Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Watershed Post's take on SOPA and PIPA | Watershed Post

I'm not blacking out today in protest against SOPA/PIPA, but that doesn't mean I support it. Quite the opposite! Here's a great explanation of why these proposed laws are NOT in the best interests of anyone who uses the internet.

The Watershed Post's take on SOPA and PIPA

(Via Watershed Post.)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Year, Fresh Start: Manage your eBook Files with Calibre

CalibreguiWhile I still haven't sold the kids on using an eReader, for me, the Nook is becoming more and more indispensable. Sticking to the theme of making use of things we already have this year, I looked around for ways to make it even more functional.

I had mainly used my original style Nook to borrow eBooks from the library, which are DRM protected and utilize OverDrive and Adobe Digital Editions to load them on the Nook. It's less rocket science than it would sound at first, but both programs are really only good for that one application. Note that now you can also borrow Kindle formatted library books, a new development this year for Kindle users. I still am pissed at Amazon about the summary deletion of customers' copies of 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell back when Kindle was first out, so I am sticking with Nook for now. Not that I hold grudges or anything.

The Nook supports various file formats, including PDF files. A lot of material that I use for homeschooling comes in PDF format. As I tend to lose papers (or have them eaten by my weird dogs - yes, I do feed them well, they're just weird), I started keeping PDFs on the Nook. Organizing and finding these files using Adobe Digital Editions, however, was less than amusing. On many of them I'd find weird blanks and missing info where the author's name would go, or missing titles, which sort of removes any convenience factor having them on the eReader would offer. Enter Calibre eBook Management for the solution to that problem.

Calibre is an open source program that has all kinds of nice tools for keeping things organized and coherent in your eReader. You can also convert file formats from Kindle to Nook, and vice versa (only if they are NOT DRM protected!), and it has a built-in reader if you want to read them on your computer. The user interface is easy to master, and the video demos are very helpful for getting maximum use out of the program.

I like that I can edit the metadata so easily on any file I have, especially some of the educational materials I've downloaded in PDF form that just didn't translate well in Adobe's interface. I finally am getting use out of all the Project Gutenberg literature that basically languished on the computer since I can spiff things up using Calibre. I also store PDF user manuals for the various tech gadgets and software that we use. Having it in the Nook is so much more convenient than having to pull stuff up on the computer screen, or waste paper and ink printing it all out. Considering what happens to loose paper around here, having it on the eReader is a no brainer. Luckily, the dogs don't find electronic devices tasty. Yet.

Another bonus is the ability to search for free and non-DRM protected works from within the Calibre interface. The search engine clearly shows all relevant info, and makes finding things so much more quick and streamlined.

Calibre is free to download, and works with Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux, and there is a donate button to support the developer, so DO IT!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New Year, Fresh Start: Updating the Kids' Bookshelves

IMG 2361After getting some practice with digital cleanup, I found confronting the detritus to sort and purge in the house a little easier to get my mind around. I started with the kids' bookcases, with this year's goal of making better use of all the things we already own guiding the way.

The basic rules I set were:

* Set up an empty box for the items good enough to donate, and get a big garbage bag for the throwaways.

* If the book is damaged, smelly, etc., toss it.

* If it is in excellent condition, donate.

* If it's in moderate condition, but not water or food damaged, recycling bin time, unless you are sure it's something rare or useful to someone else.

* If it's in good condition, don't automatically assume an "easy" or "younger" book is not wanted; when in doubt, ask.

My daughter has changed the most in the past year. She started 2011 as a very reluctant, but capable, reader and ended as a voracious fiction fan and Warriors addict who often stays up all night reading in bed. Out went the "early reader" type books, and in came her brother's old collections such as Fablehaven, the Percy Jackson Olympians series, The Mysterious Benedict Society and Illustrated Classics, among many other delights.

My son has always loved reading, and keeping up with his demand for books is a challenge. I still don't have him totally convinced that the Nook is a good thing. He has read The Hunger Games trilogy and the first of The Strain trilogy by Guillermo Del Toro on mine, and enjoyed them both, but he says that he still prefers holding a paper book in his hands. Go figure. At least he has more shelf space now, though I'm sure it won't last.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year, Fresh Start: De-Cluttering Inspiration and Resolutions

IMG 1099My main goal for this year is to make better use of things we already have. One impediment to that is when things are in piles, tossed in random boxes, and covered in dust in some closet, and you've forgotten you even own them. When using things you already own means confronting piles of clutter, it becomes daunting to follow through. De-cluttering is essential - both digitally and in real life. I hate cleaning, and am not a stellar housekeeper, but having the overall focus on using things more efficiently helps me get motivated.

