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instruction

May 27 2008

Who You Callin’ a Dummy?

by David T

Dummies About 20 years ago, a frustrated bookstore customer was looking for a basic, easy-to-read, straightforward handbook to the DOS computer operating system. Most of the books he found were too dry, dense, time-consuming to read, or cluttered with unnecessary detail. If only, he declared, someone would do a book called DOS for Dummies! Thus was a publishing phenomenon born.

Nowadays, the Dummies books, published by John Wiley, are so well-known to consumers, with their familiar yellow, black, and white covers, that library patrons often ask for them by name. No longer does this series consist solely of computer manuals. You can find Dummies volumes in our catalog that will help you with plumbing, protecting your pension, postpartum depression, speaking Portuguese — and those are just the P’s! Other publishers have jumped on the bandwagon with series like the Complete Idiot’s Guides.

So next time you want a beginner’s guide to a topic, don’t be insulted if your librarian says, “Would you like a Dummies book?”

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If you’re like me, you don’t really learn much when reading instruction manuals or browsing through the “help” sections of computer programs. I’m one who does best when I can see how to do something, and I know I’m not alone in this. A big part of what we do in the library nowadays involves teaching people how to use computers, and unfortunately we don’t always have the time needed to really dig in and show people how word processors and other programs work. We have books on specific computer programs, and we offer classes in many of our branches on a regular basis on how to get started with computers, Internet, and word processing. But sometimes what we need is a quick visual tutorial to point people to, and that’s where web sites like In Pictures come in handy.

This website uses screenshots and basic, short text instructions to walk you through things like writing a letter in Microsoft Word 2007 (or 2003) or beginning OpenOffice.org Calc (a free spreadsheet program with many of the same functions as Microsoft Excel). Here’s a screenshot of the beginning Word tutorial:

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Here’s their web address: http://inpics.net/

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Mar 11 2008

Learn to Play an Instrument!

by Chris S

Music has been one of my passions since I was a small child, making up songs about space travel, dinosaurs, and the like.  In fifth grade I learned to play the trombone and stayed with it (despite the “band nerd” label) all the way through high school.  I also started playing acoustic guitar in 8th grade, and have continued that ever since, occasionally accompanying group singing or performing, but most often playing at home for my own enjoyment.  My wife and I recently acquired a very nice piano from my mother-in-law, and we both have the goal of learning to play well and teaching our children the same.  Music can add a wonderful dimension to your life, and using the library can help you learn an instrument.

Total Keyboard – a ten lesson introduction to learning piano or electronic keyboard with chapters on MIDI (computer) recording.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Playing Piano – no experience required.  Starts from the very beginning and guides you through the basics of music notation and the keyboard.  Includes a CD.

Bass Guitar for Dummies – learn how to provide the foundation of the modern pop/rock/jazz/funk band with a bass

Acoustic Guitar Songs for Dummies – the best way to learn is not (only) practicing scales and learning theory, but by playing songs you actually like.  Really just learning to play 3 or 4 chords can give you a large repertoire.  Just ask Johnny Cash or the Ramones!  (Or for a better response, a living person – but you get the idea!).  🙂

Don’t be shy about it.  Learn to play something!  And use your library to help you get started.

Oh, and there’s an entertaining article in this morning’s New York Times by mystery author Alexander McCall Smith about amateur musicians.

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There’s a lot of talk in computer and information circles about “Web 2.0.”  This term refers to all the new technologies that are suddenly abundant on the web, and with these come a brand new vocabulary.  Where terms like “cybersurfing” and “e-business” were new words 8 to 10 years ago, we now have “RSS,” “blog,” and “wiki.”  Insiders and web aficionados have at least heard these words, but even people who use the web all the time may have trouble understanding what they mean.  Fortunately for those of us who need a primer in all these new technologies, a group called Common Craft has put together some video tutorials that explain how all these work in simple, easy to understand ways.

Here’s a link to Common Craft’s video tutorial for RSS feeds.

And their main site:  www.commoncraft.com

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