100% Useful: Strong Passwords, Hacking IKEA and Basic Statistics

And the password is …
128px-4-digit_combination_padlockWell, for many people, it’s “password.” Or 1234. But that level of gatekeeping isn’t going to protect your bank, email or Hulu account. Creating a great password is a balancing act where “complicated enough to be protective” needs to meet “easy enough to remember.”  (As someone who hits “send me my password” at least 5 times a day, I confess that I have not yet found that sweet spot.)

In Choosing Secure Passwords, Internet security blogger Bruce Schneier of Schneier on Security gives mnemonic device tips for easy-to-remember but hard-to-decipher passwords. The short version is: He suggests coming up with a personally meaningful sentence and then constructing a password based on the first letters of each word of the sentence. He also describes techniques and devices that hackers use to break a password.

If this information doesn’t worry you, it could mean you’re smart! Schneier’s March 27 post cites a study linking intelligence to a willingness to trust others, Smarter People Are More Trusting. (At the risk of proclaiming myself an idiot, I’d really like to see the numbers from that study.)

If coming up with a catchy sentence isn’t your thing, consult an online password generator. Some are random, some let users set parameters. All require memorization.

German-based Password Creator offers passwords in five categories: Simple, Medium, Golden Middle, Larger and Strong Stuff. Passwords range, respectively, from 5 to 11 characters. All are alphanumeric with Strong Stuff adding special characters. Hit the “Neu Laden”/ refresh button for a new selection of passwords. Pass Creator lets users select combinations of uppercase, lowercase, special characters, numbers and password length.  There’s also the cutesy Password Bird, reliable Norton Identity Safe and many other sites out there.

Want even more protection? Maximum security sites like Perfect Passwords generate random 64 or 63- character long hexidecimal, random ASCII and/or random alpha-numeric high security passwords.

For the love of God, people, write down your passwords. Or get a Password Manager, which does just what it sounds like it does — manages your passwords so you don’t lose them. PCMag did the leg work for you in January with its roundup of The Best Password Managers, priced from free o’ charge to $89.95.

What do students love more than IKEA furniture? Absolutely nothing. Not even beer! But before you bustle on 128px-Ikeavästeråsup to Charlotte for meatballs and melamine, make a plan. Start by downloading the IKEA catalog – onlineandroid or iPhone. For inspiration, check out ikeahackers.net, and Pinterest pages 101 IKEA Hacks and DIY Home.

Furniture this cheap doesn’t come without a cost. If you already have IKEA items, take a look at the company’s Product Recalls page. The ounce of prevention could save you from getting crushed, shocked, burned, suffocated, gouged and/or lacerated.

Electronic Existence
128px-Schrodingers_cat.svgA March 27 piece in the Currency section of The New Yorker website takes a look at what happens when our digital doppelganger — our Web presence — moves independently of our living self. A woman who died in 2009 “existed” electronically for 6 years after. Read The Afterlife of Pia Farrenkopf.

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics
Students, professors and newswatchers are bombarded with statistics, most of them meaningless. But without statistics, where would we be? 35% better off? 75%? 100%? No one can answer that question — mainly because it is a qualitative judgment, not a quantitative one.

Class readings, scholarly studies and project papers include a boatload of data. As a paper writer, you will likely cite statistical examples to support your ideas. And data is impartial, right? The numbers will either pan out for you or they won’t, right? Au contraire, mon frere. You can make those numbers sing and dance in any number of ways. And …. so can others.

Library scholars out there will likely appreciate a 60-year-old book on statistics that is still relevant: How to Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff (1954 edition, illustrations by Irving Geis). There’s also a 1993 Kindle edition available on amazon for $7.99.

As Librarians and Scholars, we are noble people in search of The Truth, so why would we read such a nefarious sounding book? Why, to learn how to better evaluate what is true and what is false, of course!

