Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Author, author - what's your perspective?

There is no luck in literary reputation. They who make up the final verdict upon every book are not the partial and noisy readers of the hour when it appears; but a court as of angels, a public not to be bribed, not to be entreated, and not to be overawed, decides upon every man's title to fame.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
(American essayist and poet, 1803-1882)

We each put our own interpretations on what we read, so to hear from the authors themselves can sometimes be an enlightening experience, depending on whether or not your "translation" followed the authors' intent. You might read a book before you've seen or heard anything of the author, yet get a whole new perspective when you hear the author talk about the work. That is one of the joys of reading and writing, though - there is generally no right or wrong!

I had no joy finding any of my preferred authors on the several sites I tried (I'm not sure what that says about my reading habits?) so I browsed and chose some I was familiar with. Most are on my "to read" list at this point, so it was good to hear the authors talk and know that yes, I really do want to catch up with their writing. It does seem easier to find talks or interviews with fiction writers, but there were 2 sites that I was drawn to more than others. Both had nice layouts, the information was easy to follow, and having the authors listed down the left hand side of Powell's Books made browsing much easier than many others. The podcasts from the Free Library of Philadelphia were easy to access and I may even download some to my MP3 player and listen to them at my leisure. There are several here from authors I have been intending to read, so this will keep them on my radar! I will check back with Authors on tour live in a couple of months to see if Jon Katz, who has a new book of fiction coming out, after some years of writing non-fiction, and who will be touring to promote it, features at all. Through following his blog, and reading his numerous books, I'm now very interested in hearing him speak. I'm sure our patrons too would be interested in knowing about some of these sites, so any opportunity we have to inform them of such things can surely only add to their enjoyment and enrichment, too.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Readers and booklovers - always hunting for the next one

A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down and commence living on its hint... What I began by reading I must finish by acting.
Henry David Thoreau

As librarians, at the core of our work day are Books! We buy them, we read them, we promote them - and we just never run out of a "to read" list! I already find it a challenge to get through my 'borrowings' and my basket of future reads is added to every day, so I fear becoming a regular browser/user of these online book groups - I may never surface if I get too immersed in them. The one factor that will make it easier for me to turn away from these dens of pleasure is that many tend more to discussions on fiction, which I don't dip into much. And as this programme has already impacted on the time I spend sitting at the computer, when I would usually more than likely be reading a book - well, that would be craziness indeed to spend time looking for yet more treasures to fill my mind (and notebook) with. I looked at several sites, but didn't really have any great joy with the titles I went hunting for, although I did discover a favourite author is soon to publish another book, which is a sort of follow-on to his previous book which I count amongst my all-time treasures. That was a very happy find!

We are constantly hearing about the many new devices appearing, giving people more options as to how - and where - they do their reading, but one thing is obvious from the abundance of these online groups - the written word will never die. I also don't believe the physical book will disappear anytime soon - if anything, our online world seems to have given a fresh "push" to the publishing world. It seems easier for people to get published today, with no apparent negative impact on the 'best seller' market - and of course people are so eager to join in discussions, be it online, in book groups (organised or informal), one-on-one or with their neighbour or friendly librarian! We can rest assured there is no shortage whatsoever of places to go a-hunting for the next recommended read!

Clever Google docs and File converters

I'll be happy to make these unnecessary changes to this irrelevant document.


(cartoon created by Scott Adams, American cartoonist, b.1957)

What a nice surprise Google docs is. We're often apprehensive over the plaintive cry for help when documents at the Internet stations can't be opened, so this little gem could be the answer when the usual "tricks" fail. While the image from our "test" document got lost somewhere along the transfer trail, and some of the fonts and formatting changed, it wasn't too dramatic a change, and didn't affect the information itself. We are pretty used to having to relearn formulas and formats when new versions of Word, Excel, etc appear, so this isn't too different. I tried another quite large document, with lots of columns, and was quite satisfied with how it came through. There wasn't a lot of change apparent, other than the loss of some 'bullets' - and its' quite straightforward to delete documents, with a nice "safety" option in case you decided you didn't really want to delete! All in all, this is a very nice tool, quite straightforward to use, and one I will endeavour to put to work. I haven't yet looked at any of the other file converters, nor revisited Zoho, but just knowing these tools are out there is enough for me at this point. I fear I'm approaching my information overload point, and need to stop, take a breath, and digest the bounty. Google continues it's march to conquer us all - but at least we can play and learn, and have some fun along the way - or if it really gets too much, you could try this!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Still chugging and chuffing...

