Background tools and basics

I spent the last two days watching my computer be a 45 minute drive away according to FedEx, but it turned up this morning!

So, the first thing that I do with a new machine is set up all those small things that make life manageable. Plus all the individual little touches. Then setting up the basics of the dock, and the apps I use most frequently, and then the bookmarks for the browsers. (You can click through for larger versions, and I’ve got closeups of the dock and menu bar below.


The desktop when I started: galaxy wallpaper, default application items in dock




wallpaper of light filtering down into water, with icons in blue, black, and grays in the dock (description of icons follows)

new computer – after

dock - icons in blues and grays and blacks, described below

Continue reading Background tools and basics

My geeky life : the tasks

Professionally speaking: 

I am the Information Technology librarian at a small liberal-arts-college-model campus of the University of Maine system. Part of my job is “Make the technology in the library work”, but part of it is “Be aware of tech things, so we can do awesome stuff with them eventually.” This means that being familiar with a bunch of random things, various ways to do stuff, big topics of various kinds is to my benefit. (Even if I weren’t interested, which I am.) We use GoogleApps, Microsoft, and I’ve got the full Adobe Suite on my computer. Plus a wide range of other bits and pieces.

My home tech life involves a lot of the following: (I will come back and talk about all of these in detail later, promise.)

  • Email. Individual emails. Discussion list emails. The many and varied reminders and “someone left a comment on your post” and so on emails that fill our lives these days. I have 7 different email addresses that pour into a single Gmail account, because I regularly access my email from 3 different devices, and it’s not uncommon for there to be about 100 threads in email in a given day for me (many of which are skim + delete)
  • Reading stuff on the Web: I use Chrome for most things these days, along with Instapaper, Pinboard, and a few other things to help me manage it. I’m active on Dreamwidth, LiveJournal, and one web forum these days, with periodic pokes at other things. (I have a Facebook account, but spend very little time on there, and I keep wishing I could make Twitter work with my brain.)
  • The massive online collaborative project previously mentioned (we do most stuff via email, Gdocs, and chat, plus the actual posts that make it up, which are on Dreamwidth.)
  • IM chat (which I do through Gmail, though I’m contemplating a different client now I’ll have more screen space.) I usually have a couple open with various friends throughout the evening.
  • Writing: currently a bunch of non-public stuff, but I am about to dive into the long-term non-fiction project again, really. I use Scrivener, which I adore and will talk about at length later. Also SimpleNote
  • Watching streaming mediaNetflix, Hulu, etc. – generally while knitting. (Depending on my other plans for the evening, this is usually 1-3 hours most nights, with other online stuff, IMing, chatting, etc. interspersed. Because I like making progress on my knitting.) While on the topic, I use the iPad for patterns and the iPhone for row counting. (We’re just going to admit there’s going to be a “tech I use for knitting” post in here, right?)
  • Music: both my iTunes library (for permanent stuff) and Spotify (which I use primarily for playlists at work, trying things out that I might like, and for topic-specific playlists where I don’t want to invest tons of money in the subject yet. I listen to podcasts via the iPhone and headphones while doing household cleaning and related chores.

I am much more on the ‘using tech to do other things’ side of the line rather than ‘play with the tech for the tech’s sake’, but I have periodic splurges of doing bits of graphic design work, CSS and various web design work, playing with audio files, and very occasionally dipping my toe into learning to code.

Things I’m mulling over in particular:

  • a suitable non-Cloud backup of essential email (there’s a bunch of stuff that if I lost it, meh. There’s a bunch of stuff I’d actually love to archive just in case I ever need it, but get it out of my Gmail so my searches are more manageable. Finding a low-demand method of the above is tricky. Since any practical step on this first involves sorting through about 1o,000 email messages in archive, I keep putting it off. Since it only gets worse the more I do that, I should stop doing that.)
  • backing up things currently living on GDocs more seamlessly.
  • continuing to improve my workflow for ‘here is interesting link’ -> ‘let me put that somewhere I can find it’
  • a better workflow for reading sheet music on the iPad (and playing from it!)
  • some general usability tools
  • better recipe management
  • doing more with Evernote (in particular for ‘books I want to read’ type stuff.)
  • a better schedule for doing app updates, podcast/etc. updates, etc. on the iDevices. (The current one is “whenever I vaguely remember”, which can be annoying.


