19 December 2011

Book review--"The Silence of Our Friends"

The Silence of Our Friends
First Second
January 2012
Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, Nate Powell

Every so often a book will come along that will challenge you, that will make you think, and that will hopefully leave you a bit better after you’ve read it.  And this is just one such book.  And yes some people are probably thinking that’s high praise for a graphic novel, but the story will give you chills within the first three pages and suck you in and not let you go until the very end of the story.

It’s 1968 in Houston, Texas and the fight for civil rights is heating up.  Young Mark Long’s father, Jack Long, is the local TV station's race reporter and he’s embedded into the third ward, one of the poorest parts of the town.  Jack is attempting to cover the events occurring in town, such as the expulsion of the the SNCC (student nonviolent coordinating committee) from Texas State University, and do justice to the people that he’s covering.  He’s saved at one event by Larry Thompson, a local black leader, and the two become friends and their lives intertwine.  One white family from a notoriously racist neighborhood in the burbs and one black family from the poorest ward in Houston, come together and find common ground in a conflict that threatens to tear the city apart.  But before the end it may all come crashing down with the arrest of the TSU five.  Which will be the loudest before the end, the words of hate or the silence of friends?  This semi-autobiographical tale is based upon true events of Mark Long’s father.

One of the problem that I normally see with autobiographical stories, like this one, is that they often try to give the reader to much information about the story and invariably the reader gets lost or there are moment that leave us wondering why we’re supposed to care about the story.  But this book...this book doesn’t have that issue.  The authors have focused the story upon specific events of the race issues affecting the town in a given time period and give you enough information that you understand where the characters are coming from, but it never lets you wander away from what the focus of the story is.  And more importantly you don’t ever feel like you’re missing out on something. 

My favorite part of the storytelling though is how we get to see the story from two different perspectives--a white family from a racist neighborhood and a black family from one of poorest areas of Houston.  Living in many ways on opposite sides of the world and yet we get to see the overlap and the differences between the two families clearly.  And while that may sound like a cheesey way or stereotypical way of telling the story, Mark Long and Jim Demonakos tell the story in such a deft manner that you don’t really see it being told that way.  You see the characters as real people.  You get to understand a bit of what they went through, the troubles that each family faced for the actions they took and didn’t take, and that you want to know them in real life--just so that you could learn more from them.  One last thought about the story--the title of the book comes from a quote by Martin Luther King Jr. "In the end, We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”  And this book does justice to those words.

Nate Powell’s artwork is absolutely gorgeous.  It’s done in his typical grace/style of capturing the human form oh so perfectly and it seems like this time he’s gone even further in his use of shading to give us the beauty of all different types of skin tones, each character’s is unqiue.  His artwork is perfectly suited for this story capturing the range and intensity of emotions--the sorrow, the joy, and the fear that sends chills down your spine.  That intensity, that feeling of life that he captures in their faces really makes them come alive.  And the last pages of the books are some of the most powerful of the book.  It seems like a rather basic layout of people walking in the street, with a closeup so that you can see the people’s skin tones--both black and white, and you can see their faces.  But then he starts pulling back and all you can see are forms of people all different sizes, both genders, and all muted gray.  No race and no color to divide them, just one people.

You can’t help but feel moved by this story and you can’t walk away unchanged.  The combination of story and art works perfectly in capturing this event and this time period.  I’m predicting this book will be one of the best graphic novels of the year, perhaps even one of the best books of the year.

A review copy of this book was provided by Gina at FirstSecond

14 December 2011

Kindle Fire Follow up

So I wrote about my initial impression of the Kindle Fire almost a month ago and I thought I'd offer an update on my thoughts on the device.  What I'm going to do is address some of the complaints/issues I've seen others have with the device and offer my input.  And then give my current impression on the device.

OK first off:
This is not an iPad.  It's not supposed to be one.  Every tech writer/blogger/news person that ran their mouth and kept asking/saying that the Kindle Fire was an iPad killer should be forced to pay a fine for making crap up (yes I know they do it anyway, but still.)  The Fire was never going to be an iPad killer.  It wasn't meant to be.  It is meant to be the next generation of the Kindle and be a media tablet, which I think it does well.  If you want a comparison of what it is like...think of it kinda like a larger iPod touch.

OK onto the issues:

Control responsiveness:
This is one of the most talked about issues with the device, I even mentioned it in my review.  Yes the controls are a bit buggy and sometimes it takes a few pokes to make it do what ya tell it to do.  Is it the biggest issue in the world? For me it's a bit of an annoyance because it takes a few extra seconds to get to where I want it to go, but it's not a huge turnoff (as it is for other people.)  It still works and I can get it to do what I need it to.  Supposedly a big fix is coming out in a week or two to help with this issue, which would be nice.

Location of the power button:
This has been the second biggest complaint that I've seen, especially recently, that it's too easy to turn off the device.  And that's not exactly true.  They make it sound like it shuts down completely and you have to wait for the thing to start back up, but it doesn't do that (at least not on mine.) What it does do is go into screen saver mode. You press the button again and boom you're back in.  To completely shut it down you have to hold the button and then it asks you if you're sure if you want to shut it down.  To me the location of the power button isn't an issue, especially since I have it on one of the sides so I can watch a movie, surf the web, or play Angry Birds.

Volume control:
Lately folks have been complaining that there isn't an external volume control.  And I'll be honest that just doesn't make much sense to me.  I find it much easier to have access to it on the screen itself and much easier to make sure I get the volume I like (and not accidentally hit a slider or something that changes it.)  For me it's the same as on my desktop computer at work, I change the volume via the control panel.

Some people have complained about the weight of the Kindle Fire saying it's too heavy, you can't hold it in one hand, etc.  And my response is 1) why would you want to hold it one hand? and 2) It's like a solid paperback book (think any of the Game of Thrones books by George RR Martin or one of the Codex Alera books by Jim Butcher.)  You have to use two hands to hold one of those books comfortably or lean it up against your lap and that's what I do with the Kindle.  It's a nice solid feel to it so that you don't worry that you're going to break it by poking at it to hard or carrying it around.

Browser Slowness:
When Amazon announced the Kindle Fire they hyped the Silk Browser and how fast it would be.  How fast it would be compared to what I don't remember and can't lay my hands on the information, but people have been complaining about it being slower than what they expected.  And for me what I notice is that it is a second or so slower than my desktop/laptop computer.  But it still loads pretty quickly and I can always get to what I need so it's not an issue for me.  (I have seen from tech sites that there is apparently some setting that maybe the cause of the slowness and if you turn it off it speeds it up a bit.)

Lack of Storage space:
OK I know this is one of the other biggest complaints/worries of folks, since the Fire only has about 6.25GB's of storage space on it.  And it is a bit disconcerting, but Amazon chose to use this as a chance to push their storage and other services.  So as long as you have WiFi and store your music in the Amazon cloud and stream videos it's really not that much of a problem. 
         And what if you travel?  Well you can download movies (at least from Amazon) and download a few CD's onto your device and it won't use up all of the space and keep you (or others) entertained for a while.  You can then always delete and reload new ones once you get someplace with WiFi access.  Is it a hassle to do that?  A bit.  And if you don't want to do that then it might be better to go with another device. 
          For me I like using Amazon's storage and the streaming so I don't need the storage and I'm generally some place where I have WiFi.  And yep I've downloaded stuff a couple of times to keep myself entertained on trips.
           a) one other possibility (and I haven't tried this yet so I have no idea if it works) is to try a portable HD to carry stuff around.  Still a bit of a pain, but it does have more space.)

