Tools that make my life easier

Welcome to a post about five techie things I do that make my life a lot easier, and which are not horribly expensive (or at least, pay back the investment in cost handsomely.)

1) Car mount for my phone

What: This mounts (via a suction cup) on the dashboard on the passenger side. It holds my phone (in its case) up where I can see it easily.

Why: I got it when I was doing a tremendous amount of driving for interviews (which is what happens when you job hunt, you’re 3-4 hours from the state you’d particularly like to end up in, and that state is also the closest easy terminal point for most flights and trains.)

I still use it all the time, because navigating in the Boston metro is complicated. (I know my actual commute now, but I use the Waze app to alert me to unusual traffic so I can take alternate routes.)

Anyway, it keeps my phone where I can see it for directions easily, without being in the way.

Cost: Variable, but mine was $25 or so.

2) Radio transmitter for my phone

What: I have a 2007 car, with a CD player, but no tape deck (so I can’t use one of the common methods for playing things from my phone) and no media jack (so I can’t use the other.) The solution? A radio transmitter that uses an unused radio frequency to do a short-distance broadcast.

I’ve actually had a couple: the current one (a recent generation iTrip when I bought it about 18 months ago) is still going strong, and gives me less static than previous versions.

There are some tricks to using it – if you’re doing a long drive you may have to rummage for a different radio band. (For routine driving, I have found one that works reliably along my usual routes, saved it as a station on the car radio, and just flip to it when I want it.) Also, if someone else is driving near you using the same kind of thing on a nearby frequency, you may get their music (or they may get yours) which can be kind of weird.

Mine comes with a USB thing that lets me plug my phone in at the same time, which I recommend, since it can burn battery. (As can using it for navigation, as in point 1)

Other things to know: If you’re listening to podcasts, set up a playlist or sequence in advance for long drives. (During my regular commute, I usually hit a couple of stop lights, so if I want to change what I’m listening to, I do it then.)

Cost: Variable, but I think my current version was about $60. Very well worth it.

3) Second screen for my office computer

AKA: thing that made me think I should do this post.

A couple of weeks ago, I put in a request for a second monitor for my office computer, and I’ve had it set up for a week now. It’s lovely! I have one screen directly in front of me, and the second at about a 30 degree angle to the right. I mostly work on the one in front of me (better ergonomics) but can use the second one to have a copy of something I’m referring to up.

I actually requested it because our catalog backend really likes to be a full screen window, and this has made it annoying to go back and forth between an email of titles someone wants (our catalog front end can tell us if we own the books, but not if they’re all checked out). Also handy if I’m typing info from a window into an email. Or keeping someone’s email up while I do research on their question.

So very handy. And while it’s the most expensive thing on this list, second screens are down to a few hundred dollars these days, and can be a huge boost to productivity and just generally not losing things in a pile of computer windows.

Incidentally, I’m also finding that I get distracted less – when I have to sift through windows to find something, there’s a decent chance I’ll go “Oh, yeah, I had a thought about that” and write a sentence or two that could have waited, before going on to the thing I meant to do in the first place. When I can keep two or three things visible without rummaging, that’s happening a lot less.

4) Extra phone charging cords

One trick I started doing a while ago was buying extra USB phone charging cords, enough to have one anywhere I might reasonably want to plug my phone in.

This means:

  • Two on my computer (shared by phone, iPad, and rechargeable trackpad)
  • One at the head of my bed (used for charging overnight)
  • One in the car
  • One at work
  • One attached to my portable battery, so I never have to rummage for one.

5) More storage on my phone

I recently got the iPhone SE (which I’m loving – I’d previously had the 5s, and I’m appreciating the response time to the fingerprint sensor, and just general speed of doing things. Also the battery life has been really great.)

But as part of that, I took the leap from 16 GB to 64, and am currently living in a world where all the music I regularly listen to is on my phone and all my ebooks. I like that part very very much. Picking the ‘less fancy smaller screen’ option in my case is nto actually a problem, because I have small hands, and one of the things I use my phone for heavily is reading, so being able to read with one hand while about to fall asleep, or on a bus, is great, and I was concerned that the 6 and 6 plus were going to be too big for my hands.

Basically, my summary of this one is ‘get the technology that best suits your actual life, as much as you can’.

A year at work (and a day in the life)

Today is my one year anniversary working at Perkins. I am still amazingly happy here! I thought it might be a nice time to do a day in my work life.

