For the Birds

Northern Mockingbird Songbird

Northern Mockingbird Songbird (Source: Pixabay)

Bird populations are in alarming decline – songbirds especially – as we see in CBC’s Nature of Things program on SongbirdSOS (March 2015). We have lost nearly half of songbirds in the last 50 years. The episode is available online along with supplementary information on what action we can take.

There are several excellent websites for learning more about birds – whether aspects of birding through field guides and tutorials, or the urgent need today to protect birds and their habitat.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a good starting point for bird lovers of every age and knowledge level – especially its section on All About Birds. The main Cornell website also has tutorials, news, and videos for free viewing, and some learning resources for sale.

Audubon is all about birds and birding – news, projects, magazine, conservation, advocacy. It provides THE Field Guide to North American birds. Those in the United States can join a local Audubon chapter.

Bird Studies Canada advances “the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Canada’s wild birds and their habitats.” BSC is based in Port Rowan in Ontario and has regional offices across Canada. It issues a monthly e-newsletter, the quarterly Bird Watch Canada, and occassional studies. The newsletter will keep you informed of events, surveys, new studies, and opportunities for volunteering.

eBird Canada partners with Bird Studies Canada to provide a means for participants to record their bird observations through a real-time, online checklist program.

Boreal Songbird Initiative focuses on protecting the North American Boreal forest for birds and wildlife. The boreal forest in Canada’s north is “North America’s bird nursery” that are essential for migratory birds. The BSI aim is to conserve at least 50% of this forest. It is currently running a program to gain widespread support for Boreal Birds Need Half.

I hope that this short resource list will help us all appreciate birds more and do what we can to halt the population decline.

Getting past barriers

Hola – a great Chrome or Firefox browser extension for accessing  web sites that would otherwise be blocked based on your IP number. A WebSearchGuide reader sent me this tip. Hola makes it possible to access from outside the United States and view anonymously (ie privately) the search results complete with in-depth articles – a feature still not rolled out to the rest of the world. Canadians will also appreciate that it  makes it possible to receive music played from US-based services.

From the FAQ:

Hola’s goal is to make the Internet faster and fully accessible to everyone. Install Hola on your PC, phone or tablet to make your Internet faster, more open and more anonymous. Hola lets you have unlimited access to information that is otherwise not available in your geography while protecting your online privacy. It also lets you stream videos faster than ever before. Hola is a collaborative Internet — it works by sharing the idle resources of its users for the benefit of all.

Worth taking some time to try out.

Digital Repositories – Use Them

Digital Repositories - An important research resource

Digital Repositories – An important research resource

Many scholarly materials and research reports are not easily found by the big Web search engines. Google, even with Google Scholar, may not uncover the research and discussion that is available through a digital repository. There are thousands of these repositories created by universities, research centres, and other organizations to advance the work of their faculty, students, or members, and to offer the research to the public. Our challenge is to locate these.

HathiTrust is one ( It partners with research institutions and librariesin the United States and internationally  to provide smooth access to digital collections of books, serials and publications. Its metadata enables search by subject, author, language, date range, country, and format.

Many digital repositories are associated with the open access (OA) movement for providing scholarly resources that are digital, free of charge, and free of most restrictions in use. There are two major directories to open access repositories for academic research.

Directory of Open Access Repositories in the UK – OpenDOAR – It has over 2,600 listings, searchable by country, subject, repository type, language and a couple of other parameters, as well as a keyword search on content.

The Registry of Open Access Repositories (ROAR – reports on growth and status of repositories. It can be used to locate repositories in a country or subject which you would then search directly.

Repositories can also be found through directories to users of a particular platform. Two of the prominent platforms are:

The University of Toronto created TSpace to “preserve and disseminate” the “scholary record” of the university – and makes this freely available to all users.  Repositories might also be a digital collection on a particular topic such as the ones listed on this University of Toronto page for  “local digital special collections”.

This is just a small sampling. Whenever academic research may be applicable to your search quest, consider the repositories.  Find more just by using repository as a search term together with your topic.

For Foodies

There are hundreds of excellent websites for people who enjoy cooking and eating. Sometimes choice comes down to recommendations from others. This list came from students in my last Mastering Web Searching course.

asparagus is a favourite – available also in French at Allrecipes is likely the “world’s largest food website”, and provides many ways for exploring recipes, searching by ingredients, and creating menus. Kate wrote, “great selection and categorization of recipes, search functions well, videos are fun to watch, and flexibility of printing/saving recipes”.

