Monday, August 31, 2009

New Titles List Virtual Book Shelf

I've been able to leverage the amazing work that Jon Gorman (University of Illinois - Library - Help Desk) has put in on updating the New Titles program and that the Office of Web Services (University of Illinois - Public Affairs) has done with the Web Services Toolbox (access restricted to University of Illinois - sorry ;) to produce an automated, one-book-at-a-time view of New Titles. Putting the two together is perhaps the best match since peanut butter met chocolate. Below is an example of what this tool does. Bear in mind this example is purposefully restricted to a collection with a limited number of new titles; you can potentially have hundreds of titles show up here. Also, the Office of Web Services is (probably :) going to be adding a feature that will allow you to randomize the order the books are displayed (right now they display in the order the are listed in the RSS New Titles Feed). You can get the complete details on how to set this up on the How to make a New Titles Virtual Bookshelf Slideshow. For general help using the New Title program, see Help for New Titles @ the University Library.

Library and Information Science, New Titles This Month RSS

Interesting Neilsen column on card sorting and keyword bias

Card Sorting: Pushing Users Beyond Terminology Matches

I read this, and thought about a usability study/site redesign I have been mapping out in my own mind for a few months now. Why not, before the card sort, perform an initial round of open-ended questioning of your actual (or possible) users? Start by telling your subjects (in as simple, vague a way as possible) about the type of information the site will contain (e.g. this is a site for a academic library, or this is a site for an online retailer that sell shoes, etc). Then ask the users "what type of information, tools, and services would you expect to find on this type of site?" and even "What type of information, tools, and services would you like to find on this type of site, even it seems like that would be impossible"- to make sure the don't limit their expectations unnecessarily at the outset. Then, for the card sorting, create cards with all the keyword/phrases you cull from those initial open-ended questions. Jumble the cards up and ask your card sorters (different people than answered the open-ended questions) to do the normal card sorting routine. Now no terms come directly from the site content authors or the people running the study, but from actual users. Then, ask the card sorters to do the normal sorting and grouping and labeling of groups, and you'd arrive at a less biased end result- or at least a result that's biased by actual user terminology, instead of site designers, content creators, and testers… Does this sound feasible and workable?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Publishing to Blogger from Word 2007 with pictures – a resounding defeat :(

Well, I sat down on Saturday afternoon with what I thought would be a relatively simple task- find a way to publish my blog post from Word 2007 to blogger (which I normally do) and include images in the process. To date, I have just been publishing the posts, then later logging in to blogger to add the images separately. Not to terrible a process, but it just _seems_ like this should be one-click-to-publish easy. Well, at ten in the evening on Saturday night, I finally threw in the towel and admitted defeat.

I did quite a lot of research, coming through the Microsoft support sites and developer blogs, and gathered a ton of great information from the blogosphere in general. I found that I was not alone in this desire to post directly from Word 2007 to blogger and include images.

To start with, we have this very unhelpful bit of information from Microsoft Help and Support, "You cannot upload a picture from a hard disk to the Blogger server in Word 2007." Of course, I quickly discovered this isn't _quite_ true (at least not anymore, although it might have been when that Help & Support article was originally authored), because another Microsoft product that supports blogging, Windows Live Writer 2009, provides integrated, simple, direct support for posting to blogger, including images. In fact, Writer goes a step further even- if you're worried about running out of limited image spaces on you blogger account, it's provided integration with Flickr. With Writer, you can configure it to store your images on flicker, and Writer automatically generates the appropriate code to hotlink out to the image from your blogger post; so some of the teams as MS have sorted this out. I wish they would just wrap this code/feature set back in to Word 2007, but I'm not holding my breath. From all I can tell reading various MSDN blogs, it looks like new features aren't going to be added to Word 2007 anymore, with all new development efforts instead focusing on the next MS Office Suite, Microsoft Office 2010/Office 14. I understand the need to stop development on an old product to move to the next one, but with the Blog Post format/feature seeming like such an unloved, unsupported afterthought in Word 2007, I wish it could get just a little touch up before end of life for Office 2007.

You might be thinking right now "you big whiner, just use Windows Live Writer 2009 instead!" And that's valid- I tried it out and it works pretty well. But, it lacks, so far, many of the features that I've come to like in Word 2007. I get the argument that the various developer camps make- one is a tool built for the needs of "serious bloggers" and the other meets the needs of "serious document authors." I really like the grammar checking features in Word 2007, something that Writer currently lacks. Plus, Word is already built to integrate so nicely with all my other Office applications. And finally, I just like the layout of Word 2007 a bit more than Writer 2009.