It turned out to be a slightly atypical day, in that I had a cluster of complicated reference questions, and didn’t get a lot else done, where normally I’d spend a bunch of time in the afternoon working on some project or another. But I think it gives a good look at scope of work.

Continue reading A year at work (and a day in the life)

Fluid Choices : Accessibility and Reference

I did a presentation at LibTech 2016 yesterday, which remains my favourite library conference. (Enough that I go to Minnesota in March for it! Ok, so it’s also a good chance to see friends from the 12 years I lived here and drink my favourite root beer and it’s the same week as something else I’d want to come back for.)

My slides are up on my SlideShare, but a few other notes (and I’d love to answer more questions or go home and figure out some solutions if you have questions.)

I also did a post just before coming to Minnesota with a few more notes about Perkins and the Research Library, for anyone curious.

Continue reading Fluid Choices : Accessibility and Reference

About my job

I’m doing a presentation at the LibTech conference in St. Paul on March 16th (which would be today), and wanted a post with some background on my job I could point people to. (Standard disclaimer applies: I’m speaking for myself, not for my employer.)

I’ll be posting notes from the presentation sometime soon, but it may be when I get home next week,

Continue reading About my job

Curious about where I work?

There’s a great new hour-long episode about Perkins from Accessible Media, Inc. (They’re a Canadian company that provides captioned, visually described, and other accessible media content throughout Canada, as well as producing programs of interest to their audience.)

The episode is called “Holding the Key”, and you can access it on their AMI Originals Presents page. (Free streaming video: captioning and transcript available.)

The woman you see in the first segment is my predecessor, and the other segments give a good overview of the many things that Perkins does. You also get to see what a gorgeous building I work in – the first segment is filmed in the museum, in the Howe Building, which is around the corner from the Research Library.

(I promise, there will be content here again sometime. Still catching up from moving.)

Three weeks in

I’m now three weeks into my new job, and I’m loving it more and more every day. There’s a huge amount to learn, but I now feel like I’ve got an idea of all the things I don’t know yet, which helps.

Everyone at Perkins has been tremendously welcoming, both in explaining things and all those things like including me in lunches and conversations. My predecessor (who is retiring and who had her last day on Friday) was extremely thoughtful about transitioning things to me. She’s left me with excellent notes and her entire file of reference answers over the course of 14 years. This being the kind of job where you get things coming up every few years, that’s hugely helpful.

(Fortunately for me, she’s continuing as a remote employee on another Perkins project, so I can email her if something comes up that completely stumps me. This is good, because there’s a vast range of information I’m still getting my head around, and expect I will be for some time to come.)

Read on for more about the actual job.

Continue reading Three weeks in

New job! New home!

I haven’t updated here recently, but for very good reason – it’s been a really busy month.

Starting on May 4th, I am going to be the Research Librarian at Perkins (formerly known as Perkins School for the Blind, but they do a lot of other things besides being a school these days.)

The job involves providing reference and research assistance for people at Perkins, for people who are interested in the unique collections there, and supporting the research of educators who come from various places (including 67 countries) to learn new techniques and skills. You can learn more about the Hayes Research Library (including links to finding aids and archival materials that are online) on their website.

I’m really looking forward to learning a lot more about their collections and resources (they have the largest non-medical collection of materials about blindness in the US).

I’m also very excited to be moving back to Massachusetts, much closer to many friends and to my mother and brother (and his family) so it’s a great move in multiple ways.

I expect to pick up regular posting again in a couple of weeks.

The Librarians and the Loom of Fate

IMDB : aired January 18, 2014 : previous episode  
index and explanation of these posts


The season finale for season one, which ties together a number of elements from previous episodes and raises some new questions.

Continue reading The Librarians and the Loom of Fate

The Librarians and the City of Light

IMDB : aired January 18, 2014 : previous episode  
index and explanation of these posts


One town. Some UFO conspiracy theories. Other mysteries abound.

Continue reading The Librarians and the City of Light

The Librarians and the Heart of Darkness

IMDB : aired January 11, 2014 : previous episode  
index and explanation of these posts


You’ve seen those movies with haunted houses? Yeah. Like that. Only not.

Continue reading The Librarians and the Heart of Darkness

Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Research Librarian at Perkins (You may know the name as Perkins School for the Blind but they do a lot of other things these days). More about my job.

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