The book covers statistic basics such as mean, mode and median; variations; errors; sampling procedure; semiattached figures and more. This is for the non-mathletes among us and is a short, painless, gentle introduction.

graphAn anonymous source and longtime player in the data and analytics industry says: “The only thing I love more than statistics is infographics. They say that 96% of all statistics brought up in a conversation are made up on the spot. … Is this one of those 96% or one of the 4%? I don’t even know.”

For more detailed statistics information, take a look at the YouTube lecture Statistics for Librarians, Part 1 (of 4) from the University of North Texas Libraries. Or, see Khan Academy’s Data and Statistics.

Want statistics fun on the go? Try these apps: Google Play free Statistics CalculatorGoogle Play free Statistics Quick Reference and At My Pace Statistics on iTunes.

Some kids books on statistics that could be helpful to adults are: Statistics for Kids: Model-Eliciting Activities to Investigate Concepts in Statistics (Statistics for Kids, Grades 4-6) and The Cartoon Guide to Statistics.   rsz_images

Believe me when I say that of the 100% of people who read this segment of the blog, 100% will have read this segment of the blog.

Real Alarms, False Progress, OCR and a Bitcoin Bust


A horrible time is upon us. Tax Season? Allergy season? Hunting season? No. Sunday, March 9 is Daylightrsz_girl-sleeping Saving Time, where many people will lose a much-needed hour of sleep. In addition to causing most people to mangle the time-altering process by calling it Daylight Saving Time, it’s linked to spikes in heart attacks, suicides and car wrecks

Not to mention school and work tardies. Waking up at 5 a.m. versus 6 a.m. is a difference most bodies don’t take a shine to. Give yourself a morning boost with these (fingers crossed, hoping against hope that they work for me) alarm apps.

Cool Mom Tech recommends the Alarmy Sleep If U Can app. ($1.99 on iTunes, free for Android on Google Play, updated Feb. 19.) Billed as the “World’s Most Annoying Alarm App” it goes beyond having to solve a math problem, puzzle or remembering a code to silence the alarm. You have to physically get your bedraggled self up and go to a predetermined site — upstairs, downstairs, outside — and take a picture of something that matches one you’ve already designated your target pic. Cussing is optional.

A gentler path might be the popular Sleep Cycle app ($ .99 itunes, updated Jan. 9; for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch). It claims to observe your sleep cycles and rouse you in the lightest cycle that’s closest to your desired  wake-up time. So, if you want to wake up at 6, and you’re sleeping lightly at 4:45, it will wake you at 4:45. The app provides sleep graphs so users can see their sleep patterns.

Normally Social Media is associated with shamelessness, but for the niche group that is motivated by both Social Media and shame, there’s OKITE (Free for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch).  It’s an oldie from 2011, but you have to love the oh-so-Japanese premise. Every time you cravenly hit snooze, a random, embarrassing tweet is sent so that all your Twitter followers know what a lazy lump you are. The shame factor is somewhat mitigated by the fact that the tweet is in Japanese, but still … you will have questions to answer.



Cuerpo_humano_jaqaruDo you frequently find yourself in the [insert name of any room of the house here] trying to recall why you’re there? Do you have Alzheimer’s gunning for you from any of the branches of your family tree? Goodness knows, I do, so I’m always on the lookout for ways to increase my brain power. Scratch that, maintain my brain power.

Enter Lumosity, hawked as “a gym for the brain.”  It offers brain training via online games in speed, memory, attention, flexibility and problem solving. The company expected boomers to be the main users but were surprised by the number of twenty- and thirty-somethings signing on.

I’d ignored Lumosity’s commercial pleas until the story How to Get to 50 Million Users: 4 Tips from Lumosity in the Dec. 2013/Jan. 2014 issue of Inc. magazine led me to give it a try. The initial free testing included three areas: speed, memory, and …. what was that last one? .. ah, yes, attention.

On the plus side, my mind is really fast. Like a cheetah fast. Where it’s running, nobody knows. My memory is baaaaad. Like 40% bad. I will also share with you, dear readers, that my attention span proved …  Wait, what were we talking about?