Links of interest

Of course, just after I did the last one, I ended up finding a bunch of seasonally relevant ones, so here, bonus.


Libraries and related topics:


  • The Discovery Channel has announced footage of live giant squid! (The link comes from Deep Sea News, and the author talks about whether one can trust the announcement – apparently, yes.) 
  • Bad Astronomy also explains the awesome Cassini photo of Saturn I linked last post.

My technology ecosystem : the tools

To put the “Ok, so what am I doing with this new computer” into context, it’d help to know what else there is:

My geeky stuff: 

My work computer is a Dell laptop, running Win7, and a variety of software, including the Adobe Creative suite. I mostly live in my web browser, Word, Excel, and forays into various Adobe products, but less than I did before most of our website management moved into WordPress from Dreamweaver.  Our IT policy is that we can use work machines for reasonable personal use, but in practice, it lives on my desk (plugged into a widescreen monitor) unless I’m at the reference desk or on my fortnightly evening reference shift. (However, if I ever *did* have a trip where I really wanted a computer, not the iPad, I could easily bring it.)

At home, I have: 

  • My primary computer (since 2009, this has been a MacBook, it is about to be the new iMac). It lives on a small rolling desk by my couch, and I often have a small black cat within arm’s reach when I’m home. (Not the best ergonomics ever, but awesome on the ‘reach out and get purred at’ quality of life scale.)
  • An iPad 2 and a keyboard case (now my primary portable device: it doesn’t do quite *everything* I would want in a primary device, but it’s manageable even for a week-long trip.)
  • An iPhone, which (as I’ve commented to various people) is less phone and more “portable computer that fits in my pocket that occasionally makes a phone call.” I am really not a phone person.
  • A Time Capsule, which stores my backups and also purchased digital downloads (movies, TV series) that are not in active use. It is also my wifi router.

Other bits of tech: 

I should note here that I don’t own a TV and haven’t since 2005. (This has been largely for space reasons: I watch things via Hulu, Netflix, and various other streaming tools.)  But part of why I’m excited about the iMac is that watching something while keeping an eye on my IM windows will now be much easier.

I will eventually get a USB DVD drive, but this past week is the first time I’ve stuck a DVD in my computer in about a year.


I believe in naming my technology. And sometimes renaming it. Here’s my about to be naming scheme:

  • the Time Capsule: alexandria (really, what else do you name a storage device if you’re me?)
  • the local wifi network : musica humana (the term for human-made music in discussion of music of the spheres)
  • the new iMac: diapason (the term for a perfect octave, in Pythagorean ratio discussion of music.)
  • the iPhone : diapente (the term for a 4:6 or 2:3 ratio in Pythagorean ratios of music, a fifth.)
  • the iPad : diatesseron (the term for a 9:12 or 3:4 ratio in Pythagorean ratios of music, a fourth.)

You might notice a relationship between the screen ratios on the last two devices and their names. They’re imperfect, but amusing.

Links of interest

Awesomely gorgeous: 

  • I got to see my very first real aurora last month (living in the rural north has benefits!) It was not nearly as flashy as the following link, but it was still stunningly amazing. It does mean I’ve been clicking on aurora pictures even more than usual, though, and I particularly liked this post from Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy with a time lapse movie made from aurora still shots in Norway by Nicholas Buer. Click(and as Phil says, full-screen) if you need 2.5 minutes of beauty in your day.
  • Also, the 21 best astronomy images of 2012.
  • (And the one a friend sent me on Wednesday, a gorgeous image of Saturn. And the Milky Way and a lighthouse. Look, I like pictures of stars and planets and stuff, okay?)


  • If you are looking for something to read, the MeFi wiki index of questions about books is extremely comprehensive.
  • The power of the books you read at 12.
  • I’m not sure if this goes in books or culture, but how do you deal with fantasy agricultures (specifically, how do you grow wine in a country with seasons as messed up as Westeros?)
  • Why we need comfort reading.
  • Curious George’s great escape. (I half knew some of this, but it’s an amazing story.)

