Digital detoxing

June 20th, 2017

You might have noticed that over the course of #blogjune, I haven’t been posting anything over the weekends. This is deliberate. A few years ago, my head was full of ideas & I would spend time in the evenings and at weekends working up ideas. I spent all day at work in front of a computer and a fair amount of my free time in front of a computer. This isn’t really healthy. I wasn’t switching off from work mode at all. My mindset was always revolving around problems and trying to find clever solutions to solving them. This lead to a burden of more and more problems and an impossibility to find solutions and implement.

Now I deliberately switch off. In the evenings, sometimes I might do some tinkering, but mostly if I am on a device, I’m doing something different. At the weekends I might read the news over breakfast, do a sudoku with coffee and really that’s about my limit.

To help switch off here’s some tips I use.

Keep seperate email accounts. On my phone/tablet/computer I have my personal email/calendar configured to use the default mail client. This keeps things consistent across various devices. Any work related email/calendars are configured using the Outlook iOS app. If I go on holidays, I actually delete Outlook from my phone, that way I’m never tempted to just check in and see if everything is OK. I quite like the right to disconnect law that France has introduced.

Notifications. I’m selective on what notifications I receive. On my phone I turn off all email notifications for both work and personal accounts. My personal email is configured to not automatically check for email. I have to make a conscious decision to open mail and connect. I only keep a VIP contact list of family that are allowed to trigger email & messages notifications. I have Twitter notifications, but as I’m not that prolific on twitter, this is manageable. I also disable sounds on many notifications. I would love it if there were time sensitive notifications and I could configure work email with notifications restricted to 9am-5pm on weekdays.

Do not disturb. I configure do not disturb on my devices so from 9pm till 7am nothing gets through. My phone gets put into airplane mode each night when I go to sleep, no wi-fi, no 4G.

FOMO. Once you go 48 hours without checking everything religiously you realise that if there’s anything really important you’ll end up hearing about it. The rest, you don’t miss it. Whatever you do, don’t check your phone as the first thing you do when you wake up. Wait a little while. Enjoy other more substantive things. Which leads to…

Carefully select your online communities. There are online networks that I very rarely log into anymore – particularly Facebook. I’ve never had a big network there & for me it’s never proven to be beneficial. Every time I have to go there I’m reminded by just how vacant so much of the content there is. For others I know, Facebook is just what they need to be part of their network. Don’t be afraid to be selective in where you decide to be active. What works for me and what my family/friends/community use is going to be different to yours. You don’t have to be part of everything.

The downsides

I haven’t had too many downsides to this. It has probably contributed to the current state of my site. My photo cataloguing is a bit behind where it should be. Neither of these are really major issues. Since I implemented this approach, there’s probably a handful of situations that have occurred where it would have been nice to have a notification, but in reality it’s never proven to be a critical issue.

The positives

I feel so much healthier. I’m not as tired and agitated. I’m focusing on a range of different things throughout the day. I’m focusing on others around me rather than being focused on a machine. Physically I’m much better off. I haven’t got that permanent laptop/tablet hunch that is so easy to succumb to. My eyes are focusing on things further than 50cm away. Shoulder, back and leg aches and pains have reduced.

I’m probably still finding that balance between maintaining my online life vs offline life. I still feel part of my online community and still feel as through I contribute, just maybe not as much as I once did.

Find your balance. It’s working for me.

Trove zone relevancy bubbles

June 19th, 2017

I often set myself little challenges to come up with a method that solves a problem or improves something (usually somehow related to something at work, or something from the GLAM sector). It will usually involve some technique, or programming feature that I’m trying to learn. Practical learning. In this case, I was looking at dynamically generating SVG files for some visualisation work and it took me on a bit of an unexpected journey. I thought I would talk through where this ended up – exploring the relevancy ranking of result zones in Trove and resulting in my Trove bubbles.

Bubble chart for Sydney Harbour Bridge

 

Some background to where this came from

When you go to Amazon and undertake a search, like most sites these days, you start to get autocomplete suggestions as you type. In this example below, when I search for headphones, there’s some clever mathematics going on behind the scenes that along with suggesting product titles for my term, it suggests the most relevant subject areas that relate to my term. In this case there’s higher relevance for headphones in Electronics than in Cell phones & accessories (or maybe a clothing option where there might be prints of headphones on a T-shirt).

Amazon autocomplete search for headphones

This search suggestion serves exactly the same purpose as a traditional website structure in trying to deliver the user to the right area of content on the site as quickly and easily as possible.

