More Tools for Online Programming

My last TechBits post was about Interactive Tools for Virtual Meetings and Workshops. This time, I want to share a few physical tools that will help you host great online programs.

CookingClassThe inspiration for this topic came from a recent online cooking class I took. It was over Zoom and the presenter, Elyse Kopecky, wanted to be able to see all the participants cooking along with her. I was using my iPad Mini to attend and trying to find a place to put it so I could see Elyse, be seen, and cook was a challenge. As you can see in these photos, my first try was to use my cupboard and my second used a combination of books and storage containers.

If you are regularly presenting or hosting meetings, you may want to invest in a Ring light and a stand or tripod for your phone or camera. My colleague, Jamie Matczak from the Wisconsin Valley Library Service, recently added this Ring light and tripod to her equipment toolkit. There are lots of options out there so find one that works best for your needs. SCLS member libraries: if you need some advice, reach out to Craig Ellefson as he's helped many libraries with equipment needs this year.

Next, let's talk about sound. David Lee King recently tested a mobile friendly lavalier microphone. I like that this one is small and you don't have to wear a headset with a microphone to get good sound quality. On a similar topic, Richard Byrne from Practical Ed Tech recently covered Easy Ways to Sound Better in Virtual Meetings. He mentions a couple of microphones along with some tweaks you can make to Zoom to improve the audio quality. Again, there are lots of options for microphones so look for one that will work for you.

Lastly, attending this cooking class was a lot of fun! SCLS recently added a baking and cooking kit so you can host your own cooking show! Need some inspiration? Madison Public Library has a program called Cooking with Chef Lily and you can see the recordings here. Sun Prairie Public Library's program, Books and Cooks, features library director Svetha Hetzler cooking from a variety of cookbooks. And,I recently attended an event from Penguin Random House which featured a cooking demo with America's Test Kitchen Kids Editor in Chief, Molly Birnbaum.

SweetPotatoBiscuitsBy the way, I made Sweet Potato Biscuits and they were yummy! Happy Cooking!

 

 

Spotting a dark pattern on the web

A few days ago I was present for an excellent discussion that was briefly side-tracked by confusion about the pricing of a newsletter service which is widely used by libraries. Here's roughly what the fly on the wall (me) heard:

Librarian A: "We have 20,000 subscribers, so we're paying over $1000 for Service X."

Librarian B: "What?! Service X says they only charge $15/month for 100,000 subscribers!"

Frustratingly, the company's own pricing page was the source of the confusion because it's an example of a dark pattern: "a user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things, such as buying overpriced insurance with their purchase or signing up for recurring bills" (Wikipedia).

Because recognizing dark patterns is key to avoiding their tricks, let's take a quick look at what that pricing page says about their Standard Plan, near the top of the page:

Screenshot 2020-10-16 170927Did you notice that small-print "Starting at $14.99" language? I didn't, at first, but it matters in a big way. (If you click the big "Select" button, you're asked to sign up for an account, gradually making you more invested in the service without being entirely clear about the price you'll pay—and you have to actively check a box to OPT OUT of receiving their marketing spam.) When we scroll further on the pricing page and interact with the price chart, by choosing the specific range of contacts, THEN we see that 20,000 subscribers is, indeed, a great deal more than $15/month!

Screenshot 2020-10-16 171930

Irksome, isn't it? They haven't tricked us into doing anything (yet), but they're chipping away at our resistance to signing up by featuring a price that seems like a better value than it really is. That's a dark pattern!

Next time you're shopping online or signing up for a new service, keep a lookout for anything misleading or deceptive about the process—you may be interacting with a dark pattern. (And if you, like me, need to see some dark patterns analyzed and cataloged, there is website and a hashtag to shame the offenders and air our collective grievance.)

Tech & Happiness Hacks

Many of you know that I admire Gretchen Rubin and have read many of her books and listen to her podcast. I've picked up many tips on how to make my life happier simply by listening and trying out some of her happiness hacks. On a recent podcast, Gretchen reminded listeners that September is the "other" January and to use the start of the new school year as a time to set new goals and try new things*.