So, I started looking for other workarounds. I figured I'd just find a way to use the option to upload to my own server via FTP for picture support. First I looked for free hosts. The problem here is you need to find three things that seem mutually exclusive

  1. A stable host (I found a few free hosts that should work, based on their TOS, but all of them were either down from too much load, or no longer existent) that
  2. Allows ftp upload via a URL (either anonymous FTP, or FTP that allows you to pass your username/password in the URL, like you can with Photobucket Pro accounts)
  3. Finally, and this was a really sticking point, didn't expressly forbid the practice of image hotlinking (hosting images/media on their server, but actually using it from another site, like blogger). This last one might not bother some people who'd just use the account to host their media, figuring their TOS violations would never be noticed. But I was doing this research with the intention (originally) of posting a solution to this problem, and I didn't want to suggest something to anyone that might one day stop working (meaning you'd need to go back and replace all the images in all your previous blog posts)

Thoroughly stymied, I next turned to finding a normal, paid for web host that would let me do everything listed above. First I looked for simple image hosts. Flickr doesn't let you post via FTP, so that didn't work. Then I looked at Photobucket. Their new pro accounts support ftp upload that works just as Word 2007 required. I quickly grabbed a pro account, configured Word 2007 to use that as my image server, and tried to post… and failure. Upon further digging, I found that Word 2007 was actually successfully uploading the images in my posts to Photobucket (annoying always converting my images to PNG format, but I could have lived with that). But Word reported that it couldn't publish the post in each of these cases (and the blogger post wasn't published at all). A bit of digging revealed that Photobucket only allows certain image file types to be uploaded. PNG is one of the supported types, so my guess here is that Word 2007 is posting both a PNG, as well as some sort of housekeeping file as well (MS just loves to create all those tiny, little, normally hidden system files to document various file related activities) and when they get the 553 error returned for this housekeeping file (prohibited file name) the publishes process just errors out and gives up.

Next I turned to looking for just straight up, no restrictions web hosting services (that would hopefully allow me to post almost _any_ file type via ftp). The problem I ran in to here was almost every host I could find expressly forbids hotlinking. I also have a sneaking suspicion that many of them programmatically block access to their images from referrers other than the domain you've contracted with hem to run your site on- you've likely seen this before in other blog posts, where instead of the image you expect to see/post, you see an image that says something like "hotlinking is bandwidth leeching and we don't allow it! Please view this image on the original site it was posted to…" or something to that effect. I do have one glimmer of hope. I'm having an email exchange right now with the hosting service . Their TOS doesn't expressly forbid hotlinking, and I asked them specifically if I could use them to host materials I was going to link to from my blogger account. They said that is allowed. However, I neglected to ask if they support FTP uploads via a simple URL (either anonymous or by passing the username/password along with the URL) and am waiting on a response to that question. Of course this solution, even if it works, means you'd be running a $4/month bill to support easy image integration with Word 2007 blog posts to blogger. This seems an untenable solution for most blogger users because they likely use blogger because, among other excellent reasons, it's free!

For now, I only see three potential solutions to this down the road. If we are lucky, Microsoft will roll the advanced blog/image hosts support from Writer into Word 2007 (that seems unlikely). If not, then perhaps some good samaritan out there (I wish I had the time to do this myself) will write an add-in for MS Word 2007 that will provide better support for publishing to blogs(given that Office 2007 is so near EOL, that also seems pretty unlikely). Finally, and most likely, those of us who post to blogger from MS word will be pleasantly surprised that when we upgrade to Microsoft Office 2010/Office 14 the support for blogging will have been vastly improved.

I'd love to hear from anyone who has found a fix for this problem that I've overlooked, particularly if it can leverage free services/hosts to do so.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Shortcut to open Word 2007 References Panel – Alt+Click

I love keyboard shortcuts and accelerators. Usually I track them down on my own, once I've started using a feature often enough in an application to warrant it. But, every so often I'll accidentally hit just the right combination of keys in an application to launch a shortcut I wasn't aware of. Usually, it's something I don't really want (I often curse ctrl+d in word 2007, when I really meant to hit ctrl+s). Very rarely, however, it's for something I actually find useful. Today that turned out to be alt+click on a document in Word 2007. If you alt+click on a word, it will launch the references panel, providing instant access to a dictionary and thesaurus (and a host of other potentially useful reference tools).

One word of warning- I'd suggest against using this shortcut if you are working on a Word 2007 Blog Post. I just tried it to double-check something, and it seems to crash Word 2007 about half the time on blog documents. It seems perfectly stable in normal word documents.

Screen shot of reference panel open in word 2007

(By the way, I still haven't found a reasonable way to use images with Word 2007 + Blogger. I'm still manually coming in later and uplaoding images through the blogger interface. Has anyone figured this out yet?)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

First thoughts on: Abdullah & Gibb, Students' attitudes towards e-books in a Scottish higher education institution: part 2

Library Review 57.9 (September 2008): p676-689. doi: 10.1108/00242530810911798 (University of Illinois Access)

Why should you read this: More in depth analysis of NetLibrary collections have been conducted, but there are some interesting similarities between e-book users and non-users reviewed. At least worth skimming.