In Trove terms, lets relate these back to zones. When we undertake a search, we get presented with results for each zone and are given a number of results for each zone. What we aren’t given is how relevant each of these zones are. Each zone is presented with the same level of importance as every other zone regardless of the search term. As a designer, how can I change this so that I could present the most relevant zone for a search term to the user and potentially structure the page differently to do so & hopefully lead the user in the right direction?

Let me walk through a little experiment that shows how I might come to a solution to this problem.

When querying Trove through the API, one of the responses that is returned for each record in a result is a relevance score.

...
relevance: {
  score: "8.01584",
  value: "very relevant"
},
...

In the most simplest terms we could plot this relevancy score for the top results in each zone (by default this is 20 results per zone) on a chart to easily compare the difference between various search terms.

Relevance for Paul Hagon

Relevance chart for a search for “Paul Hagon”

Relevance for Sydney Harbour Bridge

Relevance chart for a search for “Sydney Harbour Bridge”

It becomes obvious that different searches deliver very different types of content as their top results. We’re starting to get an indicator as to what might be the most relevant zone for a query.

If we look at the chart above for the search on my name – what would the most relevant zone be? Would it be the archive zone that has 1 very relevant result and then very little or the picture zone that isn’t quite as highly ranked in relevance, but has a lot more content that appears relevant?

We could look at the basic statistical types of measures such as averages, means, standard deviations to come up with a figure. For my purposes, I’m going to stay with the chart I’ve generated and measure the area under the line to make my determination. This can easily be measured by calculating the area of a trapezoid for each result as it’s plotted and adding these together: (x + y)/2 * w

So we could use the following formula to calculate the area under the line (assuming the width of each trapezoid is 1):

(result 1 relevance score + result 2 relevance score)/2 + 
(result 2 relevance score + result 3 relevance score)/2 +
(result 3 relevance score + result 4 relevance score)/2 +
...

and so on until we get to result 20.

Chart showing trapezoid areas

Plot showing the areas of trapezoids to calculate the area under a line

If we return to the search for “Paul Hagon” we get results for areas of:

  1. picture: 47.425
  2. article: 44.195

We now have an answer that for this search, the most relevant result for this search is pictures, the zone with less relevant but more results, compared with the articles zone that has one highly relevant result and not a lot of other relevant results.

We could tailor the display of results to provide an emphasis on pictures and deliver the most relevant result.

 Moving beyond the maths

We live in an age of visualisations and so in addition to tailoring the display in a certain manner, we can expose these calculations to a visitor without bombarding them with the maths behind the result.

I love the UTS ribbon, that lives of on the catalogue of the library at UTS. This is a rainbow of dewey classifications for a result. It enhances your search results without taking away from the results themselves.

UTS ribbon

Could something similar be used to enhance the zones for Trove? We’ve already done all the maths for each item in the results – we know the averages of relevancy scores, the area under a graph, the standard deviation. Let’s combine some of this and turn it into something interesting. This is where my initial purpose of generating some dynamic SVG’s to visualise something came to life.

By plotting the average relevance of the zone on the x-axis and making the area of the bubble the same as the area under the line chart, we can create a simple little visualisation of the zone relevance breakdown. This provides a user with an indication of which zones are likely to provide the most relevant results for their search term. You can click through a range of sample searches below to see all the details about the search term & click on a bubble.

Bubble chart for Harry potter

Harry Potter

Bubble chart for Frank Hurley

Frank Hurley

Bubble chart for Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Bubble chart for Paul Hagon

Paul Hagon

Summary

So that is my Trove bubbles. From starting off looking at how to generate some SVG files, this lead to looking for something to visualise, which in turn lead to looking at Trove zone results. Sometimes it’s a very strange path that you take to learn something, but in the end, it’s not necessarily about the end result, it’s about the journey. The random discoveries you make along the way can be really fascinating.

A blogjune proposal

June 16th, 2017

One of the blogs I follow is The Setup. This site, run by Daniel Bogan (ex Flickr Commons staff) interviews people and asks what tools they use to get their jobs done. Although it’s kind of based around tech, there have been interviews with people from all sorts of professions – anyone who uses something to do their job.

I’m suggesting that everyone who is participating in #blogjune take part and on Wednesday the 21st June, create a post answering these 4 questions.

  1. Who are you, and what do you do?
  2. What hardware do you use?
  3. And what software?
  4. What would be your dream setup?

You could talk about work, a combination of work & home or what you use in a hobby. Once you’ve posted, make sure you let Daniel know by tweeting @usesthis a link to your blog post.

