Category Archives: 23 things

Sometimes I go on the internet, but everyone’s spelling is so bad it’s depressing

Like many other 23 Things bloggers, I’m a big fan of YouTube. It’s great when you’re trying to remember an advert from ten years ago, or you want lots of funny videos about cats. Personally, I don’t watch much ‘user generated’ content there, mostly because life’s too short and there’s just too much to keep up with. The BBC has an excellent presence, letting me catch up with little bits of shows rather than having to skim the iPlayer looking for the clip I want. The Muppets channel is also excellent, and hearing Beaker sing Ode To Joy is one of life’s little pleasures.

I hadn’t encountered YouTube EDU before, and I can see how it would be very useful as well, although I do wonder if it encourages students to stay in bed rather than come to lectures. Call be old-fashioned, but I do think there’s something good about having to actually attend in person – I made some great friends that way while I was studying. On the other hand, if your lecturer’s style is impenetrable, I can see how it would be useful to be able to go over it at your own speed, and especially for science subjects, where a lecturer can fill six or seven blackboards in the course of an hour, being able to see the talk as well as hear it could be invaluable.

When it comes to comments, YouTube is fairly notorious for being just about the bottom of the barrel, even for the internet. Personally, I don’t ever read them, just in case. There’s even a Firefox add-on so you don’t have to – YouTube Comment Snob actually blocks the comments for you. I also think that, as usual, XKCD has it just about right:

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Filed under 23 things, Thing 12

Pod-addicted

My most recent technology purchase was an iPod Touch, a considerable step up from my old, chunky MP3 player. It has lots of fun features, not least an addictive touchscreen game, but undoubtedly the best thing about it is how it handles podcasts. If I’m honest, I don’t find iTunes the most instinctive programme in the world, and I have terrible trouble with my music on it since most of them are compilation albums and the tracks all come out in the wrong order. But when it comes to podcasts, iTunes is hard to beat, and they all show up beautifully on my touch.

I have subscriptions to twelve or so Radio 4 podcasts, which is essential for me, since the only thing the Touch doesn’t have is a radio. I’ve been a Radio 4 listener since I was 13, and it’s an impossible habit to break, so having something that will easily handle lots and lots of podcasts is just wonderful. In fact, I specifically bought the 32GB version so that I could keep the programmes on there for as long as I wanted.

My favourite podcasts are probably In Our Time and the Friday night comedy, but I also love More or Less and The Bottom Line. I tend not to listen to current affairs ones, since by the time I get round to listening to them, they’re usually very out of date. A more recent discovery is iTunes U, and I’m still getting used to that one. The lectures are very good, but they lose something when you can’t see the visual aids. Having said that, the Romp Through The History of Philosophy lecture is just brilliant, and I really enjoyed the Reception of Classics one as well. I miss studying, and being able to listen to actual lectures – not just talks/interviews put on for the sake of podcasting – is an absolute joy. My next stop is to investigate the BodCasts and some lectures from other universities, which I also think are a great idea. It’ll be interesting to (for example) compare classics teaching here at Oxford to somewhere like Harvard or Sydney. My main problem with this kind of thing is that my eyes are bigger than my ears and things can languish on the ‘unlistened to’ list for a long time before I remember I’ve got them. Having said that, I could honestly fill my iPod with just Radio 4 podcasts and 2 or 3 music albums and be happy for months to come.

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Filed under 23 things, Thing 11

Networking

As I think I said in Thing 9, Delicious Networks aren’t really something I’ve explored very far. I did add the Law Library to my account though, and I had a skim through what my existing network had bookmarked recently. From what I can see, they’re mostly looking for pretty pictures and knitting patterns. It could be worse.

I can definitely see the value of a Delicious network, kept in some kind of organised fashion, for a group of people who share interests. If I’m honest, I wouldn’t add me to my network, unless I had an interest in randomness gathered on the internet. Actually, put like that, maybe my bookmarks are more entertaining than I think. Through my copious RSS feeds, I gather all kinds of random and interesting webpages. Like people who have a quotation or a song for every occasion, I usually have a webpage for every occasion, or I know where to get one (usually Lifehacker). It’s been useful more than once, and I suppose it might be useful to others as well.
Generally though, I would think Delicious networks are best for shared interest groups, or for trusted sources or where you’re sure the tagging is consistent. So if you need to stay up to date with Law, adding us to your network so you always know when the latest books on your subject come in is hugely valuable. It might even be a good way for students to share useful websites between themselves. If they’re using other collaborative tools (eg Googledocs), it might be a good place to keep links to the various documents and articles for a project – you could just add the project tag and other members of the group could find it.
On the other hand, just adding people at random probably isn’t such a good idea. Yes, this is going to be a recurring theme in this blog, but the principles of provenance and authority don’t stop applying just because you’re on the internet. If anything, with Web 2.0 tools, critical thinking and evaluation are even more important. Either that, or you just accept that you’re going to pick up 90% rubbish (you should see some of the things in my GoogleReader), but it’s worth it for that 10% gold.

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Filed under 23 things, Thing 10

Tag! You’re it!

