Managing my Library

A few days ago, I decided to take down the Library pages on my blog. Formerly, I was using the Now Reading plug-in to power the library aspect of my site. Ultimately, the plug-in was more work than it was worth – it didn’t have the greatest interface in the world, adding books was a pain, and every time I changed my theme I needed to tweak the templates to match the style of the new theme. I ended up spending more time messing with the library page layouts than I did reading.

I figured using a separate site to tracks my books would be easier, so I played with LivingSocial for a while after I joined FaceBook, since it was there. It was ok, but didn’t offer a way to note when you finished a book, which I liked about Now Reading. Being able to see how many books I read in a given year, or the order I finished them in, was nice.

That’s when I turned to Goodreads. Like LibraryThing, Shelfari and many other sites, Goodreads is a social cataloging site where users can track books they’ve read, are currently reading, or would like to read, and can share that information with other users. Each book is added to one of three “shelves” (to-read, read, or currently-reading), and can be added to any number of other shelves of the user’s creation. Additionally, users can record the date they read the book, the number of times they’ve read it, who they would recommend it to, who recommended it to them, and their rating and review of the book. Those features alone make Goodreads quite handy, but there are a few more ways to extend it that I like. You can display your Goodreads library on Facebook or a blog via apps and widgets, and there’s a bookmarklet for adding books to Goodreads directly from Amazon.

Hopefully now I can actually spend more time reading, rather than just queueing up books that look interesting.

Photo Gallery Showdown

When I decided to go with Gallery2 rather that Zenphoto to power my photo gallery, I promised to go into more detail later, but “later” never really happened. I figured with the recent updates to both Gallery2 and Zenphoto, it might be beneficial to revisit my decision and follow my thought process, starting with what I personally want from a photo gallery, and re-evaluating the list of photo gallery options I compiled. Continue reading “Photo Gallery Showdown”

Gallery2 vs. Zenphoto

While I’ve been tagging and organizing my backlog of photos, I’ve been thinking about what to do with them when I’m finally ready to start displaying them. Currently the photo gallery is powered by Gallery2, which is ok, but probably does a bit more than I need. My plan is to eventually move everything over to denherder.net, including this blog, the (potential) “family” blog and the photo gallery. Since I’ll be setting up a new gallery, I’ll have a clean slate and so I’ve been investigating options to find the software that best matches what I want and need. At the moment, the main contenders are the old standby, Gallery2, and a relatively newer solution, Zenphoto.

The biggest criteria to start with is IPTC metadata support. I use Lightroom to tag and organize my photos, including such information as location, title, names of people, photo description and more, all of which is stored in the IPTC headers of each image. I don’t want to have to replicate all that data, so photo software that can parse and display IPTC headers is essential. Both Gallery2 and Zenphoto manage IPTC data with no problem; Zenphoto actually appears to parse out the location information as well as title, description and tags, while Gallery2 only parses out title, description and tags.

I’d love to have software that can manage dynamic or relational albums, so that one image can appear in multiple albums. Unfortunately, Flickr is the only solution I’ve seen that will keep the original photo in multiple locations, with all the comments. Gallery2’s best solution is to make a copy of the image and place a copy in each album, which is less than ideal. Zenphoto has a solution I’m still investigating, which is “saved searchs;” a search can be saved, and will appear as a gallery that can be browsed. Not exactly what I was hoping for, but a definite step in the right direction and the closest I’ve seen any other gallery option come to Flickr.

Zenphoto, for all it’s good points, is not without bugs. The first issue I came across is the inability to create empty galleries. Not a huge issue – you can make albums via FTP, and upload images that way. But using the admin interface, I couldn’t create an album without putting at least one image in it. A little frustrating if you want to create a top level album to hold sub-albums. Another issue is the inability to move photos or albums; apparently there is not yet a way to move things while retaining the comments and such. There are also a few features I’d like to see implemented in future versions of Zenphoto – the ability to re-upload a photo (to replace a photo with a touched up version, while preserving the comments), and the ability to choose what portion of the photo is used for the thumbnail.

Between the two gallery options, it’s a tough choice. Gallery does almost everything I want, plus a lot more that I don’t really want or need. It’s a bit larger, and more difficult for me to maintain on my own. On the other hand, Zenphoto does the basics, without some of the extras. It doesn’t do as much as Gallery, but I prefer the way it does some things. Zenphoto was easy to install, and looks to be easier to maintain. In the end, I’ll probably go with Zenphoto – it doesn’t do everything I want, but it does everything I NEED, and it’s prettier.

