Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Google's new privacy policies

Google is everywhere, it seems (certainly for those of us who use UMF's email or other tools.) But as you might have seen, they're changing their privacy policies as of March 1st (that's tomorrow).

What does that mean? Google says that they're doing this to simplify things, but there are several new situations you want to think about as you consider how you use the wide variety of Google-owned tools. (That means not just Gmail, but YouTube, Blogger, Picasa, Google Reader, and others.)

First, it's a good idea to read the new policy. Then you might want to read the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) guide to what's changing.

The big changes are in three areas: connecting information about you across different Google services, connecting a name on one account with names on other accounts, and phone and mobile device privacy.

The first one means that even if you're not logged in under your account on one service at the moment, but are logged into another Google service, Google will connect it. For example, if you are logged into your personal Gmail account, but not into YouTube, Google will still connect what you watched with your account.

The second one means that they may also connect a name used on one service with names on other of their services (presumably based on the email account you used to sign up or on cookies on your computer: the pieces I've seen aren't quite sure how this will work, either.)

And finally, they may store, collect, and use some information (including location data) from your phone to connect pieces of data, make recommendations, and so on.

An answer to a Q&A session describes what they're aiming for in more detail - some of what they're doing could be very interesting, but a lot of privacy and online technology groups also have concerns. (What happens for people searching for health related topics, for example?)

Google said:
Specifically, our policies meant that we couldn’t combine data from YouTube and search history with other Google products and services to make them better. So if a user who likes to cook searches for recipes on Google, we are not able to recommend cooking videos when that user visits YouTube, even though he is signed in to the same Google Account when using both.
So, what can you do? 
If you're either concerned about your privacy, or would like to wait and see how this works in practice before you rely on it, here's some things you should consider doing:

(One option is to avoid using Google services at all - but that's hard for a lot of people to do.)

1) Turn off your web history:
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has a guide with illustrations to help you do so. Basically, if you do so, Google will still store a history of your web searches through them - but it will be deleted after 18 months, and be more highly anonymized, and some other kinds of results (like customized search results) will be prevented. The guide has more details on this.

2) Turn off your YouTube history.
Again, the EFF has a guide.

3) Consider other steps to preserve your privacy.
Some of these are more complicated than others. The EFF has a guide that outlines 6 options, ranging from fairly simple to more complicated. 

Steps include (and the guide explains these in more detail):
  • Don't search for personally identifying information (like your name, address, etc.) 
  • Don't use your ISP's search engine to search (since they can connect your internet address with your complete identity pretty easily.) 
  • Use a different web browser to do searches than the one you log into as an individual. (So if you use Firefox to read your email, open up Chrome or Internet Explorer to do a search.). Don't create an account on a search engine to store data or searches.
  • Block cookies from search engines.
  • Vary your IP address (more complicated)
  • Or use anonymizing tools (also more complicated.) 
Other possible tools are out there too:

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Thoughts on Wordpress

As I've been watching my web traffic at my personal blog and website over the past few weeks, I noticed that my website was getting more and more visitors--more than my blog at times, which is quite the opposite from the norm. And I still wasn't really happy with the old website. It was better than my first draft, but it lacked oomph.

However, I also didn't really relish the idea of going back to the drawing board with Dreamweaver yet again. Coding in html can be a long and arduous process--especially when you're trying to convert a bunch of pages from what design to the other.

Here at the library, the university has been transitioning over to a Wordpress-based web design. I've heard a lot about Wordpress over the years, of course. Enough that I poked my head over and checked it out a time or two. But each time, I ended up deciding it wasn't worth it to me to learn a new way of doing things. The learning curve seemed too steep.

But at the same time, Wordpress lets you redesign an entire site quickly and easily--or so I'd been told. If I finally moved over to Wordpress, I might be able to avoid another long conversion process in the future. And like it or not, my library site is going to go Wordpress at some point. So in the end, I decided to bite the bullet and learn Wordpress.


It might seem daunting at first, but it really is easier and more elegant (in my opinion) than html. That isn't to say that if I were an html-ninja I couldn't do more with html. No doubt I could. But a ninja I am not. (Hopefully we can still be friends, even though I've now publicly admitted that.) I need something easy--something I can tweak on the fly whenever I need to.

