Thursday, December 29, 2011

If you're ever in Prague...

check out this giant sculpture by Matej Kren in the entrance of the Prague Municipal Library. Constructed with mirrors to create the illusion of an infinite vortex of books, this is one rabbit hole I wouldn't mind tumbling down.

photos via My Modern Met

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Mantor Monday

Library hours this week:

Monday through Friday - 8:00am to 4:30
Saturday and Sunday - closed.
Closed Monday, Jan 2nd.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Are you a book nerd?

Writer Jason Pinter wants to know. He's created the Twitter hashtag #booknerd, and he's getting some pretty funny responses. I've grabbed screenshots of some of my favorites. I feel you, fellow booknerds. I feel you.

final two tweets from Huffington Post.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Amazon and Cut Throat Prices

I'm usually a big fan of technology. I love being able to do as much as I can online or with techie things. But this past weekend (I think it was this past weekend), Amazon concocted a new approach to stabbing brick and mortar retail in the back--including book stores. If people went in to stores and used its new price matching app, then Amazon would give them up to $5 off on the items they scanned. (In the price matching app, you scan the barcode of an item with your smart phone. Amazon brings up the info for it on Amazon, so you can compare prices and then order it from Amazon right there.)

This strikes me as unfair, and over the top. Amazon has cheaper prices than bookstores. That's almost always a given these days. Why? Because Amazon can afford to. They're able to slash prices on some items (books), because they can make back the money on all the other stuff people buy through them. And I think everyone kind of gets that. If you want to save money--and money is all that's important to you, not local business or anything--then you shop Amazon.

But this latest stunt? That just seems to be Amazon trying to take a lead pipe to local  brick and mortar stores' collective kneecap. It would be like Walmart hiring someone to go around after you and tell you how much money you could be saving if you were shopping at Walmart.

What's worse is that Amazon is basically using every other store's inventory as a sort of Amazon Floorspace. The big weakness Amazon has always had is that some people prefer to see things before they buy them. They want to handle the thing. Kick the tires. Look under the hood, so to speak. And Amazon hasn't been able to match that. It's the great equalizer.

But now, you can go to the store, see the thing hands on, then order it on Amazon and have it delivered to your house in two days, for free.


Sooner or later, this will all come back to bite the consumer in the proverbial rear end. If Amazon's allowed to drive all other stores out of business, then something tells me that won't be a good thing for the consumer.

Time will tell, but sometimes, just because you *can* do something with technology, doesn't mean you should . . .

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mantor Monday

Library hours during finals week:

Monday - Wednesday, 7:45 am to 11:00pm

Thursday - 7:45 am to 7:00 pm (Unless bad weather during the week requires finals to be held on Friday. In this case, the library will remain open until 11:00 pm.)

Friday - 7:45 to 4:30

In other library news, the projector in the enhanced study room on the second floor has been such an overwhelming hit, at student request we have decided to take reservations.
If you'd like to reserve the projector room, please call or stop by the Access Services desk.

Good luck on your exams, and have a wonderful break!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Best. Flowchart. Ever.

Do you read science fiction or fantasy? You're going to love this. You know what? Scratch that question. Even if you don't like wizards, warlocks, dragons, pirates, dystopian worlds or post-apocalyptic cannibals, you'll still enjoy this flowchart. It's that fun.
The smart people at SF Signal took the NPR's list of reader-ranked top 100 books in these two genres, and turned it into a flow chart with 100 endpoints and 325 decision points. There is a printable version available here. (warning, huge download.) Not in the mood to follow arrows? There's an interactive online version here.
But for pure, colorful, joyful exploration of a cornucopia of best-loved books, take a few minutes to wander around this chart. Just keep an eye out for dragons.

(Click here to enjoy larger version.)

Quick notes about Gmail

For those of you who use UMF email accounts, you may have noticed a window popping up asking you if you want to change to the new Gmail format.

First, if you are so overwhelmed with everything else right now (it being the last week of classes, of course), you can temporarily put off dealing with this. Just click the button that says you want to. (How long is 'temporary'? Not forever, but Google hasn't told us, either.)

Why the new look? 
Google has been rolling this out for a variety of reasons - some have to do with function, some have to do with appearance. The major changes are:
  • a cleaner looking interface - more modern, more streamlined. 
  • some new themes to customize how your Gmail looks (more in a moment)
  • improvements to the conversation view that keeps messages on a topic together. 
  • more ways to customize appearance (more in a moment again.) 
  • simpler ways to search and filter in Gmail
  • easier switching between mail, contacts, and tasks.
  • a new toolbar that only shows you buttons when you need them. 
Common questions:
The two big questions I've heard so far today are about contrast between text and the background, and about the spacing of items in the sidebar/inbox. Gmail gives you options on how to handle both of these.

The items in the sidebar (like Inbox, Important, Sent Mail, etc.) have a certain spacing. You can decide to make that roomy and spacious, or you can make it very compact, so it takes up less space.

If you look at the top of your mail inbox, you'll see a little gear symbol. When you click on it, you'll see the following drop-down menu. Adjust the "Display density" until the spacing suits you. You can also use this menu to revert to the old look temporarily, or to easily get to settings or themes.

Themes are a way to personalize your Gmail. Here's a view of your choices. Some of them have better contrast than others, or may be more pleasing to your eye.

The classic themes came over from the older look of Gmail, and a couple of them look more washed out in the new version, which is why I've been hearing questions about how to make the contrast better. This is definitely a "play around and see what works for you" thing.

One nifty trick is that some themes change based on the weather, the time of day, or have rotating images. If you look at the themes below, the little sun symbol in the bottom right means it changes based on weather. If it's got a clock, it changes based on time of day. And if it's got the three little squares, it has multiple rotating images.