Daniel releases everything for the interviews under a CC-BY licence and is keen to see how his idea is used.

What do you think? Let’s do this!

Public speaking

June 13th, 2017

Over the years, I have found that public speaking is without a doubt the most rewarding aspect of my job. It wasn’t always like that though. When I first started I was terrified. Even giving a short presentation to close work colleagues would make me nervous for a few days before hand. Now, I wouldn’t consider myself the most accomplished presenter, but I’m not longer daunted by it and relish the experience.

If you know me, you know I’m not the most outgoing person, I’m a bit of an introvert. I find it’s cathartic to get out of my comfort zone and push myself in new directions.

There’s a lot of opportunities in the library profession to present. You don’t have to start off at a major national conference. Start small. Volunteer to give a lunchtime presentation at work, present at a local ALIA event or a public library network event. These are a lot less formal and much less stressful that a full blown conference.

I thought I might give a few tips on how I prepare for a talk, the setup I use and hopefully, provide a bit of advice that might help someone give a presentation.

Preparation

Don’t underestimate the time it takes to put together a presentation. If I have to do a 20 minute presentation, I allow a full week of work to prepare the talk, generate slides, rehearse, refine, rehearse, refine… It is one of those skills that requires practise. The more you rehearse, the more comfortable you become. Be confident that you know your content inside out.

Structuring your presentation

Some of the most memorable presentations I have been to, have been the presenter just getting up and talking. They haven’t used any supporting material, they are natural storytellers. I’m not at that level and often the subject I am talking about is a little more technical so slides enhance what I have to say.

A presentation is like a novel or a movie. It needs an introduction or background. Why are you talking about this subject and why is this important for your audience. Set up what you want them to get out of it. Provide a narrative. Take the audience on a journey of what you did, what you think. Let it come to a natural climax and conclusion. Your story should come together to provide an answer and leave the audience eager and thinking about what you were talking about.

Know your audience

Discuss with the organisers beforehand on who the audience is. Get a feel for what their understanding of your topic is. Are they beginners? Are they experts? Are the organisers wanting to provide some general knowledge to the audience or do they want you to address something specific. All of these questions will help you tailor your presentation to the audience. There’s nothing worse that looking at blank faces and realising you have tailored a talk at the wrong target audience.

Nerves and changing perspectives

There’s no doubt about it, starting off presenting is pretty daunting. It’s like anything though, the more you do, the better and easier it becomes. I can’t remember where I read it, but it helped in changing my perspective:

Everybody is here to listen to what you have to say. They want to see you succeed.

Nobody voluntarily takes time out of their lunch hour, or travels to another city for a conference unless they are interested in hearing what you have to say. They want to learn from you, not judge you. This is empowering and should be confidence building.

Use your own equipment

Getting up on stage is stressful enough, let alone doing it while using unfamiliar equipment. Most organisers are pretty good with you using your own equipment. Always arrive early and make friends with the AV staff, they will always be able to help you out (especially if you have your own adaptors etc).  You are there for the benefit of the audience and it’s not fair on them if you deliver a sub-par presentation because of the equipment you have to use.

This is what’s in my presentation pack:

  1. Laptop
  2. Power adaptor (just in case the battery is a little low)
  3. Thunderbolt to VGA adaptor
  4. Thunderbolt to HDMI adaptor
  5. HDMI cable
  6. Thunderbolt to HDMI cable
  7. USB with 2 copies of the presentation. Good to have just in case there’s issues with my laptop (I use Keynote, but as an option I also save a PowerPoint version – sometimes it doesn’t convert everything perfectly – it’s just there as an absolute last resort). As a final, final backup, there will also be a copy stored in a cloud service that I could download.
  8. iPhone (sometimes I use it as a remote clicker)

Be familiar with how to plug everything in and set up 2nd screens. Like I said, make friends with the AV staff early. You can normally set everything up in a break so that it’s a simple matter of flicking a switch when it comes time to make a switch between presenters. You don’t want to spend 5 minutes trying to reconfigure your computer before you present. This will add to your stress levels, bump you over time and you don’t want that.

Behind the scenes

The other part of a presentation is highly personal, but something you don’t see much of. That’s what I see. For many presentations, the lights are so bright, you actually don’t see too much from the stage. The one thing I can see is my laptop setup. This is what I rehearse with & is why it’s important to be able to use your own equipment.