NerdforaYearThis reminded me that I never shared a resource from Your Nerdy Best Friend from January of this year. In this post, Beth shares an updated handout called "Be a Nerd for a Year" with small fun tech activities that you can try out monthly. For September, some of the options are:

  • Trying out Zamzar to convert a JPG to a PDF (see Tech Bits posts here, here, and here for more)
  • Using Photomath to help your kids (or yourself) with math homework
  • September 24 is National Punctuation Day and you celebrate by using Grammarly to check your punctuation, tone, and more! (See Tech Bits posts here, here, and here for more)

It's a fun resource to look at and learn from all year round. Next year, I'll start in January!

*And buy new office supplies!

Trivia & Streaming

Over the last few months, I've been hosting Zoom meetings for Adult Services/Programming Librarians and I've learned a lot! I wanted to share a couple of the tools that have come up in our discussions recently.

CatsFirst up is Crowdpurr. From the cool name, you may think it's a crowd of purring kittens. In reality, this is an "Audience Engagement Platform that helps you create amazing interactive mobile-driven experiences for your live or virtual events." The E.D. Locke Public library used Crowdpurr to host trivia game recently. You can use this with Zoom, your YouTube channel, or your Twitch livestream (see previous TechBits post).

SUNBookBuzzSpeaking of livestreaming, have you heard of StreamYard? Sun Prairie is using this to stream their weekly Book Buzz interviews with Sun Prairie staff. Check out this recent episode featuring librarians Erin and Emily. Streamyard can stream to multiple platforms at the same time - Facebook, YouTube, Twitch, Periscope, and more. One of the cool things that you can do is add a caption during the broadcast. Erin and Emily add the titles of the books they're discussing to the screen.

What tools are you using to connect and engage with your patrons and community?

 

 

Image by Kiều Trường from Pixabay

How to mix up your working from home routine

As working from home is lasting longer than expected, I find myself looking for ways to improve my productivity and experience.  I never realized how much being in the presence of others generates my creativity and improves my mood.  I have found some useful suggestions in the article “Getting Antsy? 9 Ways to Shake Up Working From Home.”

I wanted to share a few tips from this article that have helped me.  Of course, everyone is different so it’s important to find what works for you.  For instance, I get up early, enjoy my coffee, and work on my list of tasks for the day.  After that, I try to get out for a short walk with my dogs before my workday is set to begin.  This time allows me to wake up, clear my head, and time to revise my task list as needed.

Another suggestion I find useful is taking breaks.  During quarantine, I don’t have to commute so I have extra time to get up early and/or work later if I need to.  This is especially helpful because I have a teenage daughter that will be attending school virtually again starting in September.  Even though my breaks will be mostly devoted to checking in with her, I think it’s important for both of us that she has a time when she can interrupt me during the day to help her if she needs it. 

I spent time setting up a designated workspace over the summer.  I have turned our spare bedroom into an office space that we can both use when we need to.  Of course, having a laptop is nice because sometimes I enjoy moving to another room to change things up or even outside if the weather permits.  I found this has helped my overall mood and productivity during the pandemic. 

The final point in the article I think can help anyone working from home.  Taking time to stretch, play music, read, or anything else that can help you take an actual break from your work and computer is so important.  We can’t do our work well if we feel like we’re “living at work” instead of “working from home.”  Wishing everyone health and happiness during this challenging time.    

Spotting Neowise

A lot of people have been talking about the comet “Neowise” lately.  The comet is 3 miles wide and is made of ice and dust.  My family has been using the SkySafari phone app on an Android phone to spot the comet the last few nights.  The app is great at helping amateurs find objects in the sky.  You can download the free version of SkySafari to your phone through the Google  Thumbnail_Screenshot_20200723-134128_SkySafari Play Store.  There is no need to download the paid Pro or Plus versions.

The Neowise comet is supposed to be closest to Earth Thursday night.  If you want to use SkySafari to locate the comet, follow these steps:

  1. Download SkySafari from Google Play Store.
  2. After it downloads open it.
  3. The first time you open SkySafari, you will need to allow permission to access photos, media and files for the app to work.
  4. Next, you will need to allow SkySafari to access the device’s location.  I set it to allow only while using the app.
  5. The app should be open now, press Search at the bottom.
  6. Select Brightest Comets in the list.
  7. Select NEOWISE.  For now, it is located at the top of the list.
  8. At the bottom, click Center.  This will show the current location of Neowise.
  9. At night, take your phone outside and point up towards the sky in a Northwesterly fashion.  Move the phone around until Neowise shows up on the screen.

