Google Search Tips 2005

I do several sessions a year helping students better understand the power of various search engines, and the techniques used to make efficient queries. Google Search Tips 2005 presents some great tips on using some of the “hidden” Google features, and I’m blogging this partly so I have it easily accessible when such sessions arise.

On a related note, check out Soople.

Update: I just ran into Google Total, and it’s organized fairly well.

University Of Dayton Launches “MyLife” Blogging Service

An interesting new website has been launched by the University of Dayton. “MyLife“, described by URLWire as a “student blogging service”, features the blogs and podcasts of six current “student bloggers (who) were hand picked by administrators and earn $500 a semester for writing at least one blog entry per week.”

While this could be something worthwhile for UD, and it’s great to see a University integrate podcasts and student voices into a service for students, I have a feeling that the approach may be a bit flawed. For me when I think of bloggers that that I follow regularly, there are a few “criteria of appeal” that seem relevant.

– I usually have something in common with the blogger, other than being a professor, student, educational technologist, etc. Those I read express views that I share, or put forward ideas that help to disrupt the views I hold. I have a feeling if anyone chose six bloggers for me to read, it just wouldn’t hold my interest.

– Bloggers that I read (as far as I know) aren’t paid to blog. Rather, they blog because they love to write and have found themselves empowered by the medium. While I have nothing against writers being paid for their craft, I wonder if students as “professional” bloggers may lose the sincerity, spontaneity and irregularity that I find most appealing in the feeds I choose to read.

– Blogs that I read are written in an environment that is entirely unregulated. Writing formally for a University will certainly shape the posts that appear. While it does appear that the administration of UD is promoting a hands-off approach (“In the spirit of free and open communication, we’re not editing or approving anything they write. We’ll read them, and if there’s something horrifically egregious, we’ll address it”), I have a feeling that the hired bloggers will still be particular in what they put forth, and may therefore lack the cutting critique that makes so many blogs interesting to follow.

I do agree with one statement, however. Vice President Robert Johnson of UD states, “The people in the best position to tell the UD story are UD students.” Yet, the stories of only six students aren’t going tell very much of the story. Offer this service to the entire campus, let the popular, the most critical and the best-written blogs surface to the top through social selection and reputation … then you will start to see “the real deal”.

Nano iPods Scratch “Insanely Easy”

I’ve had my iPod Nano for about a week now, and while I have babied it just about as much as my 14 month old daughter, after about day 3, I noticed many tiny scratches. I couldn’t figure out why as it was never near anything like keys, change, etc. It’s basically been in it’s arm strap, in my hand (for gloating mostly) or carefully placed onto my desk. So what’s with the scratches?

Well, I just came across an article at The Register that is reporting that this has become a very common problem. It reads:

People slavering to get Apple’s “impossibly small” iPod Nano into their sticky hands may want to pause a moment: those ahead of them in the queue have discovered that it’s also unbelievably easy to scratch the screen, nixing its photo-displaying abilities.

Trouble is that a few scratches will quickly make the colour screen all but useless for viewing album art and photos stored on the machine. In which case you might as well have bought the cheaper, screenless iPod shuffle, hmm?

Oh well … the price was good … $232 Canadian with Ed. Pricing for the 4GB model. It’s an impressive little unit, but I guess there had to be some catch. It’s liveable so far, but I certainly think that Apple has to deal with this at some point. I may have just purchased too soon.

Update: Looks like Todd Dailey has performed some fine polishing with Brasso on his Nano. This seems to restore the Nano back to “like-new” condition.

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Etomite Content Manager System – Screencast

Our Faculty of Education, University of Regina, will soon release its new website (still under development). The site is being developed with the Etomite Content Management system, and the tremendous support of the Centre for Academic Technologies (especially Trevor Cunningham). Etomite is an open-source CMS with lots of great features.

To give you an idea of how Etomite functions and was implemented in this instance, I put together a short screencast. As for putting together a screencast, previously, I have used Camtasia ($) or Wink (freeware) to create screencasts, but since neither was available for my Mac, I stumbled across a program called Snapz Pro X.

This was the first time I used this screencast software, but it was very easy to use and the quality seemed to be decent. However, I soon noticed that the audio began to lag a bit over the duration of the screencast (less than 6 minutes). Additionally, I had a few problems with the video in .mov format, but these (mostly) seemed to disappear once I exported as MP4. I noticed that if I played the video straight-through, it worked well. However, if I scrubbed forward or backward at all, I got some strange decay in the video quality (in Quicktime). And for some reason, even when I recoded the original video, the screencast will not work in open source players like MPlayer or VLC. This is quite annoying.

If you would like, check out the produced screencast. If you have questions re: Etomite or Snapz Pro X, please feel free to comment/contact me.

So in summary, a HUGE thumbs up for Etomite, but as far as Snapz Pro X, there is great potential, but there seems to be a few issues. I’ll keep you posted.

CAGW’s Criticism Of Massachusetts’s Open Standard Move

Leon Brooks has put together a great post as he criticizes the Microsoft Funded CAGW’s (Citizens Against Government Waste) objection to Massachusetts’s recent decision to move to embrace open standards in government starting in 2007. Here are few gems from the post:

Will private enterprise and “average citizens” face compatibility issues? Only if Microsoft make it so.

Since the OASIS document standard is accessible to zero-sticker-shock cross-platform software, the average citizen will have greater access to documents than ever before.

Will adopting Open Source undermine free market competition?
No. Very much the opposite. For the first time in several years, there will again be real competition in the office software market. Companies will be able to compete for profit on merit rather than profiteering through domination.

If you are interested in this area, it’s a good read and a well-voiced criticism.

LibraryThing & Delicious Monster

I am big fan and loyal user of Delicious Library, a great app. that allows individuals to easily scan and organize personal libraries of their books, CD’s, DVD’s, games, etc. The application also scans the Amazon database and retrieves item information and thumbnails.

Now I have discovered LibraryThing. LibraryThing allows you to catalog your library (books only it seems) online. The service also uses the Amazon database, and therefore retrieves item records. And LibraryThing is socially oriented as you can share your library with the rest of the world.

Hmmmm … so what is needed to develop an even better, single library application?

Take the following features of Delicious Library:

– library items scanable by iSight or barcode scanner
– the ability to “sign out” items to other individuals
– items extend beyond printed books (e.g., DVD’s, CD’s, Games, eBooks, etc.)

And take the following features of LibraryThing:
– socially oriented
– publishable to the Internet
– use of tags

Wait a minute! I just noticed that LibraryThing did have an option to import from Delicious Library … it’s just seems to be down for the moment (technical problems). Wow, this is going to be a lot of fun.