Childhood flyover

January 16, 2008

It always happens. Every time I open Google Earth to check something, I wander and end up in another part of the world. This evening I wound up “flying” over the little German town of Herbitzheim where my family lived when I was seven years old.

My dad was in the Air Force at the time and he found a rental in the Alsace countryside near the French border. Looking at it now, I’m amazed how little things seem to have changed since then. Our house, marked with the red arrow, is still surrounded by an orchard. (I remember throwing pears and apples … and stepping in rotted fruit.) The home of my sister’s friend Rosie is visible, too.

I can also see the triangular block in the center of town where we caught the school bus, the little grocery store where I bought my first gummi bears (Gummibären) for a few pfennigs, and the big sportsplatz down Mozartstraße where German kids watched my brothers and I hit baseballs on the soccer field.

I dug around for related ground photos and business names, too. (My gummi bear store is now known as Edeka Irmagard Rabung, by the way.) Finally, using the topography tool, I did what I always do in Google Earth: I slanted the satellite image to swoop down and fly around. The virtual 3D photo at left includes Rubenheim, the neighboring town in the distance where our landlord’s friendly groundskeeper Oswald lived.

I’ve been using Google Earth for two years, but I’m still blown away by the stuff technology allows us to do these days. Flying over my little childhood village this evening was a treat. Have you zoomed in on any of your old neighborhoods?

Clean Technology

November 21, 2007

John Blyberg started this meme with his MacBook in a Maytag shot. When Pollyalida responded, it made me realize that I had a laptop, an iPod, and a cell phone that needed a little rinse, too. The camera? Oh yeah. Let me toss that in now before the detergent cycle starts up.


The Amazon Kindle

November 19, 2007

From this week’s Newsweek:

“Music and video have been digital for a long time, and short-form reading has been digitized, beginning with the early Web. But long-form reading really hasn’t.” Yet. This week [Jeff] Bezos is releasing the Amazon Kindle, an electronic device that he hopes will leapfrog over previous attempts at e-readers and become the turning point in a transformation toward Book 2.0.

Just another ebook? Judging from the look and description of this gadget, the Kindle probably has a huge advantage over previous e-books.

  • it’s somewhere between the size of a paperback and cloth-bound book
  • uses an easy-on-the-eyes “e ink”
  • has built-in wifi enabling it to download new material by itself
  • has a starting inventory of 91,000 available titles and 11 major newspapers (all sold separately)
  • and is backed by Jeff Bezos and online giant

It’s almost like an iPod for books. I’m hoping our library will buy one ($399) for our technology “petting zoo”. Over time, we’ll see how well it works and whether it becomes a new standard in the industry. One can only imagine where this new device will lead.

An intranet chock full of web 2.0

November 7, 2007

Time for a little show and tell. 🙂

Pierce County Library has had a vibrant StaffWeb for nine years and it has become integral in system communications and information. But nine years of patching and upgrading took a toll. The website and its software platform started showing its age. Last year we were moving full steam ahead in our Social Web Literacy classes when we finally got the permission and budget for a complete overhaul. Talk about great timing!

We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to build web 2.0 tools into the new intranet.

Our project committee discussed how social networking tools could enhance efficiency and communication. Staff would also get daily practice using these tools in the course of their work. It was a win-win.

The new StaffWeb debuted a few weeks ago. Here’s some of the fun new features:

Tags and tag clouds
One of the first things you see on the new home page is a tag cloud. Every page of the StaffWeb can be tagged by staff using their own words. They can then follow up on their tags, use tags from the aggregated tag clouds, or run a tag search.

Success story: We have a travel expense reimbursement claim form that, despite past efforts, people have at least a dozen different names for. Now everyone can call it what they will and still find it.

Tabs for adding widgets

The tag cloud sits on a tab, but it’s only one of six customizable tabs waiting to be put to use. Staff can add widgets to the tabs on their home page.

We currently have 32 widgets to choose from, including feeds from Flickr, iTunes, and email. If staff need a quick connection to the bookmarks they’ve stashed in their account, they can reach them using a widget on their home page. Common work tools like Google documents and Remember the Milk, and feeds from blog, weather, and traffic websites make this a well-rounded collection. We may add to the 32 flavors of widgets as everyone begins to use them and seek out more.

Blogs and RSS
Then there are the blogs. Each department and branch can have their own blog now. A few have already started. We envisioned the blogs as a “here’s the latest news” clipboard for people who work in those locations, but it might morph. Supervisors can add quick notes and routine updates for regular staff. Substitutes can tap in and read them from other work sites … or home.

Every blog has an RSS feed so a “need-to-know” staff member can subscribe to whichever he/she chooses.

Staff wiki
Dozens of staff are already adding content to the regular StaffWeb pages, but the system collaboration will increase yet again once we unveil a staff wiki later this month. We honestly don’t know where the wiki will lead us (that’s a wiki’s nature!), but we suspect reference staff will share tricks at pulling gems out of the catalog, circulation staff will elaborate on workflow practices, and IT will tell us how best to unjam the printers. But don’t count on it to be that well-defined! Who is to say that reference people can’t enlighten us on printer jams or circ staff don’t know the best way to limit action DVD searches by language? We’ll see how it works out. It could be messy, but worthwhile.

Other neat stuff and the future
Since many of the tools are customizable, we’ve created a personal log in. Once signed into the StaffWeb from work or home, staff can see their tags and widgets, comment on the blogs, and (when a new payroll installation is complete) call up their own HR information.

We’re just settling into this vast playground of web 2.0 tools. Once staff become old pros at their use, they’ll have no problem relating to patrons navigating the same tools on the social web.

We already have public blogs and a wiki, but don’t you think we’ll want to move more of these cool tools over to the public side, too?

My grocery store has wifi now

October 10, 2007

Have you noticed how quickly “cutting edge” technology becomes “common place” these days? Will your library’s decision-making, training, and services be nimble enough to keep pace? Is that even a choice?