Detractors such as Medium Difficulty, a site that offers “critical analysis of games and their place in a larger cultural context,” says Lumosity is using basic gaming strategy to bogusly convince users of their improvement. Medium Difficulty’s The Doubt of the Benefit: Fake Progress and Lumosity’s “Brain Games” raked the company over the coals in 2012. Many other critics have done likewise.

Plan pricing runs from $5-$14.95 per month. Does it really train your brain? I have no idea. What methodology are they using to generate their comparative data? It’s unclear. Are they gaming us? Probably. But it’s fun. And it probably can’t hurt.



Not everything is digitized yet. But here’s to trying. Sometimes you have paper with text and you need that text to be editable and searchable — a jpeg image of the page/s just won’t cut it. You need Optical Character Recognition (OCR), and now there are a number of OCR apps to choose from for your phone or tablet.

Four good ones mentioned frequently in articles are: Image To Text (free); Perfect OCR ($3.99); TextGrabber ($5.99) and Prizmo ($9.99) — all for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Features vary with things such as different language support, various text to speech support, and so on. Among the paid apps, features are frequently updated, so the app remains competitive.

With the free offering – Image to Text —  the OCR process is performed on a remote server, which means there is some turn-around time. If having your text go through a remote server is an issue for you, select one of the other options. At this time, Image to Text only handles English.

They all work. I happen to like Prizmo as it has a both a clean interface and useful options. You can always start with the free Image To Text, and work from there. If you could use an OCR app,  look at the features of these four, and make your choice.



You may not have noticed the most recent economic collapse. In February, Tokyo-based crypto-currency Bitcoin-coinsmonolith Mt Gox inexplicably closed its doors leaving millions of bitcoin users in the lurch.

Much like the banking collapses in the Depression years, users — many of whom had a fortune in bitcoin currency — have been left with nothing. (Unlike the widespread effects of the Depression, the bitcoin bust hit users who are overwhelmingly white, male and affluent. See Think Progress.org for more on bitcoin user demographics.)

What IS bitcoin? It’s e-money. Unregulated, universal, e-money. Users amass electronic currency by “mining” that they can then use to “pay” for real products or services. They agree that it has value therefor it has value. Which seems unicorny and ridiculous … until you realize it’s the same premise behind paper money. Or any money for that matter. Try not to think about it too much or panic will set in. For solace, see Investopedia’s brief History of Money.  (I’m still hoping for a currency base of shoulder massages.)

Mt Gox, the Enron of bitcoin, has filed for bankruptcy and taken with it $400 million of client funds. The company recently opened a call center to answer client questions. Though what they say other than “Yes, we lost your money,” is anybody’s guess.


Welcome Back

IMG284GREETINGS and Happy Spring Semester! A special welcome to new students and a salute to continuing ones. For newbies, SLIS bits is the bite-sized school blog devoted to apps relevant to higher education and library and information science served with a dash of tangentially related info and analog treats. More extensive app sites for libraries and higher ed are featured at the top of the right-hand column.


Keep yourself together and on task this semester with any.do, a family of apps for Apple, PC and Chrome products. The beauty of the to-do list app is its simplicity and its ability to deliver the “check it off the list” feeling of satisfaction list-makers desire with a “Done” button. Add items with the “Today” button, postpone and rollover action items with the “Later” button or Delete re-thought of plans such as “Organize my Books chronologically in the order that I read them.” In addition to the to-do app, any.do offers Calendar, Mail and Memo apps.



Electronic note-taking has been kicked up a notch as Penultimate offers users an improved experience of faster, more natural-feeling stylus-to-pad note taking. The upgraded Penultmate works together with the recently released Adonit Jot Script Evernote Edition stylus. This stylus sports a 1.9 mm tip, one third the size of the standard stylus tip. Penultimate for iPad and iPhone is free, but users must have Evernote ($4.99/month). The Adonit JotScript Evernote stylus is pricey ($75), but it comes closer to a natural writing experience than others on the market. Check out VentureBeat.com for more Penultimate/JotScript info as well as 2014 tech predictions.



