Converting Old into New

New_year_father_timeIf you've been using computers as long as I have you're bound to have some old files laying around. The problem with these old files is that unless you still have the software you used to create them with you can no longer open or edit them. How sad! Well cheer up! I'm here to tell you how to convert those old files into new files. Back in 2009 Craig wrote a TechBits article about this and I thought it might be time to talk about it again. Just in case you or a patron has an old file that they really need to work with.

There is a website called Zamzar that offers a free online file conversion service. They can convert lots of old file formats into newer file formats so that they can be worked on using currently available software. Once you go to their website the conversion steps are as follows:

  1. Select the files you need to convert
  2. Select the file format you wish to convert to
  3. Enter the email address at which you wish receive the converted files
  4. Click the convert button on the screen

The files you chose are then uploaded to their server, converted, and then emailed to you. Simple as can be and it only takes a few minutes.

Add-ons and Plug-ins

We've talked about finding and using public domain images quite a bit here on TechBits - as far back as 2009! More recently, I've been finding add-ons and plug-ins that make it even easier to use public domain images in your documents and presentations thanks to Richard Byrne at Free Technology for Teachers*.

We've talked about Pixabay before, I think, as another place to find public domain images. It's one of my go-to sources for images for presentations. It's even easier now to find and use photos in Word or PowerPoint by using the Pixabay Images plug-in for Office. If you need help finding and installing PowerPoint plug-ins, Richard has you covered with his video here.

For Google Docs, Richard has a post showing how to use the Pixabay and Full Deck add-ons. The Full Deck add-on is new to me and uses Unsplash that Kerri talked about last December.

WordCloudMost recently, I used the Word Cloud Generator add-on for Google Docs. I had forgotten how much I like the visual representation of the important words in a discussion or exercise. Here's an example from a recent discussion about purpose. 

While I haven't used this add-on yet, It's something to keep in mind when I need to use icons in my presentations. The Noun Project has "over a million curated icons" and they're now available through an add-on for Google Docs and Slides.

Google Slides doesn't have a large number of add-ons available yet. Luckily, one of them is Unsplash for Google Slides. It's very easy to use and makes adding images to your presentations a breeze.

*If you haven't followed Richard yet, you really should! And, if you missed him in January when he presented for the 2018 Wild Wisconsin Winter Web Conference, you can watch the recording here.

Digital Bytes

WVLS-DigitalBytesWisconsin Valley Library System (WVLS) has launched a new training series called Digital Bytes, whose purpose is to provide short, consistent training in a recorded, digital format. Topics will include some tech topics topics like email etiquette, social media highlights, what's new in Facebook, and more.

The first episode launched last week -- "Customer Service, the Role of Positive Language" and can be found on the Digital Bytes page of the WVLS website.

If you like short video trainings, keep an eye out for these!

Display formulas in Excel

Ever need to look through the formulas on a spreadsheet?  Maybe you need to update them, maybe you're trying to fix a problem or maybe you just want to know what's going on.  Sure you can go through and click on each cell to show the formula but did you know you can set Excel to show the formulas instead of the values in the regular display?

Select the Formulas tab and click on the Show Formulas option.  Now, instead of showing the results, Excel will display the formulas themselves for the entire spreadsheet.  Since the formulas are often longer than the results, the columns may also automatically resize to be able to display the formulas. 


When you're done, just click on Show Formulas again and the spreadsheet will go back to showing the results.  It will also automatically resize the columns back to their original settings. 

Books, Books, and More Books - 2018 Edition

Litsy2018It's been a while since I've written about books which means I have lots to tell you about, so let's dive in.

Back in June of 2016, I started using Litsy and wanted to give you an update as I recently reached a milestone. I've read 171 books and 57,255 pages! And, I finally cracked 1000 in Litfluence and am at 1,017. You can see my earlier Litsy posts here and here.

Today on Twitter, a few of the mystery authors that I follow were talking about this new website called CrimeReads and, of course, I had to check it out. The site features essays, interviews, reading lists, and some nonfiction as well. You can sign up for an email list or add it to your Feedly account. Even if you're not a mystery reader like me, this site will be great for providing readers advisory in the many genres covered here: mystery, noir/hardboiled, suspense, espionage/thriller, and legal/procedural. Add this one to your list!

If you haven't heard, the awesome website EarlyWord no longer provides daily book coverage. To help fill the gap, Library Journal has started Book Pulse. According to LJ, Book Pulse is "a daily update designed to help collection development and readers' advisory librarians navigate the never-ending wave of new books and book news." You can subscribe to the daily emails or bookmark the site to visit regularly.

I've mentioned BookRiot in the past when I've shared some of my favorite book podcasts. BookRiot recently announced a new newsletter called Check Your Shelf and its tag line is "The Librarian's One-Stop Shop for News, Book Lists, and More." BookRiot won't overwhelm you with email as this newsletter comes out every two weeks. Between these two newsletters, you should be covered in the new book realm!

And, thanks to Becky Spratford of RA for All, I was reminded of the annual "The Morning News Tournament of Books" which started today. In addition to the 2018 brackets, you can also go back to see the books in past tournaments going back to 2005. This is a great RA resource and is also great fun. How many of this year's books have you read*?

*I've only read one - Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders but a couple of them are on my list for this year.




Using Instagram Photo Editing and Filters without posting the photo online


I have tried a lot of apps for editing photos.  I found Instagram very easy to use and liked the variety in filtering options.  I wanted a way to save the edited photos without having to post all of them to my account.  After some research, I found a clever way to do this.