The "fat finger" problem:
I've seen a few people complain about the size of the device/keyboard and how hard it is to type on it.  And to be honest that's the problem I had with devices like the iPod touch/iPhone.  Those devices was too small and my fingers feel fat against the keyboard (heck I thought the same thing about the Blackberry keyboard.)  But with the Fire I just flip it on the side and the keyboard is big enough for me to work with.  It still might be an issue for others, but I think they would have the same issue with other devices.

Carousel customization:
To me this is my biggest issue outside of the buggy controls.  The carousel is what you see when you start up and shows everything that you've looked at recently/used/downloaded.  And you can't edit it.  You can't get rid of the stuff that you've deleted or you just don't want on the front page.  For me I'd rather not have the carousel, but instead just have a bookshelf like screen (which appears below the carousel) where I can add favorites or just navigate otherwise. 
          Supposedly this is one of the issues they might be fixing in the update, but I can't find any firm confirmation on it.  Would I let this stop me from recommending the device?  No.  But if you're going to share the device with others you might want to be careful about what you download/use (yes there were complaints from people they didn't want their significant others to know what they were looking at.)

Netflix App:
Yes I've seen a few people complain about it.  Here's my simple response:  Netflix built the app.  Go complain to them.

Selection on Amazon Prime Videos:
Again I've seen a few people complain about this and honestly it makes no sense to me at all.  They complain that it doesn't have all of the episodes of a season and it doesn't have much as Netflix and I think there are two different issues here. 
  • One is if you purchased the Kindle Fire you got a free month of Amazon Prime and my thinking is that there maybe restrictions on what you can see as far as videos go (perhaps due to license agreements) that would make you not see all of the episodes of a season. I can't test this theory, but I can assure you that they didn't put up any partial seasons of shows and all of the episodes are on there.  
  • The second issue is the comparison to Netflix and my response is this: Netflix has been in the streaming game since 1997...Amazon since February of 2011.  And trust me their selection is better than it was when they started and they do have a good bit of content for streaming.  There's plenty of stuff to keep you entrained if you get a Prime account and want to stream movies.

I've seen other complaints ranging from privacy/parental controls--such as if you give the device to a kid they can buy stuff with one click that you don't want them too.  And for me I'm just going to say that I think these are personal preferences that you have to take into account when looking at the device.  If you have a kid you might not want to give them the device to play with (or let them play in the store.)

What the Fire does well is act as a media tablet, with the caveat to get the full use out of it you need WiFi and that you like the Amazon cloud for storing your music.  If you don't want something you need WiFi for and you don't like using Amazon for everything then this isn't the device for you.  But for me I do like Amazon.  I like the cloud storage they have, I already had Prime and loved it, and bottom line this device is exactly what I was looking for.  Something that was a combination of an iPod touch/Kindle reader that I could use to entrain myself while I traveled and still surf a bit on the web and not have to carry my laptop everywhere with me (at least as much as I can avoid it.) 

Bottom line I'd recommend this device (I already have to a few people.)  I think it works well for what it is, but you need to take into account what you want out of it and who you're buying it for.  You may also want to wait till the 2nd generation since they're sure to improve things a bit with that one (it's supposedly coming next year.)

25 November 2011

Book Review--Head First jQuery

Head First jQuery
Ryan Benedetti & Ronan Cranley

O’Reilly Publishing provided me access to an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

A basic introduction to jQuery and scripting

jQuery is fast becoming one of the most useful and popular JavaScript frameworks being used and being developed for future markets with jQuery mobile (see book review/blog post here.)  One of the best features of jQuery, in my opinion, is that it allows you to learn and use a scripting language that doesn't depend upon the browser develops to update their JavaScript libraries with each release of the browser---which often means that some of the selectors don't work right with all of the browsers (IE in particular.)  Instead jQuery is file that lives on a server somewhere that the webpage calls upon, much like how PHP works.  It's still a client side scripting language, but in some ways acts like a server side.  In this massive book (over 450 pages) and over 11 chapters the reader will learn how to download and setup jQuery and introduce the basics of jQuery. The later chapters briefly introduce AJAX, PHP, MySQL, JSON, and XML and how they work with jQuery to build a more interactive webpage. There also a couple of apendecies to help you get a test environment set up on your local computer.  One thing to note about this book is that you do need experience with webdesign and it does help to have some experience with scripting languages. 

One of the first things that stands out about this book (and the Head First series in general) is the bright, colorful, and plentiful images used to help illustrate concepts and how jQuery works.  They also provide illustrations on how to walk through the specific problem at hand, which is often nice to see in a visual format...even if it is just notes on a pad of paper.  The other highlight of the Head First series (and this book is no exception) is that it's written in a clear easy to understand language, it's written for the novice programmer--one that's still learning how programming works and for someone that's looking for an overview of the language.  In this book the authors give you a specific situation--a client wants work done on their website-- walk you through how to solve the problem step by step, and with illustrations to help you solve the problem.  This method can be a very helpful way to introduce aspects of jQuery as it walks through problems that you might encounter when building/developing your website and ways that jQuery can over come that problem. 

But like every "Head First" title the illustrations won't work for everyone.  I find it helps if you're coming from a nontraditional background or from a more creative bent (left brain.) And even then sometimes the images and graphics can be overwhelming, which is a problem that I find sometimes in this book.  I found that thT images, while helpful in the beginning, often start to become overwhelming as you get more and more into the problem being solved and make it a bit difficult at times to concentrate on following the step by step instructions. 

Overall this is a fairly good introduction book and easy to read if you're coming from a nontraditional programming background (and are left brain) then this might just be the book for you to learn more about scripting languages.  If you're more right brain then you might want to look for a more traditional book on jQuery, such as "Learning jQuery, Third Edition" from Pact.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

17 November 2011

Initial Kindle Fire impressions

I've had my Kindle Fire for just about a day now and thought I'd offer my initial impressions.

First, as so many others have said, if you're looking for a replacement for a laptop...don't.  This isn't meant to be that or an iPad killer (whatever that's supposed to mean.)  What it is meant to be is a solid little tablet that you can read, listen to music, watch videos, and surf the web a bit and it does this really well.

First off books:  I've only played with other ereaders before, but I really like how they display on the Fire.  The screen is easy to read on no matter where I've been (office/home/a bit outdoors) and it's easy to navigate through the pages.  I really enjoy how easy it is to find specific titles of new books and they offer some nice lists of top free books (mostly things out of copyright so a lot of classics) that are easy to get to.  I've also tested briefly and been able to access the books without wifi, even though they don't seem to be actually stored on the device (don't ask me how I'm not sure...)

One thing that I have been curious about is how comics/graphic novels would show up on an ereader, since so many of them weren't designed with the ereader in mind.  And I've tested it briefly and it isn't bad, but it's still not as good as having the actual book.  You have to double tap on images to get them to expand and then they're a bit blurry.  Not the fault of Amazon, just how the publisher encoded the books.  So for me, reading comics is still a bit of hit or miss on this device.

Movies: This was one of the features that intrigued me was being able to watch movies on the device and it works really well.  Clear, crisp colors, it displays well on the screen and it's easy to navigate through the Amazon library.  I've also tested the Netflix app (which is a bit buggy) but it worked well also.  The sound came out perfectly clear on this as well.  I can imagine using this feature anywhere where I can access wifi just to entertain myself for a bit.  I've not tried extensively with streaming sites, such as Hulu or the History channel, but brief test with free Hulu doesn't work on this device (not the fault of Amazon though...)

