Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring (Web) Cleaning

I'm doing some Spring cleaning of my web accounts, social & otherwise, in honor of the gorgeous Spring we're having. There are two fundamental steps: disconnecting services that I do not use from accessing my primary accounts (Google, Twitter, Facebook) & then discontinuing the accounts/profiles of sites I no longer need. I'm certain I'm not the only one who samples numerous new services then promptly drops them, so hopefully this post will be useful to a few of you.

A pivotal tool, enumerates the links to major "apps permissions" pages for sites like Google, Twitter, & Facebook. Many smaller services allow you to login with your major account & even more use feature integration, so it's important to sever access once you stop using a service. For instance, I removed Twitter access from GoPollGo,, Greplin, & RockMelt. I had forgotten about those last three so it was great to clear out; I might use GoPollGo in the future but presently there's no reason for it to maintain access to my Twitter.
Second comes the accounts I do not use enough to justify continuing. For most of these, what I did was scroll through 1Password, checking for accounts I have either forgotten about or do not truly need. Here are some example deletions.


Social networking for beer drinkers, you "check in" your drinks and get badges. Yes, it's FourSquare for drunks. Not only is Untappd the epitome of oversharing in social media (I can't imagine any employer is delighted by my "weekday warrior" badge for consuming three beers on a Wednesday night) but it offered no added value for me. I keep a beers Google spreadsheet with ABV, ratings, style, and other data which I can then query for metrics like favorite brewer or style.


A personal search engine that scans across Google, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, etc. accounts & gives results. Deleting a service like this is multi-fold: first I delete my account, then I have to head to each of those profiles & revoke access to Greplin. While I had high praise for Greplin at first, I rarely found use cases for it. There's definitely a place for services such as this, I just haven't found it yet. I stopped using the RockMelt browser (basically a social version of Chrome with sidebar apps) recently too & that process was analogous: a useful, interesting tool but also one with access to all my web personas.

All Menus

Online ordering from restaurants. Nowhere good in my neighborhood is listed & the site itself is disconcerting, with broken internal links & several errors. Breaks my "don't trust poor websites with your financial information" rule.

Cloud 9 IDE

Online IDE (code editor with fancy features) with Github integration that I never got around to using. Great idea & maybe I'll return to it, but for now I don't need an account.

Other Accounts

I also deleted my Campusfood, Stubhub, Meetup, Scrib, SoundClick, MySpace, PureVolume, & ReverbNation (those last four were artist profiles...I'm not still on MySpace) accounts. I deleted a blog I no longer update & my account at an online retailer that I will probably never purchase from again.

I learned one major lesson from my Spring cleaning: online retaliers are the worst. Not only do they have your most sensitive (i.e. financial) information, they also are the most hesitant to empower their users. Few retailers provide a "delete account" button & many do not reply to customer support emails. All in all, it's better to centralize purchasing in online companies that get it, like Amazon, than trust a series of companies with questionable web development practices.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Another Plug for Quicksilver

Following up on both my love for optimizing workflows & application launchers, here's a brief "how to" video on solving a frustrating workflow using a Quicksilver trigger.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


I've started to do a lot of screencasting at my job. I probably make 2-3 screencasts per week. Here's a brief rundown on what I use them for & the different software packages I've tried.

Computers are Hard

It's impossible to explain how to do anything on computer. "Click the glowing blue circle in the bottom left, drill down until you get to Microsoft Office, then select Excel, which has a green letter X on top of an spreadsheet for an icon." The next step will certainly be worse, given Microsoft's ribbon UI. It's a lot easier if users see a particular action performed.

Quick Troubleshooting

Sometimes when I find a bug in a website or application, I'll just make a 1-2 minute video & send a link to the appropriate party. It's much more useful than ranting. I really wish, when people run into problems with our website, they would do the same. Little things like what browser version can make a huge difference & are rarely reported along with problem being experienced.

Screencast Software

Screencast-o-matic is a Java applet, so it runs in the browser and works on any platform. It's biggest advantage is that it highlights your mouse with a big, bright yellow circle & clicks cause little blue ripples. Videos can be uploaded to a linked YouTube account or the screencast-o-matic site. The video quality is not great & there usually ends up being a lot wasted space. Small watermark in the lower right corner.

Screenr is another Java applet which hooks up to YouTube & its own publishing site. It does not highlight your mouse but the videos are of decent quality & the Screenr site itself is quite nice. I would recommend either of these first two options.

Quicktime (Mac) allows screen recordings (File > New Screen Recording) which is nice in that every Mac comes with free video editing software (iMovie), so suddenly you're in business. There aren't any mouse highlighting options & the on-screen keyboard for Mac is pretty useless, however.

CamStudio (Windows) is open source & gives you a few extras like custom cursors & some post-recording editing.

HyperCam (Windows) lets you highlight the mouse but most of all, it's the only software here that lets you pop up a dialog which displays every key you press. That may not sound important but when you're trying to teach keyboard shortcuts, it's vital. Its UI is clunky & finding the menu for displaying keystrokes near impossible; consult the great Google.

Neither of the above seem well-maintained but they run OK on Windows 7.