Wordpress fills this need perfectly.

In the end, it only took me about two days to learn the software, find a theme I liked (Atahualpa--a theme my coworker suggested, and which I settled on because it was so versatile and easy to tweak), change the theme to my tastes, and then transition the site. (Which you can view now right here.) It's not flashy, but it's clean--and yes, if and when I choose to update the site again, I can change the entire site design all at once. Hooray for that.

So if you're in the market for a new webpage (or want to make one of your own), allow me to add my admittedly-belated voice in support of Wordpress. It's free, it's got a ton of support, it's relatively easy to learn and use, and it's really robust. If you're interested in making the jump, the best place for info is definitely Wordpress themselves. However, I'll say this much--actually navigating their site and using it to find information isn't the easiest task in the world. I found their interface to search themes and plug-ins quite weak and disappointing. Enough so that I wondered if I was using it correctly. Maybe I wasn't. Just be prepared if you make the jump to spend some time actually reading detailed information about how to do certain things. It's an easy transition, but that doesn't mean you can or should do it without a manual.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Catch and Release

Do you guys know about BookCrossing? The program has been around since 2001, but one of the staff here at Mantor was recently introduced to it, and she reminded me of it, and I'm passing it on to you.
BookCrossing is a catch-and-release book exchange program. It's a way to release your already-read books into the wild, and then track them to see where they go.
Here's how it works: Go to the BookCrossing website and sign up. (It's free, and you don't have to give out personal information if you don't want to.) Then, register a book you want to set free. BookCrossing will generate a BookCrossing Identification Number, or BCIN.  You'll need to label the book with this number, and there are a few ways to do that. You can download free label templates from the website and print your own, or you can buy premade fancy-pants labels like this one:
You can even write a handwritten note inside the book without a label, along these lines:
I've registered this book at 
so I can track it's journey
through the world. 
Please go to 
and enter this BCID: xxx-xxxxxx 
to let me know you found it. 
Then read it and/or pass it on for 
someone else to enjoy! Thank you!
Now comes the fun part. Bring the labeled book to a public place: coffee shop, park bench, doctor's office, bus stop - and leave it for someone else to find. (BookCrossing recommends you NOT release books in high security areas like airports. Being strip-searched is no fun for anyone.) When someone finds your book, they can go to the website, enter the BCID number, and you'll be able to track your book on it's journey.  Who knows? Your book just might circumnavigate the globe. 
There are other, more controlled ways to share Bookcrossing books, person to person. Check out the website for browsing other reader's wishlists, or create your own, and see what comes to you. 

"A book is not only a friend, it makes friends for you. When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on you are enriched threefold."  - Henry Miller

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mantor Monday

Break week hours:
Tuesday - Friday: 8:00am - 4:30pm
Saturday: closed.
Sunday: 11:00am - 11:00 pm.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Counting your Chick...adees?

Some of you may have seen the new-ish display in the Mantor Library Browsing Room - it features the winter bird residents of our area, and how and what to feed them. (Stop in and see if you can identify all 13 species without using the answer key!)

A few days ago, a patron came to my office, told me how much she liked the display, and then asked if I would be willing to include some information about The Great Backyard Bird Count. I did, and I'd like to pass it along here, as well. 
The Great Backyard Bird Count, taking place this weekend, is a joint project of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Audobon Society, and Bird Studies Canada.  Beginning Friday the 17th through Monday, backyard bird counters will be tallying feeder visitors all over the continent. According to the GBBC website, the data collected will help answer questions such as these:

How will this winter's snow and cold temperatures influence bird populations?

Where are winter finches and other "irruptive" species that appear in large numbers during some years but not others?

How will the timing of birds' migrations compare to past years?

How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?

What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities vs. suburban, rural, and natural areas?

Are any birds undergoing worrisome declines that point to the need for conservation protection?

Participation is easy: print off a tally form from the website linked above. Then spend as little as 15 minutes (or longer - it's up to you!) counting the bird species you see. Submit the results on the website, and voila! You've done your part to help our feathered friends.