Music is easy to use and I love that it connects to the Amazon cloud.  It's easy to store all of your CD's there and purchase new ones and have access through one device instead of putting it on multiple.  If you're going somewhere without wifi though you'd have to download it to the device and that uses up storage so it's a bit of a mix there.  The sound quality for some of the songs that I listened to came out a bit tinny.  I'm not sure why it was different than the shows, but just something that I noticed.

The one thing that does bother me a bit is that there isn't much actual storage space on the device, especially if you want to download movies/music to use while you don't have wifi.  It's only about 6.5 gbs of free space which isn't a lot.  But the nice thing about the Fire is that as long as you have wifi you have access to the cloud so everything is there, which I actually like a lot since wifi is becoming more and more prevalent in the places that I visit.  Would it be nice if it had 3g? Yes, but then we wouldn't have gotten the price that we did.

I found it fairly easy to browse and surf the web and the speed was decent enough for what I was looking at.  I wasn't waiting more than 15 to 20 seconds for most pages to load and it was easy enough to make the page a bit bigger to look at the ext.

Since I'm a librarian I have to take a moment and look at it from a librarian perspective.  And for my two cents this is a great little device for a librarian to have handy (as long as your building has wifi.)  It's easy to browse and surf the web and would be a great little device to have handy while helping patrons in the stacks.  Not only that it's a nice device just to show people how ebooks work, what it's like to stream a movie or music from the cloud.  For my money it's a good device for a library to ease into the tablet market without spending too much.

My one issue is that the controls are a bit buggy sometimes.  I've having to press the button three or four times for it to actually go back, go home, or switch to a different menu.  I'm not sure why this happens, but judging from some of the other reviews and comments I've seen online I'm not the only one.  Perhaps this can just be a software fix somewhere along the way, but I wouldn't let that stop me from recommending this to someone.

This is a great product at a great price.  I had been looking at getting a Kindle or an ipod touch and this device is a good merger of the two.  Other than the somewhat buggy controls it works well, easy to handle, easy to navigate and fits my needs perfectly.

05 November 2011

Talk About a Library day

A couple weeks ago I posted about how libraries need to get better about not standing on the sidelines. So to put my foot where my mouth is or whatever phrase you want to use here's my idea: National (or International) talk about a library day.  We pick a day, say Wednesday January 18 2012, and spread the word.  So what is this National Talk about a library day?  Read on.

Now I know what you’re thinking that this is like National Library week or something like that, but it isn’t.  This isn’t where librarians and libraries talk about themselves.  Nope this is where our users, our patrons, the press, anyone that we can get ahold of will talk about libraries.  Even if it’s just for five minutes or ten minutes or all day, they’ll tell their audience/the world/space aliens/whomever what makes libraries shine for them.  Why do they use us?  What special memory do they have about the library?  Whatever they want to say.  This is the day that our users will talk about us to let the rest of the world know why they should care about us.  
I know that many of our patrons to talk about us anyway, but what about one day where the stories spread like wildfire.  How cool would it be to hear Jon Stewart share a story about libraries? Or see TechCrunch splash up a story about us on the main page?  Or the Mythbusters talk about us?  Or you local postal carrier? 

So who should you tell about International Talk About a Library Day?  Everyone.  Seriously.  
Think local:  newspaper, TV station, school newspaper, local bloggers
Think big: send it to national TV shows (Daily Show anyone?), blogs like Lifehacker, Techcrunch, the Pioneer woman, to twitter, to anywhere and everywhere that you can think of.

Librarians can talk all day about how great and awesome we are. Librarians can say all kinds of things to the administration to politicians, we can share numbers and statistics to the hills run with them, but the power of the voice is even better.  What we need though is our users, our patrons, the people that we serve every day to talk about us.

So what do y'all think? Can we make it happen?

Possible release to send out about
National Talk About a Library Day
Wednesday January 18, 2012.

Dear x (fill in with name group, whatever you like just be nice),

I know, I know y’all probably get emails like this all day long.  And nope this won’t require any money, just a few minutes of your time so please read through (trust me it will be worth your while.)

I’m writing about "National Talk About a Library Day.”  That’s right, talk about a library.  I know, I know you’re probably thinking it doesn’t fit your blog/tv show/whatever, but here’s the thing...it does.  Libraries are a universal place.  You go anywhere and you’ll find one, even if it’s a burro carrying around a sack of books.  Think about the impact that your local library had on you. On your family. On your children.  I don’t need to remind you about it, because its already jumped into your head.  

And this is what National Talk About a Library Day is all about.  A chance for you to share with your audience your favorite memory about libraries or what you like about them or the impact they’ve had in your life.  Whatever you choose.  Even if all you can spare is 5 minutes or one tweet or one blog post, tell your audience.  Tell the world.  

06 October 2011

An open letter

October 6, 2011
Online world

Dear Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Harper Collins, Ebrary, EBSCO, and any other publisher/vendor dealing in ebooks (which is probably a good number of y'all),

I'm sure by now you all are tired of hearing from libraries and librarians about ebooks.  I mean I don't even really need to list what's been said about y'all do I?  But I want to take a bit of a different tact so please do keep reading.

First of all let's just go ahead and agree that both sides--publishers/vendors and libraries/librarians--need to work together on this, because neither of us can live without the other.  And yes I said that you need us.  Because let's go ahead and be honest when someone gets confused about how their ereader works, how to get library ebooks on it, how to use the thing...who do they really come to?  That's right, they very often come and visit their local library.  They know (or figure) that we should know how the thing works and also be able to recommend more great books to them.  And where would these folks find out about more books without us?  But we need y'all as well.  Ebooks, whether people like it or not, are a big part of the future of library world and y'all make them.  So we need to work together on this.

So what now?  Well how about we come up with a couple of compromises for both sides here.

I'll start with the library side first.
1)Getting paid and how often:
OK I'll admit HarperCollins had a good point a while back about ebooks not wearing out like regular books and the desire to get paid again, just as if a replacement copy had been ordered.  I'll also state that the checkout limitation was completely and utterly ludicrous.  So why not come up with something different?

How about an annual charge for the books.  And no I don't mean the full cost or limitations on how many times it can be checked out.  Let's just talk strictly about books that are in the $8-$25 range, which are popular books, best sellers, stuff that a large number of people are likely to read.  What about an annual fee (after the first year) per book of .50-$2.00 depending upon the retail price of the book?  That way a library has it for a year, they get a chance to look at the circulation of it and decide whether or not they want to keep it, kinda of like we do now.  If they do keep it they pay a small charge and it goes to you.

Now granted we get a lot of things through packages through vendors so things might need to change there as well (with vendors offering the chance to switch out books perhaps,) but that can be a conversation down the line.

2) Data
Let's just go ahead and be honest we all know that you collect data (some of you a bit more than others.)  And libraries are loathe to get up lots of data, because we try to protect our patrons.  But what if we compromise a bit? Let's strip out the patron name and the street address out of the data.  That way you can't associate it with one person and if the government decides to go crazy, you don't have that information to give them.  You still get some info that's useful to you and we make sure that we continue to protect our patrons privacy.

What you need to change:
1) Format, and this is the big one:
This idea that you'll only provide ebooks in one format or your ebook reader will only read one format it's ludicrous.  Y'all are acting like this is the battle between Beta player and VHS instead of what it really is, a battle between Sony and Samsung players.

