Welcome to iHCPL: The Next Generation. This site was created as the next step in Harris County Public Library's iHCPL Learning 2.0 Program; a discovery learning program designed to encourage staff to explore new technologies. The original iHCPL program was adapted from The Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County's Learning 2.0 Program.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Potluck #51: Holidays and Cooking and Recipes - Oh My!


Mis En Place
Originally uploaded by rainvt
Cooking at the Holidays can be both a fun and stressful experience. To help keep your holiday cooking and baking more on the fun side, there are a number of websites out there that can help you find that perfect recipe, convert your stuffing recipe for four to one for 24, or find you a substitutions for the missing nutmeg. This potluck exercise is worth .5 training hours.

Did you just find out that you have to bring a side dish to Aunt Fanny's for Thanksgiving? Not sure what to make? While you can always do a Google search to find a recipe, a good place to start is one of the big cooking/recipe websites.
  • Are you a fan of Paula Deen, Bobby Flay, or Sandra Lee, then check out the Food Network website, which has an extensive recipe collection for all of the major personalities, plus many recipes from the Food Network kitchens.
  • If you prefer cooking magazines, most have recipe sections on their websites including Bon Appetit, Gourmet, and Southern Living through MyRecipes.com.
  • Do you enjoy talking about food, or seeing what other people are cooking? Then try BakeSpace, a recipe swap and social network for food.
If you've never cooked a turkey (like me), you can find out how at several sites:
  • Butterball has tips on cooking the Turkey on their site as well as a toll-free number (1-800-Butterball) if you get stuck.
  • Turkey 101, from Kraft, takes you step by step from purchase to the table.



Cannisters
Originally uploaded by prettywar-stl

So now you know where to get recipes and turkey tips, what do you do when you find out you’ve been selected as the person to bring the cranberry relish to the staff Thanksgiving dinner and will need to prepare enough for 45 people. After you curse the “friend” who put your name in that pot, you dig out your recipe books only to find that they all make enough for 8. What to do? There are excellent web sites that will take your recipe and convert it to the number of servings that you want.

That's My Home Recipe Converter is one that is useful when converting family sized recipes to crowd sizes; although it just shows individual calculations. I really like this one because it does all the math for you, provides a spot for the recipe directions and prints it all up in one nice recipe; try: Recipe Ingredient Conversion Calculator.

Then you have the websites that convert individual measures. This site is easy to use in that it is set up by liquid, weight, temperature and length conversions: RecipeZaar Measurement Converter. Some convert international measures along with other less common measures, e.g. wineglass to cup: Recipe Calculator Converter. Here is one that converts “heirloom” measures (your Grandmother’s old recipes) for you, “pinch” or “saucer”, or moderately hot oven: Heirloom Weights & Measurements Conversion Chart.

Some other clever websites give you list of substitutions; for when you have started that Cranberry, Orange & Walnut recipe only to find that someone ate the oranges for snack. This web site is great for showing what you can use instead: Yields & Equivalencies. You may have started that cake and realize that you are out of baking powder, try one of these sites for a substitution: Ingredient Substitutions, Land O'Lakes Ingredient Substitutions, or Joy of Baking Substitutions.

Discovery Exercise:
1. Find a recipe using one of the websites listed above OR use your favorite recipe
2. Covert the recipe either up or down (make it for 20 people or for two)
3. Post the original recipe and the conversion to your blog (be sure to cite where you got the recipe).

HCPL Staff: Have you this exercise? Then Submit your Registration of Completion

This post brought to you by Grace Lillevig (ADM) & Christi Whittington (KW)

Potluck #50: Global Nation

Time to travel, whether just the next state over or across the globe, there are some great websites to help you on your way. Grab your passport, and let’s go! This potluck exercise is worth .5 training hours.

First stop – wait - don’t have a passport? I’m afraid that’s a requirement when you go out of the United States (and really, isn’t it just cool to say you have one?) Don’t worry, though, the government has actually made getting a passport easy. Several local post offices now are able to help you, and there is an informative website as well. Visit http://travel.state.gov/passport

Now you’ve gotten that taken care of, let’s visit some great trip planning and sharing sites.

Tripbase.com is guided by your interests. Use the slider bars to indicate how much you want to spend and your interests when you’re traveling (nature lover? Sightseer?), and then let the site suggest global and local destinations for you. Beware of the flight costs being a little sketchy. I know I can’t get from Houston to Fraser Island, Australia on $220. If I could, I wouldn’t be typing this up to you all. I’d be saying, “Bye, mates!” The reason for the error in cost? It was pulling up a flight to Tulsa, OK. The other information offers pretty decent indicators on your spending.
Tripwise.com incorporates some popular social networking sites and gives the overall atmosphere a travel guide feel. According to its About Us, page Tripwise.com is a “Travel 2.0 company with a great vision to create and build a community of travelers…”

IgoUgo.com is another social travel site allowing members to store up travel stories, blogs, and trip tips to share with others. Covering over 800,000 destinations around the globe, you should have plenty of stories to read and inspiration for a great vacation.

Need more of the cultural stops? Want to know the events going on locally? Here are sites that will steer you on the right path.

Simpatigo.com won’t tell you where to go, only tell you how to get there and what you’ll see on the way. The ultimate car trip guide, give it where you start and where you end, and it has a tourist’s cornucopia of sights to see. Like stop by the first J.C. Penny store, the Golden Rule Store, on your trip from Houston to Seattle. It’s in Kemmerer, WY.

ebookerscalendar.com
– Ebookers Calendar is a downloadable program to help you see what events are going on around the world. It also has a web version that requires a sign up. As part of the Orbitz.com family of companies, ebookers.com being the European site, there is a lot of information in here, including early travel offer alerts.
For more great sites visit nileguide.com, 43places.com, or the European based sites venividiwiki.eu or Ving Trip Finder .

And always remember most cities and places of interest of a tourist board. Visit their websites to learn about the culture, what’s going on, and the places to stay and see.

Discovery Exercise:

Your exercise is to use one, or more, of these websites and plan your dream vacation. Post your destination and things you’ll be seeing or doing on your blog before you get carried away in your imaginings of sipping exotic beverages on a beach or climbing K2.

HCPL Staff: Have you this exercise? Then Submit your Registration of Completion

This post is brought to you by Beth Krippel (ATA) and Kathy Knox (ADM).

Potluck #49: L'amore di lingue - Love of Languages


potluck spread
Originally uploaded by foreverdigital
For November, rather than a module on one topic, we have several small topics including language, travel, and recipes. Each post is worth .5 training hours.

Struggling to find a class that will teach you a new language on your time and at your pace? Think such a thing doesn’t exist? The answer does not necessarily lie in handing over your credit card to buy a new instruction series. There are websites online that can help you along, and some even offer tutors – for free! This potluck exercise is worth .5 hours.


