WordPress for Lifestyle Bloggers & Online Readings

Lately I’ve been fortunate enough to work with patrons interested in lifestyle/interior design/creative WordPress blogs. While my own blog here is not very action-packed or set up to be a lifestyle blog, in the past I was obsessed with them. So this new movement of one-on-one appointments has been very enjoyable to me. I get to rack my brains to think about my impressions of what a lifestyle blog should look like, how you build an audience, and describe the different ways to stay in touch with your readers (e.g. email, RSS, social media). What’s difficult is remembering the name of any of those blogs I used to follow!

On that note, I have mostly given up on following blogs via RSS. This happened long before Google killed Google Reader. After the devastating losses of three years ago, I found myself to no longer reading my RSS feeds. So I dropped my lifestyle/crafts/interior decorating blogs. Now I use RSS to keep up with webcomics and to skim librarian related blogs. I don’t think I’m alone in this — I’ve noticed that the quantity of library related blogs has gone down substantially in the past few years. So, where do I spend most of my free online time? Twitter, Tumblr, and news websites. I favorite hundreds of tweets a month which I mostly don’t look at — but it’s nice to have for the days when I’m looking for something new to read. I also have shifted a lot of my online reading away from librarians and to web coders/developers. These people are intense and way beyond where I am (hey, their job is to be web people while I’m responsible for dozens of things at work), but I enjoy seeing what others are doing.

The Bad User Experience of Pinterest

I have 5,407 images on my computer to serve as references and inspirations for my artwork. These images have been gathered over the last nine years. Since Pinterest provides a somewhat attractive interface for creating mood boards, I decided to start creating boards to share with my creative partner. Immediately I began to run into bad UX design:

No Anonymous Account
I used my preexisting Pinterest account to send myself an invite. When I clicked on the link in that email, I was taken to the signup page which demanded that I log in with either my Facebook or Twitter accounts. The welcome screen promises that I can then disconnect my account. So I click on Facebook. Immediately I discover that the site has forced me to follow fifty of my Facebook friends who are already on Pinterest. Quickly I unfollow people then disconnect the account. Later I discover that Pinterest had already emailed everyone so some people began re-following me. This was meant to be an anonymous account where I could upload my references without spamming everyone I know.

No Bulk Upload
The site encourages you to upload all those pictures you have been collecting on your computer. Alright, that sounds like what I wanted to do anyways. I start to add things and then quickly realize that I will have to upload my images one by one. Recall that there are 5,000 images.

Images Broken When Uploaded
I am using Chrome and every single image I uploaded was broken. I had to refresh the browser to show my picture.

Forced to Follow People
When you sign up, you are required to select an interest group. I did not want to follow anyone, this was to be my own little mood board project. I then had to go through and unfollow all of the random accounts that Pinterest assigned to me when they forced me to choose a category.

I have already gone in and deleted my account. If I want to try using the service, I will be forced to create a fake account on another service just so I can have a little anonymity. I am unsure if I will go back — there are other sites that will allow me to create mood boards without spamming others.

Stanford’s Introduction to Databases Week 1

I am about half-way through the videos for the first week (due date 10/16) for the Introduction to Database course. The class is open and available for free to all who wish to spend their fall learning about databases. On their Twitter account, they mention that they have 70,000 people signed up. The class is taught by Professor Jennifer Widom.

Class Structure
The class consists of two primary portions: watching videos and taking quizzes. In the videos, Professor Widom presents slides (available for download as PDF or PPT) with the pertinent information typed on them. As she talks, she writes on the slides in different colors to highlight certain aspects. Her head occasionally bobs in and out of existence in the lower right corner. I find it distracting to watch someone looking off-camera at a monitor that lights up their eyes like smoky lamps. The only quiz I have come across was embedded right into the video. You are given multiple chances to answer and then offered an explanation. There seems to be a glitch since I have only come across one quiz while my fiancé has had more quizzes appear. If you have one of the four suggested textbooks, you can follow along in more depth.

Critique
I do not own any of the textbooks which might be hindering me. I find the videos within a section to be fluid as I go from each one, but otherwise the videos jump around. For instance, at the end of the relational databases video, she talks about her recommendations on watching the relational algebra and SQL videos. Then when you go to the next set of videos, you are brought to XML. The other two topics are further along.

My Study Method
I am using Microsoft OneNote to screencap slides with information that is new to me. I am also annotating a little bit defining concepts in further depth. The vocabulary that is sticking out most to me right now is tuple = row.

I Gave Up on OverDrive’s Audiobooks

I have a Nook Color–which is amazing! This weekend I decided to listen to an audiobook while sewing and since we lack portable CD players in my house, a downloadable audiobook is just what circumstances ordered. I have been making my way through a physical copy of The Night Circus so I logged in through the OverDrive Media Console app on my Nook to check out the audiobook version. That process went smoothly. Then a message popped up telling me that I would need to download the title on my PC and then transfer to the Nook. Okay.

I get on my PC and pull out my library card again as I log back into my OverDrive account. I click the Checked Out Items link and go to download my book. A proprietary OverDrive file downloads. Not knowing what to do with the file, I click through and discover that I have to install Windows Media Player, then run security checks, and then it looks like I’ll still need to convert the files once they download through Windows Media Player into MP3 format. That’s a lot of steps and I’m not alone in my frustration. The OverDrive FAQ was also unhelpful. I have a custom built rig and try to keep undesirable programs like Windows Media Player off my machine.

In the end, I gave up on listening to a story about star-crossed lovers and instead listened to Pandora. Instead of magic and mystery, I got to think about questions such as why does the Little Lion Man (by Mumford & Sons) station bring up exclusively 90s music?

The Problem with OverDrive and Kindle’s Deal for Libraries

OverDrive launched the ability for patrons to check out OverDrive library books on their Kindles today. Word flew fast on Twitter which I was absently monitoring while doing other tasks at work. A few hours after the initial tweets I noticed that my library’s OverDrive ebook collection had indeed been Kindlized. As soon I had a chance, I hurried to set up equipment to record a tutorial video for our patrons so they would know how to get OverDrive ebooks on their Kindles. That’s when I ran into problems.

First, my library owns multiple Kindles which are registered to the Library. We lend these and other ereaders out to our patrons. The instructions from OverDrive’s blog are pretty thin about explaining the actual multiple step process which looks like this:

  1. Go to your library’s OverDrive website.
  2. Select a book which has a Kindle format and add that format to your cart/bag.
  3. Enter your library card number.
  4. Continue reading →

Codecademy

I recently heard of Codecademy but did not get a chance to try it out until yesterday while watching the computer labs at work. What is it? Codecademy teaches you some basic Javascript functions. On the front of their website, you have the option to either click the green Get Started button or just enter your name in the prompt box. From there, within seconds you are coding. At the end of each lesson, they give you a brief nag screen to register for an account, but you can ignore it by clicking “Next Lesson.”

I quickly became confused while trying to follow along but that could be because every 30 seconds I had to see to a patron. When I got home, I coaxed Thomas into trying it out and next thing I know, it’s been an hour and he’s finishing up the final available lesson. At one point, he even said, “Coding is fun!” His sore spot was that he wanted his own editor to play with to see what else he could do. I’m resisting the temptation to push my Javascript textbooks on him and tell him to go ahead and learn a coding language in his downtime. Come to the dark side.

Other reviews:

Boston Globe’s New Website and Modernizr

I was made aware of the Boston Globe’s new website thanks to a Gawker article. To put it simply, the content adjusts itself in response to the width of the browser. This function is called responsive design as explained in an A List Apart article.

I ran Boston Globe’s website through Builtwith.com’s website to learn more about the technologies controlling the page. Their results revealed only two properties: the framework was built in ASP.NET and the document information is X-Frame-Options. I had not heard of X-Frame-Options but the explanation reminds me of earlier websites attempts at keeping you from right-click saving images:

The X-Frame-Options HTTP response header can be used to indicate whether or not a browser should be allowed to render a page in a frame or iframe. Sites can use this to avoid clickjacking attacks, by ensuring that their content is not embedded into other sites.

To learn more about their website (since I am tasked with redesigning Darien Library’s website), I checked the source code and found the following items which were of interest to me:

  • Five lines dedicating to sniffing out which version of IE a user of might be using
  • A reference to an Apple friendly icon (something I learned about over the weekend for my own usage)
  • Five Javascript references with the most interesting name being: lib/modernizr.custom.min.js (which I found out is a reference to the open source Modernizr Javascript library. Note: I do not know Javascript yet)


The Javascript discovery led me to the fangirl joyfulness of the Modernizr website. For fun, hover over their logo. I did a quick skim of their website and it looks like they have some great documentation. Notice that their logo drops down to become the table of contents for the page (I’m taking mad mental notes over here with ideas to show my boss if you can’t tell)! To check out my hunch that this is what is controlling the Boston Globe website, I started messing with the page width and lo and behold, the site acted identically to the Boston Globe one.

This is the first web design stuff that I’ve seen in ages that has gotten me excited about seeing something new. They even include a build tool which will give you only the code that you really need for your project to keep your site light.
Continue reading →

Chiming in on the School Media Specialists Debate

Today I was conferring with @spiderbrigade about a project we’re working on together. Somehow we got off the topic of navigation schemes to the topic of school media specialists.

My Student Experiences
School media specialists (or school librarians, take your pick of moniker) are charged with managing your children’s libraries. When I was growing up (graduated high school in 2004), the librarians were very traditional. Teachers would drop the class off and the librarians would point out some resources like encyclopedias. There was no talk of literacy or evaluating resources. They gave us hand outs about how to cite resources. Sometimes the librarian would pull all the books about the subjects of our papers and leave them on a table for us to fight over. Otherwise they were very hands off.

What School Librarians Said
When I entered library school in August 2009, I meant to get my certification as a school media specialist so I’d have a broader set of options when I went job hunting. I then hit a brick wall in one of my school media courses when it was revealed the school media program was explicitly geared towards people who were already teachers. My teacher wanted us to go into a school and know all subjects for all grades at any point in time. As well as pursue intense collaboration projects, teach information literacy, write papers, etc. When I interviewed local school librarians and those from my hometown, they just laughed. It was impossible because of:

  • teachers are overwhelmed and not being paid for extra hours required of them (NC is looking into either adding school days to the calendar or making the days longer or removing teacher planning periods)
  • many older teachers are not interested in collaborating and/or suspicious of “newfangled” librarians
  • the librarian has no assistants so they can barely scrap by doing the minimal amount of work let alone arguing with dozens of uncooperative teachers
  • one librarian told me that teachers had called her “a free babysitter”

On the flip side, many new teachers LOVE collaborating. Once a project goes off successfully, the teacher takes it back to their pod/group/grade and next thing the librarian sees are four more teachers wanting to collaborate. This is amazing. There is just not enough time to work with everyone!

Solution
There is no solution at the current time. North Carolina recently decided to rip into the education budget so teachers are going to be stretched even further. I applaud my teacher for her lofty visions of what school librarians can do, it is also currently impossible in many schools to get to that superior ranking in services offered to students and teachers. The danger is that as a profession, we are pushing for the collaborator and information literacy model, but our hands are tied. Therefore the public thinks librarians are dispensable since we do not have the time or the interest of our coworkers to be more than the guardian of the books.