Copyright, so complicated:

Community and culture: 

  • AskAManager had a recent conversation about class – what things you need to know to work in a white-collar environment that may not be obvious if you’re not familiar with that kind of setting. It’s a sort of imperfect discussion, because the topic is So Big, but as someone who works with people from a variety of backgrounds, I think it’s a good start.
  • Ann Patchett on independent bookstores. Specifically, starting one.
  • I keep chewing over Anil Dash’s “The Web We Lost” in the way that makes me think there will be more writing from me about it eventually.
  • Vienna Teng’s draft of the hymn of axciom – fascinating both for the content, and for the fact that technology makes this kind of sharing possible.
  • TEDx and Bad Science: there’s a fascinating article from the TED folks about how to vet for bad science in TEDx talks – interesting both for the specifics, and for the general “how do we talk about evaluating stuff”. Bad Astronomy talks about it a bit more, too.
  • 250 year old codes. Society of the Golden Poodle. Secret societies. What more do you want out of a story?
  • Also in the history department: a Ponzi scheme for flappers.
  • The Lying Disease: truth, lies, and the Internet.
  • How Pompeii perished (and the misassumptions about the nature of geology that pervade our ideas about it.)
  • The history and implications of the Zapruder film.



Coming soon

I have a new iMac on its way to me. I am one of those people who believes philosophically in starting a new electronic device as a tabula rasa, rather than just automatically transferring everything to it. However, that also gives me a *great* excuse for writing about what I’m using, why, and whether you (oh few readers) might care, and getting back into regular posts here, really, truly, honest.

(Also, in writing about this in less public spaces, I realised that it’s 28 years since I got my first computer – an Apple IIc, in 1984. That number is sort of scary.)

Things I intend to talk about: 

  • What devices I use for what (and why the iMac this time: my current home machine is a MacBook)
  • Software I use all the time, and why
  • Stuff I turn out not to use (and thoughts on why)
  • The huge question of cloud vs. not-cloud vs. storage vs. backup.
  • How this fits into libraries, and tech literacy and all sorts of other things.
  • (Do you have other topics? Tell me in comments or whatever other form of communication seems likely to work.)

In other news: (in no particular order)

  • I have a links post in draft, and expect to push it live sometime Thursday or maybe Friday.
  • I am doing a presentation at LibTech 2013 in St. Paul. LibTech is pretty much my Platonic ideal of a conference: they cap at 450 registrations, so you can actually talk to people, the presenters are people doing actual stuff with real info about what works and what fails, and I have reliably come away having learned a lot.  I already had plans to be in Minnesota that week for a visit, which is convenient.
  • My presentation is called Accio Data: Managing collaborative projects with free tools, and uses a Harry Potter transformative works project I am gleefully involved with as the case study, because we are managing all sorts of complicated data for that. (I’ll also be talking about the people part of collaborative work, especially at a distance.)
  • I also expect to be at Computers in Libraries in DC in April (that’s my official professional conference of the year). If you’re going to be at either that or LibTech (or know someone who is that I should talk to), please do tell me.

A link roundup

So, yeah. Not doing so well with keeping up with the external blog. Let’s give this another try, and I’ll do a big roundup of links I keep meaning to share. (Which go back quite a few months.)

History and Memory:

  • A fascinating piece from the NYT about the challenges of the 9/11 museum.
  • An amazing take on why Machiavelli was so important to modern political thought.
  • Make your own Bayeux-style tapestry story. (done in HTML and JavaScript)
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has released PDF versions of many of their out of print exhibit catalogs. Many many many awesome things. I’d apologise for the hours of productive time you will lose from them, but it’s art. It’s gorgeous. It’s fascinating.
  • Wil Wheaton is generally thought-provoking, but I keep coming back to this recent piece from him about personal history and remembering.

