Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Thing 38: Comic Relief

This week we will have some fun with our work and play around at making comic strips. I've discovered there are a lot of online comic strip makers and some you can even upload your own pictures to play with. I'll list all of them at the end but will focus on ToonDoo from Jambav which is where I like to play. When I mentioned this to Helene B the other day she told me about Shelf Check, a series of Library comics available on ToonDoo. Here's the latest Shelf Check latest post, just position your mouse over it and move to control the image, no clicking needed:

The website runs in Flash so be sure you have the latest version to get the full options. If you are a bit out of date you can create using their images but to uplaod your own to your gallery you need the latest versions of your web browser and Flash player.

After talking to Helene I started searching for Library related comic strips and there are a lot of them in ToonDoo, including a couple of my own. What I was very pleased to see is a few that seemed to be geared to the public. this one looks like someone wanted a unique welcome sign.

However, I had fun letting my cats play using one photo from the Picnik play a couple weeks ago.

Other online comic makers are:
Make Beliefs - targeted to kids
Read Write Think - Kids again
Comeeko - loves MySpace
Stripgenerator - made for blogs
Strip Creator

So for this week's Discovery exercise.
1. Go to ToonDoo or one of the other strip makers listed above
2. Find a couple library related comics you like.
3. email, create a del.icio.us bookmark, or embed it in your blog
4. Sign up and create your own comic on whatever you want
5. Don't forget to write about your experience in your blog.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Thing 37: Music to our ears

Not everyone likes the same music and sometimes we get tired of the same old stuff all the time. So let's look at a few online ways to open a few musical doors and find some new tunes. Most of our users have introduced us to Launchcast which functions somewhat like a traditional radio station or like a big online jukebox, playing most songs you request, if they can get the rights to it.

I've found us 2 services for expanding our musical horizons. Both are online radio stations but we influence the programing by telling them what we like. They are Pandora and LastFM. With both you can input your favorite music and listen to something like it but different. Depending on what you like you could find a lot of new tunes and artists or possibly none. Both also incorporate a social aspect so you could meet new friends who share your musical tastes.

Pandora - Really just an Internet Radio but with a slight twist. Uses a set of musical attributes, called the Music Genome Project, to pair your favorites with similar groups and tunes for your listening pleasure. Put in a musician or song title and they will build a station and start playing tunes, if you don't like a song tell them and they will offer something different. They will also track your ratings to fine tune your station. If you really like one you hear they provide links to Amazon or iTunes to go buy the Disc or just the song. Warning you could find yourself tempted to go buy a lot of new music. You will want to register so you can help them focus your station to your tastes. I could find a few bands but not a lot of new similar bands that I didn't already know however, but then I have kind of different taste in music from most. Pandora is very popular so it must work for many people quite well.

LastFM - LastFM is a bit more of a Web 2.0 product. They also have a much wider range of music available so people with a broader taste will find more. Again they give you a link to Amazon, though not iTunes, to buy the disc if you are interested. I really liked the fact I could embed a station I like in my web page. I also appreciate that it doesn't autoplay when someone visits the page. They can chose to check out my taste in music or not but they won't be driven away from visiting again if they don't share my musical taste. Another way to use this is that if you download their client it will share the titles and bands in your music library in something they call "Scrobbling". Basically, when you listen to something they count that toward the popularity of bands. Since I don't have much music on my computer I'm not a great candidate for Scrobbling but I was interested to see that some of the new bands I found are getting Scrobbled a lot. Don't confuse Scrobbling with sharing your music, here you only share the titles and artist names. If Last.fm has the tune they can easily hear them if not they might have a harder time hecking the tune out. Also you can find upcoming concerts in your area or where your favorite band is playing and when.

Here's one Last FM station I created for the band Lunasa, not my fav but not bad either. They are a traditional celtic group.

With both online stations you can find new bands, check out new tunes and tune into another kind of social network. You might even find someone who shares your taste in music. And you will certainly find some new music.

So this week's Discovery Exercise:

1. Go to either online station and plug in your favorite band, or song.

2. Listen and see if you find any new bands you might have not heard of but like the way they sound.

3. Of course write about it in your blog!

Thing 36: Dressing up your photos

It seems that everyone has a digital camera, if not a high resolution one, then at least one on their cell phone. Everyday library computer labs have more people coming in wanting to edit their masterpiece images. If we don't have Photoshop or at least Picasa, what can we do? Last year we played with Flickr and it's a great online photo album and even has some toys to play around with the photos but what if you want to fix red eye or crop the photos before you post? After this exercise you can fix them online with just a computer with an internet connection.

I use Picnik the most but I discovered it first and I like it's flexibility. There are others but let's start here. You do need to register but your photos can come from Flickr, Picasa, and Facebook; or you can upload from your computer. Fixes the most common issues, cropping, image size, exposure, red eye, and many more. You can also apply a few creative filters using the Create tab. When you are done save it back where you got it or someplace new. You will need to login to Flickr, Facebook, or Picasa to open from or save to there. The interface is fairly clean and they add a few cute bits to entertain you if a process is a bit slow to load.