Nothing says education like a whiteboard. Now it’s as easy as ABC to get one instantly on your computer, iPad or smart phone from A Web Whiteboard. Draw and write solo or e-share with study-buddies. Invite others to work with you or instantly post. Free.



Most of us still love the smell and feel of real books. And when we let our books out of our sight, we want to know they’re going to be returned. Claiming ownership in Latin lets people know you mean business. Here’s some help keeping books where they belong: with old-fashioned printable bookplates.

These stylish silhouettes from Besotted Blog were featured recently in Country Living magazine. Design Sponge delivers retro charm via an open mouth, a hand holding a card and a serpent with flowers (which look nicer than they sound). Just Something I Made has printable options based on German wood block animal prints circa 1832. If you’re more of a “From the Library of … ” sort, peruse My Home Library’s selection in various sizes and colors.

Still with me? Enjoy an online bookplate exhibit from Stanford University Libraries. Digital exhibits are a big part of the present and future of LIS. If interested, be sure to take relevant technology classes from Dr. Lewis.



Are you a Lipstick Librarian? Do you have a passion for fashion and for Melville Dewey? If so, you probably already know the answer, but it never hurts to double check.


It may say ChristmaSLISt, but we mean it in the most state-funded, non-sectarian way. Technology belongs to all, and this post is about celebration, joy, fun and discovery for all.

There’s shopping to do. Amazon, Zazzle, and Cafe Press have Librarian gift sections that contain everything from a Lego librarian figure to old-school book plates. For handcrafted items, look to Etsy — library card catalog, written nerd and gifts for librarians.

Composition notebook iPad cover

rsz_screen_shot_2013-12-12_at_20137_pmBEST OF BOTH WORLDS: When our ancient art meets modern technology, it creates an identity crisis. The public wants librarians who are traditional, reliable, conservative …. but who also know how to build a website and help them with their e-readers. How to address the schism?  Embrace it, bridge it and proudly display our heritage … with an iPad or iPad mini cover that looks like a book. (Also a delightful gift idea.) Looks include old-school Composition books, aged leather-bound tomes, comics and classics. These can be found many places — Amazon, Zazzle, Apple Store and on.

rsz_wp_20131210_001-1TAKE A PAGE OUT OF HER BOOK: Mix seasonal crafting with librarianship and what do you get? Something charming made out of old books. This seasonal wreath was made from old book pages by USC SLIS alum Jennifer France, librarian of the Byrne-Diderot Library at the American College of the Building Arts in Charleston. If you notice it looks like it’s on a jail cell door, you are correct. The college is located in the Old City Jail, built 1890. See how to make your own from Robeson Design.

MORE HOLIDAY FUN: If you still need a little more Christmas, check out the following: Advent 2013: 25 Fantastic Free Christmas Apps.

O HOLY NIGHT: 45 years ago, on Christmas Eve 1968, there was something bright and shining in the sky. Men on earth looked up in wonder, knowing it heralded great things. The astronauts of Apollo 8 were orbiting the moon and earlier that day had seen, and captured on film, the first earth-rise seen from space.



Anders (one of the Apollo 8 astronauts) said that while the mission was about exploring the moon, “the astronauts ended up discovering Earth.” Indeed this . . . “one particular Apollo photograph transcends all others, an image so powerful and eloquent that even today it ranks as one of the most important photographs taken by anyone ever.”

Time video First Broadcast from the Moon places the mission into the context of the time.  1968 had been a terrible year in the United States: the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination, and the Chicago Democratic Convention. Then on Christmas Eve there was Apollo 8 orbiting the moon, and one of the most mind shifting photographs of all time — “Earth Rising.”  The photograph forever changed our perspective of our lives on earth, and it then went on to become the iconic image of the fledgling environmental movement.

rsz_1rsz_screen_shot_2013-12-12_at_11951_pmNASA APPS: Unsurprisingly (and yet kind of surprisingly) NASA has a lot of cool apps including Visualization Explorer. The free app puts detailed information about NASA’s space explorations right in your hands.

