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Before yesterdaymamamusings

on hiatus

By Liz Lawley

This blog is currently on hiatus. I am posting somewhat more frequently on my Dubrovnik blog, however, if you want to wander over there...

  • March 31st 2015 at 07:37

hello, spring

By Liz Lawley

gold.JPGNothing Gold Can Stay

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

- Robert Frost

  • April 26th 2014 at 21:03

crocheted cotton can cozy

By Liz Lawley

I've been using Ravelry for years now to find crochet patterns and store information about the things I've made. This summer,however, I've finally branched out a bit--first modifying patterns I'd found in minor ways, and then finally coming up with my own pattern for an item that I needed.

Since Ravelry won't let you share a pattern that hasn't been published elsewhere, I'm publishing my first original pattern here so that I can then put it up on Ravelry. It's a can cozy, made from cotton yarn, intended to keep cans from dripping in the humidity. I made my first one a week or so ago, and have been using it daily since then. Now that I know it works well, I've written up the instructions for how to make one of your own!

The body of the cozy uses a spike stitch that results in a very sturdy weave. The top and bottom are embellished with bobble stitches, which also keep the cozy from slipping in your hand.

IMG_3253.jpg

Notes
1. Materials: Lily Sugar 'n' Cream yarn (~50 yards), F hook

2. Gauge: 3 rounds of DC (base) = 2.75"

3. Bobble Stitch (BS): *YO, insert hook into stitch YO and pull loop through* repeat* 4 more times, YO pull loop through all stitches on hook.

4: Spike Stitch (SS): SC over current stitch into space below.

Row 1 (base): Ch 3, (do not count as first dc) 11dc in the 3rd ch from hook. Join with a slipstitch in first dc. (11 sts)

Row 2 (base): Ch 2 (do not count as first dc from now on), 2 dc in each st. Join with a slipstitch in first dc. (22 sts)

Row 3 (base): Ch 2, *dc in 1 st, 2 dc in next st*, repeat from * around. Join with a slipstitch in first dc. (33 sts)

(All remaining rows will have 33 stitches.)

Row 4: Ch1, sc in back loop only of each st. Join with slipstitch in first st.

Row 5: Ch1, *sc, BS, sc* 11 times. Join with slipstitch in first st.

Row 6: Ch1, sc in each st. Join with slipstitch in first st.

Row 7: Ch1, sc in back loop only of each st. Join with slipstitch in first st.

Row 8: Ch1, sc in first stitch, *SS in next st, sc in next st*, repeat from * around. Join with a slipstitch in first st.

Row 9: Ch1, SS in first stitch, *sc in next st, SS in next st*, repeat from * around. Join with a slipstitch in first st.

Rows 10-18: repeat rows 8 and 9

Row 19: Ch 1, sc in back loop of each st. Join with a slipstitch in first st.

Row 20: Ch1, *sc, BS, sc* 11 times. Join with slipstitch in first st.

Row 21: Ch 1, sc in each st. Join with slipstitch in first st, finish off.

learning about--and from--aaron swartz

By Liz Lawley

I scrapped my Game Design & Development lecture today, and instead I spoke to my students about Aaron Swartz. His accomplishments, his impact, his death. The brokenness of the systems that he fought against, and their role in destroying him. And depression--how to recognize it, and what to do about it.

Then I asked them to read these articles, to understand Aaron and how and why he died. If you haven't read them already, too, you should. There's more--so much more--out there, but these are the ones I thought would be best to start with.

Larry Lessig, legal scholar at Harvard, founder of Creative Commons: Prosecutor as Bully
http://lessig.tumblr.com/post/40347463044/prosecutor-as-bully

Alex Stamos, the expert witness in Aaron's case: The Truth About Aaron Swartz's Crime
http://unhandled.com/2013/01/12/the-truth-about-aaron-swartzs-crime/

James Grimmelman, legal scholar at New York Law School:
Aaron Swartz, Was 26: http://laboratorium.net/archive/2013/01/12/aaron_swartz_was_26
Two for Aaron: http://laboratorium.net/archive/2013/01/14/two_for_aaron

Tim Wu in The New Yorker: Everyone Interesting is a Felon
http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2013/01/everyone-interesting-is-a-felon.html

danah boyd, social media scholar at Microsoft and NYU: processing the loss of Aaron Swartz
http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2013/01/13/aaron-swartz.html

Harvard Business Review: "Aaron Swartz's "Crime" and the Business of Breaking the Law
http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/01/aaron_swartzs_crime_and_the_bu.html

Boston Globe: On humanity, a big failure in Aaron Swartz case
http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2013/01/15/humanity-deficit/bj8oThPDwzgxBSHQt3tyKI/story.html?s_campaign=sm_tw(may need to open an incognito window to view)

Tim Burke: Academe is Complicit
http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2013/01/15/essay-role-academe-tragedy-aaron-swartzs-death

The Economist: Remembering Aaron Swartz
http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2013/01/remembering-aaron-swartz

Aaron Swartz: How To Get a Job Like Mine
https://aaronsw.jottit.com/howtoget

  • January 15th 2013 at 19:03

family latke recipe: now with pictures!

By Liz Lawley

Way back in 2004, I posted my family latke recipe (much to the dismay of my kids, who felt I'd somehow betrayed my legacy). Tonight I decided it was time for an update--not the recipe itself, which has stood the test of time for generations, but the presentation of the recipe. So here it is, with illustrations!

As I noted the last time, this is not a precise recipe with exact proportions...you'll have to use the rule of thumb guidelines provided. (Before me, in fact, the recipe was in fact never written down; it was simply passed through instruction from parent to child.)

Ingredients

  • lots of large potatoes ("about the size of a man's fist," dad says; I generally use Idaho baking potatoes. figure at least one potato per person attending, but that's a conservative number)
  • 1 egg per potato
  • 1 "baseball-sized" white or yellow onion per ~4 potatoes (to taste, really)
  • 1 tbsp salt per 6 potatoes (again, this is to taste)

(Religious war note #1: Many latke recipes call for flour or matzo meal. Ours does not. The eggs are sufficient to bind the mixture together. So far as I'm concerned, adding additional starch is just cheating.)

Instructions

Peel the potatoes and then grate using a box grater. Don't use the side that shreds, but rather the side that grates into rough "mush." (This is the side that will rip your knuckles to shreds, so be careful. My father advises putting a bandaid on before you begin, since it will protect your knuckles before the injury occurs, but I don't generally bother with this.)

I've read a number of articles that claim you can use a food processor to grate the potatoes, and then use a cheesecloth to squeeze out the excess water, but I'm too wedded to my traditional process to try this.

(Religious war note #2: Many latke recipes use shredded rather than grated potatoes, which creates a very different consistency. While I can appreciate the deliciousness of latkes made in this way, they never really feel like "real" latkes to me.)

Grating the Potatoes and Onions

Grate the onions the same way, and mix into the potato mixture. Use a ladle or large spoon to remove excess moisture...we put a heavy metal ladle onto the mixture, and the liquid drains into the ladle over the edges. Keep this up for as long as you have the patience for it; removing the water helps the pancakes stay together better when cooking. The mixture should be less like applesauce and more like mashed potatoes when you're done--but there's room for error, since you can add more eggs later to compensate for too much moisture.

After removing the water, add in the eggs and salt, and mix with a spoon or a whisk. The resulting mixture should have a texture a lot like cooked oatmeal.

mix.jpg

Heat 3/4" to 1" of oil (we like peanut oil, but canola oil works too) in a large skillet (preferably cast iron) until a drop of water "pops" when dropped into the oil. Pour some of the mixture in with a ladle or large spoon. If it falls apart, it means that either the oil is too hot, or the mixture is too watery and needs more egg. If it drops to the bottom without bubbling at all, the oil's too cool and the pancakes will be soggy. Experiment with temperature first, because it's easier to undo than changing the ingredients.

Latkes should float above the bottom of the pan, not stick to the bottom. Use a slotted metal spatula (not plastic, as that will melt in the hot oil!) to dislodge them if they stick. When edges start to brown, flip them over (gently, so as not to spatter yourself with hot oil).

Latkes Cooking

We always do a test run of 2-3 small latkes, which the youngest among us get to taste. The test latkes determine if the batter needs tweaking--more eggs to keep the batter together? More onion or salt? (That's easy to fix with more of either.) Less onion or salt? (That's fixed by adding more potato and egg.)

When latkes are crispy around edges and golden brown on both sides, remove from pan and place on paper towels. We rip up a full roll of paper towels, and just layer the latkes and paper towels; 2 paper towels, 3-4 latkes, then 2 more paper towels over that, more latkes, etc. Keep the plate with latkes and paper towels in a slightly warm oven while you're making more, so that you can bring out a lot at a time, reducing family warfare over who gets them. (That's a best case scenario, though...tonight they were being eaten as they came out of the pan, with little regard for burnt tongues.)

Latkes should be served with sour cream and applesauce--while I can't imagine eating mine with anything but sour cream, I know plenty of applesauce aficionados. This doesn't quite rise to the level of the other latke war issues, but it's wise to have both on hand.

Platter of Latkes

american express travel fail

By Liz Lawley

A few weeks ago, when my friend Elizabeth and I decided to spend a couple of days in New Orleans together, I went online to book my flights. Normally I'd use either Kayak or an airline site, but I decided to give the American Express travel site a try, since it would mean more membership miles in my account (and I'm saving them up in hopes of upgrading my trip to Dubrovnik in the spring).

I'm a pretty experienced travel booker, but I was a little sleepy when I made my plans, and when I saw an itinerary that involved leaving New Orleans at 7pm and getting into Rochester at 11:30, that looked perfect. So I booked it.

Unfortunately, it turned out that I didn't look closely enough, and the itinerary has me arriving at 9pm in Atlanta, but leaving at 9am tomorrow and arriving at 11:30am. Seriously, Amex? You couldn't have made that clearer in your interface? Delta doesn't even offer that itinerary as an option on their site. And every decent travel booking site I've ever used has made it very clear that an itinerary involves an overnight.

Okay, I thought, at least Delta has a same-day travel change service that only costs $50, so I'll call the day I leave and see if I can get on an earlier flight. But no. When I called Delta today to inquire about doing that, they said I couldn't, because the overnight layover means only the Atlanta leg would be "same-day." If I want to change my flights, it would cost me about $500 in change fees and fare differentials.

So it seems I'll be staying in an Atlanta airport hotel tonight. And you can bet I won't be booking it through the Amex travel site.

==

Update: It's actually a double-fail, because in addition to not warning me about the overnight, somehow Amex failed to actually get me seat assignments. I distinctly remember picking seats when I booked the flight, but when I went to check in online just now I was told my seat would be assigned at the gate--which happend flying into New Orleans, as well. Bah.

are your facebook "private messages" pre-2010 suddenly "public"?

By Liz Lawley

Earlier today on Facebook, I shared a link to a blog post claiming that Facebook had made private messages pre-2010 visible on timelines, and providing detailed instructions on how to check for this.

I was skeptical, since I'd seen denials of this on prominent technology websites (and my go-to source for rumor-checking, Snopes), but out of curiosity I followed the instructions in the post:

On the right-hand column of your profile page, select the year 2010. In the box where it shoes the messages that friends posted on your wall (and now, apparently, to your inbox), select HIDE FROM TIMELINE. You will need to select each year you've been on facebook prior to 2010 and repeat this step.

Much to my surprise, I found a significant number of what I had thought were private messages from friends that were accessible to anyone with access to my timeline. This was particularly disturbing because when I first switched to the timeline view (back when you had to be a Facebook developer to do so), I thought I had gone through all of my content to look for just such a problem.

So, why did I miss these? They were hidden in that box at the top of each time period labeled "### friends posted on Liz's profile". Most of those were innocuous things like birthday greetings. But quite a few used Facebook's "wall-to-wall" posting feature.

If you're relatively new to Facebook, you may not realize that Facebook didn't implement its current email-like messaging system until 2010. Before that, it offered a "wall-to-wall" messaging option that allowed you to post a message for a friend that generally only the two of you would see. Until Timeline came on the scene, that is.

After I posted this, a significant number of very tech-savvy friends--people who, like me, have been using Facebook for more than five years (I joined in early 2005), and who work in the tech industry--weighed in to say that by following these instructions they'd also found messages they'd believed were private. (Including the estimable Robert Scoble.) That's an indication that Facebook failed BADLY here--perhaps not legally or technically, but certainly from a UI and user trust standpoint.

So yes, Facebook's denial of a privacy breach is technically accurate. But if you've been using Facebook since before 2011, I strongly encourage you to follow the directions linked above to check for problematic content. Even if you, like me, don't post private information on Facebook, your friends might not have been that careful.

scanning and sharing your personal library: a review of RedLaser, LibraryThing, GoodReads, and Shelfari

By Liz Lawley

I have a lot of books. Books in my office, books in my family room, books in my study, books in my basement, books on my wishlist. This is not a new thing, nor is it likely to change anytime soon. Before I was a technology professor, I was a librarian. I have an MLS from Michigan, worked for several years as a Government and Law Bibliographer at the Library of Congress, and then got my PhD in Library & Information Science from Alabama. It was the "information" part of "information technology" that drew me to my job at RIT, and I still speak regularly at library conferences.

But still. Books. Everywhere. And it can be difficult to know at any given point where a particular book I've read lives. Do I still own it? Is it in my house? My office? More importantly, can my friends check to see if I have it (and can I check to see if they have a book that I'm interested in)? Seems like a problem that could and should be solved with technology.

In fact, nearly eight years ago I reviewed a lovely Mac OS X program called Delicious Library, which allowed me to hold a book up in front of my computer's webcam and have it be looked up online and added to my library. It failed for me, though, because its ability to share that library with others was very limited, and because it was still somewhat laborious to pull books off the shelf, hold them just so in front of the webcam, and then replace them.

This week, however, some of our students started talking in Facebook about how much they'd like to be able to know what books other people in the school had--especially faculty, who are often willing to loan books from their extensive collections. I wanted an easy way to facilitate that kind of group book sharing, and it seemed that there must be a way to do that, one better than the promising but cumbersome tools I'd looked at back in 2004. Shouldn't there by now be a combination of phone-based scanning and web-based sharing that would satisfy this need more elegantly? One that would work not just for geeky librarians like me, but for anyone in our community who wanted to share their book collection? The answer is yes. And no. I've spent the past several days experimenting with three web-based personal library management sites--LibraryThing, GoodReads, and Shelfari--as well as iPhone apps for scanning in the barcodes of books. I haven't found the perfect solution--they all have a few flaws still--but I plan to go with LibraryThing for my book collection, at least for now. Here's my assessment of each of the tools, however along with some "how-to" for those who want to try it themselves. I start with the scanning tool, since it's applicable for all three sites. Then I talk about each of the library sites, including account creation/cost, ability to organize your library effectively, and privacy/sharing functionality with a focus on group sharing. All three of the sites are quite good at allowing you to view and organize your own personal collection, so I didn't focus on that in my evaluation.

Scanning Books with Red Laser

I poked around online to see if anyone had found a way to use an existing iPhone scanner app with online book sites. The answer was yes; Julie Duffy had written a nice tutorial on pairing LibraryThing with Red Laser, a free barcode scanning app for iOS, Android, and even Windows Phone. Since the tutorial was two years old, some aspects of the process have changed, so I've documented how I did this. And it turns out that you can use the same process with the other two sites, although GoodReads has an app with its own scanner.

First, I used RedLaser on my phone to scan the barcodes of my books. When you launch the app and choose "Scan", there's an option at the bottom to turn on "multi-scan," which is particularly useful if you plan on scanning a number of books, since it stays in scan mode after each successful scan. I was frankly amazed by how quickly it was able to focus on and process each barcode. I was able to scan in over 100 books in about half an hour. A few warnings--many books on my shelf had multiple barcodes, with one being focused on retail processing, and the other containing the ISBN. Make sure you scan the ISBN barcode, or the data won't import properly. The images below show both the wrong way (on the left) and the right way (on the right) to scan such a book. Beware also of barcode stickers placed over the book jacket barcode by bookstores--they use a proprietary product code, so may need to be removed for proper scanning.

Wrong Barcode Right Barcode

After you've scanned a set of books (try it with a few the first time to be sure it works), click the Done button (and if you've scanned in a lot of books, be patient--it will take a few seconds to leave the scan screen and show you your items). Then view the History (bottom left icon). You should see a list like the one on the left. Tap the button in the top right corner that says "Edit & Share," and then the "Select All" option, and you should end up with something like the list on the right.

RedLaser History RedLaser Select Items

Choose "Share" and email the list to yourself. You'll get an email listing the items you scanned, but the text of the email isn't what's useful. The URL at the top of the message is what you want. It will look something like this: http://redlaser.com/lists/?list=inNPDdB8sn (That one's from my first office bookshelf scan.) Don't worry if not all the information you want is there--the online sites I'm going to review will take the data from that URL and run the items through Amazon's database to extract everything from publication data to cover images.

Go ahead and delete those items from your history in RedLaser, so that you don't duplicate the items in your next batch of scans. Now you're ready to go to whatever site you choose for organizing your books. Here are my thoughts on the three I evaluated.

LibraryThing

I've got a soft spot in my heart for LibraryThing (henceforth LT), because it was created way back in the early days of the social web, and has always included a focus on input from librarians and services for libraries. The downside of LT is that it retains a very web 1.0-like design and UI, and I struggled a bit at first to figure out how to accomplish the things I wanted to do. Overall, though, it wins out for me in terms of both organizing and sharing with a group. (It's also better for performing batch operations on groups of books, but that's probably only important for power users.)

Creating an Account

LT is only free for up to 200 books, which is probably plenty for most people but not nearly enough for a bookworm like me. You pick your own amount to pay for either an annual subscription or a lifetime account; suggested amounts are $10 and $25, and I kicked in the $25 for lifetime. (The site is ad-free, and I value that.) You can create the account using your Facebook or Twitter credentials, or you can create a purely local account on their system. Going with Facebook doesn't give you access to your social network, though, so other than ease of account creation there's no great advantage to using it. On the plus side, it doesn't do any annoying Facebook posts on your behalf, either.

Importing and Organizing Books

Like all three of the tools I evaluated, LT allows you to add books individually by searching for them in its database (by author, title, ISBN, etc), or by importing them from a variety of sources. To import your RedLaser list, you go to the "Add Books" tab and then select "Import Books" from the list at the bottom. You're given the option to import from a file (useful if you already have some or all of your books in another program or website), grab from a webpage, or paste a list into a text box. The RedLaser data can be added either by providing the URL you got in the email you sent yourself, or by pasting the contents of the text file included with the email. I recommend the former, since it's very quick.

LibraryThing Import Screen

Where LT really shines is in the next step, since after identifying the ISBNs in the file, it gives you the option to assign a tag to all of the imported items, and/or to place them in specific book collections. Since I wanted to keep track of where my books were, I added the tag "home" or "office" to each import. I can easily change that tag if I move a book, or add a second tag if it's a book that I have in both locations. I could also have done this with collections, and I haven't decided yet which would be better, but doing the tags was the quickest and easiest approach to start.

LibraryThing Import Options

Sharing Your Library

LT is designed primarily as a public sharing tool--by default, anyone and everyone can see your book collection. (Here's mine: www.librarything.com/catalog/mamamusings) You can create a private collection, but that's a bit cumbersome. Since the main purpose of using the site for me was to let colleagues, students, and friends know what books I have, that's actually a plus for me, but I know not everyone will feel that way.

At first, I wasn't very impressed with LT's group functionality, as it seems to be focused primarily on discussions rather than on a display of shared books, and the whole point of this was for colleagues and students to be able to browse my library. After playing around with it, however, I discovered that there's an option to search the libraries of all group members. There's also a "Group Zeitgeist" page that shows commonly-held books within the group. So, group search is excellent, but group browse is limited. Given a choice, I think the search is more important (but I'd love to have a richer browse function).

LibraryThing Group Search

Where LT fails, however, is in making it possible to find and connect to your friends on the site. It turns out there is a "Friend Finder," but it's buried deep inside the site, under "Edit profile and settings." You'd think that would be available from the "Connections" area of the site, but it's not.

There's also no way that I could find to share a book to Facebook or Twitter. From the LT blog I discovered that if I review a book, I can choose to post that review to Facebook--but I don't want to have to post a public review in order to share a book with my friends. Some simple "share this" links on an individual book's page would be nice, so that I could post the book info or send it to someone via email.

GoodReads

GoodReads (GR) is the site that the majority of my Facebook friends seem to use for tracking books their currently reading or want to recommend. It's also the only one of the three with a native iPhone app, which is a useful addition for both scanning in new items and searching your own collection. If your primary goal is to organize your own books, and do some occasional sharing via social network sites, it's probably a good choice. GR is a prettier site than LT, with better layout and typography, and a smoother user experience. That's not a huge thing, but it does matter.

Account Creation

Like LT, GR allows you to sign up with your Facebook account, or create a local-only account. I used Facebook, because of my focus on wanting to share my library data. I was prompted to add my Facebook friends, but didn't want to spam them requests, so I didn't send a request. Nonetheless, I'm able to see what they're all reading from my home screen--which I actually think is a good thing, since it reduces the amount of social network recreation necessary. If I've linked my Facebook account, it probably means I want my FB friends to be able to see my books.

Importing Books

In the left sidebar menu of GR's "My Books" section there's an "Import/Export" link, which takes you to a page that allows you to upload a file or import from a web page. These work exactly like the LT options--you can use the RedLaser link, or upload a file from another library program or site. I was able to easily export my books from LT and import them into GR, and then add a few using RedLaser as a test.

Unlike the other two sites, however, GR has its own mobile app, which has built-in scanning capability. It's nearly as fast as RedLaser, and is just as accurate. As a bonus, it shows you the book name as you scan, even in multi-item scan mode. For a casual reader, that probably makes this a great choice.

The biggest problem for me with GR's import is that there was no way to assign a tag or collection to all items in the group import. That's a huge problem when I want to be able to easily indicate that an item is either at home or at work. If I add the books individually I can provide that, and it did maintain the tagging information from the LT import file, but books scanned in via my phone and batch imported would need to be individually edited.

Sharing Your Library

GR is great at letting you share an individual book, with other users, or with a group. The problem is, it's only good at letting you share individual books, and I couldn't find any way to share a full library (or even a subset of books from my library). To share my book collection with the RIT group, I would have to individually add each book. That's a deal-breaker. There's a simple batch editing option that allows me to move books to a new virtual shelf, but no way to share them with a group. It seems like it would be an obvious thing to add group bookshelves to the shelf list, but it's not there right now. The only way to add a book to the group bookshelf is to search for it from the group bookshelf page. When adding it, you must choose "read", "to-read", or "currently reading", which leads me to believe this group function is really optimized only for book reading groups who are reading specific books together.

Like LT, once connected to Facebook GR lets you share your reviews on the site. But again, there's no easy way to post a given book to your own wall. There is a "recommend" function that allows you post the book to someone else's wall or email it, although that won't let you share to a Facebook group (which would be better for my purposes).

So, from a sharing standpoint, GR really fails for me, and between that and the lack of tagging at import I had to reluctantly abandon it as an option at this time.

Shelfari

Shelfari is currently owned by Amazon, which has pluses and minuses. On the plus side, it already knows what books you've purchased. On the minus side...well, it already knows what books you've purchased, and you may be reluctant to continue to share ever more data about your media consumption with a vendor. Like GR, it has a more polished look-and-feel, but also suffers in the sharing department.

Account Creation

Because Shelfari (SH) is an Amazon property, you're prompted to sign in using your Amazon account. If you don't have one, you're prompted to create one. There's no way to login without an Amazon account. (If, like me, you had a Shelfari account before the Amazon takeover, it will detect matching email accounts and merge them.) There is an FB app, but it's confusing, because when you try to activate it you're told it no longer exists, but then it happily configures itself. More on that in the sharing section.

Importing Books

From any view of your SH profile, you can select the "Shelf" dropdown menu and choose "Import Books." You're given three options here--to import your Amazon purchase history (a bad choice, in my opinion, especially if like me, you regularly buy gifts for other people on Amazon), to import from a web page (which works with the RedLaser list page), or to import from a file (which works with a variety of sites and programs, and allowed me to import my library from LT).

Like GR, however, you have no option to tag or categorize the books in your import if you're bringing the books in from RedLaser. Tags are preserved if you're importing from LT, which is another reason to use tags rather than collections if you're importing your books into LT.

Sharing Your Library

SH's group functionality is very similar to GR's. You can't add a group of books--you can only add books individually to the bookshelf. On the plus side, you can add a book from your bookshelf directly to a group, but it still has to be done one book at a time, and you have to choose a designation of "We're Reading" or "We've Read" when you add it. (There's a "None" option, but it turns out that simply means "don't add it to the group.")

SH does, however, allow you share an individual book on your own wall/timeline, Twitter feed, or even your LinkedIn profile.

Once again, the lack of an easy way to share a shelf or collection of books with a group makes this not a viable option for my purposes.

--

There's clearly more that could be written about all of these sites, especially in terms of how the social components--reviews, ratings, presence in your friends' libraries--enhance the information available about a given book. Since this post is already over 3,000 words, however, I'll end it here. I hope you found it useful!

alone again, naturally

By Liz Lawley

Last spring, when talking to a close friend at work about the end of my marriage, I said "I just didn't think that at this point in my life I'd find myself alone."

To my great surprise, her response was to laugh out loud. Seeing my baffled expression, she responded "Liz, you are the least alone person that I know. You're not going to be alone, you're going to be living independently."

Over this past year, I've come to realize how right she was. Yes, I'm living alone (most of the time, at least--I have Alex with me 50% of the time, and Lane makes occasional visits home). But I don't feel alone, not at all. In fact, living by myself has made me more social--I entertain more, I go out more, and I know that my life is full of family and friends who love and support me. Living independently, it turns out, makes me feel less alone, not more alone.

I'm also an active user of social media, and Facebook is part of my daily social life. Like me, many of the people in my life are balancing the competing demands of both family and career, and much as they might like to regularly visit with their friends their schedules make that difficult. Facebook helps to keep the connections among us alive. Five years ago, Clive Thompson wrote beautifully about how Twitter provides a kind of social "sixth sense" for its users:

Twitter and other constant-contact media create social proprioception. They give a group of people a sense of itself, making possible weird, fascinating feats of coordination. [...] It's almost like ESP, which can be incredibly useful when applied to your work life. You know who's overloaded -- better not bug Amanda today -- and who's on a roll. A buddy list isn't just a vehicle to chat with friends but a way to sense their presence. Are they available to talk? Have they been away? This awareness is crucial when colleagues are spread around the office, the country, or the world. Twitter substitutes for the glances and conversations we had before we became a nation of satellite employees.

Facebook provides that same kind of social infrastructure, now. My interactions there with friends and family aren't a replacement for spending time in their company or talking to them on the phone. Instead, they're a way to keep connections alive when it's simply not feasible to see them or talk to them daily.

As Facebook has grown in popularity, however, it has received an increasing amount of negative attention, most recently in this week's Atlantic Magazine cover story by novelist Stephen Marche entitled "Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? Unsurprisingly, Marche argues that it is, and does so in emotionally compelling terms.

Happily, NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg has written a well-researched and compelling response to Marche, entitled "Facebook Isn't Making Us Lonely." He dissects Marche's article, pointing out the numerous assertions about loneliness and isolation that are refuted by current sociological and psychological research, concluding with this delightful passage:

Disconnection requires little more than shutting down your computer and smartphone. But if the connection is still on and Marche wants to forget about himself for a while, he could simply click away from Facebook and navigate over to Google, which will direct him to the research on loneliness and solitude that has been there for him all along. Used wisely, the Internet could help make his sociological arguments less isolated from reality.

Klinenberg has researched this topic extensively, and his recent book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone is at the top of my reading queue right now. It's there for both personal and professional reasons. As someone who's now part of this growing trend towards choosing to live alone, I'm interested in how I fit into the larger pattern. And as someone who studies and teaches about social media, I'm also interested in how tools like Facebook and Twitter help to strengthen social ties and increase our opportunities to connect in meaningful ways with the people we care about.

personal information ecology

By Liz Lawley

I've been getting a lot of questions recently about what technology tools--both software and devices--I use for collecting, storing, and retrieving information. As someone whose academic training was in library science, this is a topic I think (and care) about a lot. And while I'm not very good at organizing my physical environment, I do a pretty good job of organizing my digital life. Here's a rundown of what I'm currently using, and for what...organized by task rather than by platform, because most of what I use is cross-platform anyways.

Much of the way I deal with information is shaped by the fact that I have two computers--a big, heavy MacBook Pro that mostly sits on my family room table, and a small, light MacBook Air that travels with me--as well as an iPhone and an iPad. (Skip the "ur a stoopid Apple fangirl comments, mkay? I use each for different reasons, I find them all useful, nearly everything I'm about to discuss will work perfectly well on PCs and Android devices, and none of that is really the point of this post.)

Note Taking

I have terrible handwriting, and stopped taking notes on paper a long time ago. I do nearly all of my note-taking on my MacBook Air. I used to put all my notes into plain text files, using BBEdit (a Mac-based ASCII text editor). But I had a hard time keeping track of them, and an even harder time accessing them from other devices.

Now I use Evernote for note-taking. I love it, for a number of reasons. First, there are clients for all of my computers and mobile devices. Second, there's a web interface that lets me access my notes from someone else's computer (or in a lab at RIT). Third, I can take photos of whiteboards and/or handwritten notes, and Evernote will do text recognition on the images. Since everything, including the images, is easily searchable, I seldom have trouble finding the notes I took on a given subject or at a specific meeting.

Even better, Evernote now seems to be integrated with my calendar on my iDevices, so when I create a new note during a time that a meeting is scheduled, it automatically names it with that meeting. That just makes me happy!

I know Evernote is useful for other things, but note-taking is pretty much all I use it for, and it's perfect for that task.

The Evernote software is free, but a premium account (which I have) will run you $5/months or $45/year. The big advantage of the premium account for me is offline access to any of your notebooks, which has been really helpful when I travel (especially overseas, where data is harder to come by). It has other perks, as well, like way more storage space, but since I use Evernote mostly for plain text notes and a handful of images, that's not a big issue for me the way the offline access is.