Libraries, search, finding information: 

  • I think I originally bookmarked this piece from Dear Author for the discussion of ebook agreements, but it’s also got a great infographic of how important public libraries are.
  • Some really interesting comments on letting go of Boolean operators and other new approaches to teaching research.
  • Solving impossible research problems has some really interesting advanced tips. (It still does not solve a years-old problem for me, which is identifying a flower from a remembered smell. But.)
  • A nice intro to creating screencasts
  • Get your PhD in Googling. (Well, not really, but it’s fun).
  • The Pew study on libraries, library patrons, and ebooks (bunches of you have probably seen this.)
  • A fascinating article on a professor who set an assignment for his class to fool Wikipedia – and how he got caught.
  • An amusing library intro video, Lord of the Libraries.
  • Librarian in Black takes on the problems of ebooks and libraries. (She’s done it before, but this version is excellent.)


  • Dear Author takes on the question of authors putting up not-entirely-final copies of books, and the larger question of author/reader interaction.
  • Five Books takes on the History of Reading. (as in, reading books, not the place.)


  • Joyce Valenza had an interesting piece on how we approach using technology, including comments and video from Sherry Turkle.
  • Vintage advertisements for modern technology. (You may have seen these already, because they have been all over the Internet. They’re still amusing.)
  • A really interesting look at how one piece of technology leads to a whole new interest and set of connections.
  • The complications of two-step verification (with a nice look at both pros and cons, and a personal story)
  • Doug Johnson has a great reminder of the proportional risk in online interaction (bullying, not predators).
  • I rather liked this Lifehacker piece on how to determine if controversial statement is scientifically true.
  • Historical notes on some widely-known songs. (Fascinating!)
  • I’ve been reading a lot of articles from Longform, which collects both current and older long-form articles on a huge variety of subjects. I’d handwave at a bunch of them, but really, go dig for yourself.
  • Rip currents are sort of fascinating. And lethal. Here, have a video about them.
  • A good friend did a roundup of links on Scandesotan  (I am moderately fluent in the dialect these days. Twelve years of living in Minnesota does that to you if you hang out with certain crowds. I’m still recalibrating for New England, which has some similarities and some differences.)
  • has a sort of interesting study on the plagiarism they most often see.
  • Finding the first emigrant processed at Ellis Island.

And because I’ve been eyeing aurora borealis photos recently, have some gorgeous shots. Oregon. Northern Minnesota.

The internet is for cat pictures

In January, my previous cat, Athene (who I’d had for almost 13 years) was put to sleep after congestive heart failure and a massive blood clot.

I waited until after my trip to Minnesota in March to consider a new cat, but today a friend and I went off to the local humane society, and I came home with a lovely new cat. I’m still contemplating names, as one does with cats, but I do have photos.

Continue reading The internet is for cat pictures

Links of interest : March 16th, 2012

Welcome to the first edition of “links of interest” since, um, July? Yeah. Turns out that when I swap all my work blog reading from home to work, I then totally break my workflow for writing the blog posts at home. I think I now have a solution to that, involving dumping everything into Instapaper and sorting it out from there.

I am not even going to try collecting all the awesome links from the past seven months, but here’s a range of ones currently intriguing me.

Continue reading Links of interest : March 16th, 2012

LibTech conference

I’ve just finished the first day of the LibTech2012 conference, an awesome small library technology conference in St. Paul, Minnesota. (And as someone whose hobbies periodically include running fan and community related conferences, it is also running pretty seamlessly from my POV.)

This means I have been madly dumping links in my “Hey, I should share these” files all day (or rather, more than I usually do), and thus it is a good week to reinstate the links post. Coming Friday! Or maybe Thursday night.

(I’ll also have some thoughts on the sessions I’ve been to, but that might take me another couple of days to distill from my notes – I’ve been notetaking on my iPad and a borrowed Logitech keyboard case. The latter is awesome, and solves all my problems with rapid typing on the iPad.)

Minnesota is not as gorgeous as Maine (Maine had a wetter winter, so our grass is not totally brown). But you can’t beat 70 and sunny in March for weather, really. And I’m having a lovely time visiting friends before and after the conference, too.

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 the Perkins School for the Blind

More about my job and a day in the life

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