August 2011 Archives

Collaborative writing tools

From the Chronicle: ProfHacker writes about collaborative writing.

Mendeley training videos

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They have been up since July, but I just noticed the nice, modular Mendeley training videos at Good for you and good for users as well.


Google+ : GBooks and Games

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Google+ has added a few new features in the last week. The first is that you can now share information from your Google Books account to Google+. In theory you can include the books in your Google Books account into posts for Google+. So far, I've only seen the "+1" button (which is partly like the "Like" button in Facebook and partly a way of saying "me too"). It's a strangely incomplete integration.

Google+ has also now introduced games. I am not a fan of games on Facebook, so I think this is a bit of a shame. On the other hand, I had to look for the Games section which means it's not being forced into the main stream of posts. That's excellent. I'm a little surprised that the first round of games didn't include something similar to Words with Friends. That game is social by design unlike Angry Birds or Bejeweled.

Life Could Be Easier - On the Go, Part 2

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Life Could Be Easier - On the Go: part 2

Are you wondering whether you should get a smart phone? Do you have a smart phone that you'd like to get more out of? This summer, we're asking our colleagues from across the University to recommend their favorite apps, and to tell us what's so useful about them. Chime in in the comments here if you have questions or recommendations of your own.

This month, our app recommendations come from the Libraries' Web Development Department and Science/Engineering Reference:

Cody Hanson, Web Architect and UX Analyst, Device Type: IPhone

Elements - $4.99 (Universal)
Elements is a very basic text editor, allowing you to create and edit
plain text files on your iPhone or iPad. It has one killer feature:
Dropbox integration, which automatically syncs your documents across
all of your Dropbox-connected devices. In practice this means that I
can keep notes in my Dropbox folder and edit them on my iPhone,
laptop, and iPad, and my changes are seamlessly reflected across all

Instapaper - $4.99 (Universal)
Instapaper is both an app and a web service, allowing you to save
articles from the web for later reading. Instapaper strips extraneous
formatting and advertising out of web pages and presents articles in
an easily readable format with an innovative tilt-scroll feature.
Great for saving long articles from the web for reading on the bus.

Keynote - $9.99 (Universal)
Keynote is Apple's answer to PowerPoint. The Keynote app is a
fully-featured presentation creation and editing tool, which includes
PowerPoint file import/export. I used Keynote on my iPhone to create
my slide deck for a presentation at this summer's ALA Annual and was
quite pleased with the results.

Beejive IM - $9.99
Stupid name, great app. This IM client allows you to connect Google
Talk, AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, Facebook chat, and MSN Messenger accounts
for mobile instant messaging. I've got both my personal and UMN Google
Talk accounts connected, and use it to stay available when I'm away
from my desk. If you see my UMN Google Talk status set to "mobile",
I'm using Beejive.

AnyConnect - Free (Universal)
This application is the OIT-endorsed method for connecting iOS devices
to the University's VPN. Handy if you need an on-campus IP address to
test a resource from home, or just want to protect your data when
using a sketchy public wi-fi access point off-campus.

Kindle - Free (Universal)
I am a complete and unapologetic convert to e-books for my pleasure
reading. In the past couple of years I've read several dozen books,
thousands of pages, on my phone using the Kindle app. I read more than
I did before because I always have it with me. A tip: use the white
text on black background setting, which is easier on your eyes and on
your battery.

Photo fx - $2.99
As a new parent, I take lots and lots of photos with my phone. There
are many apps out there for photo sharing or for applying novelty
filters to make lousy shots look arty. Photo fx is the best
application I've found for serious photo editing. The high-quality
filters and adjustments have allowed me to salvage one-of-a-kind shots
that I thought were goners.

Carcassonne - $9.99 (Universal)
Uh. This is a game. It's a high-quality version of the European board
game with excellent asynchronous multiplayer. I mention it mostly
because I'm eager for more opponents. If we're coworkers and we're
playing a game together that makes it work-related, right?

Jan Fransen, Computer Science and Engineering Librarian, Mobile Device Type: Droid Charge

Getting to, from, and around campus is a little more challenging than it used to be.

Two apps that help:

One of several apps for getting Metro Transit Next Trip information. Metro Transit lists several others on its site, but I've found this one works best for my needs. I especially like its emphasis on your own "favorite" routes and stops.

I've been using Nice Ride bikes to get around campus this summer, and have gotten burned by empty racks a couple of times. SpotCycle provides real-time status (number of bikes and empty docs) for Nice Ride stations near you, along with maps.

When I moved from pay-as-you-go to a smart phone on a family plan, I rationalized that I'd be able to use my "downtime" on the bus or waiting for kids more effectively.
Besides the usual Google suite, a couple of the apps that help me do that are:

Read it Later
Read it Later is Tivo for blogs. I subscribe to far too many RSS feeds, but I rarely read entire articles when I'm skimming through in Google Reader. Instead, I use Read it Later in my browser to mark the ones that interest me. The articles are downloaded to my phone and I can, well, read them later, whether I'm online or not.

Pocket Casts
I don't listen to much music, but I love podcasts. With Pocket Casts I can subscribe to the podcsts I like and listen by either streaming over 4G or wireless, or downloading to listen offline later.