Conversation view:
One thing that can confuse people (though it's not new to Gmail's new look) is that Gmail by default groups conversations (series of emails) together.

If you'd rather not do this, use the settings menu (the gear I talked about above) to go to settings, then on the General tab, look for the "Conversation View" option, about half-way down. You can select "Conversation view off" and you'll see each email individually.

Want to do more? 
Finally, if you're now curious about all that Gmail can do, let me point you at an awesome feature, the Gmail Labs tab. (Found in the same Settings window we just talked about...)

Labs are features that are not part of Gmail's default settings. Often, that's because they're still in development, or because they're things some people want, but not everyone. I plan a future post about some of my favorites, but in the meantime, LifeHacker had some great tips earlier this year in a top-ten list, and then ten more experimental features to check out.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

More about social bookmarking

Last Wednesday, I talked about social bookmarking in general - this week, I want to take a closer look at a couple of different options. (Two of which I use regularly, and then talk about a few other choices.)

One of the big names in social bookmarking is Delicious ( It's had some ups and downs recently (it started as an independent start-up, got bought by Yahoo, Yahoo decided to stop supporting it, and it has now been bought and is getting updated by an entirely different company. Yeah, it was confusing at the time, too.)

Here's what you see if you look at my professional Delicious account. (You may want to click on the image to see it a bit better.)

On the left, you can see when I added each link, and you can see what tags I gave it. On the right sidebar, you can see some basic info about me, and then a list of all the tags I've ever assigned anywhere.

 So, how do I add to my links? Most of the social bookmarking sites have a little link you put in your bookmark toolbar. Here's mine - off to the right, you can see a link to delicious, and then to "my delicious". The first one is what I click to add a link. The second takes me to my account and shows me all the links I've saved previously.

 When you click on the "add a link" bookmark, a little window will pop up. Most of the time, I just add tags, and don't comment, but commenting is handy if you're creating links that will be shared with other people. (You can share a note about why you like it, what to pay attention to, etc.) As you can see in the bottom left, you can add this to a larger group of links (a stack - more on that below) or make it private (so only you can see it.)

The former version of Delicious had a way to bundle tags into larger groups (so I'd have one for library.profession,, teaching.and.learning, and so on, that would gather smaller tags into one group.) The new version of Delicious has "stacks" where you can pick and choose specific links to include (though they make it easy to select whole groups at a time. Below, you can see what a stack looks like when I've added some items.

Finally, it's also possible to follow someone else on Delicious - that means that every time they save a public bookmark, you get to see what they saved. In practice, while I think this is a sort of neat idea (and it can be a very cool collaborative tool for some kinds of projects), I've never used it extensively.

Pinboard: an alternative:
When the future of Delicious was looking pretty uncertain, people spent a lot of time exploring some other options. One popular choice that rose to the top turned out to be a site called Pinboard ( They describe themselves as " a bookmarking website for introverted people in a hurry."

Unlike Delicious (which is free), there's a one-time fee (which goes up very slightly with each account created - currently, it's about $9.55.) but it is in fact very quick, simple, and the creator and admins are very responsive to concerns. You can see what it looks like here. (I've got an account for some professional uses, but I use it more heavily on my personal account.)

And here's what adding a new link looks like.
What are some other options? 
Twitter has become a great way for some people to share links of interest - the problem is finding them later when you need them. (So a lot of people will save a link to something like their browser, a 'read later' application like Instapaper, or to a social bookmarking site.)

There are a variety of other social bookmarking sites - I've only scratched the surface here. Popular sites include Digg, Reddit, and StumbleUpon, though all three have much more of a social factor than the two I've discussed above. (Great if you're working with popular topics, but sometimes a little weird if your interests are less common.)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Making Sense of HDTV Mumbo Jumbo

Lifehacker has a great guide up today all about how to understand what all the numbers and letters surrounding HDTVs mean. 720p vs 1080i? LCD vs Plasma? What the heck is a contrast ratio? If you need guidance in the purchase of a new TV, this is a great place to start your research.

Check it out!

I will say that it's remarkable to me how easy the internet has made it to learn about subjects you never had a clue about before. Just over Thanksgiving, I set up my parents' surround sound system, upgrading them from technology that was over 15 years old. I did it all without really having to check anything online--I'd taught myself how to do it all when I installed my own system a couple of years ago.

Through the internet, I've become reasonably proficient at understanding how television antennas work, how to network just about anything, how to set up advanced remote control systems, how to bake anything you can think of--it's all right there, usually spelled out in so much detail that even a complete novice can get it all down pat, if he or she just takes the time to learn.

There's times when I'm just really happy to live in a day and place where things like this are possible.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Sidewalk Canvas

If you've spent any time in the library lately, you may have noticed these golden eyes gazing down at you from the Discoveries shelf in the Browsing room. This handsome Leo's face on the cover of Sidewalk Canvas jumped out at me as I was reading the New Books List that came out today, so I went and checked it out and spent my lunch break marveling at the works inside. As well as featuring absolutely mind-blowingly talented street artists, Sidewalk Canvas is also a how-to book. I, personally, am self-aware enough to realize that I do not have what it takes to create masterpieces like these. But you might. And one of the things I love about this campus is the proliferation of public art - installations left like gifts to surprise and delight the rest of us. So, maybe, one day, one of these chalk paintings will grace the sidewalk in front of the library. (Hint, hint, artists on campus...)
I've checked the book back in, so it's available if you'd like to come in for it. In the meantime, enjoy these photo essays on this incredible art form: