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July 17, 2014 / carlispina

Increase Your Creativity with OKDOTHIS

OKDOTHIS is a fun photography app that challenges you to take photos of the world around you according to the prompts of other users. Want to challenge others? You can also create your own prompts and watch as other OKDOTHIS users take their own pictures interpreting it. This week on the YALSA Blog, I offer a full look at the app. Head over there to check it out if you want to join a photography community and challenge yourself to take new types of photos.

July 10, 2014 / carlispina

Capture Your Own Facial Expressions on an Avatar with Pocket Avatar

LogoThis week at YALSA Blog, I reviewed Intel’s new app, Pocket Avatar. The app uses facial recognition technology to detect the user’s facial features and facial expressions to map them onto avatars ranging from pop culture icons to cartoon animals. It can include both video and audio to create a 15 second long animated clip that mimics the user’s expression. For my complete review, head over to YALSA Blog.

July 3, 2014 / carlispina

Learn Coding and Programming Through Projects With Dash

Dash LogoI’m always interested in trying new options for learning web design online, so I was interested as soon as I heard that General Assembly had debuted a free tool called Dash.

Those of you who have tried other online tools for teaching yourself to code will probably see a lot that is familiar about this particular tool. As with other such tools, the screen is divided between the lesson materials in the upper left corner, a text editor in the lower left corner, and a preview of how your code will look on the right half of the page. The preview portion of the screen offers the option to see how your code will look on a regular browser as well as how it will be displayed on a smartphone screen. The lesson materials are presented as slides with check points designated within each slide deck for users to write their own code. Dash does a good job of checking the code that users write, offering hints when they encounter common problems and also knowing enough to evaluate only code, rather than getting stuck if a user does not use example text provided. Having seen some tools that struggle with code evaluation, I particularly like this second aspect of the program. It makes sense that users should be focused on getting the code right and not worrying about typos within the example text that is only provided so they will have something to format. As users complete the tasks at these checkpoints, they unlock skills that are displayed in a separate tab in the same part of the screen as the lesson materials. Hovering over each of the skills that you have unlocked will show a quick overview of what was included in the skill, which makes for a nice refresher if you are coming back to the lesson after some time away from coding. The third tab in that section of the screen takes you to the Q&A Forum where you can get help if you are stuck on a lesson, but unfortunately this forum requires a Facebook account, which seems like an unnecessary restriction. Your progress is automatically saved as you move through each lesson, making it simple to fit Dash’s lessons around your own schedule.

Each of the lessons is kept fairly short, which is conducive to working on these skills a little bit at a time and also makes the process more manageable for those who might otherwise be intimidated by the idea of learning to code. To make sure that users can easily see how they might apply the skills they are learning, all of the lessons are organized into concrete projects, from building websites, to creating a game, to designing your own customized Tumblr theme. Over the course of all of these projects, users can unlock a total of 82 skills, which are tracked on the main dashboard to provide an incentive to continue through each of the lessons. As further encouragement (and a way of marketing Dash), when you finish each lesson you are given the option to share your success on Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr. As you complete tasks in Dash, you will also receive emails from the company with additional content or support. Overall, Dash is similar to other previously existing tools for learning to code, but its project-based approach will likely appeal to some learners. All of the lessons are currently free, so it is definitely worth trying if a project-based approach to learning appeals to you.

Today I also wanted to include a brief note about my summer posting schedule. I’ve decided to take a bit of a “break” this summer to give me more time for other projects. I won’t stop posting here; but for July and August, I will only be writing one post a week. But, I expect to get back to my regular schedule in September.

June 30, 2014 / carlispina

Highlighting Historical Materials with Google Tour Builder

Google Tour BuilderA few weeks ago I wrote about Google Tour Builder, which allows users to place photos, videos, and text in a global context to build a tour and since then, I have used it to create a companion for an exhibition of historical materials. The Historical & Special Collections Department at the Harvard Law School Library currently has many of its recent acquisitions on display in an exhibit called Spanning the Centuries: An Exhibit of Recent Acquisitions, 1579-1868. The exhibit includes items from many countries including England, France and Germany, making it a great test case for Google Tour Builder.

The final tour I created combines images of the exhibition and the individual items with detailed text that was created for a presentation on the exhibition. Creating the tour was a very straight forward process, though there are definitely features that could be improved, such as adding the ability to reorganize images once they have been uploaded. Another drawback to Google Tour Builder is that the final tours can only be viewed on computers with Google Earth installed. However, despite these limitations, I think this tool can be a great option for libraries and museums interested in sharing their materials in new ways. Our final tour puts the items in the exhibit in their geographic context, which is a fun new perspective. Hopefully it will bring the exhibit to those who might not otherwise have found it.

June 26, 2014 / carlispina

CALI Conference 2014: Our Ideas Made Visible

During last week’s CALI Conference, I had the opportunity to hear Michael Robuk discuss data visualization in a presentation entitled Our Ideas Made Visible: Tools for Visualizing Data. This session offered an introduction to the topic of data visualization and an overview of tools that exist to help users visualize data even if they do not have experience in the field. Robuk started by discussing Edward Tufte‘s philosophy of design before showing the first several minutes of David McCandless’ Ted Talk, entitled The Beauty of Data Visualization (embedded below).

This talk helped to show the power of effective data visualization and served as a good starting point for Robuk’s discussion of some of his favorite data visualization tools, which are listed below:

  • Google NGram: Visualizing the changes in the text of published books over time can offer interesting insights into the way that society or a specific field of study has changed during the specified period and this is exactly what the Google NGram Viewer allows users to do. It uses the text that was scanned as part of the Google Books projects, so it includes a wide range of publications over a long period of time. You can read more about my thoughts on it in my post from 2012.
  • Wordle: This tool creates word clouds from any text you input, meaning that you can input whole text files or content you have scraped from a website to learn more about relative word frequency in a highly visual way. If you are interested in trying out word clouds, check out my post on Wordle or one of my posts on other word cloud generators.
  • Google Maps: While many are familiar with using Google Maps to get directions, Robuk focused on ways that Google Maps can be used to highlight the geographic relationship between data points or locations.
  • Tableau Public: This free software, which is available for both Macs and PCs, makes it easy to visualize your data in a professional way. If you are just getting started, the gallery will give you some ideas of how other users have visualized data with the tool.
  • Many Eyes: This software from IBM gives users the ability to create dynamic data visualizations that take a variety of formats. The Quick Start guide provides a nice overview of how it works.
  • Infographics remain popular and is one of many tools aimed at making it simple to create your own infographic no matter what type of information you have. If you are interested in checking out other alternatives, take a look at this list of my previous posts on infographic tools.
  • WolframAlpha: While not a true data visualization tool, Robuk mentioned this tool, which refers to itself as a “computational knowledge engine,” as another example of how data can be found and used.
  • Futureful app: The final tool that Robuk mentioned was Futureful’s Random app. This app is focused on creating random connections and surprising discoveries. To further this goal, the app also adapts to your own preferences and activities over time.

Robuk’s presentation offered a great list of tools that was sure to suggest something new and different to almost everyone. I will be interested to see how libraries ultimately make use of these tools to share information in more engaging and interesting ways.

June 23, 2014 / carlispina

CALI Conference 2014: Technology Legos

Last week, the Harvard Law School Library hosted the 2014 CALI Conference and I was fortunate to be able to attend several sessions. One of the sessions that I attended was focused on the University of Tennessee’s experience creating technology that meets their needs rather than purchasing standard products. Entitled Technology Legos: Snapping RaspberryPi, Arduino, 3D printers, Phidgets and More Into The Next Wave of Technological Innovations, this presentation brought home the degree to which a do-it-yourself mentality can serve a library well.

The presentation started with a description of their work setting up video recording capabilities in the library’s existing study rooms. Using a combination of pieces, including a power over ethernet (POE) camera, a card scanner, an Arduino board, a touch screen, and a 3D printed case, they were able to set up a recoding studio that allowed them to limit use to law students, while also ensuring that students would have quick access to their finished recordings. After recording finishes, their system allows students to have automatic access to the finished product within minutes. They have also added the ability to use closed captioning capabilities to include comments on the video that are tied to a specific time in the presentation. Though the process of building these tools and writing the software for them might seem overwhelming, the entire process took only about 4 months and each video recording system cost only about $150, making this a very cost-effective way to offer high tech services on a limited budget.

The presenters also discussed their work creating digital signage using a Rasberry Pi system. This again was an example of a system that they created themselves so that it could be customized to their exact needs. Using iBeacon, they plan to offer students the ability to have relevant information pushed directly to their personal device from the school’s digital signage system. As an added bonus, they were even able to reuse some old library shelves so that the casing for each digital sign matches the school’s woodwork exactly.

While not all libraries will have the staff to undertake these types of projects, this session was an interesting look at one library’s approach to saving money while still offering their patrons a very high-tech and customized experience. Video of the entire presentation will be available in the coming days on the CALICon website and the presenters mentioned that they would be happy to share their files and code with interested librarians.

June 19, 2014 / carlispina

Pre-CALI Unconference: Teaching and Learning with Technology

Yesterday the Harvard Law School Library hosted the half day Pre-CALI Unconference in advance of the 2014 CALI Conference that starts today. The unconference brought together a mixture of librarians, administrators, educators and educational technologists to discuss topics related to teaching and learning with technology. As is traditional in the unconference format, participants proposed all of the topics discussed, breaking up into smaller groups to focus on whichever subject seemed most  relevant to them. If you weren’t able to attend the unconference, you can still learn about some of what was discussed through the participant created notes, which are available on Google Drive.


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