Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Flickr: Photos from The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress has loaded over 3,000 pictures on Flickr. There are two sets, one of color photos from the 1930's and 40's and one of black and white "news" shots from the 1910's. LoC's collections are wonderful, and having two of them "outside" in Flickr can only help generate interest in the rest of their resources.

These pictures have no known republication restrictions, so they definitely are good for educational use.

Also see LoC's American Memory collections, Prints and Photographs Divisions Images on Popular Topics, and the rest of the Digital Collections.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Welcome to the Spring Semester

It's a new semester and new online courseware! WebCT Vista has been upgraded to Blackboard Vista (Blackboard bought WebCT last year). The URL remains the same:, it just looks and acts a bit differently.

Because of the upgrade, you should REALLY do the browser check function before logging in. Mac users are reporting that they need to upgrade Java to enter (instructions appear when you do the browser check).

Login name and password are still your MySCSU credentials. MySCSU passwords expire every 90 days, so you may need to change your password ( If you have trouble with your password, students who can come to campus should visit a computer lab to reset your password; online only students can call the Helpdesk. Within MySCSU, you can also get into some Vista 4.2 tutorials. Look in the righthand box, the link is labeled eLearning Vista 4.2 Tutorials.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

New Year's Resolutions: Try something new

Here's the last of my New Year's Resolutions, try something new.

It's so easy to use the same things you always have, just because you always have. To go back to my online word processor example, I have a tendency to head to Google Docs, because I often have Gmail open and it's an easy click. However, I really like Zoho, and I just found out that Thinkfree has a downloadable version that syncs with the online version, and works on a Mac. Thinkfree Premium is in beta testing, and they'll probably charge for it when it's ready, but it just might be worth it. I downloaded it to my Mac last night and it certainly opens MS Word documents with special formatting, like brochures, much better than NeoOffice, which is what I have been using. (NeoOffice, an OpenOffice version for Mac OS X, is just fine for most stuff, however, and it's completely free.)

So that's one thing I'm going to try out. I also need to remember that I've got at least a dozen search engines in my Firefox search box, and I should occasionally use something other than Google, especially when I don't find what I'm looking for right away. For instance, Clusty is good for ambiguous searches, when your words can describe more than one thing.

I've signed up for an account on, which is sort of Web applications taken to an extreme. Does anyone remember thin clients or dumb terminals?

I've also got a big list of online tools to try out for my Online Research Toolkit, which I haven't been giving much attention to. And if I run out of things to try (hah!), Mashable posted 5000+ Resources to Do Just About Anything Online.

So get out there and try something new, before the spring semester gets here and we all get too busy!

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

New Year's Resolutions: Evaluate

Resolution #4 (see them all) is to think about what I do and what I use. Does it all still make sense? This one is complicated for me, because I'm always testing out new (or new to me) services and software. Here's an example: I've got a few documents in the Thinkfree Office Suite, a few in Zoho, a bunch in Google Docs, and I think some others that I've forgotten about at this point. Plus, of course, the ones that are plain old Word files on my computer. So what do I do about all this?

What I'm going to do is to organize things by purpose. I find myself using Google Docs and Zoho Writer most often. Thinkfree runs slower on my computer (though I'm not sure why), but I still like their slide show (PowerPoint) better than anyone else's. I just don't use slides very much. Anyway, the contest for my attention with word processing and spreadsheets is currently between Google and Zoho, and both of them have good and bad points.

One of Zoho's main attractions is that they have a Word and Excel plugin that allows me to have synced versions in Zoho and on my computer at the same time. (Though I did have some problems with images and syncing. I think I need to add pictures in the online version rather than offline.) This is a big plus for me, so I think I'll be using Zoho for most of my work related files. Zoho also has a browser plugin (Firefox and IE) so that .doc and .xls files on the web can be opened in Zoho.

Google's big attraction for me is the collaborative aspect. More people have Google accounts already, so it's easy to collaborate, and files sent to my GMail account can be opened in Docs very easily. (Zoho has very similar collaboration features.) I like the display of Docs' history/versioning better. I'm not even sure exactly what about it I like better, but I do. Finally, the group I'm most likely to be collaborating with already has a Google Group, so it's an obvious connection. My one big problem with Docs is that whenever I export a document to Word the formatting gets messed up. So, while it's great for....hmmm....unstructured work online, from anywhere, it's less useful for producing strictly formatted things for print. Writing vs. publishing, I guess.