Here's a link to a Powerpoint presentation that does a great job explaining the process:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Search Tip: Scoping

I'm really feeling under the weather today, folks, so I'm going to bow out of a long post, but I came across this post yesterday, and I wanted to share it with you all. So much of a good, effective search requires that you be focusing your efforts in the right place. That's called "scoping,"

Find out all about it here:

Thursday, February 9, 2012

eReader Cheat Sheet

Do you have trouble remembering what formats your - or a patron's - eReader supports? This handy dandy infographic cheat sheet lays it all out. Thanks, iLibrarian!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Wikipedia Wars

I just came across an article on CNN talking about a big virtual scuffle that's broken out on Wikipedia, where some of Newt Gingrich's staffers are doing their darndest to keep his Wikipedia page shiny and clean. Read the article, then come back here:

It's fascinating to me that this sort of thing is now commonplace, and it highlights one of the biggest problems with Wikipedia. In a world where anyone can contribute to a resource that so many people turn to for "facts," there can be trench warfare over what constitutes a fact and what doesn't. As I read it, his aide is trying to downplay elements that might be damaging to the candidate, while others are trying to highlight them.

It's for situations like these that publications need impartial editors. (But then again, are editors really impartial--this same process also has me wondering and thinking about the way editorial power has been used over the years to influence public opinion. Perhaps this is just a new version of an old phenomenon--just more public now that it's happening on a public forum.)

In any case, I don't really have anything more to add to the discussion. Just thought this real-world application of a problem I talk about to students in classrooms all the time was fascinating.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Learning new things

For today's Resource Wednesday, I thought it'd be neat to look at some of the ways the 'Net brings us great new ways to learn. (I plan to dig into some of these in more detail later, so consider this a taste...)

Passionate people, briefly being brilliant:
One of my favorite ways to learn about totally new-to-me topics has become the TED talks. TED started as a series of annual conferences (focused on Technology, Education, and Design), bringing in some of the top experts in the world to give brief (10-20 minute) speeches about the things they know best. They now film them, and make them available (900+ and counting) for free online, and a number of offshoot events have also developed.

I find them fascinating not just for the content (which covers a huge range of fields) but also for what I can learn about making a powerful, fascinating presentation. In some future week, I'll post some of my favorites, but in the meantime, browse away from their list.

Crowd-sourced wisdom:
All right, we all know that just Googling it doesn't work for some kinds of questions, right? (That's a big part of why we in the library are here, after all - there's a lot of academic questions where that's the case, of course.)

But what happens when you want to know something complicated - how to move across country with an odd combination of pets? What's a great free online tool to solve a particular problem? What foods could you make that would take you through a long day of classes and work, without needing a fridge or a microwave?

Enter AskMetafilter. Part of a much larger site (Metafilter itself is focused on discussion of links and online material, the idea being that the cool stuff rises to the top), AskMetafilter is focused on questions and answers. It's been my first stop for several years for general questions where I want well-focused answers to a particular practical issue or interest.

How does it work? You can browse the site all you like for free (you'll see some ads). If you'd like to post a question or respond, you'll need to pay a $5 user registration fee. It's one time (not a subscription), and it helps both support the site, and keep a handle on spamming and other problematic behavior. (It's a method that's unusual in online sites, but works really well for them.)

And a few other notes: the content on the site is widely varying: you may find things that are not to your taste. Discussions do have moderation to keep them within site guidelines, but of course, moderators may not have spotted a problem comment yet. Their FAQ has lots of answers to questions you might have about how the site works. And of course, use your head, and evaluate the information you get from this source, just like you would any other.

Learn something new:
One of my goals for a while has been to learn a little more about programming. (I took a class in college, but that was both a long time ago, and didn't get used again - so it's fallen out of my brain.) I'd started playing with a site called Code Academy, and in January, they started a project called Code Year, where you do a series of short lessons (new ones every week) that take you through a lot of coding basics.

I'm still on week two, but I'm learning a lot. (If you've never done any kind of programming or coding before, the learning curve is a little steep, but they've got forums and other help information - and there's a lot of people doing it, so there are little communities growing up to share ideas and resources.)