Look the format is already out there, epub, just go ahead and use it.  Let people read their books on whatever device they have and not trying to force them into having only your device and no other.  DVD's companies don't do this.  I mean seriously can you imagine the chaos if you had to have 10 different DVD players to enjoy your favorite movie?

I get it, really I do.  You want to get people to buy your device.  But why not get them to buy your device based upon what it offers, not that they have to buy their books just from you.  And for their books?  Let them come to you because they know what service that you offer and the price that you can offer on ebooks.  Because come on now, they're buying their ebooks based on that anyway.

1a)Vendors and ebook readers:
This is a subset of the first conversation, but y'all seriously? You're going to let us buy ebooks and then say "sorry you can only read it on the computer."  That kind of defeats the purpose of an ebook, you know that right?  So let's start making it so that we can read ebooks on ebook readers without having to download a piece of software that doesn't work on every ebook read (looking at one of you in particular here.)  We can find a way to make it work.  You know it. I know it. So let's make it happen.

2) Talk to us:
And yes I mean really go out there and talk to us.  And no the librarians that are on you staff don't count.  Nothing against them, but once they start working for you doesn't that kinda of limit their experience with interacting with patrons on a daily basis?  Form a group.  Include people that you know are pissed off at you, but are reasonable (yes there are some out there.)  Get our input.  Include the input of your customer base.  Share it.

We can't exist in a bubble and it's time we both stopped living in aspects of them.

Now I'm only one librarian and I can't speak for them all so this is just me talking.  But let's just keep talking and see where it goes?  What do you say?
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04 October 2011

Book Review--HTML5: The Missing Manual

A basic introduction to HTML5

HTML5:  The Missing Manual
Matthew MacDonald

O’Reilly Publishing provided me access to an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

When I start looking at books on programming languages, such as HTML5, I look for a few different things.  1) Easy to read and understand language
2) Clear cut, easy to follow (and correct) examples of code
3) Good additional resources to look at
4) Layout and organization of chapters and subtopics flows well
5) And depending upon the language, an in-depth look at how it works.
While this book doesn't offer an in-depth look at every aspect of HTML5 (it is meant for beginners) it does meet the first three criteria that I look for and mostly meets the clear organizational path.

This book doesn't give an in-depth look at HTML5 because what Matthew is trying to do is provide a basic introduction to the various tools and components of HTML5 and how you might be able to use them in your day-to-day work.  And this is where the book excels.  Matthew breaks down the book into three broad themes (meet the new language, creating modern webpages, building web apps with desktop smarts) and further broken down into 12 chapters on each of these broader themes.  Plus he includes a great 4th section with appendices and other additional resources and real world examples of code in use.

In the first section Matthew does a great job of explaining how HTML5 came into being versus the continuation of XHTML and how W3C works to approve code.  This is important to understand in the context of this book as not every standard developed by the committee or shown in this book works with every browser at this time (there is at least one that only works with one browser thus far.)  Matthew does a good job of letting the reader know which standard will work with which browsers and when, if ever, the standard might be widely adapted.  He also does a good job of breaking down the various standards that have the most real world use in building webpages, such as the discussion on semantic tags in Chapter 2.  Matthew provides clear cut examples of code and explains how you might be able to use them.

03 October 2011

Why do we fall?

I love "Batman Begins".  Not just because it brought Batman back to life in the movies, but because of a line that Alfred Peenyworth says to Bruce Wayne: "Why do we fall sir? So we might learn to pick ourselves up." 

I mean seriously, just how awesome is that line?  Ole Alfred isn't talking about the physical fall, but the mental fall as well.  And boy do I need to remember that line a lot these days.  I keep falling over broken promises, perceived slights from others, and goals that I set for myself.  I keep letting myself be overcome by the stupid and worrying over the things that I can't change.  And I've got to remember, to pick myself back up, dust off my clothes, and go back to being the kick ass person I know I am, both professionally and personally.
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Where do we go from here?

I've seen quite a few things recently about the future of libraries...ok almost everything I see is about the future of libraries and how we're either in competition with Amazon, Google is going to kill libraries,  Amazon is destroying us, or some unknown alien race is going to show up and displace libraries and librarians with their galactic encyclopedia.  And all of this is interesting...but why do we keep worrying about who or what we're in competition with?  Yes there are a lot of different places that offer some of the same services that we do, but there's nothing that offers everything that we do.  We keep talking about how libraries aren't just the brick and mortar buildings, that we're the resources, we're the digital, and most importantly we're the people who can help our users find what they need.  That we're all of these different things that work together to become an integral part of the community.  That we know the people that come in our library by name.  That we know what resources they need.

Well can Amazon offer that?  Can Google offer it?  No they can't.  They can make recommendations via computer algorithms, but they can't be everything that a library can be.  They don't have people there to ask them how they're doing or how their pet is.  Or know their homework assignment because they talked to the professor or teacher last week.  These businesses, these companies, these aliens, these whatever can only do part of what we do.  We can do so much more.

Can we learn from these companies though? Sure.  1st lesson:  Apple, Amazon, Google and the others didn't get to where they were by coming out in public and wailing that the next company over was going to put them out of business.  They looked at the world around them and said "f'it.  we can do better than that" (not a direct quote by the way) and went out and made it better.  So what do we do?  We go out and make it better (which we have been doing.)  We've just got to start following the 2nd lesson which is...

2nd lesson:  Amazon, Apple, and Google didn't stand on the sidelines and mumble about how they did it better.  They shouted it from the rooftops and didn't let themselves be pushed out of the way.   So let's stop spending our energy on worrying how x is going to put us out of business and start focusing on learning from them and improving what they can offer.  So that we can better serve our community.  Our users.  Those people that we know by name (even if we sometimes wish we didn't.) 

3rd lesson:   Stop letting other people take credit for the things that we've done and show our users, show the people that fund us just how great we really are.  Talk to the press, tell them what we're doing, what we've done and how we've influenced the world. We've got to stop doing things the same way and go out there and promote ourselves. 

It's a new age and we're not going anywhere.  Let's show the world that.

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22 September 2011

Book Review--Book of Ruby

The Book of Ruby: A Hands-On Guide for the Adventurous
by Huw Collingbourne
No Starch Press 2011

O’Reilly Publishing provided me access to an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Thanks to Ruby on Rails, the Ruby programming language is one of the most popular languages at the moment to learn.  But according to the author you can't just jump into Rails without first learning a bit of Ruby and thus this book was born.  This book was written and developed for the novice to learn the basics of how Ruby works and what some of it's pitfalls are.  The author points out in the introduction that although Ruby may look deceptively simple to learn, it really isn't and it is his hope to help people navigate and learn this complex language.  This massive book (over 400 pages) is broken down into 20 chapters each on specific topic of Ruby (such as strings and ranges) and then further broken down into subtopics on the main topic, with screenshots and examples of the language scattered throughout to better help the reader place into context what the code should look like.

First I should say I'm not an experienced programmer (I've been learning the languages but don't have a chance to use them as often as I'd like.)  So what I'm looking for and got out of this book may be different than what others are for.  I'm looking at this book as a way to pick up some of the basics of Ruby to get started with, how it compares with other languages, and what the biggest headaches are about it--so I can't speak to whether or not there are better (or perhaps more standard) ways of preforming the same function/example that others maybe able to.  What I can say is that, at least the beginning of the book, gave me a good feel for some of the things that the language can do and what the code might look like in the real world (or at least how to recognize that the code I'm looking at is Ruby.)  Huw's writing style is written to be more non-technical than some other programming books so it's relatively easy for the novice to understand and follow along.  The later chapters however, didn't give as much information on a topic as I would have liked, such as the chapter on debugging.  I get that Huw was just trying to give an introduction to the concept, but I think it deserved longer treatment, especially since it's a book for the novice and this seems like an important part of getting Ruby working correctly.

