Voice Assistants

Echo-dotVoice assistants (Amazon Echo, Google Home, etc) seem to be everywhere these days. What are libraries doing with them?
 
Some libraries are loaning them to patrons or educating their users about them...
Some library staff are just starting to think about and experiment with how they might be used in libraries...
Some libraries are developing skills/actions for the devices* to make their libraries' information more accessible to patrons using the devices...

And some libraries are promoting library services that can work with the devices.

Some takeaways:
  • Voice Assistants are designed to be personal/home devices and may have some challenges being integrated into a library environment
    • library networks are designed to keep users' data private, where voice assistants would like to communicate with other devices in the area
    • how comfortable would patrons be interacting with a voice assistant in a public space?
  • This is a technology that will likely become more and more popular over time
    (Remember how the crew on Star Trek would ask the ship's computer something and it would answer?** It sure seems like that's where we're headed.)
  • Libraries' best option may be to make their content more easily accessible to these devices and to promote content and services that work with the devices at patrons' homes

Do you have a voice assistant at your house? What is your impression?
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* Check out libraries with Alexa skills and with Google Actions
**Amazon now allows users to change the "wake word" for its Alexa voice-enabled assistant and allows "Computer" as a wake word, to the delight of Star Trek fans: http://time.com/4645187/amazon-echo-star-trek-computer-voice/

Creating and using Tasks in Google Calendar

In 2018 I wrote about using the "Reminders" feature of Google Calendar. Since then, Google has introduced a "Tasks" option that is slightly different than the Reminders option. 

Googletasks2To get started with Tasks, select the Tasks checkbox on the left side of the screen. This will enable the Tasks option on your Google Calendar. 


GoogletasksTo create a Task, click on the appropriate day, enter the information, and select Task. You can select a certain time for the task, or leave it as "all day." Currently, you cannot set up a repeating task. Tasks also include the option to add a description. Reminders do not include this option.

After you have completed the Task, you can mark the task as complete to cross it off of your list. To do this, click on the Task, and click Mark complete in the lower right-hand corner. Googletasks1

Unlike Reminders, Tasks do not continue to appear each day until you mark them complete. I think this makes them less useful than Reminders, so I haven't used Tasks nearly as much as I have used Reminders. However, I think they can be useful when you want to include detailed information about your Task. When using Reminders, you only have the option to enter a Title, while the Task option includes both the Title and Description.

PowerPoint Pointer

Laser PointerLast year while I was working on a PowerPoint presentation I came across a nifty little feature. In slide show mode you can make your regular mouse curser look like a laser pointer. Even though I didn’t use it then it came up as a topic during a presentation I sat in on last week, so I thought I’d share this with you now.

This only works if you’re in presentation mode in front of your computer--just hold the CTRL key down and left click your mouse button. Your mouse pointer should turn into a red dot. You can release the CTRL key when the red dot appears. You can move the dot around your presentation like a laser pointer now. When you release the mouse button your regular mouse pointer will re-appear.

A more permanent solution is to hold the control button down and press the letter P--this will turn your mouse pointer into a small red dot. Hit Esc on the keyboard to bring your mouse pointer back.

Remove background

Rose recently covered how to add a background color to an image that has none. What if you want to remove a background from an image?

Have I got a cool site for you! I just read about it on the Cool Tools blog, and I think it will become one of my favorites.

https://www.remove.bg/

Simply upload a photo (or enter a URL), and the background will be removed, leaving you with background-less image that you can download. I tested on a few different photos and had pretty good success. It's not perfect of course and currently it only works on photos with people, but it's way, way, WAY better than trying to select and remove the background manually! 

From my testing, I had the best luck when the photo was nice and crisp and the subject wasn't in shadows. Here are some examples:

2Craigs

Moustache

Wow

Password, password, who might have your password?

A little over a week ago the site “have I been pwned?” website reported a large collection of leaked user information, the biggest single collection they'd seen, had been posted to a popular hacking site. While it turns out that most of that data was a compilation of previous data breaches, the data was now available in a single collection of over 770 million unique email addresses and 21 million unique unencrypted passwords.

To check if your email account was one of the ones leaked, you can go to https://haveibeenpwned.com/ (yes, it's pwned not owned) and enter your email account. If your email was one of the ones they've found in leaked data, the site will tell you and, if you scroll down, it will give you details on where and when the leak occurred. You can then use this information to determine whether you should go and change your passwords on the affected sites or if you've already done so since the breach occurred.

Favorites Toolbar

Bookmark toolbarLast fall I was working with a very smiley colleague on a large order when she noticed that I use folders on my web browsers favorites’ toolbar to group similar links. After I showed her how I created the folders we talked about how this might be something worth sharing with our readers.