Talking in Languages
Originally uploaded by zinjixmaggir

So, before we start our linguistic trip around the world (the next module travel/culture) let’s brush up on our language learning. First stop – LiveMocha.

Livemocha.com – No, this isn’t the latest coffee growing technique. This website offers courses in several different languages, including some difficult ones to find such as Mandarin Chinese and Arabic. Flash cards, speaking, reading, listening, and writing exercises are provided as well as tutors and assistance from native speakers from all over the world. The website has a social networking feature, but doesn’t require participation in that to learn the language of your choice. Sign up is free and free is a good way to start your language exploration.

Mangolanguages.com – From coffee to fruit, it’s another language learning site, though this site’s free course is a bit limiting. However, there is also an enrollment side for a fee. It also offers downloadable MP3 courses. If you like a course that goes slowly, then this one is for you. (In my limited experience, I don’t need 22 slides to teach me how to say “Hello” in Mandarin.) It is great to take your learning on the go.

Wikibooks.org – the imperfectness of Wikipedia in textbooks of learning – including several languages. It does indicate the development of information on each language, Spanish being mature, that can assist you in your studies.

Discovery Exercise:

Explore these sites and others on learning languages. Write a blog post describing your experience. Which one fits your learning style? Is there a language you’re inspired to learn? How could you use this information at work?

HCPL Staff: Have you this exercise? Then Submit your Registration of Completion

This post is brought to you by Beth Krippel (ATA) and Kathy Knox (ADM).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

#48: Check it Out!

So, you’ve been introduced to the tools and have tried the exercises. How do you apply them in a practical way at your branch? While there are many options and applications for YouTube-scale video productions, this module will demonstrate and describe one branch’s video project and the steps taken to move towards a fun and successful final product.

This summer, the Kingwood Branch Library staff had the idea to put together a monthly video production entitled, “Check It Out.” Modeled after the system’s SRP video reviews, the idea would be to include not only the staff but also members, volunteers, Friends of the Library, and anyone in any way associated with the branch. Materials would not be limited to books or to items only in the Kingwood Branch collection but would be all-inclusive of items in the HCPL system, including A/V titles.





After forming the idea, step two involved, of course, publicity. A few flyers, a poster, and small postcard-sized inserts to place in hold envelopes were created and printed. Personal, face-to-face contact is the best publicity, so book groups, volunteers, and other regular members were approached to inquire if they would be interested in recording a brief review, which would last on average a couple of minutes, give or take. At the outset of the project, staff would initially contribute most of the reviews due to the time it typically takes to make the public aware of new activities and programs. (Note: If involving library members in your video project, be sure to have them complete an informed consent form, just as you would if you were capturing a photo.)




Step three utilized the technical tools, which were essentially a digital camera and Windows Movie Maker. Almost any compact digital camera now features a video recording function, and every camera is a little different. So, getting familiar with this function may require pulling out the camera manual and experimenting. At Kingwood, a simple, compact 2-year-old Sony digicam was all that was necessary. Prior to recording actual reviews, several brief scenes were captured with the camera and then individually trimmed and stitched together in order to create a title/opening for the “Check It Out” program. At this stage, it helps to think like a director in terms of recording several scenes that will later be snipped and edited on a cutting room floor. Think, “Scene three, take two . . . action!”

Selecting audio was step four once the video opening was put together. For this, Jonathan Coulton’s website was visited since his music is copyright-free. The first 18 seconds of his song “Skullcrusher Mountain” provided the perfect sound. The song was downloaded and clipped in the appropriate spot in “Timeline” view in Windows Movie Maker so the music would not continue playing during the reviews themselves. The same 18 seconds were used for what would be the credits video at the end, which consisted simply of a blurred background of the HCPL Knowledge Card. (Note: if you only need a background for text in your video, as in a title or credits screen, you don’t have to shoot seconds or minutes-long video of the background. You need only take a picture of the background, import it into Movie Maker, insert it in the appropriate spot in your movie, and extend the length of the pic in “Timeline” view for as long as necessary.)

In step five, the reviews were recorded. A simple background was created and set up behind the reviewer, who needed only a chair and the item itself (and a cue card holder, in case they wanted to read from a short script). The camera was set atop a tripod to keep it steady (strongly recommended!) and recording started. (Note: Make sure the camera is close enough so that there isn’t a lot of unnecessary empty space, attention is focused on the subject, and the microphone is able to adequately pick up what’s spoken.)

In the final step, the reviews were inserted in between the opening and credits videos, text was inserted to name the reviewers and their item, and transition effects were selected to smooth out the movement from one clip to the next. After saving and letting ebranch know it was finished, the HCPL symbol was inserted into the video, which was then uploaded for all to see and enjoy on the Kingwood Branch page’s YouTube viewer.

And that, in a nutshell, is how “Check It Out” was done.

Discovery Exercise:

  1. Discuss with your staff possible video project ideas for your branch. Determine what you would like to try and who would need to take part in it.

  2. After deciding what you want to do, figure out how you want to do it. Get comfortable with using your camera’s video function and the video editing tools you want to use. For any content you want to include that is not created by you, make sure it is not copyrighted or that you have permission from the creator.

  3. Stop practicing and start producing! Have fun!

HCPL Staff:Have you completed all three posts in this module? Then Submit your Registration of Completion If you did the extra credit exercise, don't forget to check that too.

Monday, October 20, 2008

#47 Video Challenge: Post Your Video to YouTube

In post #46 Movie Maker Basics: You Oughta be in Pictures - or Making Them! we successfully created a video. But, the whole fun of videos is sharing them. This is an extra-credit challenge post for the video module. It is not a required part of the module, but if you complete it (along with the rest of the video module) you will get an extra 1 hour of training credit. For this extra-credit challenge, you'll upload the video you created in post #46 to YouTube and then post it to your blog.

There are a number of video sharing sites out there, which were discussed in Week 9 of iHCPL, but YouTube is definitely the king of video sites, so that's what we're going to use for this exercise.

Steps to Upload a video:

  1. Create an Account
  2. Login
  3. Click Upload (it's on the menu bar)
  4. Click Browse - a window will open, find your video
  5. Edit the title, description, and tags. Also select a category for your video. This is also where you can decide if your video is public or private. If you're sharing it on your blog, it should be public.
  1. Click Save Changes

Note: You'll probably have a quick upload, but it takes a little while for YouTube to process your video, so be patient. To find your video again, click Account - My Videos.

Embed your video in Blogger
  1. In YouTube, find your video and copy the text in the "Embed" box.
  1. Log into Blogger
  2. Click the Edit HTML tab
  3. Paste the Embed text you copied from YouTube
  4. Click Publish Post
Here's the video I created, posted to YouTube:


If you created an Animoto video in post #45: Making a Video, you can also upload that to YouTube (this is just FYI):
  1. Login to Animoto
  2. Click My Videos
  3. Click Play on the video you want to upload
  4. Click Export to YouTube (you'll walk through several steps to allow access)
  5. As on YouTube, you'll edit title, description, tags and select if you want the video to be public.
  6. Click Export Now - Be patient the upload and processing can take a few minutes.
Congratulations, you are now a published filmmaker!