Flickr vs. Gallery2, Revisited

I’m still experimenting with online photo galleries, and becoming thoroughly frustrated with my options. At the moment, here is how the two front runners compare;

Flickr, Pro:

  • Relational/Dynamic view – I love that photos are basically all in one big folder, and that you can assign them to dynamic sets, so that the original photo (with accompanying data) can appear in multiple locations, rather than copying and pasting a photo into multiple albums.
  • Licensing – Flickr offers a simple way to license every photo, allowing Creative Commons licenses or Copyrights to be attached to photos. You can have a default license, so that every photo uploaded has the default license, or change the license on a photo-by-photo basis.
  • Community – By design, Flickr is like a social network for photos; it exists as a photo sharing community. And while you don’t have to participate in groups, or have contacts, it is nice to be able to easily share photos, or have your work critiqued by others.

Flickr, Con:

  • Limited Customization – There is very little you can do to Flickr to personalize it, and make it your own. You can select from one of 4 different views (6 if you have a Pro account), and that’s about it. No colors or themes at all.
  • Loss of Control – Since Flickr hosts the images, you can’t tweak the software or add plug-ins to make it do what you want. You are also at the mercy of Flickr, should they change any of their policies or Terms of Service.
  • Restrictions – Free accounts have lots of restrictions (bandwidth, number of sets, file size, images shown in archives) but even Pro accounts have some restrictions. The main restriction is file size (currently 10MB per photo for Pro accounts), although who’s to say that Flickr won’t change the annual fee or restrictions?
  • Censorship – From what I’ve read thus far, Flickr tends to be a bit over-zealous with censorship issues. A user’s comments, photos and entire account can be deleted, with little recourse, if someone flags a comment or photo as “questionable”.

Gallery2, Pro:

  • Complete Control – Since you host it yourself, you are in absolute control. You want all your thumbnails square? No Problem. You want to crop your own thumbnails, rather than have the default? Easy.
  • Customization – There are loads of themes for Gallery2, and various color packs to change the color scheme. But if you don’t like those options, you can create your own theme, too.
  • Plug-ins – On the nature of customization, if there is something you want accomplished in Gallery that can’t be done out of the box, someone may have already written a plug-in to accomplish what you want. Or, you could write your own plug-in.

Gallery2, Con:

  • Strictly Hierarchical Storage – Gallery was built to mimic a photo album, and so photos are stored in a series of nested albums. Photos can show up in multiple spots, but only as links to the original or as replicas, which won’t share any comments.
  • Lack of Community – Since you host Gallery yourself, you’re not really part of a community of users. This can go either way, though; I wouldn’t really gain much “community” from Flickr, since few of my friends and family use Flickr, or even know what it is. And do I want random strangers commenting on my photos?

In the end, I simply can’t go with Flickr. Yes they have Dynamic/Relational sets, but I just don’t trust them with my photos. Before, I might have considered it, but with the censorship controversy I’ve been reading about, there is no way I’d entrust my photos to them. I would much prefer to run my own photo gallery and know I have complete control over it, even if it doesn’t do everything I want. This isn’t to say I’ll stay with Gallery2 forever, but at the moment it looks to be the best solution for my needs.

A Blog of Many Colors

I am constantly amazed at how flexible WordPress is. Little over a year ago, I had only heard of WordPress, but had no real idea what it was. Then my husband started his blog, and I discovered it was like LiveJournal (which I had used for nearly 5 years), only better. Whereas LiveJournal was hosted, and locked you into a limited number of options, with WordPress you could host your own blog, and customize it however you saw fit. With a little CSS and PHP knowledge, you could change the whole look of your blog.

Even if WordPress was only used for blogs, it would still be worthwhile. After all, it’s free, highly customizable, easy to use, and can be hosted at your own domain. But with the large community of WordPress users providing plug-ins, you can use WordPress for more than just a blog. For example, at least 2 of the webcomics I read, Applegeeks and PvP, use WordPress to publish their comics. Using the YAPB plug-in, you can easily convert WordPress into a photoblog, allowing both photo posts and regular text posts. However you want to use WordPress, someone before you has probably already thought of it, and built a plug-in to do what you want. That freedom is what I like about WordPress; no matter what you want to do, you can probably manage it with WordPress.