The above NASA break was brought to you by Davis College’s own Chris Billinsky who from 1972-1978 served as head of library services for The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, the lab that designed the on-board Apollo Navigation and Guidance System and the Apollo Guidance Computer.

New tablets, Unarchiver and Dewey

Keeping Tablets
Last week saw the release of new tablets from Apple, Nokia and Microsoft. Apple, generally considered under assault by competitors, debuted the iPad Air, a modest (some say ho-hum) upgrade to an A7 chip. (Apple has better boosted its iPad Mini with both Retina Display and faster processor.) Defenders say it’s hard to improve perfection, which is a double-edged sword: iPad Air is likely to attract newcomers, but not cause current, generally satisfied iPad owners to upgrade.

People who need their tablets to work with Windows now have some quality choices. They are not going to knock out the iPad, but they do serve a market need. Nokia offered up the Lumia 2520, which runs Microsoft Windows 8, while Microsoft debuted the Surface 2 & Surface Pro 2.


The Nokia/Microsoft connection gets tricky: Nokia runs on a Microsoft Windows platform. But Microsoft, which has basically taken over Nokia, still does not control Nokia’s devices sector, which leaves Microsoft either competing against itself or winning all around. Throw AT&T into the licensing mix and you have either vertical integration or hot mess.

Nokia is also bandying about its Lumia 1520 (with 6-inch display) marketed as a phone/tablet hybrid called a “phablet,” a style customers can expect to see more of from all competitors. (I can’t help but notice that people who are drawn to this ever-changing world of technology sizes and features appear to enjoy having similar options available for their coffee selections. Visit any Starbucks to see what I mean.)

The personal device world is in a state of flux as manufacturers experiment with sizes, weights and features. The technology exists to produce light-as-a-feather computers the size of matchboxes, but that’s not necessarily what customers want. The onslaught of minis, megas, phones, phablets and tablets is both an attempt to find out what customers want/will pay for and create a rush for “new” products that customers will pay for. Ponder that over a Venti Salted Caramel Latte, and good luck to us all.

For more extensive product reviews, see Engadget’s fall tablet reviews.

Back to the Future: The Unarchiver128px-Archivboxen
The future is now. Except, 20 years ago, the future was then. If you are a Mac user and need to get back to the future and open old files, The Unarchiver can help. It opens StuffIt, DiskDoubler, LZH, ARJ and ARC. It also opens Zip, RAR, 7-zip, Tar, Gzip and Bzip2, ISO and BIN disc image. Ranked number 4 in top free Mac apps.

It’s disheartening to see that the Dewey app has not received enough ratings to display an average. Designed for the creator’s librarian mother and updated in August, this app helps users break down Dewey Decimal System call numbers. iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. $ .99. For Web use, take a look at Dewey Browse. The site indexes websites for K-12 users

We know from all the PR that Librarians are fun now. We’re not the shushers of yesteryear. But sometimes we still want people to zip it. Enter the Librarian app. Set a maximum decibel level and when the environment exceeds that, your device will do the shushing for you. iPhone. Free.

Free books
128px-Old_books_-_Stories_From_The_PastHere’s an app library types and educators can get behind. If the educators are also library types? Fuhgeddaboudit. Free Books by Digital Press Publishing serves up “23,469 classics to go” via the number one book app. Shelf upon shelf of books in virtually no space at all. For iphone, ipod and ipad. Audiobooks and Classics also available.

Pop Quiz
200px-Artículo_bueno.svgAre you a lover or a fighter? Either way, you’re in interesting company as far as librarianship goes. Take the Librarians Rock! quiz to find out just what kind of famous dreamers, schemers and in-betweeners were librarians. (And, yes, librarians do rock.)




eClicker, Whichbook and Virtual LRC

Poll with eClicker
e-clicker-logo-fullForget hand-raising, e-poll your in-person class and get the results right away. Save the data for later and share it with others. eClicker can be used with most Internet-enabled devices via Wi-Fi for up to 64 participants. Add images to your questions and share results via Bluetooth or email. (If you don’t have live classes, poll your friends about where to go for dinner.) eClicker is comprised of two parts: eClicker Presenter ($15 to $20) and eClicker Audience (free). More teacher-tech apps can be found at 20 Amazing iPad Apps for Educators from TeachHub.com.

