Friday, December 31, 2010

Totally Awesome!

This week I got my first Android device, and it is truly awesome! With an absolute minimum of fuss, I downloaded and installed OverDrive Media Console, an MP3 audiobook, and an epub book. Adobe Digital Editions is not necessary, just an Adobe ID, which I already had, but which might be a small stumbling block for a few people. If OverDrive and Adobe could just connect those two data items (i.e. library card number and Adobe ID), that would eliminate most of the pain for new users, and borrowing ebooks would be just as slick as buying ebooks on a Kindle.

The device I bought is a 7" tablet from eLocity, a company that I had never heard of until last week. If this is typical of Android devices, and I don't know why it wouldn't be, it seems to me that this is the best of all possible worlds. With the Kindle app, I can buy from Amazon, and with the ODMC I can borrow books and audio. The "native" ereader is Aldiko, and it (or eLocity, I can't tell which) offers tons of free books. As far as I'm concerned, it's already paid for itself.

The next time anyone asks me which ereader to buy--if it's not already too late--I already had two calls from patrons who got Kindles for Christmas--I'm going to tell them to forget the readers and buy an Android tablet.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

NORAD tracks Santa

Today's word: firewall

Seems so obvious in hindsight. If two machines (in this case the PAC server and the data server) were talking to each other, and you install a new program (in this case Symantec antivirus) on one of them, and now the PAC server can't talk to the data server, and the Circ app can't talk to the data server, then maybe the problem has something to do with the program you just installed, right?

I made two mistakes--well, three.

(1) I decided to update our two servers the night before our last open day before the holiday weekend. Unbeknownst to me, our vendor was closing up shop at 5 pm (MST) instead of their usual 9 pm. They still have emergency coverage of course, but I'd hate to have to drag someone away from his or her family on a holiday weekend. Next time, I'm waiting until *after* the holiday, whatever holiday it may be.

(2) I changed more than one thing at a time. On the PAC server, there were updates for Windows 2003 server and for Symantec, which has been running fine for months. In another place and time, I would have updated one at a time, rebooted, and made sure that everything was still okay before moving on to the next thing. But I was in a hurry and I had a pretty high level of confidence in both apps. So I took care of that machine and moved on to the data server, which was also ready for a Windows update.

(3) I installed a new application without confirming that everything was still working okay. Like I said, I had a pretty high level of confidence in both programs, and Symantec isn't exactly new, except to this particular machine.

Long story short, Symantec has a lot of settings. And when you install it, you get whatever the default settings are, until you go to each one and set it or leave it alone. I assumed the default settings would work just fine on my machine. (Okay, four mistakes.) The default settings caused the communication between the PAC and the data server, and between the Circ app and the data server, to slow down dramatically. After over half an hour of deliberation with the vendor, I decided to uninstall Symantec and call it a night. Except that caused the communications to cease entirely. After following a few dead ends, the vendor asked me, "what about your firewall?"

What about it? It turns out that when Symantec is uninstalled, it turns your Windows firewall on. I guess that's sort of like locking all the doors and windows before leaving on a long trip. Once the Windows firewall on the data server was disabled, everything went back to normal.

Firewall. I won't forget that word any time soon. From now on, that will be the first thing I check.

Update: Everything seemed normal when I left, but now from home, the PAC is agonizingly slow again. Working, but slow. I have no way of knowing from here whether the Circ application is still working, but I'm sure I'll find out soon.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Speed up Firefox

Here are three tips for improving Firefox's performance: clear the downloads list, remove old Java Consoles, and switch to newly opened tabs immediately. Note that if your Windows account already has administrative privileges, you don't have to close and reopen Firefox as described in the tip on removing old versions of Java Console.

Friday, December 10, 2010

About data CDs and DVDs

It's the Christmas shopping/baking/traveling season. This week only one person showed up for the Thursday night tech talk, so it turned into a highly personalized one-on-one session. The patron had an interesting question, one I've only heard one other time. He wanted to learn how to write files to a CD, and he wanted the files to be written in a predetermined order. In particular, he talked about the requirement for chapters in a book in progress to be written to the CD such that, when it was opened, the recipient would see the files in the proper order, one chapter per file.

I had this question several months ago, in the context of files being prepared to send to an attorney, and the files had to be "written in order."

I didn't spend a lot of time questioning the patrons to find out how they arrived at this requirement. It may be that the attorney who was to receive the CD had communicated the requirement. It may have been the budding author who wanted to ensure that his first chapters were read in the right order. Most people have had quite a lot of experience with audio CDs, but may have little or none with data CDs, so it's understandable that they might think that the order of files on a data CD matters. But in fact, the contents of a data CD are going to be viewed by the recipient using Windows Explorer, and that's going to determine the recipient's view of the CD. The directory of the CD can be viewed in alphabetical order by the name of the file, in order of the size of the file, in order of the type of file, and in order of date last saved. Each of these can sorted in ascending or descending order. The view can be customized somewhat, in that columns can be added or subtracted, but there is no view that would allow the average Windows user to see the files in the order that they were written to the CD. (Open "My Documents" and select "View" > "Choose details..." from the menu bar to see all the fields that can be added.)

There are many formats of CDs and DVDs, and depending on how you are going to use the resulting disc, you may choose a different type of media. This table spells out the differences between various kinds of CDs and DVDs and how to use them when writing data files.

The patron who was preparing documents to send to an attorney was satisfied with my explanation that Windows Explorer controls the view of the directory of the CD's contents. I didn't get any feedback, so I assume the attorney was satisfied, too. The author was happy when I showed him how he could create folders on the CD, with names like "Chapter 1," "Chapter 2," and "Chapter 3." He was not as happy about my first suggestion, which was to prefix each file name with a chapter number. In Word, a new section can be defined for each chapter, so it's not really necessary to split up a book into separate files, unless it's more comfortable for the writer to work that way. But section headings, page numbering, tables of contents, and indexes are pretty advanced topics for someone who is just getting started with files and folders, so I didn't even mention them.

(flickr image by sun dazed)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Old habits die hard

Even after five years of working in libraries, three and a half of them with benefits, there are some things I still haven't gotten used to. This was the actual dialog I had recently with our assistant director:

AD: Oh my golly! You still have 3 personal days that you haven't used! You have to use them before the end of the year.

me: I thought personal days were for non-medical emergencies, like car problems, or taking the cat to the vet.

AD: They are, but we don't get paid enough anyway, so we have to use them up.