Jing (Mac/Windows) is probably the most well-known screencasting software but it's started to frustrate me. While it works fine, Jing puts a pay wall between you & YouTube (I cannot for the life of me find a way to take its .swf output & upload it...would love to be proven wrong here) & offers no advanced features like mouse highlighting. It's quick & it gives you a link right away, which is fine for one-off videos sent to individuals or small groups, but it's useless as a publishing medium. &, while I'm on it, the UI messes with my expectations in annoying ways (an icon of two computers means History? a stop-sign with a hand in it means Quit? I have to click three buttons to quit?) & the admin page is buggy.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My Library Day in the Life

Library day in the life is cool, but let's face it when 100 librarians all write about their day, no one has time to read through them all. So I arbitrarily did my ditl today.
9am - wake up. I'm the latenight librarian today, so I can sleep in, but I also have to be in the library until it closes at 9:00pm.
9:30-10:30am - I am incredibly vigilant on Twitter, tweeting more than I have in the past week, carrying on a conversation about podcasts, social media, publishing, & pushing out links to interesting content, including the Nonbreaking Space Show and a HackLibSchool article on "New Librarianship" (I have a thing for vacuous buzzwords, from "transliteracy" to "HTML5").
10:45am-11:45am - my hour-long drive to work, listening to Nebuchadnezzar, Aphex Twin, & Four Tet until a dull Actress song comes on & I feel relaxed enough to switch to a podcast on objects in JavaScript. The podcast is mostly over my head.
11:45am - arrive, deal with emails, agree to no less than three meetings next week. And it's a truncated week.
12:30pm - update the production version of the library's mobile website to the latest stable of jQuery Mobile, add the Apple mobile web app capable meta tag as an experiment. I intend to make a screencast on how to "save to home screen" so students can treat the mobile website as an app.
12:45pm - a student shows up a bit late to our appointment. We're doing a "website evaluation" assignment for a Health & Wellness class & I love it. I usually compare-&-contract an academic research article with a web page, ramble about author qualifications, diatribe about references. Fun times. Another tip I like to slip in on the sly is RSS: what it is & how to use it to analyze when a website last published an article. I find that students don't know what RSS is (I have had precisely 1 student who did, while almost every other student says "I've seen that orange icon, but I don't know what it is").
1:15pm - add another image & some formatting to a presentation I'm giving to an English Literature class this evening.
1:30pm - meeting for the campus sustainability operations group. I am their data guru so my agenda item was what data we have (almost none), what we're working on, & future considerations. A couple people instantly chimed in with ideas for grabbing more data, including surveying our faculty about their commuting habits & contact points for budget items like "pounds of paper purchased." All in all, a very productive meeting.
2:50pm - In literally a minute space in between meetings, I post several new database trials to the library website.
3pm - presentation to staff about social media: what it is & why we're using it to connect with students. There were several questions about Twitter, some concerns about student privacy & copyright violations raised, but for the most part people seemed intrigued. We are very late to the game in social media so building a strong presence is on my to-do list. On the other hand, the drama surrounding a student YouTube video with a copyrighted song in it is disconcerting. There was even an implication that "hyperlinks are theft" which I find absurd. The Internet cannot continue to operate if that is true.
5pm - I'm behind the reference desk for the rest of the day. The first thing I need to do is access a massive, convoluted spreadsheet of sustainability data, but it won't render correctly in my Macbook Air's & I don't have (nor do I want) Office for Mac. The circulation desk workstation can't remote desktop into my office; I've talked to IT about it & they basically chose not to fix it since the computer is on Windows XP (this OS is a decade old, people) & is supposedly going to be upgraded to 7, though there's no timeline for that. So I try to VPN into my office machine, but the VPN Java applet crashes Chrome, so I have to use Firefox & I waste time setting up a more efficient copy-paste workflow in Quicksilver, too. No one cares.
6pm - I teach a brief, half-hour information literacy session on English literature. Here is my presentation, it's just a regular Google Doc but published. I usually do this so that students can look over my slides later.
6:35pm - A frequent patron pulls me aside to ask an MLA citation question. When I show her how to do a hanging indent, she becomes effusive. "You're the best, Eric. You're so smart. They're lucky to have you here." A validating experience.
6:45pm - I'll admit it, I'm reading blogs, checking Twitter, & writing this post. Sick the time theft police on me.
7:00pm - We're in the "email is hard" & "how do I find out this person's name" stage of the night. I need to email someone but Chesapeake has no easy way to look someone up by department. I talk to the few remaining staff & find her name. I email faculty regarding our new trials. I email two administrators asking for data relating to sustainability. I email, therefore I am a librarian.
7:45pm - Setting up accounts in Drupal for three staff members who are going to be my beta testers for editing the new website. Hopefully, the work flow surrounding creating & maintaining content is going to be vastly improved. We're moving from a static HTML site where only certain people (read: basically only me & our college's sole webmaster) can edit content to Drupal, where I can fine tune permissions and let everyone edit content in a WYSIWYG editor. It promises to be a sterling improvement.
8:15pm - I put up a simple Yahoo! Pipe that aggregates all of the college's RSS feeds, which are few but growing. The main news portion of the college website is still done in static HTML, with no RSS feed at all...sigh. Also, our work flow for updating the website involves Microsoft Expression Web, so posting basically two HTML elements takes me a half-hour due to slowness & an eventual crash. On the bright side, my Quicksilver trigger saves me two seconds this time around.
8:45pm - I'm shepherding people out of the library, turning off monitors, shutting down computers. Security comes around & helps. It's been a busy day & I'm spent. I'll listen to more JavaScript Jabber on the drive home.