This post brought to you by Grace Lillevig (ADM)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

#46 Movie Maker Basics: You Oughta be in Pictures - or Making Them!

As discovered in the last post, Movie Maker is video editing software available on Windows based computers. In this post, we'll see a demonstration of the basics of using Movie Maker and get helpful tips. For most web videos, a great deal of high end technical equipment isn't necessary; just use your digital camera and your computer. The basic thing to remember is to keep your videos brief. No more than three minutes is best!

Fasten your seat belts, this is going to be a long one! For best results, read the notes and watch the demonstrations to help you with this exercise.

First Tip: Organize your files
Once you've moved your files from your camera to your computer, place them in project folders. For example: all of the Reel Reviews created for Summer Reading Programs were placed in a folder under My Documents titled "Reel Reviews." Organization up front is the best time saver while editing your video.

Starting Windows Movie Maker

  1. On the left hand side of the Movie Maker window you'll find most of your options for importing your media and working with that media. Under number 1 on that side is the importing of the media. Under number 2 are the effects, transitions and titles.
  2. On the top menu bar, the two most important buttons are Tasks (to return the side menu to the list of options for getting and working with the media) and Collections, where you can organize your clips for access.
Demonstration - Part 1 (opens in new window)

Story Boarding/Story Timelines

Place your media on the Story Board or Story Timeline area at the bottom of the screen by clicking and dragging. These files can all be interchanged, cut, edited and adjusted for volume at any time, so don't feel you have to get the order correct the first time.

  1. Cutting - Play the clip to the portion you want to cut and pause. Under the "Preview Screen" on the right hand side is a button that splits the scene in two at the place you paused. Once that is done, you can delete the portion of the scene you don't want by right clicking on it and selecting "Delete."
  2. Shortening/Lengthening Clips - You don't have to cut a clip to shorten it, you can select the edge of the clip you want to shorten, then click and drag it to the length you want. This is most useful on the transitions and audio/music tracks, but can be used for still images as well if you want them to be longer or shorter.

Demonstration - Part 2 (opens in new window)

Special Effects

Once you are happy with the order of the clips, it is time to get to the editing and special effects fun. Make sure you have the Tasks listed on the left hand side. If not, select "Tasks" from the top menu bar.

  1. Selecting "View Video Effects" will show you the variety of effects you can add to your visual media clips. To add one of these effects, just click and drag the style to place on top of the media clip you want.
  2. Selecting "View Video Transitions" will show you the selection of transitions in the upper center window that you can place between each of your visual media clips. You can also lengthen or shorten the transitions, as mentioned in the previous section.

Tip #2: Select Transitions to Fit Your Video

Popular transitions include "Fade In" and "Fade Out" and all of the various sweeps. However, if you have an upbeat video, consider some of the more unique transitions, such as "The Flip" and "The Curl."

  1. "Make Titles or Credits" has a list of options where you can add animated text to your video, such as a title at the beginning, credits at the end, or text on top of visual media clips. In each of these you can select from a variety of animation styles as well as a variety of fonts and font effects. Title overlays show up on the bottom track of the Story Timeline, so you can place them exactly when you want them to start and time how long they should last.

Tip #3: Beware of Bright Colors

Some colors on top of others may look very cool, but try to make them contrast as much as possible in order for those who are visually challenged to be able to see the text. White lettering on black background works very well, unless the video genre calls for something else.

Demonstration - Part 3 (opens in new window)

It's Time for Music!

Many factors influence music in video, one of the most important is copyright. Be sure to have permission or look for those artists who create music under Creative Commons licenses. Jamendo is a good website to use for avoiding copyright problems, although some searching is involved.

  1. Click and drag the music clip you imported on to the audio/music track that is visible in the Story Timeline at the bottom of the screen.
  2. Edit this track the same way you edit visual media. Shorten the track by selecting it, the drag or cut using the cut button underneath the preview screen. Be sure only the audio track is selected, or you will cut the visual clip.
  3. Right click on the audio track to select fade in or out or adjust the volume. Cutting and adjusting volume is very helpful if you come to portions of your video that have vocal portions. Cut the sound track at those places and lower the volume just for that segment.

Tip #4: Keep your overall feel in mind.

If the video topic is serious or subdued, don't use a lot of quick cuts or bouncy transitions.

Demonstration - Part 4 (opens in new window)

Saving the Movie File

Once you're happy with your video and have previewed it through its entirety in the preview screen on the right, it is time to save the movie file.

  1. From the Menu Bar, select File>Save Movie File (shortcut Ctrl+P).
  2. Save to your computer -- highly suggested no matter what you do with it afterwards.
  3. Name your movie and select where you want it saved.
  4. The default settings are usually best, but if you have limited computer space, you can sacrifice some quality by making the file smaller.
  5. The computer will process the information and (if you have "Play Movie when Finished" selected) play your movie in Windows Media Player as soon as you click "Finished."

Congratulations, you're almost a filmmaker!

Exercise: Practice with Movie Maker and create a 30 second video from scratch and write about your experience in your blog.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

iStar's Filming Tips

As a budding filmmaker, here are some tips to get the best possible footage.


Filmmaking Tips by Jeremy Cathay
Can't see the video? Check it out on YouTube.

The following are tips compiled from Filming & Editing Tips from the Digital Video Club and Beginners Guide to Video Editing - Basic Filming Tips

Before Filming

  • Think ahead
  • Plan a beginning and an end.
During filming
  • Take lots of footage, you can always edit later
  • Shoot scenes in a logical manner rather than shooting one long unmoving scene
  • Limit moving and zooming
  • Use a tripod, if possible - it makes the camera steady
  • Change positions for different scenes - it makes it more interesting
  • Try to frame your subject before filming
  • Make sure there's enough light before shooting
  • Keep sounds in mind.
For guidance on specific film techniques (e.g. what a long shot is, getting better sound quality), check out YouTube's Guide to Producing and Uploading Your Own Videos. This guide is in partnership with Videomaker.com and includes filmed examples of techniques to help you make better videos.

Getting the video from your camera to the computer

So, once you've filmed the footage for your masterpiece, you'll need to get it from your camera onto the computer. It will vary based on the type of camera you used, so please check your camera's user manual.

Monday, October 6, 2008

#45: Making a Video: An Overview

© 2007 Jupiterimages Corporation

Since sites like YouTube brought user-generated video to the public's attention, folks all over the globe have been creating and posting videos on the web. The videos you can find online run the gamut from professional quality films to fun home movies. With a little know-how, anyone can create a video online, share it with the world, and get feedback from viewers. You want to try right? Right! So let's get started.

