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Notes from the Technology Trenches - Technology Bits and Bytes: A Roundup of Technology News and Changes from Past Columns

By Cindy Curling, Published on January 19, 2004

Cindy Carlson is the Electronic Resources Librarian at Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson LLP in Washington, D.C., a web committee member for the Law Librarian’s Society of Washington, D.C., and organizer of its Legal Research Training Focus Group.

I can hardly believe it, but I've been writing this column since July of 2001. Twenty-five articles and a couple of updates later, I thought it might be worth while to take a look at a few past Trenches columns and see where those technology issues stand.

Before I get started, please note that all the articles on LLRX are available in an archive. Sabrina Pacifici, the founder/editor/publisher, has set things up so that the archive is not only available to browse by column name, date, topic and author, but also so that it is keyword searchable. All the Trenches columns, including those by its two previous authors, are listed here

Gadget Lust: MP3 Players, PDAs and Technology Convergence December 22, 2003

It never ceases to amaze me how fast technology changes. Just since my last column, Apple has released a new, mini-iPod. Very fun and cheaper, but still pricey. My buddies are still trying to persuade me that a full size (ha!) iPod would be worthwhile because the storage capacity makes it a terrific portable backup for all your data. I'm still holding out. When they figure out how to let me view my digital photos on that tiny screen, maybe I'll give, but not yet. By the way, this Archos media player gets very close, but has no calendar or contact features and is only in black and white. You have to figure it's only a matter of time before they at least manage color. Patience, Grasshopper.

Speaking of digital photos, my biggest frustration with them is the difficulty I have in getting myself organized to print them. Yes, we have the paper, we have a scanner, we have a good (but now older) photo printer. We buy color toner (yikes! - NOT cheap), and we even have Photoshop. So, why don't I have reams of prints of my adorable baby? Because I don't use any of that stuff often enough to be adept at it, especially Photoshop (it's really my husband's). 

I gave up, though, at Christmas. The grandparents were practically howling at my door because they wanted pictures to show their friends. He's a year and a half old. How embarrassing. So, driven by desperation, I tried a Web-based photo printing service. The one I used was Shutterfly, but there are many competitors: Ofoto, Snapfish, etc. All of them seem to be pretty similar, though if you have a favorite, please let me know why.

Basically, the tools (red-eye reduction, cropping, color variations, captions and simple borders) are very easy to use by comparison to Photoshop, and I don't really need anything very sophisticated. At Shutterfly, you can get 4x6" prints for as little as a quarter each, they are free to share online (you send others a link to a Web site), and people you share with can order their own. On top of that, they seem to have an ungodly generous storage capacity, the photos are extremely easy to organize, there are a ton of little extras like fun borders and you can also order other products like enlargements, flipbooks (little albums with captions and themed borders), calendars, and other photo accessories. I am now the proud owner of actual photos of my child. Some of them are even framed. I can not express to you how happy this makes me. I really do think that it have saved us money compared to printing the same shots at home, and I KNOW it has saved time. Plus I'm back in the good graces of the grandparents, very important. 

My main caution with any of these services would be that you should try them out before you commit to uploading all your eggs to one basket. Not all of the services offer the same product selection and pricing can vary pretty significantly. Also, be sure to read the fine print on any quality guarantee. Most of the time, if you don't like your prints because of some problem that you could have controlled if you'd tried a little harder (red-eye, color saturation, etc.) then you just have to try again and you won't be able to get your money back. Most of the services do offer a free trial, though, so if this sounds appealing, give them a shot. Last, don't forget to include the costs of shipping in with your processing. You may want to wait until you've built up a little bit of an archive before you send yourself prints once your trial period is over. 

One other thing about Apple's iPod and the iTunes store. My friends are also reminding me that even without an iPod, I can still use the iTunes store to download music. Now that is tempting, especially for those songs here and there that I don't already have the CD for. Even so, before you pick a music provider, be sure to consider your options. Compare the cost of the music you want on iTunes, Musicmatch, other per/tune purchase sites and even Amazon for the full CD before you buy. You may be surprised by the results. 

Are You Practicing What We Preach about Searching? November 29, 2003

What I was most interested in with this column was whether librarians and other search-savvy readers were really doing what they needed to do to get the most precise results in their online searching, or if they were beginning to use simpler strategies (all Google, all the time or  convenience linking within Westlaw and Lexis to items on the same topic, etc.) Somehow, it fostered an interchange on whether or not teaching Boolean search strategies is still worthwhile. For most of the discussion, see The Boolean Debate at the Virtual Chase. A few other links can be found by searching for "Boolean Debate" on Google.

Websites to Get You Through the Week October 27, 2003

This was not my most serious column, but it was enthusiastically received. If I were to write it now, I'd definitely have to add in Shutterfly. If there are other time-saving sites or products that rescue you from your technology headaches either at work or at home, please let me know. 

Conferencing Software: An Overview of Linktivity's WebDemo and WebInteractive, Microsoft NetMeeting, and Yahoo Instant Messenger November 18, 2002

Have you noticed lately that WebDemo has been advertising on the radio? And many training and demonstration sessions I've signed up for online have been hosted on WebDemo lately. Good for them! I think it's a great product, but I still wish starting a session was a little more simple. Our new library intern tried heroically to set up for a Factiva WebDemo earlier this month, and we finally just gave up and rescheduled so that she'd have more time to work out the kinks. Normally, joining a WebDemo is very easy, but the process is still tricky for people with a flaky network, crappy connection or not much technology experience. Just goes to show you there's always a learning curve, even with a comparatively user-friendly product.

And What Might the Future Hold?

Well, there's really no telling, though there are plenty of folks willing to take a guess. I'd like to hear your thoughts on life with technology, both current and future. If you'd like a say, email me in the Trenches.