Have a good set of ground rules before beginning, to keep things manageable. I'm a big fan of the shows Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried Alive (previous seasons now available on Netflix streaming!).

One of the hallmarks of both shows is the hoarder who invariably says things like "But it's still useable if I clean it up" when confronted with rodent droppings and urine covering their items, and "I am a collector, I just need help organizing" as the camera pans through canyons of crap that only a mountain goat could navigate. These people obviously don't have ground rules, and see everything as having unlimited potential. Thankfully, I've learned that you can't organize clutter. You just need to get rid of it. I find the show Hoarders to be great incentive to get going, they seem to have a majority of people who've let things go so far as to have piles of used adult diapers that have taken over entire rooms. I sooooo do NOT want to go there.

Here are my basic ground rules for de-cluttering:

* Is it broken, moldy, or otherwise not like new? Is it fixable, but you haven't fixed it in over a month? Toss it.

* Have you needed it in the past year? If not, donate or toss it.

* Do you love it? Does it make you happy? If not, donate or toss.

* Do you think it'll sell at a garage sale or eBay? Too bad, you won't ever have that sale. And you know it. Donate it to a charity and get it gone.

Note that sometimes, this means you will chuck things that were expensive, or were gifts, or that you feel guilty you didn't take care of better, or use, or whatever. This is fine, but if it meets the ground rule criteria, just get rid of it. Guilt is the worst possible reason to hang onto items, so let it go.

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Planning a garage sale or to sell on Craigslist, eBay, or whatever, is usually going to hang you up. It's very rare that people will follow through, and this time of year is a bad one for garage sales anyway. You'll free yourself up much faster by just donating the "good" stuff to a charity, and it's a tax write-off to boot.

Facing up to the reality of your clutter will also help you edit what you bring into the house in the future. Try to take a minute to consider how you'll use something, or where it'll be stored, and if it fits the ground rules above for de-cluttering. Try to follow the rule that you get rid of one or two things for every new thing you bring in.

Some helpful links:

Lifehacker de-crapifying guide (I disagree with their garage sale/eBay advice, but otherwise found it useful)

Flylady (the guides for setting routines and taking baby steps are the key here - the purple prose and testimonials, meh)

Getting Things Done (basically Flylady minus the tears and prayers, for business and tech types)

Hoarders on AETV (Motivation plus! Seriously skeevy extremes, great to check yourself before your wreck yourself)

Hoarding: Buried Alive on TLC (Less shock-horror than Hoarders, and more on the process of changing a hoarder's perspective long term)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year, Fresh Start: Updating Your Address Book

I'm among the dozen or so people left in the US who don't have a smartphone. My iPod is the Classic model, not the Touch, so no super cool apps to play with there. But my laptop is my lifeline - it's where my main calendar and address book are.

Over the years, and through several operating system upgrades, and new computers, my address book has become cluttered with outdated, or totally irrelevant entries. Things from back in the Late Jurassic, when my husband and I both shared ye olde iMac Flat Panel and sync'd our Palm PDAs to it. So, it was time for a purge.

I set basic ground rules as follows:

* Delete all work contacts of my husband's that had ended up sync'ing to my account one time back in '03 and had never been removed.

* Delete any people I haven't heard from in a year.

* Update the keepers with email, mobile phone info, and family names. I love that feature in OS X Address Book - I can even create a special category for friends' pets. Since I volunteer for a Rottweiler rescue, it's not as bananas as it sounds at first blush. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

* Add in all the new friends from the past year whose info has been stored in other places. Match cellphone entries with Address Book entries manually. Because Verizon sucks, and my LG phone won't sync with my computer automagically.

* Realize I'm not as much of a misanthrope as might have been indicated by the previously mentioned purges.

I'm still waiting for the right all-in-one solution to have a more portable version of a calendar and contacts than my giant 17" aluminum tabletop, but I can't get past the expense of the data plans for an iPhone. The iPod Touch is too small to be a good eReader, and doesn't hold as much stuff as my Classic. I've considered the Nook Tablet as a possible Android contender, but the sync issue comes up with iCal. Try as I might, I still haven't been able to get Google Calendars to sync properly - things get randomly left out, which leaves me manually checking things anyway. Not exactly time saving, or convenient.