For those that didn’t know Favorites Toolbars existed, I have to tell you, it’s incredibly convenient to have a few of my go-to favorites at the top of my browser where I can quickly go without having to click on dropdown menus. I found it frustrating when I had so many bookmarks in my toolbar that it became cluttered, which is where using folders to combine similar links can come in to help organize your toolbar.  For instance, I drive a lot, so I have a folder with my favorite travel advisory links so that I can quickly see if I should expect any travel delays. I also have a folder with a lot of Google doc links.

I mostly use Google Chrome and Firefox browsers, but you can also do this with Edge.

In Google Chrome, click the Customize and Control button (3 vertical dots) in the upper right hand corner. Hover your cursor over Bookmarks and select Show bookmarks bar. This will add the bookmarks bar if you don’t already have it. If you right-click in the bookmarks bar you will have an option to add a folder. Once you add and name a folder you can drag links into it.

In Firefox, click the menu button (Cheeseburger or 3 vertical lines) in the upper right-hand corner and choose Customize, click the Toolbars button at the bottom of the screen and select Bookmarks Toolbar. Just like with Chrome you can right-click in the bookmarks bar you will have an option to add a folder. Once you add and name a folder you can drag links into it.

I’ve also found that by having a visual of my favorite websites on my bookmarks toolbar I use them way more than I used my bookmarks menu at the top of my browser.

Digital Byte: Top Tech Tools

Did you catch Jamie's most recent Digital Byte video? In it, she talks about her 8 favorite tech tools at the moment and how they might help you in your library work. The video is only 6 minutes and covers 8 tools (Slack, Screencast-O-Matic, Noisli, Pixabay, CamScanner, LunaPic, iMovie, and BeFunky).

You can find more of the WVLS Digital Bytes here: https://wvls.org/digital-bytes/

Grow with Google

Are you (or your library's patrons) thinking about making New Year's Resolutions to take training or learn new skills?

GrowWithGoogle
Grow with Google

Google has a "Grow with Google" program with free training, tools, and events to help people grow their skills, career or business. Google and the American Library Association are also launching the Libraries Ready to Code website, an online resource for libraries to teach coding and computational thinking to youth.

You can read about these and other ALA activities on this ALA District Dispatch blog: "Grow with Google is coming to a library near you."

If you're interested in more details about some of the many Google initiatives associated with Grow with Google, take a look at this Google blog post: "Opportunity for everyone."

Looks like there are some good free learning opportunities for 2019!

Browse and search historic newspapers via the Library of Congress

Wood County Reporter, December 23, 1920Recently I heard about a resource for historic newspapers, called Chronicling America. Chronicling America is part of a Library of Congress/National Endowment for the Humanities program to digitize historic newspapers, called the National Digital Newspaper Program. Newspapers dating from 1789-1963 have been digitized and made available at the Chronicling America web site.

The program has been around for quite some time and there are 14 million+ pages (from 2,600+ newspapers) that are available on the web site, from most of the states, including Wisconsin (via the Wisconsin Historical Society). In addition to searching and viewing digitized pages, you can search the U.S. Newspaper Directory to find information on American newspapers from 1690 to the present. 

One interesting aspect of the Chronicling America web site is the slide show featuring newspaper pages from 100 years ago today. While most of the newspapers are English language, there are newspapers in Polish, Romanian, German, Lithuanian, as well as other languages.

If you are interested in historic newspapers, Chronicling America is an interesting resource. Also, don't forget we have access to the Archive of Wisconsin Newspapers, which not only provides access to digitized Wisconsin newspapers from the 19th and early 20th centuries, but is also a searchable database of Wisconsin newspapers from 2005 to 90 days ago.

A Grammarly Update

GrammarlyLast year I posted an article about using Grammarly with your internet browser and Windows. Will liked it so much he wrote about it too! So far, I’ve been pretty happy with the free version and have no plans of upgrading to the premium package. However, right about the one year mark from installing Grammarly it stopped working and gave me a message that it needed to be updated. I still don’t know what caused the error, could it be my browser was updated and wasn’t compatible with Grammarly anymore or was it a timeout feature on Grammarly’s part? Anyway, I followed the instructions to update Grammarly in my web browser of choice and it still wouldn’t work, I kept getting the same message. After some trial and error, I discovered I needed to completely uninstall Grammarly from my browser add-ons and re-install it in order for it to start working again. You could also upgrade to the premium version since we wrote about it last year they have added a plagiarism detection feature, which sounds cool, right Will?

 

According to the free Grammarly, this article is near perfect, only two mistakes that need to be corrected. I'll consider this a win.