Does Free Software Restore Dignity?

The other day a high-school student came by the public library computer center where I work in Takoma Park, Maryland. I recognized him right away as a student who regularly visits the computer center to do his homework. On this visit he looked sad. “Do you have a restore DVD for this Sony Vaio laptop?” he asked, with his relatively new Windows 7 laptop underneath his arm.

“Sorry, no,” I replied.

His laptop needed to be restored, and he had misplaced the restore DVD. He tells me Sony requires $139 to send him a restore DVD. He doesn't have a spare $139, and neither do his hard-working parents. I didn't want this student to leave empty-handed, so I said, “If you like, I'll install Linux on your laptop, and you can get it working again that way.”

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Why You Should Ditch Your Windows XP Laptop Right Now

Windows XP, and why you should ditch it.
Windows XP, and why you should ditch it.
Regardless of which computer publication you are reading, or which family members you're rubbing shoulders with, the chances are you've come across the Stubborn Windows XP User. Now there's nothing wrong with being a devotee of anything. You name it, you can find a club for it. There's a club for Canadian Tire Money, for Pete's sake.

But being a real devotee is different from simply being ignorant and miserly when it comes to your computer, for there comes a time when real problems suddenly jump up and bite you. Microsoft's Vista and Windows 7 operating systems are a good deal easier to use than XP. That can be a subjective judgment, of course, but you should know that the two newer OS's are known to be more secure than XP, too. And more stable, and that's something you ought to consider as you plug away typing a response on the keyboard of your sluggish and dangerous XP computer.

It gets worse. Your RAM for your XP is two generations older than the current RAM in laptops, DDR3. Computing publications always advise you that the best way to improve your performance is to add more RAM. With XP, there's only so far you can go-two gigabytes of RAM, to be precise. Then, too, if your hard drive fails, would you like to buy a new one and install it yourself? So you get another drive. Now, if you do replace that drive successfully with the kind of drive that will work with your motherboard, your new drive will not be "4K-aware."

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Computer Centers in West Virginia's Volunteer Fire Stations

West Virginia is leading the nation in technology innovation. Not the kind of innovation involved in designing computer chips, but in an equally important kind of innovation--social innovation in expanding access to computers, broadband Internet, and computer training. Other states have set up public-use computers at public libraries, but that's not always feasible when the only public library in town is small and understaffed. West Virginia has come up with the idea of providing computer access at volunteer fire and rescue departments and has received a Federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant to put its ideas into practice.

The grant proposal for this project explains that the broadband penetration rate in West Virginia is 40 percent, well below the national average of 63 percent. According to Traci Hickson, Director of Communications for Future Generations, the organization spearheading this project, volunteer fire and rescue squads are the logical place for setting up public computer centers because these are the de facto community centers throughout West Virginia. The grant proposal explains it this way: “These anchor institutions number 445 and are in nearly every community. They not only act as a social service network, but are life-links for West Virginia’s families and make logical centers for broadband learning and extension.”

Future Generations is an international nonprofit and graduate school headquartered in Franklin, West Virginia. According to Future Generations, a statewide survey of volunteer fire departments in West Virginia determined that only 48 percent of these departments had broadband. That doesn't cut it when it comes to public safety. Just as any other public safety official needs to do, volunteer fire and rescue personnel need to rapidly access information and submit reports about the work they've done. Dial-up slows this process to a crawl.

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American Library Association Aims to Eradicate Cluelessness by 2050

April 1, 2011. The American Library Association announced a bold initiative today to eradicate cluelessness in the United States by 2050. An ALA spokesperson explained, “The only institution up to the task of eradicating cluelessness is public libraries. We originally set our goal at 2025, but an early survey of cluelessness in America revealed vast swaths of cluelessness. Cluelessness is being created at an ever increasing rate. In some ways, cluelessness is a uniquely American product on a par with any other American product – corn, hogs, wheat, steel, and lumber. This is what our country produces.”

To implement this initiative, cluelessness workshops will be taking place at public libraries across the country, scheduled between 9 am and 5 pm. “To teach cluelessness we need to model cluelessness,” the ALA spokesperson explained. “Most people will be unable to attend workshops between 9 am and 5 pm, so that is the most clueless time to hold them. All participants who complete the cluelessness training will receive a certificate confirming that they are 'Clueless Certified.'”

The ALA Cluelessness Eradication Campaign is being funded by the Gates Foundation; a spokesperson for the foundation explained, “We're all about being clueless. We were clueless from day one. This initiative is just our small way of giving back to the public, which has been so generous to us with their cluelessness.”

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CamStudio Open-Source Screencasting Program: Tips for Teachers

A screencast is a narrated explanation of activity on a computer screen, usually to explain how to perform a particular task in a computer program or on a Website. You can create screencasts with many different software tools and Web services. This article will share some tips from my own experiences teaching screencasting using CamStudio Open Source, a free Windows program.

Screencasting is an art. When done right, it's a thing of beauty. Let me start off sharing a screencast created by two graduate students, Ms. Shuer and Ms. Johnston, in an educational technology class I teach at American University, in Washington DC. These screencast makers are high school math teachers in the District of Columbia public schools. The screencast they created for my class, the first screencast they ever made, is exemplary. They used CamStudio to create it. You can view this six-minute screencast directly from the Internet Archive, where it is hosted for free. (Click anywhere on the screencast's opening screen to start the screencast. Turn up the volume on your computer, too.)

Not only does this screencast provide value to students at the school where these teachers teach, it provides value to students anywhere in the world with an Internet connection. This screencast also reveals just how smart these teachers are. Both teachers know Excel inside and out – and have an uncanny ability to share that knowledge. Want to try your hand at using CamStudio? These instructions by Philip Cosper at Childersburg Middle School are excellent. (Scroll down to the PDF file for CamStudio instructions.)

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Specialty Public Libraries Offer More

In case you haven't noticed, public libraries are moving from being a place about products – books and magazines – to being a place about process – learning and creativity. In this transition, it makes sense for different branches of a public library system to develop different specialties.

What kind of specialties? One branch could focus on all aspects of design: graphic, architectural, print, fashion and so on. Another branch could focus on digital storytelling, including video, animation, and any other digital tools that can be used for storytelling. A third branch could focus on all aspects of performing arts including dance, juggling, improv, and the like; a fourth branch on music composition; a fifth branch on the process of invention, including the building of robots; a sixth on energy conservation, reuse of materials, and all things green; a seventh on health promotion and preservation; an eighth on playfulness, creativity, writing, and collaborative technologies. And a ninth branch could focus on computer programming and all advanced uses of technology.

Do you get the picture? With different branches specializing in different areas of interest, every branch would not need to strive to be all things to all people. And just as crops benefit from being rotated, so could different branch libraries change their specialty every 10 to 15 years. Every public library would still provide access to digital books. Every public library would also teach basic digital competences.

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