23 Things Cambridge

Friday, 16 July 2010


I've spent an enjoyable part-afternoon exploring LibraryThing on behalf of the Wolfson Contemporary Reading Group (or WCRG as it's known). We have a (fairly dull) website, which includes list of all the books we've discussed since the Group started in 2005, but I'm still asked quite regularly what sort of thing we read, or by regulars for a reminder of what we've read, so this is another way to collate the information.

So far I've just added the books we read this academic year, with the tag '2009-10', but I'll add the back lists in due course. The next step will be to add an email address to the profile so I can generate a Developer key and embed links and images into the WCRG page on the College website. In the meantime I've used an individual cover image for our next book, Barbara Kingsolver's Lacuna to spice things up a little (cf. also the image for the current Lee Library 'Book of the Month' which also looks the better for some colour; next stop cover images for our New accessions RSS feed, which I presume will require a bit more technical know-how! I'm hoping though it'll be possible once Aquabrowser is live...). So, more anon on the embedding side, but this is a start.

The real value of LibraryThing though would as a repository for comments and reviews, both by individual WCRG members and the Group as a whole (a good source of reference when the lucky 'volunteer' comes to write up the year's meetings for the college magazine...?). The challenge there though will be persuading people to use the site, and then to contribute. I suspect there won' t be a mad rush. Most of our members are busy people, and I myself am often guilty of speed-reading the final sections of a book minutes before the meeting. Still, if only a couple of champions cotton on, we'll have a more dynamic facility than we have now.

[Let's hope they're more efficient than I am at maintaining this blog...]

Monday, 5 July 2010

Getting into bed with Google?

It's curious to think that just about a year ago I was starting to prepare my contribution to a debate on 'Is Google making us stupid?' with an improbably distinguished panel of speakers for the Alumni weekend at Wolfson last September. The upshot of the afternoon was that I projected a rather more downbeat view than I'd really intended, and didn't show the librarians' view in the best light. However, the regrets of hindsight aside, I retained (and do still harbour) some real reservations about Google as the single most powerful information hoarder and provider I know. Tags for my concerns might include 'commercial_power', 'privacy', etc., none of which are original, but they are no less troubling for that (perhaps more so, indeed, since the more articulate and knowledgeable detractors are able to articulate with concrete evidence just how powerful and all-pervasive such firms are, e.g. Bill Thompson and others on Google Books settlement).

But Google offers much that is useful. I'm bound to admit that I search Google multiple times a day, and since re-establishing an iGoogle page for Cam23, I've enjoyed exploring more of what's available. I first set up a Google account to view statistics on the College website delivered through Google Analytics (again, not set up by me, but I was particularly keen to see how the college library webpages were fairing, though, alas, found the detail to be a bit too broad to be useful in the event), and had dabbled a bit with Google Reader. But it wasn't a page I visited regularly, thus defeating its purpose as an RSS repository. 'Thing 1' helped me set up the page more systematically, and with a few additions over recent weeks as I've tried to make it useful in more contexts, here is the result:

[Now, as promised in my last post I started writing this as a blog post in Word. At this point I saved the post as a draft and viewed it in Blogger direct. The text transferred fine, but not the screenshot, so I switched back to Blogger to add it, as instructed. I used Paint.net as the image editor, which is the free application I use in College for all picture editing. Next on my 'to do' list is to spend time looking at the other options Andy recommends. Meanwhile, I'm still bothered by this Picasa business - same thing as happened when I loaded the Library entrance photo: has my image now been stored in Picasa...? No.2 on my 'to do' list - find out!]

Blogging free

Worth adding some reflections on blogging in general, methinks, before ticking off more 'Things'. I set this up using Blogger, as suggested, giving me the chance to try out a different blogging tool. We use WordPress for news on the College website: http://www.wolfson.cam.ac.uk/ (with separate categories for the local homepage and Library, each displaying on the respective pages) where I add and edit most of the content. The setting up, including the linking to the 3 HTML pages was done by the webmaster, so I've always felt like the end-user without any real understanding of what's going on underneath, but I have regular contact with the interface and am glad of the opportunity for comparison.

Despite being so slow to date, I can see the real potential of a blog as a reflective tool, and was highly enthused after first setting this up to establish one for my CPD activities. When I've caught up a bit more here, I'll be thinking more carefully about which tool to use (at the moment I'm slightly inclining towards WordPress, but the jury's still out...), and about how far I would want to publicise the site. One of my frustrations with WordPress on the Wolfson site at the moment is the very limited way it can display images, but that I think is to do with the amount of space afforded to the feeds on the HTML pages. Working with the blogging software in full screen mode will hopefully allow more flexibility.