Keynote presenter screen

  1. Timer that counts up. This allows you to adjust the pace of your presentation. If you’ve rehearsed you know roughly what time certain slides should be at.
  2. Current time. If you are at a conference there’s normally a set schedule for the day. You should familiarise yourself with this and know what time your presentation starts and finishes. This allows you to keep an eye on the actual time and adjust your pacing. You don’t want to be the person that runs late and causes everyone in the room to miss out on lunch.
  3. Current slide. Never turn your back on the audience to look at what slide you are on or to talk to the slide you are on. If you can see it on the screen, use that as your reference.
  4. Next slide
  5. Speaker notes. I normally have notes of the key points and speak to those. I don’t tend to read word for word. I practise, practise, practise over and over.

Feedback while you talk

If I’m giving a presentation with an audience that I know will be tweeting about the talk I’ll always keep my phone in my pocket. I configure it so it remains on silent but vibrates, and make sure I have twitter notifications set up for mentions and replies. While I’m talking & I get to something I’m expecting a reaction on, within 60 seconds my pocket is buzzing & I know I’m getting my message across – it gives me confidence. I find this doesn’t distract me, maybe  because I’m expecting it.

Conferences

I find that I get so much more out of attending a conference if I am also presenting, compared to if I’m just attending. There’s always the social aspect of a conference, lunchtimes, between sessions etc. If you are like me, maybe a bit quite, a bit of an introvert, having the benefit of presenting means people will ask you questions. You’ll be approached. You meet people you normally wouldn’t meet. It’s fantastic.

Other tips and tricks

Here’s a few key tips I can pass on.

Before the event

  • Find out your audience
  • Let the organisers know you’ll be presenting with your own equipment
  • Allow enough time to gather ideas, structure your talk and put everything together
  • Rehearse, rehearse and rehearse
  • Present in front of a test audience and video the talk. Gather feedback and fine tune.
  • Rehearse some more.
  • Learn how to plug in and configure your equipment. Practise this.

On the day

  • Wear comfortable clothes
  • Check that you have all the equipment you need.
  • If you are nervous, have a light breakfast, don’t drink too much
  • Turn up to the venue early
  • Introduce yourself to the organisers and AV staff
  • Sign any waivers, release forms early in the day (they will get forgotten about in the rush of things later in the day)
  • Know where you have to go, familiarise yourself with the space
  • Set your equipment up in advance of your presentation
  • Get a nervous pee out of the way
  • Relax

After the presentation

  • Enjoy the buzz. It takes a little while to come down. You’ve just done something amazing, enjoy thee feeling.
  • Meet people, answer their questions. Chat with them
  • Respond to anything on social media. Both of these are relationship building.
  • Make slides available.
  • Thank the organisers

That’s some tips and some random thoughts about how I set up my presentations. I hope there’s some useful advice in there for people. I would strongly encourage everyone at some stage of there career to consider participating in a presentation. It is one of the best things you can do.

iTunes for librarians part 5: Smart playlists

June 10th, 2017

Up till now I’ve been demonstrating some of the different different methods that can be used to add metadata and use this to sort and display your music library. Now I would like to show you a demonstration of why getting all of this metadata correct is important. Think of your iTunes library as your ILMS. If you don’t have the right data, you can’t find things, you can’t make accurate reports, you can’t do visualisations or data analysis etc.

Let’s take a look at smart playlists. Smart playlists are automatically generated playlists that adhere to a certain set of rules that you configure. They can be simple or they can be complex, but they’re actually quite useful. Imagine I’m holding a theme party & I want to make up a playlist of tunes to play. The theme is the 80’s so I want to play pop songs from the 80’s that begin with L (it might be a very short party).

80's pop smart playlist

That’s pretty simple to do & in no time I have my party tunes set up!

Anniversary albums playlist

In 2017 there’s a bunch of really good albums that are having a significant anniversary since their release: Sgt Peppers, Rumours, Exodus, Sign ‘O’ the Times, Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, Document, Appetite for Destruction, The Joshua Tree, OK Computer. Let’s set up a smart playlist to display songs that were released in a year ending with 7.

I have a whole list of smart playlists that display tracks from a certain year. This is really easy to create. Go to File > New > Smart Playlist. In this case, it’s a pretty simple query.

Smart playlist for 1997

Once I have a number of the playlists of individual years, I can create a new smart playlist that uses a combination of nested playlists as it’s query parameters to generate the final result (like a nested SQL statement). Here we’re grabbing all the tracks just from those particular years.

Smart playlist

Now we have a list of all the albums/tracks that are having an anniversary in 2017.