I’ve been intrigued to read people’s reactions to Delicious, and thought I’d better write my own thoughts down before I go commenting on other people’s blogs.

I am a huge, huge fan of Delicious and use it all the time. The first thing I do when I update my browser or get a new one (I’ve recently switched from Firefox to Chrome) is to install the Delicious extension, so that I can save bookmarks wherever I am. As mentioned in my photo post below, I move between computers all the time; today, I will be using the one at my desk, the one at the main enquiry desk, my netbook and probably the desktop at home as well. Trying to save bookmarks onto the computer is therefore completely pointless, as they’ll be inaccessible to me when I move. By using Delicious, I’ve always got them, no matter where I’m working.

One of the big complaints I’ve seen about Delicious is the tagging, and I have to admit that I understand this one. I don’t really use my Delicious Network at all (although maybe I should, since my friends always seem to know where to find the cool stuff), and it is frustrating when people have tagged badly or inconsistently. On the other hand, I know plenty of people who are paragons of virtue when it comes to tagging, and it’s incredibly easy to find things on the subjects they’re interested in.

The other complaint about Delicious has been volume. There is an enormous amount of information on Delicious, how can you possibly find what you want? In all honesty, that’s the kind of question you could apply to the whole internet. We all know that it can be tricky to explain to students that not everything they need can be found through Google, or rather that there are quicker and easier ways of finding things. For me, Delicious is much like that. My personal network (different from my work one) consists of people I know and trust to find interesting things. If I’m looking for information, I start with the source that’s most likely to know the answer, and that source is not often going to be Delicious. On the other hand, if I’m looking for something good to read, and someone in my network saves book reviews, that would be an excellent place to start. Yes, there are inconsistencies between tagging styles, but most people are internally consistent, and a glance at their tag list will generally show this up. I don’t really regard it as any different to evaluating any other source of information:

~ Does this contain the kind of of information I want? If I’m looking for car advice and all the links I can see relate to penguins, then this may not be the place.
~ Is the tagging consistent? If it isn’t, then it’s going to take me so long to find what I want that I may as well try someone else.
~ What are the sources being linked to? You have to know what kind of information you want – do you want blogs or official websites or book recommendations for further reading.

These are basic questions that librarians don’t even think about most of the time, yet it’s a critical faculty that tends to fall by the wayside when we start looking at the internet. We look at the volume, the lack of editorial control, the inconsisten approach to structure and assume this means it’s not going to be of use. But these are essentially different ways of disseminating information, and there’s no need to approach them any differently to any other information source.

Delicious is just a tool for accessing information that other people found useful. If it doesn’t suit the way you work, then there are good alternatives. Personally, I find it fascinating to see how other people have tagged information – sometimes that can be as interesting as the information itself! – and while I would never use it as a primary source of information, I can definitely see the value in looking at what other people found useful. As long as I’m still free to evaluate these things for myself, I can definitely see the value in people sharing resources. And cute pictures of cats, which seems to be most of what’s on my network at the moment…

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Filed under 23 things, Thing 09

The look of the Thing

Things 7 and 8 were to do with photo editing, which isn’t something I feel I have a particular knack for. I love photographs, but I take very bad ones, and I don’t really have a good enough eye for colour/style to feel confident doing interesting things to my pictures. So I thought this ‘Thing’ was going to be fairly quick and simple. I already have a Flickr account, which I use for keeping pictures of my crocheting in, so that didn’t need anything doing to it, and I figured I’d just prod at Picnik a little to see what it could do and leave it at that. My photos are already in sets, and although I can see the value of the map feature if you’re taking pictures of exotic climes, it’s not really much use for crochet! So I thought I’d be able to rattle through these Things in pretty short order.

As usual, I vastly underestimated how much time I can waste on the internet.

In all honesty, I’m not a huge fan of Flickr. I use it because it’s compatible with the widest range of websites and because Ravelry links directly into it. But in Livejournal, I usually post using basic html, which means I just want the URL of the picture so that I can insert it into my post, and I find Photobucket much, much better for that. Also, having got my pictures into Flickr, I can’t seem to work out how to get them out again, which is fine if I just want to show people them there, but what if I want to email them to someone, or save them somewhere else? How do I shift them from my Flickr to my Photobucket or Picasa (which I also use, albeit ineptly)?

I think Picnik may become my friend at this point. I was very impressed with the functionality, and the ‘autofix’ button is my new best friends. My pictures which were taken under horrible lighting conditions suddenly show their true colours, and I notice that I can save the results pretty much wherever I want, as well as uploading them to Flickr. I’m a big fan of web-based tools, since I spend so much time shifting from one computer to another, so being able to alter and re-save my pictures is going to be of real benefit to me.

To give you an idea of the improvements, below are ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures of some of my work:


All in all, I think that’s a pretty good result! I’m chuffed to bits with Picnik, and can see myself using it quite a lot for all kinds of things.

The only part of these Things I’ve had trouble with is adding my pictures to the 23 Things Pool on Flickr. Although I’ve been aware of Flickr Pools for a while, I’ve never really explored them (see above about not being a big fan). Again, it’s something that I see the value in, but can’t really see myself using very much. Also, in my browser, I couldn’t get the ‘add to pool’ button to work, and had to tab through to it in order to press it! For a group of friends or a regular club I can see how the Pool tool would be brilliant. For me, not so much.

