Friday, May 27, 2011

New IT Interest Group Meeting Notes – May 26, 2011

Back in Madison for our May meeting! Nice.

Katy started us off by showing MERIT’s newest hardware acquisition: a very cool, compact camcorder from Samsung (I believe it is the Samsung SMX-C10 Touch of Color Camcorder with 10x Optical Zoom). Katy explained that the School of Education students need to complete Field Practicum type experiences which must also be recorded and presented for class. MERIT had existing camcorders that recorded onto DV Tape but that format was unwieldy, and the camcorder to computer upload times were excessively long (files were uncompressed AVI). After researching a variety of products, they decided on the Samsung recorder because they use removable flash memory and they record in AVCHD format, which uses the non-proprietary MPEG-4 AVC video coding. MERIT invested in reasonably large memory cards (16GB) and those will store about 380 minutes of video. The rechargeable batteries are easily removable (160 minute life before recharge), and the button controls are logical. Using the recorder with a PC is simple and USB based, and the recorder comes with its own internal video editing software that installs easily. For students who wish to edit more extensively, MERIT has been recommending students do their main editing with either Windows Movie Maker, or iMovie depending on what they have access to. As for how MERIT did their research, Katy said they read A LOT of reviews.

Katy then brought up the really fantastic, free, web-based video editing tool JayCut She mentioned that lately MERIT had been recommending this tool over Windows Movie Maker or iMovie because JayCut it is web and cloud-based, so students do not need to have any special editing software. It is important for students to begin using this application from the beginning of the editing process, starting from the upload of the raw video (because it does not accept half edited files from other applications.) The tool can accept still images to be worked into videos, and can capture directly from your webcam too. The actual editing is reminiscent of iMovie, and offers standard tools like title text, subtitling, clip transitions and effects. (Music clips can be edited into your videos too, but we did not play with that part.) The editing appears to be pretty logical and easy.

Jim introduced us to the Grovo video-based tutorials site. It looks great! The site hosts a fairly long list of nicely put together video tutorials on a variety of IT topics, many related to social media/tools. You can sign up for an account for free.

Jim then also showed us the MakeUseOf site which includes a fairly long list of PDF-based guides for a wide variety of IT topics like popular computing, hardware, and social media. It looks really helpful!

On the topic of cloud based applications, Jim told us about a fantastic trial deal from Amazon. It is called the Amazon Cloud Player. For certain audio purchases, Amazon would give you a free account (with 20G of storage!) for uploading music. The account stays free for a year, after which you have to pay $20/year. Jim has found that while using his Android, he prefers the Amazon MP3 music service (“MP3 Downloads” when searching Amazon), and that it is better than iTunes for his purposes. Purchasing additional music from Amazon does not use up space in your 20G (space is added). Syncing the stored/purchased music with your device is really simple: you just scan in the QR code on the Amazon webpage after you have logged in. Cool.

Tom jumped in to tell us about a few things he has seen: the Unsubscribe site which you can use to hopefully tame your many email list subscriptions. “With the click of a button, users instantly send unwanted mailing lists to for safe removal.” And then he described the Pico Pocket Projector PK101 which looks pretty cool. This extremely tiny (1.97 in wide x .59 in high x 4.06 in deep) LCD projector is LED illuminated and USB powered. It can also run off of a battery. This projector is designed to interact with an iPhone or other mobile device, and it is not really ideally created for use with a laptop computer. However, you can use it with a laptop if you also get a VGA to S-Video converter box. Tom also mentioned ValleyWag... which you can explore on your own.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

New IT Interest Group Meeting Notes – April 28, 2011 (at WAAL!)

Hey IT Interested! This month we met at WAAL to hold an IT Interest Group Meeting as a session. Due to the amazing and fascinating participation of many people, the session was FANTASTIC! So, here we go: after emerging from a cloud of smoke and pyrotechnics, we all got down to business...

Ian, Jim and Tom began with a discussion of the principles of the group:
1) The first rule is that we stick to discussing "technology" issues.
2) We all explore as newbies.
3) We stay focused on the goal of "producing creative thought."
4) People show up as their time and interest dictates.

Though we want the group to have as few rules as possible, these rules for the group have helped to keep the group going over a period of several years (since 2007!). Please see the handout about the principals here. And the handout about the group resources is here.

After our overview, we discussed a series of very interesting new tools and ideas:

Ian got us all started by discussing the very exciting ARIS game design platform for mobile devices. We watched a short video, and then Ian designed a simple game right before our very eyes. (I am really hoping we can eventually get that can of soda, as I am very thirsty.) Ian described the Global Game Jam that ARIS held this spring (April 18-20). Cool.

Next, Joe jumped right up to the podium to describe Compfight ( ), a very good way to search Flickr for images and then filter for “Creative Commons.” It works really well, and very fast!

Then Jennifer told us about the useful Evernote iPad app, that assists you with note taking. It has the ability to sync between the desktop and the cloud. (Hope I got that right!) A similar version exists for smartphones like the iPhone. Found to be very helpful!

Louise told us about the very cool NetGalley site that provides you with free “galley” versions of upcoming books (especially novels) for FREE! You can add the galleys to your Kindle, Nook, or iPad. Louise notes that the publishers represented are not the biggest multi-nationals, but the texts are usually quality, and she has read a variety of good books at this site.

Tomissa introduced us to the fascinating and useful Shelfari The site offers a variety of functions, including the ability for users to “build a virtual bookshelf” to share with friends or the general public. One of the ways for users to share a bookshelf is to create embeddable widgets that display side scrolling visual booklists. (The images come from Amazon.) This could be a great way to promote collections and new acquisitions!

Jodi demonstrated the Mobile Me site which provides a way to track and manage mobile devices. Jodi was using it to track and remotely wipe iPads that her library circulates to users. This could be very helpful in cases of theft or “reluctant tech return syndrome.” Jodi mentioned that there is a similar tool for Android called Lookout

Jim demoed the unbelievable and amazing tool Topicmarks It is very hard to describe how mind-boggling this tool is without visually showing it, but here goes: The site allows you to upload PDFs of readings and articles. The site then runs a variety of algorithms on the PDF to analyze the text in order to 1) index the article, 2) auto-generate a summary of the article, 3) list the important facts stated in the article, 4) build a keyword list to describe the article, and 5) summarize facts about the article. Wow! This could be an amazing study aid for anyone.

Anna showed us the very interesting “micro-blogging” tool Yammer It has functions similar to Twitter, but is built to be based on a social network created from a local email domain. In their words, it “brings together all of a company’s employees inside a private and secure enterprise social network.” So, basically it offers the benefits of Twitter while offering some control to the network admin over who sees what, and who can post. (I think we will see more of this kind of useful innovation within organizations.)

Dorothea finished off the session by reminding us all of the critical importance of good security. Accounts with simple passwords get hacked. Posted passwords are always a bad idea. Dorothea recommends reading the “Usability of Passwords article by Thomas Baekdal. A three word passphrase separated by hyphens may make a good password.

I want to thank everyone who came and listened, and I want to especially thank everyone who participated by sharing their ideas and discoveries! Amazing! We hope to see you all again in the future! (Please comment!)