Home Automation

GE-Bright-from-the-Start-BulbA simple quest to find out more information on “Smart light bulbs” has turned into a major discussion at my house. We wanted a light bulb that would automatically turn on in the morning to help us wake up.  Yes, I know lamps already exist that do that sort of thing, but that’s not the point, and it would make for a real snoozer of a post. Get it? I said "snoozer" when I was referring to a lamp that is supposed to help you wake up! Anyway, I thought it was funny, and I bet Tim will too.

Back on point, “Smart light bulbs” are bulbs that can be controlled with an app on a smartphone or tablet. This is part of a larger movement called home automation. Some major retailers are beginning to carry home automation kits. Staples has Connect, Lowe’s has Iris, Home Depot has Wink (release date set for July 7th), and Apple has HomeKit. Some of these are more advanced that others, but work using similar protocols like wifi, Bluetooth, Z-Wave Plus and ZigBee.

These home automation kits consist of a hub that connects to your broadband Internet connection, and sometimes a light bulb or two, depending on the kit. As long as you buy smart devices that are compatible with your hub you shouldn’t have any problem controlling them and you can connect hundreds of devices to a single hub.
 
As for the major discussion at my house, I don’t think I’m ready to commit to a home automation system yet. It seems like a quickly changing market with more and more devices coming out all the time. I do like what I’m seeing with Wink and might look into that more next week.

I can see where this technology will start creeping into the libraries as a way of controlling HVAC and security systems in the near future if it hasn’t already.

Checking out Wi-Fi and Roku

DevicesWe can check out a lot of different things at the library like books (of course!), DVDs, magazines, eReaders, laptops, bundt cake pans, tools, and even seeds. But, how about a Roku box or a Wi-fi hot spot?

The Indian Prairie Public Library (Darien, IL) started lending Roku to their patrons on January 2, 2014. They started with three devices and are now up to six with 82 titles on them. As someone who still watches "over the air" TV, and is hesitant to get a Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV, or even Netflix, I think this is a great way to introduce the service to more people. And, OverDrive is partnering with Roku so there will be an OverDrive channel featuring library audiobooks and streaming videos. Even better!

New York and Chicago Public Libraries both received grants from the Knight Foundation to bring the Internet to more of their patrons by lending Wi-Fi hotspots. The hope is to help bridge the digital divide by providing Internet access where ever their patrons need it. Many people can't afford or don't have access to the Internet at home and having free Wi-Fi hotspots available for checkout will improve Internet access. How cool is that?

 

 

 

 

 

Choose Privacy Week

MonitorMay 1-7 is Choose Privacy Week, an ongoing program of the American Library Association that invites library users into a national conversation about privacy rights in a digital age. The Choose Privacy Week website has programming resources for libraries and includes the March 9, 2014 broadcast of "60 Minutes" which provides a good basic introduction to the activities of data brokers and how online personal data is tracked, bought, and sold without users’ knowledge. This 15-minute video is excellent (and worth sitting through the commercials!).

After you learn about how personal data is tracked, bought, and sold, you might want to follow up with tips about how you can lead a more private life online. Try the "60 Minutes Overtime" video, "How to defend your privacy online."  Skip ahead to 2:59 for some recommendations.

And don't forget about iLibrarian's 2013 post, "A quick guide to Private Browsing," which covers the Private Browsing and Do Not Track features for most popular browsers and includes "how-tos" and screenshots.

Are you concerned about your privacy in the digital age? What special steps do you take to preserve it? I have to confess, I hadn't paid too much attention to this topic in the past, but now I'm considering options like DuckDuckGo and Disconnect for more private browsing! 

More TechBits posts about privacy:

ALA Connect

When I attend the American Library Association conference, I typically gravitate toward the Library Information and Technology Association (LITA).  LITA is a great oppotunity to talk to other library staff about the technology trends that public libraries face (both challenges and opportunities).