We will start with an overview the tools you can use to make and post a video on the web. In this post, we will go over some of the cameras out on the market and review some of the editing software available on your PC or online. The next post will give you step-by-step instructions on making your own short video with Windows Movie Maker. The final post will give ideas and examples for using videos in library projects. Library staff who complete the entire video module will receive two hours of training credit.

Don't worry if you don't have a video camera--most branch cameras do have the capability to take short video clips.

Cameras

The Flip - http://www.theflip.com/

The Flip is a point and shoot camcorder with a built in USB plug. Available with one or two gigabytes of internal memory, the Flip allows 60 minutes of recording time. The rechargeable batteries last about four hours, and the Flip includes it's own built in editing software. You simply plug the Flip into your PC or laptop and you can create a custom mix of the recordings you made. You can also take still shots from your video and a sharing feature allows direct upload to YouTube. Three different models are available: the Flip Mino, priced at $179; the Flip Ultra, priced at $149; and the original Flip, priced at $129.

The Flip is an inexpensive option for libraries who want to incorporate video into their online presence. HCPL owns a couple of Flips which staff can borrow from the eBranch for your branch video projects! For more information on the Flip, please visit their website at http://www.theflip.com/.

Digital Cameras

Digital cameras, sometimes known as digicams, are cameras that can take both still photographs

© 2007 Jupiterimages Corporation

and video. Some, but not all, will record sound. Many allow you to display your photos or video on a small screen built into the camera--if you aren't happy with what you see, you can delete it and no one has to know you took a bad picture! Images and video are stored on some kind of removable storage technology, most likely some form of flash memory (like an SD card). One downside to digital cameras is that they have very high battery requirements, and many are being designed to be so compact that it is difficult to develop a battery that is small enough to fit, yet large enough to power the camera for a decent period of time. They also tend to only allow you to record 30-45 seconds at a time, though depending on your memory card, you may be able to record several short clips.

Images and video are downloaded to your PC through a cable. You can then resize and manipulate the content as you desire, save it and upload it to the online sharing site of your choice.

There are a huge number of brands and models to choose from, and prices can range from under $100 into the thousands. Buying a digital camera is an investment just like buying a computer, so reading reviews on the cameras in your price range may help in narrowing down your choices. Consumer Reports or CNET Reviews may be helpful in learning more about the digital cameras currently on the market.

Camcorders

Camcorders are recording devices that contain both a video camera and a video recorder, hence the name camcorder (previous video recording technologies had separate devices for recording and acquisition). They record both video and audio, and up until the 2000s they utilized tape as their means of recording. Camcorders these days use "tapeless" recording on a memory card. One advantage they have over digital cameras is that most camcorders allow much longer recording times (usually anywhere from 60 minutes to 20 hours, though some may only allow shorter periods).

As the consumer market prefers camcorders that are portable and easy to use, consumer grade camcorders often sacrifice recording quality in favor of these features. They also often lack manual control for adjusting volume control and other settings. However, they offer many options for downloading your footage, such as through a USB cable or Firewire, and most consumer camcorders come with some light video editing software. Nearly any modern PC can be used to edit video footage taken with a camcorder.

A wide variety of camcorders are available on the market, ranging in price from under $200 to well into the thousands. Just like with a digital camera, it is a good idea to read some online reviews or the Consumer Reports on the models you may be interested in before you buy.

Video Editing Software

Windows MovieMaker

Windows Movie Maker is an excellent choice for editing short videos. It comes with all Windows PCs and is relatively easy software to learn. The drag and drop interface allows you the ability to cut and arrange your footage, add fun special effects, set your footage to music and add title cards to your movies. Once you are through editing, it saves and converts your movie to WMV (Windows Media Video) format and saves it to your computer. You can then upload it to the video sharing site of your choice.

Microsoft's website has a how-to center with guides that explain how to use the various features of Windows Movie Maker to edit and polish your footage: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/moviemaker/default.mspx

Animoto - http://animoto.com/

Animoto is a simple to use, web-based movie-making service. You just upload your photos, choose the music you'd like to use, and Animoto does the rest. It is a very easy way to make a cool music video using your existing photos. Animoto would be great for making a slide show of a fun program that took place at your branch!

Activities

After reading through the information above, take a look at the websites for the different video editing options and write about what you find. Which one do you think you will find most challenging to use? Which one appeals to you the most? Can you think of some fun library projects that you might do using one of these editing tools?

OR

Use Animoto to make a music video with some of your existing photos. Then post it on your blog. Have fun!

This post was brought to you by Beth Krippel (ATA), Jim Johnson (KW), Abby Buchold (ADM) and Linda Stevens (ADM).

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Consumer's How To #44: How To & Make

Garage Sale In Monroe
Day 53: Ms. Fix It,
originally uploaded by jk5854.


Have you ever been stuck in the middle of a project without a single solution in sight? Or have you ever wondered how to start a task, but have no idea how or where to begin? Well, help has arrived in the form of “How To” sites that will guide you through just about every problem-solving dilemma you can think of.
Many of the How To sites found on the Web contain different types of formatting, making it easy to locate a format that is compatible with your style of learning.
Sites such as eHow, WikkiHow, HowStuffWorks, and Instructables provide visitors with written articles that guide the user through the selected process step-by-step. The eHow site contains over 250,000 articles many of them are professionally written. With over 17 million visitors to this site per month, articles and videos are constantly being added to their online community.

WikkiHow credits itself as a “high quality How To manual”. This site allows users to receive RSS feeds along with access to wikki manuals in several languages. All of the text shared on the WikkiHow site is under a “Creative Commons License” and the site is going green by operating as a “Carbon Neutral” website.

The HowStuffWorkssite was developed in 1998 by a professor at North Carolina State University. This site is owned by the Discovery Communication, which also owns many of the popular Discovery Channels. The site divides each manual into subjects that allow users to quickly gain access through homepage tabs. The HowStuffWorks site has been recognized with several Webby awards, along with Time magazine, and PC Magazine.

The Instructables site was developed in the MIT Media Lab. This site also allows users to access subjects through tabbing and is the most vibrant of the listed How To sites. Before you exit this site, check out the Instructables online store that sells t-shirts, totes, aprons, caps, shoes and more.

The site Quamut is published by Barnes & Noble. Users have two choices for viewing guides on this site. Users are able to view all Quamut guides free of charge on their computer screen. However, the site charges a small fee for users needing to download and print guides. Guides printed on laminated charts are also available for a fee that can be purchased at local Barnes & noble stores. It is worth noting that there is one free Quamut (How To) guide of the week available for downloading and printing.
If a visual option is your preferred choice Expert Village and Video Jug provide users with video instructions. The Expert Village site states that the information provided can be trusted by users based on the fact that that the acquired information is both “professionally created and researched”. What makes this site unique is that each video guide has a photo and profile of the “Expert” that created that particular instructional video.

