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 noblackboard.org.
Image from noblackboard.org.

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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The deal with the Google Book Search settlement

google_logoGoogle Book Search has been in the news lately for a settlement it made with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers over Google’s plan to scan books. You may have heard that  people are pretty worked up about the settlement.

It matters for academics because the settlement will in large part dictate the terms under which many books are available online.

If you’re confused about the settlement, you’re not alone. I’ve been wading through blog posts and news items trying to get my head around what’s in the agreement. Here’s my best effort at a description of what’s going on, for us non-insiders. I can’t promise all the details are 100% accurate, and please correct me if I’m mistaken, but this is my understanding.

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I do not understand the point of curated databases

Photo by Nesster.
Photo by Nesster.

Lately I’ve been volunteering to do usability testing for Yale’s library. Well, “volunteering” is probably too generous a word, since Yale pays pretty well, in the form of iTunes and Barnes & Noble gift cards. I like the gift cards, but I love the excuse to rant about what I do and don’t like about the library interface.

I have no idea how much of my ranting is actually relevant to the subject of the tests, but I enjoy it anyway. Most recently, I enjoyed ranting about what I’ve been calling “curated” databases, since I don’t know the technical term for them.

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Resources for the sporting male

At the Providence Public Library a few days ago, I ran across a copy of The Flash Press: Sporting Male Weeklies in 1840s New York. The book gives excerpts and essays from a cache of recently rediscovered newspapers for the “sporting male.”

Seeing the book reminded me of one of my favorite online resources, the digitized version of The National Police Gazette. Yale has the entire run (1845–1906) of this newspaper, keyword-searchable through ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Illustration from the National Police Gazette, October 5, 1901
Illustration from the National Police Gazette, October 5, 1901

The Police Gazette is really not a police gazette; it more often covers burlesque shows, boxing, violent crime, and other bawdiness. One particular specialty is engravings and photographs of burlesque performers.

I always find bawdy humor from bygone ages really entertaining. Plus, I actually did find the Police Gazette useful for a genuine academic purpose, a paper about boxing.

If your library doesn’t subscribe to the digital version of the National Police Gazette (outrageous!), you can still get a taste of it in a fun book, The Police Gazette, edited by Gene Smith and Jayne Barry Smith. Introduction by Tom Wolfe! And if your library doesn’t have that, well, what kind of library is it, anyway?

Blogging the Beinecke

Room 26 Cabinet of Curiosities is a blog featuring amazing finds from Yale’s phenomenal Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. I like the lesbian pulp novels, the Revolutionary War-era lottery tickets, and the WPA textbooks from the 1940s. The blog is maintained by Tim Young (curator of the Modern Books and Manuscripts collection) and Nancy Kuhl (curator of poetry for the Yale Collection of American Literature).

Riding a moon bat to Saturn (obviously), from Voyage dans la Lune, a 1900 book about lunar travel in the Beineckes collection.
Riding a moon bat to Saturn (obviously), from Voyage dans la Lune, a 1900 book about lunar travel in the Beinecke's collection.

I think a blog is a great way of showcasing a collection, since it portions out awesome finds in manageable chunks. I often feel overwhelmed by the number of digital collections out there, and a blog helps me to process things at a reasonable pace.

Also awesome: the Beinecke produces podcasts about its events and exhibitions. To be honest, I’m not likely to listen to a podcast of an event (although maybe others are?), because an event is an event — designed for the people who are there in person, and not necessarily suited for recording. I’d really like to see them spotlight individual items in the collection, the way they do in the blog, and explore them from a bunch of different angles.

Getting meta in the classroom

HEY! WAKE UP! Photo by Sara!
HEY! WAKE UP! Photo by Sara!

I’ve been going through some old teaching evaluations and in between cringing (“I hate Miriam!”) and patting myself on the back (“I love Miriam!”) I was struck by one student’s comment.

This was for a film theory section. I think generally the class was successful, but it a) was a theory class and b) took place during late-afternoon dead-time (oh, and c) I’m not exactly Robin Williams), so occasionally the tenor of the classroom would get a little, shall we say, less than wildly enthusiastic. Anyway, this student said, to paraphrase, that when things got slow, “I wish Miriam would have said, ‘HEY! WAKE UP!’ to get our attention.”

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Libraries I like: Brown’s Friedman Study Center

Bright colors make a big difference. Photo by the Brown University Class of 60.
Bright colors make a big difference. Photo by the Brown University Class of '60.

I liked Yale’s Mudd Library for its endearing obsolescence, but for the Study Space of the Future, you can’t beat the Friedman Study Center in Brown University’s Science Library.

The Friedman Study Center, which opened in 2007, is a 24-hour study space designed by the Architecture Research Office. It’s in the basement of Brown’s Science Library, a Brutalist monster that’s about as inviting as a prison. The study center, though, plays against the cave-like, concrete walls of the library with exposed cables, bright colors, and an open atmosphere.

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