Here are a few more to try:

Fauxto - No registration, upload, edit, and save. Mostly I'll say, I'm impressed. I'm used to Photoshop and wow, this one gives them some free, to the user, competition. Layers, Filters, even looks like a software window on the screen. Some effects are a bit slow to happen but they do eventually.

I suspect Fauxto is why Adobe has announced the launch of a free online version of their popular Photoshop software. Rumor says to look for it in November.

Pixenate - reads from and to Flickr or disk. No registration. Simple tools, can't handle high resolutions but if you don't have a high resolution camera this is fine. Window isn't as clear as I'd like though.

Snapfish - product of HP and there are strings attached. You do have to register and editing is limited. Free unlimited online storage! Well, not so free if you want to download or print your images. I only mention it as someone may ask you about it.

I found a few more but had issues with uploading images, may be a browser or flash version conflict.

Pixer.us - cute name, wish it worked
CellSea - Created for Cell Camera Phone users.
ImageEditor - Associated with Google Photo Organizer, which is confusing since they also own Picasa another online photo storage and organizer site.

Discovery exercise:
1. Pick one of the above mentioned Photo editors, or locate one of your own.
2. Edit a few pictures and save them.
3. Write about your experience in your blog and include either a link to or embed one of the pictures you edited. Maybe even a before and after images?


BTW, the photo at the top is my kitty edited with Picnik. Cropped, rotated, brightness and contrast adjusted, and added a vignette to focus the eye on her.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Thing 35: Mini or Micro Blogging

I'm not really starting something new here but rather bringing a feature of our Ning Network into focus today. If you are also following there you may have noticed a feature on the left column, where quotes from books are turning up. Jamie has been giving us a bit of mini, micro, or nano blogging for several weeks now.

What is Mini Blogging? Where can I set one up? Why would I?

Mini blogs are limited to short messages (frequently 140 characters), they began as cell phone text messages limited to a geographic region that could be used to find your friends, find out what's going on in the area that night, or to invite your friends to all go to the latest Harry Potter movie on opening night together. The original miniblog, Dodgeball, has all but disappeared and isn't available in Charlotte. However, several others have appeared and brought it to the web, though they still have the option to send and receive the messages on your cell phone. I don't advise getting that unless you have unlimited text messages in your phone plan though.

The new mini-blogs are:
Twitter - your posts are called Tweets

Jaiku - allows you to set up groups and has easy search

Hictu - mostly popular in France, Italy, and England
Frazr - French and German
Pownce - allows the biggest posts and also can be used for file transfer (up to 10MB in the free version, sounds more like email) since an invite is required I can't find out much more about it.

Jamie is using Jaiku. My Finnish expert tells me it is pronounced yai-coo to rhyme with haiku but the j is pronounced as a y.

Jaiku is perhaps my favorite as I find it easier to find people I'd like to follow. Twitter doesn't have a built in search but refers you to another site to find people. I found the people I follow by going to Jaiku and following them back to Twitter, which is kind of backwards. When you set up an account you will then want to find your Friends and "follow" what they are doing or saying. As time goes on you will find other people are following you much like we have people from all over the world following this Learning 2.1 blog and the Ning Network. There are still people using their mini-blog to arrange meetings at restaurants or movies but there really isn't a limit to how you use it. It has been used for mini-emails between colleagues, as Jamie did to share a quote a day, or to put out a call for info for a news article. Twitter does have a few good features mostly due to being open for people to modify it however they would like. Both allow you to create "badges" so you can have your feed from Twitter and/or Jaiku show up in your blog or social network page on Ning, MySpace, or other websites. You can even set them up to show up on each other. This is another example of the interconnectedness of Web 2.0 services that we've seen over the last year with many of the "Things" we have explored.

So this week go to either Twitter or Jaiku and set up an account. Post a message, find a few friends to "follow." If you have unlimited text messaging you can go that route but be warned you could find yourself having your phone ring all day long. Alternatively just enjoy Jamie's quotes of the day on Ning. Don't forget to write a blog post about your experience.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

August's Discovery Guide

Wow, it's August 1st already. The summer truly seems to be slipping by. But as I look at all the new discoveries that Julia has led us to this past month (BTW: I love Mr. Picasso Head) I'm getting even more excited to see what Mary Kyle has in store for us this month.

Mary is a MacBook lover, but also plays a lot with Windows too. She is a Technology Assistant at ImaginOn's Tech Central and has hobbies and interests that "run to the enviroment and technology." According to Mary, what she likes "most about Web 2.0 is that it bridges the gap between the two operating systems since it runs in a web browser."

Please join me in welcoming Mary as August's Discovery Guide. I can't wait to see what she has in store.

PS: The image is Mary's Meez avartar. Want one of your own? Check out Meez.com