Video Jug is described as an online “encyclopedia of life”. The site contains features that allow users to download videos directly onto a Mobile, iPod, and/or MP3 player. This site also allows users to download a Video Jug widget directly to a blog.

Activities:
1. Look at the different types of How To sites listed above, of the choices provided which sites appeal to you? Did any of the sites listed not appeal to you?

2. Select one How To site from the list above and pick a topic to you would like to learn about. Once you have gone through the selected video or article, post about it or link it to your blog and write about what you learned.

HCPL Staff: Have you completed the two posts in this module? Then Submit your Registration of Completion

This post is brought to you by Daisy Camarillo (FM), Michele McKian (FB), Melanie Metzger (CYF), Rhiannon Perry (LAP), & Sandra Silvey (BC).

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Consumer's How To #43: Buying & Selling Online


Garage Sale In Monroe
Garage Sale In Monroe,
originally uploaded by johnbeagle.

One of the great things about the Internet is it opens up a world of commerce sites and how to sites. In two posts this month, we'll explore buying and selling online and how-to sites. This module is worth 1 training hour.

Remember garage sales, craft fairs, and swap meets as a way to get rid of item you don’t want and make some money in the process. They are all still around, even in the digital age.

Selling online is a great way for anyone to make extra money from home. It is especially good for stay at home moms and people who are retired but still would like to work. It allows you to set your own hours and you can work as hard or as little as you would like. It is also fun to search for treasures that might be worth something. At first selling online is a little confusing, but once your have sold a few things you will understand how to do it.

eBay is a site that allows you to sell your items in two ways; by auction (highest bidder wins) or for a set price. Items on eBay can be from anyone in the world. It’s a wonderful site to find the hard to find, rare, or more global items

Half.com, who recently merged with eBay, focuses on the buying and selling of media. (books, music, videos, and videogames)

Craigslist is a site that focuses on more local items. Generally you place an item for sale and you usually make arrangements with the buyer to either ship or meet with them to complete the purchase.

Even Amazon has gotten into the individual sellers market with their “Sell Your Stuff” section.

If you are more into crafting and selling items you made yourself, then Etsy is the site for you.

How to get started:
A local member of HCPL who sells items on eBay has created the following list of tips for how to get into selling your “treasures” on the internet

Ten Tips for Selling on the Internet

  1. Start with items around your house you no longer use to learn the selling system
  2. Sell something that interests you, or something easily available and cheap in your area that may be harder to get in other places. (ex. Used instruments in Nashville, pottery or turquoise jewelry in New Mexico, etc)
  3. Don't be intimidated, jumping in is the best way to learn
  4. Don’t forget if you don't like one site there are others out there that may work better for you
  5. Make sure photos are clear. A good photo will secure a better sale
  6. Don’t forget customer service is very important
  7. Visit the local Post Office or UPS store to research shipping costs. Ask them what is the best day to ship to avoid the high demand times.
  8. You might want to open a P.O. Box for your own safety. (It’s never good to give out personal information)
  9. Most sellers have a certain niche, keep trying to sell various items until you find yours
  10. When you first start selling offer an incentive like free shipping or a small extra item to encourage customers and entice them to your sales

And of course, all the sites listed above allow you to purchase items from their sites as well. Some even have special features to customize your shopping experience such as Etsy that allows you to request the custom creation of an item through their “Alchemy” feature or Craigslist that allows for the bargaining or swapping of items or services to essentially get your item for free.

Safe Transactions:
Whether you are buying or selling on eBay or other sites, you should become familiar with PayPal; the preferred payment method many online shopping sites. There are many benefits to having an account with PayPal.

By paying with PayPal, you can pay without revealing your credit card number. You simply give PayPal your payment information and they will keep it secure.

If you are only planning to buy online, you can sign up for a personal account. Since this type of account has limited features, it is free. You can pay at many online stores and you can even transfer money to someone's account.

PayPal also has the benefit of a Buyer Protection Program. When first using a site like eBay, you may be concerned that the seller will not ship your item or the item you receive will not be as described. This is where PayPal comes in. They will make sure that you either receive your item or get your money back. Of course, there are a few rules you must follow, but they are very simple. PayPal will give you an allotted amount of time to make your claim after your purchase.

Activities

  1. Take a look at the consumer sites listed above. Search for a couple of items of interest and see what the selling pages look like. Write in your blog what your thoughts are these sites. Which one(s) do you like the best/least? Have you already used one of the sites to buy or sell an item?What was your experience like? If you haven’t could you see yourself using these sites to buy or sell something?
  2. Visit PayPal and watch the short clip titled "What is PayPal?" Blog about ways you could personally use PayPal. Check your favorite online stores to see if they accept this method of payment. If you already use this service, blog about your experience

This post is brought to you by Sandra Silvey (BC), Daisy Camarillo (FM), Michele McKian (FB), Rhiannon Perry (LAP), & Melanie Metzger (CYF).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Wellness #42: Staying Well


© 2007 Jupiterimages
Corporation
Sometimes, even when you live a green lifestyle, eat the right foods, and exercise daily, you still need the help of a health professional to stay well. The Internet has many websites that can help you diagnose your symptoms, locate a healthcare professional, manage your medications, and keep track of your medical history.


© 2007 Jupiterimages
Corporation
Use the "Symptom Checker" from the Mayo Clinic to discover the most common causes of the most common symptoms. It can give you an idea for simple self-treatment, or it can help you work with your health care professional for an accurate diagnosis of more serious problems.

This National Library of Medicine website helps you find local resources for health-related issues. Select an area from the map shown to search for health services and topics.

Drugs.com provides free, accurate and independent advice on more than 24,000 prescription drug

© 2007 Jupiterimages
Corporation
s, over-the-counter medicines and natural products. Its many useful features include:
pill identification to help you identify that stray pill found in your child's backpack or in your bathroom drawer;
a drug interaction checker that lets you input the list of medications you take, and alerts you to any possible dangerous interactions.





My Family Health Portrait is a web-based tool provided by the U.S. Surgeon General. Information you provide creates a drawing of your family tree and a chart of your family health history.

A personal health record (PHR) is a collection of important information that you maintain about your health or the health of someone you’re caring for, such as a parent or a child. MyPHR.com gives details about what should be included, and suggests free or fee-based resources that help you create a PHR in print form, using the Internet, or using specialized software.




Activities:



  1. Try out the symptom checker or the pill identifier. Write in general terms about how accurate the results seemed to be.
  2. Pick any medical condition or service and use the local MedlinePlus to see if there are related resources within 10 miles of your home. List what you found.
  3. Create a sample family medical history tree. Discuss how this could this be a useful addition to a genealogy study.

HCPL Staff:

Have you completed all five posts in this module? Then Submit your Registration of Completion

This post was brought to you by Nancy Agafitei (CC).

