The National Library of Medicine launches new image database

The National Library of Medicine has just launched a revamped Images from the History of Medicine online catalog, and it’s kind of blowing my mind. There’s a lot there, and a totally redesigned interface.

In theory (and mostly in practice), you can add images to a workspace and then create slideshows and “media groups.” You can then embed these creations in a blog or website, like so:

So that is very cool. My only thing is, the site is awfully slow, what with all the bells and whistles and JavaScript, and the interface could be slightly more intuitive. It’s a bit confusing to get from workspace to presentation or media group.

But, clearly, a lot of thought went into this site and it’s a really fantastic resource. They’ve even done research into the images’ copyright status, and you can download high-resolution versions of these images. I think it’s great that the NLM is treating their images as resources to be shared.

How to make a DVD clip reel

If you’re showing film clips in class, you’ll probably want to make a DVD clip reel — your own DVD with the clips you want preloaded on it. That way you can avoid the frenzied scan through chapter titles and the awkward dead time while you wait for the menu sequence to load. And making a clip reel is easier than you think.

(If you’d like, you can download a PDF manual of this guide.)

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New York Times contributor: End the university as we know it

Photo of Columbia Universitys Minerva sculpture, Alma Mater, by wallyg.
Photo of Columbia University's Minerva sculpture, Alma Mater, by wallyg.

Mark Taylor, the chairman of Columbia’s religion department, has published a New York Times opinion piece that’s sure to cause a splash. “End the University as We Know It” argues that the university’s current incarnation¬† is obsolete and irrelevant.

Taylor advocates getting rid of the “division of labor” model of academic departments, in favor of “problem-based” ad-hoc departments like “Water” and “Life”; increasing collaboration among institutions; encouraging grad students to produce works other than dissertations (Taylor mentions, oddly, video games); training grad students for jobs other than faculty positions; and abolishing tenure.

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Presenting, conferencing, sharing

I spent the last couple of days in Cleveland, where I was taking part in the American Association for the History of Medicine annual conference. I gave a talk on a project I’ve been working on, about the largely forgotten twentieth-century tradition of physicians exhibiting for each other at medical conventions. I got some great references to archives during the Q & A, and I was able to meet some people working on similar stuff, so it was exactly the outcome I hope for at these conferences.

Just for fun (fun?), I’ve put my slides up on SlideShare, along with an audio recording of my presentation. I’d wanted to use FlowGram, since it’s supposed to do exactly what I wanted to do (record audio and match it with slides), but I kept getting errors when I uploaded my slides. SlideShare just worked.

I actually design my slides in Apple Keynote, not in PowerPoint, so I was happy to see that SlideShare supports Keynote slides directly, no converting required. Audio was a little trickier, since SlideShare doesn’t host audio files for you. I recorded the presentation using Audacity, converted it to an MP3, uploaded the file to my own server, and then linked it to the SlideShare presentation. SlideShare has a really cool, intuitive tool for synching up audio with slides.

Anyway, here’s the presentation. The topic is obscure enough that I can’t really imagine that anyone who wasn’t at AAHM will want to see it, but it was fun to put it up on the Web. I think I’ll do this again with some more accessible, general-audience presentaions.

Top 10 iPhone Apps for Librarians

iPhoneOkay, I don’t actually have an iPhone — I can’t afford the monthly fees. I do have an iPod Touch, though, and I love it with all my heart. I use it most frequently to watch movies at the gym, to listen to music and audiobooks, and to check email anywhere there’s WiFi. I guess you could be productive with it, though.

Here‘s a cool list of iPhone applications for librarians. Some of these I’ve never used, but now I’m curious enough to check out Remember the Milk.


The World Digital Library shows off artifacts from around the world

UNESCO’s World Digital Library launches today. It’s a site where you can view artifacts from every UNESCO member country, or, in the words of the WDL, it “makes available on the Internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from countries and cultures around the world.”

Screenshot of the World Digital Library homepage
Screenshot of the World Digital Library homepage

Right now, there’s a bit of a mismatch between the lofty mission statement and the actual site — there are only 1,170 artifacts as of now. But it’s growing, so it will be interesting to watch the site develop.

The layout is cool. It’s actually a pretty simple idea to lay artifacts out on a map of the globe, but it changes my experience of the artifacts. It makes me think about the objects each country chooses as repositories of its history, and about what values and expectations went into making these decisions. Plus, it’s so easy to use that everyone from elementary school students to grownups could benefit from it.

Zoom in and out of presentations with Prezi

prezi-logo1Prezi is a presentation maker (still in beta) that avoids the standard linear slideshow model. Instead, you can zoom in and out of one big presentation, hopping between ideas however you want. Here’s an example of Prezi in action.

I like the ability to escape the rigid structure of the PowerPoint presentation, and this seems like an answer to Edward Tufte’s criticisms of the pedantic linearity of PowerPoint. But the free version has a 100 MB storage limit, is not embeddable, comes watermarked with the Prezi logo, and stores your presentation online. You can purchase premium versions, but I’m not sure many people who already have PowerPoint or Keynote installed will shell out.

Plus, I’m so anal about orchestrating presentations that I don’t like to leave room for any deviation. I know, it’s not very Tufte-ian, but I’ve seen too many people left totally speechless after a software glitch. So while I’d play around with Prezi in class, I think I’ll wait ’til it’s totally stable and more prevalent to use it for a big presentation.

(Via Lifehacker.)

Make a quick timeline with Google News Timeline

Here’s a kind of fun new visualization tool from GoogleLabs. Google News Timeline lets you search for a topic (after you pick a category) and then arrays significant events on a timeline. I don’t really understand how the Wikipedia category works, and I wouldn’t trust the timeline to have every relevant piece of information, but, hey, it did a good job spitting out Hitchcock movies. (Via Google Operating System.)

Hitchcock timeline from Google News Timeline
Hitchcock timeline from Google News Timeline

Can Blackboard patent online learning?

Image from
Image from

A lot of schools use a “learning management system” called Blackboard to make course materials and registration functions available online. If you’ve ever used Blackboard, though, you know that it’s like a magic portal back to 1999.

Blackboard’s design is truly hideous (frames everywhere!), the options for customizing course sites are dismal, and the interface makes even the simplest functions baffling. (Google “I hate Blackboard” for some entertaining commentary.) The City University of New York recently got an object lesson in Blackboard’s shortcomings when the system crashed and burned, paralyzing CUNY’s online functions.

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