The other thing that really bothers me about the book is how comments are done in the coding examples in the book.  They are written just like you would find them in real world code, but for me it was confusing at times and just added to the jumble especially when they came on each line.  I just wanted to be able to focus on walking through the Ruby code and not figure out the annotations at that moment.  Perhaps if it had been a different color it would have helped or if it was explained beneath the example (as other programming books have done), but as is some of the coding examples were less than helpful.  So while the beginning of the book provided a somewhat useful introduction on Ruby and what it could do, I know that I can get the same information and examples that are more beneficial to my learning style through some online tutorials and in other books.

If you do well with having a printed book next to you to help you learn a new language then at least the first part of the book might be useful to you.  If you're already an experienced programmer or have a bit of Ruby knowledge then you might get better value at looking at online tutorials/schools or other more in depth books.  I will say for me that if I hadn't been provided a review copy of the book I wouldn't have picked the book up and I won't be buying it for my library as I think that are books better suited for my students learning style (and with more information) than this one.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program
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16 July 2011

Book Review--jQuery Mobile

jQuery Mobile
by Jon Reid
O’Reilly 2011

O’Reilly Publishing provided me access to an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Mobile technology is developing at a rapid pace.  Where once people accessed content via mobile webpages they now want to access content via mobile appls.  And for designers this poses a major problem.  How do you design an app that works on all platforms?  Do you pick one and hope for the best? Or do you design for them all?  Thankfully a new option is being developed.  jQuery Mobile, based upon the popular jQuery library, is a package currently being developed that will work on all platforms with no extra programming knowledge needed.  And I for one am really impressed with how easy and simple it is to develop with the current package of jQuery Mobile.  It’s clear that the programmers have put a lot of thought into making it as easy as possible to use, especially since it comes with a CSS style sheet and icons built into the package.

This jQuery Mobile guide may seem short at a 130 pages, but packs a lot of useful content.  The jQuery Mobile package is currently in beta 1 (the book covers alpha 4) and is based upon HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript.  Jon states in the introduction this book works best if you’re already have basic familiarity with mobile browsers, the jQuery library, and basic designing for mobile webpages.  Jon provides copious screen shots and sections of code so that the reader can easily see how the package works and how to design their own apps based upon the jQuery package.  The book talks you through the basics of beginning with the package to building a working application that utilizes the Twitter API to design a working jQuery Twitter client that incorporates multiple pages and UI components.  My only real complaint about the book is that there's no index.  But if you're using the ebook version of the book it's easy enough to search and find what you need.

Basically if this your first dive into designing and developing with jQuery you may want to supplement the book with a jQuery guide (great documentation on the web or using something like "jQuery: Novice to Ninja" or "Learning jQuery 1.3"--a bit older but still good content.)  The book dives right into working with the code which is a great way to learn, especially since the author provides lots of examples of how to build the code and what it looks like on the mobile platform.  The book is written in an easy to understand format and that as long as you have some knowledge of how jQuery works you’ll have no trouble following along. 

I’m impressed with how well this short book is written.  It’s easy to use and easy to follow along.  My one note of concern (as some other reviewers have noted as well) is that the book is based upon the Alpha 4 release and we’re now into the Beta 1 release of the program.  That being said I would still recommend this book as a way to get a good idea of what can be done with package.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program
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11 July 2011

Book Review--Creating a Website, the Missing Manual

Creating a Website the missing manual, Third edition
by Matthew MacDonald
O’Reilly 2011

O’Reilly Publishing provided me access to an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Matthew writes this book as if the reader has no previous experience with coding and even no experience with really understanding how the web works, i.e. how servers render webpages and understanding how a URL works.  So if you have lots of experience with these areas then this book probably isn’t for you.  If however, you’ve never designed a webpage before or it’s been a long time since you’ve coded this is the book that you want to pick up.  The book is divided into five parts:

  1. Welcome to the web--which covers the basics of how the web works, basic HTML, and uploading your webpage to the web
  2. Building better webpages--covers how to use CSS, add images to the website, and creating pages
  3. Connecting with your audiences
  4. Website Frills--learning and using JavaScript for basic tasks
  5. Appendixes

So by the end of the book the reader is able to know how a webpage works, design their own basic one (and know some good practices for doing so), and learning a little bit beyond the basics with JavaScript.  The book is also accompanied by a website for future updates and an appendixes with online resources for learning more HTML and websites mentioned in the chapters for finding additional resources.

Having previous experience designing webpages I started reading and reviewing this book as a chance to find a guide that would be a handy reference or a bit of a refresher course when my mind decided to go to sleep.   The good:  Each chapter is written in a clear, easy to understand format that covers the basics of getting started.  The bad:   I did have a few problems with some of the information given and how it was worded.  First is that it seems jumpy in some places, he wants you to swim before you can walk.  For example, he starts off with saying create your first webpage and see how it looks in the browser before really discussing how everything is set up.  I get that he wants to provide an example, but I would have told them to take a look at a simple webpage and pointed out the elements to the page first.

He also doesn’t really cover some of the basic programs well, such as FTP applications and text editors.  With FTP programs he just hopes that you’re web provider lets you do it via the browser.  For text editors he only highlights three free programs and misses some really popular ones, such as TextWrangler, textpad+++, or NetBeans.  He also seemed to indicate that the pay ones were better if you were doing more complicated things, which just isn’t quite true.  It was just a bit disappointing to me perhaps, because I come with experience with webdesign.  That being said for someone that is a complete novice at webdesign the book does cover the basics well so that anyway, even a person that has just started using a computer the week before, could pick up the book and begin building a webpage.

Even though it does have a few problems, it’s still a good basic book for the beginner or a good refresher for someone that hasn’t done webpage design in a while.  If you’re looking to get into depth with CSS or JavaScript I would recommend one of O’Reilly’s other books, such as CSS: The Definitive Guide or Head First JavaScript.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

03 July 2011

Google+, Google's social something

Just this past week Google launched Google+, their much hyped/talked about answer to Facebook/Twitter/Myspace...basically every social networking site out there.  And of course the web world has gone wild with either calling it absolutely brilliant, saying its too much like Facebook, its not enough like Facebook, or that it's absolute crap and rubbish.

I was lucky enough to get in (thanks Laura B) and here's what I think:  It's too early to pass judgement on it.  Seriously its a week old, yes there are going to be growing pains.  There have already been a couple and the Google+ team has worked quickly to fix them.  I'm not saying give them all time before you pass judgement, but two days after it launches in private beta is a bit early to decide where it falls in the technical world.

Personally I think we've started to judge things too quickly.  We instantly want to compare everything to Facebook or Twitter and point out what the competition does and doesn't do just like them.  But I think we forget that Facebook had a couple of years to build up to what it is now, I mean it was closed off to just University students when it first started.  And Twitter?  Let's not forget that when it first made the main stream with news networks and athletes using it, the service crashed every other day.  And that was just two years ago!  And yet it's still here.

If it doesn't work for you that's fine.  But so far I like, I'm going to give it a shot before I make up my mind completely.

