Thursday, May 26, 2005

Congratulations to all grads!

Congratulations to all getting their degrees, here and everywhere. Well done and good luck!

If you are a distance student and not able to attend commencement (or not able to attend for whatever reason), you may be interested in viewing the graduate commencement exercises via webcast:
Both the afternoon and evening Graduate Commencement and Hooding ceremonies will be broadcast live tomorrow (Thursday) on Comcast Cable (Channel 28) in New Haven, West Haven and Hamden. Streaming video of the ceremonies will be available on the Internet through the Graduate School Web site at In addition to live webcasts, on-demand broadcasts will be available after the ceremonies. The RealPlayer 9 (*see Update*) or higher is required and a broadband Internet connection is recommended to access the Webcasts.

Dr. Sandra C. Holley
Dean of the Graduate School
Southern Connecticut State University
Thanks to the Graduate School for providing this link for those not able to attend in person. I do feel a lack for not having attended graduation for my own distance degree, but it just wasn't feasible. I would love to be able to see faces.

No word on the undergraduate commencement, so far.

Update: For those, like me, whose preferred browser is Firefox, the Real Player video may give you fits. Try the Real Alternative plugin, and the advice on the Mozillazine forum.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Accessible Blogs

There's an interesting article from the American Federation for the Blind entitled Is blogging accessible to people with vision loss? Their answer, sort of.

The AFB reviewed the Blogger blogging service (the service that hosts this blog), the Bloglines RSS reader, and 4 individual blogs in the JAWS screen reader. For would-be bloggers, Blogger creates some problems registering, as it requires one of those "type in these letters" graphics, as a security precaution against automated registrations. Screen readers can't read the letters on graphics. The "advanced setup", which is screen-reader accessible, requires a lot of technical information, and is really meant for those who choose to host their own blog on their own server.

Bloglines did better in the testing. Aside from a few graphics, almost everything was screen-readable and had proper text labeling. Bloglines has a blogging service as well, which also passed, except for, again, a few unlabeled links and graphics. (Read the actual article for more.)

I use a Firefox extension called Fangs which emulates a JAWS-like screen reader. I get a text "reading" of my pages, so that I can have some idea of how my pages will read outloud. Interestingly, it completely failed for Bloglines. Fangs doesn't seem to be able to handle frames, which JAWS must be able to handle. It's a very interesting experience, to see your carefully formatted material rendered as pure text. I highly recommend the experience, using Fangs, JAWS, or some other similar program, for any webdesigner.

I am glad to say that my actual blog page did read pretty well. (Though, wow, are there really 165 links on the main page!) I will have to test it with real JAWS some time, just to hear it and to find out the differences. I would assume that if someone set up the Subscribe by email with rssfwd then they could get all the posts in their accessible email program.

If any of my readers are visually impaired, or do accessibility testing, I'd love to have a discussion about how make this blog, and all the other DE services, more accessible. Are there accessible IM or chat clients that you use that we could test together?

Tags: , , ,

Monday, May 09, 2005

Google's Web Accelerator

Google released their "Web Accelerator" (beta version) this past Wednesday. It speeds up web surfing by preloading/caching all the links on a website while you are viewing the first page. When you click on a link, it pops up right away, because it was actually loaded in the background. You even get a report of "time saved".

Sounds like just the thing for online classes and research, especially if your home connection is slow, right? Well, maybe not. First of all, because of the amount of material that must be loaded, Google says that dial-up connections may not see much improvement. (If it normally takes 30 seconds to load a page on your dial-up connection, and there are 20 links on a page, it will take 10 minutes to pre-load all the pages. Chances are you are going to click on a link, which may or may not be loaded, before all the pages finish loading.) So this is really a broadband only application.

Second, the Web Accelerator loads all the pages linked from the page you are viewing (except links to secure HTTPS pages). This includes links for deleting information, changing your settings, ads, and sign-out/logoff. Some services became completely unusable because the logoff page would load as soon as the first page was displayed, bumping the user out of their account. Message board and blog users discovered deleted entries. (If the logoff or delete link goes to an actual html confirmation page, everything is fine; but if there is no confirmation or if the confirmation is via javascript popups, then the preloading really does cause logging off or deletions.)

Third, Google may "serve" you a previously cached version, including one cached during someone else's browsing. So you may suddenly appear to be logged in as someone else! This is actually less of a security risk than it seems. Since you aren't actually logged in as them, you can't do anything; but you could possibly be viewing someone else's info if it appeared on the cached page. Anything on a HTTPS secure site is not cached, so that covers most financial information, but I've had my email address appear on confirmation (thank you for signing up, etc.) and account data pages that aren't secure (most library login and account screens are not secure, for instance). Not to mention the confusion of even just appearing to be logged in as someone else. Google says that pages will be recached if they are "slightly" changed, but it's unclear what might constitute a slight change. You might be looking at old info without knowing it.

Fourth, everything viewed via Web Accelerator is funneled through Google's own servers, including all your viewing habits, your passwords and credit card numbers. (Luckily, you can turn it off.) Google says that no information is associated with the actual Google cookie that identifies you and your Google use history. But it is still a huge amount of data that could be associated with you if you visit any other personally identifiable sites (including Google's own Gmail and Google Groups). It's very valuable data even in aggregate, since it will produce a huge set of real web-users' real web habits. (Whether this is a problem or not depends on your view of information privacy.)

There is also the webmaster's end of things. Preloading completely messes up clickthrough statistics--measurements using what someone actually clicks on to judge popularity. It would appear that everything was clicked on, even if the person actually turned their computer off at that point. I also wonder how this works with clickthrough advertising (where the vendor is paid by the click). Webmasters can put coding on their pages to deactivate the caching, and many are scrambling to do so, but that leaves a lot of material that won't be protected simply because the site owner didn't know to, or didn't know how to, change those settings.

