Saturday Fast Rec: Python For Kids

It’s Saturday! That means I recommend a book that I think you’ll like. (Yes, you!)

Today, I’m recommending Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming by Jason Briggs from No Starch Press. And I’m recommending it…for adults!

That’s right! If you (yes, you!) want to learn how to code, Python is a great place to start. It’s versatile, easy to learn (relatively speaking,) and professional coders do use it in actual applications. Kids can absolutely learn to make basic programs using the fun and surprisingly practical projects in this book, but I’m not ashamed to admit that this is where I started my own coding journey…at the age of 30. Remember that Jeopardy! champ who taught himself everything using children’s books? It’s not a bad way to introduce yourself to something new. Personally, I’ve not only learned to love Python thanks to Python for Kids, but found myself well prepared for the infamously difficult Java classes at my college because I’d already learned a similar programming language.

This book is fun, hands-on, and wonderful for all ages. There are some knockoff programming for kids books from other publishing houses, but don’t settle for them. No Starch Press is the best. This book is exactly where to start for kids or adults, and there are follow-up books that will rocket your skills to the upper atmosphere, if not to the moon. I recommend!


Diary Of A Librarian Addendum: When Hardware Strikes and Apology to SupportAssist

If you’re a reader of mine, then you may remember this post about how much I hate SupportAssist. Or this one, about how SupportAssist failed me for the last time.

I would like to apologize to SupportAssist. I slandered its reputation for a problem that it did not cause.

That’s not to say that SA isn’t a ridiculous piece of badly programmed junk. It totally is! This past Wednesday, it merrily failed to update any applicable drivers on our public computers, which is fine because the infinitely superior Dell Command Update does the same thing. But in the particular case of Computer 43, SA’s problematic nature had been compounded by a bad motherboard. I hope. Because 43 hasn’t frozen since receiving a new one yesterday, so maybe, if I don’t tell any lies before Christmas, the real problem won’t end up being the hard drive or the processor.

I’m currently taking a hardware class, so I’m enjoying the intellectual challenge of identifying what exactly went wrong. Was it the BIOS chip? The CMOS? Oh the acronyms that could have gone wrong with the motherboard! It now makes perfect sense that freezing could indicate a motherboard issue – I already knew that BIOS or UEFI can cause that problem if they don’t update correctly. It makes me wonder if I ought to have tried flashing before calling in the warranty, but c’est la vie. The computer works and that’s sufficient.

It’s a little annoying that I can’t House my way to a magic diagnosis based on the evidence, but I’m still a nascent techie in many ways and I’m not going to go too hard on myself. The main thing I’m learning from my experience as a tech librarian is that if something’s only going wrong on just one computer, I should at least consider the possibility that it’s hardware-based. This kind of thing has happened a couple times before, not necessarily with SupportAssist, but in a similar pattern. (Problem on one single computer, fix software, problem persists, switch hardware, problem solved.)

I did think it was funny at the time that none of the other computers were freezing, but I chalked it up to SA being so wonky that it was actually inconsistent across units. Apparently, SA is the red flag to my bullish IT style. A diagnostic startup scan didn’t catch any problems, either, so now I know that can happen. And I need to be aware of my software prejudices, apparently.

I’m not sure I would have done anything differently if I’d guessed that the problem was hardware-based, but I still would have felt better knowing. If nothing else, I could have prepared the staff for the possibility that the computer would continue to freeze even after the apparent software problem had been managed.

If I wanted a secondary lesson, it would be that a library technology professional’s job is mainly to communicate. That means understanding enough about the computers to explain ongoing issues in a way that both makes sense and is not scary as well as developing the ability to interface with customer service in a way that works for everybody. I do think that I’m improving. I’ll say that 50% of the reason for this is that I’m in school and actively learning about computers. Knowing a bit, while remaining humble about the vast sea of knowledge to which you do not yet have access, seems to be key to a good working relationship with tech support. I’m also continuing to grow and mature as a person and a professional, which is causing my communication skills to improve anyway, and librarians as an industry are steadily becoming more tech-savvy, although we’re still way behind where we need to be.

For now,  we have a new motherboard for good old 43 and everything seems ducky. No freezes yet. I’m almost ready to sally forth next week to a long Thanksgiving vacation with full peace of mind that this computer’s got a working motherboard.