Virtual LRC
rsz_screen_shot_2013-09-29_at_25739_pmBoth instructors and students can search high and low in one spot at VirtualLRC.com. The site “indexes thousands of the best academic information websites, selected by teachers and library professionals worldwide in order to provide to students and teachers current, valid information for school and university academic projects!”

Book finder with an English accent
Need help finding a good read? Try the handy book selector called Whichbook. Sliding menus let you choose your desired level of content in four of the available 12 continuums such as Happy/Sad, Beautiful/Disgustng, No Sex/Lots of Sex and Easy/Demanding.

200px-Question_book-new.svgFor experiement’s sake, I set the parameters more on the sad side, midway between safe and disturbing, to slightly demanding and for lots of sex . Whichbook came back with Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney and Us, by Richard Mason. Settings for funny, unexpected, short and bleak returned Eleven by David Llewellyn, Mr. Darwin’s Gardener by Kristina Carlson and Me, by Garrison Keillor. Recommendations fall overwhelmingly toward British titles (see below). OR, choose by plot (success against the odds, generations, lots of twists and turns); character (race, age, sexuality, gender); or setting by clicking on a world map.You have to go through some irritating ad misdirection about every other search, but it’s a fun site if you’re looking for new books, and it’s an interesting way to use a database.

The well-designed site is run by Opening the Book  and offers solid information in useful categories such as  ‘Buy Library Furniture,’ ‘Library Design Service,’ ‘Online Library Courses,’ and ‘School Library Furniture.’ There’s a fee to join and explore the site to its fullest, however you can test drive it with a free trial. But wait! There’s more from this U.K.-based site.

Try your hand at creating a themed book display (scroll down). Can you put together a display that says History? Politics? You may think you can, but it’s harder than just slapping a few books on the shelves. Select books you think will convey a theme to all patrons, then re-set, and try again.

Shared pictures=Shared experiences
One of the top concerns with Distance Learning is minimizing the isolated feeling students — and instructors –128px-Central_Park_(3) sometimes experience. Use Social Media to bring your class together. Help students feel more connected with an image-sharing platform such as Flickr, Instagram or tumblr. One picture might be worth 100 Blackboard posts. Have students share book covers pics, interesting websites, pics of themselves, photos of libraries — whatever course topic is applicable — using designated tags.

Organize Your Personal Library
rsz_book_caseAn unnamed librarian goes through LIS basics  — organizing, sorting, cataloging, locating and preserving — for  a home collection. Good to share with students as a way to personalize and apply what they’re learning.

POP QUIZrsz_256px-melvil_dewey_0001
As library professionals, we must ask the hard questions. Questions such as, Can you Do the Dewey? Take this quiz form Middletown Thrall Library in Middleton, New York, and find out.

Autumn potpourri



School has begun, the campus is bustling, and the smell of pencil shavings wafts through the air. Well, at least in the Art Department. In SLIS, it’s more like the smell of iPads. To kick off the school year, we’ve compiled a list of blogs, sites and apps that may just make your teaching life easier. Course syllabus:


Beginning in 2009 the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) has compiled an annual list of Best Websites for Teaching & Learning. 2013 saw that list joined by Best Apps For Teaching & Learning. The site spans many age ranges and has such useful categories as: Books, Science, Organization, Social Sciences and Content Creation. Apps recommended include Shakespeare In Bits, Simple Physics, EasyBib, Barefoot World Atlas and Educreations.


256px-XBOX_360_controllerA growing trend in libraries involves beefing up video game options to increase patron use among teens and tweens. An August NPR segment “At Libraries Across America, It’s Game On,” by Sami Yenigun ponders the point and wonders if games are the key to turning libraries into community centers. Some may object to the blatant bait-and-switch, but like CNN’s Ruben Navarrette says in “Do Video Games Belong in Libraries?,”if you want to save souls, first you need to put folks in the pews.”