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wellness #41 - Going Green - Part 2

GOING GREEN
Green Transportation

© 2007 Jupiterimages
Corporation


Using less gasoline is not only good for the environment, with oil prices reaching all time highs, it has become a necessity for most of us. If buying a smaller car or hybrid or using more public transportation isn't an option, Consumer Reports has tips on getting the best gas mileage with the car you own.

Consumer Reports Mileage Tips

The Green Home


© 2007 Jupiterimages
Corporation

Making your home more energy efficient will save you money and will also help the environment. The city of Houston has set up a web site with 5 easy low cost changes you can make, and a calculator to measure how much energy you can save by making these changes.

Consumer Reports has more suggestions on this website.

Many of the ingredients in our cleaning products are harmful to our health and the health of the planet. A few smaller companies have been making earth friendly products for years but now some of the major companies like Clorox and S.C. Johnson have begun selling natural cleaners. If you want to save money and guarantee less toxic cleaners, this website has recipes for making your own with common household ingredients:

DIYlife.com has more DIY projects.

Recycling


© 2007 Jupiterimages
Corporation
The Internet Consumer Recycling Guide has links for recycling almost anything you can think of from common items such as paper and glass to computer parts and hazardous materials.

A simple way to de-clutter your life and have less recycling is to sign up to stop junk mail including credit card offers, local business flyers and sweepstakes letters. This can be done here.

Activity 3: From any of the other sites above, list one activity in your blog that you think would be quite easy to do to live a greener lifestyle. List a second that would take more commitment, but that you really would like to try.

This post was brought to you by Kathy Knox (ADM).

Monday, August 18, 2008

Wellness #41: Going Green - Part 1

GOING GREEN
You've probably been hearing a lot about going green the last few years. It's practically impossible to pick up a magazine or newspaper and not read something about climate change or global warming. If that isn't enough, skyrocketing oil prices and poor air quality are daily reminders of some of the challenges we face as individuals and as part of the global community. Going green doesn't necessarily mean you have to make major lifestyle changes or spend a lot of money. The Internet has many websites with tips on simple changes you can make, many of which will save you money. There will be two posts this week, since this is such a big topic.

Let's first look at some energy calculators. These are sometimes called carbon footprint calculators because they measure how much carbon dioxide you create.

National Wildlife Federation

Yahoo! Green

The Green Team

Activity 1: Use one of more of the websites to determine your carbon footprint. Write some notes in your blog about your results.

Greening Our Diet

The choices we make about the food we eat are an important part of going green. Here is an eating green calculator that can tell you the effect some of your food choices have on your health and the health of the planet.






© 2007 Jupiterimages Corporation
Eating Green Calculator

FoodNews.org provides you with a list of 43 fruits and vegetables that are the best and worst in terms of pesticide residue so you can know which ones to avoid when organic isn't available.

Not only is eating locally grown foods good for the local economy, it's also good for the environment because less fuel is expended to transport it. Also, it usually tastes better because it's fresher. Here are links to some of the many farmer's markets in our area:

Houston Farmers Market

Local Harvest

Urban Harvest

Activity 2: If you have ever visited a local farmer's market, blog about the experience and what foods you found there. If you haven't, select one for a future visit from the websites above, and blog about why you chose that one to visit.

This post was brought to you by Kathy Knox (ADM).

Monday, August 11, 2008

Wellness #40: Fitness


Lumpini Joggers
Lumpini Joggers,
originally uploaded by rutthenut.

"Exercise?! What's in it for me?" This is something many of us may ask when physical fitness is mentioned. There are many proven health benefits for even moderate amounts of physical activity. For example, regular walking is good for your heart and helps prevent osteoporosis. You can even exercise while sitting at your desk!

Here are a few health benefits of exercise and physical activity from the website of the Department of Kinesiology and Health at Georgia State University:
  • Reduce the risk of premature death

  • Reduce the risk of developing and/or dying from heart disease

  • Reduce high blood pressure or the risk of developing high blood pressure

  • Reduce high cholesterol or the risk of developing high cholesterol

  • Reduce the risk of developing colon cancer and breast cancer

  • Reduce the risk of developing diabetes

  • Reduce or maintain body weight or body fat

  • Build and maintain healthy muscles, bones, and joints

  • Reduce depression and anxiety

  • Improve psychological well-being

  • Enhance work, recreation, and sports performance
"OK, so how do I get started?" you may be asking. Never fear, the Internet is here with helpful websites on how to start and stick with an exercise program.

The Mayo Clinic offers 5 steps to getting started on a fitness program from assessing your fitness level to monitoring your progress.

Familydoctor.org discusses how to start and stick with an exercise program. It touches upon target heart rate and injury prevention.

This helpful site from primusweb discusses how to think F.I.T. and stay motivated.



Treadmill Talk
Treadmill Talk,
originally uploaded by sirwiseowl.


The Walking Site offers information on how to begin a fitness walking program. Start out slow and easy.

Exercise at your desk! This DIY site offers links on how to get a workout while at work.

Exercise Prescription on the Net is a free resource for the fitness enthusiast, coach or fitness professional.

Activities:

Take a look at the fitness calculators on ExRx.net.

1. Check your BMI

2. Calculate your calorie requirements

3. Answer a questionnaire to determine your health age or life expectancy.

Were you surprised by the results? Do you feel motivated to change your eating habits or implement an exercise routine after completing these activities? Write a blog post about your goals after finding out your results.

This post was brought to you by Mark Haywood (ALD).

Monday, August 4, 2008

Wellness #39: Nutrition

Everyone would like to eat healthier, exercise more, live in tune with the environment, and take better care of their health. However, most of us need encouragement to adopt such lifestyle changes. The Internet is full of resources that can make it easier for people to personalize a wellness plan. These posts are intended to inspire you to make positive changes. If you complete the exercises for these four posts, we hope you will be on a path to greater wellness. You will also receive 2 hours of training credit.

Let's begin with what many of us like to do most: EAT. Check out these two sites that help you look closer at the nutritional value of what you eat:


NutritionData.com examines multiple aspects of the foods you eat and drink, ranging from the components of a family recipe to the fast food you picked up on your lunch hour. The Pantry feature lets you save and analyze your favorites and tracks your personal consumption. You have to register, but use is free. Make sure to enter only required data, and opt-out on any extras you don't want.

Recipes.Sparkpeople.com lets you calculate the nutritional information of a recipe by searching for and adding ingredients, specifying their quantities, entering the the total number of servings that your recipe makes, and clicking the "Calculate Info" button.

Activities:

1) Spend some time exploring Nutrition Data, and write in your blog about features you would find useful. Include something surprising that you learned about the food you have been eating. For example, you may guess that your favorite fast food burger is high in fat and calories, but did you also know that it is also rated as "strongly inflammatory"?

2) Enter a favorite recipe into Recipes.Sparkpeople.com, and calculate its nutritional information. Post the recipe on your blog, along with its nutrition facts. If your recipe is high calorie, experiment with substituting lighter ingredients and see how the bottom line changes.