Office365 Predictive Text

The one time I wanted predictive text to work it didn'tOffice365 text prediction isn’t quite as good as I’d like it to be. I don’t know if it was an update or if I somehow activated text prediction in Office365, but sometime in May or early June, it appeared out of nowhere. I disliked it so much that I had to find out how to turn it off. Even though it accurately predicted the text I was trying to type about 95% of the time, it would still cause double letters or double words about 99% of the time. I would spend more time angrily retyping words than I was saving by having the text prediction in place.

If you’re in this situation and are as frustrated as I was, follow these quick and easy steps to getting your life back in order.

  • Click on the Settings menu, which is the little gear icon.
  • On the bottom of the menu click “View all Outlook settings”.
  • Click on the “Compose and Reply” tab and scroll down to near the bottom.
  • You will see “Text predictions” uncheck it and click “Save”.
  • Also, feel free to browse around the other setting to see if there is anything else you can turn off that’s been annoying you.

I’ve had it turned off for a few weeks now and I couldn’t be happier. Then I thought I should write about this and perhaps I should give it another chance because maybe it was me… it wasn’t, but then again, it never is. I’m in complete agony over how horrible this is and I’m going to turn it back off as soon as I’m finished writing this sentence.

How to right-click with no mouse

Computer-mouse-outline-no-mouseRight-clicking the mouse button often gives you a pop-up menu with more options. This menu is contextual and the options given are based upon where you right-clicked. So what happens if your mouse breaks and you can't right-click. Thankfully Windows has a universal keyboard shortcut that does a right-click wherever your cursor is located. The key combination for this shortcut is Shift + F10.

There are other keyboard shortcuts available, so if anyone is interested in these just leave me a comment. If there is enough interest I will write more about these in my next post.

Image from ClipartPanda.com

Screenshot tips for Windows 10 Snip & Sketch

Awhile back, Andrew introduced some features of the Windows 10 Snip & Sketch tool. Working remotely these days, I've found many occasions to share screenshots with colleagues and staff at libraries. Here are a few more tricks I've discovered:

Windows key + Shift + S: In addition to finding Snip & Sketch in the Start menu, hitting Windows key + Shift + S activates it. Anytime I can save stress on my wrists by typing a key command instead of moving the mouse, I will use it!

Open file: Save a screenshot (or a series of screenshots), and later, use Open File to come back and add annotations to the original file.

Laptop trackpad writing: I've been hesitant to write on screenshots because my writing with a mouse is pretty awful. Using a laptop trackpad with a finger or stylus gives me a slightly less atrocious option to add arrows, highlighting, numbering, etc.

Screenshot pointing out the location of the Open File command

Tools for working remotely

I get more work done at home than in the office_I swearHow did you cope with the “Safer at Home” order? Have you been able to work from home? If so, what did your home office setup look like and what are some tools you used to collaborate with other staff and how have you been staying in touch? I’ve mostly been using my dining room table as a desk; my laptop, smartphone, and headset for my primary equipment; and a pen and paper to jot down items for my “To-Do Lists”. This morning I started a “To Don’t List”, so far the only things on it are don’t put a cup of coffee on my “To-Do List” and my cup of coffee.

Our office is fortunate that we are able to work remotely. While doing so we’ve been using a combination of products to keep in touch with each other. For collaboration we use Slack and Google Docs. We also video conference for weekly meetings using Slack, BlueJeans, GoTo Meeting, and Zoom. These tools help keep us in contact with each other and make working from a distance much easier. Google just release Meet, which is now free for all users. I haven't tested it out yet, but it's supposed to be very similar to the other platforms I just mentioned. I'll write a follow-up post about it once I've had a chance to use it.

I would like to add that at this time Bluejeans is the only meeting platform we use that has a toll-free option for calling into meetings.

To keep track of who is using a particular video conferencing account and when it’s in use, we set each one up with a Google calendar so that we can see which account is available for use during a meeting. I color-coded all of the meeting platforms in my calendar with a different shade of green so that I know right away anything in green is a virtual meeting.

In addition to having good collaboration and communication tools, I discovered how important it is to have reliable internet service and to have a back-up plan in place in case I experience any disruption in service (which I did for a week). I have two back-up plans, my first plan is to tether to my cell phone for minor needs and my second back-up plan is to drive to the library and use the wifi from the parking lot for a more reliable signal.

How likely do you think you are going to be allowed to work remotely in the future? Are you preparing for another situation similar to this, if so what are steps you are taking? If you are receiving Techbits through your email click on the title to leave a comment.