One Task Down…

With the wedding Thank You notes finished and in the mail, it’s time for me to focus on the next project; the combined address book for both sides of the family. I have a rough version done – basically enough to complete a mail merge, so we didn’t have to hand address the envelopes on the Thank You notes. Of course, this isn’t going to be a quick and easy project, because I’m picky.

I’m not going to be happy with just a paper address book, as I want to be able to do a mail merge for envelopes on Christmas cards. With over 50 people on the Christmas card list this year, there is simply no way I have the time to hand address them all. However, I don’t want a lot of redundant information – I’d like to be able to list the mailing address and telephone number for each family once, rather than duplicating it for each member of the household. This has prompted me to try a sort of 2 part address book – one part being the “Household” information (household name, mailing address, telephone number & Christmas card records) and the other part being the “Individual” information (full name, birth date, anniversary, cell phone number, work phone number, email address(es), website/blog, etc.), with a way of linking the Individuals to the Household, so I know where everyone belongs.

With all the information in a database, I’d like to be able to generate a few different reports. Ideally I could create a Birthday List, with all the individuals listed chronologically by calendar year. I tried doing a birth date report before, but unfortunately it factored the year in, as well. Rather than having all the January birthdays, it had January of 1967, and then maybe July of 1976, and then January of 2005. I would like it to list January, then the date with the person’s name and maybe the year in parenthesis after that, so I know how old they’ll be.

Another report I’d like to generate would be an address book page. I know I can’t be at my computer all the time, and having a physical copy of an address book is convenient sometimes. Having all the information in a database means I should be able to generate a view I’d like; what I want is to be able to have one page per household, with all the household information at the top, and the individuals belonging to that household and their information below. That way when information changes, I can just print out a new page to replace the old one.

Of course, all this is easier said than done. I have a basic idea of what I need to do; I have a database set up with 3 tables – one with Household information, one with Individual information, and one linking Individual id’s with Household id’s. In some cases, it feels silly giving an individual an entry; some people I have little contact with outside of the annual Christmas cards, and so the only information I have is a mailing address and the names of individuals living there.  Figuring out how to generate and format the reports exactly how I want will also take a little doing. But I think that in the end, it will be worth it to have an address book that manages all the information I need, in a format I want.

Flickr vs. Gallery2

I’ve been checking out photo gallery software online, trying to find one that does exactly what I want. Of course, part of that search involves figuring out exactly what I want from gallery software.

Currently my gallery is powered by Gallery2, and while there is nothing wrong with it, I wish it did more. The organizational structure (nested albums) lends itself well to event-based photography, which until recently was all I ever had a need or desire for. I love that it’s customizable; I can change themes, and install modules until it looks like I want, and does almost anything I want. Permissions can be assigned to nearly every task, allowing only registered members to vote on photos, or requiring a password to view certain galleries. Basically, I love that I have complete, neurotic control over every minute detail. But while I like the control, I’m starting to outgrow the nested album style of organization. Sometimes I’ll go for a walk, and take some silly pictures just to play with settings and learn what I can do. If they turn out nice, I’d like to post them to the gallery, but where? They don’t really fit into any of the existing albums, so do I just leave them loose, on the top level? Or do I make a “random” album and drop them in there? In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a bit neurotic about having things all put away and organized.

This is where Flickr tempts me. I don’t like the loss of absolute control, but I really prefer the organizational style. It’s like my Outlook to Gmail conversion; while Gmail has been my primary email address for a year or two now, I’ve only recently converted to using the web interface. Previously, I had been using Outlook , with it’s directory-style email storage. With the switch to the web interface, comes the use of Gmail’s organizational scheme; labels rather than folders. At first I hated labels, just because I was used to folders. But then I discovered exactly what I could do with labels, rather than folders. Email messages could have multiple labels, and show up under each label without needing to copy the email message to multiple folders. Flickr has tagging (which can also be accomplished with Gallery2, via plug-ins), but it also has sets and collections. A set is like a folder, and yet not. Photos can belong to multiple sets, a single set, or to no set at all. The sets can be grouped into collections, and those collections can be grouped into higher order collections. A good example – I took photos at weddings this summer. As I am wont to do, I ended up taking some photos at the wedding, that had absolutely nothing to do with the wedding (nature shots of the outdoors, etc.) With Gallery2, I would need to decide if they were going in the album with the wedding photos, or in another Nature shots album, since they can’t go in both. With Flickr, I wouldn’t have that problem – the photos could go in the set of photos from that wedding, and whatever other set I wanted. I could create a Collection of sets for Family Events where each set is photos from an event, and another Collection for Wedding Prep, with the actual Wedding Set belonging to both collections.
So this is my conundrum; I like how Flickr organizes photos, but I prefer having the control of Gallery2. I would actually consider springing for a Flickr Pro account, because honestly $25 a year isn’t bad for unlimited photos and unlimited bandwidth. But if I could find a free, self-hosted alternate (like Gallery2), I would seriously consider that as well. At the moment I’m trying to determine if there’s a way I can make Gallery2 more like Flickr, but I suspect it isn’t possible. So, do I sacrifice absolute control to get an organizational scheme I like, or stick with absolute control but remain unhappy with how photos are stored?

