19 June 2008

Thing 5: Forward! (into the past)

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Even after reading Thing 5 most carefully, I'm still not 100 percent sure what a "mashup" is. The word evokes the aftermath of an industrial disaster: large machines locked together in a crumpled steel embrace.

But I do know how to use someone else's JavaScript, and that's what I need to do to fulfill Thing 5. Above is what I created from Erik Kastner's "Spell with Flickr" tool. It means "Forward" (the exclamation point wouldn't fit on one line, but it's really better as "Fram!") in Norwegian. This is the name of a famous (to Norwegians) ship that explored the North Pole in the 1890s. It was frozen in the polar ice for two years, but it—and its captain, Fridtjof Nansen— still made it back to Oslo in one piece.

18 June 2008

Thing 4: Not Quite Done

I realize I am starting to sound like a professional skeptic on these pages, but I cannot help viewing Flickr with deep suspicion -- and not just because its name bears a strong resemblance to one of the Green Lantern's villains. Thing 4, which I am lurching back to after a brief dabble with Things ahead of my time, is all about online photo-sharing and tagging. You can join groups, too. To Flickr enthusiasts, it's like we're all at a family picnic, checking out the photo albums.

Except that your average family doesn't have millions of people eating potato salad, and it never occurred to Aunt Mabel that she might want to protect the privacy of Baby Sissy before she passed her picture around the picnic table. But Flickr, according to the Web site, had more than 4,200 photos uploaded to it in the minute before I typed this. That's a lot of pictures, and a lot of people looking at them.

Full disclosure: A good friend of my family nearly went to jail about 10 years ago when an overzealous photo-processing guy mistook a photo of her grade-school daughter in the bathtub for something much less innocuous than it really, truly was. My friend lost her job, which was driving a school bus, and spent more than a year and a lot of money she didn't have defending herself in court. That was in the quaint days of film and paper. Now imagine the living hell she and her daughter might have gone through if her photos were "processed" up in the sky, as they are for so many nowadays.

Apparently things on Flickr get labeled "public" by default. The Washington Post reported in February 2008, in an article titled "Online Photos Not as Private as Mother Assumed," that a D.C. mother's photos of her skinny-dipping children, which she intended just for her and her parents to see, instead got thousands of hits from strangers.

"Are creepy people searching through thousands of pictures looking for random naked ones?" this mother asked the reporter. Uh, yes. It's the Internet, lady.

And for those of you who are wondering if I'm blathering on about privacy because I forgot to bring in a digital camera to fulfill the actual terms of Thing 4, you're right. More tomorrow, and hopefully more to the point.

17 June 2008

Thing 12: Put Down That Shovel!

As someone who has started just about every day of her adult life with a newspaper, I do not understand my aversion to social media sites. After all, information is my life. I want to know what's happening in my community and in the world; when things are wrong, I want to charge in and change them. As a sometime op-ed columnist, I used to express strong opinions in print about these events.

So I figured I would give all these newsy Web sites recommended in Thing 12 more than a fighting chance. For several days last week, I dug at Digg. I read it at Reddit. I mixed it up at Mixx. I even stumbled into StumbleUpon. And I emerged from all this with a brain that felt like it had been crumpled up and rolled in the dirt. This was true even after I went the extra mile and registered at Digg (which had been recommended by my excellent Web-developer instructor as well), so that I could tailor its home page to my own interests. Except that these seemed to be my interests as interpreted by a distracted 12-year-old boy. "Education," for example, turns out to be a catch-all category that includes Bruce Lee, sex guides, and Rupert Murdoch. "Offbeat"? Don't even go there.

Working my way through the Thing 12 list, at last I ended up at the New York Times. And omygosh, but the Gray Lady is just a sight for sore eyes. Maybe it's the typeface, maybe it's the large(r) news-to-ad ratio, but I just feel reassured when I look at it. I didn't even mind that the beta "My Times" page wouldn't retain any of my changes (after all, why should I want to know the weather anywhere west of the Hudson?). No Bruce Lee, very few sex guides, and definitely no Rupert. This is really my kind of news. And they've been delivering it since 1852.

10 June 2008

Thing 11: Out of Order

Emboldened by my colleague Owen's example (he is doing the 23 Things in seemingly random order), I embarked on Things 11 and 12 this week instead of the planned Things 4, 5, and 6. Since I use several different computers and am always looking for bookmarks on one computer that actually exist on the computer three miles away, I have been wanting something like del.icio.us for some time—even though I still find those extra periods a little daunting. And the whole concept of "social bookmarking" intrigues me.

So here are my answers to the prompts for Thing 11:
  • Can you see the potential of this tool for research assistance? Or just as an easy way to create bookmarks that can be accessed from anywhere? The accessibility is what appeals to me. Using other people's bookmark "tags" for research assistance might come in handy down the line, but I would see this more as a way to make non-life-changing decisions than as a source of serious information gathering. And, so far, it's a lot harder for me to find my bookmarks in the online del.icio.us site than it is for me to get them from my browser toolbar. In the time it takes me track down the del.icio.us version, I tend to forget what I was looking for.

  • How can your library or media center take advantage of tagging and del.icio.us? Look at the sites in the Resource list to see how libraries are using Del.icio.us. I like the way the San Mateo Library is using del.icio.us as a Library of Congress classification-number sidebar. I could see doing something like that as a way to help the university professors I work with find specific resources in their area.

Thing 3: Rebecca's Sort of Satisfied

I did Thing 3 (RSS feeds) in one afternoon last week, but I never got around to blogging about it (or about anything else, for that matter). So here goes, using the prompts from the "23 Things" page:
  • What do you like about RSS and newsreaders?
    I like the idea of being able to go to one place to get updated on all the information on a particular topic. It's too bad that the reality only imperfectly matches the idea.

  • How do you think you might be able to use this technology in your school or personal life?
    I do plan to be checking my Google Reader page on a regular basis―or, if I can remember it, the "Next >>" version (which shows you only recently updated articles). Already I am e-mailing around articles that I've found this way―on a selective basis only, of course.

  • How can teachers or media specialists/libraries use RSS or take advantage of this new technology?
    Keeping current on professional literature is the obvious use. Unfortunately, I fear, to an outsider watching me do this on the reference desk, this looks a lot like Wasting Time.

  • Which tool for finding feeds was easiest to use?
    Bloglines and Google BlogSearch were about equally easy to use, although (as usual) I like the clean lines of Google better. On neither was my sample search satisfactory. On Bloglines, my search for "sewing college memory quilt" (I'm interested in hearing about people who've done this, since my daughter is off to college this fall) got me 71 hits, but since "Porn Video! 586700 Free Sex Movies!" was #6, I kind of lost faith in the others. The same search on Google got 204 hits; when I clicked on #2, a promising-sounding blog called "Simply Quilts," I got instead a random ad for eBay.

  • What other tools or ways did you find to locate newsfeeds?
    My most satisfactory way was to visit the Web pages I like and add them manually to my blog reader. The library-blog search site on "23 Things" proved to be more of a graveyard for dead blogs.

  • Find any great sources we should all add to our feed reader?
    I have to say that the best part of doing Thing 3 was finding non-RSS ways of keeping current. There's something called the Shelf Awareness newsletter―"daily enlightenment for the book trade"―that's available by (free) subscription only, not through RSS, but thanks to this exercise I finally got around to signing up for it. Ditto for a site called Ravelry.com, a beta "online community" (maybe this is covered in another Thing?) for fiber-minded folks, where I got actual usable answers to my memory-quilt search.