At a glance [and my thoughts]:

An analysis of the use of two netLibrary e-book collections, and a survey 18 users of those collections (half e-book users, half non e-book users).

Interesting quote: "Despite their positive reaction and attitudes towards e-books, students commented that e-books needed to be promoted more strongly and that there were limitations with respect to use." P. 676

Interesting quote: "…the larger the number of e-titles in a subject collection then the larger the percentage of e-titles accessed." [A critical mass of electronic books is necessary in a patrons subject area before they begin to except, and heavily use, those e-collections?] p.679

Interesting quote: "it can be concluded that the largest subject holdings and the most accessed subject vary depending on the specialisms of the institutions, the number of titles subscribed to by the institutions' libraries, and the e-book promotion conducted by the institutions and their staff." p.682

Interesting quote: "respondents preferred to use a printed book (94 per cent) for 'extended reading'…. Respondents (67 per cent) preferred to use an e-book for both 'finding relevant content' and 'fact finding'." p.685

Interesting quote: "search tasks that involved simple and advanced searches were rated as 'easy' in general … The test… demonstrated no significant relationship in so far as users' experience of using or not using e-books before the survey did not influence their rating of the ease of use of the search and browse tasks." p.688

First thoughts on: Abdullah & Gibb, Students' attitudes towards e-books in a Scottish higher education institution: part 1

Library Review 57.8 (August 2008): p593-605. doi: 10.1108/00242530810899577 (University of Illinois Access)

Why should you read this: Well written- concise and informative. A must read for people interested in academic e-book use.

At a glance [and my thoughts]:

Analysis of a self selected survey of 1,372 students (from a target population of 13,568), 90%undergrad and 10% grad in responses, to ascertain student awareness of, level of use of, and methods of use of e-books; as well as the reason students choose to use (or not to use) e-books.

72 percent familiar with the term e-book, 60% had never used an e-book, 57% didn't know the library had e-books. [Issue of awareness possibly, but also possibly that people don't yet think of the e-book as the default go-to format when they need a book]

Most popular e-book format: computer based ebook (92%) [versus reading on a dedicated device like a Kindle]

Most common type of text read: textbook (42 %)

Most popular reading methods: on screen: 67%, printed out 25%

Most frequent reasons for e-book using: research for a project, essay, etc.\

Least frequent: leisure reading

Most common reason for using e-books: freely available (from the library), followed y "no equivalent print book available"

Reason for not using: top answers - unaware of them (34.4%) and prefer print (21.7). [However, this was followed by several other categories which I really think are subsets of "prefer print," bringing prefer print up to 51.7%, making it the most common reason for not using e-books… the e-book isn't yet enough like the printed book to attract many people yet?]

Interesting quote: "On the negative side, apart from the much repeated comment that reading on screen for extended periods was uncomfortable and hence printed books were preferred, students commented that e-book provision in their library was limited in terms of viewing times and print quotas…copy and print policies… should be reviewed… to promote more usage of e-books" pg 603

Trying something new…

Well, today is a research day, and I'm busy catching up on the backlog of e-books articles I've been meaning to get to for the last few months. I am a major note taker/annotator when reading; it helps me get my thoughts together better when I am prepping to write something. A huge amount of the meta-data I generate never actually gets put to any use. Starting today I'm going to post my notes/thoughts on what I'm reading, in the hopes that someone might find it useful.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Firefox 3.5 problems with openCMS

We’ve recently discovered a bug in openCMS specific to Firefox. This problem only effects Firefox (not internet explorer) and only version 3.5 and up.

The problematic behavior occurs when you try to browse directories in the CMS. Most of the time, the system just seems to hang, never updating your workspace directory view, making it difficult (and often impossible) to browse to the content you need to edit or create.

The changes to how Firefox 3.5 and above handles JavaScript may cause problems with other sites and web applications that rely heavily on JavaScript as well. We are currently working on patching openCMS so that it will work natively with Firefox 3.5+ . In the interim, there is a simple workaround that will allow you to configure Firefox 3.5+ so that it will execute JavaScript the same way that pre 3.5 versions did.

  1. Open Firefox
  2. Determine your Firefox version by selecting to Help > About Mozilla Firefox from the menu bar
  3. If your version is 3.5 or greater, then you are affected, continue to step four. Otherwise, you have nothing to worry about
  4. Type:
    into the Firefox address bar and hit enter
  5. Click the “I’ll be careful I promise” button
  6. In the Filter box type:
  7. In the results list, right click on "javascript.options.jit.content" and select Toggle. This should set the value for this entry to false (you can also just double click the entry javascript.options.jit.content to toggle this value between true and false)

That’s it, you’re done. This change does not require you to restart your machine or browser.