Finding this blog! Now that I've created a feed to 'My Cam23 Diary' on my iGoogle page, I trust it'll be easier to hop to it than I've managed so far. Previously I was having to open (yet another) new tab in Firefox to get to it (the really bad moment was when I ended up doing a Google search for it!).

For my next blog post I'm going to try writing it in Word and uploading the post from there. I came upon the instructions for doing that by accident the other day, while looking for something else. One advantage is that it will create a copy of the post on the server (worth thinking of if I want to create a blog archive for portfolio purposes, perhaps?), but the other side of that coin, of course, is that the offline archive copy is stored in one place, and not accessible from elsewhere, except if downloaded to a flashdrive, etc.

Catching up

Taking advantage of 'Reflection week', I'm trawling through the Cam23 blog archive to catch up on the 'Things ' I've missed. The fact that I'm where I am at this stage in the programme reflects my concern that I've not yet managed the trick of building the real advantages of Web 2.0 into my working day. Most of the 'Things' we're working through are not unfamiliar, by name at least, and I can see lots of advantages to them, but they still feel like 'add-ons', yet more balls to keep juggling in the air. Let that be an incentive to try and keep up a sensible pace from now on...

Monday, 21 June 2010

Tail chasing...

I knew it was a while since my last post, but I'm alarmed to see that it's a whole 17 days since I uploaded that photo of the Lee Library entrance I'm inexplicably proud of (well, if you'd seen our family's photographic record that would go some way to explaining it!), and thus that I've had the nagging voice in my head reminding me to acknowledge that the picture appearing to the left in the draft actually appears above the accompanying text in the published blog post. (Further note to self: investigate changing proportions of blog layout.)

Of course, all that was going to be taken care of on that mythical future day after the end of term when I would set aside sufficient hours to catch up with all the 'Things' outstanding, and reflect calmly and intelligently on each in turn before typing a well-crafted blog post on each. Equally obviously, term has ended, and there is no prospect of such a day in sight. How could there be? Such lacunae of time do not exist, and I doubt I'd want to be a librarian if that's how the life was.

One of the harshest lessons this project might actually help me to learn is that 'a little and often' is more important, and perhaps ultimately more useful, than a long session devoted to getting it all done in one go. This is counterintuitive for me, and something I've battled with in other contexts. Having the confidence to comment 'on the hoof' feels uncomfortable, but I do recognise that it's necessary if I'm ever going to embrace Web 2.0 in a practical and really useful way, rather than in an abstract and intellectual one.

So, please bear with me during these bumpy early days. More anon, when I'll finally get on to Thing 3 and share a screenshot of my iGoogle page in the state it's reached to date (there's more to do, of course...).

Friday, 4 June 2010

Slow progress

Squeezing 'Thing 3' into the end of Wednesday didn't leave enough time to get it all done, but I was greatly cheered to cycle off with positive thoughts about how to smarten up my iGoogle page before moving on to 'Thing 4', and how my blog might take shape during this Cam23 period.

The end of Friday has brought a new theme for iGoogle and a banner for this blog, with grateful thanks to Ange and Andy for the ingenuity and spreading the word. Choosing a theme for iGoogle was simple enough, though I wasn't greatly enamoured of the selection pictures I looked. I tried customising my own theme, intending to use a picture of the Lee Library entrance I took last summer and used for our induction poster (see left), but the narrow selection Google allowed wouldn't have done it justice, so I reverted to the pre-set theme selection, and am content with Felix the cat for now. I wasn't expecting Google to appropriate my own Lee Library picture for Picasa (there doesn't seem any way to avoid this), and must look to check whether it's still there even though I cancelled the operation.

I could and perhaps should spend more time beautifying my sites before registering them with the Cam23 blog, but that'd be akin to stumbling at the first hurdle. Consider these then, please, as works in progress. More anon...

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Getting started

One of the most memorable tips I picked up from a time management course (run by Patricia McBride) some while ago is that when faced with a large or daunting task you should make a start when you have limited time. That way you'll have something to go back to when you have more time to devote to it, and won't be faced by the 'blank page' scenario. So it is that I make my first tentative steps into the blogosphere with a train to catch within the hour...

I was grateful for the gentle launch into the 23 Things programme last week (more reflections on RSS and iGoogle to follow), buoyed by a confidence that, perhaps yes, this will be manageable after all. A week closer to the end of term, and other demands press in hard, but I'm still glad that there' s a timetable for the programme to help keep focused, and encourage me to make the space I need to explore these 'things'.

More anon...