Saving and Sharing Things I Find Online

I was one of the earliest users of the social bookmarking site del.icio.us (a quick search of my archives indicates I started using it in December 2003-- good god, was it really over 8 years ago??), but after its acquisition by Yahoo my usage declined, and when it changed hands again last year I pretty much let it go. Since then, I've tried a couple of tools for online bookmarking, but hadn't really found anything that worked for me. (Including pinboard.it, which I had high hopes for but just didn't feel right to me.)

I loved two things about del.icio.us. One was the ease with which I could share a set of bookmarks with others, by using a simple url that combined my username and a given tag. So, for instance, bookmarks related to the Intro to Interactive Media class (course number 295) could be referenced with delicious.com/mamamusings/295. The other was the fact that I could subscribe to the bookmarks of other users, and by doing that I was able to create a customized news page that showed me the links that people I was interested in were collecting. It was a great way to find new things, and keep up with what friends and colleagues cared about.

Over the past few months, I've found services that appear to address both of those needs, although not in the same system.

Pinterest is what I'm using to bookmark personal stuff--recipes, home decor and craft ideas, clothing, art, etc. It's great for an at-a-glance look at recipes or fashion, where recall is closely tied to how something looks, not what it's called. More importantly, it's what I'm using to see what other people are collecting. It's a highly visual site--everything is arranged by image, and you can't even add something that doesn't have an image or a video on the page (which is why this will never be my only bookmarking tool--there are too many things I want to save that are text only). It also suffers from a lack of tagging capability, so anything you add goes in one collection and one collection only.

Clipboard, a new service created by ex-Microsoft research exec Gary Flake, addresses my need to quickly bookmark and tag resources related to research and teaching. Unlike delicious, it actually allows me to grab a piece of the page (as large or small as I want...but not just as an image. The text and links come with it, as well, which is a really nice touch. As a result, I can find things by look as well as by text. I think this is going to become my new go-to site for organizing my work-related resources.

Finally, InstaPaper is what I use to save lengthy online text (magazine articles, long-form blog posts, etc) for reading later on a mobile device. When I'm in online browsing mode, I usually don't have the time to really immerse myself in a thoughtful text. But there are plenty of times during the day when I suddenly find myself with unexpected reading time--waiting for a doctor's appointment, sitting on an airplane, lying in bed unable to sleep. If I've saved the interesting things to read to Instapaper, I can launch the app on my iPhone or iPad and read them then. Instapaper strips out all the ads and awful formatting, and makes the text readable for even my aging eyes. There's no monthly charge for it, but I did pay for the iOS app.

Citation Management
I was an Endnote user for a very long time--I started using it for my dissertation research back in the '90s, in fact. But last year I finally switched away from Endnote, and started using Zotero for all of my citation management. What made it possible for me to make the jump to Zotero was that it allowed me to import my entire EndNote database--given that I had literally thousands of references, that was a non-trivial process.

Zotero is an open-source tool that runs inside of your browser. Until recently, it only worked with Firefox (cross-platform), but there's now a "standalone" version of Zotero, too. I haven't used the standalone version, so I'm going to talk about how the browser-based version works.

Zotero recognizes a large number of scholarly publication sites (like the ACM Digital Library, or JSTOR, or SSRN, or Google Scholar), and gives you a little icon in your URL bar that allows you to add the item to your library. If it's one of the sites it recognizes (generally one that has embedded appropriate metadata), it automatically adds all the bibliographic data to the citation for you. What's even better, though, is that it also grabs a snapshot of the item (or, in some databases, a downloaded copy of the PDF) and attaches it to the citation--so you've got easy offline access to the item at any point.

There's integration between Zotero and major word processors, just as there is with EndNote, so you can add in-text citations and a bibliography to your paper using whatever your preferred citation style is.

Zotero has some other nice features, as well--there's cloud storage, so you can sync your bookmarks to any computer you're using (and if you've got a giant library like mine, you can pay to upgrade your storage space), and there's the ability to create shared libraries that you can allow read and/or write access to for others. That works really well for collaborative research projects, or for bibliographies built by a class.

Sharing Data Across Computers
All of the tools above have the ability to allow me to access my data from any computer. But there are a lot of other files I work with on a regular basis--word processing files, spreadsheets, images, etc. For those, I use Dropbox. The free version gives you 2GB of space, but I pay for the next level up, which gives me 50GB for $99/year. It integrates into your OS (Mac or Windows), so that your Dropbox folder is simply another folder on your computer--but anything that you put into that folder gets saved to the cloud, and synced to your other devices when/if they're online. There are iOS clients, so I can access any of my files from any of my devices. And there's a web client, so I can grab a file from Dropbox from any internet-connected computer.

Because the files are stored locally as well as online, you have access even if you're not online (and even if the Dropbox server is down)--a big advantage over Google Docs, which always seems to have service outages during critical document editing periods for me!

You can also share a folder with other Dropbox users, so that any time one of you changes a file, the new version will be synced for everyone. This is great if you're working on a project with someone and don't want to be constantly emailing changed files back and forth. The downside is that you can't selectively grant read-only access to folders or files. That means if you share a folder with someone else, they could delete the contents of folder and the files would be removed from your computer, as well.

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So, that's the gist of it. I've been using all of these tools (with the exception of Clipboard) for long enough now that they've become integral parts of my ecosystem. Many are "freemium" services (Evernote, Dropbox, Zotero) that I happily paid for once I realized their value to me. And the end result is that I have easy access to the information I need when I need it, despite the fact that I'm constantly moving between computers and mobile devices.

now you see it, now you don't

By Liz Lawley

One of the best things about my office is that it's next door to Weez's--which enables lots of shared music, knocking on walls, and other neighborly things.

A few years ago, we were both in our offices at the same time when a foreign student stopped by to talk to us about classes. He looked in my office, which was brightly lit, and piled high with papers and books and gadgets--the regular clutter of my chaotic professional life. Then he looked in Weez's office, which features incandescent lighting, strategically placed art, and a calming sense of feng shui.

He stood there for a few moments, clearly trying to find the right words for what he was thinking. Finally, haltingly, he said "You two are...friends?" Weez and I both nodded. There was a long pause, and then, "You are...VERY different." We laughed for a long time about that, and it's a line that's been repeated many times between us. A few months ago, our mutual friend Matt said to me "None of us really understand how the two of you are still friends," and when I reported that to Weez yesterday it resulted in more shared laughter.

On the other hand, when I shared both of those conversations with another friend, David, on Thursday, he shrugged and said he didn't think we were really all that different. And Alex, who was there when I shared Matt's comment with Weez yesterday, also expressed bewilderment at that observation.

On the surface, Weez and I are indeed very different. We have different aesthetics, different communication styles, different (but overlapping) sets of friends. And a lot of people focus on that--especially the communication styles. I'm an open book, for the most part--you don't ever have to wonder where you stand with me. And while I can be quick to anger, it's because I let negative emotions bubble up and out, and then I let them go. Weez, on the other hand, is gentler, more nurturing to an extended network of friends and students and colleagues, a mostly closed book when it comes to inner feelings, and very slow to anger...but just as slow to let that anger go.

These are not good things or bad things...they're just true things. And focusing on that can result i people seeing us as dramatically different. But David and Alex weren't focusing on that. They were thinking about the many things that Weez and I share. A fierce loyalty to the people we care about. A sophisticated and often wicked sense of humor. A love of music and food and friends and family. A collection of outspoken and often troublesome monkeys in our heads. A joy in teaching and in learning, in making and in playing.

So yes, we are very different. And also not so much. The similarities are what define our friendship...but I'm grateful for the balance she provides in my life, the reminder that a well-lived life takes many forms and that the best friendships are not just mirrors.

it ain't but a thang

By Liz Lawley

"It ain't but a thang" is how Weez, my BFF, explains away pretty much any catastrophic occurrence, from car accidents to student stalkers. It used to make me crazy, because I was pretty sure a lot of those were more than just "a thang," but over the years I've learned that's a core part of who she is. It's a family thang, really. And it's not just a minimization of the problem, which is what I used to think. It's a genuine, (mostly) healthy recognition that in the larger scheme of things, this too shall pass. (My dad says that all the time. Isn't it funny how parents seem to get smarter as you age?)

On Tuesday, Weez had a stroke. Granted, it was what she--and the neurologist--called a "teensy stroke." It affected only her balance, no cognitive function or other physical aspects. Her smile is still beautifully symmetrical, her words and her wit are as sharp as ever, and even the balance issues are likely to resolve fairly quickly.

But still. It was more than just a thang, at least to me. It was a terrifying reminder of our mortality, of the value and the fragility of our well-being, of just how important a person she is in my life. The first two I'm pretty aware of on a day-to-day basis. In a general way, I'm aware of mortality, and fragility, and am very grateful for the good health that I and my loved ones enjoy. In a more specific way, however, I don't ever think about what a world without Weez in it would be like. I don't want to go there. I'm not sure I really can go there. It's not a viable option. It does not compute.

On Tuesday, when Weez emailed several of us to say that she wouldn't make our 11am meeting because she was in the hospital, to her, that was "just a thang." She'd let us know, and that was that. My first reaction was to do what I would have wanted someone else to do for me--drop everything, head to the hospital, and keep her company. But I've known her long enough to know that company isn't always what she wants. So I asked, and she said no. And I respected that. (Damn, Weez, do you know how HARD that was?) I held out 'til morning, then showed up with gifts and good cheer...and an appointment that would keep me from hovering over her for the rest of the day. That was good, on all fronts. I came back later, again just for an hour or two, and tried as best I could to sit quietly and just be there. And again this morning, with another chai soy latte and some light conversation about happy things.

We talked a bit about how much people like me (and many of our colleagues and friends) WANT to do something to help in a crisis. How it makes THEM feel better. But, as she pointed out, that's really not her top priority when she's trying to keep her own shit together...a very fair point. On the other hand, she also has said several times how wonderful it has been to see the outpouring of love and support that's come through email and Facebook and people who risked her barriers to stop in at the hospital.

It got me thinking about this whole offering/accepting help thing. Because it's not really an introvert/extrovert thang. It's a caretaker thang. When you derive some of your own self-worth from taking care of others--as a mother, as a daughter, as a sister, as a friend, as a mentor--it feels good and right to help the people you care about. It's a lot harder to accept that help. There's a skewing of perspective; offering the help seems simple and easy, but accepting help offered seems demanding and excessive.

Last year was a hard year for me, and it had some crises that were most certainly more than just a thang. And the people who loved me were there for me. Really there. Even (especially) when I didn't ask, couldn't ask. A few months ago, I told one of them how grateful I was for his help during those dark times, and he said dismissively "it wasn't a big deal." I disagreed, and said that it was indeed a very big deal for me. He laughed then and said "but you did the same thing for me when I needed it." And I suddenly realized that he was right; I had done that for him, and it hadn't felt like a big deal...to me. It's all about perspective. That's a lesson I need to hold tight to, remembering that while offering help is easy, accepting it can be much, much harder.

I love you, Weez. I'm so very grateful you're okay. And I'm so very glad I could offer help this week, even if some of it was to make me feel better.

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Related Posts from WeezBlog:

opting out of social media

By Liz Lawley

Lately I've been thinking--and reading--a lot about people who choose to out of online social networking tools. The question of who chooses not to engage on sites like Facebook--and why they choose that--was posed to me by a close friend who has mostly lived his life on the opposite side of the social media spectrum from me. Where I have created an account on every system I've encountered, and very much lived my life in public through these tools over the past ten years, he has made only occasional and somewhat reluctant forays into online social spaces...and he was curious about what the causes (and consequences) of those different choices were.

I've been mulling that question over since he posed it back in the spring, and I keep seeing things pop up in blogs and news stories that relate to it. There was Alice Marwick's excellent essay ('If you don't like it, don't use it. It's that simple.' ORLY?) on the impact of opting out of Facebook when your social network is based there. And Jenna Wortham's NYTimes article on 'The Facebook Resisters' last month.

Alice talked in her article about the concept of "technology refusal," but I've found that there seems to be precious little out there in the way of research on this topic. The term itself is used in the context of other educational technologies in an essay by Steve Hodas called "Technology refusal and the organizational culture of schools" from Rob Kling's 1996 collection Computerization and Controversy, but I can't find much that links that essay with anything related to current social networking sites.