Are you an ‘appy librarian? Check this list and find out. LibraryScienceList.com has enumerated the 25 Most Popular Apps Used By Librarians. (Oh, how we do love to list things!) The categories are: Reading; Organization, Productivity and Work; News; and From the Library of Congress. Learn how to handle multiple Twitter accounts with OsfooraHD, and find something to Tweet (no. 14) about with World Book This Day in History (no. 18).


Free_Cube Apps Gone Free (Best Daily Top App Deals) is a free App that gives you daily updates on free Apps. The freebies allow you to acquire a nice selection of apps and all it costs is a little patience. Many games are featured, but keep an eye out for great productivity apps. For iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.

128px-Redmond_Color A shout out to Sarah Keeling, SLIS Student Services Manager, for letting us know about this one from EDTech Magazine. Did your favorite tech blog make the dean’s list? Consult “The 2013 Dean’s List: 50 Must-Read Higher Education Technology Blogs: The best blogs on MOOCs, cloud computing, mobile learning, social media, digital pedagogy and more” to find out. And for those who don’t know what a MOOC — Massive Open Online Course —  is, see more at MOOC List.

Reading, annotating & organizing PDFs

A tab for each open file with iAnnotateIs it the Paperless Society or the PDF Society? Either way, people still want to make their marks on things. Achieving the ease of a scribble on paper in the electronic world isn’t quite there yet, but is coming along nicely.

The three iPad apps that usually get top billing for making notes on PDF files are: GoodReader, PDF Expert and iAnnotate.  The three share many features — highlighting text in docs, adding “sticky notes,” etc. but handling ease varies.

Choosing PDF editing apps is a lot like choosing a mattress — everyone has very personal preferences. It’s best to read reviews then download and take a nap on one, so to speak.

App Store ratings indicate that the three are about equal. GoodReader:  4+ stars out of 5. $4.99; PDF Expert: 5 stars out of 5. $9.99; iAnnotate: 4+ stars out of 5. $9.99.

I tried all three and ultimately prefer iAnnotate. Many people and sites, however, prefer PDF Expert for its user-File and folder organization of iAnnotatefriendly format. While iAnnotate’s file organization and searching were once weak, the file organization is now the familiar folder and subfolder organization. Files are searchable by file name, user added tags or full text.

What works for me are: iAnnotate’s scrolling options, file organization, searching, and easy ability to have multiple files open at once with simple tabbed access. TabTimes: Tablets for Business says “iAnnotate is an indispensable tool for marking up all sorts of documents. Choose from a variety of pen types, highlighters, stamps, and other tools.”

For more info to find the best PDF app for you, explore the links below.

Summer Apps

CAM00065.000Calculate just how much fun in the sun you can handle with Wolfram Sun Exposure Reference App for iphone or ipad. Enter your location, skin tone and what level of sunscreen you’re using and Wolfram will calculate just how long you have before you go from sunkissed to sunburned. All for a mere 99 cents. The app also gives: UV forecast, sun position, sunrise and sunset times and weather forecast.

IMG_0178IMG_0177On the other hand, if you believe there’s no such thing as a safe tan (or if you’re inside on the computer all the time), don’t bake it, fake it! Get beautifully bronzed for all your Social Media posts with AutoTan (99 cents).

Think your fake e-tan should be free like a real suntan? Then pretty your pixels at iTanning. (Images on left are from iTanning.)

Of Mice and ENIAC

Mice huddled under a log

We all know the computer mice that we use for moving the cursor about the screen. However, there was a time when actual furry mice were employed in computer planning.

In the 1940s, real mice helped with wire selection for ENIAC, generally considered the first practical, working digital computer.

ENIAC’s home was the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electronics, in a building that was also home to numerous mice. The resident mice enjoyed chewing wire insulation which would bring computer operations to a stop. What could be done?

