every time something new comes in. Otherwise, its sort of like a to-do list. -- It's only useful if you remember to keep checking it.

This is one "thing" that I'll have to live with awhile before I can guess what its impact will be.

Monday, February 9, 2009

from picasa

My dad learned to fly in one of these. They were still in use as training planes in the 1930s and 40s.
The Penn Deutsch stuff above my stove. Yes, I went ahead and uploaded
some pics to Picasa, even though I've already got Photobucket with a couple of my web pages.

Thoughts on Picasa vs. Photobucket: It seems like Photobucket has more photo editing tools, but Picasa has the easier and quickest way to rotate photos, and furthermore, the thumbnails then show up correctly, whereas in Photobucket the thumbnails are still sideways even if the photo itself is corrected.

Thoughts on then "Where in the World?" game: No fun for people who like games of knowledge and intellectual prowess, with no element of chance. The first image that came up was an indoor one, a cuturally-generic shot of pancakes in a frying pan. -- No way to win by being smart instead of just lucky.

Thoughts on the video in the "23 Things" lesson: No, the "old" way isn't bad; it just has different advantages, not the least of which is that paper prints can be viewed without a machine. Nor is web-based storage necessarily safer. Those photos I have on Photobucket are there because I had to move them from Yahoo Photos when that service was suddenly discontinued. Recently I got a message from AOL that they were ending their picture service, too, although, fortunately, I didn't have any uploaded to them. These companies are fine for what they are, but keep in mind that they're like landlords who might decide to tear down or sell the house you're renting at any time.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

tech that wasn't, isn't, and probably won't be

"#7: Blog about technology." -- Uh, like this whole thing is about technology .... O.k. "... anything technology-related."

The Present? -- Nah, already doing enough of that.

The Past? -- Lots of cool stuff there. The Great Exhibition of 1851. The first fax
, demonstrated at the Great Exhibition. Color photography in WWI. Silent movies. The earliest t.v. broadcasts. Old cars. Old planes. Old typewriters. Ancient computers. Old, but not ancient computers. Computers my daughter thinks are ancient. Automata.

The Future? -- Ooo, yeah -- Nanotech. Quantum computing. Space elevators. Humans on Mars. Starships.

How about the technology of a futuristic past? Some of it was real. Some of it was imagined at the time, but never happened. Some of it is being imagined retroactively now.
It's called "steampunk."

(Now in handy book form. Check your local public library.)

of habits and contracts

Quite frankly, none of the learning "habits" present a problem. My problem is not any lack of confidence or ambition to learn, but rather, too much. I tend to bite off more than I can chew. Furthermore, I come to the topic as one who is self-taught coming into a formal class. I know what I've picked up informally, but am not necessarily aware of just what it is that I don't know. So, to make this project realistic, I will define my goal as:

1st: Discovering where the gaps in my knowledge lie, as defined by the outline of the 23 Things course.

2nd: Learning whatever facts and skills are needed to plug up those gaps.

Some may notice that this sounds a lot like a teacher pre-testing and then teaching to the needs of a particular student or group of students. You're right. I find myself much in the position of my former ESL students who had picked up some English on the street.

(I must admit to having a strong allegic reaction to self-contracts, and anything else that smacks of group therapy, counseling, business seminars (or anything pertaining in any way, shape, or form to the business culture), or the 1970s. Though the goal remains the same, I prefer to use the language of teaching, or the concept of self-improvement popular in the 18th through early 20th centuries. E.g., list-making is useful; signing my own name to myself as if I were two people just gives me a creepy feeling.)

"Toolbox" -- oh, good grief, enough with the cutesy labels already -- physical and pedagogical resources:
Computer access (check), the "23 Things" blog and its links (check), other web pages covering the topics (check), books and periodical articles (available for free from your public library!) covering the topics (check), knowledge-swapping with colleagues (check), knowledge-swapping with other nerdy types and young people (check), time (uh-oh ...).

Target date:
The end of this program -- and beyond. The set of skills necessary for interacting up to par in the new information age is, and will continue to be, constantly growing. As far as pace is concerned, I'll try for one or more topics a week, at the very least. Some of the 23 "things" are really subsets of one topic, so this progress may not be as slow as it would seem.

personal background relevant to this project

(Warning: The following is some of the aformentioned navel contemplation. Feel free to skip it.)