It seems to me there are a lot of interesting research questions in this. What are the reasons that people choose to opt out? Does the opting out tend to be global, or specific to individual systems? (For instance, do people who opt out of Facebook also opt out of Twitter? LinkedIn? Tumblr?) Is this more about personality or cognitive type, or about context and experience? Are these fairly static stances, or changeable? And if the latter, what precipitates the change? What's the impact on an individual who opts out when their social and/or professional network opts in?

In fact, there's so much that's interesting, and so little that seems to be out there, that it's all a little overwhelming. I've started a Zotero collection on the topic of "technology refusal," and would welcome any suggestions for things to add to it. (If there's interest, I'm willing to convert it to a group library that others could add to...)

Anyone know of work currently ongoing in this space? I'd love to talk with others who are exploring it!

thinking out loud

By Liz Lawley

Years ago, when this blog was very young, I wrote a post entitled "an extrovert speaks (quelle surprise!)" The things I wrote then still ring true, and I've found myself having the same conversation recently with a host of other people, primarily in the context of understanding use of social media.

These conversations tend to start not with the question "why do people feel the need to talk incessantly," but rather with the question "why do people feel the need to share every detail of their lives on Facebook?" And as someone who does indeed share a lot on Facebook...from Foursquare checkins at the gym to photos of my dog to commentary on social and political issues...I find myself trying to explain it.

A friend asked me recently, in jest, "if a tree falls on a house and no one posts it to facebook,did it happen?" In return, I posted a photo to Facebook of a house crushed by a tree, which kicked off an interesting discussion in the comments, including this from me:

This isn't really about social media, it's about extroverted vs introverted methods of sense-making. I once told my off-the-charts introvert friend Elouise that I often didn't know what I was thinking until I heard myself saying it, which she found truly baffling. For someone like me, Facebook and Twitter and email provide an outlet for that "thinking out loud" that I need to do in order to process ideas. Conversation with real live people is far better, of course, but the nature of my life is such that I'm not able to always have the people I want to talk to physically present. It takes a village to support an extrovert, I suppose, and my village is by necessity virtual rather than physical.

As usual, the process of crafting the words helped me to understand what I was thinking. But I also realized, with some dismay, that I'm now doing most of that thinking out loud on Facebook instead of on this blog. Facebook is quasi-public space for me, but it's not truly public. And more important, it's not truly mine. I don't own my data there, and while "timeline" has made it easier for me to find past posts, nobody's likely to stumble on my discussion of trees and houses through a serendipitous search or link.

I'm not one for new year's resolutions overall, but I do want to start shifting my "thinking out loud" back here to a more public space, rather than sequestering in Facebook's walled garden. I can always share the blog posts to my Facebook feed, but I'll retain ownership of them here, where there's more of a chance for them to reach a more diverse audience, and I know I'll always have access to the archive of my thoughts. And where Facebook's interface encourages short-form sharing, blogging has always been more of a long-form medium for me. I've missed that.

hacking my classes

By Liz Lawley

I've just started reading the book Hacking the Academy (that's the digital, open access version of the book; a print version will be available next year). I started with the section on "Hacking Teaching," since that's something I spend a lot of time thinking about. There are a number of excellent essays there, and many of them focus on shifting the flow of information so that students are no longer passive receivers of information, but rather part of the construction and communication of knowledge.

I thought I'd share some of the classroom hacks I'm using this fall in my freshman survey class "Introduction to Interactive Media," since they're all intended to make exactly those kinds of changes in the flow of information and knowledge.

First, I've enabled the live chat function in our campus courseware (Desire2Learn). It's a very rudimentary chat system, but I encourage my students to use it during class to ask questions of each other, and of the TAs and other instructors who are also in the chat. I spend a good bit of time in the first lecture talking about appropriate behavior in real-time chat, and reminding them that (a) everything they type is associated with their RIT username, and thus is not really anonymous, and (b) the chats are archived and I do go back and read through them from time to time. This year, I ended the list of caveats with a simple admonition..."C'mon, just don't troll the class chat!" Still, having some "adult supervision" seems to make a big difference in the overall tone.

Why real-time chat? If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll know that I've always been a big fan of conference backchannels, and this was a way to bring some of those benefits into the classroom. This class is one of the few I teach that includes a large lecture (60-90 students), and the chat encourages them to interact with each other as well as with me.

Second, in my studio sessions (30 students each), I've divided the students into groups of 5-6 and required them to use Google Docs for collaborative note-taking. RIT has its own Google Apps installation, and during our first studio session I break them up into groups, and walk them through the process of creating a docs collection, adding all the group members to it, and adding me, my TA, and my grader. I then tell them that their groups are responsible for taking notes at every class--lecture and studio--but that it's up to them how they want to divide up the work. During the quarter I'll occasionally review what they have, and will occasionally add comments or corrections; my grader will also check regularly to see if there are groups that aren't getting notes up, or whose notes are really weak, so that he can give me a heads up to review them. At the end of the quarter, I'll assign a grade for the notes, and then adjust that grade up or down based on a peer evaluation they'll do of their group members.

There are a number of good things that come out of this hack. They learn how to use collaborative editing tools, something that will be valuable to them in many project contexts. They learn how to work with a group to divide up responsibility. They have a set of notes they can rely on if they miss class, as well as when they have to work on their final project (a poster, presentation, or video detailing 20 things they learned in the course). And I have the ability to see just what they're taking away from my classes, which provides an invaluable feedback loop--far better and more constructive than any end-of-quarter evaluation form.

Third, instead of textbooks (all of our readings are online), I have students buy the iClicker that we've standardized on at RIT for in-class polling. But instead of using this for multiple-choice quizzing, I use this for things like "Choose Your Own Lecture," in which students pick which path I take through the lecture material, or for polling the students on what they thought about a required reading or video, or for letting them vote on whether we should end class early on a beautiful day and go outside. It's not perfect, but it's a way to discourage passivity.

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All of these hacks are still being refined--I've made significant changes from how I used them last year, and I'm sure this year will result in more modifications. But it's already clear to me that they're improving classroom engagement--and, I hope, student learning.

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