Here’s How:

  1. Open Instagram and visit your profile
  2. Tap the gear icon on iOS (or the three dots on Android) to go to Options
  3. Scroll down and toggle on Save Original Photos
  4. Turn on Airplane Mode on your device
  5. Open the photo in Instagram and edit as usual
  6. Once you’ve finished, skip adding a caption or other info and tap Share
  7. The post will fail (because you have turned on airplane mode)
  8. You will get a failed notification that you may close out of
  9. The photo will now be saved to your camera roll
  10. Turn off Airplane Mode and use the photo however you like

Exploring Chrome Extensions Volume 4: Mercury Reader

    Welcome back to another monthly installment of Exploring Chrome Extensions.

    We have all been there. We find a webpage that is absolutely riddled with advertisements and it kills any sort of readability. If you are familiar with Pinterest and the blog sites that are often linked, you know what I am talking about but this is also true about almost all web pages nowadays. Luckily there is a Chrome extension that seeks to remove all the unnecessary and annoying ad fluff from a page. The extension I am talking about is called Mercury Reader.

    Mercury Reader strips out advertising, formatting, and other webpage muddle to provide a clean, and most importantly, readable page. That is pretty much it. There isn’t a whole lot to talk about other than it seems to work pretty well. Instead of talking about it lets just look at what it can do in the following image.


    In this example, Mercury Reader works great but there a few caveats. There are certain pages where we would like to remove the ads/clutter but keep the formatting. An example would be cooking or recipe web pages. Recipe formatting is often critical but Mercury Reader can have pretty mixed results with this. Sometimes it completely removes the necessary formatting and you are left with an incomprehensible recipe. I have seen some sites where Mercury Reader just completely mangles it or literally strips everything out so you are left with a single sentence.  Mercury Reader is really intended for articles specifically but it can work fairly well for other uses.

How to use:

    Once you have downloaded the Mercury Reader extension and restarted Chrome you will see a little rocket ship symbol to the right of the Omnibox and to the right of the Options menu. All you need to do is click the rocket and it will attempt to clear the clutter.

You can get Mercury Reader HERE

Project Maestro - Tableau's new data prep tool

This week I downloaded and tried out Tableau’s Beta 3 data prep product, “Project Maestro”.  Overall, I am impressed by the visual interface and what it can do without advanced excel functions or programming. Here are some features I am excited it can do:

  • EXTRACT DATA FROM OUR ILS DATABASE: Using a MySQL connection, I was able to pull data from our Koha database and output the results to a CSV file.
  • MERGE A FOLDER OF EXCEL REPORTS: Using the wildcard union, I was able to easily combine a folder of reports into one csv file. I merged a folder that had a separate file of items owned for every library in the South Central Library System. The resulting file had over 3 million items, and it only took a few minutes. 
  • COMBINE DATA SOURCES: Using the join feature, I combined data from multiple sources and could easily see how many records were included/excluded.
  • FILTER: This can be done with a calculation or by selecting which field values to keep or exclude.
  • ADD OR SPLIT FIELDS: Calculated fields and custom splits can be used to add new fields. I used this to add the report date, which is typically in the filename and not listed as a report field.
  • AGGREGATE LARGE FILES: This is my favorite feature!  We create monthly database extracts with millions of records that are used by Perl scripts to generate reports. Using Maestro’s aggregate feature, I was able to aggregate (sum) these large files by year, quarter, month, day, etc. to reduce the number of records.
  • OUTPUT: The ability to output to a CSV or Tableau format is huge. I’m now wondering what this means for custom reports and rethinking my dashboard design workflows.

My only complaint with Project Maestro is that sometimes it took too long or seemed stuck. Restarting the program and keeping the flow simpler for large files seemed to help.

So how much will this cost? I contacted our Tableau representative and received this information: “Project Maestro will be included in a desktop license but they have not released any details on how it will be released i.e. as an upgrade or a new offering.” In the meantime, you can try it for free!  Here are some resources to get started:


Blog post:

Training video:

Virtual Reality Kits Now Available

In my last TechBits post, I wrote about the new technology coming to SCLS libraries this year.  I am happy to report that the Virtual Reality kit is now available for libraries to check out!  Not only that, but we also purchased a 2nd kit!  This means more libraries and their patrons will be able to experience and play with VR.VR head set and controllers

These kits include the PS4 gaming console, VR headset, VR camera, controllers, and lots of cables.  All you will need is a projector or TV.  These kits are only to be checked out by SCLS librarians and for in-library use only.  

Check out the SCLS equipment page to check availability and reserve the kit.  Reservations will be handled on a first-come, first-serve basis and will be confirmed with an email from myself or Craig.  The kits can be checked out for up to 10 days, but only one kit at a time.

If you have any questions, you can leave them in the reservation form or send me an email at

Windows 10 Sound Problems

Windows 10 is smart.  Somtimes it's too smart for it's own good!  I've run across a number of people who have had issues with the sound not working.  This is especially true if you have a laptop and use a dock to connect it to multiple montiors.  I've also seen it happen if you have a desktop and connect a usb cable to your monitors so you can plug in a usb drive to the side of the monitor.

Symptom: No Sound yet the volume is at 100%

Cause: Windows 10 is being "helpful" and switched your default speaker to be your monitor speakers. Please know - you monitor DOESN'T have a speaker!

Solution: Tell Windows what speaker you are actually using

  1. Click this
  2. In the list that pops up select your real speakers (Sometimes it's not evident so you'll need to select one at a time and test the sound.)
    NOTE: Make sure to turn the volume up on the item you just selected.