Overall, I’m still not a big fan of Flickr for what I want to do with pictures on the internet, but this Thing has forced me to look at it a bit harder. I still consider the navigation to be poor and the functionality to be tricky, but I’m starting to see why it’s so popular. Picnik on the other hand, I’m an instant convert to, and if that means using Flickr as well, then so be it.

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Filed under 23 things, Thing 07, Thing 08

Ah, Google Reader, where would I be without you? As with other parts of 23 Things, I’m using my existing Google Reader for this, since it’s already over-subscribed! The only trouble with it is that it’s attached to a different online identity, but the screencap gives you an idea of how it’s set up:

As you can see, I’ve got lots of folders there, and expanding just one of them will give you an idea why:

And that’s just the library blogs. Trust me, the Fun Stuff folder fills up much more quickly!
My method of using Google Reader is to open everything that interests me, ignore everything that doesn’t, then go back in 5 minute breaks during the day and have a look at the tabs I’ve opened. If they’re interesting, I read them or save them to my Delicious account for reference. If they’re not, then I just close the tab. Yes, it takes time, but I gather all kinds of random pieces of information from places, and I pick up all kinds of tips and tricks.
My favourite feeds at the moment are Lifehacker, which is a selection of tips and tricks for just about everything, the O’Reilly Radar blog and the Unclutter blog, which is more of a dream world than a reality for me, however hard I try! The best thing about Google Reader is the organisation, but the second best is definitely the search box. I love being able to just roughly type in what I want and let Google do the hard work for me. Since I move from computer to computer all the time, I need something web-based to store these things, so it suits me down to the ground. The only thing I don’t like is that it marks the first n posts of a new feed as unread. After my orgy of Following yesterday, the number of unread posts nearly gave me a heart attack. The ‘mark all as read’ button is definitely my friend at that point!

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Filed under 23 things, Thing 05, Thing 06

Thing 4 update

Being the glutton for punishment that I am, I clicked on every link in the sidebar at the 23 Things Blog. Yup, that’s right, I looked at every single 23 Things blog at Oxford. It was an interesting experience.

Common themes included not having enough time ‘for this blogging thing’, that RSS readers take too much time to get through, or just plain not seeing the point of some ‘Things’ at all. There were also a few people deeply concerned about privacy issues, especially when it came to photographs.

Maybe it’s just that these technologies have been part of my life for a long time, but in all honesty, none of those issues occurred to me. I’ve had a blog of some kind for 4 years now, an RSS reader for 2, and I can’t imagine starting my day without either of them. My mother always used to say that if you do something for 30 days it becomes a habit, and the lines of checking feeds and blogs are so ingrained in my mind that you’d need sandpaper to get them out.

So, who do I follow? I’m going firstly for colleagues at my library, then former colleagues at other libraries. After that, it will literally just be ‘whoever looks interesting’. Maybe the more pertinent question would be ‘who do I not follow?’ I instantly closed tabs for blogs where the font or colour scheme was hard on my eyes, or where I found the layout hard to follow. It’s made me think about the design of my own blog and what it says about me when you first click into it. Yes, it’s easy to read, but it’s nowhere near as friendly-looking as many of the others I went to. That’s definitely something I want to solve. I also want to build up a good blog-roll and get commenting on other people’s posts. Unfortunately all of this means that I will have to wrestle with Blogge’rs templates and designs (not to mention how to make a jump cut, because I have such a tendency to ramble!). After 4 years of using Livejournal, this could prove tricky!

On the privacy front, again, it never occurred to me to worry about it. I’ve always worked on the principle of ‘if you don’t want people to read it, don’t put it out there’, and I’m intrigued as to why people want to erase their identities once the 23 Things programme is over. Not that they’re wrong to want to do so, I just don’t understand the impulse. If the blog is successful, then it’s a great tool for showing off your skills. If it’s not, then…does it really matter? If anyone happens past (unlikely but you never know), maybe you could explain that one to me.

Incidentally, following on from my ‘multiple identity’ post a few days ago, I had a moment of indecision when asked if I wanted to add a profile picture to Blogger. On my personal blog, I have an icon that is one of the main things people associate with me. I tried changing it a few months ago and thoroughly confused a whole bunch of my friends. Sad as it may sound, I’ve even designed my Livejournal’s colour scheme around it, since it’s my online ‘face’. Choosing something else would be like having plastic surgery. So I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to use it for my Blogger ID as well. On the one hand, I wanted to keep my personal and professional blogs separate, on the other, that’s mostly because I don’t think professional colleagues are particularly interested in hearing my thoughts on last night’s Doctor Who or whether or not it rained on my way to work. There’s not actually anything in my personal blog that would embarrass me to colleagues, (I don’t think…) so I decided I’d keep the same face. Otherwise, it would be like looking in the mirror and seeing a stranger looking back at me. I’m honestly not sure what it says about me that changing my online picture would cause me an identity crisis!

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Filed under 23 things, Thing 04