I am not planning to use Web Accelerator. I don't think I can truly recommend it, given the many concerns listed above. If you do decide to try it, I would be careful what you visit and avoid sites that have personal accounts that you might accidently change. You might want to turn it off for regular use, and only use it when you are truly "surfing", as opposed to checking your email or your library account. (Google is not accepting new users right now, but they say they are working on increasing capacity.)

Here are a few articles and posts listing some of the problems:
CNET--Google speed bump draws scorn
Yahoo News--Google's Accelerator breaks web apps, security
SearchEngineWatch--Google Web Accelerator Raises Worries
Buzzworthy (blog)--Not so fast, Google

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Presentations sans Powerpoint

Have you ever prepared a presentation with PowerPoint slides and then discovered that it won't run on the computer you have available? Or maybe you are working with someone and you each have different versions of PowerPoint and can't see each other's slides?

Jessamyn West of has, and she has a solution: HTML slides. Not saving your PowerPoint as HTML, which leaves lots of odd coding to mess up a browser, but constructing the slides in HTML to begin with.

She has generously posted a template on her site, under a Creative Commons license. Each "slide" is a block with an HTML anchor at the top of the slide. When you click on Next, the browser flips to the next slide's anchor, giving the illusion of flipping to a different slide, but it's really just lower down in the same document. Overall, the presentation is a much smaller file. There's also a separate style sheet for printing that eliminates the bulk of the space between the slides. Be sure to read through the coding for her comments, she has a lot of great hints in there.

See her May 4, 2005 blog post for more information and the download. I'm definitely going to try it for my next presentation (with tweaking, of course. Sorry, Jessamyn, but I've never liked that background gray you use. Personally, I'm partial to blues and greens. But, each to his own background.)

Another option is Steven Cohen's blog presentation style. By posting his "slides" in reverse order (or manipulating the time stamp), Steve can put all his materials on a single page, and have a built in table of contents, thanks to the "previous posts" feature of most blog software. See his Advanced Blogging presentation from Computers in Libraries 2005. While this example doesn't use images, most blog software does allow you to post images, too. One of the intersting aspects of a blog presentation is that, if you turn the comments feature on, participants could make comments, asking questions or adding information; your presentation can become a discussion, even after the session is over.

Update: Re-reading this post, I realized that I left out another point dear to the hearts of librarians. HTML presentations will print even if you don't have PowerPoint installed on your library's public computers, and the printing CSS allows a "handout" version of the sort that won't print in some installations of the PowerPoint viewer.

Who am I and why am I here?

This post is inspired by the discussion on blog ethics and guidelines. I decided that, for both my and my readers' good, a nice, clear outline of why I'm doing this would be a great idea. I'll link this post from the right column of the blog, so that newcomers and visitors can find out who I am, too. So, in the interest of full disclosure...

Who am I?
I am the Distance Education Library Coordinator (aka the DE Librarian) for Southern Connecticut State University's Buley Library. I have a Master's degree in Library and Information Services (M.L.I.S.) from University of Rhode Island and a Master's degree in Adult Education and Distance Learning (M.A.Ed) from University of Phoenix. I got my education degree through UoP's online program, so I know exactly what online students experience in their online classes. Previously, I've worked as an Interlibrary Loan Librarian, and I worked often with commuting students who experience many of the same frustrations of online students (not on campus often, work schedules, family committments, etc.)

What is a DE Librarian?
In my case, I am the contact point for faculty and students in our online programs. I represent their interests when library decisions need to be made (Should we get this resource in print or online? Can students access this from off campus?) I help faculty deal with the challenges of moving their courses online (How can students get access to this reading? What resources does the library have online for this subject?) I help students with their online research, pointing them to resources inside and outside the library, helping them decide if a particular source is appropriate, or reviewing print materials to help them decide if they want to request a photocopy. DE Librarian positions are mostly brand new, so we all get to make it up as we go along. I suspect that every one of my colleagues has a slightly different job description.

What the DE Librarian isn't?
  • A photocopier. (Order articles through Interlibrary Loan, please.)
  • A ghost writer or ghost researcher. (I'll get you started, but you have to do your own research and writing.)
  • A subject specialist in every field with online classes. (Nope, sorry, I don't know everything. But I know who you can talk to!)
  • A computer technician. (I know a lot about computers, and about the things that go wrong online, but I'm not a certified tech in anything, and I'm not the person to talk to about the campus computer network. Please see the Help Desk.)

What is this blog for?
One of the main issues is communicating what resources and services are available. Hence, this blog, which is just one method of communication. This blog will cover:
  • Online resources, both subscription based (i.e. databases, ejournals) and on the open web.
  • Tools and techniques for online instructors and students.
  • Announcements and news affecting online instructors and students, including information on library closings and hours for students who have to travel (and therefore, plan ahead) to visit campus.
What this blog doesn't cover:
  • Personal politics and rants. I'm making an effort to steer clear of controversial subjects unless they directly affect our online classes. But, I'm only human, and some things probably will slip in that are on the edge. Such as the possiblity of losing public access to mapping data and weather data from the federal government. (Oops, did I say that!)*
  • Daily news. If you are interested in keeping up with news that affects distance education, let me know and I'll forward the sites that I follow.
  • Personal information, about me or others. Ask me about my cat off the blog, please.* And while I may post information about issues raised in private conversation, I won't mention names. If three students call about not being able to get into something they thought we should have access to, it's probably time to post that the database lost our proxy addresses and the techs estimate it will be up by X time, or that we never did have access to that and here are some alternatives.
* I've decided to start a more personal blog for this sort of thing, Librarian Musings. Feel no obligation to read it. I still won't post personal info, I promise.