So, based on my needs and habits, and the features available, it makes the most sense to use Google Docs for online collaborative projects and Zoho Writer and Sheet for work related documents that I'll be wanting offline copies of, and for things I'll be printing, like handouts. I may stick to Thinkfree for slides, but I use slides so rarely that I haven't really tested the others.

I need to make a similar analysis for my RSS readers, since I have both Bloglines and Google Reader accounts (both piling up ridiculous numbers of unread articles because I'm not reading much of anything right now.) I may also add Thunderbird and Firefox Live Bookmarks into the mix, since each has features that are good for certain types of feeds. I like Live Bookmarks for current news, for instance, since I want to see what's happening now and I don't want old news articles piling up if I don't read the headlines today. I'll probably split most of my feeds into work (Bloglines) and personal (Google), with a few really important work related ones in Thunderbird, since I've got that open all the time anyway.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

New Year's Resolutions: Update

This one is easy for me, because I did keep up with my updates this past semester. The only thing I needed to do was run the anti-spy-, anti-ad-ware programs, which of course did have updates because they get new updates all the time.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

New Year's Resolutions: Clean up the computer

Part 2 of my New Year's Resolutions is to clean up the computer. I suppose I really should have done this first, before backing up, but I really wanted to get some of those files, especially on the USB backed up as soon as possible. Now I'll have to organize the backup files, too!

For me, this organization starts with my USB (again), by moving some projects that I've finished off the USB and into an Archive folder on my office computer. Then, I need to clean up my desktop, since I always download files to the desktop whenever possible. That way I remember to clean them up later! I've got a couple of installation files and some images there now, so those either get trashed or put into the appropriate project folders. I've also got some PDF's of articles I've been meaning to read, so I think I'll upload those to Refworks, as I mentioned in my original post.

Then I need to check on the other places that things get stashed. On a Windows machine like my office computer, that includes the My Documents folder, and subfolders, and some of the applications folders. On Macs, things are a little easier, since almost everything defaults to the desktop. I also need to go over my network drive and see what can be deleted from that. I use it as a catch-all space, especially when I'm logged into other campus computers.

The final part of this resolution is a real resolution: I'm going to try and be better about using project folders as I create/download files. That will make the whole organize/archive/backup thing much easier.

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Monday, January 07, 2008

New Year's Resolutions: Backups

When you give advice, people are more willing to follow it if you do it, too. Right? So here is what I'm doing for my 5 New Year's Resolutions, starting with Backups.

My main concern was my USB drive. I have a colleague who recently lost hers, including all her recent work from several weeks, and several who leave theirs attached to other computers regularly. Yes, I've done that, too. I've never actually lost one, but I have had them disappear for several days, especially when I'm working on multiple computers that are shared. I've heard of folks who have put them through the wash (with mixed results), and the larger ones, at least, are expensive enough to be at risk of outright theft.

So, first I added a text file to the main folder on my USB, "If lost, please return to.txt". The file has my name, work address, email, phone number, and a reward statement. I hope that this will get it returned if I lose it. Backing it up is just a matter of copying the whole thing to a backup folder on my hard drive. Unfortunately, I can't use the Windows XP backup feature, because of the way the university computers are set up. So I have the choice of finding some third party software or setting a reminder for myself to copy the files on a regular basis. Ideally, it would be something that would automatically copy the drive or certain files/folders when I insert the USB into the computer, but it has to compete with the "free" nature of the reminder system. (So for those about to add a comment about your product or favorite service, please mention the price--you are competing with Free.)

Other than that, my backup requirements are pretty low. Most of my handouts and projects are online, so it's just a matter of saving archive copies every so often. When I finish a project, I move the files from the USB to hard drive or network space folders. Network space is backed up by our IT department, and it's easy enough to make a backup copy of the archive folders when I move something else in.

A lot of what I've done is more a matter of organizing things rather than actual backups. And that's more related to resolution #2: Clean up your computer. More on that later.

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