The first day I had the Charge, my battery was dead before I caught my evening bus. 4G is fast and the Charge screen is beautiful, but both eat up battery life. Now the battery lasts at least a day, because of one simple app:

JuiceDefender preserves battery life by automatically doing things like turning off 4G when home or U of M wireless connections are available.

Virginia Bach, on behalf of the Current Awareness and Personal Information Collaborative. CAPIM is focused on helping people organize and access personal information more quickly and efficiently

Google Scholar Profiles


A couple weeks ago, Google Scholar announced that it will now allow users to set up a citations page listing articles and citation metrics. If Google+ also takes off, I wonder if this will be the push that gets academics into social networking.

One question that we've been wondering about here in the Science & Engineering Library is how Google will be handling author ID/disambiguation since they plan to automatically update profiles with new research. Here is what Google has to say about it on their blog:

We use a statistical model based on author names, bibliographic data, and article content to group articles likely written by the same author. You can quickly identify your articles using these groups. After you identify your articles, we collect citations to them, graph these citations over time, and compute your citation metrics. Three metrics are available: the widely used h-index, the i-10 index, which is the number of articles with at least ten citations, and the total number of citations to your articles. We compute each metric over all citations as well as over citations in articles published in the last five years. These metrics are automatically updated as we find new citations to your articles on the web.

Has anybody tried this out yet?

Google+ debuted about a month ago. Despite a limited initial release, its user base has exploded. This isn't that surprising considering the prevalence of Google accounts already in use and the comfort most people now have with the idea of social networks.

Google+ has some characteristics of both Facebook and Twitter. Like Facebook, you can write posts of any length, share interesting finds online, post photographs and (video) chat. Like Twitter, two-way relationships are not required. For example, I follow the public Google+ posts of Randall Munroe (author of the xkcd webcomic), but since we don't know each other he's not following me back.

There are numerous guides to Google+ that go into great detail such as Mashable's Guide, so I won't do so here.

Two early Google+ controversies have arisen from Google's efforts to pin down user identities. Initially, Google+ required users to state their Gender (male, female, other) as public content. Some users chose other in order to maintain her/his privacy, but that led to some weirdness as you might expect. After user complaints, Google+ added privacy controls on this field although the field itself remains required.

Currently, there's considerable controversy over Google's "real names" policy and fairly ham-handed enforcement of it. danah boyd has an excellent post on the topic at apophenia, so again, I refer you there.

The reason I'm writing about Google+ at all is because I think that, over the long term, it could be a very powerful tool for academic social networking. Currently Google+ is only usable with regular, commercial Google accounts and not with domain accounts. Or, at least, not with the University of Minnesota's domain accounts. However, once it is available for the University's domain accounts, then students, faculty and staff will have a place to define a professional Google identity, make (more and better) use of Google's many powerful tools and network with each other in their professional context. As a professional tool, some of the problems that have cropped up so far with Google+ will be a little less acute. For example, the real names policy (as in, you have to use yours or else) makes more sense when you're at work than when you're on a social network for personal reasons. Google+ could serve as the gathering point for your work reading, writing, ruminating, mail and more without having to intrude on your personal identity.

However, Google+ isn't at this point yet. Right now, if you want to try it out, then you will have accept some risk. First of all, if you do use it for work posts, then you're connecting your personal and work identities. You will want to think about this carefully and use your circles judiciously. Second, you will have to pass muster on your name. Not only has Google aggressively pursued users who Google believes to be using pseudonyms, but it's even gone after actual users who happen to have common names. When it does, Google suspends access to _all_ Google products.

So, apart from idle curiosity, why bother? Well, in my case, I've used it as a place to write work-related posts which are too long for Twitter, but not worth a full blog post and which I want to share in a fully public sense (not an option on Facebook). If you already use Google Photos (aka Picasa), it's an easy place to share your photos. Indeed, if you have an Android device, it can be the easiest way to share photos from your device. If you really, really, really hate Facebook, then you might appreciate Google+ simple interface and absence of Farmville. You might also like the video chat.

I'll keep using Google+ because I like to play with new toys, but for most users, it will need to mature before it becomes a must-use tool. If you wish to, you can find me at amyewest.

Google Reader

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Google Reader is now available as part of the University of Minnesota Google Apps suite. Here's some more information from Charlie Heinz:

"Google Reader for UMN : it's here! I talked with a Google Implementation Team member, and he told me that they flipped the switch last Thursday. When you're logged in (, you'll see in the bar at the top your usual options: Mail, Calendar, Docs, etc. Go to "More". Not everything on this page is actually activated at the U, but scroll down to the "Social" section (third section from the bottom) and click on Reader.

The person I talked to didn't have any tips about migrating your RSS subscriptions from your personal account, and he also stressed that support questions for Reader should go to Google and its support forums, not At the moment, they are only supporting the core apps: mail, calendar, docs, sites, and contacts.

There's a group called "ITLA" that reviews requests for new apps and changes to apps every month. The requests they have received include FeedBurner, Picasa, Google Labs for Gmail, and Google Groups, among others."

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This page is an archive of entries from August 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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