29 June 2011

The rest of the year...

Half of the year is almost over and I have trouble believing that...mostly because there are quite a few things that I thought I'd be done with by now, but aren't.  But life gets in the way sometimes.  But...I still want to make some changes in my life.  I want to actually accomplish a few things before the year ends.  And to that end I'm blogging about it.  Not that it will really interest anyone, but perhaps it will help hold me accountable. 

So to that end here's what I want to accomplish by the end of the year (some of the goals are actually just tweaks to my schedule, but it will help me down the line...)

  • I want to do at least 5 hours of coding/technical/systems things a week (and no I'm not counting work).  A few weeks ago I blogged that I wanted to take my career in this direction and this will help me towards that step (I hope).
  • I want to devote at least one day a month to doing art.  I miss doing it.  I have so many things that I want to do with it...so at least one day a month I'll pull out the pencils and markers and have fun.
  • I want to write one article before the end of the year.  I have one in mind and I just need to sit down and actually do it and stop thinking about it.  No idea if it will get published, but I'll give it my best shot.
  • I want to start working on a graphic novel.  I've had a few ideas scattered about in my head and I just need to sit down and actually do something with them instead of letting them run away.  Who knows if anything will come of it, but I hope to have some fun with it.
  • I want to do at least 5 hours of exercise a week.  I need to get in better shape and I nee to feel better about myself.
  • Random one: I want to get into the Amazon vine reviewers program.
  • And probably the most important one...I need to stop thinking about work when I leave work.  I need to leave problems, solutions, and whatever else at work.  I'll still do professional reading at home and what not, but I need to stop taking work "life" home with me.
So those are things that I want to work on these last 6 months of the year.  Now to get started on making them happen.

27 June 2011

Website and Blog redesign

If you've looked at my blog or website recently you may have noticed a few changes...because yes I've refreshed the design on both again (I think the last time I did this was about two years ago).  And just as a way to share and document my thought process, I thought I'd write out why I did what I did.

Blog redesign:

When I redesigned the blog two years ago Blogger templates were...shall we say lacking?  You couldn't really do much with the basic template designer they had, it was a bit of a pain to try to customize it, and you had to play with a whole heck of a lot of code to get it to do what you wanted to do.  So I went outside Blogger and found a third party template that looked and worked like I wanted it too. 

But over the last two years Blogger has really improved their template designer to the point where they have a lot of different options, including many that I was looking for--pages, multiple columns, columns in the footer, etc.  Even better they've made it so that you don't have to mess about with the CSS to get everything that you were looking for (you can though if you need to and even better they have an option where you can add CSS without having to go in and mess up the template.)  It's also a whole heck of a lot easier to change colors, backgrounds, and so many other options.  So that's one reason why I switched templates and went back to the Blogger template designer. 

Another reason for the switch is that as Blogger made these improvements it was becoming really complicated to use the third party template with these new options and getting them to work right.  So in an effort to preserve my sanity I switched back...it will also make updating and being able to take advantage of new features easier in the future.

And a final reason for switching back, Blogger recently introduced mobile designs of the blog.  Not all templates have customized ones (this one doesn't) but every template has a basic one that it will default to, which is a really nice thing to have without having to do a bunch of extra code or plugins.

I'm still tweaking it a bit, but I'm mostly happy with it.

Webpage redesign:

When I redesigned my webpage a couple of years ago it was to take advantage of creating one page and using JavaScript to switch out the divs (also because my first webpage was pretty horrible on the eyes.)  And while I liked what the JavaScript could do...it was just a bit messy compared to some of the stuff that jQuery can do now.  So I took advantage of some of what I've learned in the past year to use jQuery and to also spend some time cleaning up the code (it was just a wee bit messy and was hard to follow in some cases.)

One of the things that I wanted to use jQuery for was to clean up the tabs at the top and how they transitioned.  I also wanted to do something about the presentation page because it was getting really long and a bit messy looking.  So instead of reinventing the wheel I found some guides and tutorials online for people that had already created some tab structures with CSS that I liked.  While I could have written out the code (and will in future projects) what I wanted to with the presentation page was beyond anything I've done in the past so it was important to me to look at options that were out there.

With the tabs at the top I knew the basics of what I wanted which was something similar to what I had before, but with a cleaner transition.  And after looking at a few different ones I found this tutorial and code that was exactly what I was looking for, at least as far as the transitions and feel went.  I had to adapt the CSS structure to do what I wanted and work within the website template that I have and I had the help of a colleague to write and if/else statement for the jQuery code so that I could have the last tab on the page and go directly to my blog (the way the code is written it just wanted to switch divs and I really wanted it to be a direct link.)  It works pretty well although I still need to do some tweaking to it, but overall I'm happy.

Even more important to me though was doing something about the presentation page because that was getting nasty looking and hard to find the presentations.  So I figured there had to be a way to use jQuery to have one box and a slider that would transition from one section to the next and I found this nice little tutorial that was exactly what I was looking for.  Now it may not work in a couple year's time (especially if I keep adding to the number of presentations that I've done), but it works well for what I need now and I didn't really have to adapt it too much...although I may tweak it a little bit here and there.

With this redesign I also really wanted to clean up the code, especially the CSS, because I didn't do that well the last time I updated the page.  I had outdated CSS from the first webpage, things that I had tried and decided not to do, I had trouble following my own divs...in short it was just messy.  So I cleaned it up line by line and added some comments into the code just to make sure that I closed all of the divs and later on I can look back and see what goes where.  I know there are other ways to do this, but that's the one that worked the best for me.

It was a fun project to work on and a chance to practice some new skills that I had learned..and hopefully in another couple of years I'll have even more skills to show off.

26 May 2011

Musings on ebooks

Even though I've posted a couple of times about ebooks, I'm by no means an expert.  If you want one of those take a look at Librarian in Black or Andy Woodworth or Jason Griffey.  Me? I just have an opinion on what I like and don't like.  And really I don't like the fact that most of the publishers seem to be living in the confines of the 16th century.  But instead of ranting about what publishers aren't doing I thought I'd point out the one publisher that I've noticed that is actually living in the present.  

I've been doing book reviews for O'Reilly's blogger program in part because I like O'Reilly's books (one of the best computer science publishers out there in my opinion) but more than that, because of there stance on ebooks  for personal use. (I make the distinction because they do have a database platform for libraries, but I'm not discussing that here)

For starters they make this statement when you look at your account:
You get lifetime access to ebooks you purchase through oreilly.com. Whenever possible we provide them to you in five DRM-free file formats — PDF, ePub, Kindle-compatible .mobi, DAISY, and Android .apk — that you can use on the devices of your choice. Our ebooks are enhanced with color images, even when the print version is black and white. They are fully searchable, and you can cut-and-paste and print them. We also alert you when we've updated your ebooks with corrections and additions.
First off notice that statement in bold.  Lifetime access.  No cut offs, no you can only download this x number of times and then you have to buy it again.  Lifetime.  Your computer crashes and burns, download the book again.  Need it at work? Download it again.  Need I say more?

Then notice that second statement:  "Whenever possible we provide them to you in five DRM-free file formats — PDF, ePub, Kindle-compatible .mobi, DAISY, and Android .apk."  Now they can't always do this, and I can look at books that I've bought and sometimes there are only two formats available (or just one) but I'm almost always finding at least the PDF format that I can take anywhere.  And no DRM.  None.  Any device that I have that can read PDF can read the file.