The iHCPL Wellness posts are brought to you by Nancy Agafitei (CC), Mark Haywood (ALD) and Kathy Knox (ADM).

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Games and Gaming #38: Console Gaming

Now that you’ve reinvented a second life for yourself in the virtual world, discovered that you can strut around destroying skeletons and goblins in your rune armor AND earned twelve bowls of rice for some hungry kids…WHERE can you use all these newfound skills if you’re at work at the library all day? Yep, you guessed it: In the library.

Where’s PONG?

Console gaming has found a home in public libraries and from all indications, it’s not going to leave anytime soon. Long before Mario – and even predating Pong – there was the Magnavox Odyssey, released in 1972. It was analog, had no sound, and it ran on batteries but it proved that game systems could be home based and not solely relegated to arcades.

After the Odyssey came Atari’s Pong (1975), Coleco Telstar (1976) and Mattel Intellivision (1980) as well as a number of forgettable forays. Anyone remember the Zircon Channel F System II?? Didn’t think so. As the console systems evolved, so did the consumers, who demanded more sophisticated graphics and greater game difficulty. In 1985 a Japanese company called Famicom (known as Nintendo in N. America) released their NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) console in the U.S. Thanks in part to Nintendo, the video gaming industry took off like…well, a Mario Kart and the rest is history.

Nostalgic for the arcade games you played as a kid? Several websites feature flash or shockwave based online versions of games like Asteroids, Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Tetris, Frogger and more. One such site is Arcade Retro.com.

Which Gaming System Should We Get?

If the last time you attempted a video game, you were clutching a joystick and gobbling pac-dots, you’re in for a jolt. Today’s generation of state-of-the-art graphics, Bluetooth technology and high-definition visuals is a far cry from the old Odyssey. According the techno gurus at cnet.com the top contenders are:

Microsoft Xbox 360 – With its extensive digital media features, a superior online service and excellent game library, this is the console to beat. Price: $250.00 - 350.00 depending on model. Games, accessories not included.

Sony PlayStation 3 – Plays all games in high-def, easy to use interface. Pricey but doubles as a Blu-ray DVD player. Limited game selection. Price: $400 – 500 depending on model. Games, accessories not included.

Nintendo Wii – It lacks the graphical prowess of the Xbox 360 and the PS3 but the combination of the Wii’s unique motion sensor controllers and emphasis on fun gameplay make this console hard to resist. Price: $350.00. Games, accessories not included.

Every gamer will give you a different opinion on which is the best console to purchase. Mostly it depends on what kind of games you’re planning on playing. Hard core gamers who prefer “first person shooter” or epic fantasy games like exclusive Halo 3 and Final Fantasy insist on Xbox 360, while sports enthusiasts prefer the family-friendly, remote-focused Nintendo Wii. Others say the PS3’s graphics are hard to beat and as DVD manufacturers choose sides in the high-def war, the PS3 is an inexpensive Blu-ray option. Even if cost is not an object, extreme popularity and perhaps intentionally limited supply only fuels the demand and makes FINDING one of these systems to purchase harder than…..playing Guitar Hero Dragonforce’s “Through the Fire and Flames” on Expert level without shredding your fingers to the bone. Totally.

Activities:

  1. Visit the "nostalgic" game site and spend about 15 minutes playing Pacman or one of the other games (you have to create a free account to play). If you played these when you were younger, what skills do you think you’ve gained over people who never played?
  2. Blog about which console game system you think is best for library purposes and tell why you think so. Tell about some of your experiences with console gaming and how you think it adds or detracts from learning. Do you think players come to the library for the game but stay for the books…or just come for the game?

HCPL Staff:

Have you completed all four posts in this module? Then Submit your Registration of Completion

This post was brought to you by Michele McKian and Abigail Buchold.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Games and Gaming #37: Get Your Game On @ The Library

If your idea of library ambiance is “quiet as a tomb,” you may need to re-think your current model. How about “quiet as a Tomb Raider”? Gaming is making a loud impact on the library scene in a big way. Libraries all over the country (and even here in Harris County) are hosting Game Days, Guitar Hero Parties and Runescape events to generate an interest in what libraries have to offer and also to foster and encourage community partnership. One librarian even offered to waive late fines if a teen patron could beat her at a game of Dance Dance Revolution (DDR)!

Do Games Belong In the Library?

While still a controversial topic, statistics show that introducing video, console and web-based games into library settings promotes an interest in the other traditional services libraries provide. In other words, get the kids in to play and they’ll want to read. Natural progression…or wishful thinking? The other rationale is that games provide many of the same benefits as books:

  • Games require advanced literacy
  • Games overcome achievement gaps
  • Games build critical workplace and life skills
  • Games teach planning, strategy, goal-setting, competence, personal power, etc.

The New York Times also recently published an article on gaming in the library: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/22/books/22games.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

The Shifted Librarian has devoted an entire web log to technology trends in libraries. You can read more about gaming in her very informative blog: http://theshiftedlibrarian.com/archives/2008/04/21/more-on-how-gaming-promotes-reading-and-library-usage.html

Virtual Reference Desk

In 2000, Librarea, the first virtual 3-D library world was introduced by ActiveWorlds. Like social interactive games of today, users could log on as a character and access web-based reference materials and share professional ideas. Librarea is no longer active but librarians are finding new life in Second Life Library Project: http://infoisland.org

Library Related Games

Okay, so you work in a library and don’t “get” the whole gaming thing. You’re stubbornly attached to the idea that libraries are all about BOOKS. Period. Lucky for you, Carnegie Mellon has developed some on-line games that are right up your alley…or, shelf, as it may be:
http://www.library.cmu.edu/Libraries/etc/index.html

Exercises:
1) Choose one of the articles above on gaming in the library to read.

2) Try one of the library-related games on the Carnegie Mellon University Libraries website and play for about 15 minutes. Was it harder than you thought it would be?

3) Write a blog post on your thoughts regarding gaming in the library and how you think it will evolve. Do you agree that games belong in the library?

This post was brought to you by Michele McKian and Abigail Buchold.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Games and Gaming #36: The Wide World of Online Role Playing Games

Now that we've had an introduction on online games, we'll discuss Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games, or MMORPGs. MMORPGs are computer games that involve large number of players interacting in a virtual world. As with other role playing games or RPGs (you've probably heard of Dungeons and Dragons, which is a good example of an RPG), players take on the role of a fictional character and control that character's actions in the game.

MMORPGs are distinguished from other computer games by the large number of players and the persistent world of the game, which continues to exist even when a player is logged out. Most MMORPGs are set in a fantasy world and contain common themes, some type of progression (developing a character and gaining experience and treasure), involve player interaction, and usually have some kind of in-game culture. Social interaction within the game is common, but usually is not required unless you need assistance from another player.