SmittenKitchen blog is done by Deb Perelman who does her cooking in 42 square feet. She cooks for husband and child – which may explain the long list of cookies and all things chocolate. Amy recommended the Pear and Hazelnut muffins.

Bread lovers will like Tony’s recommendation –  The Fresh Loaf, “a community for artisan bakers and bread enthusiasts”.

Eat Your Books  is a make-your-own library of  books, magazines, blogs, and other recipes. Liz described it as AMAZING. “They have indexed the most popular cookbooks, cooking magazines, and cooking blogs for a one-stop shop search.”   Good way for staying up-to-date with new books and magazines.

For searching for recipes I’ve liked Foodly. It searches across recipe sites as a metasearcher, showing lots of pictures, and with good filters. Members can add recipes to to their accounts.

One of my most used sites is the recipe search at  LCBO Food and Drink – an excellent magazine from the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. It’s easier to use the website than flip through the print magazine. And another excellent food specialty site is from PCC Natural Markets, an organic grocery store chain in Seattle Wa.

Slideshare for staying up to date

Slideshare is an excellent source of presentations for getting a quick overview. Acquired by LinkedIn in May 2012, it has content on business, travel, technology, career planning, and likely any topic you might search for.  Users upload  presentations, infographics, documents, videos, PDFs, and webinars. Viewers may easily follow favourite contributors and people in their LinkedIn network, and get updates on featured presentations.


For web searchers two to follow are:

Mary Ellen Bates – Super Searcher Tips from a session at Computers in Libraries. She mentions as method for digging more deeply into Google’s index; also searching Twitter and some other social media searches; and some bits on Google Scholar

Karen Blakeman – How we really search: the end of Google’s supremacy – presentation at Southampton University, UK.  She covered social media, main web search engines, some specialty engines, images – much more.


Origins of the Internet

Excerpt from image of Mundaneum, the International documentation centre in Brussels.

Excerpt from image of Mundaneum, the International documentation centre in Brussels.

Get your iPad out. Google added Origins of the Internet in Europe to the Cultural Institute  to the Cultural Institute. It’s  about “collecting, indexing and sharing knowledge” from 1894 to 2012.  This would be much more enjoyable on a tablet where you could page through, enlarge, look at images, and watch the two or three videos.

“Historians typically trace the origins of the World Wide Web” through a lineage of Anglo-American inventors like Vannevar Bush, Doug Engelbart and Ted Nelson. But more than half a century before Tim Berners-Lee released the first Web browser in 1991, Otlet described a networked world where “anyone in his armchair would be able to contemplate the whole of creation.” Alex Wright (New-York Times, 2008)

Text and images are from Alex Wright’s article in the New York Times —  Mundaneum “The Web time forgot” (June 2008.)

Crowdsourcing Maps at Google

View through Google Maps of area in North Korea

View through Google Maps of area in North Korea

Crowdsourcing with Google Maps is receiving a great deal of attention in the news because of  North Korea.

Taking a peek at North Korea’s ‘Nuclear Test Facility’ on Google Maps (Globe and Mail, February 13), points to a Google Maps’ satellite view of  the  Nuclear Test Rd and Facility in North Korea. “Google’s information comes from “citizen cartographers””   Zoom into the map here to see facility.

Google’s use of crowdsourcing for developing maps is the subject of this video interview at Bloomberg Business Week – How Google is Able to Map North Korea.  Mike Dobson, founder and president of Telemapics, describes how Google is able to put together a map of North Korea through satellite views and contributions from people  using Google Map Maker who have knowledge of North Korea.  [Duration 3.52 minutes – after the advertisement]

Crowdsourcing and the value of this “collective intelligence” for creating knowledge is examined in this article – Google’s Map of North Korea stirs social media passion and tensions (The Conversation, January 30, 2013).

Anyone interested can join in. There is an abundance of information about crowdsourcing maps. This wiki at Map Makerpedia on Collaborative Mapping and Crowdsourcing by Rob Lemmens would be a good starting place.

On a smaller scale, you can also use Google Maps to create personal views.
Make Use Of has published Create Google Maps of Your Own To Share & Collaborate With Friends (Feb 12) – with information on creating custom maps and inviting friends to contribute to the map.