Fortunately, you do not need to attend the ALA conferences or even be an ALA member to participate in the LITA (or ALA) community.  ALA offers a service called ALA Connect which is available to anyone.  ALA Connect provides online forums to discuss various issues. At the conference, my favorite interest group is the Public Library Techology Interest Group.  There is a place in ALA Connect for this group, but so far it is not very active. Once you get into ALA Connect, you can look around and see what interests you.  ALA Connect is a little daunting to navigate at first, so here some steps to help you get started and for joining the Public Library Technology Interest Group:

Log in with your ALA login if you are a member, or create a login (membership not required; ALA requires you to have your login as your first name and last name, with a space in-between each name and the first letter had to be capitalized. Then your login has to be approved, but that doesn't take long. After it's approved, you can log in and create a password.)
Browse Groups>Communities
Search "public libraries technology"
Click link for Public Libraries Technology Interest Group. 
Click Join button.
Once you join, you will see a "My Communities" section on the left side.  As you join other forums, thy will be added to your communities. 

What to do with old worn-out batteries

Batteries_16x9When you're finished unwrapping your presents this year, and left in tears (of joy) that you finally got the Walk-man that plays both sides without ejecting you've been dreaming about, or if you're really lucky a Disc-man, you will soon be filing through you're junk draw looking for a fresh set of AA Ever-Ready's. By the end of the day they will be drained of their power, and as you stare at them in your hand once again you wonder should I recycle them or toss them in the...hey... a cookie!

Back in the real world, I have a large box of used alkaline batteries sitting in my office because I want to recycle them but our E-waste recycler doesn't want them since they don't have anyone that separates the metals and reuses them responsibly. They say to throw them in the trash. I thought what a shame, so after a little research it turns out they are right. Duracell has a very informative page on their site about this topic. They say these days alkaline batteries don't use the toxic metals they once did back before the 90's. So instead of throwing them in the trash and feeling bad, now you can throw them in the trash and feel a little less bad, but don't throw a lot at once away because that is bad.

By the way, even though NiCad batteries are more expensive and don't hold a charge as long as an alkaline they can be recycled after they have met their demise.

Photo credit: doyourpart.com

Can I get a piece of that Raspberry Pi?

I'm a big fan of Pi(e): I like making it, eating it and I think Pi(e) day (March 14) should be a National Holiday.  So I HAD to attend Joshua Cowles' WLA session "Have some Pi: why your library needs cheap, tiny computers."  The session blurb mentioned using the Raspberry Pi for an OPAC kiosk and I thought "Great, inexpensive OPACs that libraries can put all over the building. How cool is that?"

Well, I learned quite a bit during that session, including the fact that some testers were unable to optimize the Raspberry Pi for an OPAC kiosk and ended up having to power their prototype with a larger board that that would render web pages faster. 

I contacted Joshua to confirm my notes and he stated that "The Raspberry Pi does suffer from some slowness and the lack of a ready-made set of scripts or instructions to set up an OPAC kiosk like libraries would want to have.  However, after the session I learned that the tech folks at Winnefox are further along with their version of RPi kiosks than I thought, and they actually have them successfully deployed. I haven't been able to speak with them yet about the choices they made or how it's been working out."

But the Raspberry Pi project is more than just OPAC kiosks!  One major component of the project is to teach people, especially kids, about computers from the components up.  Kind of like making a (pastry) pie from scratch. 

From the Raspberry Pi website: "The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. It’s a capable little PC which can be used for many of the things that your desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word-processing and games. It also plays high-definition video. We want to see it being used by kids all over the world to learn programming." 

Check out these links for more information and fun projects:

Raspberry Pi

10 coolest uses for the Raspberry Pi

Ten more awesome projects for your Raspberry Pi

25 fun things to do with a Raspberry Pi

 

--Heidi Oliversen

 

Prezi - Interactive Web-Based Presentations

Hi all! I'm Joanna, the Cataloging/Serials Technology Specialist at SCLS, a member of the group that supports LINKcat services. The ILS (Integrated Library System) Team will begin adding posts to TechBits on a rotating basis.