Let’s hope it was just the motherboard.


Diary of a Librarian: Windows 10 Is Still Free. Also, more SupportAssist.

It’s true. If you have a Windows 7 machine, you can still get an upgrade for free. It’s legal, too. Go to the Microsoft website at this link and download the media creation tool. Run it. Do it now before the 7pocalypse arrives in January!

And don’t take it from me. Take it from ZDNet.

In bookish news, I’m still working on Part 3 of my DHALGREN review. (Part 1 is here.) I might have it up tomorrow, so grit your teeth and hang onto your harmonicas. For now, join me in the sweet, easy, fun library life, where we skip through fields of aahhhh who am I kidding SupportAssist did another crazy thing today.

This time, I had a computer (One! Single! Computer!) on our staff network freezing at odd times. It started yesterday with freezes that happened closer and closer to startup and did not respond to ctrl+alt+del. I crashed the poor thing and performed a system restore, feeling very technological and cool. That seemed to solve the problem.

AT FIRST!

It didn’t take long for dear little Computer 43 to fritz out again. Today, it froze after a restart, and then during a diagnostic scan. I called uncle, and Dell, too.

I avoid calling Dell because my customer service experience with this company is extraordinarily spotty. Sometimes they’re super-on. Other times, their technicians make little pew-pew noises when they think they’re on hold and then delete networked printers willy-nilly over my strident objections. This time, I was lucky. My dude figured out that SupportAssist had been causing the system to freeze up at a deep fundamental level.

via GIPHY

 

Part of the reason for this was that SA has two versions. One is a Windows app and the other is a Dell app. You can get the Dell app from the Dell website. You can get the Windows app from the Windows App Store. That one appears to be buggy. It may also be either advertising itself very aggressively or chronically reinstalling itself on some machines. This actually explains a lot about how my library’s public-facing machines have been behaving.

So he uninstalled SupportAssist, although it took him a couple of attempts, and suggested that we not use this Dell-origin piece of wrecknology anymore (thanks, Christine, for this situationally perfect word.) I’ll be passing his suggestion along. If I never had to lay eyes upon SupportAssist again, I’d be happy. I’m now 14% sure that this is how God intends to end the world.


Diary of a Librarian: SupportAssist Is The Root Of All Evil

Technically, I’m a technology librarian. That means that I know kind of how to make the computers behave themselves under ideal circumstances. Under less-than-ideal circumstances, I can either call tech support and spend hours on the phone or gracefully give up and text our IT contractor. However, there’s a decent handful of problems that I can manage on my own.

In a strictly professional sense, SupportAssist is one of these. However, I am not emotionally qualified to handle this cringingly horrible piece of Dell bloatware. Every time it does a new weird thing, which is about once every other week, my heart falls.

Even when SupportAssist is working correctly, everything about it is annoying. For example, when it’s processing, it flashes three little waiting dots. One two three. Right? Dot 1 flashes and goes out, dot 2 flashes and goes out, dot 3 does the same, then repeat. Right? RIGHT?

WRONG.

SupportAssist’s first dot flashes correctly, but the second and third flash together. Simultaneously. Every. Single. Time. Even though it’s a stupid superficial thing that doesn’t matter at all, the obviousness of this bug galls the hell out of me. It looks so bad. Also, if your intuition tells you that someone who missed that glaring issue might have missed others, then give that intuition of your a big wet smack on the lips, because it’s a winner.

Problems with SupportAssist abound. I could schpiel on for days about the nonsense I’ve endured with this damnable program, from times I’ve tried to remove it (it reinstalled itself) to times I’ve tried to update it because it was being an enormous heckin’ vulnerability. (Incidentally, during that fascinating episode, SupportAssist actually refused to install. What a world!)

For the past several weeks, I’ve been trying to stop SupportAssist from forcing popup notifications on our patrons. These are just update requests, but they require an admin password, and patrons, skittish darlings that they are, aren’t equipped to deal. Anyway, making any change to these computers requires turning off our disk imager, DeepFreeze, before I make any changes. There are a couple of restarts involved. The process is a bit of a slog, but it’s worth it because DeepFreeze is a great piece of software that keeps everybody’s filthy data off our nice clean library machines.