Checking Web Server Status

check-markCan’t access GMail? Not getting Tweets? Wonder about Facebook? Google not responding? They all go down from time to time. Use these services to find out if the domain is really down and learn more about its uptime performance. – choose from the list or enter the domain. Shows performance over time. Has troubleshooting advice if the domain is up but you can’t access.

Downrightnow – combines user reports from itself and Twitter and official announcements to let you know a service has trouble. Also shows status history. You can also report issues.

Evernote vs OneNote

Such wealth – we have two excellent tools for taking notes, saving links, saving web clips and images, adding videos – whatever we think or want to note down – and do so with any internet-connected device we are have at hand.  It’s the battle between Evernote and Microsoft’s OneNote. Both let you keep your notes “in the cloud”. Both help you format and organize your notes. They also both support sharing.You’ll probably want both.


Evernote says “remember everything”. The main site has good orientation guides and videos where you can see its many uses and benefits.

You might already have Microsoft’s OneNote as part of your Office application. See how to deploy it and make best use of it at the Microsoft OneNote site.

This comparison by function may help —  Evernote vs. OneNote: Note-Taking Apps Showdown (TechHive, Jan 30, 2012)  FYI, they both won –

Going category by category, Evenote wins five to four, but since note-taking and information organization are such personal tasks, any one of those categories may sway you toward one or the other. has several reviews of both tools:

10 Awesome OneNote Tips You Should Be Using All The Time [Windows]
(Aug 21, 2012) Saikat Basu loves both:

The showdown will continue, so for the sake of productivity and peace, let’s say that both are great note-taking apps with their pros and cons. I use both, as and when the purpose dictates it. And I have come to love both because they have made me more organized with my note-taking.

Get Creative With Evernote: 10 Unique Uses You Haven’t Thought Of
by Nancy Messieh (Jan 12, 2013)

Do You Need More Evernote Use Ideas? Here Are 3 Ways I Use It by Jessica Cam Wong (June 5, 2012)

There are also very good videos on both at YouTube to help you choose.

Online Tech Tutorials

Learning a new software application requires more time than we are usually willing to give it.  A few “how to” searches might provide an answer to a single problem but won’t provide a big picture of the breadth of function in the application.  For that it is better to turn to online tutorials. There are several sites than can help us with that.

For any of Microsoft’s Office products, start with Office Training where you’ll find links for Office 365, Office for tablets and phones, and earlier versions of desktop Office . These are free video screencasts showing how to do things.

Titan Tech Training also has several YouTube videos on Office 2010 products and Adobe Creative Suite. These have been done by California State University Fullerton.

Alison specializes in providing free interactive, self-paced courses in workplace skills. It has a wide range of subjects and many publishers. IT Training is one of its strengths. There are instructions in everything from Google Docs to HTML5 to Skype.

Lynda is all about learning software, creative and business skills. It delivers e-learning through high quality videos. Browse by subject or by software to find what you need. There is a free trial period, after which subscription is $25 / month.

If you plan a sustained training program for yourself, consider the points in this article at LifeHacker – How to Decide Whether to Invest in an Online Training Program  (Dec 24, 2012). Above all – set your goal, find the time, and apply what you learn.

Postscript (Jan 4, 2013):, and arm of the Goodwill Community Foundation, also has some step-by-step illustrated tutorials on using computers, the internet, MS Office products, and searching with Google. The tutorial on Google search was quite good (although they’ll have to update the screen shots for Google’s latest redesign).

I liked the description – “® creates and provides quality, innovative online learning opportunities to anyone who wants to improve the technology, literacy and math skills needed to be successful in both work and life. ”

Postscript (Mar 22, 2013): Courses online with certificate – some in computer science, textbooks, ebooks, movies, k-12 resources – and all free – at Open Culture

Postscript (Mar 11, 2015): If you are Excel challenged, Excel Easy will show you the steps for using basic function through to advanced. These free  tutorials have clear instructions and are well illustrated with screenshots. Reading these will be  much faster than watching a video.

Postscript (May 4, 2015): Learn how to use Excel 2013 at OfficeTuts is another good choice for learning Excel. There are nine modules beginning with Getting Started up to Macro & VBA. These well-written lessons provide illustrated explanations and instructions. If you need to use Excel, this will be a good way to get up to speed. Also available in Polish.