And even better when you purchase a physical copy of a book they give you the option of upgrading to an ebook for $5. (I think it should be for free, but still...how many other publishers are doing this?)   Think about that...for $5 more you get the physical book and the ebook.  And the ebook you can have access to anywhere in the world and you don't have to worry about it being destroyed.  How cool is that?

The only real compliant I have is the cost of the ebook, but...I get it they have to make a living so I won't discuss it.

Now surely this cost O'reilly a bit of extra time and a bit of extra money to do this, so why would they?  And here I'm just speculating, but could it be because they realize not all of their readers are alike?  Yes it's a technology company, but they publish books that anyone can use.  Guides to how to use software or operating systems, the Missing Manual series, and even books on public speaking.  They get that their readers are coming from all walks of life and have different ideas of how they want to access their books and they don't want to be limited to one device.  They are thinking about the future and what they can do to make their customers happy so that they keep coming back again and again (and yes the quality of the book matters as well, but so doe this.) 

So why won't other publishers do this?  You know...I'm not really sure.  Sure it might cost them a bit more, but what does it cost them in customer loyalty?  What does it cost them to aggravate their users who can't read in the format they want it in or on the device they want it on? I wonder...

23 May 2011

Unconferences Presentation Recording

Last Wednesday (5/18) I did a webinar on Unconferences for the GLA Carterette Series and just for those of you that are interested below is my slidedeck and a link to the recorded session (where you can hear just how goofy I really sound.)  More than happy to answer questions so feel free to ask.

Link to recorded session.

You can find other sessions from the Carterette webinar series here, which includes some great presentations by Robin Fay, Sarah Steiner, Jason Puckett, Emily Almond (who did a fantastic presentation the same day I did mine), and more great presenters so go take a look...you might find one that catches your eye.

22 May 2011

Where I want to go

I've been reflecting on where I want to take my library career in the future and at the same time looking at what I've done in the past.  So these are my musings/thoughts/ramblings/something about where I've been and where I'd like to go (or at least where I'm thinking of going.)

My career in libraries began back in undergraduate at Dacus Library, Winthrop University.  I was a student assistant with something like 6 hours a week (half of which in the beginning I spent cleaning out toner bottles) my freshman year and by the time I graduated 4ish years later I was the weekend supervisor working 20 hours a week.  I should have known then that the library world wouldn't let me go, but I was foolish and looked elsewhere for a MA in Art History.  Even while working on that one of the Art History professor's suggested I get the MLIS...but did I listen?  Nope...at least not at the time.  After I abandoned the MA in Art History I decided to get a job a job back in the library world, this time as a staff person.

So I headed to Johns Hopkins University as the Weekend/Evening Support Services person...which basically meant if it was related to the stacks, building, copiers, or problem patrons I got to deal with it.  And I loved the variety of the job!  I got to do so many different things from dealing with building issues, to training students, to dealing with malfunctioning copiers and everything in between.  I was never bored...but I hated the fact that I couldn't actually make any changes.  I didn't have that piece of paper that said MLIS on it.  So...after almost 2 years at Hopkins I headed to University of South Carolina to get my MLIS through their distance education program. 

I worked on my MLIS at USC and worked a couple of PT jobs, including one as a reference assistant at USC Upstate.  And here one of the reference librarians suggested that I focus on technology, since it was something that I seemed to enjoy so much and I was always trying out new things online.  Did I listen?  Nope...not really (notice a reoccurring pattern here?)  I finished my MLIS in a year so I could have the shiny piece of paper and I didn't really consider what it was that I wanted to do other than be a librarian and the only thing I was sure of is that I didn't want to work in cataloging.  With that grand plan in mind I secured a job working at Tarver Library, Mercer University.

I've blogged before about my job at Tarver.  I've been Circulation/Interlibrary Loan Librarian, Learning Commons/Emerging Technologies/Interlibrary Loan Librarian, and my current job title Emerging Technologies & Services/Interlibrary Loan Librarian.  And I like this last iteration of my job title the most.  I have the most chance to play and try new things...most of the time at least.  And of course there are projects that I have to get done and sometimes they end up taking more time and energy than I would like, but that's part of work right? 

But...over the last few years I'm starting to think the librarian at USC Upstate had the right idea.  My passion is technology.  Not just the systems aspect of it (which I've gotten to do a bit of) and coding, but how patrons use it.  How do they use the computers we have, where do they sit to use their laptops, what can we do to improve all of this?  And this is where I want to take my career.  I love some of the flexibility that I have at my current job, but I don't get to play with technology every day (and yes my job title is Emerging Technologies)...I want to take my career more towards the systems side of things or a job where I can have more of an impact with how patrons use the technology we have (and I have some of this at my current position, just not as much as I'd like.)

And even though occasionally a job pops up that I never considered before, like working at the Smithsonian or something that has nothing to do with technology, my passion really is that.  I've been spending more time trying to improve my technology skills by:
  • doing some basic HTML/CSS coding just to keep my skills up
  • Improving my PHP/MySQL 
  • Improving my Javascript/jQuery 
  • Picking up new languages, like python and django
  • Figuring out how to install and use so many of the different free programs out there
  • Thinking of new ideas...
  • I'm thinking about getting a master's in computer science (or IT)...once I find fuding
 and I'm keeping my eyes open for other opportunities.  And that's where I am at the moment.

Book Review--Book of CSS3

Book of CSS3  
by Peter Gasston
No Starch Press 

I was provided access by O'Reilly Publishing to an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Peter writes the book as if you already have experience using and understanding basic CSS concepts and HTML, so if you're looking for a book to teach you CSS then you'll want a different guide.  If however, you want a book that shows you some of the features of CSS3 you're in the right place.  Peter has been writing about CSS3 for over 5 years and in this book he covers some features of CSS3.  Each chapter covers a new feature of CSS3, how to use it in clear and easy to understand code to follow, and which browsers currently support the feature.  Some of the features covered include media queries--which is useful in designing websites for both full screen and mobile use; using gradients with color backgrounds; and 3D transformation, such as having an image rotate around an axis.  The book is also accompanied by a website for future updates and an appendix with online resources to use, learn, and test CSS3.

I really like how this book is written and laid out.  Peter does a good job of explaining in simple, easy to understand language what's going on with the feature being discussed and how to replicate the feature using the code provided in the examples.  He walks through it step by step, explaining it in simple easy to understand language--no deciphering of incomprehensible technical speak here.  While he can't highlight every feature, Peter has chosen the ones that are likely to be most useful at this time (and are the most developed/accepted), such as media queries for mobile use, the transitions and animations, gradients, etc.  The appendixes are also helpful as one covers what features are supported by what browsers (even though this duplicates what's at the end of the chapters it's nice to have it one place) and an appendix on various web tools that help you generate code as well as test it.

Even though not all of the features can be used at the time, its still a useful book and a handy reference to have around.  Highly recommend it.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

17 May 2011

Unconference Webinar by me

A bit late...but I'm doing a webinar on unconference's tomorrow for the GLA Carterette Series tomorrow (May 18).  It's completely free and you can still register and attend.  The pertinent information is listed below:

(borrowed from: http://gla.georgialibraries.org/mediawiki/index.php/Carterette_Series_Webinars)

Unconference Planning
Presented by Andrew Shuping
May 18, 2011

(Separate registration is required for each hour-long session.)
Unconference Planning: Have you heard about unconferences? No idea what they are or why they’re different from regular conferences? Are you interested in knowing more? Come find out what an unconference is, ways to organize it, and what the benefits are for having an unconference vs. a conference.
Officially, Andrew Shuping is the Emerging Technologies & Services/ILL Librarian at Jack Tarver Library, Mercer University in Macon, GA, but he is also in charge of various other things, both official and unofficial. He's been involved in libraries for over 10 years and is constantly keeping an eye out for new ways to make use of technology to serve libraries. Andrew owns two mischievous cats, orders graphic novels for the library, and is an avid reader of sci-fi. He can be found on various social networks as ashuping, and his webpage can be found at http://ashuping.net.