I'm a "digital immigrant," with tendencies toward going native. I have a strong interest in the history of technology, and how the technology of a given temporal culture (including the present one) interacts with its worldview.

On the minus side:

I'm "old." I grew up in a world where non-professional programmers (who had to be genius-level-brilliant and male) could never hope to touch a computer or even see one except in pictures. I didn't see my first computer until college, and even then access was strictly controlled.

I'm "old." And I was raised by parents who were older than average, and in addition, my mother was partly raised by her grandmother, so my primary, deepest-held values date to the early 20th century, and to some degree, the 19th.

Furthermore, many of the those are rural or working class values. In some ways, then, I'm not only one generation removed from the latest cultural change, but two or more.

I'm middle-aged and female and have a family and a job, which means I have responsibilities dictated by the needs of others. My meat-world life often constrains my online life, sometimes for months at a time, during which technological progress speeds ahead beyond my ability to keep up.

On the plus side:

My parents held, and instilled in me, progressive views, particularly regarding education. Lifelong learning is natural, and new cultural ideas are often fun.

One of my first college-student jobs was as a monitor in the PLATO lab at the University of Illinois, circa 1980. Here I was introduced to the concepts of the internet, computer-aided learning, hyperlinks, and floppy discs so big and genuinely floppy you had to support them with two hands. I took my first computer programming course in the age of mainframes, the first year after they stopped using punch cards in the university's programming courses.

I've been on the internet since the days of command-line Unix interface, telnet, bbs newsgroups, and Gopher.

I've been using PCs continuously since the days of CGA, and taught myself BASIC. I've been word-processing since Voxwriter 1.0.

Somewhere among my floppies I still have the original shareware version of Doom.

I taught myself HTML and have several web pages, the oldest of which is nine years old. (There were some earlier ones, but they're no longer extant.)

I've also designed and continue to maintain an author's professional web page.

I've been blogging since early 2007, and have pages on a couple of social networking sites.

(Note: This kind of self-revelation goes against my almost-Victorian upbringing. It smacks of vanity. But, as far as I can observe, it appears to be a normal, even expected part of the 2.0 world, so I'm trying it out. But I won't go as far as posting a picture of myself in a bikini. -- Fortunately, no one wants to see a fifty-year-old woman in a bikini.)

Friday, February 6, 2009

a word of explanation for the puzzled

Some blogs are public, not much different in nature from an opinion column in a newspaper or magazine. Some blogs are truly private. (This one is obviously not, since you are reading it without special permission.)

A recent book, Here Comes Everybody, by Clay Shirky (2008), points out that, in a break from past patterns of communication, much of what is on "Web 2.0" -- blogs, pages on social networks, etc. -- is private communication (and some, I would add, is introspection) written for a target audience of one or a few, but published where all can see. There are imperfect precedents, for instance, a personal diary or a ship's log being published later, or an interview being broadcast to an audience. But for the most part, this phenomenon is new, and, being new, can be confusing.

So here is an explanation of this blog, and several others like it that are being created around this time:
It's an assignment (and will refer to other assignments) in a class,"23 Things," given by a library to its employees, exploring various aspects of Web 2.0. The target audience is other members of the class. However, because of the value held by librarians and teachers that information should be shared, anyone is welcome to read and learn. And in the spirit of the mixed-up mash of public and private that is one of the salient features of the new internet culture, it will also contain information that is of more general interest. (Warning: there may be, due to the topic, some navel-contemplation). It may even continue as a "real" blog after the class is over.

the big change

The earth is moving under our feet, shaken by bits and bytes delivered via wires and radio waves. Every once in awhile in history the very basis of a society -- the lifestyle of a majority of the people, the underlying values and assumptions -- changes rapidly, such that the world of one's childhood is completely gone by young adulthood rather than old age, and people in the prime of life, still active in the world at large, find that "the rules" have completely changed even during their own professional lifetime. We are in the midst of such a cultural change now.

see: Strangers in a Strange Time

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


This is the usual insipid first posting.
More to come -- more postings, that is, hopefully not more insipidity.