Going Old School

It’s probably been a month or more since I gave up Outlook (more here), and I’ve noticed something. As a result of giving up on Outlook, I seem to have given up on my PDA as well. Not that I ever used my PDA to it’s full potential; I used it mainly to manage my schedule, maintain my address book, hold shopping lists and display driving directions.

But times have changed. I stopped using Outlook, so it’s pointless for me to input my work schedule into my PDA, since I’ll just re-enter it into Google Calendar when I get home. MapQuest no longer supports the offline, downloadable maps for portable devices that it used to, which was the only reason I ever used MapQuest, really. If I can’t download my directions onto my PDA, I’ll just go back to printing them out like I did before I had my PDA.

So this basically leaves me with two remaining functions; address book and list holder. But again, since I’ve given up Outlook, I won’t keep the contacts in there up to date. I’m in the middle of creating a digital address book in Access to hold all my contact information, so that when Christmas comes around, I can just do a mail merge and print the addresses onto the envelopes. Hand addressing envelopes sucked when it was just my friends and family – I’m not crazy enough to try that for two families worth of Christmas cards. As part of that, I’m trying to find a way to print out address cards, as a sort of do-it-yourself kind of address book. I’m playing with forms in Access – ideally I want one card per person, so that when their information changes, I can just print a new card and replace it. Finding a way to keep it bound together, and not in an index card box, is proving problematic.

After ruling out calendar management, driving directions and address book, I’m left with list holder. That’s right, my PDA is a glorified notepad. And honestly, if I’m just using it to hold shopping lists, do I really NEED a PDA? I think not. And so, after checking out the Hipster PDA, I think I’m ready to give up the PDA and go analog again. We’ll see how it turns out.

Giving Up Outlook

A few weeks ago I decided I would try giving up Microsoft Outlook. I already used Gmail as my primary email account, and was getting frustrated with trying to achieve a two-way sync between Google Calendar and my Outlook appointments, so I thought I would just give up Outlook for Google. And honestly, it’s a lot easier than I thought it would be. The main reason I used Outlook wasn’t just for use as an email client – if it was as simple as email, I would have given up Outlook for Gmail years ago. No, I used Outlook as a management system for my appointments, tasks, address book and email.

Everything I liked about Outlook, I can accomplish with Google, with few exceptions. I love Google Calendar, and the ability to manage my calendar and appointments online. I can share my calendar, manage invites, and have my daily agenda emailed to me so I don’t forget anything. With the personalized Google homepage, I basically created a web based version of Outlook’s “Today” view; email inbox, upcoming appointments, and tasks with upcoming due dates. Embedding my email and calendar into my homepage were the easy tasks; Google doesn’t yet have a to-do list, and so I had to look elsewhere for list management. Remember The Milk does Task management, and then some. You can share tasks with other users, tag tasks, associate a web page, give a time estimate, and more.

Honestly, the only thing I can’t accomplish with Gmail is auto-adding birthdays and anniversaries from contact information into a calendar, which would be really nice. Otherwise, I can never remember who has an upcoming birthday or anniversary. Another thing I wish Google would add is the ability to label/tag/categorize contacts. I would love to be able to filter out contacts; say I want to send an email out to family, but I don’t want to make a “Family” mailing list. If I could just filter out business contacts and friends, that would be convenient.

A New Project

Earlier in the month I posted about looking for a reading list type plug-in for WordPress, and finding Now Reading. I’ve since installed it, and finished customizing my library. I’m happy with how it looks (for now), and have decided that in an attempt to both read and write more, I’ll post my thoughts on books as I finish them. Not quite as ambitious as the “52 in 52” meme, where bloggers attempt to read & review a book a week, but a decent start, I think.