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.

Archival newspapers and COVID-19

I've posted cool search tips I've read about on the SearchResearch blog before ("Drag and drop for Google Image Search", "Searching with emojis", and "Some Google Image search tips"), but it's been a while and I'd like to give the blog a shout-out again. Daniel Russell, a senior research scientist at Google and author of The joy of search :a Google insider's guide to going beyond the basics, writes the SearchResearch blog and covers helpful search strategies. The usual format is first a post with a search puzzle which you can try to solve. Blog readers will comment on the challenge post with what they think the answer is and how they found it. Then Daniel writes a post about how one might find the information to solve the challenge.

1918-10-25-Portage-Daily-Register
It was fascinating to read some of the articles in local papers -- here's an example from the Portage Daily Register, Oct 25 1918

Recently, he posted this search challenge:

SearchResearch Challenge (4/22/20): The Future Through the Past - Using archival news to see what's next in COVID

which included this question:

  1. Can you find articles from the news archives of 1918 and 1919 that will show us what happened back then, and MORE IMPORTANTLY, give us a clue about what might happen in the months and years ahead?

He also noted, "You'll also have to figure out what questions you might like to see answered about the future course of COVID. Here are some thoughts:

  1. How did your nation recover from the economic downturn caused by the Spanish Flu? What articles can you find that tell us what to look for?
  2. How well did the protests against mask measures work out? Were the protesters successful? What happened to the number of flu cases after people stopped wearing masks?
  3. Was the course of the Spanish Flu pretty simple, or was it (as some have predicted about COVID), fairly up-and-down for quite a while after the initial outbreak?
  4. Why did the Spanish Flu finally go away? (Or did it?) Did someone develop a vaccine for it, or why did it stop being a pandemic?"

You can find the answer to the challenge and additional commentary in these follow-up posts:

They contain some helpful tips for searching archival newspapers, and his research notes for this challenge are a fascinating read. I'd highly recommend the blog challenges if you want to practice your search skills and learn new tricks.

Videoconferencing – how to improve your experience

Video-conferenceWhether you are using Zoom, BlueJeans, GoToMeeting, or any number of other products, videoconferencing has become a part of our everyday lives.  I don’t know about you, but I found it a little disorienting switching from in-person meetings to videoconferencing exclusively in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  After over a month of conducting professional meetings online, I have found some tips that may help you improve your videoconferencing experience. 

  1. Test your hardware and internet connection before the meeting is about to start. Troubleshooting is difficult during a meeting and it’s better to spend some time getting used to the software before you have your first meeting.
  2. Mute yourself if you are not speaking. Background noise is often magnified by microphones and it can be disruptive to other participants.  Know how to use the mute button before the meeting starts and only unmute yourself when you plan to speak. 
  3. Use the chat feature for questions. This is especially helpful for larger groups.  This way participants can still ask questions as they come to them, but you can wait until there is an opening to answer them.
  4. Assign roles for your meeting. Assign a meeting leader that will display the agenda and keep the group on task during the meeting.  Assign another person to monitor the chat in case participants have questions or trouble during the meeting.  It is also very useful to assign a notetaker so an accurate record is kept of the discussion.     
  5. Know when videoconferencing is appropriate. Is this a topic that could be handled more easily by using email, Slack, or another venue?  Do you need to use video?  The video portion often uses up a lot of bandwidth and it can lead to individuals having problems accessing the meeting. 
  6. Present yourself well. If a video meeting is necessary, remember to dress appropriately and smile.  You want to appear just as professional as if you were in person.  You should also pick a well-lit area so that other participants can see you. 

What other tips do you find useful when videoconferencing?  Please share in the comments!

Begin Where you Left Off in Acrobat Reader

I recently had to read a lengthy document in PDF form.  It was over 30 pages long and I read it over the course of three days.  What I found really frustrating was that Acrobat Reader would always open the document at Page 1 the next day when I’d resume reading.  Microsoft Word has a feature built-in that let’s you resume where you left off the last time.  When you reopen a Word document, a Welcome back message appears at the right-hand side of the window.  Just click the Welcome back message and Word automatically takes you back to where you left off. 

WelcomeBack
Welcome Back message in Word

If Word has this feature, you would think Acrobat Reader has something similar.  A quick Google search pointed me to instructions for enabling a similar feature in Acrobat Reader.  To configure Acrobat Reader to open a document where you left off, please follow these instructions:

  1. Open Acrobat Reader DC
  2. Click Edit
  3. Click Preferences...
  4. Click Documents
  5. Check the box for Restore last view settings when reopening documents
    Restore

Now your Acrobat Reader will open PDF files where you left off and at your previous Zoom Level.

Searching for Census Tracts? - replacements for American Fact Finder.

For many years LINKcat libraries in SCLS have used the U.S. Census Bureau's "American Fact Finder" address search tool to determine the Census tract and/or the legal  municipality of patron addresses.  The U.S. Census Bureau has discontinued access to the American Fact Finder tool as of 3/31/2020.  Here are some options for library staff to use to help determine the Census tract or municipality for patron records.

The U.S. Census Bureau is now providing an updated digital Census Tract map that can be found here: https://tigerweb.geo.census.gov/tigerweb/ You have to enable these options in the left sidebar - Census Tracts, Blocks layer and the Places and County Subdivisions layer - to indicate the type of information you are searching for. Enter the address in the Address Search bar along the top to find where a particular residence falls within these areas.

Another resource is My Vote WI - this works well to determine smaller incorporated places and townships. The exception to this is places like Village of Brooklyn which is in multiple counties, because the My Vote site doesn't distinguish which county an address is in.

AccessDane provides county subdivision-level info via address searches for Dane County addresses only.

Wisconsin Hometown Locator:  https://wisconsin.hometownlocator.com/maps/  Address Based Research & Map Tools.
 
Wisconsin Statewide Parcel Map:  https://maps.sco.wisc.edu/Parcels/   After you enter the address you need to right click the map to get the info.

Big thanks to Alicia, Joe and Rachel for compiling these resources!

 

Getting started with the NVDA screen reader

Automated tools for checking website accessibility (such as WAVE, AChecker or the aXe Chrome extension) are often the starting point to find and correct accessibility violations. Another important option to include in your accessibility testing toolset is a screen reader and keyboard, to help understand how a visitor with visual or motor disabilities might experience the library's website. A free choice for this is NonVisual Desktop Access (usually abbreviated as NVDA).

To get started using NVDA, download it to your Windows computer. It can be installed and used without admin rights (though enlisting an admin for the install let me use it without having to accept the terms of use every time) or even saved to a portable USB flash drive to run on different computers. When you start it up, it begins reading what you have on screen out loud. Switch to a web browser, and it will read the web pages you visit. This video includes how-to's and some demonstration:

NVDA has a Help menu and highly detailed user guide, but WebAIM's "Using NVDA to Evaluate Web Accessibility" is the quick-start guide I wish I'd started with. I use these tips a lot for testing web pages with NVDA:

  • F5 refreshes the page and starts reading from the beginning (in case you get lost).
  • The Insert key is the default special "NVDA key" for using the keyboard to navigate with NVDA.
  • NVDA key + S lets you toggle between having speech mode on, off, or "beeps mode" (so you can have NVDA on for a website you're testing, but turn it off to type an email where it would be distracting for NVDA to spell out what you're typing letter by letter).

With a little practice, you'll be able to test how your libary's website performs with a screen reader and keyboard. Despite the learning curve, it's a solid step you can take to identify problems, obstacles, and annoyances that can be fixed to help all patrons benefit from the services your library provides.