Let's look at just a few examples of the MMORPGs that are out there:

Runescape

Simpler to learn and play than World of Warcraft, Runescape does not require software purchase or a subscription fee. A good portion of the game is free and it can be played entirely online. Like WoW, the game is set in a fantasy world where players create a character and can interact with other players. With Runescape, however, players can decide what is important to them in play. They can complete quests, participate in combat, build craftsman skills, trade goods, or simply explore the landscape.

Players can choose to purchase a membership to Runescape that allows wider access to the world, but it is not required.

World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft, or WoW, is the largest pay-to-play MMORPG at 10 million subscribers. The current edition is the fourth installment in Blizzard Entertainment's Warcraft series, and takes place in a world called Azeroth after the events of Warcraft III. In WoW, you create a character avatar and work to gain experience by completing quests throughout the virtual world. When creating a character, you can choose from ten different "races" in two factions, the Horde or the Alliance. The character's race determines your abilities, appearance and starting location within the game. In addition to completing quests, you can join a guild to explore dungeons and fight in battles that allow you to gain more experience and acquire better items. You can also acquire special abilities and helper pets. Player interaction is mainly done by text-based chat, but there is also an option for voice chat that some players use. The rich storylines and complex landscape of World of Warcraft are what keep players coming back.

To play WoW, you must purchase software to install on your computer, and you must pay a monthly subscription fee, which is why we won't be visiting WoW in our exercises.

Chore Wars

Unmotivated at work or with your household chores? Chore Wars may be able to help! Chore Wars combines the drudgery of housework with an online role playing game that allows you to gain experience points or XP for chores you complete. Just like with other online RPGs you create a character, but you also create "adventures" for yourself such as doing the laundry, paying bills, or sweeping the kitchen floor. You can assign a specific amount of XP to each chore and then claim XP for that chore when you complete it. In game, you can also fight monsters for additional XP and treasure. You can turn your household chores or work tasks as a competition with members of your household or coworkers.

Chore Wars is entirely web-based and free to use.

Second Life

While technically not an MMORPG, Linden Lab's Second Life is still worth mentioning as it is a large-scale environment where people from all over the world can interact and explore a virtual landscape. You create an avatar, just like in a MMORPG, only you do not complete quests, fight monsters, or gain experience. The main purpose of Second Life is a higher level of social interaction. Users of Second Life are known as "Residents," and users interact through local chat and global instant messaging. Residents mainly get around by walking, though they can even fly!

The most notable thing about Second Life is its connection with the real world. The virtual world has its own economy and a currency known the "Linden." Residents of Second Life can buy and sell goods and services, own virtual "land," or even run an in-world business. Second Life also consists mostly of user generated content, which is created by Residents. Residents own the rights to content they create, much like copyright. Artists can create works of art in Second Life, and live music performances have taken place in the world. Recently, Second Life has started to offer virtual classrooms for several major universities, and many educators have taken advantage of this opportunity. Libraries are not immune to the Second Life bug. A virtual reference desk staffed by volunteer librarians exists in-world, and library users can visit many libaries on the Info Islands (a zone in Second Life).

Exercises:

1) Spend 15 minutes (not including the time it takes to set up an account) exploring Runescape by going through the tutorial. Did you find it easy to learn how to get around?

2) Write a blog post describing the Runescape character you created. Alternatively, if you are already a gamer and play an MMORPG, describe the character you play with and relate a fun experience you had playing the game.

Take and post a screenshot of your Runescape character, or the character you play in another MMORPG.



This post was brought to you by Michele McKian and Abigail Buchold.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Games and Gaming #35: Games? In the Library?

Summer is on its way, and summer is a time for fun at the library! When you think about summer fun, games probably come to mind. But games in the library? There has been a lot of talk about gaming in the library world lately, and gaming events for kids and teens are becoming more and more popular. In this post, we'll look at a few benefits of gaming and try a few web-based games. In the second post, we'll explore Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games or MMORPGs. In the third post, we'll take a look at the relevance of gaming in the library. Finally, in the fourth post, we'll look at console gaming. All posts for this module will be made in May, but the module will last through though the end of July. If you complete the exercises for these four posts, you will receive 2 hours of training credit.

Let's get the fun started.


If you can't see the video, watch it on YouTube.

Games aren't just a way to pass the time. When Windows debuted, using a mouse with the computer was a relatively new thing, and Microsoft came up with a way to teach people to learn about pointing and clicking, dragging and dropping. What did they come up with? That's right, Solitaire! If you've used a Windows PC, you've probably played Solitaire or Minesweeper. For first time computer users, these can be a great way to become comfortable with using the mouse!

It may be difficult at first to see the value of games in teaching information literacy. Recently, at the Texas Library Association Annual Conference, Eli Neiburger of the Ann Arbor Public Library gave a presentation about this very subject. He said that common perceptions of gaming are that it is an antisocial activity, that they are a waste of time, that most video games are violent and that they are an enemy of literacy. He went on to discuss that video games actually require advanced literacy, that only 15% of the video games sold are rated M for Mature, and that gamers tend to be more successful in the workplace than non-gamers. He also outlined the critical workplace skills that games tend to help develop, which include comprehension, spatial reasoning, research skills and perseverance.

For quite a while now, we've been talking about all sorts of web-based tools that allow us to increase our productivity. Games are no different--there are a variety of games available online that you can play anywhere without burdening your computer with the huge files required to play them. They can be found almost anywhere online.

For example, FreeRice is a vocabulary game where you are given a word and must choose the correct definition from a group of four answer choices. For every word you get correct, FreeRice donates 20 grains of rice through the UN World Food Program to end world hunger. You can have fun and help others!

WordSplay is a word-building game that first appeared under the name WEBoggle. When you start the timer, you are given an assortment of letters. You form words using adjacent letters and type them in, pressing ENTER or the spacebar to score. After three minutes, the game ends and you receive your final score.

You may have noticed the popularity of the Japanese puzzle game known as Sudoku. In Sudoku, your objective is to fill a 9×9 grid so that each column, each row, and each of the nine 3×3 boxes (also called blocks or regions) contains the digits from 1 to 9 only one time each. Each puzzle is partially completed to get you started, and the degree of difficulty determines how many spaces are filled in for you. The Houston Chronicle offers Sudoku online along with crosswords and other puzzles!

In addition, there are many online games available for kids. The PBS Kids site offers a few educational choices, as does FunBrain. Cool Math 4 Kids offers fun math games and puzzles as well as math lessons from addition and subtraction up through pre-algebra and geometry.

Exercises:

1) Spend 15 minutes trying out one of the web-based games mentioned: FreeRice, WordSplay, online Sudoku, or try one of the games meant for kids.

2) Make a blog post about your thoughts on the benefits of gaming and the game you played. Did you find it easy to learn the rules and get started? Can you think of any skills the game might help you build?

This post was brought to you by Michele McKian and Abigail Buchold.