Someone came up with the idea of the mouse test. The idea was to figure out which wire insulation was least liked by the mice. To determine this, samples of available wires were placed in a box together with some of the resident mice. Only wires the mice did not eat were used for ENIAC.

This information came from an interview with J. Presper Eckert, one of the co-developers of ENIAC. On the more serious side, Eckert talked about what it was like to have his life’s work placed on a microprocessor chip, less than a tenth of a square inch.

Black and white photo of the ENIAC computer
ENIAC (Public Domain)

The serious, the humorous, along with insights into people involved with ENIAC are revealed in the 1989 interview. The interview was conducted by Alexander Randall 5th and published in Computerworld for ENIAC’s 60th anniversary.

Q&A: A lost interview with ENIAC co-inventor J. Presper Eckert. Computerworld, February 14, 2006.


Stylin’ and profilin’: Selecting a stylus

If you want to complete forms on the iPad, mark up PDF files, or work toward going paperless, a quality stylus really helps. If you just do occasional tapping, pretty much any old stylus will do (see Ephemera, below). The ones mentioned here are for people who really want to handwrite or do fine drawing.

In stylus reviews, three consistently rated at the top are: Kuel ($13), Wacom Bamboo ($24-30) and Jot Pro (about $30). The nature of the iPad screen requires that the nib of a stylus be fairly large. Most styluses have an 8mm nib, but the Wacom Bamboo and the Kuel both have 6mm nibs, which offers better control.

Jot Pro by Adonit, reviewed here further, seems to come out on top for extended handwriting. It looks like a ball point pen, with a small clear disk attached to the writing end. The small clear disk provides the amount of contact area required by tablet screens, but the fact that it is clear, lets users contact the screen precisely where they want. As with anything, there are both lovers and haters. Negative commenters at Amazon say that the clear disk (Adonit’s substitution for a nib) comes off too often, and that the stylus makes fine scratches on the screen. (I haven’t had this problem.) For general stylus use, the lower-priced Kuel does the trick.

Sleight of hand: A significant problem with using any stylus today, is that when you rest your palm on the iPad surface your palm makes stray marks. A number of note-taking apps incorporate a “palm rest area.” While the “palm rest area” is helpful, it’s not exactly an elegant solution.

Writing with a stylus on an iPad is just not the same as writing with pen on paper.  However, for note-taking, form completion, and annotating PDF’s, living with the shortcomings of the current styluses can be worth it. And things will get better: Bluetooth 4 and real palm rejection are on their way.

Stylus info on Youtube: From the Verge, here’s a good 8+ minute stylus review that covers a number of styluses. (Spolier alert: It recommends the Wacom Bamboo.) From the Verge, take two: ”What is the best iPad stylus? (Part 2)” covers even more styluses, and from this group recommends a European stylus called the Maglus (about $26). Lastly, an Adonit Jot Pro stylus for iPad review from iMoreVideo. Please share any related experience, and if you would like more information send Chris an email.


Suck UK Pencil stylusSpotted in Malaprop’s Bookstore  on a recent trip to Asheville: A great option for casual tappers who like to be amused by their possessions. The defiantly named Suck UK company puts the fun in function with styluses that look like old-school pencils or Bic ballpoint pens (around $10 each).

Geek speak:

Some say styluses. Others (such as in the Verge videos) say styli [stahy-lahy]. Dictionaries generally list styli as the first acceptable plural, but I’m throwing down for styluses. Unless you’re discussing headier topics, “styluses” seems the way to go. (Our culture does not seem to like plurals that lack esses). So, let’s give it the octopus treatment: first plural of octopus is octopuses.

Continuing Ed:

If you can get over the irony of attending a Web-based paper preservation course, check out the Northeast Document Conservation Center’s Perservation 101: Preservation Basics for Paper and Media Collections.  There’s a free self-guided course  and also an instructor-led live Webinar course ($650) which can go toward 15 Archival Recertification Credits (ARCs). The next instructor-led session begins September 12, 2013. The free course can be taken at any time.

Quote of the week:

“A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone.”
- Jo Godwin