15 May 2011

Book Review--Javascript: The Definitive Guide the 6th Edition

Javascript: The Definitive Guide the 6th Edition
by David Flanagan
O'Reilly Press  2011

I was provided access by O'Reilly Publishing to an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

This is an updated edition to the classic reference book on Javascript to include new information on new standards (such as HTML5 and CSS3), conventions, and frameworks.   Although it is possible to learn Javascript from this book, its really meant more as a reference guide and an explanation of how and why Javascript works the way it does.  For example, the 1st chapter explains in some detail how Javascript works on the client side and how each of the following chapters will relate to this.  The book includes numerous examples of codes to illustrate the concepts and explains the concepts in a clear, easy to follow fashion that doesn't require a degree in astrophysics to understand.

As I said it's not really a book to learn Javascript from, for that I would recommend something like "Head First Javascript" (also by O'Reilly press.)  What I do really like about this book is that it is comprehensive in what is possible with Javascript.  While it may not cover the concept in depth, such as the chapter on Jquery, it does give a starting point to the concept.  I know it sounds odd, but I really liked the index.  It is completely through and easy to find the concept or word that I need to make something work correctly in whatever I'm writing.  It's even better with the book because of the hyperlinks that take you right to the section.

My advice? Buy the ebook version, it's much easier to search and to follow to specific links vs. trying to find the stuff in the print edition.  Even better, O'Reilly provides multiple formats of the book to suit your needs.  Overall, it's a good handy reference to have around to answer questions and introduce new concepts.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

19 April 2011

The failure of the script

I think we all use a script at some point or another in our life.  We use them to help us with interviews, to help us with a certain scenario, for training purposes, or just to make sure that we give everyone the exact same information.  I've given scripts to my staff before to help them in dealing with specific situations and what to say.  Scripts can be really helpful, but equally important is knowing when to go off of the script.

Recently I had two poor experiences where I was dealing with a representatives from different companies and their failure to break away from the script.  I have no idea why they didn't I can only speculate that they didn't know how or they weren't empowered to do so.

Here's the first situation:
I have Cox Communications as my internet provider.  Recently I got the monthly bill and was shocked to find it was higher than it had been the last month.  I called and spoke to a representative who was clearly working off of a script to deal with angry customers like myself.  She informed me that yes it went up and yes they had sent out a notice in the previous month's bill that explained the increase.  And this is where the script began failing.  I told her I didn't get that notice and all she did was repeat the same statement back to me.  Every statement I made after that, including where I said I'm going to start looking to take my business elsewhere, was met with a minute long pause as she tried to find some place in the script that worked.  Only it didn't.  She couldn't find anything that ever dealt with the statements that I was making.  I didn't really expect her to solve my problem or even really offer a solution (although it would have been nice.)  What I really wanted was her to sympathize or try to find someone else that could help me solve the problem or even at the very least notate somewhere that something had failed and I wasn't notified. But none of this was offered.  Even when I said I was hanging up she was still trying to find a place in the script.

The second situation:
I use Amazon....a lot (no that's not really surprising, but still.)  Recently I was looking at all of the purchases I've ever made on Amazon and something strange was happening.  When I started getting to years where I had a number of orders their system kept returning the wrong number of results.  It would tell me I had made 14 orders, but would display a lot more.  Or then it would say it was 26 but when I went to the second page it would say 13 and would only show me 13 even though I knew that there was more.  Clearly something was wrong and it wasn't on my end as I had the same problem on three different operating systems and four different computers.  So I fired off an email to Amazon to let them know what was going on and I will openly admit I probably didn't include enough information in the initial email.  But instead of asking me for me the guy emailed me back with a script...and one that didn't even fit the circumstances.  Such as checking to make sure the date/time was right on my computer (don't know what difference that would make) and that I was using HTTPS to login (which didn't fit because a) I had done so and b) once I'm in it's up to Amazon's server to decide what to use.)  The only suggestion that was useful was to try another browser which I had done. I ended up giving him more information and he did break off the script and said he couldn't duplicate the problem, but he'd forward it on which is all I really wanted.

I also just had another experience where again they stuck to the script and didn't read all of the email with regards to a package being delivered and the lack of...service by the delivery company.  I'm waiting to see how this one plays out.

The script can work, but it has to be the right situation and you have to trust your employees to know when to go off of it to help people.  And if you can't trust your employees then at least let them know to transfer the call to someone else that can help the person.  Having a problem/issue/concern is bad enough, but not being able to express that concern and get an appropriate response is even worse.  And yes sometimes there won't be a good response that will satisfy everyone, but there should be an attempt.

Book Review--The Book of Audacity by Carla Schroder

Another book review for the O'Reilly blogger review program

The Book of Audacity: Record, Edit, Mix, and Master with the Free Audio Editor
by Carla Schroder
no starch press 2011

This book is published by "no starch press" who normally do a pretty good job of keeping things simple and easy to understand for the average user.  The book breaks out into covering what Audacity is and what it's used for.  One nice thing that they mention in the introduction, briefly, is another free program, and tell readers which you use depends on what you want to do. In the first chapter they cover the basics of just how to use the program, ranging from the simple of starting a project to editing recorded tracks to the different formats that it can be saved in.  Then they cover how to build your recording studio and some of the equipment that you might look for.  Carla tries to give a price range for each type and what its used for so that you know whether or not it will fit your budget and need.  The other chapters then cover specific projects that you might want to work on with the program, with the obvious being podcasting to the less obvious of transferring vinyl and other formats to CD.  She gives clear instructions, with some technical jargon, on how to use Audacity to create the projects and other equipment that might be needed, such as for transferring records to CD.  The last few chapters are about customizing audacity with plugins, making it work well with Ubuntu Linux and Windows (and yes they miss out on a specific chapter for the Mac.)

Here's my honest opinion, this book is NOT for a beginner. Other than the first chapter it really doesn't cover the basics of how to use the program or how to do basic audio editing.  It's written more for people that have experience with computers, people interested in setting up their own recording studio, or those that are looking for a new hobby or career.  That isn't too say its a bad book as the projects really do cover a lot of interesting ways to use Audacity and give detailed instructions on how to use Audacity for it, its just overkill for someone just starting to learn about audio editing.  Also I think that the book was put together in a bit of a weird order for a basic book on a program.  Me personally, I would have started with the project on the podcast or making a CD, rather than transferring records to CD since the later requires extra equipment and is a big project.

My biggest disappointment with the book, however, is the lack of the mention of copyright and where it is mentioned it isn't even located with the obvious sections of the book.  For example, they don't mention copyright at all when talking about transferring vinyl records to CD and to me that's a major omission, especially since she mentions starting your own side business of doing this.  While some records are out of copyright, others are not and I think its a fairly dangerous thing to leave out.

Overall the book has some good useful information and some interesting projects to do with Audacity, but it isn't for the beginner and isn't what I thought I was going to get.   

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program