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Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Slideshows without slideshow software

I use a Mac, but not only don't I want to pay for PowerPoint, but I also don't want to pay for Keynote. So I like creating slideshows with image-editing software. At the moment I use Skitch because though it's not very powerful, it's ridiculously easy to use. (By contrast, GIMP isn't easy to use but is ridiculously powerful.)

Once I have a bunch of images, I import them into iPhoto. I create an album containing them all in order. Then I make it into a slideshow. I have a "next slide" clicker that came with my MacBook and it's all beautiful.

The problem I've had was wanting to upload to SlideShare, which wants powerpoint, keynote, or pdf format, and I couldn't find a way to turn images into pdfs. I've kludged it by importing the images into PowerPoint on my work machine, then uploading that, but it's a nuisance.

Today while playing with Automator, I discovered it has a "New PDF from images" task. So I created a workflow:
  • Ask for Finder items (prompts for a folder containing a bunch of images)
  • Copy Finder items (to eg the Desktop)
  • Get folder contents
  • Scale images (to 480 pixels - because it's only for the web)
  • New PDF from images (with "Size each page to fit")
For bonus geek points, I saved this workflow as "Make a slideshow" in my Speakable Items folder. So now I can tell my computer, "Make a slideshow", it asks me where to find the images, then it creates a PDF which I can upload to SlideShare.

If you don't have a Mac there's probably another way to do this - but I doubt it's as cool.


Prezi is getting a fair bit of press at the moment for its non-linear style. It is very cool, though very high-powered (and I'm too cheap for it). But I've been thinking more and more that for infolit classes, a slideshow that acted like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure would be really useful - so you didn't have to go through from slide 1 to slide 99, but could ask students a question and change the direction of the presentation to suit their answer. The "bunch of slides" format still works for me; I just want internal hyperlinks. But I'm not happy with the slideshow html templates I've seen, either.

Thinking about this, I realised what it is that I want for my slideshows: Hypercard.

<wanders off, reminiscing about the Good Old Days>

Saturday, 18 April 2009

2009 BookCrossing Convention

The BookCrossing Convention was held in Christchurch this year. I've been involved in BookCrossing for a few years, though only casually, so it was great to be invited to give a talk. I didn't attend any of the release or social events but went along to the afternoon sessions today:

Patrick Evans talked about the research he's done for a biography on Janet Frame, and about the different stories surrounding her life: the autobiography in her fiction and the fiction in her autobiography, the protectiveness of her friends and family for her privacy and the eagerness of strangers to recount legends about her. Janet Frame has been called "New Zealand's greatest unread author" and I have to admit I haven't read anything by her - I was surprised to hear she wrote some books that sound like science fiction, so I'll have to keep an eye out.

We viewed an episode of The Lost Book (and were encouraged to follow the link to be involved in the fourth episode which will be set in Christchurch) and CPIT's documentary on BookCrossing.

Bruce from BookCrossing Head Office skyped in (after a few technical difficulties) and showed us a preview of the Facebook application which will launch hopefully May/June. They're also working on an iPhone application and snazzing up the main website to make it friendlier to newbies. Bruce solicited feedback on the user interface - some people talked about the mobile interface not being good, which is something important to BookCrossers. There was also discussion about the store. I was struck when Bruce said that the best selling items are those that make the activity of BookCrossing easier/more successful (eg stickers to make the books stand out, plastic bags to protect them from the weather, etc): it's obvious in hindsight, but it seems a key thing to bear in mind for any institution trying to provide products or services to its customers.

The Netherlands contingent showed off photos of their country to encourage us to come to the 2010 convention there, and it was unanimously voted that the 2011 convention should be held in Washington DC.

My presentation on Books Unchained: A History covered the chaining of books, bookmobiles, e-texts, and the release of books through BookCrossing.

And of course I came away with several books including a couple of childhood memories, which I'll have to (re)read and release in strategic locations!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Why academic libraries need to be user-centric

It often seems like public libraries are leading the way with user-friendly websites. I think it's too easy for academic librarians to say, "Well, it's different for them: their users are kids and teenagers and the general public. Our users are academically-inclined young adults who should be able to cope with learning the Proper Way of Doing Things."

The problem is the other difference between public library and academic library users: a public library user is a user for a lifetime. An academic library user (barring the few who go on to research and lecturing) is a user for, say, 3-5 years.

Academic library users don't have time to learn how to do things the "Proper Way". They're too busy writing assignments and working to pay for their next electricity bill. And why should we waste our time teaching them the "Proper Way" - only to have to teach the same lessons to the next year's intake, and the next, and the next - when we could just fix our interface to let everyone get on with doing it the Easy Way?