So I’m not sorry that I’ve been unfreezing and freezing our DeepFreeze clients for the last month, trying to figure out how to make SupportAssist stop yelling at our patrons. That’s just part of the game. I’m also thrilled that our IT consultant figured out a lasting fix – yay! What maddens me is that today, when I tried to apply said fix, I discovered that the issue had begun because SupportAssist had either a. tried to update itself and installed a bad version; b. become universally corrupted on all computers and decided to watch the world burn instead of working; c. decided to ask the user before updating its own bad self while also not being capable of doing that because it was too broken; d. all of the above.

I’m going to go with d. Somehow, it’s d.

That meant that I had to reinstall SupportAssist on each machine just so that I could tell it to never notify the user about its need for updates, driver or otherwise, ever again. It took…a while. I spent a lot of time watching its little waiting dots.

On the bright side, it does seem to have worked. As a certain TV hero once said, I love it when a fix comes together, at least long enough for the program to un-toggle it and/or go wonky so that I have to go back in and start all over again.

Until next month, SupportAssist.


Audiobook Apps And Why They Bring Me Joy

I’m in an enviable position right now. I have too many audiobooks on my phone.

I should back up and say that I have at least two audiobook apps on my phone at all times. Libby is my go-to and my sweet summer darling. I’ve got an eternal fountain of audiobook holds backlisted in OverDrive just so that my Libby cup never runneth dry. And so far, it has not.

Librivox is another one, but I have a tense relationship with the app. LibriVox is a free, nonprofit, public domain book recording and distribution website. I’m not sure if they also created the app. I’m guessing not. The app is free and works well, but it’s ad-supported. All right. OK. We do what we must to keep the lights on, and after all, the books are free.

The ads are for e-cigs.

Not sure where BookDesign got their demographic info if any research went into that decision. Maybe they just couldn’t get any other advertisers. I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter. Listening to a random woman gush about e-cigs after every chapter puts my teeth on edge. Call me an elitist if you must, but e-cigs are the filtereds of our generation and I do not at all believe that they help you to quit smoking. Neither does WebMD. However, there’s also no better way to burn through the classics than with the Librivox app. It even has Apple CarPlay compatibility. If I take up e-cigs, you’ll know why.

Finally, I listen to Libro.fm. I discussed this app when I reviewed Bill Bryson’s THE BODY a few posts ago. It’s the only platform I currently use where I’d pay for books, if that were something that I could afford to do on the regular. Luckily, I’m a librarian who writes voluminously about literature, and therefore, I get advance listener copies from Libro.fm for free. This is new and really, really something. I don’t even know that to do with myself, I’m so excited about it. I have Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea: A Novel ready to go just as soon as I finish Dhalgren. (And oh, my friends, you’d better believe there will be a Dhalgren review.)

Paris Review - Samuel R. Delany, The Art of Fiction No. 210

This man is Samuel R. Delaney, author of Dhalgren. He has taken over my life with his book.

I must have five audiobooks all queued up and ready to inundate my ears. We’re talking solid days of literary wonder. That said, it’s worth mentioning why I listen to so much audio.

I don’t really have time to read.

That’s right! The book woman doesn’t have a minute to crack a cover. This is in part because I spend two-plus hours on the road each weekday driving to and from the library where I work. It also has plenty to do with my secondary job, vis a vis writing, which takes a lot of time. I’d scale back, but we do have this thing we like to do every month called “pay rent.” And, honestly, I love to write. I’d write all day if I could. If I could write about reading all day, I’d do that. And then I’d read too.

yesss baby | Meme Generator

He can’t even read and he’s still psyched.

As things stand, I am but a hardworking librarian with a hefty side hustle, a situation that’s not unusual these days. What I’d really like to know is how many people find themselves in my position. Are we becoming a nation not just of overworked millennials, but of overworked millennial audiobook fans? Are changes in how we work leading to changes in how we read?

It makes you want to sit down with a nice e-cigarette and have a good, long think.


Diary of a Librarian: Continuing Ed

So I just sent a spec in to a librarian magazine in the hopes that I might become a regular review columnist for them. Yay! I’m incredibly happy to have gotten the opportunity, and even if they decide to go with someone else, it was nice to be asked. It was also nice to know that I haven’t been reading professional literature for all this time to no purpose.