I have a theory about the human mind. A brain is a lot like a computer. It will only take so many facts, and then it will go on overload and blow up.

Erma Bombeck (US humorist 1927-1996)

Having once again got myself way off track, spending time fruitlessly going around YouTube, my mind truly feels like it is on overload and almost ready to blow up. Nor do the frustrations of an incredibly slow broadband help the situation. While it has been fun exploring again, it makes you so aware of how much time you can all too quickly fritter away as you seek here, there and everywhere through the invisible ether. Sometimes you don't end up any the wiser, either. Blinkx is nice to use and I like the way they categorise and display the various sources, although I didn't have any success trying to view the full clips of several I tried. They feature an impressive selection of news organisations, although weighted rather heavily towards US sites. The major international players are present, but a wider global lineup would improve the balance. I can certainly see myself doing more exploring in Blinkx, though.

I'm not convinced about the usefulness of magazine searching in Google Books. As most magazines have their own sites anyway, I really can't think why you would want to use Google to search for a particular article? Databases such as Proquest would be a more useful option, and more up-to-date. It is nice to be able to browse through some of the magazines though, to get a "feel" for them - advertisements and all - to see if maybe you would really like to subscribe to a title. I'm looking forward to stumbling across more "happy accidents" as I continue through Google Book Search, though.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Chugging through Search Engines

When action grows unprofitable, gather information; when information grows unprofitable, sleep.

Ursula K. Le Guin

Well, this has certainly been an exhausting exercise, and I feel my learnings about Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ezalead et al are only just beginning. Having said that, I don't feel inclined to poke too much more deeply as I feel almost on the brink of overload. It is certainly helpful to know about all these options, but as you're trying to take in everything, it ends up just too overwhelming that you feel like shouting "Stop the train - I want to get off". It's taken me some time to get over my aversion to the apparent omnipotent power of Google, but looking at some of these other options has given me a new appreciation for this power, and thinking Google does actually do a very good job handling the incredible abundance of "information" out there. I haven't used the Wonder Wheel or Timeline features before, but I can see the potential for using these when you need more depth or clarity on issues, and will look forward to being able to put them to good use in the future. The Advanced Search in Yahoo is nice in the way you can filter sites by domain name e.g. by .com, .edu, .gov, etc, although I imagine you can also do this with others. That's something I'll try to remember to check out. There is much more of a commercial slant to Bing, and I liked the look of the Exalead page - it displayed nicely, and the thumbnails were quite useful. The filters for site type - blogs, forums - were also helpful if you were looking for those in particular. On the whole, all the sites were relatively easy to navigate around and the options nicely set out, and are well worth knowing about. We all get comfortable with our own preferences, but the more we experiment with the alternatives, the more we'll be able to appreciate the differences.Just another step along the trail in our ever-expanding quest for information...

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Google - Alert to the World

Knowing a great deal is not the same as being smart; intelligence is not information alone but also judgment, the manner in which information is collected and used.

Dr Carl Sagan

A really nice thing about the Web 2.0 programme is how we get a chance to "play" with various web tools that we would otherwise no doubt just bypass or ignore completely, albeit more from the fact we either don't know what they can do, or that they even exist. Most people, myself included, tend to only use the search function of Google, including images and maps, but 'Alerts' is another useful part of the Google Empire. I set up 2 alerts, one very general - Major League Baseball - which I am happy with so far as the "dailies" act as a kind of "highlights" package, but I may play with this in future to concentrate more on the couple of teams I particularly follow. My other alert was more specific, using a search term that I wouldn't have thought of myself, but which came up in a result I got from another Google search. I am well satisfied with the results produced for "Greater Yellowstone wolf population" with a nice variety of items which fit the search criteria well. While set to daily, results haven't come through every day, but they are regular and so far no duplicates, which is good news when you are wanting to filter out as much unnecessary information as you can. This is something I will likely continue with via another email account, and would suggest it to patrons if there is a particular event, or they have an interest in a particular area that they would like to focus on. A clever idea and relatively simple to set-up, but a useful little tool to "assist" us in our ever-expanding and for some, insatiable, quest for information. Just don't forget you can also turn off the flow when it all gets too much!