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April 23, 2015 / carlispina

A Little Something Different: The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

Today I am taking a break from writing about new tools and apps to write about a new book that may be of interest to technology enthusiasts and comics fans alike. Historians, computer programmers, and technologists may be familiar with the history of Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, and the Analytical Engine, but they have certainly never seen it the way that Sydney Padua portrays it in her newly published book, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage. This fun steampunk-style comic set in a “pocket universe” a bit unlike our own, is an incredibly entertaining romp that I would higly recommend. Recently, I was fortunate to interview Sydney Padua for The Mary Sue and you can check out her thoughts on Lovelace, Babbage, and writing a comic about their crime fighting ways over there or you can check out the full comic on her website. I hope you will love it just as much as I do!

April 20, 2015 / carlispina

Create Presentations With Ease Using Haiku Deck

Creating dynamic and engaging presentations can be a daunting task. However, Haiku Deck is a tool that aims to streamline this process. I recently wrote about Haiku Deck for the Law Librarians of New England and if you ever find yourself creating presentations, you may want to check out the features that Haiku Deck has to offer. And, if you are a technology enthusiast or create presentations frequently, you may also want to check out Haiku Deck’s new tool, Zuru. This new service takes advantage of artificial intelligence to take an outline of a presentation and generate a modern presentation complete with images and sleek design features. You can check out my full post on everything Haiku Deck has to offer at the Law Librarians of New England blog.

April 16, 2015 / carlispina

Practice Japanese As You Browse the Web With Mainichi

MainichiWhen trying to learn a language, the key is practice, practice, practice. However, it can be hard to find ways to integrate this practice into your daily life. The Mainichi Chrome app aims to help users solve this problem.

When you install this app, which is available for free in the Chrome Store, you will see a stylish illustration of an item or concept together with both the Japanese and English word for it. The look of the display mimics a flashcard and is centered in the browser window. The words are all written out in either hiragana or katakana and, where relevant, the Japanese characters are also shown below. You can opt to also see the romaji for the word if you need help learning how to pronounce it. Every time you reload the page or open a new tab, you’ll see a random word. While you won’t learn to speak Japanese from Mainichi, if you are already working on learning the language or keeping up with your skills, it is a fun way to add it to your daily routine.

Mainichi Screenshot

April 13, 2015 / carlispina

Make Music With Incredibox

Incredibox is a fun, funny way to create online music. Using any one of the four available versions, you can create your own mix by selecting various musical effects. Each of the four versions offers a different combination of sounds, effects, and visual elements, but in all of them, you are presented with a series of male figures. Initially blank, you can drag various beats, effects, melodies, and voices onto the figures. These elements come with both sounds and an outfit that then go onto the figure you have selected. Each time you add a figure to your mix, he waits one cycle and then starts playing the sound you have chosen. Slowly this process builds your entire mix. You can change your mind and change any of the figures and you can give individuals a “solo” by clicking and briefly holding over them or turn them off by simply clicking. Though each combination sounds different, the impressive part of Incredibox is that every permutation you can think of sounds like a cohesive song created by a real song writer.

 

Incredibox

Once you have created your song, you can record it and share it via social media and the Incredibox website, which maintains a top 50 list of the most popular mixes that users create. While I could see potentially using this with students who are learning about creating songs and the different elements of songs, I mostly just think this a fun web app to play with.

April 9, 2015 / carlispina

Stream Almost Anything With Periscope

PeriscopeRecently Periscope and Meerkat, two new apps that make it easy to live stream video over Twitter, have made quite a splash. People have used them for everything from streaming media interviews to recording video of their pets playing and sharing it with their Twitter followers, with new users and new uses emerging every day. I decided to start by taking a look at Periscope.

Though Meerkat had the upper hand in the early buzz about these apps, Periscope was the live streaming option that Twitter targeted for purchase and since the sale was finalized it has gained notoriety. Getting started with the app is fairly straightforward. Once you create an account and tie it to your Twitter account, you are presented with a list of broadcasts that are currently available for viewing. This list is split into two sections with the top of the screen displaying live broadcasts from users you follow and the bottom of the screen showing recent broadcasts from everyone else on Periscope, with a few “Featured” broadcasters listed at the top of this second list. You can also opt to view the “Global List” which shows all of the videos that are currently being streamed. For a select number of top broadcasts, this includes a still image from the stream, the number of people currently viewing the broadcasts, the name of the broadcast and the name and avatar of the user; for all of the rest, it simply includes the name of the broadcast, the name of the user and the number of people watching. When you first set up your account and connect it to your Twitter account, it will automatically import everyone that you follow on Twitter who also has a Periscope account and you can add to this list of people you follow by searching for people and tapping the plus button once you find users who you find interesting. While following people was initially not terribly important, Periscope recently added an option to limit those people who can chat with you on your video to only people you follow. You can also choose to only share a broadcast with set people if you would like to keep it more private. Finally, you can also decide for each broadcast that you create whether you would like to have it posted to Twitter automatically or not. By default, Periscope shares your general location information, but you can opt out of this if you would prefer.

Periscope Screenshot

Once you start your broadcast, your selected audience can see and hear everything you record in real time. They can also chat with you or share hearts to show that they like your broadcast. Once you are finished, you can end your broadcast by swiping down on the screen, and, if you have opted to set your account up to auto save your videos, the entire video will be saved to your device. If you do save your broadcasts, you won’t see the chat comments or hearts in your recording, but you will have a full recording of the video and audio from your broadcast.

Periscope Screenshot 2

To try Periscope out, I used it to record a class I taught on using free legal research tools to see whether this might be a viable means of offering information literacy classes. Overall, I found that it was pretty easy to set Periscope up for this purpose. I used a tripod to set up my device, which was a bit tricky since Periscope doesn’t offer many options to zoom in or focus your recording, meaning that the tripod had to be very close to my screen. Actually starting and stopping the recording was easy and Periscope does offer some analytics after you finish your broadcast, including the number of people who watched your broadcast live and the number of times it was replayed (all broadcasts are saved in the “Watch Tab” for 24 hours unless deleted by the creator). For my impromptu research session, I had 60 live viewers, though I suspect many of these were just people curious about Periscope since it is still so new. I was also able to save my recording and upload it to my library’s YouTube account, though I was ultimately disappointed with the video quality that I achieved with this particular set up. I would definitely like to try Periscope again, though I think it requires better lighting and might be better suited to other uses that don’t rely as heavily on the viewer being able to see a computer screen. Overall, I think Periscope might offer some interesting options for libraries. It will be interesting to see whether Periscope and Meerkat prove to a be a fad or gain widespread use across industries.

April 6, 2015 / carlispina

Practice Your Language Skills With Lingua.ly

Lingua.ly logoAn ever-increasing number of tools exist to help language learners to practice their skills online. Some of these offer full lessons, such as Mango Languages, but others try to help language learners to take advantage of the internet to learn from real sources. One example of this is Lingua.ly.

This new tool allows language learners to practice their language skills by reading real articles from the internet. You can select the words you want to concentrate on and Lingua.ly will provide you with a selection of articles that feature them. While you are reading the articles you can tap on any word to see a definition, hear the word spoken aloud (if the audio is available for that word), and load a flashcard for the word. You can also add new words that you would like to learn by typing them in your own language and searching for them in the language that you are learning.

The app also includes a practice section where you can take quizzes on words. To prevent frustration, the app will only quiz you on words that you know and if you say that you don’t know the word, you will be given the definition and quizzed on that word later. The app allows you to earn points and places you on the leader board to foster some competition amongst users. You can share your accomplishments as you earn them on Facebook if you would like, but this isn’t a required part of the experience. The app continues to add new features all the time, most recently the option to customize your difficulty level to better suit your language skills and an integration with Tatoeba to improve the app’s translation of phrases. It will be interesting to see what more is added in the future.

Lingua.ly is a nice addition to a language learning program. I’m not sure I would say that it can be used on its own, but in combination with a class or other online learning tools, it can be a fun and real world approach to learning a language. Lingua.ly currently offers users the option to practice English, Spanish, French, German, Hebrew, Portuguese, Italian, Arabic, Dutch, and Russian with more languages coming soon. It is available for desktop use or as an iOS or Android app. A Chrome browser extension also allows you to read foreign websites and click on words that you don’t understand along the way to learn them and add them to your practice regime. You can learn more about Lingua.ly in the video below.

April 2, 2015 / carlispina

Get Started With Oral History Interviews Using The StoryCorps.me App

This week at YALSA Blog, I wrote about the new StoryCorps.me app. This app is a great tool for those who are interested in conducting oral histories whether they are with members of their community or family members. The app includes an option to either share your interview recording with other StoryCorps users and archive it with the Library of Congress or an option to keep it private. This is a very interesting new app, which is currently in public beta, so check it out!

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