In an instructional literacy course I took as part of my MLIS program, I explored Web-based instructional literacy tools that could be applied to library services. My favorite is Prezi, an interactive software program that mimics PowerPoint, but with smooth animation between "slides". It inhibits the frequent wordiness you'll find in most PowerPoint presentations. (We just can't help ourselves.)

Building a Prezi is easy: you can choose from many different templates that are ready-made. They're also simple to customize, and adding your own images is a snap. While there is a bit of a learning curve in making your first Prezi, the program is forgiving. You can easily start over or scrap pieces that you don't like. It's also easy to import an existing PowerPoint into a Prezi template.

One advantage to Prezi over PowerPoint is the simplicity in displaying visual hierarchies. It's also highly collaborative. Users can share editing privileges with a small group of people or with all Prezi users if they choose. Prezi is mobile-enabled, with iPhone and iPad apps available.

While you can have a limited amount of free storage on an unpaid account, if you upgrade to a higher level of service, you can have Prezi Desktop to work offline on Prezi documents.

Some great library-related Prezis are linked here:

Technology in the Library

Library 101 by Chris Kerndt - an interesting way to do a public library orientation!

Glendale Library Arts & Culture by Suzanna Tadevossian - a colorful overview of library and community services

TED Talks

TED

In between audiobooks, I listen to a selection of podcasts. My newest favorite podcast is the TED Radio Hour produced by NPR. Let me tell you why...

I heard about TED Talks a few years ago and have watched a number of them since that time. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design and it started as a conference back in 1984 - almost 30 years ago. Who knew? I didn't and was surprised to learn that there are over 1500 talks that you can watch on the TED site - including the six talks from the first conference. From the TED site, "TED conferences bring together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes or less)."

The challenge, for me at least, is how to find the TED talks that are most interesting to me without watching an over 450 hours** of video. Mostly, I hear about them via Facebook friends, Twitter, or email. You can follow the TED Twitter feed (@TEDTalks or @TEDNews), like them on Facebook (they have over 3.3 MILLION likes!), follow via your RSS Reader, or do what I do - listen to the TED Radio Hour.

What I like about the TED Radio Hour is how they combine several different talks on a similar topic. In addition to clips from the original talk, the speakers are also interviewed. Recently, the show featured a talk from Nicholas Negroponte from 1984 where he made some technology predictions and looking back to see how many have come true (most have). He was talking about touch screens over 20 years before the first touch screen smart phone appeared on the market. You'll have to listen to the program to find out about the other predictions - Enjoy!

**452 hours is my estimate based on 1509 talks as of May 8, 2013 that average 18 minutes long which equals 26,162 minutes or 452.7 hours.

Current 3D Printer Boom only a Taste of What Is Coming

I assume we've all heard of 3D printing by now.  In the wake of MakerBot, Reprap, Solidoodle, and so many others, many a mind have been illumintated by this new creative process.  The way the current printers work, though, leaves creations somewhat coarse and weak; capable of making mostly novelties and only a handful of practical things.

This is about to change.

Next February, key patents on a different, better, 3D printing process will expire; setting the stage for a new round of consumer-level printers that can make useful, really cheap, everyday objects.  The patents are for a method called Laser Sintering.  Where current printers work by extruding a semi-melted filament (like a pastry decorator), laser sintering works by spreading layers of powder (plastic or metal) into place and using a laser to heat and fuse the powder into the created object(like the top of a creme brulee).  The benefit of this process is that much stronger, finer, objects can be created; the layers won't be as distinct.  And, what's more, the production cost of this process is potentially less than that of the current process MakerBot and others use. Really, it's not far-fetched to think that, say, if your mixing spoon, or bowl, or anything breaks, you can cheaply make your own replacement.

Here's a study that says a 3D printer could pay for itself, in replaced items, in less than a year.

Think about it.

 

Learning how Computers Work by Making One

If you've got any motivated, technology/maker-minded teens milling about your library, have I found the project for them.  2 professors from MIT have put together a course that involves building an actual working (virtual) computer system from scratch.  Best yet, all the tools, projects, and first half of the textbook is available for free online (found here).  The textbook itself can be found on Amazon or MIT Press for less than $30. Check it out; share it out.