Try It First: Make a Mobile App with Mozilla’s Appmaker

What would you like on your poutine?

A poutine-themed app

Earlier this month, I attended my very first hackathon here in the city hosted by Hive Toronto. As someone with limited coding skills, but have mastered the art of clicking things, moving them around and filling in form fields, I was glad the activity involved no programming at all. The platform we were hacking away at happened to be the “pre-alpha” version of the Mozilla Appmaker, a free tool to create personal mobile apps on your web browser without requiring you to code. It took me two minutes to design a Beyonce-themed Irreplaceable Taps app that made sounds as you hit the words “to the left, to the left.” Two minutes. All in all, it was fun to build apps and not care whether they were good, marketable ideas. (Would anyone like a poutine app?) Now in beta, Appmaker is ready for the public to test out. You can read my article on Techvibes, which takes a closer look at the new tool and what Mozilla plans on doing with this technology.


5 Things to Know About Hoopla, the Free Streaming Service for Videos, Music and Audiobooks

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 4.13.47 PM

To end off a series of library-related posts, let me introduce you to Hoopla Digital, the mother-of-all free streaming service for music, movies, TV shows, documentaries and audiobooks that you could access and indulge in with a public library card. More iTunes-y than Netflix or Spotify, Hoopla is a cloud-based digital media platform that enables users to instantly borrow entertainment and educational material off the website or through the Hoopla app on a tablet or smartphone. It sprung up in Canada last July and is currently available in Edmonton, Hamilton, Guelph, Richmond, Victoria, B.C. and a few other Canadian cities, as well as many more in the U.S. (Check the map to see if your town has it.)

The Toronto Public Library will be launching Hoopla soon, and while I haven’t had the privilege to test it out yet, here are some interesting bits about this underground world of legal downloading:

1. The catalogue is huge.
There’s reportedly more than 250,000 albums and 10,000 movies, TV shows and audiobooks in the digital library and growing. Not bad for a starter collection. What drew me in personally was the wide selection of popular music, including top artists like Ellie Goulding, Drake, The Weeknd and Katy Perry, as well as EPs and remix albums. Full records can be downloaded from the app to listen to on a mobile device during long commutes, and new releases are added at the same time they come out on iTunes. Movies and TV shows aren’t as current or extensive as Netflix, but there are more educational and instructional videos, which can be borrowed for three days without having to put anything on a wait list. Albums are automatically returned after seven days and audiobooks after three weeks. One thing I noticed was that there could be variations of the Hoopla catalogue that differ between library systems. For instance, TPL’s might exclude audiobooks because of the overlap with OverDrive.

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Research Cheat Sheet: Tips From a Librarian

I recently wrote a guest post for freelance writer and editor Jaclyn Law who runs a blog called EditFish on Masthead, a website that covers the Canadian magazine industry. If you’ve ever found yourself having to dig up information from authoritative sources at 3 a.m., be sure to check out my piece on online research, where I teach you a few intermediate-level search techniques and useful resources. And if you’re the type that enjoys operating on the principle of least effort, this one’s for you, too.

Jaclyn is also the president of the Professional Writers Association of Canada Toronto Chapter. Anyone interested in freelance writing, especially outside of the magazine industry, should consider attending one of the many professional development workshops run by the organization throughout the year.


Douglas Coupland’s Digital Orca in Vancouver

digital orca

While I didn’t spot any real whales on my recent trip to Vancouver, I did snap a photo of Douglas Coupland’s public sculpture, the Digital Orca, next to the Olympic Cauldron and the Vancouver Convention Centre. Also, there was a giant whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum within the University of British Columbia. Between a fake animal and a dead one, I preferred the whale that doubles as a chair.


Get It First: Unlimited Access to Digital Magazines With Your Library Card


The Toronto Public Library has pumped out a lot of neat digital collections and services over the years. There’s ebooks, databases, loopholes in newspaper paywalls, free wifi, to name a few. TPL has now added unlimited access to digital magazines through Zinio to the list. That means, if you’re a Toronto Public Library card holder, more than 300 titles are available to download for free on your computer, tablet and smartphone, including:

[Update: Some titles will no longer be available through this service, while others now offer back issues. I’ve updated the list accordingly.]

Azure, Billboard Magazine, Canadian Living, Conde Nast Traveller UK, Cosmopolitan, Discover, The Economist, Elle, Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, Home & Gardens, MacWorld, Men’s Health, O: The Oprah Magazine, OK! Magazine, National Geographic, Nylon, Popular Science, Popular Photography, Reader’s Digest, Rolling Stone, Saveur, Us Weekly, The Walrus and many more.

Access to the collection is via the TPL portal, where an account needs to be set up with your library card. As well, you will have to register an account with Zinio and download the reader app. When you “check out” a title, the current issue is added to your Zinio magazine library, which you can read wherever and whenever you want. Unlike the ebooks lending program, there’s no wait lists or returns. The magazines stay in your Zinio account until you delete them.

Toronto isn’t the first city to offer this service to the public. Hamilton and Ottawa currently have digital magazine access with Zinio. Other libraries are rumoured to be rolling it out, too.


Limitless City: Hong Kong

Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong

Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong

Hello, blog. You seem to be showing signs of neglect. I was busy making the online world a better place ran off to Disneyland. The Disneyland in Hong Kong, actually. I had a wonderful trip. It had been a while since I’ve ventured to a new city, and HK was unforgettable.

With a population of over 7 million people, Hong Kong is intense. There’s high-rise apartment buildings nestled between scenic mountains, old fishing villages and underneath bridges. With no real downtown core, the skyline looks endless. What HK lacks in size, it makes up in the amount of food and electronics it hoards. To top it off, the transit system is one of the best in the world. And, just when you think the Octopus Card is the greatest technological invention next to the turbo jet ferries, there’s cellphone service and Internet on the subway. Crazy.

What I loved most of all was being immersed in a culture that’s both foreign and familiar to me. As a former British colony, Hong Kong gives off an East-meets-West vibe, mixing old Chinese traditions with modern ideas that push this megacity well into the future. It’s extreme, excessive and, most importantly, exciting. You feel like anything is possible.

Hong Kong is better in person than in pictures, but here are many highlights of my trip:

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