We’ve got a tricky job as librarians. We need to be steady ships on rough seas, people who know stuff in a world where stuff is always changing. Our job has recently become far more challenging because of this, but I suspect that’s just a matter of degree. Public libraries really became a thing in the teeth of the Industrial Revolution, when a new invention was popping up to supplant a human worker every other year. Melvil Dewey, an utter bastard who you can read about in my Book Riot piece, noticed that people were unhappy with that and invented the library to pacify them with Christian values. No joke, dude was a tool. Dewey’s attempt to reify class structure through Bible stories lasted about as long as a snowball in Tahiti, but it still indicates a basic awareness that the needs of the public were changing and growing. Librarians after him did somewhat of a better job interpreting this omen. Hence, literacy programs and children’s story times.

The wheel of so-called progress has only revolved faster since then. I left library school ten years ago and I’m amazed at how out-of-date my education is already. For example, patrons are now interested in searching Instagram. That is something I most definitely did not learn about in school. When I graduated, we all thought that we were going to be uploaded into Second Life any day.

My point is this: it is incumbent upon us librarians to keep educating ourselves. If we fall behind, our patrons lose a critical resource. Whether about searching social media or pronoun use, we absolutely have to crack those ALA editions texts. We have to collection-develop them and assign ourselves reading.

And, when possible, we really ought to take classes. It almost doesn’t matter in what, although in my perfect world, all librarians could get complementary continuing-ed badges to that no library is without someone who’s familiar with the most common topics. I’ve found MOOCs to be difficult to follow through upon, but that’s me. Maybe if I were doing it in a group – and if it were my job – I’d be better able to stick to it. Meanwhile, a better strategy for me has been traditional school. I’m currently taking tech classes at a community college, ideally for an IT certificate but absolutely to improve my ability to work with computers, since that’s the role I seem to be falling into.

The idea that all librarians can just pick up and take a class is, of course, unfair. My library has a fund that’s paying for my classes, and Lord knows what’s going to happen to these lofty ideals when I pop out a kid. Even one class is a big ask. But burning through a Libraries Unlimited text twice a year? Reading American Libraries at the desk? Taking a MOOC as a group? Maybe doable.

So in summary, I have run out of things to say. I now have to go do my CPS 130 homework. It is due on Monday and at this rate I’ll still be hashing out the differences between a serial and a parallel port by then.


Diary of a Librarian: The Gmail Password Crucible

Today was a heavy one for tech reference questions. There are stretches of days when I don’t field a single request for some kind of computer help beyond printer tutorials, but most of the time there’s someone out there who’s lost their Gmail password.

As long as the person in question has their phone with them, this isn’t much of an issue. Gmail just pings their app or texts them and they get to think up a whole new password for them to forget afresh the next time they come in. However, if the phone in question is not apparent, we have problems.

There’s a related issue that I came across recently that involved someone with a Droid phone. This person had no idea that they were in possession of an email account. As some of you may know, Droids require users to have Google identities and iPhones require iCloud accounts. If you don’t have one of these before you buy a smartphone, you’ll have one afterward. The only way to escape is to cling to certain kinds of prepaid and flip models.

flip phone with spectators and fire eater

A simpler way.

Anyway, this person was utterly bemused to find out that they had a Gmail address. We looked it up on their phone and wondered at its complexity: it was the name of the store where they’d purchased the phone followed by an apparently random number. The sales staff had set them up with a Gmail that they’d never wanted, had failed to explain that it existed or how it worked, and sent this individual on their way with a high five and a clear conscience.

What did we learn?

The lesson here is that we are lint in the howling gale of corporate whim and its banality will be our ruin. I can’t very well steer people away from Gmail or smartphones – Gmail is consistently the best free email you can get, and it’s damn hard to get by without a smartphone under the best of circumstances. But I can be ready to mitigate, train, and explain, and if that password proves particularly recalcitrant, track down the number for Google’s corporate headquarters. I have a Master’s and the patience of a chunk of granite. You are a taxpaying citizen whom the capitalist overlords have crassly used and abandoned. If you have a problem with your account, you’d better believe I’ll get someone on the phone.

Bonus: What Am I Reading Right Now?

Inland by Téa Obrecht

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg

Bibliotech by John Palfrey

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller