Back Me Up

I grew up in Florida, the lightning capital of the US, and remember having to unplug TVs, VCRs, etc. almost every afternoon during our summer thunderstorms. My parents now have lightning rods installed underground. So their electronics have become fairly safe from these storms.

The past few weeks have brought record-breaking heat to Charlotte and with that some amazing lightning and thunderstorms. Normally when we have these storms we unplug most of our electronics. Even though we have surge protectors, most surge protectors will not protect from lightning.

Last night my neighborhood had a particularly bad storm from out of nowhere and within the blink of an eye my home computer got fried. This is the second computer that has crashed without a backup. Financial records, photos, videos, all irreplaceable because I have been too busy to make a backup, not that making a backup should take that long. After all I have a CD and DVD burner on the computer. Hopefully I will be able to recover some of the files, but thought it would be a good time to remind everyone that you should always back up important files and don’t rely on a surge protector to save you from lightning!

New USB “Flash” Drives Do So Much More

Flash drives, jump drives, thumb drives, pen drives, key chain drives, etc. They’re known by many names, but they all serve pretty much the same purpose—portable computer storage. Very portable, in fact, as they do usually fit nicely on a key chain. They’re increasingly available in an ever-growing variety of shapes and sizes, and their usefulness is on the rise as well.

Now, however, in addition to simply storing your computer files, newer flash drives are capable of providing us with a complete portable desktop environment. This means we can have our own Windows desktop (complete with icons and a taskbar), our favorite programs (email, Internet browser, office suite, etc.), and other features right on that little keychain. Pretty cool, huh?

So, what’s the catch? Viruses are programs too. So, not only will public computing facilities like PLCMC need to be aware of the potential dangers posed by these mutated port-o-drives, but the average Joe and Jane will need to keep in mind that such facilities may be a little overly cautious at first (as with any possible hazard) resulting in difficulties using the devices.

While there’s always been a certain level of risk from files stored on traditional media like floppy disks, homemade CDs or ordinary flash drives, these new flash drives throw a new element into the mix by having programs actually run right from the drives. Of course, anti-virus software can be installed on the flash drives too, but it will be up to the public computing facilities to draw that digital line in the sand.

More info:

The good: These advanced flash drives allow people to carry their desktop environment, favorite applications (web browsers, email programs, office suites, and lots of other stuff) in addition to their favorite files on a flash drive. Just plug it in and everything runs right from the flash drive with little to no evidence left behind on the PC (just needs a Windows environment in the background to power everything).

The bad: viruses are applications too. U3, a popular manufacturer of this new type of flash drive, makes software to allow or disallow drives based on authorization, and we may see other approaches as well.

Of course traditional flash drives already pose a slight danger if there are any virus-infected files on them, but they would require an application to activate the offending content. With U3, applications on the drive could launch automatically when the drive is inserted (unless the PC is instructed to preempt), and we should expect that virus authors will want to write for this new environment.

Read more about it:

Times they are a changing

Earlier this week I went to CPCC to purchase some books for a Spanish class. I went to the service desk to get my books and then asked the young woman working there if they sold “flash cards.”

She answered, “of course,” and walked me over to the computer area and showed me my choice of USB storage devices. I almost laughed out loud. This was the first time it dawned on me that the new generation of young adults have a totally different vocabulary than we do as they have been raised with technology since birth!

It made me wonder what other terminology will change over the coming decades?

So many blogs, so little time

The Shifted Librarian had a funny post on her blog about blogs and news aggregators:

Have you seen the quip on t-shirts and book bags, too many books, too little time? Well a 2006 version of that is too many blogs, too little time!

Can you relate?

I have well over 100 blogs that I subscribe to. I admit I don’t read them all every day or even every week. But blogs are becoming an important way to keep in touch and to get information faster. I no longer go to to get my news. I get notified by a news aggregator or an RSS reader when breaking news happens.

I was disappointed last week when my favorite RSS tool NetVibes went down, lost my account, found my account, but lost all my subscriptions. NetVibes had been the perfect reader for me. It allowed me to have a multi-tabbed page with feeds for blogs, news, email, and hyperlinks to Web sites. Since the loss of all my data I have been a little frazzled. It would have been so easy to back the information up. But of course, like most people, I didn’t.

I’ve switched back to BlogLines for now and am experimenting with BlogBridge, so I thought I would pose this question to other library staff…What RSS reader are you using and what are its best features?

Wiki, Wiki, Wiki

One of the most interesting things about technology advancing as fast as it does is the effect it has on language. The English language has always been a very fluid thing, incorporating new phrases as quickly as there are new concepts to explain, and so a wide variety of terms has arisen to describe the changing technology of the modern world. Thus we talk about blogs, iPods, mp3s, podcasting, and… wikis?

A Wiki is a quick-to-build, easy-to-edit website on which all information can be edited, changed, or rewritten by the users or members of the site. It is an incredibly useful tool for collaborative writing, pooling knowledge or exchanging ideas, especially on a subject that changes or needs updating frequently.

The word “Wiki” comes from the Hawaiian phrase “wiki wiki”, which is commonly used to indicate something fast. The first Wiki ever made was WikiWikiWeb, an attempt to make an easily updatable website about certain trends in software development. It was started in 1995 and has been added to and continually updated since then.

The largest wiki in the world is the English language version of Wikipedia, which has been estimated at having over a million entries. Wikipedia is an open-source encyclopedia, an attempt to gather detailed information about a variety of subjects.

The advantage that Wikipedia – and by extension all wikis – over a conventional website is the fact that all of the wiki’s users are potentially its authors. This means that when new information is discovered about a subject, it is quickly added to the collective knowledge base. Unlike a conventional encyclopedia, where editors have to find experts for different subject areas, and nothing gets published without their say-so, anybody can write a wikipedia entry. If you have knowledge about a given subject area, you can write an entry about it. If there is already an entry but it doesn’t cover something, you can edit it to add your information. Wikis are dynamic and collective, updating quickly to take account of new developments, and drawing on the expertise of a very broad, very deep readership. Wikis are also not as limited as most encyclopedias in what they talk about. Wikipedia especially has entries on subjects as diverse as the rivalries between different newsgroups, Australian constitutional crises, the love lives of English footballers, and the current storylines in the Spider-Man comics. These are maintained and updated by enthusiasts with interests in and passion for these subjects.

The disadvantage a wiki has is ironically the same as its advantage. Being written by its readers, and having little in the way of editorial control, a wiki is prone to being subjective, or strongly influenced by opinion. Someone with a grudge against a particular public figure, for example, could edit their entry to make derogatory remarks about them, or simply delete the page altogether. Controversial subjects are occasionally the site of “editing wars”, where an entry is edited multiple times in quick succession by people on opposing sides of an issue. Because of this lack of vetting of entries, many teachers do not allow students to use wikipedia as an information source.

Despite its disadvantages, a wiki is a good way of gathering facts quickly and pooling expertise from a large number of people. I have recently started up a Core Competencies wiki to gather information and experiences from people about the Core Competencies program and to provide the information necessary to fulfil the requirements of the different cores. Please come and visit the site, and if you have anything to add to the existing entries, or any new information to add to the requirements as yet uncovered, feel free to do so. The more we share our information, the more we learn.

Author Ian Rennie