Sunday, February 18, 2007

Library site helps Book Clubs

I'll confess that, for relaxation, one of my favorite activities is sitting down with a book. I am a member of a book club that saves money for its members by using the library. The person who will be the next host brings three choices from the library to the meeting for us to browse the real thing.
For my research I look at the suggestions in the Vancouver library's website section called "the Book Club". We only recommend books that have an adequate number of copies, and the catalogue entry gives me that status. When the group decides the next title, each of us logs on to the library catalogue to place a hold or to get a copy delivered to the most convenient branch. The catalogue will also tell you where there are copies sitting on the shelves, in case you left it till the last minute, and need to start reading fast to be ready for the meeting! The user has a choice of either being phoned by a very robotic sounding message, or recieving automated email communications from the library. I prefer the email, because there is another service included where you get a couple of days warning if a book is going to be overdue, with a link right there to my library account where I can renew it before I forget.

Here is a link to the Vancouver Public Library catalogue

Photo of the Central Branch with permission from the Vancouver Public Library website.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Marge Lam's offline relationship

Five reasons I love about being offline:
  1. In the evening -- instead of staring into a screen for hours on end looking at all the different clogs I could purchase from all over the world -- I can draw patterns, listen to "Between the Covers" on CBC while I'm doing stretches, and take extra-long hot baths.
  2. I get to talk to a person when ordering my Spud groceries, and ask things like "are Gone Crackers really worth $6.50 a box?" and my very friendly Spud employee says "Yes. The packaging's awful, but the crackers are fantastic." Now I'm addicted to Gone Crackers.
  3. I've noticed at least ten more bird species right outside my window.
  4. It's a good excuse when I miss deadlines.
  5. I feel better. My body feels better.
Five reasons I miss about being offline:
  1. I probably communicate 30% less than I did when I was online. But I think the quality of my life has improved.
  2. I show up at meetings and I don't have the agenda.
  3. Sometimes it's awkward when networking because people don't do phone anymore.
  4. I can't access information as quickly as I would like to.
  5. It makes me feel disabled.
Nancy invited me onto her blog. I met her through an internship programme with the Art Health and Seniors Project.

Thank you, Nancy, for being such a great transcriber. I can't use my arms to do a lot of things I used to do because of a repetitive strain injury from work. That's why I've been offline.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

"Happy Birthday" bounces off satellites

Conference calls don't need to be limited to business use when access to user-friendly technology is available free of charge. Last week, on my mother's 84th birthday, she sat in her wheelchair in Calgary while my sister Judi helped her chat with her extended family. Besides the calls being placed from all over Western Canada, one grandchild stood in a bathing suit at a phone booth on a beach in New Zealand, another phoned from a booth in Mexico, while my brother Steve in Africa phoned at 3:30 in the morning, his time. My role was to lead the group in singing "Happy Birthday". Despite my countdown and an "all together now", the song got mashed as each of us speeded up or slowed down, trying to compensate for the delays. Mom got the point, anyway.

We seven siblings use email to communicate with each other, but neither of our parents use computers. My sister Janet went to a website to set our family's conference call account after she used it in her organization, and found there were no catches or hidden costs. The only down-side is that cell phone people have to use a land line (hence all the phone booths). Even with fourteen people, the sound quality was good after we all figured out how to mute ourselves when we weren't talking. We were also able to have a free recording made, and each of us can phone up and listen until it gets overwritten by our next taped call. I've put a link to their website in the section on the right.

Last night I went over to the house of a friend in order to make a permanent copy of that recording using a tape recorder connected to the jack on her extension phone. The website offers a way of downloading the sound file to a computer, which will be my next challenge. In the meantime, I'm glad to know that I have a cassette tucked in a drawer of those relaxed voices and cacaphonous song.

With our parents so old, and in the light of their increasing health problems, the tone of the next recording could easily be very different. We plan to use conference calling regularly -- showing up together for our parents during difficult times, as well as for celebrations.

Here is the link to the site which offers free conference calls.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Time Magazine's "Person of the Year". Is that ME?

On Time Magazine’s cover for their “Person of the Year 2006", the computer screen is a mirror. The caption says “You. Yes, you. You control the Information Age. Welcome to your world.” My hunch is that many people looked into that piece of mylar on the magazine cover and did not see themselves reflected there. The story is “about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before” on "Web 2.0". Time asks “Seriously, who actually sits down after a long day at work and says ‘I’m going to turn on my computer and make a movie starring my pet Iguana?' ... Who has that time and that energy and that passion?" and answers: "You do." Who? Me?

Increasingly, I am finding that sort of time, energy and passion. But, for me, the "what" often gets frustratingly tangled up in the "how". My son has advised that I avoid the term "cyberspace", but my efforts to hoist my pieces up there take a degree of grinding which mystifies him. After my return to art school after the age of fifty, I switched my studies away from my comfort zone in visual art and into digital communications media such as the Internet. I am convinced that, like it or not, that is the leading edge in art. But I confess that my reaction is often "not". Many of us who came of age before computers have worried about losing our children to computer "twitch games". We also fear losing ourselves, if we were to start to play with computers. Often when we do experiment for fun, we find ourselves spending our precious time thrashing around, bogged down in technology and jargon. Who wants to blog tonight if we aren't having fun, when we know that tomorrow we have to face our overstuffed inbox at work?

I felt relief when I heard one of my teachers respond to a query about his absence on the school's online forum with "I've got a life". Comments such as that foster an atmosphere where both artists and non-artists can make choices about using computers for creative activity. The point is to pick the elements of the recreational computer world that actually reflect and nourish our own particular -- maybe sort of boring -- lives.

We may not be motivated enough to tolerate a steep learning curve in order to make a movie about our iguana, but if properly encouraged, we might spend an evening in the YouTube site, figuring out how to post a home video of our child playing on the beach. In the links section on the right you can see just such a clip, posted by my brother, Steve. I hadn't visited YouTube until I got that link, and when I checked it out, I was intrigued at its potential to be useful to people in my own demographic. The trouble with buying a digital video camera is that it is cumbersome to show the results to people who are not there sitting on our sofa. YouTube is free of charge to upload, no special software or registration is required to view, and a direct link to your video can easily be emailed to friends and family. Steve's clip "Korkobite Beach" has 55 views, while below it,"The Wedge" clocked 4,258. Who cares? There are 138,999 videos in that category, and room for everybody.

The fact that Steve playfully engages me, as part of his "community" by emailing me his YouTube link, makes me feel that maybe Time magazine did get it right. The main payoff for Steve and his son was playing together in the surf, and the main payoff for me is to feel connected to them. I am now using some of that life I have to play on my computer, and it is especially sweet if my son keeps me company. Sure, its better on a boogie board. But gazing into that monitor does not doom us to becoming lost in narcissism.